Finding Comfort

In a recent sermon I shared a story John Bell relates in his new book, “Living with the Psalms.” Rev. Bell is a Scottish Presbyterian minister and composer of many hymns, including “The Summons.” He tells about meeting a young man named William Ramirez at a church music conference in Minneapolis some thirty years ago. William was a refugee from El Salvador, riven by civil war at the time (this was when Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated). Military police routinely abducted young men and youth to serve in the army against their will. William was part of a subversive organization funded by churches in Canada, the US and Sweden, that would help dissenters out of the country.

Bell writes:
I said to William, “this must have been quite dangerous.” “Yes,” he replied. “It was. We knew that if we were found out, we would probably be killed for anti-government activity.” When I asked him how they managed to go undetected, he indicated the kind of measures that would be common in similar organizations all over the world, including no minute taking, no phone calls and frequent changes of meeting place. And then he added, “but always at the end of our meetings, we would read the Bible and pray and sing.” “What did you sing?” I asked. He mentioned two songs, one of which, “When we are living, we are in the Lord,” was familiar to me. But the other I did not know. So I asked William to sing it to me, and he did so in a beautiful and confident voice.

By the third verse, Bell had transcribed it in musical notation. William spoke broken English but was able to write out the complete text in Spanish. “This is the song I carry in my heart when I am away from my country,” he said. Bell took the tune and the Spanish lyrics back to Glasgow, and managed to get a Spanish speaker to translate it. Then he and a colleague put the literal translation into metrical verse to accompany the tune. “After several amendments, we had a reasonable text which we tried out with our worship group. It seemed to sing well,” Bell writes. “Two days later, I picked up the song from my desk and read through the text. It was more overtly political than I thought. It seemed to owe more to Marx than to Jesus. I thought that perhaps the Church of Scotland was not ready for this, so I put it on a shelf and left it there.” Bell continues, “Three years later, at my morning prayer, as I was reading Psalm 94, I discovered that what I thought the church would not sing had been sung by Jesus a long time ago. For this was the very text that William had sung to me.”

After my sermon, some of you asked about the song. It’s entitled “O Great God and Lord of the Earth”:

O great God and Lord of the earth,
Rouse yourself and demonstrate justice;
Give the arrogant what they deserve,
Silence all malevolent boasting.
See how some you love are broken,
For they know the weight of oppression;
Even widows and orphans are murdered,
And poor strangers are innocent victims.

Those who crush your people delight,
Claiming God above takes no notice;
They proclaim that heaven is blind,
That the God of Jacob is silent.
Stupid fools, when will you listen?
Now take heed you ignorant people:
God who gave us sight and hearing
Has observed and noted what happened.

God the Lord will not stay away
Nor forsake his well-beloved people;
Heaven’s justice soon will appear
And the pure in heart will embrace it.
Yes, the ones whom God instructed,
Who revere and study God’s Word
Will be saved from all that harms them
While a pit is dug for the wicked.

Should the wrong change place with right
And the courts play host to corruption;
Should the innocent fear for their lives
While the guilty smile at their scheming;
Still the Lord will be your refuge,
Be your strength and courage and tower,
Though your foot should verge on slipping,
God will cherish, keep and protect you.

While Scripture – and the Psalms in particular – may be used for personal devotion and as a source of comfort in challenging times, let us ever be mindful that the Bible addresses the wrongs and inequities in society even as it proclaims God’s justice for the world!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Jeff

Paul’s Attitude in Prison

Two years ago, on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday, “The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela” was published. Mandela, the man who would become President and Healer-in-Chief of South Africa, wrote hundreds of letters — to prison officials, family and friends – during his 27 years of confinement, from Nov. 7, 1962 to Feb. 11, 1990. The New York Times characterized the volume in five words: “Hope is a powerful weapon.”

Some great literature has been written from prison. Notably, Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which marked a turning point in the Civil Rights movement. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran German pastor imprisoned during World War II, wrote letters and notes from prison that were smuggled out of the prison, collected, and published after the war. They set the theological world on its head. John Bunyan wrote “Grace Abounding” from prison.

