Views

The views expressed here are those of each individual devotion writer. Thank you to our writers for their contributions to this ministry!

Monday, December 31, 2018

A Word from the Psalms

I will extol the Lord at all times;

    his praise will always be on my lips.

I will glory in the Lord;

    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me;

    let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

    he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

    their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;

    he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,

    and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people,

    for those who fear him lack nothing.

The lions may grow weak and hungry,

    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, my children, listen to me;

    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Whoever of you loves life

    and desires to see many good days,

keep your tongue from evil

    and your lips from telling lies.

Turn from evil and do good;

    seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:1-14

Friday, December 28, 2018

Praise


Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6


Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2


Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Hebrews 13:15


Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father. Ephesians 5:19-20 


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Paradise


Today you’ll be with me in Paradise. Luke 23:43 For the glory of God gives {the City} light, and the Lamb is its lamp. Revelation 21:23 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. Revelation 21:16-17)

As I grieve for those in our church who have lost loved ones, I like to think of the blind man described in “Image Heaven” by John Burke who told about his near-death experience. He said, “I saw (remember he was blind), infinitely far off, far too distant to be visible with any kind of sight I knew of, a city. A glowing, (seamlessly endless city), bright enough to be seen over all the unimaginable distance between. The brightness seemed to shine from the very walls and streets of this place. Howard Storm also found himself in some deep space with Jesus when he glimpsed what looked like a galaxy, a vast area of illumination far off in the distance. In the center of the light was an even brighter concentration of light, which Howard instinctively understood to be God’s abode.”

Another person with a near death experience said this, “I did not feel cold, nor did I feel hot. The temperature seemed perfect. The crystal air was clear, was pure, and a sweet- smelling air. It was a perfect day in Heaven…The beauty of it all was astonishing. Nowhere did I see a dead blade of grass or a wilting flower petal. Infinite rays of colorful light permeated everything. It seemed that every colorful thing I saw seemed to shine from within, colors that excited my eyes. My eyes danced about looking everywhere for new colors, a kid in a candy shop!”

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, what a joy to have the Bible telling us we can be in Paradise with Jesus by accepting him into our lives. Thank you for John Burke interviewing people who died for a short while and then were brought back to life. What John learned is a repetition of what you tell us in the Bible. You are all knowing Lord, your love for us is unbelievable, and the place you prepare for us beyond our death is a bright spot we cannot even imagine. Help us to take this information and know our treasured family members who have passed and those lost in the earthly Paradise city lost in the fire have been taken care of by you and now glimpse the beauty of your glory. Amen
Sandra Hilsabeck-Hastings

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Blue Christmas

“Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your Lord.” Isaiah 40:1


“I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2


“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens; and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30 


Our expectations for Advent and Christmas are a joyful and wonderful time of year. But it can be a stressful time for many people. Everything around us is merry and bright but there is an ache in our heart that won’t go away. Whether that ache is from the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship or there is something else causing pain, we seek a time of reflection, acceptance and healing.


Some churches offer a Blue Christmas service where persons can share in a time of sadness and seeking hope. Heather Hill created a Blue Christmas service that she gives permission for anyone to use. St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and Lincoln Berean Church in Lincoln offered Blue Christmas services this year.


Most Blue Christmas services begin in silence with a time of reflection, followed by scripture, and a liturgy of remembrance with candlelight. It is a time to remember persons who participants have loved and lost. Persons remember their name, their voice, their face, and the memory that binds them to us in this season. Persons can hold them before God, giving thanks for their lives.   
        

Prayer: Dear God, help us remember that Christmas may not be a time of joy for some persons.  Help us to reach out to those with sad and aching hearts during this season.  Amen.
  

Lois Poppe

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Day


The Birth of Jesus

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,

Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told! Luke 2:1-20

Monday, December 24, 2018

O Come Let Us Adore Him


“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time

    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;

    he will do what is just and right in the land.

In those days Judah will be saved

    and Jerusalem will live in safety.

