Words to Ponder is a weekly post intended to offer you a few...well...words to ponder as you go about your week.
The Blessing: Part III
August 9, 2020 - Kathryn Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne Illustrated by Rhonda Bailey
The Blessing – Part 3 One of our sons just celebrated his 36th birthday.As I sat looking at his birthday card, searching for just the right words to express all I’m wishing for him in the coming year, the blessing of Aaron from Numbers 6:24-26 came to my mind once again:
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (ESV)
What better words could I find to speak over our son for his birthday?
I’m not surprised that the words of this rich benediction came to mind: they have been ringing in my heart for months, ever since I first heard the song based on this passage which has become so popular lately.In recent months, believers from all around the globe are singing The Blessing over their cities and nations as a unified declaration of God’s goodness in the face of COVID-19.Here’s one version sung by believers from more than 300 local churches throughout Australia:
This song of blessing has also been translated into other languages, including Spanish.Believers from ten different nations throughout Latin America joined together to sing La Bendición - Latinoamérica:
Ever since The Blessing came to the forefront, I’ve been hungry to delve more deeply into the richness of these words.So in this third and final look at Numbers 6:24-26, let’s look at some of the treasure that can be found in the last couplet of this blessing.
"Lift Up His Countenance Upon You"
What does it mean for the Lord to lift up His countenance upon us?The rich variety of ways these words are translated in different versions of the Bible hints at the wealth that can be found here:
May the Lord's approval be resting on you (BBE)
The Lord turn his face toward you (NIV)
May the LORD be good to you (CEV)
May the LORD look on you with favor (GNB)
May the Lord watch over you (NCV)
May the LORD turn to face you (ISV)
May the Lord show you his favor (NLT)
God look you full in the face (MSG)
Though some unique ideas are expressed in each of these translations, a clear, overall picture emerges: we have not escaped God’s notice.He sees us.He hasn’t forgotten us.Because He has turned His face toward us, we have His full attention.And not only that, His gaze is brimming with His goodness, approval, and favor.
So if God would “look you full in the face” right now, as The Message puts it, would you be able to meet His gaze?Take a moment now to stop and imagine what that might be like.What would you expect to see? Are you anticipating His approval?Would He turn to you with favor, as some of these translations would express it?What does God see when He looks at you?Are you His beloved daughter or son whom He looks upon with great pleasure and delight?
Or would you expect to see disappointment and frustration reflected in His eyes instead?Perhaps you’d expect God to correct or even reject you.Of course, if there’s something in the way—something you need to confess to Him—do it!Repent, and receive His loving forgiveness.Then look Him in the face and see what it’s like for the Lord to lift His countenance upon you. "And Give You Peace"
Peace.Safety.Prosperity.Well-being.Health.Wholeness.These are a few of the many aspects of the Hebrew word שָׁלֹם (shâlôm) that is used here.Shalom is like a multi-faceted diamond with myriad ways it can be reflected.
What would it look like for these various facets of shalom to rest on your life?Which one are you longing for the most? Although peace is something we all long for, it often eludes us—especially during this season when COVID-19 has caused so much upheaval, uncertainty, and loss in our lives.But in the verse that comes immediately after The Blessing, we can find a clue to receiving the peace God wants to give us:
So shall they put my name upon the people . . . (Numbers 6:27 ESV)
When this blessing is spoken over us, it puts God’s name on us.Names like Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).The God of Peace (Romans 15:33; Philippians 4:9; Hebrews 13:20, etc.).King of Peace (Hebrews 7:2).And as those names rest upon us, His very nature meets us in our places of need.
So let’s speak this blessing over one another, putting God’s name on each other.Let’s invoke God’s heart, His blessing, His name and His character over one another’s lives. The Lord bless you . . . so abundantly that it would cause the nations to kneel in awe. And keep you . . . guarded by His watchful eye and protective hedge. The Lord make His face to shine upon you . . . with all the fullness of His Dayspring warmth and nurturing light. And be gracious to you . . . as He stoops low, mercifully extending His kindness to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you . . . a gaze brimming with love, favor, attention, and approval. And give you peace . . . that multi-faceted peace that permeates our lives with well-being.
The Blessing: Part II
August 2, 2020 - Kathryn Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne Illustrated by Rhonda Bailey
The Blessing: Part 2
I love sunlight.To sit on our patio, drinking tea, and watching the way the morning light dapples our Japanese maple, highlighting the vein pattern of each leaf—that’s a piece of heaven for me.I’m drawn to the sunlight.When there’s not enough of it, I can fall into depression.I need sunshine.We all do!
And it points us to the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Sunrise from on High (Luke 1:78), the Sun of Righteousness, who rises with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).
