Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Rest of the Story

I appreciate God's answers so much when I receive them, clearly and unmistakably. Last night I spent a long time talking to God and praying. I asked God specifically to direct our decision and give me a sense of peace about it. I awoke this morning without regret. Then as I prepared to write this blog I opened my Bible randomly to this scripture that I believe affirms our decision.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," (Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV)

Many months ago I shared a blog about returning to our home church to worship, even though it was an hour's drive back and forth. We had several reasons at the time and enjoyed the worship and fellowship with our church family very much. But things change. John is now retired so our budget is considerably different. We would leave home on Sundays at 7:30 a.m. and not return until 1:00 p.m.; very tiring for an old couple like us. Also, the leadership is taking a new direction that we aren't willing to support. So it is time to move on.

We will begin another church search, starting with one that has caught our eye over the past few months. Perhaps it has been in God's plan all along; we will see.

I will always love Bethel Grove Church, and in my heart it will be my home church forever. I love the people there and I will be praying for God to be the influence and sole reason for all that happens there in the future. But, for John and me, the time has come to begin a new chapter in our service to Our Father. We hope to discover how God wants to use us in this new community. It will take time but I know God will lead us.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Depending On The Holy Spirit

I have always been a word person, not a numbers person. I am capable of balancing our checkbook each month and paying the bills, but don't make me help my grandchildren with their math problems. I had a great math instructor in high school and I actually grew to enjoy my classes thanks to Mr. Nichols. Then when I went to college when I was 40 I started with the most basic class and worked my way back up to complete my college requirements. I did well but I worked at it.

One of John's favorite things to do in retirement is check the stock market and read financial commentaries. I prefer the 'what you don't know won't hurt you' method. At the end of the day he just loves to let me know what our retirement fund did that day. His retirement funds are in moderate risk funds and mine are designated to 'safe' investments so we have a balanced portfolio. Thus on good stock market days John gloats about the money he made and gives me a hard time about my puny account. That is fine; I just try to focus on the bigger picture, 10 or 20 years down the road and hopefully there will be enough money for John to pay for my nursing home.

When I struggled with math in college it never occurred to me to pray for God's guidance and wisdom. I just figured I needed to tough it out on my own. I did pray, quite often, to be able to remember information for a test, because I could easily go blank when I stared at the questions on a piece of paper. God got me through those tests and I would praise Him all the way from Ames to home. He never failed me.

So why don't I turn to God for everything in my life? How much better would this life be if I started each morning by asking God to be in my every action, every thought, and every decision I had to make! Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be our constant companion in life.

"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you for ever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you," (John 14:15-17 NIV).

I wish I had understood this when I was younger. I made so many decisions without consulting God or calling upon the Holy Spirit to assist me. What a different life I might have had. But in spite of my mistakes and wrong turns, God has remained beside me, watching me stumble and fall and helping me get back up. Truly God has been patient with me, even now he waits for me to seek the wisdom and guidance the Holy Spirit has to offer.

"Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call,"" (Acts 2:38-39 NIV).

It is never too late to turn to God and accept the Holy Spirit as your Helper. God is waiting for you.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Therefore Go!

Perhaps in the 'olden' days a student might have heard the teacher at the front of the room say, "Therefore go Ye out for recess", or "go Ye therefore to the chalkboard and writeth the ABC's". Although 'therefore' isn't usually part of our every day vernacular, we know that it means 'for that reason'. It sounds official and proper and it draws attention to the following word, 'go'. The word carries importance, especially when Jesus uses this phrase in one of His last conversations on earth. It carries great value.

"Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age," (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV).

The scripture shows us that Jesus was giving His disciples a command. I imagine Jesus standing with His arms raised over the disciples as He gives this final instruction. Often called the Great Commission, this instruction was written for all who follow Jesus. He gave His disciples the authority granted Him by God; it was a pep rally of sorts. Jesus was encouraging the disciples to carry on His mission by sharing all that they had experienced and seen with every person on the globe. Jesus was passing the baton to those who could finish the race. He reminded them to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit so believers would know their own death to a sinful life, and receive new life with Christ. Jesus reminded them to obey God, and perhaps most powerfully, Jesus assured them He would be with them always, "to the very end of the age".

Jesus spoke this instruction to the disciples and to you and me. We are to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. We are to teach them what we have learned. We are to share the scriptures and stories with others. We are to baptize in the name of the Trinity. We are to live as examples of a saved people; always sinners, and always forgiven by our Savior's blood shed on the cross.

Listen carefully as you pray tonight and hear Jesus calling you, "Therefore Go!"

Monday, April 17, 2017

Up From The Grave He Arose!

Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! I'm praying you had a blessed Resurrection Sunday. Iowa was blessed with a perfect sunny and warm day to enjoy and worship.  The rains of Saturday brought new life and green-ness everywhere we looked and the sunrise was glorious. Thank you, Jesus!

I grew up in the days of beautiful hymns that shared the stories of Jesus and the hope of our faith. Those hymns probably did as much to teach me about faith as my Sunday school teachers did, maybe even more. I love the contemporary music that is also faith-filled but sometimes I miss the hymns that are stored deep in my memory. When I hear them or replay them in my mind, I am back standing in the pew next to Daddy, hearing his beautiful voice singing.

Today the refrain of the hymn, Low in the Grave He Lay, came to me and I could almost see and hear Daddy singing, "Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o'er His foes; He arose a victor from the dark domain, And He lives forever with His saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!"

The songs written decades ago still carry the message as beautifully as when they were first sung. The  words and music draw a picture of a story shared first in scripture. The music and phrases seem to open my mind to understand the scriptures. I can remember a song easier than I can memorize words alone.

After Jesus' resurrection He appeared to the disciples and helped them understand the relevance of all that had happened and what their role was now.

"He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high"" (Luke 24:44-49 NIV).

It is the Holy Spirit that delivers the power to understand to us now, and He wants us to be witnesses of our Savior today. We know the Good News, so let us carry it on our faces, in our arms, and with our voices to everyone we meet today.

"Hallelujah! Christ arose!"

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Agony In The Garden

Have you ever felt agony in your garden? In the days when I raised a good-sized garden, it became more and more difficult for me because of my aching back. I remember picking rows of green beans, so thankful for each beautiful fresh bean I picked, filling my big blue pail to overflowing with the most wonderful harvest ever. When I got to the end of the row my back was screaming. I inched my way to finish picking every last one on the biggest bush of all. Then I tried to step over the 'rabbit' fence as carefully as I could but I couldn't straighten my back and stand up. I crept to the house, with my pail of beans, as my back inched its way up to standing position. My little physical agony was nothing compared to Jesus'.

"Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:39-44 NIV)

It was Maundy Thursday when Jesus went to the garden, followed by His disciples. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives garden often as indicated by the term, "as usual" that Doctor Luke uses. Perhaps it was his favorite quiet place to go to speak to His Father. He was filled with emotion as He knelt down and prayed. Jesus bowed before God and poured out His dread of the impending betrayal, physical torture and the crucifixion. He asked if there was another way but agreed that He would do God's will.

This is where I read something new today; something I hadn't absorbed before: the angel that God sent to strengthen Jesus. Jesus' sacrifice required heavenly strength sent special delivery from the Father. Yet, even as Jesus was strengthened, His prayer intensified and "his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground". It chills me to the bone to think of the inner fortitude and outpouring that combined to create bullets of bloody sweat dripping from Jesus' pores. Even if these drops of blood weren't really visible, Luke's description helps us realize what true agony Jesus experienced - for us.

For us, Jesus endured agony in the garden. And that was just the beginning.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Last Supper

"When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:14-20 NIV).

What a powerful picture this portion of scripture draws for us! What seemed to be a traditional Passover meal shared by friends became a farewell supper for Jesus and the conversation was serious and symbolic. Yet, the disciples could not understand the true meaning of this time together until much later.

There is nothing more special than gathering around a table with family or friends. The time is precious. There are no interruptions and talk can be shared easily, often filled with stories from the past and lots of laughter to go along with it. It is a time to share important family news with everyone at the table. For a few minutes the group gets to be on the same page in life. We are reminded of how good it is to be together and we wonder why we don't do it more often.

Jesus had a sense of urgency as he made plans for this meal. Time was running out. His anguish had already begun as He wrestled with the knowledge of what was to come. He had a lot to say to His friends before he left them. He needed to prepare them for what was going to occur. His heart was breaking for His friends, but He had to remain strong.

The bread and the cup become so significant in Jesus' hands. Transformed from daily sustenance into life-giving salvation, the bread and the cup of wine remind us of all that Jesus did for us on the cross. Our debt for sin has been paid, once and for all time.

This week as you reflect on the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, may you take the opportunity to break bread and share a cup in remembrance of our one and only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Be reminded that Jesus did it all for you.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Frosting On The Cake

I love frosting. Give me the corner piece of cake coated in thick luxurious frosting and I'm in heaven, or a sugar cookie lavishly coated in creamy sweetness will do, too. Obviously I have a huge sweet tooth - a topic for another day.

"You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing" (Psalm 65:11-13 NIV).

David, the Psalmist, draws a beautiful picture for us with his words so we can see the many reasons we have to thank God for His blessings. Spring is filled with frosting for the eyes. After two weeks of rain and gloom, we awakened to a bright sunny day and find the lawns becoming lush green carpets of growing grass, dotted with bright spots of colorful tulips, blooming trees and early daffodils.

But scripture also says old age has its frosting. At a time in my life when everything hurts, doctor appointments are the big events of the week, and even walking or getting up from a chair can be painful, it is good to be reminded that there are bonuses to be thankful for that come along with getting older. Instead of focusing on all the broken and worn out parts of our body, here are two blessings that come with 'maturity':

"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life" (Proverbs 16:31 NIV). Throw away the box of hair dye and go natural; that gray hair is a crown we've earned!

"Children's children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children," (Proverbs 17:6 NIV). Truly the wonderful gift of grandchildren is the very best frosting of life. Having the opportunity and the awareness to watch children learn and grow is a second chance to observe what we missed when our own babies were in our arms. I'm not sure about the second half of the Proverb - maybe that is still coming!

I don't know about you, but I'm going to keep reaching for the frosting on the cake of life. It sure helps me get through the day.

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him," (James 1:12 NIV).

Lord, thank you for frosting my life with blessings. Give me a thankful heart and an observant mind to use today.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Family Matters

Jesus cared about family. Pastor Scott shared a message yesterday about the importance Jesus put on family. From the cross, Jesus made provision for the care of His mother Mary, by John, the disciple Jesus loved. We are to do the same with our own families. Our congregation was challenged to use this week to pray for our family. We are to take time to find one thing to focus on in our family and pray for that all week.

Sometimes it is easy to pick one thing to pray about in my family. There are times when one huge issue burdens my heart. It weighs heavy and it is the only thing I can think and pray about. Other times I may have something to pray about for every person in my family. As with most grandparents, there is always a burden to pray for my grandchildren to develop a relationship with Christ. I have prayed so often for God to place good believers in my grandchildren's lives so they can grow in faith and belief, even when they are away from home.

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV).

God expects us to remember His commandments and to share them with our families. He expects us to live a life of faith that is evident whenever others are around us and when we are alone with Him. God wants our faith to be a family faith that lives and grows for generations. That is what I want for my family, too. I want the faith of my forefathers and especially of my father and mother to spread deeply from their children into their grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and beyond.

Lord, hear our prayers today for our families; for the big needs of healing and decision-making in regard to our family members; for the request for Your presence with those who are hurting and suffering; for the gift of friends and influencers in our family members' lives so they can be drawn closer to You to experience Your goodness and love wherever they go. And Lord, help me be a glowing light of Your love to each member of my family. Thank you, God, because my family matters to me and to You. Amen.