Muddy Chaos

A few years ago, at a church where I was part of the pastoral team, I took weekly prayer walks around the perimeter of the church property. Every Wednesday over the lunch hour I walked and prayed. Through rain, fog, sunshine, heat, cold, and snow, I marched seven times (~4 miles) around the church property praying for the congregation and its leaders. Occasionally a person would join me for a couple rounds. Eventually, I had a path worn in the grass.

One cold winter day as I began my walk, I discovered that part of the worn path had been bulldozed due to some clean-up efforts along the fence row! I stared at the muddy mess and thought, "Where do I go? My path is gone! How do I get past this chaos?" Then I looked up the hill just beyond and to the right of the bulldozer, and saw the wooden boundary stake which I always walked past. So, I kept my eyes fixed on that stake and trudged prayerfully through the mud, and then on the other side of the mess, my well-worn path appeared again.

As I continued walking, Hebrews 12:1-3 popped in my head:

“We have all these great people around us as examples. Their lives tell us what faith means. So we, too, should run the race that is before us and never quit. We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sin that so often makes us fall. We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. He suffered death on a cross. But he accepted the shame of the cross as if it were nothing because of the joy he could see waiting for him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.” ERV

Sometimes life hands us chaos and we feel lost and hopeless. Without warning, our way forward appears to be horribly torn apart and we are stunned at the obstacles in our path. What will we do?! But then the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, reminds us of his presence and he gives us strength to press on, one prayerfully muddy step at a time, with our eyes fixed on Jesus. God is with us and there is hope in, through, and beyond the chaos.

“Don’t worry—I am with you. Don’t be afraid—I am your God. I will make you strong and help you. I will support you with my right hand that brings victory…

I am the Lord your God, who holds your right hand. And I tell you, ‘Don’t be afraid! I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:10, 13 ERV

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb

Gracious Greetings

When my father, mother, and I lived in the remote village of Akiak, Alaska in the late 1970’s, we had two ways to communicate with family and friends in the “lower 48”; by using the only telephone in the village or by writing letters. The telephone was located in a quonset hut that was sort of a community building. If it rang, whoever happened to hear it would answer and then run to try and find the person who was being called. If you were the caller, you needed to calculate the time zone difference and hope that someone on the other end would answer. Letter writing was more reliable, if slower. Sometimes my mother would write to arrange a phone call; e.g., “On Friday I will be calling you at 5 pm your time.” Then that person would hang out at the quonset hut waiting for the phone to ring.

I still have some letters that I received during those years. There is something very intimate about holding paper that you know the sender also held and who spent time writing their thoughts. Is letter writing still taught in schools? Or has technology and social media taken over so that pen and paper will become a lost form of communication? I remember learning in grade school how to properly begin an informal letter;

September 27, 1975
Dear Uncle Al,
How are you? I am fine.
Love, Debbie

Hey, it was grade school; there wasn’t much going on in my life at that time! And please don’t call me Debbie.

While we are taught to begin a letter by addressing the person to whom we are writing, people in biblical times began a letter with their own names, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Grace” was a customary greeting for the Greeks. “Peace” was a customary greeting for the Jews. Read the beginning of other New Testament books written by Paul and you see how important this greeting was for him. By using “grace and peace” Paul included both the Greeks and the Jews in his writings;

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Eph 2:14-18

We don’t think much about Paul’s “grace and peace to you” openings; but it was radical for his time. With just two words he emphasized that everyone who believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior is part of God’s family. Rather remarkable, really. I have the words “Grace & Peace” hanging in our dining room at home.

How do you greet people? What two words could you use that carry more weight than the usual “How are you?”

"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

I’m praying for you,
Pastor Deb

Where the Spirit rushes

Long ago, on a cool morning at camp, I sat on the boat dock and prayed, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Then, I just sat there and listened.

The lake water was moving; the wind blew the surface and when the ripples hit the far shore they would bounce back, hitting whatever was in the way (boats, branches, etc.) creating more ripples, which all crisscrossed each other on the surface (how does that work, exactly?). Bugs jumped around lightly on the surface tension. The water reflected the sky and the shoreline.

