Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 43 – From Pastor Doug

Thursday May 14, 2020

1 Peter 3: 13-17   13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way.  Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

How fast do we think on our feet?  Some people are naturally gifted this way; I am not.  

In a former life, I managed research for a paper company.  Paper is made on a machine that starts with dilute wood fibers in water and ends up with a 20 foot wide web of paper winding onto a reel at 3000 feet per minute.  If anything goes wrong and the paper web breaks, the paper web has to be rethreaded through the machine.  This is a manual process.  It takes about 15 minutes during which machine productivity is zero.  It is a hot, wet, and dangerous operation which carries a risk of losing a finger in a nip.  Many older papermakers have a missing finger.  A day with no breaks is a good day.

As a researcher, I was often trying new things that changed the process and ran the risk of causing a break (as well as off-spec, unsellable paper).  So, when I was running a papermaking trial, I always felt guilty when the web broke.  (The operators always agreed heartily that research was guilty and responsible.)  During a trial I was always trying to think fast on my feet to anticipate any problems that could cause a web break and then to recommend corrective action before it happened.  I always felt that I couldn’t think fast enough.  Can you relate to these feelings?  Thankfully, there were others on my research team who thought faster.

Peter, in our devotional scripture, advises us how to answer if someone asks about our hope as a believer.  There are pastors who can respond immediately to such a question.  They can think fast on their feet.  They can discern what the questioner needs to hear give a good answer.  I am not one of those pastors. 

Do you find it difficult to think quickly on your feet when the consequences are important?  If so, what can you do?  

The best method is to practice ahead of time.  This is why we take driving lessons before driving.  So our reactions to driving conditions become fast and automatic.  

Reading the Bible is challenging for many.  The Old Testament was written for a different culture and its history is not in order.  Zane Stauffer, who read the Bible through multiple times, loved “chronological” translations that place events in the order in which they happened and make it much easier to follow the history.  Bible vocabulary is difficult.  Finding a readable translation is very helpful.  But it is worth the effort.  Reading the Bible is a way to practice ahead of time.

Another way to practice ahead of time is to participate in a Bible study.  Most Bible studies take a short passage and ask all the participants to think about it.  It is a much less rushed process and it gives us a chance to hear one another’s thoughts.  As Pastor Joyce said recently, iron sharpens iron.

Last Sunday, Jon Bauman ended his sermon encouraging us to think about who we might choose as a mentor and who we might be a mentor to.  Both relationships allow us to practice our beliefs ahead of time.

This may be a hidden blessing from sheltering in place.  In one sense, this pestilence has moved very quickly.  It is just 3 months since the first cases began in our country.  But, if we are sheltering in place, three months may seem like a very long time.  Home time challenges us to think about our own mortality, about God’s promise of a next life, and about how we can help one another.  In a way, this is giving us time to examine our beliefs and practice our faith ahead of time.  

Let’s take a moment.  No pressure.  If we were asked about why we have hope as a believer, what might we say?  Would we speak about faith in God’s love?  In God’s promises?  During this time of sheltering in place, we might include something about how our faith is helping us through this crisis.  How our anxiety is lessened.  How we can see not only bad but also good things that are happening in the chaos.  

This way, we who don’t think quickly when surprised, can be ready when questions and challenges come our way.  

-Pastor Doug Donigian

Stay in touch.  Share your needs.  Let us help.  Amen.


Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 42 – From Jon

Wednesday May 13, 2020

19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:19-24 (NRSV)

Have you ever bitten into an apple and found that it was rotten?

You expect the apple to be delicious, crisp, juicy, and you end up biting into something disgusting, mushy, or dry. You then spit the rotten fruit from your mouth, and throw the apple into the trash.

One day, Jesus was hungry and walked past a fig tree that did not yet produce fruit, and he cursed it (Mark 11:12-14).

They then entered into Jerusalem, and that is where the author of Mark records Jesus entering the temple, seeing its corruption, and its taking advantage of the poor, and declared that they had turned his Father’s house into a den of robbers.

As they left Jerusalem, Peter saw that the fig tree that Jesus had cursed before has withered; its bark likely looked unhealthy, its leaves were probably blowing away with the wind, and it would certainly not produce fruit again.

Jesus used this opportunity to tell them that just as he had the power to curse that fig tree, that prayer is just as powerful of a force to change the circumstances around them. That they do not have to doubt the ability of God to change the impossible to the possible.

