Monday, October 31, 2011

What Are You Thinking?

Revelation 10:9
So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but 'in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.'"

Bright as a button, but never one for schoolwork - that describes my youngest stepson, Nicco, to a "T". No matter how we cajoled, helped, berated, punished, or bribed him throughout his school career, he fought us and his teachers tooth and nail. Every struggling step of the way.

When he failed a class, he failed abjectly. When he passed, it was usually by the skin of his teeth. If he didn't like a teacher, it was over before it began.

The harder we tried to convince him that there will always be the unlikeable boss or co-worker in the real world, the more staunchly he dug in his heels. We couldn't get though to him.

Our advice fell on deaf ears.

Always . . .

At this point, maybe you're wondering the following: "What? Wasn't there anything you could hold over this child's head to turn him around? To make him tow the line? To help him make the grade?"

The answer? Nothing! Nothing worked. We tried everything.

And, I mean EVERYTHING!

We were exasperated. At least, we thought gratefully, he hasn't committed a crime or landed his rear in jail. Things could be much worse, right? Right? Right?

Just when we thought it safe to exit the bunker, the bomb dropped . . .

Nicco turned eighteen the day I drafted this blog. His decision? Drop out of high school.

Drop out of high school??? What are you thinking? ARE you thinking? Do you know the consequences? We've warned you! Repeatedly! Dropping out of school means leaving us, living with your mother.

Nothing sinks in for him but the sweet promise of freedom from school. The rich, honeyed taste lingering on his lips for days, for weeks, for months . . .

Until the bile rises, vile and nauseating.

The school of hard knocks, the one called life, turns the stomach sour, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

It's only a matter of time, but it is a certainty. It is a sadness, profound and ponderous.

May he be the prodigal son . . .

~

For whom are you praying to return "home"?

Let us pray: Loving Father, we have all been, in some way, shape, or form, where Nicco is today. We were in that place where we didn't think we needed You're love, Your favor, or Your forgiveness. We know better now, but we pray in earnest for those who don't. Please reclaim them as Your own for Your Name's sake; bless them in the sanctity of your love. Save them in the power of Your Spirit.

Amen.

Readings
Psalms 56, 57 (58) or 64, 65
Nehemiah 6:1-19
Revelation 10:1-11
Matthew 13:36-43








Sunday, October 30, 2011

"If Elected, I Promise . . ."

Nehemiah 5:19
Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.

November is right around the corner. If you live in the United States, you know what that means - elections! This year, our town's ballot features local candidates and issues only. There is no presidential or state contest to lure the voters.

Yet, the elections which are the most pivotal to any community are the ones where the representatives are also your neighbors. Any decisions made while they are in office will affect you most directly. Choosing a candidate who shares your vision for the future of your town, city, or county is crucial.

This is definitely not the time to leave a chad hanging!

Our town is governed by a mayor and a five-member city council. I am privileged to know, personally, three out of the six. They are leaders, communicators, and listeners who place the welfare of their constituents above all else.

They are transparent; no smoke-filled rooms or shady deals behind closed doors on their watch! Every council meeting is open to the public. Every decision is published in our local newspaper and on the city website. They want to be held accountable. They desire to serve, not be served.

And, for all three, the Lord comes first in their lives.

Before you head to the voting booth this November, I pray you will research the candidates and issues with great care. How you choose today could affect not only your quality of life, but also that of your children and grandchildren.

May those individuals we elect find favor with God for all they do for the people.

Readings
Psalms 24, 29 or 8, 84
Nehemiah 5:1-19
Acts 20:7-12
Luke 12:22-31

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Great Sower

Matthew 13:31-32
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches."

When I had a garden, I loved my annual trip to our local nursery to purchase my packs of seeds. My children enjoyed feeling the seeds inside their colorful paper wrappers, guessing the size and shape of each type. They would shake the packets up and down, back and forth, delighted by the different rattles each made.

"Will the seeds in here really turn into this?" My daughter, Sarah, asked, pointing to the photo of a squash plant on the cover of a packet.

"Yes, it will," I replied, "if it has the proper soil, water and sunshine."

"But, if you leave them in here," my son, Daniel, chimed in, holding a packet aloft, "they won't do anything. They'll just stay seeds."

"Forever?" Asked Sarah.

Daniel pondered this one for a moment. He turned to me.

"Mom, will these seeds rot in here?"

"Eventually."

"Okay, they'll be rotten seeds then," he declared with a grin, tossing the packet onto the kitchen table.

Rotten seeds . . .

~

Jesus is the Great Sower. We are the seeds. Unlike the ones I planted in my garden, we have a choice.

We can turn down His offer to be planted in God's Kingdom. We can remain seeds, tucked safely away in a paper package. Slowly crumbling, wasting away for eternity . . .

Or, we can accept. When we do, we are transformed, just like a seed well sown. We die to our seed-selves to become new creations, bearing much good fruit and producing more seed to spread upon the field of the Kingdom.

If today you are feeling as minute and insignificant as a mustard seed, envision the end result. Have faith that God is growing you. Trust the Lord to bring the sunshine and rain you need into your life. Thank Him for rooting you in His nourishing care. Know that He has blessed you to be a blessing for others.

Readings
Psalms 55 or 138, 139:1-17 (18-23)
Nehemiah 4:1-23
Revelation 7:(4-8) 9-17
Matthew 13:31-35

Friday, October 28, 2011

Weeded Out

Matthew 13:30
"'Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"

On the street which passes our neighborhood and heads toward town, a modest brick house sits overlooking an expansive spread of cleared land. In early spring, the owner would always till most of it in order to plant corn. I loved marking the progress of the sturdy stalks throughout the summer. Weed-free and well-tended, they grew tall and thrived.

Then came two back-to-back summers of drought.

The corn sprouted well in the late spring. It had all the earmarks of another promising crop. But, when summer arrived and the rains ceased, the stalks withered and browned, desiccated by the heat of an unrelenting sun.

Realizing his loss, the owner gave up on his corn that year. The weeds, obviously more drought tolerant, began to creep in between the rows.

The following year, he tried again to raise his corn. Again, the results mimicked the previous summer's.

The next year? He didn't even try. A few straggling stalks, miraculously germinated from errant kernels, came up on their own.

They didn't stand a chance . . .

Ironically, with the return of much needed rains, the weeds and grasses reclaimed the soil once so meticulously groomed.

And, the next? Bountiful storms and nourishing warmth induced a veritable population explosion of weeds! They grew so tall and thick, they literally blocked my view of the little brick house from the road.

The invasion was complete. The victory was won. By the wrong side . . .

~

You and I are the cornstalks. There are weeds all around us. Our roots must be firmly planted in God's soil, watered by His word, soaking up His light.

The weeds may grow alongside us, but they won't choke us out or overshadow us. When it is time for the Harvest, God will see. God will know. He will choose.

Is there a "weed" in your life who desires your downfall? Pray that he or she will turn and seek salvation in Christ Jesus.

Will you pray with me?

We know, Father, that you cause the rain to fall and the sun to shine on good and evil alike. Help us to grow deep roots in your love and grace. Guard our hearts and minds from the tempting weeds of this world. May we, like the well-tended cornfield, flourish and bear good fruit for Your harvest. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 40, 54 or 51
Nehemiah 2:1-20
Revelation 6:12-7:4
Matthew 13:24-30

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thanks and Praise!