This is the name by which it will be called:

    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’ Jeremiah 33:14-16


Friday, December 21, 2018

Mary's Song


And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord

    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful

    of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—

    holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,

    from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

    remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,

    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Luke 1: 46-56

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Advent is a Preparation Time


I hear the voice of someone shouting, “Make a highway for the Lord through the wilderness.  Make a straight, smooth road through the desert for our God.  Fill the valleys and level the hills.  Straighten out the curves and smooth off the rough spots.  Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.  The Lord has spoken!” Isaiah 40:3-5 


In this Old Testament scripture, Isaiah is telling of the coming of Jesus.  He says to prepare a straight, smooth road and remove obstacles and prepare for the coming of Jesus. Advent is the time for us to prepare for the coming of Jesus. We (I am as guilty as many of you are) seem to be caught up in preparing for Christmas- busyness, deadlines, being stressed, and overburdened with things to do and buy.  


What has happened to our preparing ourselves for the birth of Jesus.  We need to pray to open our hearts to Jesus- to straighten the paths of our lives, to take away obstacles and distractions and temptations, and to reflect on God’s word and to bring the light of Jesus into our life.  With God’s help, I am changing my ways and will prepare myself for the birth of Jesus during this Advent Season and I hope that you will too. 


Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, help us prepare for the coming of Jesus and bring the light of Jesus into our life during this Advent Season.  Amen


Susan Taylor (reprinted from the 2013 Advent Book)    

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Traditions


Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8 NIV

In my home, Christmas traditions can be specific ornaments or decorations and where they’re displayed. This occurred to me the other day when we hauled out the Christmas boxes and totes and considered getting it all out, or judiciously leaving some items boxed up, simply because they’re a lot of work to pack again after Christmas. However, when something is left behind in the boxes and settled back in the attic, a family member may notice its absence and comment on it.

I have many items that were handed down from my grandmother and family friends. I guess an appreciation for vintage is the reason behind my collection. One such vintage decoration is a set of letters, “NOEL”, probably from the fifties or sixties. I think of my grandmother and where she displayed these letters each year when I get them out of their box. And if I forget to set those "NOEL" letters on the bookshelf, my adult children may notice and comment on their absence.

I think of traditions as safe places. Safe in that they’re predictable, and we can count on them. Traditions are also great memory keepers; they launch us into reminiscing.

God is our safe place. He is predictable in that He offers salvation, forgiveness, grace, and love. Knowing we can count on these things is comforting.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the safety of your love. Knowing we can trust that you are the same today, tomorrow, and forever brings comfort and peace. Be with those who need the safety of your comforting arms this season of Advent. Amen.

Donna Gustafson

 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Imagine Heaven


For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. They were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:10, 16.

Here is an excerpt from “Imagine Heaven” by John Burke:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 

We have lost another faithful member of our church, Ken Stading. It is a little easier to handle this loss when we hear about the dwelling-place he has prepared for us. “Imagine Heaven” tells us of many near-death experiences where people get a glimpse of heaven. There are many likenesses but there is always a great light and a wonderful welcome.

Prayer: Thank you Lord Jesus for coming at Christmas time, suffering for us, and saving us from our sins. Because of you, Jesus, we can look forward to seeing your Holy City. Please be with the Stading family at this time. Amen.

Sandra Hilsabeck






Monday, December 17, 2018

Breath of Heaven

In the sixth month the angel of Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you.” Luke 1: 26-28

Poems and songs express our feelings and capture our imaginations.  “Love Came Down at Christmas” (according to Wikipedia) is a Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti written in 1885.  The Christian band, Jars of Clay, on their 2007 album, “Christmas Songs”, modernized this poem.  This song’s lyrics affirm, “Love was born at Christmas, Stars and Angels gave the sign.”

Have you heard the song, “Breath of Heaven” sung by Amy Grant and others?  The song’s lyrics relate Mary’s feelings of surprise and fear when the angel Gabriel comes to her.  Imagine Mary, a teenage peasant girl, being told that she will give birth to a very special baby.  Mary’s reaction might be, “Wow, this is overwhelming.”  She must have been scared.  The angel Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid.”  Mary may have questioned if this is even happening.  She went to see her cousin Elizabeth, who Gabriel said would have a baby, to see if this was really true.  In “Breath of Heaven,” the words reveal Mary’s feelings,  “I am frightened by the load I bear.”  She questions, “Must I walk this path alone?”  Then pleads, “Be with me now.”  She wonders, “If a wiser one should have had my place?”  Then Mary accepts this divine blessing from God.  “I offer all I am for the mercy of Your plan.”  Then she pleads, “Help me be strong, help me be, help me.”