I think that we can draw two things from Mark 11, in looking at the context of the chapter that precedes the passage for today’s devotional:

ONE: We are meant to bear fruit. Faith is not meant to be all about us, for that can lead to selfishness at the expense of others, like it did in the Temple of Jerusalem that Jesus cleansed. Instead, our faith is meant to grow within us so that we can bless others like a fig tree that bears fruit that gives others nourishment.

TWO: We are to meant to actively pray for our world, and those around us. To bear fruit is to bless those around us with our faith that inspires us to not only share the hope of Jesus to the world, but to also be people who help others through the actions that our faith calls us to take to help others. However, if we seek to bless our world, we are not expected to do so alone; we have direct communication with God through prayer, and God hears the requests and pleads from God’s people. Answer’s to prayer may be a yes, it may be a no, it may be a “not yet”, but we should still earnestly believe that we can pray to our God.

We are to be people that provide nourishment to our world through being a people that seeks the Lord in prayer.

If we are not voices of faith and hope, and we claim to be, we are like that apple we thought about earlier, or that fig tree that looks promising, but isn’t.

We won’t be perfect at this, but that is why we pray.

Our world needs faith and hope right now; it needs to know that there are still people in our world who care about them, and what they are going through, and it needs to know that there is God who listens to their prayer.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 41 – From Jon

Tuesday May 12, 2020

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

2 Corinthians 9:10-15 (NRSV)

On Instagram, a social media service, there is an account called “PreachersNSneakers” that has pictures of the chosen footware and clothing of the nation’s most popular preachers, and pairs those pictures with a screenshot from the a company that sells them for people to see how much these Preachers spend on Sneakers.

It is a really funny page to follow, but its also causes some questions in your mind. Why does a preacher need seemingly regular shoes that cost over $1,000? I’m not saying that a person can’t do what they want with their money, but it’s just an odd thing to consider.

Some of these preachers would say that if you do the Lord’s work, then you will be blessed tremendously, and that these blessings are meant to be so big that they overflow. All you got to do is have a little faith.

But something about that doesn’t line up for me. If all we have to do is follow the Lord and we will be blessed, then doesn’t that imply that anyone who is homeless, in poverty, or even up to middle-class, are people who do not TRULY put their trust in the Lord? And wouldn’t such thinking further promote classism, greed, and the quest for power and control if the rich believe that God is on their side, and not others?

If I am wearing my $60 shoes, am I less of a faithful Christian than the person who is wearing $600 shoes? What about the person who is wearing $10 shoes – do they view me like I view those buying several hundred dollar shoes?

This is what happens when we compare ourselves with others: we think we are superior to some, lower than others, and there’s judgement all around.

I do not believe that God works in the ways that some would argue; that God would financially bless people in abundance according to their good works on earth.

Jesus was a traveler, and would often sleep in cramped rooms, or outside. His disciples were regular men who would go on to continue this hard life of missionary work, and who would suffer and die because of their faith in Jesus. The Apostle Paul may have supplemented his own ministry by being a tent-maker by trade, and he also suffered and died as a criminal because of his commitment to his faith in Jesus.

And so when the Apostle Paul writes that God will bless those who have given money and resources to him in support of his ministry, I do not think that he means that God would give them riches of material wealth that would “overflow”, but that God would show them the power of their faith, and their hope, through their sacrifice of giving. This supreme gift is not silver or gold, but the Grace of God that surpasses our own understanding, that comforts us when no one else is around, and that teaches us to be content, no matter the circumstance. The God who was the source of hope to Paul in his suffering is the same God who is with us at every moment.

Right now, we are suffering as a society.

We are afraid of a virus that could affect our health, and we are afraid of economic hardships that could affect our families, and our nation.

There are those of us who know people who have been affected by the virus, and there are those of us who have no direct experience with the virus yet.

There are those of us who continue to have a source for income, and there are those of us who have lost our jobs, or who are forced to work lesser hours.

We will be tempted to compare ourselves with others during this time of societal uncertainty. We will be tempted to ask God why this happened to us, and not to others.

But the passage today reminds us all that we are called to both give of ourselves to support others, financially, or just by making a phone call, AND we are assured that no matter where life may take us, that God is always with us, and that we can rest in knowing that that God’s grace is comforting to all of us – we are ALL blessed.