There was a lot going on, on the water.

Under the surface, even though I could not see it, I knew there was activity as well. Fish, turtles, plant life, invertebrates all waking up as the water temperature was changing with the onset of a new season. There was a lot going on, in the water.

Then my eyes paused on the earth dam, and I pondered it for a while. The water was contained by its structure but if a hole were to occur (which was a constant fight with the muskrats), the water would push its way through. Water always seeks the lowest and least resistant place to flow; gravity is the force that governs water’s movement and water is always seeking to release itself to that force.

The activity of the wind caught my eye; a breeze jumped from treetop to treetop. If I let my eyes stay on any one spot, the movement of all the leaves sparkling and swaying in the sun was just astounding. “The trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12

What governs the movement of wind? Scientifically, the earth’s rotation, friction, and atmospheric high and low pressures; all are at work in the cause of wind. In the later, wind blows from a high pressure towards a low pressure area.

When I humble myself before God; denying self, kneeling or laying before God, the Holy Spirit (the ruach wind/breath of God) rushes in. Like water seeking the least resistant places, like wind seeking the low pressure, the Spirit seeks the humble in order to raise up Jesus Christ.

I pondered this in relation to Philippians 2:6-8; the humility of Jesus, lowering himself from glory, lowered to being human, lowered to death on a cross… and then verses 9-11; rising on the power of resurrection, ascension, and glory. And then the Spirit rushed in (Acts 2:1-4) to occupy the God-space in each believer.

This is one of the lessons we can learn during Lent; giving up more of self and selfish desires so more of the Holy Spirit can rush in and breath into our lives, transforming us to be more like Jesus, for the glory of God.

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb

Ash Wednesday

Excerpt from Lectio 365

Today is Wednesday the 22nd of February, also known as Ash Wednesday. Many Christians around the world will be marking today as the first day of Lent: a season of fasting, examining our lives, and preparing ourselves for Easter.

In the Bible, ashes symbolize mortality (Genesis 3:19), are used to express grief (Isaiah 61:3), and are also a sign of repentance (Luke 10:13). At the beginning of Lent, some church traditions burn palms used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration and use the ash to mark a cross on the forehead of members of their congregation. This reminds them of their mortality and prompts them to examine their hearts and get right with God.

For many, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a season of fasting. Some people give up certain types of food, while others give up social media, television, or other habits during the 40 days of Lent (which exclude Sundays).

Reflection by Bob Grover, a friend of mine, retired farrier, Brethren minister, Hospice Chaplain.

[Lent is] a 40 day period of fasting leading up to the annual observance of the Passion of Christ; His persecution, death and resurrection.

Does everyone know that fasting is not an end unto itself?

Fasting is the practice of abstaining from something of value and most often done with food. It is a process of denying oneself something that occupies much of our attention. But fasting is not an end unto itself. In other words, there is no merit, no reward, no sense of accomplishment that it brings to the individual for having done it. To do so for those reasons embraces a performance-based attitude seeking acceptance or approval either from God or from the faith community. Wrong reasons!

Fasting is a pathway to redirect the central focus of our life toward something else that is more worthy. Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert as He prepared to launch into His ministry of preaching, teaching, performing healings and miracles, and finally culminating in His sacrifice for all of us. His fasting was done to spend time with the Father, to prepare Him, and to test Him (Luke 4:1-13).

As we fast, we begin to wrestle with the feelings of withdrawal and intense need for whatever we are giving up. That’s our cue to center on a source more sustaining and eternal than the things of this world that only provide temporary solutions.

For me this is one of the ways that Jesus’s claims to be living waters and the bread of life can come to life. While those claims tend to be viewed metaphorically, they still proclaim the eternal truth that abiding in Jesus redemptively, spiritually, emotionally, and even experientially – viewing all of life as sacramental * – bring us deeper into personal intimacy with Jesus.

Whether it’s food or social media, or any other thing you are dropping (or perhaps picking us as a practice) during Lent – do it Solo Deo Gloria! For the glory of God and not for any prideful accomplishment of your own.

