Thursday, April 19, 2018

He is Faithful

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (NRSV) Lamentations 3:21-26   
Trust [rely on and have confidence] in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed [securely] on His faithfulness. (AMP) Psalm 37:3

The songs “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” touch my soul. Their verses remind me how loyal and faithful God has been to me throughout my life. Even when I wander, even when I doubt...He's STILL there. No matter how much I sin, He forgives me every time I ask. He faithfully loves me, guides me, strengthens me, provides for my needs, gives me peace and gives me hope. And as I mourn the loss of my mom, He's been there to dry every tear. It's so amazing having such an immensely loving and faithful friend--especially when I'm not always a good friend to Him.

At the top of my lungs, I sing these verses from “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)” by Chris Tomlin: 
Whom shall I fear?
I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side
The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

I picture God “before me...behind me...by my side”--at all times surrounded by His powerful love. Wow! That gives me such comfort, such confidence. 

In times when I'm feeling far away from God, and full of fears and doubts; I need to remember the many ways He's been faithful--both in my life and in the lives of others. I also need to call to mind the promises found in His Word, resting assured that He'll faithfully keep every one. It's not always easy to focus on these things in the middle of hard times; but when I do, I find my heart swells with thankfulness. And each time my heart is thankful, I find I'm better able to “hope in Him” and “wait for Him” like I should.

Prayer: Ever-Faithful Father, forgive us for our doubting, wandering hearts.  Open our eyes to see--and our hearts to appreciate--your immense love and faithfulness.  And thank you so much for surrounding us with your powerful love every day. Amen.

Sharon Irvin

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"My Words Will Never Pass Away."


But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. Mark 13:24-31


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Hidden Message


There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?  John 6:9 NKJV

When my friend, Anne, asked me to coauthor her children’s sermon on the topic of unleavened bread, I started to read about barley because I knew it to be the grain of the common (poor) people in the Bible. It was purely an economic decision on their part because wheat was three times the price of barley. 

The number of stories in the OT having barley at the heart of them was surprising to me. I read several of them and found that the destruction of the barley fields was part of the 7th plague (Ex. 9:31-32); Ruth met Boaz because she and Naomi returned to Bethlehem during barley harvest (Ruth 1:22); and it made me smile when I read that Gideon interpreted the dream of a man who told of seeing a loaf of barley bread roll down a hill and flatten a tent to mean that he would have victory in battle against the Midianites (Judges 7:13).

But how does one find the hidden message in the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000?  According to one bible scholar you have to compare Elijah’s feeding of the poor widow and her son by keeping her flour bin full after she had used her last handful of flour to feed Elijah (1Kings 7:15-16) and Elisha’s feeding 100 men with 20 loaves of barley bread (2 Kings 4:42-44) to Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 with 5 loaves. The people that Jesus was teaching thought Jesus to be a prophet. They would have known both Elijah’s and Elisha’s stories. By comparison, when Jesus fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves, He was showing Himself to be greater than the prophets. 

Without the prompting to make this comparison, I would have completely missed that hidden message! Did you miss it, too? 

Prayer: Thank You, Father, for the scriptures which reveal the glory of Your Son, Jesus’, miracles and for showing us that sometimes we just need to read between the lines to get Your message. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Judy Welch

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Birds of the Air


And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them , saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. Genesis 1: 20-23

As a birdwatcher, I continue to be amazed at the diversity of the birds both in the Midwest and the country. From the tiny, but feisty hummingbirds, to the majestic eagles, the birds come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. The turkey vultures have returned to Lincoln around April 1st every year since I moved here 30 years ago. The large streams of blackbirds fly in ever-weaving forms toward the end of March, and the sandhill cranes, all half a million of them, gather on the Platte River in mid- March. Everyone sees the return of the robins as a harbinger of spring. The shorebirds who funnel their way through Nebraska and then go onto the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific, cover thousand of miles. From the tiny ruddy ducks to the snow geese, the wetlands of Nebraska provide a resting place on their long journeys north. The bluebirds return in early spring, start their nests when it is still cold, lay their pretty little sky blue eggs, and manage to fledge 2 sets of babies before they leave in late July. Each bird has its own characteristics, its habitats, its time line for travel, and its special song. God has given us a blessing with the birds of the air. Take time to thank God for the birds he has given to us and their evidence of his ongoing love and creation.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are a great and powerful God. Thank you for your creatures here on earth. Help us to respect the environment for all who occupy it. Amen.

