Monday, January 30, 2017

The Best Reading On Earth

I've been enjoying the bonus indoor hours this winter. January is nearly over and although I didn't make a New Year's resolution I have made a change in my life that is providing benefit. I've been using my extra time reading Bibles. Yes, plural. Last year our church's Bible reading program didn't get me through the whole Bible. I had started reading a New English Translation called, "God Speaks" so I want to finish reading that version this year. I also have a "One Year Chronological Bible" called "24/7" (New Living Translation) that I want to read through. I keep these two Bibles at my chair in the living room where I can pick them up as soon as I sit down.

My mainstay Bible is my well-used New International Version study Bible that is always at my desk where I write my blogs, do my Bible study lessons, write letters and study my Sunday school assignments. It is where I research topics, study, and meditate. I also have my dictionary, thesaurus, Bible concordance, "Jesus Calling", and other daily devotions within reach.

I love the feeling of being deep in God's Word. In one version I am finishing Revelations and the New Testament before I go back to parts of the Old Testament. In the "24/7" I am in Exodus, finishing up the Israelites escaping Egypt. Yet, I am so amazed to see the way God touches me with His words, relating the scriptures to each other, allowing me to really "see" a big picture of how God's plan is working in my life. Unfortunately, I am not a good memorizer of verses and I can't always remember where I read a verse, unless it is fresh in my mind. But, I find that each time I read a verse it becomes more familiar and it is more relatable to my life. I pray that God's words will indeed return to me in the moments I need them most.

Reading God's Word draws me instantly to Him. It helps me understand His teachings and the Bible becomes indispensable to me. The more I read, the more I want to keep reading His Words! Psalm 119 is filled with ways the Word of God blessed us.

"How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word" (Psalm 119:9-16 NIV).

"Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89 NIV).

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105 NIV).

God provides all the knowledge and wisdom we need within His Word. May you seek His words today to guide each moment of your day closer to Him.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Moving Forward With a Heart of Love

I've been thinking a lot about the past election and some of the things I have seen during the past few months. Since Monday I have regretted including one line in my last blog and I hope you will forgive me. There are a lot of hurting people in the United States right now and I am sure that is one reason for the unrest and various demonstrations. People are bitter and angry. I don't remember other elections being this divisive. I have tried not to comment on Facebook posts that upset me, but I have 'liked' some other posts that I agreed with.

I'm tired of the pokes and jabs at others and I wish we all could just stop with the comments that tend to irritate and prolong the division. I'm speaking to myself as well. Politics is very emotional and to discuss it cuts to the very core values we possess as individuals. Often we disagree. I'm ready to move on, away from the hurt feelings, the anger and the untruths. I'm going to try harder to focus on loving others as I should.

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35 NIV).

Don't you just love it when God puts something in front of you and it is exactly what you needed to read or hear! He just did that for me. I paused in my writing and decided (ha) to read today's passage from "Jesus Calling". Sarah Young says, "Instead of seeking perfection in this fallen world, pour your energy into seeking Me (Jesus): the Perfect One." If you have "Jesus Calling" I encourage you to read the devotion for January 26.

God's love in our hearts changes everything about us. It softens even the most brash comment. It makes you feel like smiling again. Everything is hugged by a rainbow of light. Hope returns and God's promise of peace in eternal life with Him is enough to see us through the toughest day.

"Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. 7 He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord" (Psalm 112:4, 7 NIV).

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 NIV).

Thank you, God, for giving us truth to believe in. Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Trusting In The True Ruler

The United States has a new president: Donald John Trump. Today is his first full day in office and people all over the country will be watching to see what he does. He made many promises during his campaign and several were pledges of what he would do on his first day. Will he follow through on his vows? Will he continue to forge ahead with his campaign promises, or will he settle into a mold that is shaped by the governmental system? And what will he do to bring this broken and hurting country together again? All eyes are on President Trump.

I find that very sad. We are so privileged to be citizens of the United States. We live in a country where we have freedoms and rights that many nations do not have. Yet we are struggling in so many ways. We disagree on issues and methods to bring unity and justice for all. We watched as huge crowds of protestors screamed to be heard and not overlooked, this past weekend. Citizens used their rights to protest in fear of loosing freedoms in the future. America has reached a critical point in history.

There is fear in our country. Fear of the future. Fear of change. Fear of failing to be a united country that stands tall for the rights of all men and women. There is fear of another world war.

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope" (Isaiah 42: 1-4/Matthew 12:18-21 NIV).

Our eyes need to look to Jesus for direction during this time of conflict and unrest, not to an earthly leader who speaks out of both sides of his mouth. Our true Leader has a character of gentleness, encouragement, justice, love and truth. We are to live like Jesus, reflecting His mercy and love to all others. Jesus is our King; our true and faithful Ruler. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we follow His way through the days ahead.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Quick Fix

I can be pretty stupid sometimes. At my ripe old age you would think I would be getting wiser. But I guess I always hold out a little hope for: the magical, the easy way out, the quick fix, the big lottery win, the overnight healing, the handsome prince, and the happy-ever-after ending.