Do you identify with Mary?  Have you been asked to take on a responsibility that seems overwhelming?  Do you find yourself in situations that you do not feel able to handle?  It is times like these that we can be reassured.  God is with us.  God will help us.  We are not alone.

Prayer: God, you have sent your Holy Spirit to be with us.  Your love came down at Christmas, that wondrous first Christmas.  We are grateful for that love which surrounds us, every day, in every circumstance.  Amen.

Lois Poppe (reprinted from Advent 2014)

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Reason for the Celebration of Christmas

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,  and they will call him Immanuel which means "God is with us!" Matthew 1:22-23.
This time of year is always hectic to say the least.  My lists are long and seem to guide every hour of every day.  I love it all and pay great attention to shopping for just the right gifts for each member of our family, scheduling Christmas get-togethers with friends and family, writing out Christmas cards, especially to those we don't get to see often enough, baking the family's favorite treats, watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music, honoring treasured traditions of the Season, and remembering those less fortunate than we are with activities and gifts.  It is a whirlwind Season for many of us.
I strive to remain joyful, calm, and loving in the midst of all that is going on and even though there are constant demands on my time, energy, and money.  I always try to remember that we are celebrating God's gift of his Son to us, the Son who would die for our sins so that we might have eternal life.  The ultimate gift of Love!
Two years ago my brother Dan gave me a book (on his last Christmas with us)called Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas.  As I picked it up this Season to re-read some chapters about my favorite songs, I was immediately drawn to the story behind Angels We Have Heard on High. It has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs. I have always loved singing it at Church, when caroling, and singing it along with my Christmas albums/CDs.
Ace Collins, the author, tells us that the song is still being sung just as it was when first penned in a French songbook in 1855, yet for maybe a thousand years before that, Catholic monks probably sang this same song to celebrate the birth of Our Savior. He continues to state: "What can be stated with absolute certainty is that this Christmas song must have been penned by a person who had professional knowledge of the Bible and an incredible gift for taking Scripture and reshaping it into verse."  He goes on to say that it appears that a Catholic priest or monk is responsible for writing Angels We Have Heard on High.
The song is written in the form of a chant, as it retells the angel and shepherd story.  It beautifully describes the joy of the Angels and shepherds at the birth of a Savior.  Glory to God in the Highest!   It fills me with wonder and joy at this gift that we celebrate at Christmas, the ultimate gift of Love.  The reason for the Season is the birth of Christ Jesus.  

                               "Come to Bethlehem and see
                                Him whose birth the angels sing
                                Come, adore on vended knee
                                Christ the Lord, the newborn King"
Prayer: Heavenly Father, guide me to keep my faith strong and front and center during this Season that can easily preoccupy me with worldly activities. Thank you for the gift of Baby Jesus! I will continue to spend time with you in prayer and reading Scripture throughout this Season. Guide me to praise and thank you daily. Glory to God in the Highest! God is with us and Heaven and Earth have been united.
Connie Barry

Thursday, December 13, 2018

We are Separate But We are One


We are brought near and made one. The enemy has been abolished, with the “middle wall of partition” that was between us broken down making us “one body” with common “access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Ephesians 2:13-18

Paul is talking in Ephesians about being made one in Spirit through Jesus Christ. You and I know how much easier it is to communicate with a fellow Christian. Even a salesman that comes to the door is easy to make a connection with if you are both Christians.

This concept of “being one” can also be used within families. I am using the phrase, "We are Separate but We are One" for my family this year. We have had arguments on occasion, we mistakenly have used these words I saw printed in Family Trees & Olive Branches by Christina Hergenrader:

     You Always! I won’t! Every time you! You never! You better stop!

These words will never bring a family closer together. I believe Jesus would like us to focus on loving our family this year. Let’s extend olive branches if needed.

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, for which nothing is impossible, please help us watch our words and offer each other love during this holiday season. Thank you for giving your son to save us at the first Christmas so long ago. Amen
Sandra Hilsabeck-Hastings


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Drawn to His Light

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5 

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light. Ephesians 5:8  

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16  

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the lights. I like displays that are simple and peaceful the best. I'm drawn to the beauty and serenity of a string of blue lights glowing on a quiet, snowy evening...or a lit nativity scene nestled in the middle of a dark yard.  And what's especially moving is candlelight flickering in a dark sanctuary during the strains of “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. I think I'm drawn to the lights in dark places because they remind me of Jesus--the one who's able to light up the dark places in my life.  