Psalm 50:14
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. With no distractions like exchanging gifts or hunting Easter eggs, the focus is truly on the family. There is nothing better than gathering with the ones I love the most, sharing a festive meal, and being thankful to God for all His many blessings.

Traditionally, my parents have always hosted the Thanksgiving feast. Now that they are getting up in years, my husband and I thought it was high time for us to take up the gauntlet.

Mom's only responsibilities this year will be to bake and bring her incomparable apple pies (I am drooling already!) and to simply enjoy herself. And, for once, my parents will be the ones going home with the leftovers!

To mark this change of venue, I've decided to introduce what I hope will become a new family custom. Each person will be asked to share one thing in the past year for which they are most grateful.

Yes, I will be fair and warn everyone of this change beforehand.

It's easy to begin listing all the things for which we are thankful, but it takes time and thought to choose only one which takes precedence over the others. I know I need time to ponder this myself!

I'm also planning, for the entire month of November, to post something I am thankful for that day at the end of my blog. Setting aside one special day to give thanks to the Lord who provides is all well and good. But, it is something we should be doing faithfully every single day.

God desires and deserves our praise and thanksgiving.

When you say your prayers today, remember to praise Him. Remember to thank Him.

"Give thanks to God for all He has done;
Our hearts overrun with praise.
Give thanks to God for His love will last
From age to endless age." ~ Kathy Hill

Readings
Psalms 50 or (59,60), 103
Nehemiah 1:1-11
Revelation 5:11-6:11
Matthew 13:18-23

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tell Me a Story!

Matthew 13:10
The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

Do you look forward to hearing your minister's sermon on Sunday? Endless cartoons and jokes about dozing off in church at this particular juncture in the service would indicate otherwise. For me, there is nothing worse than a sermon that tells and doesn't show, preaches, but doesn't teach.

Ultimately, it fails to reach. It falls on deaf ears.

Not so at my church! Pastor Wallace and Pastor Emily are the paradigms when it comes to effective preaching. Their sermons are peppered with personal anecdotes, memorable stories, vivid imagery, and humor - LOTS of humor!

When they stand up to speak, you sit up to listen. Right there, on the edge of your seat. Hanging onto their every word.

Their delivery makes the scripture come alive, resonating with fresh perspective. I always come away from church with their tales and vignettes dancing joyfully in my head.

Because of these, I remember the day's lesson and am encouraged to reflect deeply upon the message. Stories make all the difference!

Jesus understood the importance of story-telling. His parables are chock-full of descriptive imagery to engage the listener's imagination. His references to activities that were commonplace to the people living at that time helped them to make an immediate connection with His message. His words never told, they showed.

And, they worked.

If they hadn't, none would have appeared in the Gospels. These stories were what the disciples recalled, His followers remembered. They were deemed important enough, memorable enough, to be written down for posterity.

And, we are blessed.

Thank you, Jesus, for telling us your stories!

Readings
Psalms 119:49-72
Ezra 6:1-22
Revelation 5:1-10
Matthew 13:10-17

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Crowded Out!

Matthew 13:2
Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.

I detest being in a large crowd. I loathe the jostling bodies and awkward maneuvers necessary to keep my feet from getting stomped on. It's stuff and hot and smelly. Then, there's the noise - the constant cacophony of voices piercing the air.

That being said, you won't find me at a festival or concert or sporting event. Any place that promises to draw a mob. I happen to covet my personal space. I think Jesus did, too.

In today's passage, hundreds, if not thousands, of people have left homes and labor to see this miracle worker, this healer, this incomparable teacher for themselves. To avoid the crush of the crowd, Jesus retreats to a boat which sits just offshore.

Imagine the pushing, the shoving, as people jockey for better positions in order to see and hear Him! Hear the din of excited shouts and exclamations at being in the Lord's presence!

Jesus speaks one word.

"Listen!"

The audience is hushed. All movement has ceased. All eyes are riveted on Him. All ears expectantly await His message.

Talk about crowd control!

Before you read and meditate upon the suggested scriptures listed at the bottom of this post, hear God telling you, exhorting you, with one word.

"Listen!"

Don't crowd Him out.

Be still.

See Him through His word.

Hear Him with your heart.

Amen.

Readings
Psalms 45 or 47, 48
Ezra 5:1-17
Revelation 4:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hide and Seek

Psalm:44:24
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

Participating in my church's prayer chain has both an up side and a down side. It is a privilege to pray to our Lord for those in need and to praise Him when prayers for help or healing are answered. Yet, it breaks my heart to learn of those suffering with an illness or struggling with the loss of a loved one. I always pray they feel God's comforting presence in their afflictions, and know He has not hidden His face from them.

Bad things happen to good people. It's not a matter of if, it's when. Like the psalmist's lament in today's scripture, consumed by our pain and misery, we often feel abandoned by God. How easily we forget that He is the Lord of everything, as attentive to us in our sadness as He is in our joys. It took me a long time to learn that truth.

In March of 1997, my husband, John, died from a freak head injury. I knew he was a strong and faithful Christian, completely grounded in the Lord.

I thought I was, too . . .

What I discovered was I was nowhere strong or faithful enough to bear this unexpected tragedy. In my utter sorrow and devastation, I didn't deny God's existence - goodness knows, I spent countless hours screaming and crying in my anger at Him for taking John away - but I had no sense, no reassurance, that He was plodding through this mire with me.

His face was hidden . . .

My grieving process lasted almost two years. As I healed, slowly and ponderously, there appeared a faint flicker of light in my heart from time to time during my first year of mourning. By the second, the flicker had become a steady glow, growing brighter with each passing day. Hope, long vanquished, crept subtly, stealthily, back into my being. But, it wasn't until the unforgettable split second when joy stabbed my heart like a lightening bolt that I understood.

The Lord had never left my side . . .

He had heard my distress, held my hand through my misery, wept with me in the dark nights of the soul. It was He who offered the hope, who held the joy in His hands, waiting in all patience for the day when I could accept them, completely and unconditionally. It was through His attentive care that my journey of healing embraced a happy ending.

It is said that whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger . . .

As excruciatingly painful as my experience was, the end result was a deeper, more abiding, more trusting relationship with God. My faith, once shaken to its roots, emerged as a thriving, blossoming tree. I knew, as never before, the great love God has for me, for John, for all of us.

He never hid His face.

It was I who hid from Him.

Readings
Psalms 41, 52 or 44
Zechariah 1:7-17
Revelation 1:4-20
Matthew 12:43-50

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Go and Do Likewise

Luke 10:37
The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

When Bob and Mary retired to a small town forty minutes away from the one they lived and worked in for decades, driving the interstate was still a breeze. They saw no need to switch their doctors, dentist, or even Mary's hairdresser to the new locale. Besides, there was a grand farmers' market near their former residence which they visited every other week.

All went swimmingly until they were nearing their eighties. That's when Bob began showing signs of forgetfulness. Both Mary and he denied it as long as was possible, but the truth, as it inevitably does, won out. A visit to the neurologist confirmed that Bob was in the moderate stages of Alzheimer's. Medication was prescribed as was a regiment of mental exercises in hopes these would slow the disease's progression.

Throughout this time, Bob continued to drive the route that the years had made so familiar to him. With Mary at his side, there was the comfort of knowing she was as well-acquainted with it as he. It simply presented no reason for concern.

Then, it happened.

