Advent Devotion: My Grace is Sufficient

written by Fred and Ginny Karnas narrated by Woody Jenkins

Scripture:  … I was given a painful physical ailment . . . Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked Him to take it away.  But His answer was “My grace is all you need, for my power is strongest when You are weak.”  (II Corinthians 12: 7b, 8, & 9a).

And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:7)

MeditationI have known many dear friends who live or lived with a “thorn in the flesh” which God, for reasons known only to Himself, chose not to remove, giving each of these dear people grace and peace instead.

Victor suffers from severe insulin-dependent diabetes and painful spasms in his legs.  He prayed that God would save his right leg from amputation, but instead God graced him with a wonderful attitude; a determination that gave him the ability  to walk with a prosthesis; a terrific smile and sense of humor; and a peace and a gratitude to God for life that caused staff members and other patients at Christ House to try harder, too.

Raul, another patient, was not delivered of the “thorn” of terminal cancer, but God gave him the gracious gifts of reunion with estranged family members; renewal of his faith; the assurance of forgiveness of his past sins; and a place he came to know as home where he peacefully departed this world with caring medical staff and family at his side.

Carolyn was not to win her battle with cancer, either, but that did not stop her from spreading her love.  Despite her terminal cancer and her bipolar disorder, God’s grace, peace, and love shone through her.  She would always be the first person at Christ House to buy and circulate a greeting card for anyone’s birthday.  And she helped out in the dining hall there until a day or two before she died.  She departed this world in peace and victory.

Our friends Kathy from Richmond and Becky from Phoenix, and Ethel from Fredericksburg all fought their terminal illnesses so valiantly.  Each prayed earnestly for healing.  Friends and family and sometimes just acquaintances and total strangers prayed fervently for healing, but in the end God took them to their heavenly home.  And yet, in their relatively short lives God’s very-evident grace and peace produced so much love in action.  Kathy, Becky, and Ethel were “doers of the Word, not hearers only.”  All three were doing for others nearly up to the day they passed into an everlasting life of joy and peace.

Before Ethel departed, it was my great privilege on several occasions to sit at her bedside and sing softly to her.  When she could she would join me, singing in a faint voice.  One hymn we sang was “For All the Saints [Who From Their Labors Rest],” with words by William W. How set to the beautiful music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Verses 2, 5, and 6 go like this:

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;

Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,

And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Prayer:  Lord God, often we do not understand Your ways.  Nevertheless, help us to be ever-growing in Your grace this Christmas season and all our lives, for You in Your peace-giving grace are sufficient for all our needs.  Amen.

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion: For us…

Written by Ginny Karnas Narrated by Cole Severns

Scripture:  Peace is what I leave with you; it is My own peace that I give you.  I do not give it as the world does.  Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”  (John 14:27)

MeditationWhen we moved to Fredericksburg in 1991 our two daughters were in the middle of fourth and seventh grades.  After a few days in their new school it became very apparent that our younger daughter was having great difficulty adjusting.  There were many tears and a real dread of going to school.  Despite the fact that my husband and I had prayed about and felt a definite calling to move to Virginia, I began to be upset regarding our daughter’s distress and to feel somehow that God was asking us to sacrifice our children’s well-being for this calling we had answered.  Each morning I practically begged God to give each of them a good day at school.

Then came my peace.  I had a devotional book that contained a passage about Abraham who, of course, was asked by God to take his precious and only son, Isaac, up the mountain to be offered up as a sacrifice to God.  The author of the passage, Carlo Carretto, writes that:

God,  wrapt round the colossal figure of this patriarch alone in the desert, . . . wants to communicate with the depths of Abraham’s being and tear him from himself and his involvement with his own  problems, which are like self-centered possessions; He wants to make this creature of His “more His,”  this man who is destined not for the tents of earth, but for those of Heaven.  So God asks of him an absurd trial, as love is absurd for anyone who does not live it, but as true and relentless as love for anyone who possesses it. . ..  What a drama was in the poor heart of that man!  God had asked the supreme sacrifice. If Abraham had had to turn the knife on himself it would have been easier!

My peace came as I believed that through this passage God was saying to me, “Remember, Ginny, that Abraham did not end up having to sacrifice his son, and neither will you be sacrificing your daughters.  Everything is going to be okay.”  And peace came, too, as the passage reminded me of God’s awesome presence always, but especially when He is asking us to do something that’s really hard for us to do.  There are times when God does ask us to complete other kinds of sacrifices, but this time God wanted Abraham’s trust, not his son.  That assurance gave me great peace.