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 40 – From Pastor Joyce

Monday May 11, 2020

2 Timothy 2:14-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
14 Remind them of this and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”

Proverbs 27:17 New International Version (NIV)
17 As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

Pastor Doug, Jon, and I have truly been enjoying crafting Sunday morning worship services for you and with you. Our mission has been greatly enhanced by the talents of Ed Swartz, Nancy Chmieleski, Ginny Arana, Carol Edge, and Denise Parker and her ability to get all our choir members to sing together separately as well as encouraging many of our members to send greetings by having their pictures included.

Although we are not meeting together for worship, we are worshipping together. And worship is one of the most important ways we can show our love for God and for others. There is an upward focus to worship – looking heavenward in praise and thanksgiving as well as confession and adoration for the God who loves us beyond measure. There is an outward focus as well – praying for one another, greeting one another, even a smile or a handshake makes a difference.

When we are able to meet together, we can enjoy fellowship as well. First Fellowship has been a most popular place to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and many, many goodies each week. Yet there is one missing element even when we are together. In these times together, there is almost no opportunity to ask spiritual questions or share spiritual experiences or ask follow-up questions about the sermon or learn more about what the Bible has to tell us.

That is why Pastor Doug and I have encouraged our folks to join a Sunday School class, a Bible study group, a book club, or other small group where such topics can be discussed. We can learn much from one another; we can teach one another much. Even becoming a member of a committee is a good thing since the discussions within committees bring about better solutions than only relying on one person’s ideas and perspectives. As the proverb reminds us – iron sharpens iron. We have seen that happen. But Solomon (who wrote Proverbs) also saw the parallel of personal growth and teaching/learning between people.

Small groups are where a person can become truly known. Small groups are safe places, places where each person’s ideas can be sharpened and strengthened, places where no question is dumb. The beauty of such small groups is that the group itself determines what is discussed. Perhaps there is a group that wants to try new recipes or a group that wants to learn more about dealing with preschoolers or preteens. Perhaps another group wants to discuss the latest best seller. Another group may want to study the Bible. Another group may want to work together on a local mission project. The possibilities are almost endless.

However, when we are practicing social distancing, it is difficult to do these together-things. This has been a little frustrating since Pastor Doug and I have experienced how beneficial discussion groups, study groups, self-help groups, or other special interest groups can be. That is why we were delighted recently when Ryan Miller asked us if he could begin a weekly discussion/study/prayer/open forum group and do this in the virtual world. He wanted to set up a time when all interested people could connect either visually or by telephone through an internet application. He chose Tuesday evenings at 7:00. Last Tuesday was its premier, and all who participated were blessed.

It isn’t often that such an interesting and diverse group of people could get together to discuss whatever might be on their minds. Last week we were asked to share how we were dealing with being isolated from our friends, family, and church. The group was made of people who are different ages, have different areas of interest at the church, have lots of experience with small groups or no experience at all, and so many other interesting differences. All who took part felt that it was a worthwhile experience.

Such times of discussion and personal growth show the importance of learning from one another, learning from one another as well as teaching one another. Jon touched on this idea in his sermon yesterday – the idea of mentoring and discipleship. He asked us to think about entering into a formal mentoring and/or discipleship relationship. And that is a very good thing. However, if a person is not ready for such a formal relationship – perhaps one-on-one may feel too intense. A small group like the virtual chat on Tuesday nights may be just the thing for folks to get a taste of small groups. You don’t have to say anything; you can just sit back and take in what others are saying.

And it is so easy. You don’t have to drive anywhere, you don’t have to get dressed up, you don’t even have to leave your favorite chair. Making the connection was easy, and Ryan was a good leader, allowing all who wanted to speak a time for expression. If you were one of the ones who had other obligations last Tuesday and could not attend, please consider joining tomorrow night.

Just as iron sharpens iron, positive people will inspire you to be positive. In this time of sheltering in place, it is difficult to stay positive when we hear the sometimes confusing news reports about if and when life can become more normal. We are also hearing about so many who are sick and have died and hearing about those who are struggling financially as well as those who are finding the stay-at-home mandates too restrictive. A positive step for us at least is to take time to focus on one another and enjoy time together even though we are apart by joining our First Church Tuesday night virtual chats. Try it – you’ll like it!


