Pastor Charlie Woodward writes a daily devotion for the days of the pandemic, until things are back to “normal,” whenever that may be. This is an opportunity to stay connected, to be together. Each devotion will include a Bible verse, a brief reflection and prayer.  
 
This devotion is undergoing a name change to One in the Spirit. Learn more here.
 
Access each day’s devotion below, or sign up here to receive the devotions to your inbox every morning. Choose the “Devotions” distribution list.
 

An Image I’ll Never Forget

Romans 16:17-20

 

Final Instructions

17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. 18 For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. 19 For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 
 
The first church I had the privilege of serving is St. Paul’s Lutheran in Massillon, Ohio. The sanctuary was built in 1928-29, if I remember right.
 
Entering the church, you are drawn to the cross at the front. Walking down the beautiful tiled flooring, the stained glass on the side windows and above the altar bring forth a palette of color that is breathtaking. When you make your way up to the altar, the steps lead to the chancel area, with the pulpit on the left and the lectern on the right. The pipe organ chamber is stationed behind the pulpit has 16-foot tall bass pipes that when sitting the chancel area near the altar will cause your whole body to shiver with the vibrations those pipes generate.
 
The altar was moved from the old sanctuary to the new structure in the late 20’s in a feat of engineering and planning. The former sanctuary stood just beyond the new structure. The altar originally was on the north wall of the church. When the new sanctuary was about complete, the builders knocked down the north wall of the old structure, moved the altar into the new structure, and turned it 180 degrees, so it would now adorn the altar at the south side of the church.
 
 
In the chancel area between the pulpit and lectern is beautiful tile. Most are simple stone squares, and a few have designs on them – flowers, Christian symbols and the like. But there, near the altar railing, you will find the image of a scorpion. It seems to be out of place.
 
Yet, what I learned from the historians in the congregation is that this symbol represents Satan. It was placed there so that when the pastor speaks the words of forgiveness to the congregation, he or she is to stand on that spot. This is to indicate to all gathered that “the God of peace will surely crush Satan under your feet.”
 
A powerful image. And a powerful message. As I shared in my sermon a few days ago, beginning worship with the words of confession and forgiveness is not just something we do because we have always done it that way. We do it because it is the foundation of what we believe. These are words we need to hear again and again.
 
Hear it again – “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by HIS authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.” You are forgiven!
 
God’s got this. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the devil is defeated, stomped out, under foot.
 
That is an image I will never forget.  
 

Let us pray:

Almighty God, thank you for the victory over all that separates us from you and others. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


The Very Best

Exodus 16:31-35
 
31 The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
 
It was called “More” in our house growing up. Macaroni, tomato sauce, hamburger and spices (and on a bad day, some peas may have been slipped in – yuck!). Maybe it was called “Goulash” or something else in your home, but in in our house, it was called “More.” What’s for dinner? More. If there are leftovers, you can have more. Do you want more?
 
“Manna” literally means “What is it?”
 
“What’s for dinner?”
 
“Manna.”
 
“That’s what I asked?”
 
Asked what?”
 
“What’s for dinner?”
 
“Manna.”
 
It was the original version of Laurel and Hardy’s “Who’s On First?
 
What God provides for God’s people is food for the journey, sustenance, and enough to survive.
 
God is a God of abundance, not of scarcity. God is a God who provides for all we need. And what God provides is the very best.
 
There is a story about a man and wife who were celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary – fifty years of married life. After spent most of the day with relatives and friends at a big party given in their honor, they were back home again. They decided, before retiring, to have a little snack of tea with bread and butter. They went into the kitchen where the husband opened up a new loaf of bread and handed the end piece (the heel) to his wife. The wife exploded! She said, “For fifty years you have been dumping the heel of the bread on me. I will not take it anymore; this lack of concern for me and what I like.” On and on she went in the bitterest of terms, for offering her the heel of the bread. The husband was absolutely astonished at her rage. When she had finished he said to her quietly, “But it’s my favorite piece.” 
 
Jesus is the best of the bread, a treat to share with those we love. It is so easy for us to seek things in life that will satisfy our needs. We think that the right job, the right car, the right music, the right product will satisfy our needs. And when we have those things, it doesn’t take long for us to look for something else to satisfy our hunger for more, for newer, for bigger, for better. We always want more; there is always more.
 
But when you get right down to it, what is more important than the satisfaction we receive from Jesus? What is more necessary for our lives than the bread of life? Jesus is the bread of life, come down from heaven to satisfy our need for life!!! We can turn to other things to satisfy our needs when the road gets rough, or when we get impatient, but we will always return to Jesus.
 
We have spent the past six months in the wilderness, wondering if there will be enough. First it was toilet paper, then it was masks and cleaning supplies. Now it is patience! I am sure you can list other things, too.
 
Know that in this wilderness, God is offering you something more. More love, more hope, more promises that you are not alone.
 
Thank God for more! (Please, God, no peas!)
 

Let us pray:

Almighty God, thank you for always giving us what is best. May we be filled with all you give us today, and continue to nurture us on the journey. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 


No Insiders or Outsiders Here

Matthew 20:1-16
 

The Laborers in the Vineyard

“For the kingdom of heaven islike a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
 
I apologize for the LONG devotion today, but this is my favorite parable, and the story below by Robert Capon is one I have used several times in preaching on this.

Read more...

But for God All Things are Possible

Matthew 19:23-30

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
 
27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
 
Back in 2003, my Tigers won an incredible 43 games, and lost an even more incredible 119! 
 

Read more...

Self-Reflection

2 Corinthians 13:5-10

Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect. 10 So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.
 
These final words from St. Paul to the Corinthians is a challenge to the church – are you living in the faith? How would you answer that for yourself? Your church? Your family? What are the test questions you need to answer to determine that?
 
Living in the faith. I would suggest that living in the faith would mean that the one in whom we have faith has some say in how we live our lives. Does the one in whom we have faith have any say in how we spend our time, our money, our abilities? Does the one in whom we have faith factor in to how we treat each other in our family, our circle of friends, our neighbors? Does the one in whom we have faith guide us in what we say and how we respond to people we disagree with, or what we don’t say?

Read more...

A Request, Please

Psalm 119:97-105
 

97 Oh, how I love your law!

    It is my meditation all day long.

98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,

    for it is always with me.

99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,

    for your decrees are my meditation.

100 I understand more than the aged,

    for I keep your precepts.

101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,

    in order to keep your word.

102 I do not turn away from your ordinances,

    for you have taught me.

103 How sweet are your words to my taste,

    sweeter than honey to my mouth!

104 Through your precepts I get understanding;

    therefore I hate every false way.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet

    and a light to my path.
 
 
I am using an alternative text for today’s devotions to make a request. That comes at the end of today’s devotion.
 
When a child (OR an adult) is baptized at Epiphany Lutheran Church, a Bible is presented to the baptized. For infants, it is a picture Bible. For older children and adults, an age-appropriate Bible is given. The words of the Psalm are shared when the gift is given – may this be a lamp unto your feet and light unto your path.

Read more...

All that God has is YOURS. Rejoice.

Luke 15:25-32

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
 
I am using an alternative text for today’s devotions to share with you one of my favorite stories. The text is the end of the story of the Prodigal Son. If the story is not familiar to you, I strongly encourage you to start at the beginning of Luke 15 to get “the rest of the story.”
 
Hear the story of the lost son from the modern setting as told by Philip Yancey in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?
 

Read more...

Unity, not Uniformity

Psalm 133

 

The Blessedness of Unity

A Song of Ascents
 

How very good and pleasant it is

    when kindred live together in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head,

    running down upon the beard,

on the beard of Aaron,

    running down over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon,

    which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the Lord ordained his blessing,

    life forevermore.

 

Isn’t it wonderful when we all get along and live together in unity?
 
That isn’t always the way things work – even in the church!

Read more...

The Meaning of Faith

Hebrews 11:1-3; 23-29

 

The Meaning of Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
 

The Faith of Moses

23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
 

The Faith of Other Israelite Heroes

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
 
Moses didn’t want to do the job. When God called Moses from the burning bush to go back to Egypt

Read more...

Some Thoughts on Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35

 
21 Then Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
 
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talent] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
 
Some thoughts on forgiveness…
 
Have you ever been mad, I mean really mad at someone? So much so that you lost sleep over it, perhaps had trouble eating?

Read more...