Clear out the distractions so that God can do something in you and for you!

(*“ the concept referred to above, "all of life as sacramental," comes from The Sacrament of the Present Moment” by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. A great read for Lent by the way!)

I’m praying for you,Pastor Deb

Love your enemies

Just a few weeks ago, the Jr High group led the children’s story. They shared a skit that they wrote, taken from the Beatitudes, about being “persecuted” for their faith at school. This included experiences with bullies and how to respond to them as Jesus would want them to. What amazing youth we have!

The children’s story this last Sunday was taken from Matthew 7:12 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” They knew that this is called the Golden Rule! What amazing children we have! Included in the story was Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” We referred to those who may poke, or pinch, or annoy us, and how Jesus would want us to respond to them with love. Absolutely true.

However, I found this was heavy on my heart on Monday. The recent suicide of a young teen in New Jersey was a tragic result of bullying at her school. Our children and youth are taught at school that bullying is not acceptable on any level and should be reported to a trusted adult. I checked the Shenandoah County Public Schools website, searched bullying, and was thankful to see their commitment to anti-bullying education and response.

Loving our enemies does not mean that we continue to let them abuse, injure, or harm us. When we truly love people, we have to stop them from doing things that can harm themselves, us, or other people. But we do it from love, not hatred. Telling a trusted adult or parent about what is happening and asking for help is an important message that children, youth, and adults need to be taught, not just in school, the home, and the workplace, but also in the church. God does not condone abuse. He never wants one of his children to be harmed — he always wants us to cling to Christ for mercy and to find security and strength in his kingdom. That is my commitment as well.

Here are two websites that aid in talking to your child or teen about the Christian response to bullying:

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb

Close Enough

Close enough

Our home in Ohio had a big bay window in the front room. Finding curtains for that thing was a challenge because it required a long curved curtain rod, which was expensive. So I busted out my creative energy and gently bent straight curtain rods to fit the curve. It worked perfectly and was much less expensive.

I hated taking those curtains down to wash them because it required two people and it was a time consuming process. But once a year, down they came and were washed and dried, and my dear hubby (who made fun of me for having to stand on a stool when he could just reach up) helped me rehang them. Then I had to readjust the tie-backs and the tops so that it all was nice and neatly balanced. Because I need balance.

But as I worked on getting those curtains perfectly spaced I remembered one of my favorite phrases, “Close enough.” I learned it from my dad, who was a carpenter. He once told me that there are many things in carpentry that do require perfection, but there are some things for which “close enough” works well. I’ve discovered that this phrase is appropriate for other aspects of life, too. Like, folding fitted sheets.

Once upon a camp-time, I chose the word “excellence” as the yearly theme for the year-round staff. We challenged each other to strive for excellence in everything we did, including how we lived our faith. The verse for that theme was, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.

One day during our weekly Bible study, we had a discussion about perfection versus excellence. Excellence means setting a high standard for yourself in everything you do and working towards doing the best that you can. Perfection means being free from flaw or defect. Excellence is the process by which one may achieve perfection. Perfection is often unachievable, daunting, often frustrating, and can cause someone to not even begin a task. Why would Jesus say that we have to be perfect LIKE GOD?! Is that not IMPOSSIBLE?

Look at that verse in context. Jesus was talking about loving your enemies. Be perfect in love. The Greek word for perfect means “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” Love like the Father. Love like the Son. Love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s often-left-off-introduction to the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13), is this: “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” 1 Corinthians 12:31b. The Greek word for excellent means “a throwing beyond.”

No, I cannot achieve perfection in love on my own. “Close enough” doesn’t work in loving others. But by striving for excellence in all things (1 Corinthians 13:7), I have set my feet on the path of the Father’s already complete and finished perfection. The only way to achieve perfection in loving others, especially those who may be my enemies, is by submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, I have already tapped into the finished and complete, perfect, self-giving love of the Father.