Nancy Hall

Friday, April 13, 2018

Storm Insurance


God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and mountains quake with their surging. Psalm 46:1-3


“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46: 10-11


As we Midwesterners think about the storms in our lives, we may conjure up thoughts or images of severe weather—especially this time of year.  Lightning, thunder, floods, hail, and high winds frequently threaten destruction to our crops, property, or sometimes, our lives.  We often take assurance from the idea that we can and will be able to recover from these misfortunes by rationalizing, “After all, we do have insurance, right?”  What happens to us when we face storms and damages that are not necessarily alleviated by this monetary safety net?  We often reach out to those displaced by natural disasters through financial relief efforts, but how do we muster the spiritual strength to bounce back from deeper storms and scars left by physical injuries, debilitating diseases, broken relationships, or even loss of loved ones?  It is tempting to believe that we have protected ourselves from harm by covering our financial bases, but the Lord is truly the one we must rely on.


Prayer: Creator God, in the quiet stillness of this hour and in the midst of life’s storms, help us to find comfort in laying down our concerns and troubles before you.  We humbly ask for your help to strengthen us and give us hope as we navigate each day.  Thank you for the knowledge and assurance that you are always with us.  Amen.

Barry and Alinda Stelk

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Home Sweet Home

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” 
John 14:2-4


Last week in February and the first week of March, I took a vacation to stay with friends in southern Texas and visit Mexico. The second week I stayed with my sister out of town. I had great accommodations and the hospitality was fantastic. My dog Hastings had stayed with my nephew during the first week and I picked her up and she greeted me with that happy puppy energy and excitement. She still seemed hesitant staying at my sister’s home. After the two weeks we went home and you could tell she was home. She ran all around the house checking all the corners to make sure things were in their proper place, every dog toy had to come out of the basket and be examined to make sure they were all there. She took each toy for a run around the house. You could tell she knew she was home. After the return home ritual, she climbed into her bed, relaxed and fell asleep. I too retired to my bed after the late night drive home and I too was excited to be in my own bed in my own accommodations. I was home sweet home.

Recently I saw a picture of Jesus with a person wrapped around him.  Their feet were wrapped around his waist and their arms around his neck as tight as possible. A hug beyond imagination. Their face had the biggest grin as if they were greeting a long lost friend. That is what I imagine when I see my loved ones in Heaven. That they too were greeted and got a huge hug welcoming them home. The warm embrace filled with love and comfort.   

Lori Hood  



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Light and Love


Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” John 12: 35-36  

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12  

At the February Trailblazers group meeting, we all shared something that has meaning for us. My husband and I shared a photo of a wall-hanging that has hung in our homes since our children were young. As a family, we together created it using tissue paper (in shades of brown, yellow, and orange) and glued it on fiber board panels. Our family members saw varying things – sunrise, sunset, for example. I saw the darkness of our world driven away by God’s light of love.

There are many kinds of darkness. Some describe being in the darkness of depression. Some struggle with physical pain or other health issues as a kind of darkness. Worries of conflict in our country and world can darken our views.

The song, “I Am the Light of the World” reminds us how we can follow and love today.

Chorus:

            “I am the Light of the World.

            You people come and follow me.

            If you follow and love,
           
            You’ll learn the mystery,
                       
            Of what you are meant to do and be.”

I reflect on how I can be a part of dispelling the world’s darkness each day.

Prayer: God of light and love, show me how I can reflect your presence in our world today. Amen.


Lois Poppe




Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Creation by Our Living God


And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So, God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” Genesis 1:20-22

Have you ever tried to list the birds you see in your back yard? Bryce and I have been paying attention for years and we have specifically listed fifty varieties of birds seen in our yard on the back cover of our North American Bird Feeder Handbook.

Just this week I saw the small Hairy Woodpeckers, the cardinals, sparrows, blue jays, red-headed house finches, and a dead cedar waxwing.  We have seen the white eyed vireo, the chimney swift and the rose breasted grosbeak.