Receiving His light feels amazing, but unfortunately, I don't focus enough on sharing His amazing light with those who need it. Through my words and actions, I can show them what Christ is like, but it's not always easy to do. I may feel awkward or possibly discouraged by their response--or lack of one--and end up “hiding my light”.  My Life Application Study Bible Notes on Matthew 5:14-16 suggest that my light can be hidden by: being quiet when I should speak, going along with the crowd, denying the light, letting sin dim my light, not explaining my light to others or ignoring the needs of others.

How silly it would be to hide a Christmas light display under a large blanket, so no one could see its beauty!  So does it make any sense at all to hide the beauty and immeasurable power of Christ's Light from others?  Absolutely not. I need to regularly ask God to show me how I'm hiding His light...and to give me courage. Courage to not just glow like those Christmas lights, but to shine in a way that others will be drawn to the beauty of His Light.

Prayer: Dearest Emmanuel, thank you for bringing your amazing light into our dark world.  Forgive us for hiding your light instead of sharing it.  And help us as we strive to “live as children of light”. Amen.

Sharon Irvin

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

When does the Journey begin?

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. Genesis 12:1-2

When and where does the journey to Christ begin? It could be creation of heaven and earth or creation of humankind or Noah and the flood. It seems to me that this journey begins with Abram and Sarai. The Lord says go and they went. They took everything they had and left their home and went to Canaan as God had told them. They had no map. They had no GPS or On-Star. They had their trust in God, their faith and each other.

What an incredible undertaking. How often has the Lord told us to do something and we have ignored it, or made excuses. Like, “Use me Lord, but not right now”

Prayer: Dear Lord God, help us to listen for your call and to respond so that we may be a blessing to others as we have been so richly blessed. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen

Kathy Kuehn (reprinted from the 2013 Advent Devotional)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Magnificat

I will sing of the Lord's great Love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations, I will declare that your love stands firm forever....Psalm 89:1-2
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4
Advent is a time of anticipation and reflection. It is said that one of the best things about a trip is the anticipation while planning it; it is a tangible benefit of the experience. The memories of that trip or vacation also have great value in refreshing us. 
I love to think of Christmases past, and anticipate the things that will make this season feel festive and magical. I remember being pregnant for two of my long-ago Christmases, and sharing with Mary's expression in the Magnificat. The awareness of miracles is always a wonderful awakening.
When I was a teenager, I found such treasure in the late night or midnight Christmas Eve services. To go to church at such a late hour seemed a rare privilege, and added to the special nature of the celebration. We would see people we rarely saw, and have the joy of spending that special time with them. The service felt more intimate than the pageantry I associated with Christmas, and that appealed to me.
I like to think that Advent calendars tell a story. The story is slowly revealed in the time of waiting, like the nightly continuing tales of Scheherazade. Christmas books enchant me. I have a friend who displays all her Christmas storybooks on her living room shelves and tables during Advent, when she celebrates her December birthday with a cookie-decorating party. It is like being in a Christmas library.
Advent carols tell the roots of our faith, the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. It is powerful imagery to anyone of any age. The stories have so much symbolism, and we take that symbolism into our own stories so that the original story deepens in personal meaning.
To think of the candles and lights which decorate so many homes and neighborhoods, is always such a joy. "Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness" is one of my favorite expressions from Anne Frank. Light, like faith, wrests power from darkness and fear. We see the truth of darkness for what it is, when we use the light that is given to us, The light is a reminder of what we are preparing for, and what we want to become.
I loved learning that the last Sunday before Advent (also the final Sunday of the church year) is known in the UK as "Stir Up Sunday", because it is the time to stir up the Christmas puddings. The Collect for that Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 begins "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded". The Christmas puddings need to mature throughout Advent before being set afire with brandied sugar cubes on Christmas. The preparation of that Christmas pudding involves stirring up ingredients, just as we are to stir our own hearts and minds to do great things. The waiting time of Advent is important to puddings and Christians alike.
Whatever Advent means to each one of us, it should have a little of the secular connected to the sacred. In order to understand Emmanuel, God with us, we have to be able to elevate the things we love in our daily life to the level of the inexplicable and eternal things that God infuses us with.
A translation of the Magnificat by Joy Cowley:
My soul sings in gratitude,
I'm dancing in the mystery of God.
The light of the Holy One is within me
and I am blessed, so truly blessed.

