Monday, February 27, 2017

My Mind is Swirling

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation if my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14 NIV).

I can't seem to focus on anything today. I often have trouble deciding on a topic for this blog. I always ask for God's direction and He provides. But, today my personal thoughts keep banging around and getting in the way of what God wants me to hear.

We had a very busy and emotional weekend. We watched two of our granddaughters play four basketball games on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. It was the season end and it was fun to see how much they have grown and improved with their skills. The last game on Sunday was a heartbreaker of sorts. Payton's team played a tall, rugged team and they lost by two points. It was a defensive battle and the other team was very physical and the referees weren't calling fouls and Payton's girl elbowed my sweet granddaughter and grandpa wasn't happy. Anyway, we were really proud of the girls' determination and skills all through the game.

On Saturday night we had a fundraiser for our church's new sanctuary. We didn't know if we would get a good turnout and so many of our church folks worked so hard at getting donations for a silent auction, spreading the word, and showing up to set up and help. We had so much fun fellowshipping together, enjoying the music of Sheltered Reality, exchanging in light-hearted bid wars and thanking folks from the community for coming to support us. We raised $4,462 after expenses! That was just an awesome boost toward our challenging financial goal.

Yesterday we had a congregational vote after worship that was very emotional. Our building committee has worked really hard for nearly two years to provide two proposals for the new sanctuary. The congregation voted overwhelmingly to continue the fundraising until we have enough money that we only need to borrow $150,000 or less. There is nothing I want more than to see a new sanctuary standing amid the oak trees in rural Liscomb, Iowa. This is my home church and it always will be. I want God to grow our church while still maintaining its welcoming family of love and caring.

The challenges of an aging congregation (me), a limited access to residences in a close location to the church, and limited finances of the congregation members can all be overcome by God. Our job is to stay unified as the body of Christ so we can draw others to join our family of faith. We have a lot to give; there is a lot of love to be shared. The road ahead of us is not rocky and steep. It is a straight and narrow path set out by God, our Father.

"I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name" (Isaiah 45:2-3 NIV).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

One Foot in Front of the Other

"Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (Amos 3:3 NIV).

John and I like to take walks. We have enjoyed the beautiful weather of the past week by taking several long walks in our area of Ankeny. We are so blessed to have sidewalks and streets to walk on here. We enjoy getting to know the town better and even find some surprises along the way.

Sunday we discovered a great playground area not too far away that we hope to take the grandkids to one day. The park area was bustling with families that day. We have had to backtrack a few times when we reached a cul-de-sac instead of a through street. We found sidewalks that ended abruptly and bike paths we didn't know existed.

We are amazed at how many ponds there are in this town. There are always ducks and geese flying overhead, it seems. We enjoy looking at landscaping, lawns, and trees; waving at runners and bikers who pass by; and watching children play. We are barked at by dogs and are tortured by the aroma of grilling burgers as we walk by. We spot houses we like and others we don't. We see homes that look lived in and others that seem abandoned.

Over time we have developed a system for walking together. John's steps are bigger than mine so I have to walk a little faster so I can keep up. Sometimes we walk hand-in-hand so we don't bump into each other. John usually sets the path for where we go and says "right" or "left" as we approach a corner. That 'system' developed after we ran into each other a few times as we attempted to go in opposite directions.

We have many directions yet to explore and one goal is to walk to Saylorville Lake and back when John retires and we have a little more time. We need to build up to that walk. We are a little rusty at this point in winter. We came home last night after walking for an hour and a half and we both were a bit achy.

John likes to walk at night when the street lights are on, too. He says everything looks different and nicer at night. That sounds like a good thing to do when we have hot days and cooler nights. We are thankful for our constant walking companion, Jesus Christ.

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,'" (John 8:12 NIV).

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trusting With All My Heart

"'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the Lord," (Jeremiah 31: 34 NIV).

What would it be like if every person believed in God and had a personal relationship with Christ? That is an interesting concept that stretches my brain to even consider how the world would change if that was the norm for all of society. It would even be mind-blowing if every person who professes to be a Christian lived a life in daily communication with God.

I try hard to follow Jesus every day, walking hand in hand with Him, with varying degrees of success. Some days are better than others. Do I have God's law in my mind? I believe so. Has God written His law on my heart? I believe He has. I am His people. He is my God. I know the Lord and I love the Lord with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind.

"'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'," (Matthew 22:36-39 NIV).

