"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.

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.
 


Wisdom

James 3:13-18 

Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
 
Charlie (not me, another guy with the same name) is one of the wise saints I had the privilege of getting to know as his pastor for several years.
 
Charlie worked for nearly 40 years at Battelle as a physicist. He loved the inquisitive nature of his job and was proud of the work he did. He was a brilliant man and a gifted scientist.
 
Charlie used his gifts in the church as well. He held several leadership positions in the church, and as a lover of history, he compiled and cared for much of the historical records of the congregation. When I first arrived at that church, Charlie told me that he wanted to share what he could about the church with me, because he was starting to forget. He knew his memory was getting worse. Alzheimer’s was the diagnosis.  
 
I had the privilege of participating in several Bible studies with Charlie on Thursday mornings. Some would tell you their interest in Bible study stemmed from a greater desire to participate in Millie’s rolls and pastries (Charlie was married to Millie), but still, we studied scripture together. More than once, when we were trying to make sense of some difficult passage or aspect of God in scripture, Charlie would caution the group that sometimes we just cannot completely understand it all. Sometimes we just have to accept things by faith. 
 
What I appreciated about Charlie is that this gifted, incredibly intelligent scientist exemplified in his life that science and religion CAN go together. It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. In science, Charlie saw the wonder of God, in God’s creation. Through God and in God’s handiwork, Charlie saw the wonder of science. Not that we can explain it all, but we certainly can marvel in it, and that is what Charlie shared with me.
 
Wisdom. Sometimes wisdom is knowing that we don’t know all the answers. Sometimes wisdom is about dwelling in the questions.
 

Let us Pray: 

Thank you, God, for the saints who have come before us, the saints who will follow us, and the saints that are on the journey with us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.