This goes deeper than human thinking.
I am filled with awe
at Love whose only condition
is to be received.

The gift is not for the proud,
for they have no room for it.
The strong and self-sufficient ones
don't have this awareness.

But those who know their emptiness
can rejoice in Love's fullness.

It's the Love that we are made for,
the reason for our being.

It fills our inmost heart space
and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.

Amen.

Mollie Manner

Friday, December 7, 2018

Words from Malachi

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. Malachi 3:1

(click on photo to view larger)


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Live in the Light

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one 
another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Photosynthesis is the process by which a green plant uses the energy from the light of the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into its own food for growth.  Picture the simple experiments in your elementary school science classes which were designed to demonstrate the concept: grass seeds on soil in a tray, partially covered, sitting beside the window; or sprouts in shoe boxes, some with and some without lids.  Do you remember the stark contrast between the plants which received adequate light and those which did not? 

Just as science textbooks explain that light is essential to the lives of plants, our Bible explains in many different passages how the light of the Lord Jesus is essential to the lives of Christians.  For example, Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”  The author of Hebrews writes, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”  And in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight: A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” 

Prayer: Lord, you are our everlasting light and our salvation, and Jesus is the radiance of your glory. May our words and deeds also reflect your glory.  Shine your light on us so that we will not stumble in the darkness. Just as the green plants use sunlight as energy to sustain life, let us use your light as energy to sustain our lives and produce good fruits. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Judith Keller (reprinted from our Advent Devotional - 2015)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

We've a Story to Tell the Nations

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:11-15

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head that you just can’t get rid of?  I usually blame what is playing on the radio, or something used in a repetitive commercial but not this week. This week I have a hymn. It started with the chorus and then built verse by verse in a glimpse of my childhood. I am generally a fan of older hymns; rhyming verse with a simple rhythm that is repetitive and familiar. “We’ve a story to Tell to the Nations” is something that I remember my grandmother singing. I always loved the chorus:

“The darkness has turned to the dawning and the dawning to noonday bright, for Christ’s great kingdom has come to earth – the kingdom of love and light.”  

In looking at the hymn as a whole the verses have a wonderful message – share God’s story – in your life. Each verse expands on this and asks that we all share the message, in word, in song, in truth and in life. In reading other interpretations of this hymn, I found that it isn’t often published in newer/non-denominational hymnals because of its “outdated” missionary focus and the “preachy” undertones in the message. 

I disagree. While this hymn definitely feels “older” (it was first published in London in 1896) I think it shows the ways we can simply and elegantly share God in our lives. We all have moments when we know that God is with us, pushing us into something that may feel uncomfortable, even though we know it’s the right thing to do. Acts and words give us the opportunity to share God’s love for us.  

There is so much darkness in the world today. Human rights issues everywhere, war, fought by U.S. soldiers in foreign lands, food, money and clothing shortages in America, a land of excess. With all of this darkness, it is comforting for me to think of God as the light. And I want to live a life that reflects my faith that the darkness will break apart and let God’s light in.

Prayer: God – please be with us in the darkness.  We share our fears with you but we don’t always share your story with those around us.  Help me to share the beauty of your work in my life through my words and actions.

Christi Moock (reprinted from our Advent Devotional - 2015)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Saying Grace

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with Thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4-5

And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you. Deuteronomy 12:7

My daughter's in-laws include me in their family celebrations, and this year we had not one but two Thanksgiving feasts.  It was delightful to share food with others, since most of my meals are spent with my cats by my side.  My daughter's father-in-law always has a prayer at the ready, and I enjoyed two different graces from him this year.  It made our time together even more special. 

When I was little, my family did not say grace except at holiday meals.  I never understood grace, or many other prayers for that matter.  We were taught to be grateful for our food, and for our mother's valiant efforts to make it something a child might actually want to eat.  I figured we should be blessing her, as well as congratulating ourselves for taking the three required bites of each item. But I was careful to wait for grace to be said when I was visiting other people for meals, since I realized it had meaning for them.  