“Grace Abounding” sounds a lot like Paul, and it’s probably no accident, because Paul is the first of the great prison writers. And the Letter to the Philippians is the greatest. It’s a theological letter. That’s why it’s in the New Testament. But it’s also the testimony of a man who found in prison a new freedom. Like Mandela, he found hope. And, remarkably, the letter is filled joy. Paul would also discover peace in isolation. Philippians will be our text for the next few weeks as we walk through its four chapters.

For those interested in engaging the text in community I will be facilitating a Bible Study on Tuesdays at 11:00am and 6:30pm, starting September 15. Please RSVP to the Church Office for zoom information at Together let’s tap into the Source of hope, joy and peace that Paul found in confinement! 

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

Natural Gratitude

My daughter Claire and I managed to escape the heat of the Valley (and isolation of our home) by pitching a tent up on the Mogollon Rim just before her fall semester began. A couple days’ fresh air, a leisurely hike in light rain, and quietly paddling the perimeter of Willow Springs and Woods Canyon Lakes was all good for the soul. It was, for me, an exercise in gratitude. I was blest to spend time with my adult daughter. And I was fortunate to be immersed in the beauty of Creation.

I recently began a sermon sharing one of my experiences on the Rim:

First thing in the morning, well, at least around 7am, I set out my camp chair, back to the rising sun, facing a small stand of quaking aspen.

To close your eyes when a breeze arises is to experience a babbling brook or gentle waterfall.

I sit down with a copy of Larry Brown’s Complete Stories and a mug of hot coffee. It’s very quiet; we pretty much have the campground to ourselves. I can only hear the rustling of the leaves and birds. But I don’t get very far in my reading.

Just as it takes time for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness and behold the canopy of stars on a moonless night, it takes my ears a few moments to take in the sounds of the forest.

The birds are out in numbers, foraging for breakfast. One pecks at the jigsaw puzzle-like bark of the ponderosa. Another rummages through the pine needle forest floor. There, one flits in the air – hot on the trail of a fly, a mosquito? Five minutes pass, or maybe 30?

I get up to warm my coffee and return with a small pair of binoculars.

Now my feathered friends are up-close and personal. This one has a wide grey collar speckled with white.

That one wears a rust-colored vest and blue-tinged wings.

And the one pecking at the ponderosa? Upon closer inspection, it’s got white head with a black racing stripe.

I recognize the robin, the Gila Woodpecker with its red yarmulka and the occasional Steller’s Jay. And there’s one of my favorites, the goldfinch.

But the others – I will have to wait to get home to learn their names from a bird guide:

Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Olive-sided Fly Catcher, Townsend’s Solitair.

But the names they’ve been given can wait. For now, I’ve lost myself. Time. Stands. Still. Transcendence. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Upon our return, I researched my bird sightings online. (I had deliberately left my phone at home.) I found a 2017 article in the Payson Roundup that birding enthusiasts counted 91 species on the Rim. Why I’d counted 8 or 9, just sitting quietly on my camp chair!

“For lack of attention,” writes the English mystic Evelyn Underhill, “a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day. Friends, the spiritual life is, at its root, a matter of seeing. And the flip-side of paying attention, of course, is gratitude.

We all could use a dose of gratitude, especially during these times when thankful feelings seem elusive. But gratitude, as Diana Butler Bass reminds us in her book Grateful, is more than a feeling. It is a disposition, a choice, a way of looking at the world. It is a spiritual practice.

A favorite poem by Mary Oliver comes to mind. It’s entitled Praying.

It doesn’t have to be the blue Iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot,
or a few small stones;
just pay attention,
then patch a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate,
this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks,
and a silence in which another voice may speak.

I’m wondering what occasions for gratitude are you discovering in your day?

With a grateful heart,

Pastor Jeff

Open or Closed?

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness calling and free,
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.

—James K. Manley

It is hard to believe that many have now been sheltering in place for four months—fully one third of a year! Even for those with the security of a home it has been challenging. Being separated from loved ones has been painful, especially not being able to visit those in the hospital. Never mind the everyday missed social contact of dinner parties, get-togethers, and the like.

