Finding Faith with Ferns and the Fibonacci Sequence

D7K_5095D7K_5088 D7K_5100 D7K_5104My grandpa Stephens used to say that he found the dividing line between church and nature elusive. Though he was a faithful Methodist he found it easier to connect with God in the field than in the pew. He saw God best in God’s own handiwork.

I can go there, and I would add music, to that list of the unmistakable proofs of a loving and all powerful creator. Did you know that the mathematical ratio of numbers that creates the spirals found in the springtime fern frond is the same mathematical ratio of the harmonic series of pitches that is the foundation of all tonal harmony? In other words–the scientific system for the scales and chords that has been the building block of music from Bach to u2 is the same formula found in the spiral shells on the beach. That is no cosmic accident. Look up the fibonacci sequence.

Music, ferns, shells, hosta plants and lilacs–the fingerprints of God are everywhere. Add in the fact that a composer like Mozart can take those scientific ratios and create music that touches our souls, and I don’t know how there could be an atheist left in the room.

Did you know there are pine trees in Montana that only release their seeds in the heat of a terrible fire? God loves and protects what God made. And those pinecones? In the shape of the fibonacci sequence.

God must have had so much fun creating. And he must be so smart, to align the planets with the music and the ferns.

When I’m feeling small and wondering if there could possibly be a God out there who knows us by name and cares about the fall of the sparrow–I think about Beethoven and Bach and ferns and the way even our bones share the same fibonacci ratios–and I feel more confident that the answer is yes.

“Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, had been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”  Romans 1:20.

I’m still gonna go to church faithfully, but when spring comes I’ll probably spend at least one Sunday morning in the church of the garden. I’ll listen to the message of the ferns and the fibonacci sequence which is almost as good as an Easter pastor’s sermon.

Sara Stephens Kotrba

Don’t Worry, Be Happy… Or Not

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:22

This Sunday Intern Pastor Brandon Newton preached on the story of Paul and Silas’ first arrest (See Acts 16:16-40). The men were falsely accused, stripped naked, beaten with wooden rods and then imprisoned. The underground dungeon that served as a Roman prison would have been dark and dirty. I can only imagine the stench, the fear, the pain and the indignation. Wounded and chained in the dark it would be understandable if they had given in to fear and hopelessness. And maybe even anger.

All this and they were innocent. All this for a God who had seemingly abandoned them. All this pain and misery to save people who were ungrateful and cruel.

I would have been very angry indeed.

And yet, Paul and Silas spent their time in jail praying and singing hymns. They chose to praise God even in the midst of a situation far worse than most of us can imagine. At first it’s easy to think that Paul was exceptional. That God endowed him with some sort of super human ability to seek joy in even the most appalling situations.

But the truth is that we all have this ability to choose joy, to make a conscious decision to be joyful even in the midst of tragedy. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is an emotion that is, by its very nature, fleeting. We get a promotion, we go on a vacation, we get engaged, we have a baby and we are happy. Everything seems right in the world; life is smooth sailing for the time being.

Of course, no one can be happy all the time. The car breaks down, work get stressful, we lose a loved one, someone gets sick and we are no longer happy. We are stressed, frustrated, sad, mad, hurt and confused. And that’s okay. The command was never to be happy all the time. Paul and Silas were not happy. They were joyful, and that is something altogether different.

Joy is a choice. It is not about getting rid of all our problems so that we can have a perfect life. It is about trusting God in spite of the fact that we live in a fallen world and things are decidedly imperfect. Joy is the knowledge that even in the midst of hardship, God is with us always and that the things we endure can and will be used for a divine purpose, even if we don’t understand how, or why. Joy is deep in the soul and cannot be shaken by the circumstances of our lives.

Of course, this kind of deep, abiding joy comes only when we are walking closely with God, when we are willing to trust Him implicitly in all things. It is an adventure, a leap of faith… a promise. Will you choose joy today?

Demonstrating Faith – Vision Board Devotion by Sandy Bull

Have you ever been talking with someone and all of a sudden the words that they are saying hit you like a ton of bricks? They go straight to your core and make you think. I experienced this recently while volunteering at the Holiday Gift Shop. I was working wrapping presents and talking with the many appreciative shoppers, when a young mother commented “It’s time to have a little faith in our lives.” Wow what a statement! Life had dealt her some recent changes, but she realized the importance of faith in God. She wasn’t bitter or depressed; she had confidence that there would be better days, and trusted that along the way God would be there to help her. It caused me to ask myself, do I have faith in my life?

So what is the definition of Faith? It is having complete trust or confidence in someone or something. From the church’s perspective the definition is a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. Where does Faith come from? Faith is not something we conjure up on our own, nor is it something we are born with, nor is faith a result of diligence in study or pursuit of the spiritual. Faith is a gift from God, not because we deserve it, have earned it, or are worthy to have it. We all have had Faith experiences that shape us into who we are today. We all desire the promise that there is someone or something that will be there for us, in times of need. It’s our security blanket.

As a congregation we are demonstrating Faith to the surrounding Eagan and Dakota County community. The existence of Faith is clearly demonstrated by action. Over the last year we pledged our financial resources to build the infrastructure to grow community outreach in many different ways. We did it with no guarantees of success, but with Faith, complete trust and prayerful planning that we would accomplish this goal. In just a few months since the completion of our Capital Appeal project, it is exciting to see the number of people coming every week for community meals, and the children who are getting help with homework.