It is so easy to clink glasses with someone before drinking, especially when celebrating something.  It should feel just that easy to thank the source of all our nourishment in body and spirit.  I like to think of different ways of expressing gratitude now.  I recently watched a cooking show where the chef demonstrated how to turn humble vegetables and grains into special dishes by cooking them thoughtfully.  It made so much sense, because we often take for granted the foods most easily available to us regardless of season or finances. I like to think of being creative and resourceful with simple ingredients. Sometimes I will come home late from work, and all I really want is a hot potato to nibble on. It completely satisfies a need. 

I am a vegetarian, and after I stopped eating meat a few years ago I realized  I had always wanted to be a vegetarian.  It is fun to explore new foods, but limiting the diet is also gratifying.  My friend who is trying to cut out sugar has discovered she feels better and has more energy. I am trying to make some substitutions in that area, but I am not ready to give up all sugar. 

We spent a fair amount of time in the car when my kids were growing up.  Quite often we would end up having Car Picnics because we didn't have time to go home for meals. 

I like to think that those meals brought a little of home to our car, and the conversation was more free because we weren't facing each other. 

Wherever and whatever I eat, I now understand the reason for stopping to give thanks for everything that brings food to my body.  It is a way of beginning again. Our food is a gift, and the work that provides it is a gift. I love that there are many ways to be mindful of that gratefulness.  

We can ask that our food fuel us to do God's work; we can remember someone missing from us who used to pour that cup of tea for us; we can bless an old family recipe that reminds us of the people who used to share it with us; we can ask for others to enjoy the same privilege of being fed; we can ask for the food to nourish and heal us and others who aren't well; we can ask that the meal bring us together as family; and we can ask that the transforming power of Communion be present in our meal.  

This a grace from jesuitresource.org: May this food restore our strength, giving new energy to tired limbs, new thoughts to weary minds. May this drink restore our souls, giving new vision to dry spirits, new warmth to cold hearts. And once refreshed, may we give new pleasure to you, who gives us all. Amen.

Mollie Manner

Monday, December 3, 2018

Rejoice and Reflect


“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Hebrews 10:24-25a 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4 

“Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3 

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will to you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18  

In his Editor’s Note of the October, 2018 Guideposts, Edward Grinnan suggests, “(Fall is) a good time to take stock, to rejoice and reflect, to forgive, to love, to give thanks.” Many things in life distract us from what truly matters. 

How are we doing in using our time wisely? Do we invest our time in searching God’s Word?  Do we listen for God’s directions for us?

Do we refresh our spirit and body by enjoying the world of nature that God provides us? We can talk to God and become more physically fit at the same time. Or we can “walk and talk” with our spouse, or other family member or friend. Do we rejoice in knowing that God is with us in all of life’s joys and challenges?

Do we forgive those who have hurt us? Do we truly show love to both those easy to love and those not easy to love? Do we express thanks every day, not just as we celebrate Thanksgiving?

After we “take stock, rejoice and reflect, forgive, love, and give thanks,” then we can begin the season of Advent and step into a new year. 

Prayer: God, help us to use our time wisely. Show us how to make every moment matter today and every day. Amen.

Lois Poppe

Friday, November 30, 2018

What?


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Recently I had a conversation with someone about communication and how abbreviated our language has become.  Are we really communicating?  Do we understand what the other person is really saying?

It reminds me of a posting on Facebook, where the son was telling a story about his mother and learning to use modern abbreviations on text messages. She saw several people using lol.  Upon someone announcing the death of a family member, she responded with lol.  Her son said, "Mom, how rude!" The mother responding to her son said “why, I just responded with lol meaning lots of love.”  Her son said, “Mom it means Laughing Out Loud!”  How many times have you seen a response from someone and said: I wonder what that means? I usually goggle it to see what it means, I can’t keep up with all the new ones. There are several I don’t want to know what they mean or would ever use. 

Upon my first day at a postal distribution center, I was instructed by the supervisor to go help unload the scf from the bmc on to the 1070’s.  He was pointing to a direction which helped but the rest was unclear except that I was to unload something on to something. I responded with I am happy to do that; but I have no idea what you just said. He was a supervisor that spoke abbreviations for just about everything, and soon I understood what he was talking about, but it meant a lot of questions.  

Many conversation workshops tell you to listen, repeat what the person said, then ask for clarification to make sure you understood what they are actually saying. In my recent part-time work, I had a co-worker say something to me, I looked at them and said I am sorry I do not know what you said. They repeated it, and I still didn’t know what they said. It finally came down to someone else interpreting for us. We were both speaking English, but neither knew what the other was relaying. 

