Light of Life

John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

In June, 1995, my husband Steven started Medical school after 18 years active duty service in the army, most of it in special operations as a green beret. The prior year, we’d made the decision that I would leave my position with IBM because the travel had finally become too much with little children and Steve being constantly away. The medical school decision was a joint one after much prayer on my part, giving lot of consideration to risking a steady career, income and security to pursue a lifelong dream. There were many conversations with fellow army wives, who were very discouraging. Their perspectives were, he’s two years from full retirement, “Don’t be foolish…Wait!”

Steve and I now call that 12 years of education, training and 4 family moves our “journey of poverty.” With each relocation, I would find and accept a position with a local non profit. This provided minimum income, but more importantly I would negotiate extra vacation days, which were needed to have more time with our young children. After about 4 months into medical school, I realized we were running a monthly deficit that I could not cover, so he renegotiated with the medical school that he had to work. They created a position in the emergency room and he worked every weekend until he graduated. Our big date was me bringing food from Taco Bell for us to eat together during his break on Saturday nights.

There were so many times during those years, that our finances were still so challenging and we did not want to burden our parents since this was our decision to take such a dramatic life change. At one point, I actually, had to turn in one of our cars, because we were behind on the payments and we couldn’t keep them up. Steve continued to do what he had to do and every day, I would pray that I would just be able to keep things together until the medical school graduation!

Today, Steve has retired from UAB after being the Director of the Burn Service and I run a small business that I love. As I reflect back on those days, I am AMAZED at how scary things were for me as the money and house manager of our little family. At the same time, I remember all of the little churches that I joined with every move, singing in the choir, making my small donations, staying on my knees and how the church family relationships helped remind me of the light in my life that would see me through. I have never been a verbose Christian. But, I always hope that how I conduct myself, how I face a challenge, how I treat other people, show that I follow Jesus and have His light in my life.

— Valerie Thomas

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Light of Life

Walking with God: Judges 9:7-15

Judges 9:7-15 from The Message: “Listen to me, leaders of Shechem.  And let God listen to you! The trees set out one day to anoint a king for themselves. They said to “Olive Tree, Rule over us.” But Olive Tree told them, “Am I no longer good for making oil that gives glory to gods and men, and to be demoted to waving over trees?” 10-11  The trees then said to Fig Tree,“You come and rule over us.” But Fig Tree said to them, “Am I no longer good for making sweets, My mouthwatering sweet fruits, and to be demoted to waving over trees?” 12-13  The trees then said to Vine, “You come and rule over us.” But Vine said to them, “Am I no longer good for making wine, Wine that cheers gods and men, and to be demoted to waving over trees?” 14-15  All the trees then said to Tumbleweed, “You come and reign over us.” But Tumbleweed said to the trees: “If you’re serious about making me your king, Come and find shelter in my shade. But if not, let fire shoot from Tumbleweed and burn down the cedars of Lebanon!”

I read each of the three optional scriptures associated with the date I was assigned to write a devotional. I couldn’t find anything inspirational associated with the Lenten season in any of the three texts. I decided to
think about them for awhile before I decided which option to choose.

Finally the Judges scripture was the one I decided to explore. I’ve always liked literature which uses Anthropomorphism, which is the “attribution of human traits, emotions or intentions to non-human entities.” The reference noted anthropomorphism is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.

As a child I “anthromorphized” my stuffed animals. Some of us treat our pets like children. (Which I must say is a good thing!) Aesop’s fables and cartoons and fairy tales, and movies as well as other literature often use this method of telling stories.

In this scripture the tree-people were looking for a king. This fable (similar to a parable) is the first story of this type in the Bible. I read several commentaries which presented complicated explanations of this fable including associations with Biblical history of various countries and kings. I’m sure they are accurate and historical.

But to me, it seems the story could also be simplified. The Olive tree, the Fig tree and the Vine did not want to be king. They all seemed to think becoming king would be a demotion and maybe too much work. They thought what they were doing was much more important. None of them wanted the job. They banded together to ask Tumbleweed to be their king. It seems they thought Tumbleweed was otherwise useless. Each of the others had better things to do than be the ruler.