Mary's hairdresser changed salons. She was still in the general area, but not at the same address. Mary had the name of the business and knew where the street was, so she felt confident that, if they stuck to the same route they always took, they would find it. What she didn't count on was Bob taking a wrong exit off the interstate.

Disoriented by the unfamiliar territory, Bob drove to the nearest convenience store to seek directions. He approached a man in his mid-forties, attired in a uniform which indicated he worked in some capacity for the county. Mary couldn't hear the exchange, but read all too well the look of confusion and frustration on her husband's face. Within moments, Bob and the man approached the passenger side of the car. Mary rolled down the window.

"Your husband here thinks he'd be better off if I gave directions to you," he said with a friendly smile.

The man began telling Mary how to reach their destination. Upon seeing the growing worry in her eyes, he changed tactics altogether.

"My car is right over there," he said, pointing. "I know exactly where this salon is. I'd be more than happy to drive and have you follow me."

"Oh, we couldn't possibly impose on you like that!" Mary protested.

"No imposition at all, ma'am. It's my pleasure."

With that, he turned and walked briskly to his car. Bob climbed back into the driver's seat and cranked the engine. In seconds, they were trailing their trusty guide down one winding road after another. Both realized how hopelessly lost they would have been without the intervention of this Good Samaritan.

Bob and Mary arrived safely at the hair salon and, gratefully, in territory they recognized. They thanked the man profusely, but when Bob reached for his wallet to pay the man for his trouble, their Samaritan held up his hand and shook his head.

"Put it back, put it back," he said with a broad smile and a wink. He pointed heavenward.

"He knows what happened here. That's all that matters."


In what ways have you shown mercy to others in your Christian walk? How have others shown mercy to you?

Will you pray with me?

Thank you, Lord, for Good Samaritans, doing the work of angels here on earth. Help us always to show mercy and kindness to our fellow travelers. Place opportunities in our paths were we can lend a hand to those in need. May all our deeds be done in love. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 63:1-8 (9-11), 98 or 103
Haggai 1:1-2:9
Acts 18:24-19:7
Luke 10:25-37

Saturday, October 22, 2011

En-deer-ing

Psalm 42:1-2
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?

Our house sits deep in the forest. It is not unusual to see the occasional deer traipsing through our yard and grazing on our foliage.

I particularly treasured one moment last summer when a doe led her frisky fawn up the trail in front of our house. I took great care to stand still as they passed by, not wishing to startle them into flight. Heaven forbid that my immense pleasure at this sight be prematurely curtailed! Not having my camera handy, I had to rely solely on my mind's eye to capture this moment.

Fortunately, that was not the case this past Saturday.

Danny and I were watching college football that afternoon when a doe ambled into view. Danny grabbed for his camera and began shooting. We watched her from our living room window as she proceeded to nonchalantly lick birdseed from the ground; I never knew deer even ate birdseed!

We chuckled as she, more than once, arched her neck toward the bird-feeder and thrust her tongue into the aperture to procure more seeds. After several minutes of this, she calmly turned away and strolled leisurely toward a copious patch of English ivy. There, she promptly laid down to rest.

Dissatisfied with the quality of the photos he had snapped through the window, Danny decided to venture outside. Better shots were worth the risk. Moving slowly and deliberately, he crept as close as he dared to the doe. Bingo! Phenomenal photos! One of the best is at the top of this post.

Danny was amazed at the doe's indifference to his presence. Although not tame by any means, it was obvious that she was accustomed to humans. Roaming the wooded neighborhoods as she did, she had never developed a reason to be wary or cautious of people. Luckily for her, the only shots she will ever encounter will be fired from a camera.

After about an hour, the doe rose on her slender, elegant legs. As casual as ever, she sauntered down the hill toward the creek which runs through our neighborhood.

This reliable water source sustains mammals and birds in abundance. Without it, these marvelous creatures would be forced to live elsewhere. And, we would be deprived of seeing these splendid animals who attest to the beauty and wonder of God's creation.

He is present in it all.

He will meet you there.

Readings
Psalms 30, 32 or 42, 43
Ezra 4:7, 11-24
Philemon 1-25
Matthew 12:33-42

Friday, October 21, 2011

All You Need is Love


1 Corinthians 16:14
Do everything in love.

What would this world be like if everyone, everywhere, did everything in love? If the Golden Rule, which appears in some form in the eight major world religions, was adhered to, how would our lives be transformed? If all people genuinely loved their neighbors as themselves, would we, at long last, see God's Kingdom here on earth?

If it were easy to do everything in love, we would have realized an idyllic existence thousands of years ago. Even those of us who love God and love ourselves don't always acknowledge or act upon the needs of our neighbors around us. Comfortable in our insular cocoons, we often fail to place ourselves in their shoes, thinking of how we would wish them to react were the tables turned.

How much more difficult is it, then, to love others for the persons who, through some tragedy, trauma, or abuse in their lives, are incapable of loving themselves? They long to love who they are, but their guilt, shame, and fear from memories of belittlement, bullying, or other maltreatment by those in whom they trusted still haunt them. There's a gaping wound where love for self should dwell. How is it possible for them to follow Jesus' commandment to love others as we love ourselves?

And, what about those who deny God's existence? Where are they? What gives meaning and purpose to their lives? What motivates them to love at all? These people, in the grand scheme of things, are the most to be pitied. Their deviance from the truth is reason to lament and begs for vigilant prayer.

Love of God, love of self, love for others - our earthly Holy Trinity keeps us balanced, grounded, as we move forward in this unpredictable, and often perilous, journey called life. Just as a three-legged stool will collapse when one support is removed, so will we when one integral part of love is absent. To do everything in love, all three must be in place.

And, no, it isn't easy . . .

Will you pray with me?

Dear Heavenly Father, we are far from perfect in our ability to give love where and when it is needed. We are broken and sinful, in need of your precious Son, Jesus, our Savior, to heal and forgive us, to teach us how to do all things in love. Fill us with your blessed Holy Spirit that we might shine your glorious love into all the world.
Amen.

Readings
Psalms 31 or 35
Ezra 3:1-13
1 Corinthians 16:10-24
Matthew 12:22-32

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Not a Material Girl

Psalm 37:16
Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of the wicked.

When I was growing up, we didn't have much in the way of material possessions. My dad was a college professor and my mom stayed at home to raise my brother and me. One salary demanded frugality, a discipline at which my parents excelled. Because of their responsible decisions made with the money they did have, we never went without what we needed.

Wants? Oh, sure, I had plenty of them. Especially in my teen years, I recall being jealous of friends who had fancier clothes, and more of them than I did, or whose parents owned two cars and lived in spacious homes with more than one bathroom. Yes, you heard me right - our family of four survived with one bathroom!

When I think back, though, I recall wants I had which my parents fulfilled, ones that called for sacrifices of their time and money.

I wanted to learn to play the guitar. They paid for years of pop and classical lessons; if Dad had a dollar for every Saturday he drove me to and from those lessons, he could have retired early! The good news? This grandmother still plays her guitar.

In high school, I made the cheering squad and became involved in as many clubs and activities as I could manage. My parents became veritable chauffeurs from early morning until late in the afternoon, during the week and on the weekends. Never did they complain or discourage me from engaging in extracurricular activities. The good news? Many of my best friends today are the ones I met and made through these very activities.