The peace continued to flow as our Pastor Emeritus, Howard Cates, paid a visit with a deck of Uno cards and his loving support.  Soon he had our daughter talking and laughing again as she played Uno with a new friend she could trust in this new place.  And then Howard’s wife, Betty Jo, had us all over for dinner, and we played Uno again!  God had wrapped His arms around all of us through Howard and Betty Jo.  And God continued to show His presence throughout our future years in Fredericksburg, giving both our girls a true home, and blessing us in countless ways.

Abraham was spared the sacrifice of his son, but God willingly gave the ultimate sacrifice of His precious and only Son for us.  What will we give Him in return this Christmas?

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him:  give my heart.      (Christina G. Rossetti)

PrayerHoly God and Giver of peace and salvation, thank You for the very intimate ways You care for us and give us Your peace.  May we in turn be instruments of Your peace, spreading it to others as we journey onward.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: Christmas and Grief

Written by Fred & Ginny Karnas

Scripture reading:   A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping.  Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead. (Matthew 2:18)

MeditationThis prophecy of Jeremiah is repeated in Matthew as part of the Christmas story. We often quickly slip over the story of Herod’s effort to protect his kingdom from the new Messiah by calling for the killing of all Hebrew boys, “who had lived in or near Bethlehem and were under two.”   It is a hard story which seems to take us on an unwelcome path of sadness and fear in this season of joy. But the journey to Christmas is like all journeys; there are likely to be tears and hard places along the way.   

During the 1990s I spent a significant period of time working with people living with HIV/AIDS.  Even though I had spent a good portion of my working life until that time working among the poor and homeless, I had little experience in the world of those suffering from this awful disease.  I listened as a mother told the story of nursing her dying son in his final days, his frail body ravaged by the sores and disease that had consumed it.  I watched a friend waste away before my eyes as the disease, long in remission, cruelly reemerged and recaptured his body.  And I sat in stunned silence after hearing the news of another friend’s death from AIDS, knowing that the fear of revealing he was gay had forced him into a lonely and painful death.  He had not shared his diagnosis even with us, his friends.

I heard tragic story after story of lost loves and friends, of funeral after funeral, until even the healthy were so exhausted they no longer wanted to go on.  We seldom stop to think about the inconsolable grief some segments of our society have endured, and the strength they have shown in the face of this awful scourge.  And we seldom contemplate what this nation has lost in the young men and women that AIDS has taken from us. I grieve for the teachers, doctors, artists, dancers, athletes, engineers, and musicians whose life works would have made this world a better place.  I grieve for their partners and friends who have been left alone.  And I grieve that so many of us did not reach out to them.

Yes, the journey to Christmas requires us to share the grief that only God can relieve, and the hope of Christmas calls us to reach out to those who suffer and seek comfort and peace.  

Prayer:  Lord, give us the strength to journey with those who are marginalized, and those who struggle with sickness and the ever-present specter of death.  Help us to know what to do, what to say, and how to share your gift of peace. Amen

Advent Devotional: God is With Us

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Anita McCarty

Scripture: “A virgin will become pregnant and have a Son, and He will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”).  (Matthew 1:23).                

For God has said, “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.”  (Hebrews 13: 5b)

MeditationA pilot friend of mine told me a story of how he was flying in a storm somewhere over Florida.  The storm had gotten so bad that he had lost his bearings—he didn’t even know where he was.  But his radio contact with the tower stayed strong, and his air traffic controller did know where he was and was able to guide him safely to an airport.

Today the storms of this world threaten to destroy our inner peace and undo us.  The anxiety index has been off the chart with daily political upheaval, the existential threat of climate change, a deadly opioid epidemic, and endless war after endless war.  So how can we experience inner peace in the midst of all of this, even as Christians?  We must focus on the fact that, even when we are lost in the storms of life, God’s radar is still working. God knows where we are at all times and in every situation. God knows how His plans for us will be implemented.  Immanuel has come. God is with us and will never abandon us.  

When I wrote this devotion in 2002, Fredericksburg and northern Virginia were consumed by the terror of sniper indiscriminately shooting unsuspecting and innocent people.  I believe that part of God’s plan during the sniper crisis was that of calling millions of people, many who habitually pray and many who seldom or never do, to pray for the families of the victims, for those who were wounded and needed healing, and for the apprehension of the killers.  I believe God used the power of that prayer to put it into the mind of the witness or witnesses in Washington state to make the unlikely connection of a possible link to the shootings.  I believe that prayer power aided the truck driver at a Maryland rest stop to spot the snipers’ vehicle and call it in.  In fact, a small article in The Arizona Republic reported that the same truck driver had met just a week earlier with 50 of his fellow truck drivers to pray that the snipers would be caught.