But once Tumbleweed got the power, he set conditions . He even threatened to burn the cedars of Lebanon!! Was Tumbleweed the best choice? Were the trees careless in their choice of leadership? If we are lazy in the decisions regarding leadership, do we have grounds to complain about the type of leadership we receive? Are we too busy making oil, and sweets and wine to take responsibility for the quality of our leadership? Do we participate in the decisions made in our church and community? If we have leadership roles, do we make good decisions and “work well with others”?

Of course I may be all wrong concerning this interpretation. Maybe I’ll get an easier scripture for Advent?

Dear God, Help us to find the role we are meant to fill in our community, our church, our family and in our personal lives. And help us to serve the way we should. Amen

Darlene Green

Walking with God: Judges 9:7-15

Seeing the Divine in the Everyday

What if Daily We Looked for God?

When I say look for God, I’m not suggesting looking for the burning bush. Quite frankly, I would be so overwhelmed like Moses, I’m not sure I would listen!  I am thinking more about experiencing God in the simple, everyday moments of our lives.  Walking up, going to the gym, drinking a cup of coffee, driving to work – I think you get the idea.  Where is the Divine in these everyday moments that consume our days?

How do we open our eyes to see God to experience the divine around us? I believe God exists in the everyday just as much as God exists in the mountain experiences.  We are tuned to seek God and long for God’s influences during emotional highs or in our struggles. However, in the everyday – the mundane – God is still present, yet how do we attune ourselves to experience God? I think the everyday revelations of God can be more profound and lasting than the fleeting “mountain high” experiences. As I’ve gotten older, the depths of the emotional highs and lows have become shallower. This is not to say the experiences are any less profound, rather I’m quicker to ground myself in the presence and continuity of God’s love. The realization of the constant presence of God – a Walk with God – begins in recognizing in the “everyday”, common, even routine parts of our lives God is present.  Ignation spirituality starts with the belief that God is in everything. In all of creation, God exists and is constantly present. 

So how do we attune ourselves to seeing and hearing the presence of God, but also being the presence of God? How do we recognize God rests within the fellow commuter rushing to work, darting in and out of the rushing, bumper to bumper traffic?  How do see the Divine in the frazzled coffee shop barista making her 50th latte of the morning?  I struggle myself to find the Divine in the people that rush by me, bump me, and hit me in the head with their oversized, designer handbag as we all cram into the early plane bound for Atlanta. Where do I find God in these people instead of posting my rants and grumbles on FaceBook?  Sure it feels good and, yes, we are now a culture that longs to tear down instead of building up, however where is the Divine in that? 

How do we change our minds and attitudes from quick judgements of people, dismissing them as insignificant, as they have slighted us or for their morning grumpiness?  How do we seek to find and, honestly to share, the Divine in all of God’s creation allowing it to transform, model and redefine our inner soul?  Finding God in the everyday is simply a journey.  It begins with a commitment to walking with the Divine and expecting to be present.  In that place of relationship, I believe there are several ways we can train our mind and soul to not only seek the Divine but share the love of God as well.  Today, I offer one way to aligning your heart and mind to God. 

Start and end with gratitude. To see God, I truly believe you need to thank God, not for God’s sake but for our own. Entering everyday with gratitude gets us out of our heads into the present. Quite frankly, we stop thinking about ourselves and our inflated sense of self-importance, realizing instead we are given great gifts. Through gratitude we are humbled by all that we have been given and resting in that humility, we can enter a resting place with God.  Try it. 

Choose something you are grateful for.  Today, I’m choosing my cup of coffee.  Thank God for it.  How did you get that coffee? Where did it come from?  How many people touched that coffee, the coffee beans, the plants, the soil to bring it to you?  Say a prayer for each person you may never know but made it possible for you to enjoy that cup of hot coffee.  Thank God for being present for allowing you the gift to enjoy, taste, smell that cup of coffee.  What are you truly grateful for?