“Close enough” isn’t enough when we submit to Jesus Christ;

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:34-30

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb

25 January, 2023 10:48

Those crazy Facebook quizzes annoy me (and there are warnings about not taking them because of the threat of identity theft). “What Mexican food are you?” Which Disney character do you resemble?” “What’s your real age?” “What would be your prison stereotype?” Okay, I admit I took that one. Results were that I would be a prison leader. Fantastic. “What prison sentence would you get?” Life sentence. Well, that’s just great.

Maybe I should create a quiz. “If you were in jail what would you do with all your spare time?”

The apostle Paul spent quite a bit of time in jail. What a great example, huh? Well, actually, yea, he is. Because he was thrown in jail for preaching about Jesus. Most Jewish leaders didn’t like him; they thought Jesus was dead and gone and was no longer a threat to their religious way of life. Saul (before he was called Paul) actually was one of those haters who ran around throwing Jesus followers in prison, Acts 8:1-3.

But then Jesus got hold of him. The bright Light of the world blinded Saul, told him to knock it off, healed him, and gave him a new purpose in life, Acts 9:1-22. And the Jews didn’t like that very much either, Acts 13:44-45.

Nothing scared Paul. Not shipwrecks, Acts 27, or snake bites, 28:1-6, politicians or wealthy people, being beaten or stoned, 14:19-20; 21:27-32, being thrown in jail, 16:22-24, or even dying for his faith in Jesus Christ, 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18. You can read Paul’s own words about all that stuff in 2 Corinthians 11:21-30; 12:9-10.

First century jails weren’t very comfy; dark, dirty, and smelly are fitting descriptions. So, what did Paul do with all his spare time sitting in jail cells? He:

-Sang songs, Acts 16:25

-Told people in the jail about Jesus, Acts 16:31-32

-Wrote letters to churches that he had visited on his travels, Acts chapters 19-20

The New Testament books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are called Paul’s “prison epistles (letters) because he wrote them while he was in jail (I imagine there were probably many more that just weren’t saved). Most likely he had a lot of time to think and pray, and the Holy Spirit taught him a lot about Jesus, too. Paul was then able to pass on that knowledge to those first Christians through his writings.

The beginning of his letter to the church in Ephesus contains rich words of praise and blessing for who God is and what he has done in and through Jesus Christ, vs 3-10; how God has blessings for everyone who believes in Jesus, vs 11-14, and praise and thanksgiving for the believers in that church, vs 15-23. It is an amazing way to start a letter!

You see, Paul wasn’t sitting in his cell pouting about his circumstances, Philippians 4:11-13! No dark jail cell or thick iron bars were going to stop him from his unending commitment of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, Acts 28:30-31! Paul wrote that he was “in chains for Christ,” Philippians 1:13 and a “prisoner of Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 3:1. That was his purpose, his calling, and his goal until his dying day. Church tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome in the mid to late 60’s AD, because he just wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus.

So. What’s up with you? What’s up with me? What are my current circumstances? What do you do with all your spare time?

What do I consider more important than Jesus Christ? Popularity? My future? My job? My own wants and desires?

Are we willing to take risks so that the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ will be shared with the people we are with every day? Or anyone we happen to meet?

Is there anything that keeps me from saying, “I, Deb, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of …”?

I hope not. Jesus might have to shine a blinding bright light in MY eyes to straighten me up.

I’m praying for you.


1/19/23 Companions

Deb’s Devotions

A few years ago, I attended a leader’s retreat at Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center near Toano, VA. One afternoon I went for a walk on one of the trails. I grabbed a walking stick to fend off spider webs and to tap the ground to alert snakes that I was there and they should go away. The trail was wide, well-marked, and sunny. I walked alertly and talked to God. The trail descended slowly, narrowed, and the canopy thickened. It dipped down into a low muddy area where I had to go around a tree. I realized suddenly that I didn’t know the woods, but I did know there were copperheads. As I drew nearer to the swamp, I tapped the ground more forcefully with the stick. I grew more timid; where was I going, how long was this path, how far away am I from people, why am I here alone?! I suddenly wished for a noisy group of people to be walking with me!