-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 39 – From Pastor Joyce

Friday May 8, 2020

2 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.  2  Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment,  3  now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.
4  You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.
5  And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.  6  As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,
    chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” (Isaiah 28:16)
7  Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118:22)
8  And,
“He is the stone that makes people stumble,
    the rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
9  But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
10  “Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.” (Hosea 1:6, 9;2:23)

1 Peter 2:1-10 (NLT)

This is a passage that is very meaningful to me.  It has so many things to say to us. The first thing to notice is that although this letter was written by Peter, there are several references to Old Testament prophecies from Psalms, Isaiah, and Hosea.  God had been planning this for a long time.  God whispered these ideas to the prophets, and they announced what was to happen.  These prophesies likely didn’t make much sense to the hearers, but from our perspective, we can see clearly what was meant.  And it is a prophecy for all of us.

First, we are given the directions that we are to get rid of all evil behavior, things like deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and unkind speech.  Instead, we are to crave, yearn for, spiritual nourishment.  Why?  Because we have had a taste of God’s kindness. This certainly is sound advice.

We are next told that Jesus is the living cornerstone of God’s temple.  This is truly foundational to our faith.  The definition of cornerstone is “an important quality or feature on which a particular thing depends or is based.”  As this living cornerstone, Jesus ensures the permanency of our salvation. A cornerstone can determine the construction of an entire building.  If it is laid well, the walls of the building will be straight and true.  If the cornerstone is not placed exactly, the walls may not be square, and the resulting building will be less stable. 

Although the idea of the Messiah, Jesus, being the cornerstone of our faith was first voiced by the prophets, there are several references in the New Testament – in Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians along with this verse in 1 Peter.  The concept of Jesus being the foundation of our faith, just as the cornerstone is the foundation of a well-built structure, was appealing to these early writers.  Just like it is to me.

Jesus then is the steady and unchanging cornerstone of our faith, a cornerstone of something that will be built, God’s church.  But this church will not be built of brick and mortar or wood; instead, it will be built out of believers. We are to be the living stones of God’s holy places, chosen by God, for this purpose.  Do you feel the privilege and honor that goes with this choosing?  God has chosen each one of us to be a part of God’s sanctuary.  That is both a great honor and a great responsibility – to be chosen to do what pleases God.

I see this as an analogy for how we, as believers, are to build our church.  Consider each of us as a stone as part of the walls. Some stones are bigger than others, showing that some folks in the church do more to support the church than others.  But all the stones are important, both big and small.  They fit together to make a strong wall.  If some are missing, not doing their part, the wall is noticeably weaker.  Each stone, whether large or small, has a job to do. With Jesus as the cornerstone and God as the master builder, the holy place built with us as living stones should be strong and lasting.

First Church has lasted for many years, over 150.  The church has prevailed through many ups and downs in our country: wars, innovations, pandemics, revolutions both social and cultural among them.  We are not the community Quakertown was 150 years ago.  We are not the same First Church of 150 years ago. We have changed.  We have adapted.  We have remained strong. As those who have gotten older have given up church responsibilities, others have stepped in to take over.  This is like a stone wall being rebuilt as some stones chip or weather. New strong stones take their place.

But if there are no new stones to take their places, there may be cracks and gaps in the wall.  Activities may be forced to stop because there are not enough willing hands to do the work.  New activities may take their place, but it is essential, in order for this to happen, that the stones are available and willing to take their places in the wall.

In times like ours today, many people see little or no value in “church work.” Their schedules are overfilled with work, childcare, sports, lessons, shopping, housework, yard work, with little time left over even to sleep or relax.  At one time worship at church was the only thing to do on Sunday mornings, and almost everyone went to church.  Stores were closed, sports activities happened later in the day.  It was often a day filled with family visits and relaxation. But even with this day of Sabbath rest, there was still time for church activities – clubs, sports teams, Bible studies, committees, choirs. Churches were the centers of social activities.

Such is not the case in our time.  People are so busy. How we do church may need to change.  How we build our strong wall may need to change.  What we do know is that Jesus is our guiding cornerstone and God is the master builder.  If we listen and learn what God wants us to do, we as God’s chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, can keep our wall strong, without cracks or gaps.  We have done this in the past; we are doing this now as we try to stay connected during this time of social distancing, and we can do this in the future with God’s help and guidance.  Thanks be to God!

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 38 – From Pastor Doug

Thursday May 7, 2020

Psalm 19:1-4   The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Matthew 5:8   8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

2 Corinthians 5:6-9   So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.  

How do we see God?

Suzanne Montgomery, writing for the Upper Room, gives a helpful answer. Suzanne and her husband bought a starter beehive kit from a local beekeeper. She asked the beekeeper where the queen bee was. The beekeeper said that she did not have to actually “see” the queen; if eggs and bee larva appeared in the combs, the queen must be there. Sure enough, the hive flourished.

