"Pastor Charlie Woodward", "Charlie Woodward"Pastor Charlie Woodward writes a daily devotion for the pandemic days until things are back to “normal,” whenever that may be. As the title states, we are in the wilderness alone, but we are still together. We may feel isolated and on our own. But we are in this together. I want to make sure we have an opportunity to stay connected. Each devotion will include a Bible verse, a brief reflection and prayer.  

Find a link to each day’s devotion below, or sign up here to receive the devotions to your inbox every morning. Choose the Devotions distribution list.

This is an opportunity for us to be present with each other in the days to come. You can be present by sharing your comments, insights, prayers and pictures in response to what Pastor Charlie shares in the coming days. For we are in this together. And where two or three are gathered in God’s name, God is present, too.

Great Results

Mark 4:30-34 

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
 
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
 
 
“What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like?” Jesus asked one day. “The Kingdom of God is like, well, it’s like a tiny mustard seed.” That’s what we heard in today’s gospel. The Kingdom of God is like that tiny, insignificant mustard seed, the smallest seed in the world. But that tiny seed will germinate, and grow and grow, until it becomes a large bush.
 
A bush? The Kingdom of God is a mustard bush?
 
“Yes,” continued Jesus, “a plant so impressive that small birds can perch in its branches and make nests in its shade.”
 
Can you see what has happened here? From something very small has grown a large bush. Evidently God looks at things differently from the way we look at things. From what we have heard today, that comes as no great surprise. He chooses the least amongst Jesse’s sons to be a king. He rescues the least among the nations to make them a great nation. And all this, of course, points to the greatest example of all: Jesus and his cross. A man who appeared to be the least among all other men — despised, rejected, and treated as a common criminal — is the greatest of all. He is the Lord of all — the conqueror over sin, death and Satan — our Lord and Savior. God chooses what is seemingly weak to accomplish his purposes. Doesn’t Paul say that God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27)?
 
One of the things that characterized Jesus was his ability to see beyond outward appearance to the possibilities and potential of an individual. He viewed others not so much as what they were, but what they could become.
 
An ordinary fishermen (Peter) became the rock on which the church was built.
 
A dishonest tax collector (Matthew) became a trusted friend and disciple.
 
An angry Pharisee (Paul), who was a persecutor of the church, became the apostle to the gentiles. And again, as we have seen before, it was not that these men were great themselves; it was God who used those small beginnings to do great things.
 
And that is what Jesus is saying in his parable. He is inviting us to look at the kingdom of God with new eyes. The outside appearance may seem insignificant and so small that you can hardly see it, but the results are great. If you believe that this is how God does things, then you will not be too quick to dismiss the small and insignificant. You will not give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even the world, just because all you see are signs of weakness and insignificance. Rather, you will believe that with God all things are possible, even if all you see is a tiny mustard seed, something small and insignificant.
 
To believe this is to see yourself in a new light. Your faith may be as small as a mustard seed, but if you take it seriously and use it, mountains can be moved. You can do great things for God if you are willing to offer your love, generosity, kindness and abilities, however small and insignificant you may think they are.
 
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, began an orphanage with such a vision. She told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream to build an orphanage.”
 
“Mother Teresa,” her superiors chided gently, “You cannot build an orphanage with three pennies … with three pennies you can’t do anything.”
 
“I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies, I can do anything.”
 
The parable of the mustard seed reminds us that God’s beginnings may be small, but his results great.

 

Let us Pray: 

Dear God, it is said that big things come in small packages. Help us to celebrate the greatness in the small treasures you plant in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
 


On The Grace of Dogs

1 Kings 4:29-34 

29 God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, children of Mahol; his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. 32 He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish. 34 People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.
 
 

Wisdom.

I share with you these words of wisdom that I heard shared by Lutheran theologian Dr. Andrew Root at a conference a few years ago. He wrote the story in his book “The Grace of Dogs.”
 