When we suspended all on-campus ministries mid-March, it would have been inconceivable that we still would not be gathering in August. Indeed, plans were made early on to postpone our special music offerings for Palm Sunday and Easter to Pentecost on May 31st, confident that we would have restored in-person gatherings by then.

Yet here we are.

Dayspring has adapted in these extraordinary circumstances. Our online Sunday celebrations receive solid viewership (500+ households weekly). The team of care callers keeps Dayspring connected and conveys the Prayers of the People to our community. Participation and stewardship remain strong; indeed, Dayspring generously supports ongoing missions and has added special initiatives, like water for the Navajo Nation, PPE for medical professionals, and supplies for Justa Center. Our staff and various teams and groups meet regularly by Zoom. Pastor Joel and Amy offer a weekly class on Facebook and Pastor Shirley continues to provide spiritual direction through online opportunities. David hosts a weekly Zoom meeting for choir members and others interested in music. Emily and her team of 25 volunteers created an online VBS, and Julie directed youth and children’s virtual choir anthems for our services. We received our confirmation class on Pentecost via Zoom, and just offered our first membership orientation online—with one newcomer who has only experienced Dayspring virtually!

As the expression goes, “The building may be closed, but the church remains open!”

We all yearn for the time when we can gather again in person. And we will—just as soon as it is safe to do so. Our Re-opening Task Force, led by Trustees’ Chair Jim Chamness, has been meeting to adapt guidelines from our annual conference in conjunction with the CDC, so that we are prepared to open our campus in good order. In the meantime, rest assured that Dayspring’s vision to transform the church and the world into a full expression of Christ’s inclusive love is alive and well!

Friends, we are on a mission to make God’s world more peaceful, just, compassionate and inclusive—even if we are presently limited to the phone, the internet, and prayer! God’s work continues; may we be open to the Spirit’s gentle leading.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

A Message From Pastor Jeff

“I can’t breathe.”

We just celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, which was marked by the rush of wind – the Spirit – upon the disciples and all who gathered at that time and place. Recall that in Hebrew and Greek – the languages of the bible – the word for spirit also means wind and breath. Breath is life.

We are profoundly troubled by the death of George Floyd. And by his last words, “I can’t breathe.”

The same words spoken by Eric Garner in 2014.

“I can’t breathe.”

We observed a moment of silence on Sunday for the family and loved ones of Mr. Floyd, who was murdered last week in Minneapolis. In addition, we name and remember Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson, and all those who have come tragically before them. We stand in solidarity with communities rising up in protest across the country participating in a long history of freedom struggles. We categorically condemn systemic racism and all violence. We are heartsick that struggles we believed long-resolved are still painfully before us, lived every day by our brothers and sisters.

This Sunday, June 7, is Peace with Justice Sunday, one of six special Sundays designated by the UMC. It is also Gun Violence Awareness Sunday. As we contemplate these two calls to action, we will consider Paul’s credo: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

We find ourselves in the midst of two pandemics: one requires a yet-to-be-developed vaccine; the other demands that we live the Gospel mandate to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

We seek understanding, for “truly it is the spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty that makes for understanding.” (Job 32:8) To that end, our leaders are exploring ways to move forward dialogue and action through small group conversations, prayer vigils and book studies. Our Church and Society Team encourages each of us to call on legislative leaders to express our anger and frustration, and urge them to work with urgency for justice, affirming our stance as United Methodists: “We recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons.” Jennine Ballew, our Coordinator of Youth Ministries and school counselor, suggests these resources for children and youth:

Our bishop, Robert Hoshibata, invites us to join him in this prayer at this time:

God, our Creator, in these times of incredible anxiety and challenge, we offer a prayer that is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a prayer about another pandemic that has been a scourge on our human family for centuries. We pray for the end of violence and racism that persists and now threatens to envelop us in the evil of hatred and the sin of violence against other humans.

Forgive us when we have allowed ourselves to be teased into believing that this sin is no longer. Help us to realize that we have not yet achieved what you have proclaimed, that all persons are created by you and loved by you. Give us the courage to speak and act for justice for all. We pray especially for our sisters and brothers of color and in the memory of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. Amen.