It’s no wonder then that the ancient blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 we’ve been delving into includes these words:
“The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (verse 25, ESV)
Before we look at this couplet more closely, let’s step back a moment and consider this powerful blessing as a whole.It has recently come to the forefront because a song based on this passage has gone viral.Versions of The Blessing have been popping up around the globe as believers join together to bless their cities and nations in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.It started in May with 65 churches and movements in the UK collaborating to sing this benediction over their land:
Since then, believers from every corner of the earth have been invoking this ancient blessing over their nations.Here’s one from worshippers in Zimbabwe.It’s delightful to hear this benediction declared in so many of that nation’s languages!
The blessing these believers are all singing contains three couplets, with each pair carrying a unique expression of God’s desire to benefit His people.Some commentators have suggested that each set reflects one member of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.Martin Luther proposed that each couplet is intended to bless one facet of our being: body, soul, and spirit.So today, we’ll look at the second couplet, which could be considered to be the blessing from Jesus to our souls: “The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”
“Make His Face Shine Upon You”
What happens when the Lord’s face shines on us?In the same way that sunshine provides us with light and warmth and causes plants to grow, when God’s face shines on us, we are enlightened and our hearts are warmed.His light brings revelation and nourishes us, causing us to grow and flourish.
John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, summed it up beautifully in his prophesy about Jesus:
“…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79 ESV)
Light in place of darkness and the shadow of death.
Guidance into the path of peace.
These are the gifts of God’s tender mercy that come to us when the Lord’s face shines on us.
Jesus’ face is shining on you right now. Take a moment to turn toward Him and bask in His presence. Feel His warmth. Welcome His light. Receive His nourishment. Listen for His words to guide you on the path of peace. “Be Gracious to You”
There’s a beautiful Hebrew word here that is translated “gracious”: חָנַן (khaw-nan'). It literally means to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior. Can’t you just picture it? In His kindness, the Lord bends low to show us favor and mercy—to reveal His grace to us. This word is used 77 times in the Old Testament, often to depict God’s kind dealings with His people. As Jacob said, “God has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough.” (Genesis 33:11)
But חָנַן (khaw-nan') goes the other direction, too. It also means to beg, entreat, or plead. For example, David often used this word in his Psalms to cry out to God:
When he was languishing (Psalm 6:2)
When he was in distress (Psalm 4:1)
When he was afflicted (Psalm 9:13)
When he was lonely (Psalm 25:16)
The Lord is bending down to show you kindness right now. Can you picture it? What kind of kindness do you need today? Are you lonely, distressed, languishing, or afflicted in any way right now? Tell God about it, confident that He is more than willing to stoop to you in His kindness and be gracious to you.
Next time, we’ll hear two more examples of The Blessing from around the world and look at the final couplet of this ancient benediction.
The Blessing: Part I
July 26, 2020 - Kathryn Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne Illustrated by Rhonda Bailey
The Blessing: Part 1
Read: Numbers 6:22-27
Recently, my heart has been captivated once again by these powerful words of blessing God gave to speak over His people.A new musical setting was recently written for this passage—perhaps you’ve heard it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp6aygmvzM4
In many places around the globe, Christians from different churches have joined together to sing this song as a way of blessing their nations and demonstrating unity in the face of the COVID19 epidemic.Believers from every corner of the earth are invoking this ancient blessing.Here’s a version from Malaysia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9vJw3tZ7E0
And what a rich blessing it is!Each of its three couplets carries a unique expression of God’s desire to benefit His people.Let’s start with the first pair: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
“Bless” We throw this word around with good intentions, expressing our hope that others will experience good things.But what does it really mean?
The Hebrew word here is בָּרַךְ (baw-rak'), which literally means “to kneel.”At first that doesn’t seem too helpful, but if you ponder that image awhile, it paints a vivid picture.We can “kneel” as we give and receive benefits, to and from God and others.Our kneeling—whether it’s literal or simply in our hearts—acknowledges that whatever benefits are being bestowed all ultimately come from one source: God’s hand.
And those benefits come in myriad shapes and sizes. בָּרַךְ (baw-rak') is used 330 times in the Bible and it includes things like:
Protection from our own foolishness (1 Samuel 25:32-34)
Strength and peace (Psalm 29:11)
Fruitfulness (Genesis 1:28)
Success in the work of our hands (Deuteronomy 2:7)
Health and forgiveness (Psalm 103:1-2)
There’s much more, but you get the idea. And why does God bless us? Psalm 67:1-2 says it makes His saving power known among all nations. In other words, when God blesses us, it causes others to kneel. No wonder the root meaning of “bless” is “kneel”!