Most importantly, my parents fulfilled the want and need of every child without exception. They gave my brother and me a loving, stable, secure, happy, and nurturing home in which to grow up. They taught us manners and values, ever admonishing us to treat others in the way we would want to be treated. The example they set of doing without frivolities and living within their means is one I continue to follow to this day.

Thanks to my wonderful parents, I learned the difference between needs and wants at an early age. Being content with what I have, knowing God will provide for my needs, brings peace to my soul. And any wants that just happen to be fulfilled? Blessed icing on the blessed cake!

Are there any wants you harbor today that are hindering your ability to feel grateful for what you already have?

"The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything." ~ Anonymous

Readings
Psalms 37:1-18 or 37:19-42
Ezra 1:1-11
1 Corinthians 16:1-9
Matthew 12:15-21

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Labor of Love

1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

I taught middle school for thirteen years. (Unlucky number, but lucky me!) When people would ask me what age group I taught, upon hearing "seventh grade", they would view me either as a saint or a lunatic. I was neither. I genuinely liked these "tweens" who mingled the genuine curiosity of children with their geometrically-expanding cognitive abilities. Certainly, every year saw those infamous few who tried my patience and made me wonder if I could survive without going crazy; fortunately, the good eggs always far outweighed the bad.

Throughout my years as a teacher, I was conscious daily of the huge responsibility granted me in educating these youngsters. It was daunting at times to think that anything I said or did on any given day could affect them for the rest of their lives. This thought kept me humble indeed!

Every day, during the flaccid "moment of silence" substituted for powerful, and much needed, prayer in the public schools, I would silently make this appeal to God:

"Heavenly Father, let me do Your will and walk in Your ways in everything I think, say, and do this day. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen."

I invited the Lord into my heart, my mind, my classroom. He gave me the strength and wisdom to treat every child in my care as one who is in His, first and foremost. Even on the most difficult days, when I was tempted in every way to stray from the mark, these words would float back up to the surface of my thoughts, calming me, refocusing me, reminding me whose work I was truly doing by touching, positively, the lives of these children.

I gave myself over to serving God so I could better serve my students. Teaching was, for me, a labor of love, fruitful and never in vain. I feel confident that He allowed me to make an affirmative impression on these youngsters; a lasting one of love which they now pay forward in their lives.

Will you pray with me?

Father, we thank you for the many opportunities to touch the lives of others in Christ's love. Keep our eyes open and our words prepared when someone we meet needs to hear the good news of Your salvation. May we all exemplify Your grace and mercy in our daily lives. May all our works be done in Your Name. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 38 or 119:25-48
Lamentations 2:8-15
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Matthew 12:1-14

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lay Your Burden Down


Matthew 11:28
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

Many long years ago, in going through a far from cordial divorce, I found myself floundering in a veritable sea of stress. I was juggling too many balls, none of which, I thought, I could afford to drop.

Still a wet-behind-the-ears Christian, I did not understand how calling on God, whom I assumed had many more important things to do, would afford me the relief I so desperately needed. I claimed my burdens as my own, determined to ride out the storm by myself. Big mistake!

One morning, I awoke to a dull throbbing in my shoulders. As the day wore on, my muscles continued to contract until the tension in them was like that of a wildcat poised to pounce. It was a hardship to stand up straight due to the discomfort.

By nightfall, I was not only enduring the pain in my shoulders, but also a sharp aching in my knees. My body felt as though I had carried a 50-pound pack on a 20-mile hike.

The next day was no better; nor was the next and the one after that. Pain relievers proved useless. It was a struggle to put on a brave face for my young children, acting as though nothing was wrong when I felt my body, my life, was falling apart. When tears arose, I'd lock myself in the bathroom until the wave subsided.

It was during one of these escapes that I looked at my face, so tense and drawn, in the mirror and finally addressed God.

Why am I in so much pain, Lord? What's happening to me? Am I ever going to feel better? I can't take much more of this. Please, Lord, I need your help!"

That's when the answer popped into my head. Tomorrow was Sunday. I would go to the altar rail when it was time for special prayer requests. I would ask for prayers for healing.
~
As I limped away from the rail that morning, a friend who had come up for a birthday blessing, put her arm around me as we headed back to our pews.

"You have Atlas Syndrome," she whispered in my ear.

"I have what?" I answered, completely clueless.

"Atlas Syndrome - you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders," she explained with a smile, giving me a reassuring hug. "Give that burden to the Lord. It's not yours, it's His."

Epiphany! As she slipped into her pew and I hobbled back to mine, I resolved then and there to ask Jesus to lift this unbearable burden from me. I prayed silently, fervently, throughout the remainder of the service. I believed, for the first time in my infantile Christian walk, that He was truly there for me. I trusted fully in His power to heal and to carry my cares.

By the following day, my pain had completely vanished.

Thanks be to God!

What burden are you shouldering today that belongs to the Lord, and not to you?

Will you pray with me?
The trials and tribulations can weigh us down and steal our joy if we let them, Father. Help us to always remember that no burden is too heavy to bear for the One who carried the cross weighted with the sins of the whole world. With thankful hearts, let us place all our worries and cares in the competent hands of Jesus. May we find rest for our weary souls in Him. Amen.

Readings

Psalms 26, 28 or 36, 39
Lamentations 1:1-5 (6-9) 10-12
1 Corinthians 15:41-50
Matthew 11:25-30



Monday, October 17, 2011

My Heart is Set

Matthew 11:17
"We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn."

When was the last time you set your heart on something that didn't turn out at all the way you expected? Were you disappointed? Hurt? How did you rebound from the experience?

As adults, our higher-order cognitive skills enable us to cope with and adjust to situations where the end result completely differed from what we had anticipated. Children, however, trapped in the realm of concrete thought, have a tough time understanding why they can't always get what they want. When they play the pipe, they expect us to dance - period!

I recall the time when my daughter, Sarah, then aged four, set her heart on one of those giant cookies from the Great American Cookie Company store in the mall. Brother, Daniel, and she had enjoyed a visit with "Ho-Ho", a most authentic Santa Claus, and were all smiles, chattering gaily about the toys they hoped to find beneath our Christmas tree. Unfortunately, Dad made the tactical error of pausing just long enough at the cookie counter to snag Sarah's attention.

She bounded from my side to his and pressed her hands and nose eagerly against the glass of the tempting display case. I could almost see those wheels spinning in her head.

"Can I have a big cookie, please?" She pleaded.

"It's 'may' I," her father answered, "and, no, you may not."

Now, I knew precisely what was coming next.

"Mommy, may I have a big cookie?"

"You heard your father. Not today."

"But, I want one!" She whined with a stomp of her foot.

"And, I said, 'no'."

"Please, please, Mommy, please?"

"No, no, Sarah, no!"

I grabbed her hand promptly and led her away in the direction Dad and Daniel were already strolling. I expected tears and sniffles to be forthcoming, but nothing could have prepared me for the unwanted drama about to unfold.

Sarah had a meltdown. She wailed and yowled, screamed and cried; nothing I said could soothe her. Even Ho-Ho, passing by us on his break, stopped to ask what was wrong and tried to comfort her. Sarah would have none of it. She was utterly inconsolable.

I continued to drag her along, growing ever more aggravated and mortified, as people stared disapprovingly at the miserable scene we created. By now, I was desperate to catch up with Dad and Daniel. The sooner we could exit the mall, the better.

The two guys had ducked into a toy store. I stood outside with the still screeching, bawling Sarah. They needed to hurry. My last shred of patience was dwindling fast . . .