In the everyday, gifts abound, yet we take them granted. A warm bed, lights, a cup of coffee, the snore of a spouse, the whimper of a puppy, the first pink light of dawn – the everyday holds the miracles of life and every moment, every item has been touched by the Divine. Pause, really see it, and give thanks. Practice this process of living gratefully – truly grateful – for what you have been given.  I believe when you do, your eyes begin to open to the presence of the Divine around.  I think your walk with God and your heart will begin to change when each day and each night you seek, recognize, and the thank God for the all the gifts you were given. 

Be thankful in your Walk with God. 

Rusty Bennett

Seeing the Divine in the Everyday

A ‘Crooked’ Christ?

Hosea 6 2-4 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” 4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.

There’s a crooked Christ in the sanctuary. Hmmmmm. That statement was made to me one Sunday morning before worship. Imagine my astonishment. A crooked Christ at Southside. How does one deal with a crooked Christ? What even is a crooked Christ? I was kind of excited. I couldn’t wait to see the crooked Christ. I didn’t hear the ending of the sentence. There’s a crooked Christ candle in the sanctuary

Crooked Christ — Out of place: A Christ who became flesh and dwelt among us. A Christ who gave up glory for our sake. A Christ who chose us

Crooked Christ — Bent: A Christ who reaches out to gather us to himself. A Christ who kneels to our level

Crooked Christ – Broken: A Christ who was beaten for us. A Christ who was broken for us. A Christ who died for us.

Crooked Christ – A Christ who humbled himself and became obedient. A Christ who bowed down in the Garden of Gethsemane. A Christ who cried out to God for our sakes.

Crooked Christ – A Christ who understands our suffering. A Christ who longs to make us whole. A Christ who offers us peace that passes all understanding.

Crooked Christ – A Christ who revives us. A Christ who restores us. A Christ who wants us to live in His presence.

Sometimes, I think, we have a picture of Christ, of God that can be erroneous. We picture a God who is way above us, who doesn’t want us or who doesn’t care for us.

Perhaps, we need to misunderstand a comment in worship; we need to hear about a crooked Christ, we need to always be looking for a new way to understand Christ and accept His love for us.

Father, help us always to open our hearts to new ways to hear your voice and accept your love for us. Amen.

Marilyn Shepard

A ‘Crooked’ Christ?

Walking with God: Luke 19: 28-44

As I focused on the Lenten season and thought about writing a devotional for this year, my mind went immediately to the real joy I always experience, every year, in Southside’s Easter Sunday Service. My heart always soars when we stand to sing, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”. I see all the lilies lining the front of the church, glowing in the sunshine. The choir marches in, led by someone carrying the flower covered cross. I have a hard time not shouting with pure happiness. Hands down, this has to be my favorite worship service of  the year.

Try to imagine the people lining the streets of Jerusalem, as they watched Jesus make his way into the city. Shouts of, “Hosanna, Hosanna!” filled the air, while cloaks and small tree branches were laid down in his path. The whole city eagerly awaited this man they had heard so much about. Now try this. Imagine you and your family being there in the crowd. Your son might lay his new coat in Jesus’ path, while your daughter climbs a tree and breaks branches to put before him. Your wife might be shouting, “Hosanna, Hosanna” over and over.

I can imagine most people’s reaction to these displays, as they’d yell at their son, “That’s a new coat you’re throwing in the street. I paid good money for that.” They’d probably shout at the daughter, “Get down from that tree. You may fall, and who told you could break branches from trees that are not yours?” I can see them turning to their wife in shock.  “Have you lost your mind? Stop shouting! You’re embarrassing us all.”

The point is that in our world, outbursts of pure joy are not always looked on with acceptance and can cause many of us to recoil in embarrassment. There are other such examples of joy being met with less than enthusiasm, throughout the Bible. In second Samuel: 6-14, King David is described as leaping and dancing for joy, in public, as the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem. One of Saul’s daughters saw this happy scene and “despised him in her heart”. David was forced to defend himself against her criticisms, as she accused him of behavior unbecoming a King. In Luke:19, the crowd grumbles, as Zacchaeus, a tax collector, climbed a tree to see Jesus pass. Jesus was not embarrassed or bothered by this bold desire to see him. He, in fact, was so pleased that he decided to go to Zacchaeus’ house and have dinner with him.