Let us work tirelessly to hasten the day when all can walk in safety and breathe the breath of life. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6)

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff

Holy Week

Holy Week 2020

This Lenten Season 2020 has taken on new meaning for us in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Disbelief, sadness, anger, doubt, fear, apprehension –these are a few of the feelings we have all undoubtedly had during these days. But underneath all of these feelings is a feeling of profound hope.

Nothing can separate us from the Love of God. Will hardship, or distress, or persecution,or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:37-39)

We are experiencing Holy Week now –a different time than we have ever had before!!! But also a memorable time for we will remember the depth of love that we feel as a Community of Faith at Dayspring during these days. Although we are not one in body, we are truly one in Spirit. We are here for and with each other in different ways and the bond is very present. New ways of worshipping have deeper meaning. Livestream offers us the opportunity to worship together on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and on Easter Sunday.Weekly phone calls keep us in relationship with each other. Weekly prayer concerns are published. God is very present. May this be a renewal time for you in your spiritual journey. May you take advantage of this time to feel refreshed in your life journey. May this Week become even more Holy for you.

~Pastor Shirley

The Church


Each day I receive a devotional message from Frederick Buechner on my phone. For a long time he has been one of my favorite spiritual authors. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books. I first met him through his book, “Telling Secrets”, which is an autobiography of his life growing up in the home with an alcoholic father who committed suicide. His life experiences influence his ability to make God’s truth come alive in the midst of challenges.

Recently his devotion was titled “Church” and he talked about the visible church and the invisible church. “The visible church is all the people who get together from time to time in God’s name. Anybody can find out who they are by going to church to look.

“The invisible church is all the people God uses as hands and feet in this world. Nobody can find out who they are except God.”

We are experiencing a time like no other in our world. We are filled with fear and anxiety and turmoil. I am comforted during these days to know that we still are the church even though we cannot meet together face to face. Instead we use Zoom and FaceTime and the phone and messaging and email. How grateful I am for all of these ways because I know I am not alone. I am inspired by the mom who encouraged her children to make red paper hearts and then take a walk and drop them along the way so others could come along and find them and know they are not alone. I am inspired by those who send inspirational messages and prayers. I am inspired by the impromptu quarantine singalongs and the pianist playing a hymn everyday on her piano. I am inspired by ways we encourage each other through humor like the recent one of the talking dog! I am inspired through the Livestream Service held on Sunday mornings. I am inspired by the many acts of kindness people are doing for each other every day. We are the church together! You are the church and I am the church. We are the visible church and the invisible church serving together and God knows who we are! And others will know we are Christ followers by the way we reach out to each other. This is our opportunity to truly be THE CHURCH.

Continue to share God’s Love as Dayspring People!!!!!

-Pastor Shirley


Hope in Uncertain Times

In a recent sermon, I shared how the Bible can be seen as a manual for hope. We took a short walk through the Hebrew Scriptures, and saw how they abound with hope. If ever a people have endured one extreme circumstance after another it has been our Jewish forebears. When they weren’t slaves of Egyptians they were dominated by Assyrians, held captive by the Babylonians, controlled by the Persians, and though they were treated fairly well under the Greeks and later the Romans, rarely were they regarded as equals. And since the death of Jesus, they have been maltreated as a people more often than not, in the last centuries suffering persecutions and pogroms and of course, genocide under Hitler’s regime.

Yet despite such oppression, the Jews have endured. Against overwhelming odds they have retained their identity through their traditions and faith. Their intense devotion to God. Faith in the God who is involved in the affairs of the world. A participatory God. A compassionate God. Not a divine but disinterested bystander. The God who, in Moses’ day, “heard the cries of the people” held captive in Egypt, and delivered them from their oppression. “I know their sufferings,” God declared (Ex. 3:7, NRSV). In all their affliction, we read, God was afflicted. So the message, it seems to me, is twofold: God is with us and God cares. God will see us through and, if we have eyes to see, we will see God through the work of our hands and the work people are doing for the common good. We discover that God is working in everyone.