"Oh, my," said a sweet, well-meaning lady, "has the little girl lost her mother?"

That did it!

I lost it!

"I AM her mother!" I snapped ferociously.

The poor woman beat a hasty retreat. I immediately regretted my unkindness.

Thankfully, husband and son emerged from the store at that moment. With Sarah's temper still in full swing, we dashed for the exit doors.

It was long time before I could bring myself to visit that mall again.

~


For those of you who have raised children or grandchildren, Sarah's story may have hit home with a hefty blow. Teaching our children how to cope with temptation, to accept our "no" as "no" and our "yes" as "yes", is no easy task.
We need to communicate to them that when we set our hearts on the things and desires of this world, ten to one, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.


Instead, turn the desire of their hearts toward things eternal. Help them come to know the Father and His love for them. Let them know that, when their hearts desire Jesus, He will never let them down.

Readings
Psalms 25 or 9, 15
Jeremiah 44:1-14
1 Corinthians 15:30-41
Matthew 11:16-24

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Into the Harvest Field

Luke 10:2
He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

When I was growing up, we always had a vegetable garden. My dad, a botany professor, was born with a green thumb. Gardening for him was not just a hobby, it was a passion. Since he planted both summer and winter gardens, our family benefited from a year-round harvest of fresh, organic produce.

I inherited my father's love for growing things. Wherever I have lived, sun permitting, I, too, have tended a vegetable garden. There is no aroma more gratifying than that of freshly-turned, fertile soil warmed by the spring sunshine. I never wore gloves when placing seeds or seedlings in the ground. The texture of the earth in my hands made me feel, in a profoundly simple way, deeply connected to God. Kneeling, digging, planting, and tamping down the soil; I was praying in the dirt!

One spring, no longer content with the humble, well-composted plot I had used for several years, I decided to go big, REALLY big, with my garden. I borrowed a neighbor's rotor-tiller and proceeded to turn over a sizable patch of backyard lawn. This was much harder work than I had anticipated, but I was determined to meet my goal. Three days later, I had a lot less grass to mow and a garden plot whose magnitude dwarfed the original as surely as the earth does the moon.

What did I grow in that garden? A better question might be: "What didn't I?" Beans, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, Big Boy tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and, the grand experiment, watermelon. All sprouted, bloomed and thrived. I watered, weeded, and waited for those first fruits to appear, anxious for the first delectable taste.

But, there was one problem I didn't anticipate: a bumper crop!

That's a problem? When so much is ripening at once, yes! My harvest was plentiful indeed, but I was the only one plucking, picking, washing, cooking, freezing, and giving the surplus of the day to my neighbors. I could barely keep up. What began as a labor of love quickly devolved into plain old labor. How I longed for more hands to lighten the workload I had brought on myself!

~

Like plump, succulent tomatoes begging to be plucked from the vine, countless persons are ripe and ready to hear the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Are there enough of us willing to toil in this vast and promising garden? Can we, by our words and examples, bring in a bountiful harvest for God's Kingdom? Or, will be abandon these fruits to wither and rot on the vine?

Today, let us ask the Lord of the harvest to send us and many others, with hope and faith, into the harvest field.

Readings
Psalms 148, 149, 150 or 114, 115
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
Acts 16:6-15
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Desire of Your Heart

Psalm 20:4
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

When I read this verse, I thought to myself, this is the ultimate blessing anyone could bestow upon another! What could be better than God, who knows our needs and desires before we can ask or even know them ourselves, giving us the very things in life that make our hearts rejoice and the works of our hands bear fruit for His kingdom? Frankly, nothing. The problem for us arise when our plans and dreams are not synched with His.

I knew from an early age that I had a talent for writing. Throughout my adult life, I repeatedly felt the urge to write something, anything, but with raising a family, much of this as a single mother, and working to put food on the table and pay the rent, there wasn't the luxury of time. I kept journals and dabbled with poetry, but writing a novel? Well, that would happen one day . . .

That day finally arrived. It was the summer of 2007; the concept of a novel which had been stewing in my mind for years suddenly demanded to come to fruition. I knew this was God's calling me to use this talent with which He had blessed me. I sat down at the computer, fully trusting that He would allow the words to flow.

He did. As I was teaching at the time, it took three summers to complete; three glorious summers when God, through His Holy Spirit, sat right there beside me. I could feel His presence. I marveled at the thoughts and words placed on the pages that I could never have conceived of on my own. I was at peace. And, I had every confidence in the quality of my work.

One year and fifteen rejections later, I felt confused, deflated, discouraged. Lord, I did what You wanted me to do. You helped me all along the way! Why this? Why now? He didn't answer right away, yet I did feel a calm within; I knew He heard my plea.

I decided to start a blog, writing about anything and everything of interest to me, but I found I wasn't being as consistent as I should be to build a reader platform. I needed more purpose, more reasons, more of an audience. Then, one evening while sitting out on our deck, the Lord spoke to me. His voice was as clearly audible as if He were standing, in person, right in front of me.

"Write a daily devotional."

The rest, as they say, is history. I began the very next day and have never looked back. You are reading my words here today because the Lord filled the desire of my heart.

How has God filled the desires of your heart?

Let us pray together: Before we ask you to fulfill our heart's desire and help our plans succeed, Father, make us ever mindful that the first desire of our hearts should be to have You come live there, in us and with us for all eternity. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 20, 21:1-7 (8-14) or 110:1-5 (6-7), 116, 117
2 Kings 25:8-12, 22-26
1 Corinthians 15:12-29
Matthew 11:7-15

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sure Footing in the Lord

Psalm 17:5
My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not stumbled.

I have a debilitating fear of heights in narrow places. You will never find me traversing a swinging rope bridge, standing at the edge of a cliff, or gazing around gleefully when riding a glass elevator. Just contemplating these situations makes my stomach churn and my palms sweat. So, imagine my horror and dismay when I was confronted on a hiking trail by a narrow, log bridge with a rickety handrail over which I would have to cross if I wished to move forward.

It was early April 2005. Danny and I had just gotten married and were enjoying our honeymoon near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In his younger days, Danny had backpacked all over the Smokys, logging about 300 miles over many years. He was anxious and excited to share some of those places he had hiked with me and I was just as eager to see them.

The first hike we headed for was the Alum Cave Trail. It was a brilliantly sunny day, yet the chill of early spring lingered in the air. Burdened only by a knapsack and a soft-sided, insulated lunch cooler, we were primed to explore the trail and savor the beauty of God's natural wonders surrounding us.

We were happily strolling along when, unexpectedly, terrifyingly, spanning a stream too wide to circumvent, there it was - the log bridge! I stood as if nailed to the spot. Danny, who was walking ahead of me, turned to see where I was. His expression was one of bewildered concern.

"What's the matter?" He asked.

"I can't do it," I replied, my voice unsteady.

"Can't do what?" He was striding back toward me.

I pointed at the bridge, my throat already choked by the tears welling up within.

"Cross the bridge?" Danny inquired. "Yes, you can. I'll help you."

Now the tears flowed in earnest. My legs were shaking so, I didn't think I could stand a second longer. Danny put his arm around me and gently led me away from the trail to a place where we could sit down and I could, hopefully, calm down.