I know many advertisements that sound too good to be true are exactly that, but it seems like promoters pull out all the stops and tell you everything you want to hear. I will ignore hundreds of crazy wacko ads, then one day I read the words that target me in a weak moment when I'm desperate for that quick fix and it reels me in. Before my rational brain kicks in, I send off my $5 for a 'free' sample of the guaranteed weight loss tablet. I know perfectly well that there is no pill out there that will remove my belly fat over night. There is no magic potion that will turn my fine hair into a luxuriously thick and silky mane.

It is the same with my spiritual life, I'm afraid. I talk to God, telling Him my very specific needs, repeating my petitions, day after day, knowing God is listening and trusting Him to answer me. But sometimes the response doesn't seem to come.  I have received answered prayer often enough that I believe God works miracles. I know that answers take time. Sometimes a very long time so I have to be patient. And sometimes God's answers just aren't the same as mine.

But Satan uses those times and doubt creeps in. I begin to believe that I don't deserve an answer from God. That I'm not good enough to receive a blessing. Maybe God didn't really forgive me and He is holding back His love from me...I'm not worthy of His mercy. There is no quick fix in the plan for me!

"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:13-16 NIV).

Forgive me, Lord, for letting my faith sag and for trusting in the false things of this world, instead of You. I know You alone hear my prayers and that You are more than capable of providing a quick fix for whatever my need is today. I thank you for hearing my prayers and for answering them in Your will. For You alone are good, Father. In You alone I trust. Amen.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Remembering Iowa Winters

I wonder if today is as close to a "snow day" as we will get this winter. Iowa is being coated with ice today - matching Missouri and Nebraska and beyond. The ice seems far more dangerous and is less beautiful than the formerly 'normal' Iowa winters I have experienced. It certainly seems like our climate has moderated in recent years.

I remember a winter storm that left our long lane fence-top to fence-top full of heavy snow. It was in the early to mid 1960s. School would be closed for several days, giving everyone time to dig out. There was no way a tractor and blade was going to clear out all of that snow quickly, so for at least one day my sister and I walked on top of the snow drifts to get to the school bus. I remember many winters when the gravel roads to church were one lane tunnels through the drifted snow that was higher than the top of our car. One windy day would close everything down again.

When our boys were little (in the early 1980s) we lived in a mobile home in the country, on a hillside. The snow piled in drifts behind our house so deep that they buried the clothes line and our propane tank. At our Marshalltown acreage we would wait and watch the ancient orange Marshall County snowblower come down old Highway 30, clearing away the mountainous drifts between the hillsides, when the snowplows couldn't get through.

Those big snows didn't happen that often, but they certainly were memorable. It was the power of the wind that created the enormous drifts that packed tight over the roadways, blowing snow across miles of flat fields until something began to collect it - behind a fence, or over a hillside, or behind a row of trees or bushes. Rarely has Iowa experienced the heavy-duty snows that are more common in areas of lake-effect snows that bring 20-30 inches at a time.

I don't know if we are experiencing changes due to global warming or if it is just that I remember only the terrible storms, but after the great flood God promised this:

"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease" (Genesis 8:22 NIV).

Thursday, January 12, 2017

You've Got Mail

I have been a letter writer for as long as I have been able to form letters on a page. I had several pen pals when I was growing up. I use writing as a tool of communicating what is in my heart and my head.

I remember a time when I was five or six years old and my daddy dropped me off at my grandmother's house in small town Albion. He didn't call ahead or walk me inside because Grandma was usually home. He left and I entered the unlocked house to find that she was not at home. Now, as an adult, I'm sure she would be home in a matter of minutes if I would just wait. But as a five or six-year-old, minutes seemed like an eternity. I remember calling out to her, walking around the kitchen, noticing her pitcher collection, then looking for a piece of paper and a pencil.

I wrote some sort of a note to let her know I had been there. I remember wanting it to say, "I was here" but in reality it probably was only my name or some portion of it. Even at that early age I used letters to communicate.

My mother was a letter writer. I can picture her sitting at the kitchen counter on her yellow stool, surrounded by paper, stamps, pens and envelopes, writing letters or sending cards to those she cared about. She wrote even when she was on oxygen and was confined to her chair by the big front window. I know people loved to get her letters. She blessed them with her words.

Writing letters is almost a lost art with the 'instant messaging" technology allows. Some writer friends of mine (Mary Petter Kenyon and Mary Jedlicka Humston) catalogued the blessing of letters in the book, "Mary & Me - A Lasting Link Through Ink". A letter in the mail is rare and very special.

I love to read the letters of the New Testament. Although they were written to the churches two thousand years ago, they were also written to me, a Christian in 2017. Even though we may not receive a stamped envelope in the mailbox today, we can turn to the pages of the New Testament and still be blessed by the letters that speak of instruction, of solutions, of how to live for Christ in our lives today. You've always got mail to read.