Why don’t you take a moment right now to pause and kneel in gratitude for some of the specific ways you’ve experienced God’s blessing?
“Keep” Here’s another Hebrew word that paints a vivid picture: שָׁמַר (shaw-mar') carries the idea of guarding and protecting by creating a hedge of thorns.
But similar to the word for “blessing,” there are many facets to the meaning of this Hebrew word. It’s used 440 times in the Bible, but let’s look at just a handful of the ways that God’s hedge of protection might be expressed:
He keeps His covenant with us (Nehemiah 1:5)
His care preserves our spirits (Job 10:11)
He keeps us as the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8)
He protects and delivers us in times of trouble (Psalm 41:1-2)
He preserves us in all of our coming and going (Psalm 121:8)
What are some of the specific ways the Lord has “kept” you? Take a moment right now to remember and savor these times of blessing.
July 19, 2020 - Beth Bankert - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9 KJV)
Jesus said, ”Blessed are the peacemakers..." He did not say," Blessed are the peacekeepers..." I once was a peacekeeper. I despised conflict and avoided rocking the boat. I attempted to keep the peace no matter what and even paid the high price of being dishonest with others and myself. Peacekeeping did not work. When my relationships started to crumble and deteriorate, I sought counseling. It was there I learned the difference between peacekeepers and peacemakers. Peacekeepers avoid conflict, pretend everything is okay, and settle for fake peace where there is no resolve or restoration. Peacekeepers hide behind a mask trying to look humble and virtuous. They hide their heads in the sand while life falls apart around them. They are not about their relationships or the other person. They just want the conflict to go away at any cost. This creates a toxic environment and usually leads to breakdown in relationships or with oneself. Peacekeepers believe it is their responsibility to keep the peace, finding it difficult to trust God and His wonder-working power. Peacemakers, on the other hand, are usually painfully honest with how they are feeling about themselves and others. They are willing to live in the tension until true and lasting reconciliation and restoration have occurred. Peacemakers are all about restoring relationship....they value their relationship over being right. Peacemakers are usually authentic people. They may not like tension or conflict, but they don't hide from it either. Peacemakers believe God wants to bring peace, will bring peace, and has brought peace. They trust Him with the hard stuff. Jesus enters into conflict and tension. He speaks truth to power many times. When He speaks, light dispels darkness, bringing more than one "light bulb" moment for His disciples. Jesus is all about loving the other, and He places a very high value on His relationships with us. He is willing to get dirty while helping us with our messy lives. He definitely is not about relieving the tension — it’s often the tension in our lives that causes us to run to Him, where we find Him waiting and willing to help and restore. But sometimes, at the end of the day, the only result may be to respectfully agree to disagree with one another. Social unrest persists in our nation and communities. It is a spiritual battle in a spiritual war. In our conversations with our spouses, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, speaking our opinion matters, but speaking the truth in love matters more, for it is there that peace can be found. PRAYER:O Lord Jesus, who biddest thy Church to bring all men to thyself; make clear to each one of us his part in the task. Fire our minds with a vision of a more perfect society here on earth in which justice and right, peace and brotherhood, shall reign according to thy will; and helping each one to do our part, that thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. (Methodist Prayer Book)
If You Water It, They Will Come
July 12, 2020 - Janet Mueller - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
I didn’t expect to see him squatting there with his green and brown spotted coat blending in with the still damp soil and tiny weed sprouts.I had come to the gardens early in the day in search of red, juicy tomatoes for a salad lunch later.
“Well, hello there, little frog,” I murmured.“What brings you out this morning?”
Then I remembered how I had watered the garden last night, and the plants and soil were still moist.It’s been a long, hot, dry spell in northern Indiana.We haven’t seen a good rain in days, and the lawn is sun bleached and brittle.The vegetable and flower gardens with their bright greenery stand in stark contrast as they get watered nearly every day.Naturally, the frog set up shop where there was a source of water and refreshment.
I thought back to yesterday morning as I peeked out the kitchen window, the first rays of the sun promising another steaming, scorching day.The gardens were full of birds.They flitted in and out, disappearing momentarily among the green beans and bell pepper plants.Cardinals, sparrows, robins, and finches with little mincing steps danced choreographically in and out of the garden for this audience of one.Tiny droplets of water lingering on the plants washed over their feathers.This was their way of taking a morning shower, I surmised.
“If you water it, they will come,” the words sifted down upon my mind.“The water is intended for the plants, but others benefit from and depend upon it especially in the drought seasons.”