Patiently, he let me have my cry and listened with empathy to all my reasons for being panicked by the prospect of negotiating that bridge. If my fears confessed sounded irrational to him, Danny certainly didn't let on, but I could see the disappointment in his eyes as he thought we might have to turn back and not finish the trail he so desired me to see. As petrified as I was, the last thing I wanted was to let him down. I knew that, somehow, I had to go through with it. I had to face my demons.

We decided that Danny would cross first with all our possessions, then return to cross with me. Poised, but not composed, with one tentative foot on the log bridge and two white-knuckled hands clutching the rail, I knew the one thing I could not, should not do was look down at the rushing stream below. The boiling, gurgling water made me feel dizzy and light-headed.

"Are you ready?" Danny asked with a cheerfulness that sounded a bit to forced.

I nodded bravely, but I knew I wasn't. I needed Danny beside me for support, to cheer me on, but I needed something else, too, something more. I needed God.

As I took the first step onto the bridge, I prayed silently, fervently, desperately, "Father in Heaven, please don't let me panic! Don't let my feet slip; keep me moving. Don't let my feet slip, don't let my feet slip, don't let my feet slip . . ."

In moments which felt more like an eternity, my feet touched the comforting ground on the other side of the stream. I let out the breath I had been holding all that time with tremendous relief. Danny was beaming.

"See? You did it! That wasn't so bad, now, was it?"

Bad enough, I thought, but managed a weak smile and a "thanks be to God" for all He had just enabled me to do. He had kept my feet on the right path; He did not allow me to stumble or fall. While I did not relish the idea of having to cross the bridge again on our way back, I knew now, with His help, that I could.

What fears are you facing? Are you asking God for help in confronting them, over coming them?

Will you pray with me? Father, keep our feet from stumbling along the path you have set for us. Help us to move forward even when our fears hold us back. Steady us in the knowledge that You hold us in the palm of Your hand and will catch us if we fall. Thank you, Lord, for your faithful love. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 16, 17 or 22
Jeremiah 38-14-28
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Matthew 11:1-6

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lift High the Cross

Matthew 10:38
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Several Sundays ago, Pastor Wallace's sermon focused on Jesus' command to "take up the cross". In the minds of His disciples, this statement would have conjured up repulsive, gruesome images of the Roman practice of crucifixion, reserved for only the most heinous of criminals and enemies of the state. It certainly didn't connect with their preconceived notions of a Messiah come to put the world to right.

Can't you just hear the mumblings and murmurings among the Twelve?

"Take up a cross? Has He lost His marbles?"

"What does He mean by this take-up-the-cross business?"

"I thought the Lord was all about healing and forgiveness. Why would He lead us down a path of destruction?"

"Certainly, Jesus would never go to the cross!"

"And, expect us to follow Him? Really?"

"But, He said, if we don't, we aren't worthy of Him."

"I don't get it . . ."

And, sometimes, neither do we.

As Pastor Wallace pointed out, we cannot pick and choose the cross we bear in this life. We might want the glittery, gem-encrusted cross of a seamless, successful Pollyanna life, but be handed the old rugged one, gnarled and contorted with illness, disappointments, and heartbreak. It's not the cross we get; it's all in how we bear it.

When we remember that Jesus took up the burden of the cross, impossibly weighted with all our sins, for us, we can find the strength and grace to carry our crosses, faithfully and courageously, through life. We can lift them high to Him whom we follow in faith and hope. We can become worthy.

What cross do you bear today?

Readings
Psalms 18:1-20 or 18:21-50
Jeremiah 38:1-13
1 Corinthians 14:26-33a, 37-40
Matthew 10:34-42



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Infants to Evil

1 Corinthians 14:20
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

Watching my granddaughter, Virginia Rose, grow and change over these past fifteen months has been one of my life's dearest joys. Her world is full of wide-eyed wonder and endless curiosity as she crawls from one toy to the next, high-tails it after the cat, or pulls herself up on a chair or sofa. Her cheerful disposition reflects the love and affection given her. The attentive care she receives provides a safe, secure environment where she can explore in confidence and trust.

Her innocence in all she does is a sweet breath of fresh air in my adult world which knows all too bitterly the stench of evil. Even when she does something she should not, like playing in the cat's water, reaching for a plug outlet, or patting the "kittah", as she calls it, a little too roughly, none of these is committed with wicked intent. At her cognitive stage, premeditated acts of malice are impossible to conceive. She is a blessed infant, unblemished by the wiles of evil.

In today's scripture, Paul exhorts the church at Corinth to stop thinking childishly, to fully embrace the gospel and live it out as adults. However, as grown up as they should be in their thinking, they are to be as blameless as babes when it comes to acting on temptations to sin. They are not to be naive, imagining evil does not exist, but rather, they should, in their childlike state, be incapable of committing sin in the first place.

Paul is concerned that, in all things and in all ways, the Corinthians should be building up the church, encouraging the members, and presenting to the world a model for Christian living. Selfish striving, a sin in itself, is not the direction to take.

Let us reflect upon this today: How can we be as wise as serpents in our minds and innocent as doves in our hearts? (Matthew 10:16b)

Readings
Psalms 119:1-24 or 12, 13, 14
Jeremiah 37:3-21
1 Corinthians 14:13-25
Matthew 10:24-33

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Never on Hold


Psalm 6:9
The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
the LORD accepts my prayer.

It is virtually impossible today to call any business, from pharmacy to credit card company to utility to tech support, and take pleasure in being greeted by a live voice. We are welcomed instead by a prerecorded message directing us as to which number to press depending upon the nature of our inquiry.

As if sitting through this series of options were not trying enough, once our choice is made, we are subjected to insipid music punctuated, perhaps, by the occasional, again prerecorded, voice assuring us that our call will be answered in the order in which it was received by an operator who, at present, is busy assisting other customers. Rarely are these experiences pleasant and, often, our wait time is so long, it would try the patience of Job.

What if we, when we prayed to God, instead of having a direct line of communication with Him, had to endure the same rigamarole businesses put us through? If we did, it might sound something like this:

"Welcome! Thank you for calling The Throne Room of God. Your call is very important to us and may be recorded for quality purposes. Please listen carefully to your list of options as our menu has changed.

If you wish to thank God for all He has done, press one.

If you have a sin you need to confess, press two.

If you are having family and/or marital problems, press three.

If you are struggling to forgive someone, press four.

If you or a loved one is in need of a special blessing, press five.

For all other requests, press zero, and an angel will be with you shortly."

Why don't we press zero and see what happens . . .

(Heavenly harp music plays in the background) "Hello! You have reached the desk of Gabriel, arch angel-in-chief. I can't come to the phone right now as I am attending to the millions of prayer requests before yours, but if you'll leave your name, your number, and a brief message, I'll be sure to pass it on to God. Thank you for calling and have a blessed day!"

If we had to put up with such inanity, would any of us still be inclined to pray? I dare say, most of us would become prayer dropouts in a twinkling. In light of that, let us be thankful today and in all our tomorrows for the direct line we have to our loving Heavenly Father who hears our cries for mercy and accepts our every prayer. He never puts us on hold!

Readings
Psalms 5, 6 or 10, 11
Jeremiah 36:27-37:2
1 Corinthians 14:1-12
Matthew 10:16-23

Monday, October 10, 2011

Face to Face

1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Facebook is an awesome tool for social interaction. Although I'll be the first to admit I dislike many of the recent changes, I have much invested in friends, family, and blogging here. Unless something utterly drastic occurs, I can't see myself changing venues.