I mention the cedar waxwing because I found it on the ground. This time of year, they eat the berries from my flowering crab tree. When they eat too much they fly manically into our windows. It makes me sad; but the tree feeds many birds all spring. Seeing the waxwing so close I saw it was a beautiful caramel cream color with a black face mask. The stomach area has a soft yellow patch of feathers with also some more yellow on its back. The very tip of the tail has a bright yellow color which makes it look like it was dipped in yellow paint.

The exquisite coloring made me realize God made this bird as it says in Genesis. What a piece of art! The feathers are so soft, and it can fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Sometimes they come in flocks of 10 or 20 and eat from our tree. How could you not believe in a creator when you gaze upon such beauty?

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for the great array of birds that live around us. Please protect them. Your imagination used for creation is awesome. Help us to spread the word you are the great creator. Amen

Sandra Hilsabeck



Monday, April 9, 2018

Feet


How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation. Isaiah 52:7 

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  John 13:14


Lately I have been trying to find comfortable shoes to support my flat feet and reduce pressure on my knees and back.  My feet have always been complicated, and I have resented always having to sacrifice beauty in favor of support for them.  Now I try to respect their needs, as they are a vital means of support for my body; but I can never seem to find complete comfort and stability for staying upright very long.  It is a constant reminder that my feet have big jobs to do.

I like the idea that our mission is to be God's hands and feet in this world. Being God's hands is an appealing metaphor.  Hands can hold other hands, make things, give things to others, work, give soothing touch, lift things up,  protect someone or something, wave in greeting, raise in joy, dig, reach, extend in welcome, create art, communicate, and perform sacred tasks.  

For most of us, feet are a means of getting from place to place.  For some of us, feet dance.  People sometimes experience dance or yoga with bare feet, to feel grounded and rooted. My mother and several of her friends used to walk a couple of miles together every morning, and they all thought of it as the best way to start their days. Her doctor considered it her best medicine.

But it is challenging to think how our feet can do God's work.  It is intriguing to think back to times when it was customary to wash the dirt from the road off of one's feet when entering a house, particularly before eating.  We are careful to wash our hands, and we often give no thought to our feet.  The tradition of foot-washing before communion is a good reminder that how we prepare even the most remote parts of our body makes a difference.  

It was a revelation to Jesus' friends when he approached them to wash their feet, and it was confusing to them when someone considered unworthy washed Jesus' feet.  We don't focus on feet very much in worship other than remembering and celebrating these traditions.  But I think it is worthwhile to consider whether we need to think of cleaning the dust of mundane activities off of our feet when we want to change our direction to a more sacred path. 

To "walk a mile in someone's shoes" is supposed to be a good way to learn about other's lives.  To follow in someone's footsteps is to exemplify the behavior of a great role model.  When we want to make big changes, we are encouraged to take baby steps.  To put one's "best foot forward" is to make a strong start on a worthy endeavor.  When we endorse something along with many others, we are "voting" with our feet.  

Being God's feet in this world means respecting the journeys of others, and sometimes going that extra mile for others or for a good cause.  We have a history in America of people marching together in solidarity.  People refer to dedicated efforts in a journey demanding stamina as "running a marathon". Feet are symbols for action and direction, as well as grounding and dancing.  Whatever we do, our feet take us there. They lead us toward God's work, or they lead us away; they might be covered in the dust of our day, or they might be washed by the tears of someone unexpected.

Prayer: God reaching into the world through me, help me to keep my feet clean from the dust that clouds their light.  Let my feet be washed by those whose actions or words cleanse me.  Help me to walk when it hurts or I am tired, and help me to walk with those who need me.  Teach my feet to dance in joy, and to draw others into your dance. Let the steps my feet take teach me and others about you.  Help me to connect with your earth through the soles of my feet. Amen. 


Mollie Manner




Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Peace that Transcends


And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 

I recently read a magazine article about a woman whose teenage daughter was struggling with her personal identity. In the story, the mother spent hours, days and months praying that her daughter would bend to her will. She, and members of her church, prayed that the daughter would follow their preferred path. The family sought counseling at church and through a licensed professional and these approaches increased the arguing among them. In a moment where the stress and the tension were completely overwhelming, the mother took time to herself and prayed for God to bring her peace with her daughter's personal identity. In the story, the next morning the mother awoke and felt the peace of God. In all the time that she had prayed in despair for God to change the person that she was praying for she was frustrated but when she asked God to bring her peace and to help her accept the path her daughter choose, she was able to find relief.