Her conclusion is that God is invisible. God is spirit. God is not seen directly with one’s eyes; rather, God’s work is very visible and proves God is there, nevertheless.

Psalm 19 (above) puts this insight into a song. It asks us to look at nature, at the blue sky, at the amazing diversity of life, at the dependability of day and night. Although we can’t see God directly, although we can’t hear the words by which God created and sustains the world around us, God is proven by creation. God is working. God is involved. God cares. How could all this be, except for God’s will?

How do we see God?

In the Sermon on the Mount (above), Jesus adds that a person with a pure heart will see what others do not see. They have a special blessing. They can “see” God.

What did Jesus mean?

Several things. First is his answer (John 14:8-9) to Philip as they were sharing his last supper, “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” Jesus meant that, though God is spirit, he sent a part of himself, Jesus, who could be seen by human eyes. He cared for us that much. We have accounts of people who directly “saw” him and who heard his teachings and saw his example.

Second, he meant it was a blessing of the pure in heart to “recognize” him. He applied Isaiah’s prophesy to people saying (Matthew 13:13), “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because ‘seeing’ they do not ‘see’, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” He meant that people could directly see him and his handiwork, but not recognize what it meant. For example, some will say good things from God are just dumb luck or good fortune or random chance. What else can they say if they deny the existence of God? Others will fix on bad things and conclude they are being punished by God or by Satan or even space aliens. All false. Jesus said, “… nor do they understand.”

Third, he meant that the pure in heart are able to keep their eyes on God, even when there is chaos. Paul said (Philippians 3:13-14), “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” If we are controlled by fear or worry or anger, we may not even see what is good. We may see everything through the blinders of our negative emotions. Paul says that we must avoid such negative thinking even if it takes a lot of energy. Don’t let the past control us. Press on.

Jesus asks us to be pure in heart. This doesn’t mean we don’t mess up and need to confess, perhaps often. But it means we look to Jesus, we strive to recognize God’s handiwork among the chaos, and we “press on” past negative thinking and toward the promises of God.

How do we see God?

There can be times when there is so much chaos, so much disaster, so much confusion, so much threat, so much loss that it is hard to see God. We may feel like the psalmist (Psalm 10:11) that “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face …”. Early Christians experienced that when persecution fell upon them. Paul advised the Corinthians (above) that, when we cannot “see”, rely on faith. Sometimes events are so bad that God’s love and provision seem hidden from our eyes. In that case go forward by faith. Pray. Read scripture. Remember Jesus’ good news. Know that heaven awaits. Turn your attention to others, especially to those worse off. Find a way to help them.

In this time of pestilence, we see untimely death. In our isolation we are deprived of conversation and human touch. We encounter sadness, worry, and loneliness. Yet God is present. People are helping one another. We are learning to Zoom. May we continue to see God through our eyes and through our faith.

-Pastor Douglas Donigian

Stay in touch. Share your needs. Let us help. Amen.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 37 – From Pastor Joyce

Wednesday May 6, 2020

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

Philemon 1:4-7 (NLT)

It is always good to see a passage of scripture in context.  Philemon is a short book, only one chapter of 24 verses.  It is most likely the contents of a letter carried back to Philemon from Paul. It does not give us any help in understanding the setting for this letter. 

Here is some of the back story:

Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter to his friend and fellow believer, Philemon, who lived in Colossae in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. (Paul wrote another letter to all the believers in that city – Colossians.) Paul wrote to this friend to ask a favor, not for himself but for another. 

Philemon must have been fairly wealthy – he had a house large enough to host meetings of believers; he was known for his hospitality and care.  But he also owned slaves.  And one of those slaves, Onesimus, had run away from his master and had found his way to Rome.  Paul was in prison there at that time, but somehow he met Onesimus and led him to faith in Jesus.

It is unclear why Onesimus ran away from his master.  Philemon had the well-deserved reputation for being kind and fair, faithful to the teaching of Jesus.  He was a man whose faith was strong, and he showed that faith in how he dealt with his household and all those who knew him. He showed God’s love so well that when believers left his home, they felt rested and refreshed, like that had been at an oasis.  

Some of these accounts had reached Paul in Rome.  After meeting Paul Onesimus listened to his teachings and became a believer.  Not only a believer but one who wanted to work to spread God’s word.  That most likely meant that he would need to reconcile with his master Philemon and settle accounts with him.  Onesimus may have asked Paul to write the letter or Paul may have felt that it was his obligation to bring harmony back into the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.