The day after September 11th I sat gazing out the window of our Arlington, Virginia apartment which overlooked the Pentagon from which smoke continued to float into the air.  As I prayed, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” I wept to think how far it seemed our world was from God’s kingdom coming or God’s will being done.  Then I remembered the words to the familiar hymn by Martin Luther which many thousands of people were probably pondering for comfort:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.     (verse 1)

And tho’ this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim—we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him (verse 3)

Prayer:  God of all goodness and all might, grant us peace in the knowledge that You are in control, even when much of life seems to be in chaos.  Amen.  

Advent Devotion: The Journey to Wholeness

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Fred Karnas

Scripture:  He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God.  Just as we have shared in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. (2 Corinthians: 4-5)

MeditationMy father was an alcoholic. I have never written those words before.   It has taken me over 50 years to be able to acknowledge that hurt and shame in my life.  My father was a caring man with one of the best senses of humor on the earth, but he wrestled with demons for nearly all his 84 years.  To see him at work as a middle-class government bureaucrat one would not have sensed the brokenness in his life, or for that matter the brokenness his drinking brought to his family.  Brokenness is not often used to describe those of us in the middle class.  No, we reserve it for the poor, the sick, and the homeless.  But the journey to Christmas is about God’s reaching out to heal our brokenness.  The gift of Christmas is Jesus’ promise of healing, peace, and hope for all his children, no matter their status in life. 

Christ House is a medical recovery facility for homeless men and women in inner-city Washington, DC.  On the first floor of the facility is an all-purpose room used for meetings, dining, and worship.  On this day, the Easter Sunday worship was just beginning.  Crowded into the room was an array of God’s children…rich suburbanites and poor inner-city residents, old black patients and young white volunteers, healthy neighbors and sick guests.

As the service began, Pastor Allen Goetcheus asked the community’s spiritual counselor, Sr. Marcella to say a few words.  Her words were simple but direct, and there wasn’t a soul in the room who did not instantly understand how profound they were.  Looking out on the congregation of men and women battered but unbeaten by life, she smiled and said. “If you don’t believe in resurrection you haven’t spent any time at Christ House.”

The gift of Christ House is that resurrections, big and small, are a daily occurrence.  For some it is one day of sobriety after decades of alcohol use. For another it is the report that the HIV once consuming his body has been slowed to a stop, and for others it is the once unimaginable news that he is well and there is a home to move into.  

Through the brokenness of those with whom we worshipped at Christ House, those of us whose lives had our own trials and tribulations were allowed to confront the dark and hurting places in our own lives and to share resurrections with people who, on the surface at least, were very different from us.  It is impossible to worship with the poor and sick at Christ House and say you cannot deal with your struggles.

The journey to Christmas is the journey to hope and wholeness and, ultimately, peace.  

“This is the blood of Jesus,” Leland whispers to me as he hands me the communion cup.  In that moment the gift of Christmas is mine, for no distance separates the middle-aged, middle-class white man from a tiny Canadian border town and the formerly homeless black man with AIDS.  We have each seen our brokenness, and through the gift of Christmas Leland and I share God’s love and healing. 

PrayerLord, help us to reach out to those whose trials and victories teach us about the healing gift of Your love.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: Making Room in the Inn

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Kaeo Burgess

ScriptureAnd Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?”    The teacher of the law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”  Jesus replied.  “You go then, and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

MeditationA few years ago, I attended a meeting in Cincinnati and decided to spend the night sleeping in a shelter run by a close friend of mine.  For nearly two decades, my friend Buddy had reached out to the homeless men and women in that city.   Buddy was one of the most gentle and caring people I have ever known, unless you were a city official bent on redeveloping his beloved Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and displacing the poor and struggling families living there.

No matter who came to his door, no matter how dirty or confused or inebriated, Buddy put his arm around him and welcomed him into his shelter.  

Tom was one of those men who somehow found their way to Buddy’s doorstep.  The night I stayed at the shelter, Buddy asked Tom to give me a tour.  Tom spent a little time showing me the various programs and residential portions of the building, but mostly Tom took me on a tour of his life.  