As we get more ‘grown-up’, we tend to keep our “Hosannas” to ourselves, if we expect to get along better in the world. The older and more prosperous we become, the harder it is to be spontaneous. Most people start a new job with enthusiasm and expectation, but by the time they are ready to retire, their feelings are more about what experience they have, and they have lost that enthusiasm.

The Bible says, “make a joyful noise unto the Lord, but it’s a sad fact that most of us have lost that wonderful ability to express real joy. During his entry into the holy city, Jesus was asked to rebuke his disciples, who were praising God in loud voices. His answer was “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Like Zacchaeus, King David and the crowds in Jerusalem, we should try and find new ways to shout our happiness at what this Easter season truly means. Don’t be surprised if you hear a few “Hosannas” at Southside this Easter morning.

Dear Lord,  help us to find unashamedly, ways to let the world know, our joy in loving you and your son.

— Jerry Huie

Walking with God: Luke 19: 28-44

Fallow fields

A broken lifeless vine
Of heartless thorns entwined
laid to rest on a broken pate
Crushed by fate and sorrow
Hanging from a stake
In fields that lay fallow

Twas man that put him there
Their mercy did not spare
This savior from his doom

But all who would believe
His Mercy will receive
And fallow fields will burst in bloom

– Ian Philips

Fallow fields

Double, Double, Toil & Trouble (Walking With God – Psalm 63:1-8)

Psalms 63:1-81You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. 2I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. 3Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. 4I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. 5I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. 6On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. 7Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. 8I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

The witches lament in Macbeth by William Shakespeare could be an accurate headline for any news outlet in our world in the spring of 2019. We experienced terrible tornadoes in Southeast Alabama on March 3rd that killed twenty three of our neighborsand destroyed numerous homes; irrevocably ending or changinglives in the blink of an eye. The North Korean nuclear talks broke down last week, putting us at greater risk of disaster at the whim of a murderous dictator. Climate change forecasts by a consensus of scientists predict an uncertain and dangerous future for everyone on earth. Meanwhile, our government is striven by conflict; with little desire for compromise by either political party. It would be easy for anyone to slide towards hopelessness given the realities of our world.

We have all experienced betrayal, loneliness and helplessness as King David did as he hid in the desert of Judah, fearing for his life at the hands of his son, Absalom. David’s state of mind is clear as he cries out to God in Psalm 63:1 “My soul thirsts for you; my body longs for you; in a dry and weary land where there is no water”. Though David is a flawed man, he knew that God would be there for him in every situation. His description of his plight covers less than one verse in our text; the other seven verses express his love and praise for his God.  

Fear, trials, hopelessness and loss are the human condition. During David’s trials, he turned to God, the only source of help he knew he could count on. Sometimes in our dark days, despair reaches out to claim us. Jesus warned us there would be times like these, but he offered his followers a path through the arid desert days of our lives. He offered hope through his continual presence with us. He gave his disciples this priceless gift as he departed from them for the last time promising, “Surely I am with you always even unto the end of the age”. Claiming that promise will make all the difference when we find ourselves in desperate situations over which we seem to have little or nocontrol.

During the Lenten season as Christians await the incredible promise of Easter, we are to reflect on the deep issues and concerns in our lives. These thoughts may bring back the pain we have stuffed down because life does indeed keep coming atyou. It’s healing to explore past experiences that keep troubling us. We can’t change them, but we can replace our feelings about them with forgiveness for others, for ourselves and with hope for the future. We know that even Jesus struggled with his fate during his last days on earth. We also know that he relied on his faith in his Father as he moved inevitably towards his brutal death and his miraculous resurrection that followed. 

Phil Watts

Double, Double, Toil & Trouble (Walking With God – Psalm 63:1-8)