So he wrote this letter in hopes that he could convince Philemon to take Onesimus back without punishment.  In fact, Paul later in the letter asks that Onesimus be allowed to return not as a slave but as a brother in the Lord, one who wanted to spread the faith.  

Paul asks this as a favor, asking Philemon to forgive and reconcile with his slave, and additionally to allow him to work spreading the gospel along with working in Philemon’s household. 

Philemon must have been in a difficult position. He was a believer, caring for fellow believers, encouraging others to become believers as well.  It can be said that, although it was not thought of as “Christian” at the time, Christian generosity was part of Philemon’s makeup.  Yet he was also a man who had standing within his household and within the community.  Allowing a slave to run away and then take him back, not only without punishment but with a freedom not previously known, was not the way to add to his reputation among non-believers.  Such a decision would not have been understood by those who had not been touched by the teachings of Jesus.

Paul was asking this generous man to be even more generous. Why would Philemon choose this path rather than the more traditional, safer path in dealing with his runaway slave? 

One of the lessons we see here is that we learn about Christ by giving to others.  By not thinking about ourselves and our reputations, by emptying ourselves and becoming filled with Christ is a way we learn more about Christ.  By giving of ourselves we can be filled with those things that are of God.  This is a case of a man knowing more about Christ than those who study to learn about Christ.  Instead, Philemon’s knowledge of Christ came from showing loving generosity toward Onesimus.

Belief and faith in Jesus and showing God’s love toward others should bring Christians closer to one another than any other outward relationships.  Doing God’s work among those around us, regardless of their behavior or belief would be showing love and forgiveness and care to all who need it. That doesn’t mean that we should not pray for our Christian friends often, remembering them with calls and cards as well, Paul certainly did this well. Yet we are to always be ready to share our faith with those who have no faith.  That does not mean preaching at them or giving them some tracts to read.  It means for us to step out of our comfort zone by putting the needs of others before our own fears of rejection or perhaps saying the wrong thing. It means befriending.  It means becoming involved.  It means feeling “out of our element” sometimes, times when we can only rely on God’s guidance and leadership.

Philemon was convinced by Paul’s good reasoning. What Philemon did showed that his love of God was more important to him than adding to his own reputation within his community.  We are not told this directly, but we can guess that Philemon was happy to welcome Onesimus back into his household.  Having this man return to him of his own accord must have brought joy and comfort to him – and to the others of his household.  Having this be the result of Paul’s interaction with Onesimus, his conversion, his desire to return to his master, and to repair their relationship, shows how God was acting in the lives of these three men from the very beginning.  The result was that all three were blessed by doing God’s will, and God was glorified. Let us follow their example.

-Pastor Joyce Donigian

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 36 – From Pastor Doug

Tuesday May 5, 2020

Matthew 18:19  19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

John 15:5-8  5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. 

Philippians 4:6-9  6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

One of the best and yet most confusing promises Jesus made to us was that he would answer earnest prayers from believers.  

This is one of the best because we keep encountering difficulties that have us stumped.  Prayer offers us a way out when we don’t see any other way. Examples … “Help us beat the coronavirus.”  “Please may the chemo work.” “Let them offer me the job.” “Help my relationship with (this difficult person) improve.”  These situations are often out of our control. But we know that God is in control of everything. So we pray to God for help.

It is also confusing because many prayers are not answered in the ways we ask.  The coronavirus keeps spreading. Chemo often works, but not always. Our job applications are turned down.  Our difficult person stays difficult. So, what are we to believe?

Here are some things to think about.  Please respond with your insights as well.

As a start, I believe that heart-felt praying is almost always good. (Don’t shut your eyes while driving or carving a turkey.)  Whether or not the prayer achieves what we ask for, God always says, “Thank you for asking. Thank you for turning to me and honoring me and trusting me.  I love that about you.”

But what about prayers that are not answered as we ask?

It may have to do with what are we asking for.  Some prayers, however earnest, are not in keeping with God’s will.  

Prayers that ask God to change laws of creation are very rarely answered as we ask.  The drunk driver is not often made miraculously sober just long enough to avoid an accident.  A worn-out body may not be miraculously cured. (Nevertheless, James encourages us to pray for the sick.)  Disasters sometimes happen even when many pray that they won’t. Don’t give up praying; just realize that it may not succeed in the way we ask.