Emojis are another form of communication that leaves a lot to the interpretation of the person using it and the person receiving it. Is that smiley face crying a good thing or bad? Is it not bad enough we don’t all speak the same language, or have the same dialect but now we use pictures and abbreviations!   

Have you ever read the Bible and thought, I wonder what this is really saying to me? Or had someone tell you their interpretation of that passage. Thank goodness it is not all just pictures, abbreviations and emojis. Thank goodness we have a church where we can gather and learn of the meaning of the words in the Bible. Pastors to teach us what the Bible is saying to us. A place that we can gather and worship God in a better understanding. A place where we work at understanding each other and expressing our thoughts in words, music and praise to Jesus our Lord.

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for the Pastors, the church staff, the musical directors, Sunday School teachers, and all those that help to put together a welcoming and open gathering place to worship our Lord. May we find more understanding of your messages. May we find more ways to open communication between the generations, the cultural differences and any other dividing differences. May we extend our hand to help others learn of your love.  In Jesus name, we pray. Amen

Lori Hood

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Prayer

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:42   


There is a scene in the movie Evan Almighty that I absolutely adore, Morgan Freeman (God) is explaining to Lauren Graham (Joan, Evan’s wife) that God doesn’t always clearly grant our prayers in the ways that we expect them to be granted. In this scene God says “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”


This is such a short burst in the film but it always stays with me and I love the way it ties to this verse – if you believe that you have received what you have prayed for, it will be yours. As humans, we think about our desires, and we pray for ourselves and those around us. We ask God to be in our lives, but we are frustrated when we have to admit that his power and will is greater than our own.   


As I reflected on this verse and this scene I thought back over times when I have asked God for something and he has delivered in ways that I would not have expected.  When I prayed that my son would receive an education that would make him successful and enriched, I wasn’t ready for him to move 640 miles away, but it has been such an amazing experience for him. Years ago, when I prayed for a very ill friend to have less suffering, I wasn’t ready for his death to be so sudden, but I know that he has been released from all the pain his body experienced on earth. As part of our spiritual and emotional growth we have to accept our gifts and make the most of them and we must have faith that God will continue to provide for us in ways that we could never have imagined. Especially in those moments were we don’t get what we ask for.    


Prayer: God who knows our deepest fears and hopes, please continue to help us grow. Continue to respond to prayers in ways that are better than we could have asked, and guide us on the path that you have always planned. Amen.     

Christi Moock   

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

“Wow!”, not “so what?”

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:3

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:7-10

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Psalm 96:11-12

Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?  Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge? Job 37:14-16

There is a quote from the movie The Color Purple that I’ll paraphrase here: “I think it angers God if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” (This movie was originally a book, and to read the whole unedited quote, go online.) I love this quote, because I imagine it to be true! God has created a beautiful world for us, and sometimes we take it for granted.

When I was a child, I had a book that showed a photograph of a fetus in the amniotic sac at around 4 months gestation. Today, we can go to our computers and search online for photographs like this and find hundreds. In the late 60s-early 70s, this was somewhat of a novelty. I had this book along once while visiting my grandmother in the hospital. My brothers and I spent many long hours in the waiting room back when children were not allowed in the patient rooms, so we spent that time reading and running around the hospital grounds. On one such day I was reading the above-mentioned book, and commented to my brother on how amazing the photo was. Another young girl in the waiting area noticed, took a cursory glance at the photo, and dismissed it, saying "So what?" As a child I was so shocked at her response that I couldn’t say a word. Shame followed; shame that I was in awe of something that was evidently mundane to others.

Today I think just the opposite: how sad that there are people in this world who don’t notice the details and beauty of the world we live in. Miracles abound! I’m going to try my best to keep a childlike wonder at my surroundings…whether it’s the way the fading sunlight shines on the fall leaves or the delicate little bird landing on my windowsill, or the miraculous human body…I want to appreciate it.  

It’s sometimes easy to become absorbed in our own dramas and issues when things aren’t going well; we have a harder time noticing life around us. During those times we need to be reminded that gratitude goes hand-in-hand with an observant nature.

Don’t be a “so what?” person; be a “wow!” person!

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the beautiful world you have created. Help us notice it, and in doing so, give the glory to you! Amen.

Donna Gustafson