Ah, yes.I see where this is going…it’s our lives, our parched souls, our desperate need of living water.Intentional, daily watering (worship, meditating on Scripture, practicing the presence of God) is necessary for any hope of fruit.But something we might not consider is the secondary by-product of this watering.Others nearby, namely our spouses, children, friends, and strangers alike, all benefit, too.When we are well watered, others are drawn to us as we bring refreshment to them.
As I reached for a tomato, my little spotted visitor hopped away.I breathed a prayer, “Father, when the heat is on and souls are withering, help us live in such an intentional way that when anyone comes near us, they come under the influence of living water.”
“The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.”(Isaiah 58:11,12 NLT)
He’s Holding My Hand
June 28, 2020 - Peggy Lundy - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13 NIV)
When my son was a child, he didn’t mind holding my hand on the way into the store. But when I turned toward the groceries, and he turned toward the toys, the hand holding became restrictive instead of comforting.
How often do we feel the same when God holds our hand? His connection and care feel safe and reassuring when we think He’s leading us where we want to go. But when He takes us in a different direction, we hesitate, we balk, we pull away. We insist on continuing in the direction we were headed. Sometimes, we argue and remind Him of His promises, as if He tricked us into going with Him in the first place.
He stands there, like the patient Father He is, waiting for us to choose. Will we trust Him, take His hand and follow Him? Will we conquer our fear of the unknown, set aside our disappointment, and believe He has only good in store for us? Or will we head off on our own, away from His side, away from His protection, and away from His provision? Are we that determined to get what we want? Will our impatience win the day?
His word to us today is the same as it was to the ancient Judeans, “Don’t be afraid. I will help you.” He will help us overcome our disappointment. He will even help us break free from our stubborn independence. And He will most certainly help us exchange our fear of the future with eager anticipation for each new day. Just let Him hold your hand.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for taking hold of my hand. You are my help and the conqueror of my fears.
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Comer
That's My Dad!
June 21, 2020 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
If you are a father, perhaps you have fond memories of your children learning to talk. Perhaps their mother pointed to you and asked them, “Who is this?” Maybe it took some prompting; “Is that daddy?” before you finally heard the word, “Dada.” Later, there may have been a time when you went to pick your child up at a playground or at school and someone pointed to you and asked, “Who is that man?” and you heard the words proudly spoken, “That’s my Dad!”
It is a natural thing, in most households, for a solid and loving relationship to develop between father and son or father and daughter, a relationship often expressed with pride; “that’s my son,” or “that’s my Dad.” And such a relationship is best developed in the example of God as being our Father. It is not by accident that we look to the heavens, seek out the Creator of the universe, try to define that which is beyond what no human mind can fully perceive, and call Him Father. For that word defines what we really desire of our earthly fathers, -- the one who can fix all hurts, heal all wounds, teach all things, offer wise counsel, and above all, hold us close and let us know we are loved. Yes, we know that our fathers aren’t supermen. At least, after we have matured a little ourselves, we know this. But for most of us, they are super. -- “That’s him, He’s my Dad!”
We never get too old to need our fathers. How many of us have, after losing our fathers, thought to ask a simple question and instinctively reached for the phone; or, how many times have we driven by their old home, just to see if he might be sitting on the porch waiting for us to stop by?”
Shortly before her death in 1989, TV comedian and personality, Lucille Ball, did a TV interview with Merv Griffin. He asked her a very serious and pointed question: "Lucille, you’ve lived a long time on this earth and you are a wise person. What’s happened to our country? What’s wrong with our children? Why are our families falling apart? What’s missing?"
Lucille Ball answered without hesitation: "Papa’s missing. Things are falling apart because Papa’s gone. If Papa were here, he would fix it."
We just seem to know that our Dad can fix what is broken in us. While there are literally dozens of verses in scripture pointing to the importance, the responsibility and authority of the father, perhaps in no place do we find a more direct and poignant example of the father than in Luke 15, in the story of the prodigal son. After this man’s son had acted foolishly and sinfully, in short, after he had become a big disappointment to his father, and after finding himself destitute and starving; this son decided to “face the music,” as it were. He realized more than anything else, he needed to talk to his Dad. Then in verses 20-24 we find these words. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
You know the story, the father did not condemn his son, but celebrated; for, as he said in verse 24, “This is my son who was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.” The story goes on to speak of the reaction of the “prodigal’s” brother and their father’s counsel to him. But it says no more about the redeemed son’s thoughts or actions. So, let us imagine that, later that night, this son might have looked in on his father, now sleeping peacefully, and then looked to the heavens to see the glory of the universe and spoke some very important and healing words from his heart: -- “That’s my Dad!”