Prayers that are basically selfish and would simply put us at an advantage over someone else are probably not in God’s will to answer.  Praying to beat someone else in a contest would be an example. Unselfish prayers for others (think enemies) are much more encouraged by Jesus than prayers for ourselves.  

Prayers for things that we humans are supposed to do, but aren’t doing, rarely succeed.  “Please make me stop smoking.” “Please keep me healthy, while I don’t socially distance or wash my hands.”  “Please help the poor in Quakertown.”

Sometimes it is said that what we pray is good but how we pray is bad.

This is a slippery slope.  Jesus warned that praying loudly in public to show we are holy does not get God’s approval.  He said that saying the same prayer fifty times in a row is not better than saying it once. But most complaints about how we pray are usually false and self-defeating.  

An example is to think, “I didn’t pray hard enough.”  Jesus’ specific instructions for how to pray tended to be very short and to the point.  The conclusion that I didn’t pray “hard enough” either says, “I failed and I’m guilty.” or says, “God withholds action unless I do enough the right way.”  This is false on both counts. Even when we don’t have words, God knows exactly what we need.  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26).”

Finally, there may be an issue of time.  Paul advised, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).” Do not quit praying when an answer does not appear immediately.  Jesus told a parable about a woman who wore down a judge by repeatedly asking for justice (Luke 18:1-8)  The beginning of this passage is, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  We have all heard testimonies of mothers who prayed for decades that their child would take a better path and then they did.  

Prayer is what we are asked to do as part of our relationship with God.  Many prayers succeed. If the prayer conversation is heartfelt and humble, we should do it whether or not we get the answer we are requesting.  Our goals are to rejoice in the conversation and to trust in God’s love, whatever the outcome. 

Pastor Doug Donigian

Stay in touch.  Share your needs.  Let us help. Amen.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 35 – From Jon

Monday May 4, 2020

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:31-40 (NRSV)

The Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four separate accounts of the life, teachings, ministry , and truth about our Lord Jesus Christ. Different Christian traditions tend to emphasize different parts of these Gospel writings as more informative of their own faith as far as how they are to live in the present moment.

For some, the dramatic calling of Christ to live a life of peace, forgiveness, and understanding that they see in the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 is how they believe they ought to live.

For others, the calling of Christ on the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations and baptize them from Matthew 28 informs their mission of evangelism.

And for others, the calling of Christ to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans, the foreigner, and the outcasts from this passage from Matthew 25 informs their mission of working towards social justice, as well as their mission to directly help others in the form of soup kitchens.

These three examples of emphasis are all good ways in which Christians are called to live, but if we only emphasize one part of the Gospel’s calling on our lives, at the exclusion of the others, we miss the full picture.

Every person in our churches and in our Christian communities is unique. Some will be those who will remind us to live lives that strive for holiness, some will be those who remind us of the call to share our faith with others verbally and through intentional relationships, and some will be those who remind us of the need to care for those in need. A healthy church has people within it that see the value of all three of these callings and other callings from the Gospels, and it has those in leadership who support those in their church who are passionate about each of these callings, while reminding the congregation that Christians are called to believe in and see the value in all of the callings on the Christian life.

If we live lives that seek right living, but we don’t leave our own circles, we miss out on the mission to evangelize, baptize, and care for the sick, hungry, and oppressed.

If we live lives that are dedicated to evangelism, but we don’t strive for right living, and we ignore the needs of others, we miss out on those missions.

If we live lives that are dedicated to the care of others in need, but don’t strive for right living, or sharing out faith with others, we miss out on those missions.

Today’s scripture reading reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a pastor I used to know about the importance of caring for and loving others:

“Nothing in the Bible permits me to be a jerk.”

– Pastor Gary

Jesus’ ministry, message, and the Gospel message of the cross and resurrection itself, all display that the goodness of God should be available to all people, and that all people should live according to the will of God, should share the goodness of God with others through evangelism and through caring for others. Jesus, in Matthew 25, is speaking of addressing religious people in the day of judgement who intentionally ignored the needs of those around them, likely because they saw the people in need as less of a human being. To me, this kind of behavior doesn’t seem to be permitted by Jesus.

Pastor Gary, his wife, and the elders and deacons of his church met with college students weekly to give them a meal, and to talk about our lives, our shared faith, and to encourage us to share our faith with others through the ministry of conversing with and praying for the homeless of Bristol, PA, and through opening their church services to anyone and everyone.

Through challenging times, through hurtful words said, and when ministry got tough, I was reminded of Pastor Gary’s words, that NOTHING permitted him to be unkind to anyone he was speaking with.