As one of the "least of them" I am humbled to claim my God's Word as truthful promises for me and my family. I cling to the promise, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it," (Proverbs 22:6 NIV). I pray for God's help in being an example of Christ to my grandchildren. I seek the Lord's direction for the decisions I make and I listen to His prompting throughout the day and night.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight," (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).

Lord God, I acknowledge You as my personal Savior and I trust in you with all my heart. Give me Your understanding for the future and make me walk on the straight and narrow all the way to Glory Land. Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reflecting Christ

Sometimes I forget how old I am. Do you ever do that? In my head I'm still a 40-year-old, full of energy, filling every minute of every day with busyness and checking off item after item of my "To Do" list, ending each day with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as I fall into bed exhausted.

Unfortunately, I am quickly reminded of my age when I move any part of my body or take a look in the mirror. Sometimes I am surprised by what I see. When I'm at the grocery store I think I'm still that 40-year-old and I think that is what people see. But, no, people see the real me as I am today. Yet, what they see isn't the complete story is it? I need to be reflecting Jesus in every moment.

So what does that mean? Is it someone with a smile who looks happy all the time? Radiating joy as she walks down the canned food aisle? That isn't me, I'm afraid. If I carried a mirror with me I would probably see a reflection that looks glum. Glum is moody, melancholy, and dejected according to The American Heritage Dictionary. That sounds about right.

I can smile. I know I smile a lot when I'm with my grandchildren. I can respond with a smile quite easily, but when it is just me I don't really smile very much. So is that a deal breaker? Am I automatically off the team because I don't smile enough? I wonder if Jesus smiled a lot. I guess I don't picture Him smiling, yet I see a radiance of warmth, compassion, and love glowing from His presence. What do you think? Did Jesus smile?

Can I reflect Jesus in me without smiling? Will people still see Jesus in me if I look glum? I need to work on this I believe. I want to be a reflection of Christ to others. Paul told believers in 1 Corinthians 4:16 to imitate his life, that was modeled after Jesus Christ. Do my actions reflect Jesus better than my facial expression? Is Jesus reflected through what I write in this blog? I wonder.

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:22-25 NIV).

Lord, help me to imitate your life through all that I say and do. Help me to remember what I look like in the mirror - let it be a reflection of You.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bless Your Heart

"I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High" (Psalm 9:1-2 NIV).

May your day be filled with red hearts, chocolate candy, fragrant roses, warm hugs and sweet kisses. May your heart sing out with joy for every blessing you encounter today, and may they be many.

I don't hear people say "bless your heart" very often any more but when it is said there is a sincerity and heartfelt emphasis to it. That is what I wish for you today. My sweet granddaughter Paige recently started working in the floral department of the Boone Hy-Vee store. She loves the creative aspect of her job and especially the interaction she has with customers. I know when she helps someone there, they leave with a blessed heart. Her radiant smile can brighten even the darkest day.

One of the best ways to be blessed is by doing something special, maybe even unexpected, for someone else. The element of surprise is a wonderful heart-lifter. When Paige walked into the restaurant Sunday night with this bouquet of flowers and a box of mini muffins wrapped in a big pink bow for Grandpa, our hearts were blessed. The time spent catching up on her life and just soaking in her beautiful personality lifted us up with the greatest of joy and pride for the young woman she has become. We were touched that she wanted to spend the evening with her grandparents.

Time can be such a precious gift itself. Even pausing to express gratitude with a smile to a clerk in the store might change the way the day is going. Making a special visit to the nursing home or to a shut-in, or even making a phone call can warm a heart and rid the day of its loneliness. My hope for each of you today is that your heart is filled with joy and love that overflows into tomorrow.

"May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations" (Psalm 67:1-2 NIV).

Bless your heart today.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Country Church Named Bethel Grove

"When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.' He was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.' Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, 'If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth" (Genesis 28:16-22 NIV).

Since 1851 a gathering of community believers worshiped together in a rural area along the Iowa River. They first met in each other's homes, then later erected a small brick building they called 'Old Bethel'. When the small square building became too small in 1891, the believers moved one mile west and built a larger church in a grove of oak trees and called it, "Bethel Grove". This "house of God" in the grove of trees in rural Liscomb remains as a place of worship in its 166th year.