He told me how he was abused as a child, how he quit school and got into trouble, how his marriage fell apart and he lost his family, and how drugs and alcohol consumed him for years.  He said, “I have a Master’s in drugs, and a Ph.D. in trouble!”

“But,” he proudly continued, “because of this place and the people who cared about me, I found hope and the strength to change my life.  I have been sober for 10 years.  I have my children back in my life.  I have a job I love, working with others who are struggling with addictions.  And most of all, I know who I am.”

It is clear that Tom’s life was changed by the programs which helped him deal with some very difficult personal issues and by his own willingness to choose hope over hopelessness.  But what really saved Tom’s life was the gift of hospitality — an unconditional acceptance of the stranger in our midst — provided by Buddy and his staff.

Henry Nouwen describes hospitality this way:

Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria for happiness but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way… hospitality is… a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances.. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

Prayer:    Lord, help us to reach out to the strangers in our midst, to offer love, hope, comfort, support, and a safe place to find their own way.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: Sticky Kisses

written by Fred and Ginny Karnas narrated by Judy Fiske

Scripture:   Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  (Matthew 19:13-14)

MeditationAs I pulled my car into the parking lot at the shelter, I saw another car follow me into the small lot.  The car was crowded with children and belongings.  It looked like the family had endeavored to strap every last possession on the car’s roof, and the trunk strained with the remaining items.  As I sat and watched, three children climbed quietly out of the car, but it was clear that another child remained inside the car.  He was engaged in an animated conversation with his parents.  All of a sudden the car door swung open and the young boy burst out, tears streaming down his face. He was barely 12 or 13 years old. He began to walk briskly down the sidewalk, screaming and crying that he did not want to stay at a shelter, asking his parents, “How could you do this to me?”  As he walked away his shattered and defeated parents stood with their heads bowed, holding back their own tears.

Parents know how tough the years of a middle-schooler can be as they seek to venture out on their own and gain the acceptance of their peers. Can you imagine being a young boy living in a shelter? How do you invite your friends over after school?  How do you even tell your friends where you live?

Homelessness is hell for children, and it shapes their lives for years, if not for a lifetime.  A study by the Interagency Council on the Homeless (now the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness) revealed the sobering statistic that more than a quarter of all homeless adults had been homeless as children, and many others had experienced similar childhood traumas of abuse, foster care, or institutionalization.  Every day that we allow children to be homeless on our city streets increases the likelihood that they and their children will find themselves on those same streets years from now.  We must find a way to imbue this generation of children with hope for a future, or their hopelessness will consume them and diminish us.


We pray for children 

who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,

who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish,

who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,

who cover themselves with Band-aids and sing off key,

who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,

who slurp their soup.

And we pray for those

who never get dessert,

who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,

who watch their parents watch them die,

who can’t find any bread to steal,

who don’t have any rooms to clean up,

whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser, 

whose monsters are real.

By Ina J. Hughs

Advent Devotion: Wisdom Through the Eyes of a Child

Written by Ginny & Fred Karnas Narrated by Martin Tiller

Scripture:  Remember this!  Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.  (Luke 18:17)

MeditationChildren are an important part of our journey to Christmas.  The excitement of little ones as they restlessly prepare for bed on Christmas Eve and their sparkling eyes and shrieks of joy as they crawl under the Christmas tree to retrieve that much -wanted toy are the things that often define our Christmas memories.

As we travel through the scriptures, we regularly encounter Jesus ministering to children, or sharing parables which help us see the Kingdom through the eyes of a child.  

Thirty-five years ago, the city of Phoenix was making its first effort to address the growing problem of homelessness in the downtown.  After purchasing a building to renovate into a shelter, the city began to clear an area for an “outdoor shelter.”  This facility was intended to be an alternative to the city park until the shelter renovations were completed.

Each Saturday as the site was being cleared and prepared, I took our six-year-old daughter to watch the bulldozers at work, the sod being laid, the metal sun shields being built, and the picnic tables constructed.  On every visit we talked about what it must be like to be homeless.  Lindsey would ask the simple questions of a child, “Where do they eat?  Do they go to the store?  Are homeless people mean?  Where do they go to the bathroom?”

On the Saturday before the outdoor shelter was to open, we visited the site and watched as the palm trees were put in place.  I waxed eloquent about how in a few days the homeless people we had seen on the street would have a place to stay.

But little daughter sat uncharacteristically quiet, pondering some deep thought.  Finally, she broke the silence with these words, “But Daddy, they still don’t have houses!”