For those who are overwhelmed and paralyzed with fright, God is there with comfort. For our medical providers, God is there with courage. For those who shop only for themselves or those in need without hoarding, God with there with generosity. For those who see an opening through this challenge for systematic change, God is alongside them with a prophetic voice. And God is in all the space between us pulling us together as we support each other through this.

We are in for some hard weeks, or maybe months ahead. There will be a time each of us is tired or grief-stricken, frustrated or scared. When we tire, that is when our connections to those around us will keep us going – the letters and notes and phone calls. So think about the people you know, how we can hold each other together.

Like the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament abounds with hope. I think of Paul, who always had a word of encouragement to offer, despite his circumstances – why it seems when he wasn’t ill, he was shipwrecked or writing from prison. Our God will see us through, he wrote, time and again. And of course, the Resurrection, which we will celebrate remotely this year – when God has the last word over death and evil itself. As Paul writes, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus, neither life, nor death, angels or principalities, nor heights nor depths, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”

God is with us. God cares. Thanks be to God!

~Pastor Jeff

Tide Pools

When I was a boy, long before high-rise condos lined its beaches, my family would visit Rocky Point. At low tide I’d scuttle across the rocks like a crab, looking for wonders left by the sea. Then and now I’m fascinated by the microcosm of life that is a tide pool. At once serene and then, with the return of the waves, turbulent and chaotic. There can be found the starfish and sea urchin. The graceful anemones continue to capture my imagination. And the hermit crab. Who isn’t fascinated by the hermit crab?

Like the tide pool, life is always changing. That is why an apt metaphor for human life is a journey. We are always on a journey, moving and changing. If we don’t change, life will do it for us! That’s when it especially hurts. To be wrenched out of the life we have grown accustomed to. For some it’s easier than others. I just love how hermit crabs know when it’s time to find a new home. They literally cast away the comforts of home for a shell that will give them room to grow.

John Gardner was asked why he had so many jobs in his life. “I believe in re-potting,” he said. “I am an amateur gardener, and I noticed that when a plant reaches a certain growth, the pot becomes too confining for it. If you don’t re-pot it, it will stunt its growth, and maybe even die.” He said that he looked at life that way. There would come a time when he would see a broader vista, bigger challenge in his life, and he would re-pot himself. In Bob Dylan’s famous words, “If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying.”

We are on a journey and the Spirit blows where it will. Life is a journey and sometimes it’s mild, and other times we feel uprooted. In his spiritual autobiography, Robert McAfee Brown writes how, in retrospect, the times of significant growth in his life were times of great upheaval, what he has come to call “creative dislocation.” The Spirit isn’t going to let us stay where we are — either as individuals or as a church. May we be open, responsive, courageous and hopeful on this adventurous journey of faith!

Pastor Jeff

Painting the Stars

Vincent van Gogh was a P.K. (preacher’s kid) who reckoned he would follow in his father’s footsteps. A missionary stint among the working poor in Belgium occasioned a crisis of faith. He also grew disillusioned with the Church, which seemed to him cold and uncaring toward the hungry and despairing.

Van Gogh found solace in painting. And in the immersion of oneself in Creation. He would write, “Whenever I have need of – dare I say, religion? – I go outside at night and paint the stars.”

A few years ago my friend and colleague David Felten and I produced a video curriculum that celebrates the communion of science and faith and contemplates what a meaningful faith might look like today. Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Faith explores the promise of an evolutionary Christian spirituality that offers direction and purpose for 21st century pilgrims. Featuring over a dozen leading theologians and progressive thinkers, the seven-session program includes a participant reader by evolutionary theologian Bruce Sanguin, author of If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics. The session titles are:

Toward Healing the Rift
A Renaissance of Wonder
Getting Genesis Wrong
An Evolving Faith
Evolutionary Christianity
Imagining a Future . . .
An Evolving Spirituality: Mysticism

Dayspring member and biologist David Harbster and I will co-facilitate the study at Dayspring and Friendship Village beginning the week of September 11. It will be offered at three different times during the week: Mondays 6:30-7:30pm (in the Adult Room), Tuesdays 1:30-2:30pm (at Friendship Village) & Thursdays 10-11am (in the Adult Room). I hope you’ll consider joining us!

Learn more at


Pastor Jeff