In its early years Bethel Grove drew neighbors from the surrounding area; many were relatives of the founding fathers. As the land was divided in the family, shared between brothers as they married, the population grew. But, as quickly as it grew, the population of the rural area decreased. As a century passed the older folks moved to town to retire and others sought employment off the farm. The neighborhood began to be littered with abandoned farm houses and in time some were taken down to make room for bigger fields, bigger machinery, bigger farm operations. Now, the area is a pleasant mix of large farming and lovely acreages.

Bethel Grove Church has endured all the changes, including lean years and prosperous times, too. We have been blessed to have spiritual leaders who have always maintained the founding fathers' "only creed - the Bible". It remains as a 'House of God' even now when our beautiful historic sanctuary with uniquely majestic stained glass windows is gone. My memories of a lifetime of worship in the old building are still strong and thankfully there are others who share remembrances also. Sometimes when I think about Bethel Grove the image of the sanctuary in my memory is so real, I forget that the structure is gone.

However, the most powerful memories are of the people who were and are the church. The faithful ones who touched my heart and helped me grow into a belief of my own. The Sunday school teachers who gave their time and love to share the stories of Jesus. From Morris and Ilo May, my grade school teachers, to the wonderful George Smith in middle school, to the beloved high school teacher Dick Sommerlot, I couldn't have had any better mentors for my faith. In each era there have been special teachers willing to guide our children toward a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

"Elijah said to Elisha, 'Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel'. But Elisha said, 'As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you'. So they went down to Bethel" (2 Kings 2:2 NIV).

Just as Bethel was a special place in the history of passing a ministry from Elijah to Elisha, Bethel Grove Church holds a special place in my history and the faith history of many Christian believers in Central Iowa.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Do I Thrive Or Just Survive?

Do you wake up on Monday morning ready to face the world with a smile and the energy of a 3-year-old? I picture Mary Tyler Moore twirling down her city street dressed in confidence and joy; eager to arrive at work and make the day better for everyone around her. I can almost hear her theme song playing in the background.

That is a lot different from this morning's internal groaning as I struggled to get out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom. It is a world away from the days when I was working. Though I might have been tired, I arose with a certain excitement about the day. I wanted to do the best job I could, accomplish as much as I could, meet as many demands as I could, and do it in the best way possible. Those days led to a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment by day's end.

Yesterday the words of the Casting Crowns' song, "Thrive" spoke to me more than ever before. "We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It's time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive!"

So I just threw the last load of laundry in the washer, folded the whites, and put the darks in the dryer. The bed is made and the garbage is out. I still have a list of things to complete today, including some writing projects, some Bible study, dry cleaning to pick up, and ironing to do. But it doesn't seem worthy of the time God has given me. Most days, I'm afraid I just survive. Today I pray that God uses every action and task for His good. Even if my day is filled only with the routine and the mundane, God can use me for good, I pray.

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Water Quenches A Thirsty Soul

I rarely go anywhere without a bottle of water. I have bottles of water in every door pocket of my car and I always have a glass of ice water or a cup of hot water with me in the house. One reason is that medication I take gives me a dry mouth. The other reason is to try to stay filled-up so I don't eat so much. Some diet plans encourage drinking lots of water and I have adopted that as a habit.

Have you ever been very thirsty but didn't have anything available to quench your thirst? We live in an age of instant gratification and easy accessibility so there aren't too many times that we really get hungry or thirsty. Maybe after we have been out mowing the yard on a hot day - we can experience real thirst. Or after a day of fasting for a medical procedure - we can experience thirst and hunger.

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters" (Isaiah 55:1a NIV).

Our typical reaction to thirst or hunger is to go to the source of drink or food...often it is the refrigerator. I should count how many times a day I go to the refrigerator and fill my glass with crushed ice then head to the sink where I fill it up with water. Or I fill my coffee cup with water from the faucet and pop it in the microwave for two minutes and voila I have a piping hot beverage to warm me up.

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Psalm 42:1-2 NIV).

If only we went to scripture as often as we seek a beverage to drink. We can train ourselves to desire God, the same way we thirst for a drink. I think that same thirst for God may be within us but we don't always recognize that what we really need is God. I know many times I have turned to comfort foods when I really needed the loving comfort of my God instead.

"On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him'" (John 7:37-38 NIV).

Jesus wants us to seek Him out in our times of need. He is available 24/7. He won't be too busy to hear our cries. His arms will always be welcoming and warm to wrap us up in His love. We don't have to look far. Jesus is within our reach, wherever we are. Jesus promises thirst-satisfying living water for our souls. Look no further. He is near.

"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:16-17 NIV).