In this time as we are spending more time in our homes than we had before, it is a good time for some self-reflection.

We should ask ourselves what we are doing right now to seek out right living in our personal lives, to ask ourselves what we are doing to share our faith, and what we are doing to help those around us.

Then, we should ask ourselves what we CAN do to improve our Christian living in these and other areas, while committing to being kind and loving to all people that we come across.

Lastly, we should examine ourselves to discover where our natural passions are, and how they could align with the missions of our Church and Christian community, both now, and when we are able to reconvene.

-Jon Bauman

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 34 – From Jon

Friday May 1, 2020

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

In Christianity, the phrase “Born Again” is often used by Christians to describe what it was like after they had accepted Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their life. Although the phrase may be new to some people, or it may make them think of the street preachers who harass people with signs saying that they must be born again, the phrase is actually a quote from Jesus as He was speaking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee who was a leader in the Temple. When Nicodemus came to Jesus in secret, for fear of being found out by his peers in the temple, Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again” – from John 3:3.

People don’t always like change. Change is an affront to a person’s current reality. When that change has to do with their thoughts on religion, or their way of life, the change that would be required to be “Born Again” is intimidating and it can be insulting.

One of my favorite and least favorite games to play is Monopoly. I like it because I love making contracts with my fellow players (that are written and signed) so that both of us could possibly avoid paying rent on each other’s property when we land on them. To me, this is a creative spin that I bring to the game to make it last longer, and to ensure that my money pile keeps growing. However, something that you can’t make a contract for is when you land on the space that sends you to jail. The only thing to save you from Jail is either paying a fine, rolling dice to try to get out, or by employing a “Get Out of Jail Free Card”.

When you have that card, either by chance, or by making it a condition of a contract between players, going to Jail is no big deal because the penalty of Jail is alleviated by the playing of that card.

But Monopoly is my least favorite when my contracts are up, when I have no Get out of Jail Free card, and when friends may turn against each other for the purpose of gaining property, money, and winning the game.

During Monopoly, players are tempted to fall into the trap of turning against each other (with genuine emotion) over a fictional game. I have certainly had my share of heated discussions over my fear of losing my properties and money that I worked so hard to earn.

But it’s just a game, right?

Although it is just a game, the emotions can become real, and while you may be a nice person outside of the game, the game can bring out qualities of yourself that are normally controlled.

But imagine if the anger and frustration that can take place during a game of monopoly began to become a part of your every day life. You might begin to seek out wealth and power whenever you could, even if it means stepping on other’s toes to get to where you want to be.

Thats what happens when we live according to what the Bible calls “flesh” and “sin”. It might not be wealth or power, it may be other things that you may seek out – like attention, addictions, etc., but whatever it is, we all have the capability to do wrong and even evil things when we only live according to our own desires and goals, without thinking about others, or what these desires may be doing to our character as we seek them out.

The passage today tells us that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior – we don’t have to be enslaved and tied to our selfish desires. When we are born again, we are servants instead to the Spirit of God to do God’s will.

And more than that, we recognize that we are no longer alone, but that we have become adopted as God’s own child. The message is so extreme that when we feel defeated, not good enough, or marked by our past mistakes, that God sees us as being covered by the righteousness and Grace of Jesus Christ. Because the penalty of our wrongs has already been paid by Christ, and the chains of our desires and addictions no longer hold us down for eternity because Christ broke those chains in the Cross and the Resurrection.

Yet the passage today also conveys the truth that though we are covered by the grace and protection of God, that we will also likely suffer on this earth at the hands of others who may be letting their lust for power, money, and their own desires get the best of them.

But we must remember that when it comes to our own life in the eyes of God, we have been Born again, and when we are confronted by our worries of how God sees us, or when our own desires tempt us to come back to seeking them out selfishly, we are no longer bound, and we have been made free. Its not because we did anything to deserve it – its a free gift that saves us from the result of our sinful pursuits. Like a Get Out of Jail Free card.

In times such as these when a calamity is striking our world, we can either follow our own selfish desires and buy all the toilet paper and supplies that we can find, or we can live according to the will of God by helping one another through this time by getting them supplies, praying for them, checking in on them, and by being kind and courteous to those we run across when we make our trips to the store.

And the best thing that we can do is to be a voice of the hope of our faith by following God’s will in our actions, and by telling those who are close to us that though we too are worried, that we have hope and peace through Jesus Christ.

-Jon Bauman