Then, I saw a five foot black snake lounging by the path. I skirted around it and kept walking, but FEAR overcame me as I imagined what I might encounter next, and I decided to go back. But, I would have to pass that snake again! I walked slowly until I saw it, then really whapped the ground with the stick. It slithered off and I high-tailed it back the path, not caring about anything but getting back to open spaces!

As I got to the wide sunny part, I realized that I had been taught a lesson. Walking alone was okay until I encountered fear, then I wanted companions. Isn’t that much like my Christian journey? I can go confidently along by myself; but when life’s circumstances become challenging, I sure want companions on my journey who will provide encouragement, support, comfort, and prayer. That is part of the joy of being a member of the Body of Christ; when obstacles are encountered, my sisters and brothers are present to “be Jesus with skin on.”

Especially when there are snakes.

“So support one another. Keep building each other up as you have been doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Mother’s Faith Legacy

Over the last couple months, I have been compiling the many writings of both of my parents. My mother was the editor of our monthly church newsletter and would write a short editorial, which were often spiritual reflections from her life journey. Both she and my father wrote their faith testimonies and life stories. Fortunately, most of these were typed, and fortunately Bob was able to retrieve them from the floppy discs of the 1990’s! I plan to print copies for myself and my three siblings, and provide the files for us to pass on to our children and grandchildren. I am so thankful we have these stories to preserve and share.

My mother was a gifted writer and a woman of strong faith in Jesus Christ. Her reflections during the years of fighting cancer were as rich as the psalmists; fear, anger, weariness, crying out to God, faith, trust, hope and joy. I found the following poem which she had written on a scrap of paper, clearly working out the rhythm and rhyme as she scratched out phrases and words to substitute ones which were a better fit. There was no date on the paper. Mom died in June 2001. I am sharing her poem today to honor her faith legacy.

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb

God forgave me—oh! How great!

Saved me ‘ere it was too late.

His Spirit guides and sometimes hides me

From an awful fate.

Sometimes the love of God above

Seems not to reach me here.

But when I fall, on Him I call,

And then I feel Him near.

The love of God, means more to me,

Then I can ever tell.

He loves me, keeps me, thrills me, fills me,

Like a flowing well.

I cannot speak as well as some,

But this I pledge to do;

To speak to others that I meet

Just as I spoke to you.

Ann Miller


One cold, snowy day in Northern Ohio at the camp where I worked, I shoveled the sidewalks. There are a lot of sidewalks at camp! The snow was about 4 inches thick but very light and fluffy so it was not very difficult, but it was hard work. While I was shoveling it began snowing again; big fluffy flakes gently falling. It did not take long for the sidewalks to get recovered in a dusting of snow. But that was okay, because it is much easier to keep periodically shoveling a walk than it is to wait until there are 6 inches accumulated!

Continued shoveling keeps the edges of the sidewalk visible, which makes it easier to see where to shovel the next time. If I wait until no snow is in the forecast before I even attempt to shovel, it is much more back-breaking and I may not have any indication where the sidewalk actually is located.

I had read Jeremiah 29:11 that morning and had been focusing on the word hope. I had turned in my resignation a few months before, and I had no idea what God had planned for me once I left camp ministry, which caused me some anxiety. I prayed as I shoveled, “Show me your path, God. Clear the way. Give me hope.”

Then I realized that seeking God’s direction is a lot like shoveling a sidewalk. If I patiently persevere in prayer, asking God for wisdom and discernment, I essentially am keeping the “path” cleared. Yes, I may have to keep asking for clarity, and the path may get covered up a bit with more questions or wait time, but with continued prayerful clearing, the edges of my journey remain visible, which means I at least know the direction I’m headed. And continuing the dialogue with God through that prayerful process, means I will not be overwhelmed and buried by life’s circumstances or by fear of the unknown.

Hope keeps me persistently shoveling sidewalks even while the snow is falling. And, hope keeps me prayerfully seeking God’s guidance, even when I am not sure what experiences each day may bring or where God may lead next. 

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Rm 5:1-5.

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb