Monday, March 19, 2018

Keeping it Real

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Selah Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.  Selah Psalm 32:1-5

The commentary in The CEB Study Bible points out that David’s penitential prayer in Psalm 32 clarifies “that true happiness derives not from being sinless but rather from being forgiven” and “the psalmist’s problems result not from divine wrath but rather from the failure to confess sin, and perhaps from the energy expended in pretending to be perfect.”  What a poignant reminder for us in the age of social media. The pressures created by hyper-competitive work or school environments are daunting, to say the least, and functioning in a culture that celebrates image above substance creates its own set of adversities.  Indeed, it is exhausting—and mentally unhealthy—to maintain a deceitful image of perfection.  As taxing as this deception is online, how much more so is it to struggle in a vain effort to withhold our most intimate failings and wrongdoings from God?


Creator God,

“This morning

and all mornings,

as we face the day

daunted by expectations

others place upon us,

weighed down by burdens,

unsure of outcomes,




remind us that you faced all this and more,

that we might loose

the chains that bind us,

rise above and beyond

the troubles of this world,

and know peace

in your embrace.”*


John Birch, 2016,


Barry and Alinda Stelk

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Bible Says

Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5

Billy Graham did just that! Franklin Graham said at Billy’s funeral this week that his dad always said when he gave a speech or whenever he counseled someone, “This is what the Bible says.” He always humbled himself and gave the Bible’s advice, not his advice. He loved the Lord with all his soul and all his strength. He spoke to millions in his long life and now is at his eternal home in heaven with our God. What a celebration must be happening there!

Franklin Graham and his siblings brought tears to my eyes as they spoke about their father. Many of their stories mirrored my family stories. Billy welcomed home his prodigal daughter. He forgave them when they sinned and loved them as Jesus loves us.

Our problems are simplified when we turn to our Lord. We can forgive others and we are truly able to love when we follow this one verse.  

Prayer: Dear Lord, open our hearts to your love. Thank you for the life of Billy Graham. Let our lives speak out your wisdom. Amen.

Sandra Hilsabeck

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Call to me and I will answer you and  tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. Jeremiah 1:22

When I first heard the story of Joan of Arc in my childhood, I wondered what God's voice must have sounded like to her. It was frightening to think of hearing something that no one else could hear. It was daunting to think that the voice would tell me things that would be hard for me to accept. I wondered why she was chosen for all this.
I have a friend whose daughter was having unusual vision issues when she was little, Because I was familiar with things my own daughter's neurologist examined for, I asked her about what she was seeing while I was visiting her and her mother. She matter-factly described the images of what she saw, and the filters through which she sometimes perceived the world.  There were voices, as well. She seemed unabashedly healthy and comfortable with all this.  Her doctor found nothing wrong with her either.  When I brought this up with other friends, some of them mentioned remembering hearing voices when they were little.  Some of them had known children who could draw auras they saw emitting from people. Like the ability to hear the sleigh bell in the book The Polar Express, this sense disappeared with maturation. 

I don't understand all this, but I know that children are often the ones who see and hear things acutely, and I wonder if it has to do with their openness and being in active learning mode. Selecting and editing that to which they choose to give attention is not yet a habit. 

Listening is a true skill, and we live in an age where communication output is highly encouraged. We are known by the extent of our facebook posts. We have the first President in history who communicates by twitter instead of fireside chats. The tower of babel is an ongoing environment for us. We receive emails daily to which we are expected to respond.  
When I truly listen, I am changed inside. Listening requires focus. It needs space and time. Lately I have preferred to have physical meetings in order to listen to the people closest to me. There is much to hear in the tone of voice, the placement of silence, the look on the face. When I am really listening, I am able to help the other person by relating something interesting about what I have heard, or to ask a question that takes the discussion below the surface. It is not about taking on burdens or jumping to solutions, both of which might stall the process. I am simply learning something. I am offering up the best of what I am and what I have to the effort.
In a recent move, I had to purge a loveseat that had moved with me every place I had lived with my children. It was difficult to let this piece of outmoded furniture go, because so many moments of their growth had happened while we sat, side by side, trying to get over life's hurdles, whether they were toddler tears or emotional adolescent conundrums. That loveseat was a good listener, and a comforting springboard to the next step. Similarly, every car I have driven has become an ally, not only in road trips and adventure, but also in providing that comforting environment for listening when it is hard for the person talking to have forced eye contact. I had a friend who was frustrated that she was too busy to have her normal daily prayer time, and she said she simply told God "Come on in the car, you're gonna have to go with me today".  There is always something fortifying about the idea of having your friends by your side. It is offering support while looking in the same direction.
During the Taize services I used to play and sing for, there was always a central time of meditation, about ten minutes long, during which I would play something to help slow the body into a receptive state, and then sit in silence.  Sometimes I would find that during this time I could have the luxury of a complete thought, and realized how much it was missing from my regimen of interruptions.  At other times, I filled it with unhurried prayer, unlike the frantic tweet-like prayers I often blurt throughout the day. But eventually I simply listened: to God, and in some cases, to the silent prayers of those in the room.  I tried to simply sit with those around me, witnessing their thoughts and inviting God's word to be felt. It was a vital state of being that I hadn't found in a lot of worship experiences.

I am a pianist working with students who are performing songs or musical theatre pieces, I usually try to tell them what I heard and saw from their presentations. In this way, we can work at getting closer to what their intent is.  We work together to make the artistic expression authentic. It helps to make both of us aware of many things, and we both explore and learn together.  

My indelible faith experience from my childhood came when I was 6 or 7, spending a sleepless night because of my active little brain. I was pondering how the world might end, and my fear was eating me up. Finally, I prayed in utter anguish to God about how scared I was. I must have actually listened to God then; I felt a blanket of peace covering me, and I lay back and simply rested in God's cradling for the rest of the night.  

Prayer: Listening God, you hear every word I stumble over and every speech I deliver. Beyond that, you hear my heart beating and my soul searching. Among and above the great sounds and music of your creation, let me  hear your voice for all and your words for me alone. Help my inner ears to listen and hear, to learn and to digest, to understand. Amen.

Mollie Manner

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Feelings of Joy

For the Lord God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. Deuteronomy 16:15b

In the NIV Compact Concordance there are three pages of tiny writing showing the places in the Bible where you find the word JOY. Intending to find a verse to explain the complete JOY I felt this week, I found this Deuteronomy verse listed first. I needed to go no further into the massive list.

A friend was touched by my first book “One Man and One Woman” on which our Hope Renewed group was based. She had not been through a divorce or separation but had to hug her husband after finishing the book in two days. She couldn’t put it down. She is going to take some photographs, so I can do a second publishing with a new cover. Then, as God always does, he sent a hurting friend to her who needed just this book. Her friend’s heart was breaking. The timing was unreal. We both realized God had her read the book quickly, so she could pass it on.

The joy I felt in being able to go through one friend and help another was extreme. It was the work of my hands that was harvested to help another.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for nudging me to journal, reach out to you, and write “One Man and One Woman.” I felt your great love in 2005 and feel it again today. When you show me my work helps another, I can hardly contain my joy; my joy is complete. Please keep giving me guidance as I need you every day. Amen.

Sandra Hilsabeck

Monday, March 12, 2018

Story of the birds

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45

But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:25

Sitting at the front desk at church as I do, I receive all kinds of visitors. People coming in for church repairs, church members on church-related business, pantry clients, people down on their luck and asking for something "extra", and people who just need to talk to someone.

One day last year during Lent, a woman came in after I had led our Lenten study, which called for a visual aid. I used something I had from home that I had just received as a birthday gift: a wooden tree with colorful wooden birds mounted on string (photo below). It was sitting in my window as I worked for the remainder of the day.

The woman had ostensibly come in to photograph stained glass windows, and was perhaps struggling with some mental health issues. She was persistent to wanting one of my birds. In fact, she came back twice to ask if I was sure that she couldn’t have her own bird. Not wanting to change the look of this gift I had received, I told her, no, the birds weren’t available. I suppose I also wanted her to realize you can’t just ask people for things.

Later, when relating the story to others, I realized that, of course I should have given this woman one of the birds. For one thing, there were more than enough to make the display look appropriate. And did giving away just one bird make a difference to me? No…and that is where I really begin to feel guilt. Even if the display needed that one extra bird to be the display it was meant to be, I maybe should have given it away. Sometimes we don’t fully understand things until later…and sometimes God gives us that extra insight when he wants us to realize where we fall short. Because, of course, we do fall short. All of us do.

About five month later, the woman returned. She explained that she was down on her luck and needed food. I recognized her right away as the “bird woman” and asked if she remembered as well. She did, and seemed pleased to be noticed. It was then that I realized I had transported the birds home all those months ago in my work bag, and that, often, things get left in the bottom of the bag. I told her, “you know, I may have one of those birds in my bag”, and proceeded to find not one, but two of the colorful little birds to give to her. Sometimes, redemption isn’t always redemption. I guess what I mean is: being able to share those two birds with this woman doesn’t mean that I can feel everything “worked out”. In fact, I still should feel guilty for not giving those birds to her in the first place…but sometimes God has a way of showing us how to be more like Him, even when we mess up the first time. And, in this case, someone has two little birds in her pocket.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for second chances. Thank you for showing us when and where we can be obedient to You, even in the small things in life. Amen.

Donna Gustafson