The relationships that are being built and the lives we are impacting. Weekly, new services are being added to provide help to those in need. It’s all because we had a little Faith in God to follow His plan.

As a member of the Vision Board, we ask for the congregation’s trust-faith in our ability to expand this church to carryout God’s plan to serve this community. Our Mission statement “To Grow in Faith and Carry on the work of Jesus Christ” couldn’t be clearer on communicating the importance of Faith. This is our guiding light. To trust God that he will lead us down a path to serve others.

So as we start a new year, I challenge each one of us to think about where is Faith in your life today? What have you done or can you do to bring a little more Faith into your daily life? As we read in Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the lord your God with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” God is calling- where is your Faith to answer his call?

Heavenly father, we thank you for the gift of Faith, given to us out of your love. Open our hearts and minds to trust in you completely to follow your plan. And in doing so we will we help our brothers and sisters in Christ, to be filled with your grace. Amen.

Holy Epiphany!

So the conversation was had in our house today, how do we acknowledge Epiphany?  Do we say Joyous Epiphany?  Could it be Merry Epiphany or Happy Epiphany?  Or is it “Whew, Glad We Made it Here, Epiphany”?  NBC News calls it Happy Three Kings Day.

Featured imageEpiphany, like Advent, was celebrated in my childhood years.  The camels and the wise men were never at the manger until the end of Epiphany.  They’d start out in the kitchen somewhere and slowly move from place to place, edging closer to the baby Jesus.   We’d talk about the journey over rocky, sandy paths on dirty smelly camels.  We talked about the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We talked about the visit to Herod.

At 8, I figured out another truth about the epiphany. The wise men were never at the manger.  They found Mary, Joseph and Jesus at a house in Bethlehem.  When I pointed that out to my mom in my eight year old knowing ways, along with the thought that we should add that house to our nativity scene, I thought she’d be happy that I’d paid enough attention to the scripture to figure it out. Instead, I got that look that all parents and kids know.  The one that says, “Well, aren’t you just the sweetest little buttered biscuit?  Are you out of your mind?”  With four kids under the age of eight, I think I just found her breaking point in the holiday decorating madness.

The real truth is we don’t know much exactly about the wise men.  We don’t know for fact that there were three.  Because of the three gits, the story became three wise men.  We sure don’t know their names.  It is suspected that they came from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or India.  Legend has two were white and one was black.  It is likely they traveled with a large entourage.  There is even a story written by Henry Van Dyke about the fourth wise man who never made it to Bethlehem.

Since the scripture says “the child” and not infant, some say the wise men’s journey took longer than a year.  However, Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas.  As a child, we would keep the lights in the windows until the end of Epiphany.  Christmas decorations could not come down until after Epiphany.  I have continued to honor that tradition of window lights and undecorating.

This song, sung by Bobby Vinton about the three wise men was played often in my childhood years.  One of my most cherished Christmas gifts was the vinyl album found by my husband 40 years after it had been lost to me.

What does Epiphany mean in our world today?  An epiphany can be described as an enlightening realization that allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.  Advent urges us to open our heart to God, to prepare for the coming of Jesus.  Epiphany, then, asks us to reflect on all we considered during Advent and let it change us, to comprehend our world in a new light.

Let the light of the star that guided the Wise Men illuminate what you know in your heart to be true.  Let that truth have life and show it to the world through your thoughts, words and actions.  Match your daily life to what you know in your heart. Let your core values sing your song of praise.  Boldly be who you are in God’s eyes.

Holy Epiphany!

Granddaddy was a Hillbilly Scholar

Ever hear this phrase? -“If you wanna hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” The country duo Van Zant used it as a song lyric in Help Somebody.  I’ll admit it-I love Country music, my favorite is a little classic Kenny and Dolly circa mid 80’s. My love for country music should come as no surprise. My dad has a pickin’ porch on his property in rural east Texas. (Pickin’ porch-a porch that looks like a western store front made for playing bluegrass music. My daddy has a banjo and a handle bar mustache-true story.) The first line of Help Somebody -“Well, granddaddy was a hillbilly scholar, blue collar of a man.” Ok… so none of this is my point, but I couldn’t help myself-let’s regress.

The song, with it’s deeply highbrow lyrics, came out in 2005. It was the same year when the life I had planned for myself had taken a dramatic turn-probably why it struck me so. I learned so much that year- including the realization that we have such little control over life’s really big stuff.

If you look back at the things that have happened to you along the way, do we not have times when we say-  “Whoa…I did not see that one coming.”? My experience, this thing that I hadn’t planned for, left me on my knees calling out. It also brought me to a beautiful place of growth and joy.


Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

As we enter into this new year, I have my idea of what I’d like the coming year to look like. I have goals for my personal and professional growth. I’ll also do my best to remain open to what God may have in store for me-cause who knows.

In 2015, no matter where it may lead us, “Let’s Prosper”

In this, let us pray,

“Jesus as we enter into the coming year we ask for your favor, may we prosper. Help us to relax the grip of control we have over our lives Lord so that we are able to recognize the direction you may place before us. Amen.”


“May my peers think none less of me, now that I’ve exposed my love for The Gambler, and Islands in the Streams. Amen.”