I sat there sufficiently chastised.  Along with my colleagues, I had allowed the pragmatic and politically feasible to substitute for the justice demanded by the gospel.

Like so many times in the scriptures, I saw the world differently because a child had simplified the issue.  Even at six years old our daughter knew what a home was.  It was a place that families lived, where there were bedrooms, and fireplaces, and laps to sit on.  This park was not a home and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to accept it as a substitute.

Through the miracle of Christmas, we are invited to see God’s plan for our lives and our world.  We must not settle for the world’s response to those who are suffering.  As John Howard Yoder writes, “The church is called to be now what the world is called to be ultimately.”  It is the church’s job to embody the hope of Christ and share it with the world.

PrayerLord, thank You for the gift of the Christ child, and the gift of children.  Help us to untangle and simplify our perspectives so that we may see as children.

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion:

Written by Ginny & Fred Karnas Narrated by Jerusha Tiller

The Puppy in the Pocket

Scripture:  Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us.  We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.”

II Corinthians 4:7-9

MeditationIn the mid-eighties I volunteered as a receptionist at the St. Vincent de Paul medical clinic for the homeless in Phoenix.  It was my first real introduction to those who lived on the streets.  At that time it was mostly single men sleeping in the streets or in shelters.  Then, as now, about 25% were mentally ill and about 50% were substance abusers (although this number is often disputed to be both higher and lower than 50%).  At the present time in some cities, over half the homeless population is made up of family members, including children; and approximately 10% are now single women, almost all of whom have suffered from some sort of violence or abuse.  Thus, the demographics have changed since the mid-eighties.  

But in my work as receptionist these categories of “mentally ill,” “substance abusers,” etc. did not occur to me nearly so much as other questions in my mind: “How can any of these people have any hope about the future?  How do they keep going?”  

Then one day I was not prepared for the simple sight that touched me so deeply – a man came in wearing a coat for the cool weather, and in one very large pocket he carried a puppy!  Now what else does a puppy bring to mind but joy?  And how could I believe that this man had no hope?  I had to think that he was betting on life, as opposed to despair, for his puppy and himself.  

That day several of my misconceptions about homeless people were shattered.  I learned that they aren’t all hopeless just because they’re homeless.  And I learned that they are a little like me – they love puppies!  I can imagine that Tabernacle’s have shattered many misconceptions of church members regarding homeless persons, and vice versa.

Jesus always bids us to choose life over death and hope over despair.  Sometimes, even with all the blessings of my life, I lean away from hope towards despair.  In those times I need to recall the man with the puppy in his pocket.

Prayer:  Forgive us, Lord, when we think of the world’s problems, or our own personal ones, and leave You out of the equation.  Help us to build hope from the wise truth that “God is all we have and God is all we need.”  Amen. 

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion: The Good Work of the Church

Written by Fred and Ginny Karnas Narrated by Sarala Kennedy

The Good Work of the Church

Scripture:   And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

MeditationThe late Elizabeth O’Connor was a founding member of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC and a great influence on my life.  Her thoughtful teachings on the meaning of call and the importance of Christian community continue to be grist for much contemplation on my role in the Kingdom.   In her wonderful book Cry Pain, Cry Hope she writes:

Every single one of us has a “good work” to do in life.  This good work not only accomplishes something needed in the world, but completes something in us.  When it is finished a new work emerges that will help us to make green a desert place, as well as to scale another mountain in ourselves.  The work we do in the world, when it is true vocation, always corresponds in some mysterious way to the work that goes on within us.

With each new stage of life a new work emerges in us.  In all likelihood it was there from the beginning, waiting to be claimed for the development of our personalities and of our gifts.

Because Elizabeth was a firm believer that the Church was made up of a collection of gifts, I believe she would have said the same thing about the church body, that, “with each new stage of life a new work emerges in us.”

Such is the Christmas journey, a trip toward a new understanding of who we are as individuals and who we are as a church community.  We see the possibilities for exciting new work at Tabernacle Baptist Church with those this society has left behind.  This new work does not diminish the work that has been done in the past, but rather builds on it, calling each of us to determine whether it is time “to scale another mountain in ourselves.”  What a wonderful Christmas gift it is that God has entrusted us with this new challenge to bring hope to a suffering world.

PrayerLord, thank You for the gift of Tabernacle Baptist Church.  Be with us as we discern Your will for our role in the church’s ministries.  Amen.