When the family dog named Kirby passed away, Root’s son, Owen, asked his dad whether he would see Kirby in heaven. Root found some help in his answer in the 1928 writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young pastoral intern in Barcelona who had faced the same question.
 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian known for his opposition to National Socialism. His ties to the July 20, 1944, conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime led to his execution in 1945. His theological writings are regarded as classics throughout the Christian world.
 
Here is the excerpt from the book:
 
One day, a ten-year-old boy came to see Bonhoeffer. Breaking down and crying, the boy explained that his beloved German shepherd, Mr. Wolf, had just died. The boy sobbed as he told the story, but soon his tears stopped and he asked Bonhoeffer, with deep intensity, “Tell me now, Herr Bonhoeffer, will I see Mr. Wolf again? He is surely in heaven?”
 
Bonhoeffer explained in a letter to a friend that he was dumbfounded. He didn’t know what to say. Never before had one of his astute professors or gifted fellow students made such an inquiry, a question that Bonhoeffer could see meant so much to this grieving boy.
 
Bonhoeffer sat with the boy, feeling small next to his important question. Clearly Mr. Wolf had meant so much to the boy. The overly confident protégé, who had always been told he had a brilliant answer for every theological question, now sat humbled by the boy’s love for his dead dog.
 
Finally, turning to the boy, Bonhoeffer said, “Well, we know you loved Mr. Wolf, and we know that God loves you. And we know that God loves all the animals. So, yes, yes, I think you will indeed see Mr. Wolf in heaven, for I believe that God loses nothing that God loves.”
 
God loses nothing that God loves.
 
Bonhoeffer’s point was that when persons relate in love, it is an eternal act that transcends biology, chemistry, and history. Only love lasts forever. Spirit returns to its source in a personal God. Because “soul” is based in our personal relatedness, rather than being some kind of isolated substance, any being that participates in this kind of loving relatedness belongs to God, and will return to God.
 
This is the grace we are offered, in this world and the next. Grace is the invitation to share in the mind and heart of God; it can never be earned, but it comes to us always as a gift. So maybe heaven is a “place” of personal relatedness, where our relationships can never again be interpreted or corrupted by death, fear, or hate. Maybe heaven is where we are free from all that might threaten our sharing in the mind of one another and God. It is where our bodies are free from all that could upend or damage what we yearn for most, to be shared in and share in others.
 
All who participate in the gift and grace of deep personal relatedness are never lost. God will never let them go; for this deep connection rooted in love does not disappear when a loved one dies. When Jesus on the cross entered death, he built from within it our relationship with God and with one another, a relationship rooted in a love that is eternal and over which death no longer holds power.
 
These days I tell my son that he will see Kirby again. Like all those who have shared in his mind and heart through love, I tell him, Kirby will be resurrected again through the power of the God who is the eternally personal relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
 
This is a theological conviction that I hold by faith. I teach it to my son so that Owen can feel his way into this reality, can begin to have words for the experience of love and grace.
 
Of course, reality is always putting our convictions to the test. At a deeply emotional level, whether we are people of faith or not, we all struggle with the grief of absence and wonder where our loved ones go when they leave us. If, in a moment of doubt, you were to press me to answer the question “Do you really believe that Owen will see Kirby again?” I might answer more tentatively. Still, I know in my soul — like Owen on the floor of the vet’s office … that the love of a dog is strong enough to last both in this world and in the next.
 
“No one knows for sure,” I’d tell you. “But I’ve studied this, and I think so. My answer is yes. The grace of God is echoed by the grace of dogs. And grace is eternal.”
 

“The Grace of Dogs: A Boy, a Black Lab, and a Father’s Search for the Canine Soul.” Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Root. Published by Convergent, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

 

Let us Pray: 

Thank you, God, for the gift of dogs and cats and others you place in our world. As these creatures you created offer us unconditional love, may we so love one another. Thank you for your eternal love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.