After reading this story I spent MANY days thinking about the times that I ask God for what I want. Praying to change a situation, to help something align in a way that will be easier, less painful, or even to allow me to take a passive role and let things play themselves out. In the moments where I have asked God for guidance or to help me to let go of something troubling I have a much greater sense of relief.

Prayer: Creator God - in moments when I desire my way or my will, remind me that you can help bring me peace and acceptance.  You have the power to protect our hearts and our minds, to relieve our concerns and to help us to recognize our powerlessness.  In a time when it can be hard to control all the moving pieces and parts in our lives, I can count on you to bring me relief over my concerns and sorrows.


Christi Moock (reprinted from 2016)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Finishing The Story

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. … As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  Mark 16: 1, 5-8 (NRSV)
Last month I attended Presbytery meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and its pastor Andy McDonald preached on the Gospel of Mark. It’s a short book: you can read it in an hour. The action moves quickly in Mark’s gospel, with a sense of urgency. There are numerous accounts of healing and the casting out of demons by the disciples as well as Jesus. The most notable aspect of the book of Mark, however, is its abrupt ending. The oldest versions of the text of this gospel close with the verses quoted above. Additional verses (9-20) were appended later, but they clearly don’t match the rest of the gospel in style.  Why the sudden ending? Did something happen to Mark before he completed his Gospel? Was a page of the original manuscript left in the copier? Pastor McDonald suggested that it is now up to us to finish this gospel, not with words, but by the way we live our lives. And the way to live our lives is to model our activities after those of Jesus and the disciples. What did they do in Mark’s gospel? They healed and the cast out demons.
Therefore, We should seek to heal: to heal families that have been torn apart by addiction or incarceration or separation, to heal a society polarized along ethnic, economic, and political lines, to heal a world separated into quarreling nations.
Demons? I used to think of demons as a quaint and primitive idea. Are there really demons possessing individuals? Yes! We know what demons we face today: the demons of racism and sexism, demons that convince men in entertainment, sports, business, and politics that they can exploit women and girls, demons that tell people that their religious beliefs compel them to oppress those who do not share those beliefs.
As the disciples learned, some demons are so powerful that prayer is required to exorcise them. (Maybe working together, too.)
Prayer: God give us the strength to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples.
Bill Wehrbein

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Love with Kindness


Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12.  

Last month, I chose Paul's words in Colossians to help me look at how God tells us to love. I explored "loving with compassion" last month, saying that God expects us to show care and concern for others, especially toward those who are experiencing difficult and hard times. Our Church members can do this by serving in some of our Outreach programs such as Hope Renewed, the Gathering Place, Meals on Wheels, and our Food Pantry, to name a few. We can easily do this at home by doing nice things when our loved ones are struggling, or just by showing understanding in such situations.

Again, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.  (Matthew 22:39)

Kindness is next up for discussion. Kindness is defined as warmth, affection, gentleness, friendliness, being generous and considerate. To be kind is to do something nice for another person or to just be nice. In the recent hit movie Wonder, the young man who was bullied because of his "different" looks stated that it is important to be kind, not right. The 14th Dalai Lama said, "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

For me, compassion comes easily but sometimes I realize that I was unkind after the fact. The teacher in me loves to teach others the right way, or simply, to be right. This is something I am working on very hard during this Season of Lent.  I think it will be one of my lifelong goals. I know that I need to stop and pause before I speak, many times. Practice the pause!

Kindness needs to be practiced daily, just like any good habit, and it needs to be in our conscious, deliberate minds. Kindness involves intentional listening to others, and respecting where they are and what they are feeling. It requires empathy and at times, a disregard for our own agenda.  We must be loving, mirroring the amazing, unconditional Love God has for us, ALWAYS. And, we must practice kindness with those around us daily, as the reality is that that can be more difficult than showing kindness to those we encounter in public. A true story!

Prayer:  Father God, author of love and all that is good, guide me to love others in your honor, and with a spirit of kindness and respectful regard.  Thank you for always loving me!

Connie Barry