"To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:1-6 NIV).

Monday, January 9, 2017

Quiet Down Mind! Let Me Listen For My Lord!

It is the ninth day of the new year and it is Monday. My mind is spinning with a long list of things to accomplish today and I'm having trouble quieting my thoughts so I can hear what God wants me to write about. I've been looking through my Bible for the past hour and a half but I'm still sitting here with an empty page.

So, I busy myself with changing the bedding, sorting the laundry, wiping down the stainless steel appliances, fluffing the pillows and finally make my way back to my desk. The blog hasn't written itself so will try again to find the message for today.

As I listen, I hear my washing machine shaking away, the pounding of carpenters across the street, and the furnace kicks in to warm up the house. It is surprising how noisy a quiet house can be. I begin to focus my mind on the task at hand and I begin to hear God speak, as he often does, through my daily life.

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody" (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NIV).

I appreciate the quietness of being home alone, the lack of disruption, the peace and the calm around me. I realize how fortunate I am now and how rarely some houses experience this state of silence. I'm thankful that I am well and able to care for this household and myself. That could change at any time so I give thanks for the abilities I have and for the moments I have to use or to waste.

Quietness makes it easier to have purity and reverence in my life. It makes it possible to be open to God's suggestions. It is easier to meditate on God's words and make application of them in my life. I love the chance to seek God's message from His Word and to hear Him make the words come to life for me. It is my hope that even though I struggled to listen to God today, maybe He has spoken to you through my scattered thoughts. Perhaps you need a nudge to find a quiet place to seek God through prayer. Maybe God wants you to turn off the television for awhile tonight so you can talk with your family. Maybe He wants you to put down the phone or hide away the social media for awhile. Today take one small step to draw closer to the quiet life God calls us to live.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Beginning the Year in Prayer

The year 2017 is only a few days old and already several things have made me realize how important it is to pray our way through the year. We have no idea what will happen in the days or weeks ahead, how our lives may change or what challenges or blessings we will face. Only God knows the plan for our lives and only we will choose how to live them.

I started praying for my husband's safety 33 years ago when he took a job that required lots of driving. I was overwhelmed by fear of losing him.  I prayed because I didn't know what else to do. I'm not sure how long it took, probably several years at least, but eventually I began to feel confidence in God to protect John and the fear went away. The other day John was telling me how many miles he estimated he has driven on his job. He has driven enough miles to go around the world several times - most of them between Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids on Hwy 30. You can blame him for any worn out areas on that road.

When he came home on Tuesday I asked how his day went. He said terrible and began to explain. He was driving on Hwy 20 following an SUV with other traffic around him. He had just passed a highway patrol car and checked his speed (62 mph) when the SUV suddenly swerved to the left lane revealing a slow-moving van in front of John. In a matter of seconds John hit his brakes, realized he wasn't able to get stopped and was going to rear-end the van, traffic was on his left, so he decided he would swerve onto the right shoulder to avoid the van. The shoulder was ice-covered and he began to slide into the ditch. To avoid a roll-over he steered into the ditch, found himself driving through the ditch then steered the car back up to the road.

I can't tell you how many times he has come home with a story of a near-accident that was avoided.  He would like me to think it was because of his expert driving skills - and that may be part of it, but I know God was with him each and every time. And I thank God for His mercies each and every time.

"We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:9-13 NIV).

I can't imagine handling life without prayer. I'm so thankful we have a God who listens to our cries and answers us. So whatever you're facing in 2017, handling it with prayer will make it so much better.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A New Day, A New Week, A New Year

Today is the start of a new day, a new week, and a new year. Welcome to 2017! What are you looking forward to? It is time to look forward to what the future brings. Time to pack away the mistakes and problems of yesterday and focus on what is awaiting for today and tomorrow. Some will plan for a new baby or grandchild. Others will anticipate a wedding date or a special vacation. Still others will look toward retirement or a new job. The year ahead holds many unknowns for us, also.

Some make resolutions for the new year. Others set goals or make specific plans to accomplish.  The year ahead holds hundreds of opportunities and moments for decision-making. What will be the greatest influence in your life this year? Will you weigh your decisions against the Word? Will you prayerfully ask God to guide your choices with His all-knowing wisdom?

It is a perfect time, on this new day, of a new week, of a new year, to spend time seeking God's plan for the future. What is His purpose for your life in the months ahead? What does He want you to accomplish with the time He gives you? What focus should you keep this year? Are there changes God wants you to make?

Moses gave a message to the people of Israel that we would do well to listen to. Moses taught them to turn to the Lord in every situation; to have confidence in the Lord and to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul. Moses told his people to obey the Lord and keep His commandments and the Lord will have delight in them and prosper them.

"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life" (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NIV).

As we begin this new year, let us remember that God sent Jesus to us to be the bridge that gives us access to God at all times. May we seek Him daily for the direction and the love we need in the year ahead. Blessings to you this New Year.