As most of you probably did, I started out on Facebook connecting with people I knew personally, ones I had met face to face. This gradually evolved into a much larger orbit where I was including news-feeds, inspirational sites, and inviting friends of friends to join my ever-expanding circle. I dare say these people whom I've befriended, yet have never interacted with in person, comprise a good quarter of the 287 contacts I currently enjoy.

While we can gain much insight into the personalities of friends whom we've never physically met, we are still peering through a darkened glass, a dim mirror.

We can read their comments, but cannot hear their voices.

We see their faces in photos, but cannot observe the subtle change of expressions.

We enjoy their sense of humor, but never hear their laughter.

We can love and treasure them, but never show them with a touch or a hug.

The circle is deep and wide and filled with thoughtful, caring people from all walks of life, but it is incomplete.

So are we - unfinished works of love, walking in faith and hope through all our days until the one arrives which calls us home.

The day when faith becomes sight and hope is fulfilled as we see, face to face, the One whose love for us endures forever.

Readings
Psalms 1, 2, 3 or 4, 7
Jeremiah 36:11-26
1 Corinthians 13:(1-3) 4-13
Matthew 10:5-15

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thank You

Luke 7:47
"Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."

Love and forgiveness go hand in hand. In forgiving someone, we are loving that person as ourselves, treating them the way we would like to be treated. Forgiveness magnifies love and, in the one forgiven, swells the heart with gratitude and relief as it is cleansed from the stains of guilt and shame.

The woman of many sins enters the house of Simon, a pharisee, who has invited Jesus to dine with him. She is carrying an alabaster jar containing expensive ointment. She is weeping openly, unabashedly.

There is contrition in her heart, confession in her tears, as she bows at Jesus' feet. Her tears fall there, forming rivulets in the dust as Simon, a negligent host, had failed to provide water for the Lord wash them. Lovingly, she wipes and dries His feet with her hair and applies the soothing, sweet-scented balm to anoint them.

She grieves for her sins as she serves the One she knows can and will forgive all of them. She is overwhelmed with gratitude for this chance to begin anew, to leave her previous life marred by sin behind her. She does the only thing she knows how to do to tell Jesus, "Thank you".

Whether your sins are many, like this woman's, or few, have you bowed at Jesus' feet? Have you washed them with your tears of regret? Have you asked Him for forgiveness and felt His peace surround you? Did you say, "Thank you"?

"No more fears, you've dried our tears
At the feet of Jesus.
Grace abound to all who've found
The feet of Jesus." ~ Chris Tomlin

Readings
Psalms 146, 147 or 111, 112, 113
Jeremiah 36:1-10
Acts 14:8-18
Luke 7:36-50

Saturday, October 8, 2011

All We Like Sheep

Matthew 9:36
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Sheep, like the majority of people, are followers who like to stick together. When sheep are startled or attacked, the first one to flee will be the one the others pursue mindlessly, even when the eventual destination is the edge of a cliff.

Sound familiar?

A flock, be it of sheep or of people, depends upon a good shepherd to guard and protect them. Without wise leadership and guidance, we wander away, lose our focus, fall off the cliff. Sticking together means nothing if the direction we take is wrong.

In today's scripture, Jesus' heart goes out to the crowds, the sheep without a shepherd. They are harried, hassled, lost, and in desperate need to be pointed in the right direction. God's direction.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the only One who can protect us from the wolves of this world, and lead us to the lush, green pastures of His way, His truth, and His life. Just as sheep readily learn the face and voice of their good shepherd and obey, so must we.

Can you see the face of Jesus? Can you hear His voice? Are you placing all your trust, obediently, in Him? Trust, and He will lead you beside the still waters of peace and rest in Him.

"All we like sheep have gone astray.
All we like sheep have wandered away.
All we like sheep must learn to obey, and
Follow Him, follow Him, follow Him each day." ~ Kathie Hill

Readings
Psalms 137:1-6 (7-9), 144 or 104
Jeremiah 35:1-19
1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Matthew 9:35-10:4


Friday, October 7, 2011

If We Are the Body . . .

1 Corinthians 12?13
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Have you ever felt ostracized? Maybe a friend invited you to a party where you knew nobody and then failed to show up; you felt awkward and out-of-place, especially when no one there even seemed to notice you. Or, perhaps, you were moved to a different department or team at your job and your new co-workers, resentful of the change, chose to ignore you as often as possible.

One vivid memory I have of being shunned was when my family moved toward the end of my third grade year, and I had to transfer to a new school. With the cliques and best friends already carved in stone when I arrived, the children barely acknowledged my existence; they were not about to make the effort to chisel me into their lives. Those were the longest, most miserable weeks before summer I ever spent in school.

In today's verse, Paul is reminding the Corinthians that ostracism hurts. It has no place in the church where everyone has been baptized by the same spirit and each is an integral part of the body of Christ. Tragically, too many modern day churches fail to heed Paul's timeless advice.

The newcomer, already nervous and anxious about visiting a new place of worship, is greeted not by bright smiles and hands extended in welcome, but by judgmental stares and hardened faces.

A loyal and long-time member goes through a divorce, and the very church friends he was depending upon for support turn their backs.

The spiritual seeker who asks too many questions deemed wrong by the powers-that-be is bullied out of the congregation.

The bag lady, homeless and destitute, who pushes the cart which holds her life into the narthex, hoping to find warmth against a freezing winter's day and, perhaps, a friendly word or a steaming cup of coffee, receives, instead, a cold and distant shoulder.

With churches like this, who, in their right mind, would ever desire to be a Christian in community? Who would desire to know the love of a Savior?

Will you pray with me?

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending us your gift of salvation through your precious Son who gave his body that we might become one body with Him. Make us ever mindful that every human being is Your child, deserving respect and dignity and love. So grow the church in the truth of your Word and in the Holy Spirit that it ever shines a beacon of light to a weary world shrouded in darkness, and welcomes all to worship Your glorious name. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 140, 142 or 141, 143
2 Kings 23:36-24:17
1 Corinthians 12:12-25
Matthew 9:27-34

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Just a Touch . . .

Matthew 9:18
While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, "My daughter has just died. But come, and put your hand on her, and she will live."

Jairus, the name given this leader of the synagogue in the gospels of Mark and Luke, is desperate. His beloved daughter has died and, overwhelmed with shock and grief, he seeks out Jesus, convinced of His power to heal and restore his little girl to life. Before his daughter's illness and subsequent death, had Jairus been a scoffer, a mumbler along with his fellow Pharisees regarding this man, Jesus, who usurped their once complete authority over the people? Had he accused the Lord of blasphemy when He told the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven? Did it take every ounce of humility he could muster to approach Jesus and kneel at His feet to make his request?

Or, was Jairus one of the pharisees, like Nicodemus, who observed Jesus' actions furtively, listened quietly to His teachings, falling in awe of Him? Did he lay awake at night, mulling over the miracles performed by this man and wondering, in his heart of hearts: Is this Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God, the Messiah? Was it an honor for him to bow before the Lord, knowing not simply what He could do, but who He truly was?

While we cannot know for certain what Jairus thought about Jesus, one thing is clear: he had tremendous faith in the Lord's ability to not only heal, but also to raise from the dead. ". . .put your hand on her, and she will live." No words, no ceremonies; just a simple touch. That's all it would take . . .

How has the touch of Jesus healed you at a point in your life? When did His merciful hand raise you from the death that is sin into new life with Him? Are you at a crossroads of pain or uncertainty, needing to feel Him touching your heart, soothing your anxieties? Believe, as Jairus did, that His slightest touch can work a miracle in you!

Readings
Psalms 131, 132, (133) or 134, 135
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Matthew 9:18-26

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Matthew 9:13

Matthew 9:13
"But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Rules and laws are imperative to a civilized society. Just imagine what our roads would look like with no traffic regulations, or a football game played without rules, or a classroom with no consequences for disruptive behaviors. One word comes to mind: CHAOS!

Yet, there are times and circumstances in our lives that can rules and laws into question, and leave us pondering if bending or breaking them might be the better option as opposed to following each to the letter.

Take, for instance, the Eagle Scout with a stellar academic and athletic record, who forgot to remove his pocket-knife from his book bag after a weekend camping trip, or the frantic dad-to-be careening down the interstate to get his laboring wife to the hospital in time. Do these two infractions call for a ten-day, out-of-school suspension or a speeding ticket? In both cases, rules or laws have been broken, but do the incidents cry out for mercy to be shown by the authorities in charge?

In Jesus' day, the Pharisees held the religious play book; they knew Jewish law, inside and out, and were sticklers about every detail. Their knowledge gave them great authority over the people, the very same people now swayed and mesmerized by the words and teachings of Jesus. This does not happy campers make!

At every turn, the Pharisees try to trip the Lord up in something He says or does. Today, Jesus is dining with Matthew, the tax collector, and his friends. By their standards, associating with sinners is a sin in and of itself. That's the rule, and they're sticking to it.

Jesus, however, turns the play book on its head. His directive to them to "go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'" at once deflates their pomposity and places into questions their true understanding of scripture. It was a verbal slap to their self-righteous faces.

God requires compassion, empathy, and love toward every person. He does not desire a ritual sacrifice, an empty law that excludes others, deeming them unworthy of worshiping Him. Jesus came for the sinners, the lost sheep, and those scorned and demeaned by society. He came to change the rules, to write them on our hearts, so we could act mercifully toward others just as He, Himself, has acted mercifully toward us.

Are you playing by Jesus' rules?

Readings
Psalms 119:145-176 or 128, 129, 130
2 Kings 22:14-23:3
1 Corinthians 11:23-34
Matthew 9:9-17

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Forgive Yourself


Matthew 9:2
Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

When I posted the daily devotion entitled "Because I'm Forgiven", one of my readers and fellow bloggers commented on the post and left a link to a reflection she had written several months prior that dealt with the issue of forgiveness. She was engaged in her yoga routine one day, attempting to clear her thoughts, when the word "forgive" kept popping up in her mind. No matter how hard she tried, both during and after her exercise, the word refused to leave her consciousness. She decided she needed to flow with it, not fight against it, and see where it led her. What she discovered in her letting go was a plethora of past mistakes, wrong decisions, disappointments, and unfulfilled dreams for which she had never forgiven herself! She had tucked them away in a "black, imaginary, iron box with a strong lock" thinking they would never see daylight again. But, out they came and, with them, her realization that she could not move forward with her life until she began the journey, be it a long and winding road, of self-forgiveness.

Jesus healed countless people of physical infirmities while here on earth, but these miraculous cures, I believe, represent spiritual ones as well. He forgives the paralyzed man of his sins and, because of his faith, he is immediately restored to health. The inability to forgive ourselves, especially when we've asked God's forgiveness, translates to a lack of faith. We are paralyzed, unable to move forward with our lives; we are blind to the peace and beauty our lives could have, we are deaf to the words of truth aching to escape that black, imaginary, iron box.

Don't allow the fear of facing your past mistakes, confronting them, and letting them go, one by one, cripple you. Take heart! Pray to Jesus, the forgiver of all our sins, to help you release the ones your remember, knowing, with faith, that He has already wiped the slate clean.

Readings
Psalms (120), 121, 122, 123 or 124, 125, 126, (127)
2 Kings 22:1-13
1 Corinthians 11:2, 17-22
Matthew 9:1-8

Monday, October 3, 2011

They're More Than Good; They're GRRREAT!

1 Corinthians 11:1
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

In her recent book, Expecting to See Jesus: A Wake-Up Call for God's People, Ann Graham Lotz explains the difference between being a good Christian and a great Christian. The vast majority of us are good Christians, believing in God and salvation through Christ Jesus, attending church, and involved in ministries within the church and in the community. We know God, but with head-knowledge only. Lotz contends that for us to fully know God, to become great Christians, we need to take that 18-inch drop from our heads to our hearts. That is where Jesus must live in us if we are to truly and completely live for Him.

On the surface of today's scripture, it appears as if Paul is boasting, placing himself on par with Christ Himself. That would be true if Paul was a good Christian, but he's not; he's a great Christian, one of the greatest of all time. Following Christ's example, for him, is not merely a mental exercise, but one done with a heart consumed by love for the Lord. Paul's teachings and exhortations to the early churches reveal this love as he continually reminds them to love one another and stay true to the gospel. He loves as Christ loves. He sets a perfect example.

Have you ever known someone you would label a "great Christian"? I have been blessed to know several, all of whom, at one time or another, helped and guided me along my Christian journey. Maybe, you are already a great Christian, knowing God as fully in your heart as in your head. It should be the goal for each of us to move from good to GRRREAT! in our relationship with our Lord and Savior.

Readings
Psalms 106:1-18 or 106:19-48
2 Kings 21:1-18
1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1
Matthew 8:28-34

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Don't Cry

Luke 7:13
When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."

My granddaughter, Virginia Rose, is one happy little girl 99.9% of the time. So when she does cry, as she did the other day at my house when she lost her balance and her cheekbone hit a measuring cup she had been playing with, it is both unexpected and heart-wrenching. I immediately scooped her up and held her close, rocking her gently and offering soothing words. Even as I attempted in every way I knew how to comfort her, I realized that her crying probably wouldn't stop until the painful throbbing in her face subsided and the initial shock of the hurt dissipated. I hate to see anyone cry, let alone my own grandchild; it always makes me want to cry, too. Fortunately, her wails subsided within a minute or two and, as if it never happened, she happily returned to the floor to play with her toys.

In today's scripture, Jesus and His disciples are approaching the gate of the town of Nain when they encounter an impressive funeral procession. The grieving mother, a widow, has lost her only son, and the many friends and family members who mourn with her attest to the magnitude of her loss. When Jesus sees her tears, her stricken face, He has compassion for her in the enormity of her sorrow. He approaches her, probably with tears of empathy welling up in His eyes, and speaks two words to her: "Don't cry." He then steps up to the bier upon which her lifeless son lies and commands him to rise. Oh, happy day! The son instantly sits up and begins speaking! The crowd is overwhelmed with fear and awe and amazement. Tears flow again, not from sadness now, but from unspeakable joy and gratitude.

Are you hurting today? Is your heart brimming with sorrow? Are your eyes blurred by tears that won't cease? Turn to Jesus. Let Him hold you in His loving arms. Hear Him whisper, "Don't cry", and know that He will make everything right in the end.

Readings
Psalms 118 or 145
2 Kings 20:1-21
Acts 12:1-17
Luke 7:11-17

He's Waiting for You

Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. This week has been a hectic one for me.  I babysit the grands three di...