Waiting in the Word
June 7, 2020 - Allison Gardner - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
“You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word.” Psalm 119:114 Scrolling, reading, and watching. News that changes moment by moment. It feels so easy to sink into all the information, to pick up and shoulder all the worries, all the while waiting for the next tidbit of news, the next headline.
Instead of waiting in trepidation for the next announcement, what if we wait in the Word? When we can’t control the world around us (and that’s pretty much always), what if we stop waiting for the next ball to drop and instead wait for His presence to fall? Instead, wait for His Word to saturate us, fill us to overflowing.
Wait in the Word. Wait in worship. I don’t know what you are waiting for, but here is a good place to camp out as you wait.
He IS peace. He IS life. He IS breath. He IS I am. He is your friend, your Father, your hope, and your provider. He is your path, your strength, your guide, and your protection. His Word is the greatest love story, the most powerful weapon, the answer to every question, and the light to your path. He is our redeemer, our rightousness, our renewer and restorer. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is a strong tower, a light in the darkness, truth, and justice. There is power in His name, comfort in His presence, and healing through His sacrifice. He IS good. He IS for you. Hope in Him. Wait in His Word.
Prayer:Jesus, thank You that You are all we need. Thank You that Your timing is perfect, and Your plan is sovereign. Be with us in the waiting. Thank You for Your Word.It is what we need. Amen.
Living Together in God's Time
May 24, 2020 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
My current favorite appliance in our house is a digital clock which not only shows me the time of day, but also tells me the day of the week, the date, and if it is morning or afternoon. In fact, if I get up in the middle of the night, it includes notations such as “after midnight” or “before dawn.” I am not really sure why this is necessary because if I am awake enough to read the clock, I ought to be able to look out the window to see if it is dark or light.
In any regard, I find myself increasingly dependent upon this gadget because, not only am I old, addled, and easily confused, but my current mostly stay-at-home existence allows one day to run into the next. Where I used to be able to count on our Sunday church gatherings to bring into correction any drift in my sense of time and space, I now sit in front of my computer watching the live streaming of the Sunday worship, an activity which isn’t all that different from what I do the other six days of the week. Now, I am not complaining about these broadcasts. I appreciate the efforts these folks have made to provide spiritual nourishment during our time of social distancing; aka “house arrest.”
I clearly remember the days when I worked in an office and often traveled from city to city in my employment. I found I was constantly aware of the clock, mentally calculating the time required for me to travel to a given appointment. I got used to defining distance in terms of hours and minutes instead of miles. And often I became weary of that sense of “being controlled by the clock.”
Now, the measure of time is not a bad thing. It was invented by God. He placed the sun and moon and planets in the heavens and set them in motion. He assigned regularity to their courses and taught us to observe their movement. In this way we were given a sense for time. Our year is a measurement of the time required for one orbit of the earth around the sun, the orbiting of the moon around the earth limits the months, and a day identifies a single revolution of the earth. Even the seasons are the result of the tilted axis of the earth as it makes its journey around the sun. God created time, it was up to man to devise instruments for measuring it and learning to use such devices to define and control their activities.
God’s word speaks a lot about time, primarily for the purpose of directing our thoughts and actions toward its perfect use according to His will. There is, of course, the oft-quoted line from Ecclesiastes 3, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” This is followed by a series of opposing thoughts, “A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted, etc.” This and similar passages of scripture speak to living in the will of God such as James 4:13-16 which includes the line, “You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” For, ignoring the will of the Lord is living in ignorance of his timing and is likely to lead to failure and stress.
The Lord also warns against the wasting of our time. This is also expressed in the context of Eccl. 3, but perhaps best in Hebrews 12 which includes the encouragement, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” The clear message here is that we are to seek the Lord and steadfastly follow Him.
Now, it is true that the Lord has not asked us to ignore the effects of sin in the world and the fact that we will experience unforeseen circumstances as well as times of uncertainty like those we are now living. But St. Paul has adequately addressed these in Phil. 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God, and the peace which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Time is important, the Lord’s time. Let us not push ours ahead of His.
How Can We Know the Way?
May 17, 2020 - Kathryn Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way . . .’” (John 14:5-6a )
Thomas’ question could just as easily be ours today as we continue to face the upheaval and uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to our lives.Even though the stay-at-home orders are being lifted in some locations, and a few steps are being taken to allow certain businesses to be reopened, we still have lots of unanswered questions—possibly even more than before.Some of us are asking things like:
How can I know the way when my finances are in complete disarray because of this pandemic?
How can I know the way to help my children when I can hardly figure things out for myself?
How can I know the way forward when I don’t know if my workplace will be safe when it reopens?
How can I know the way to interact with others when some of my friends are taking precautions and others aren’t?
Like us, Thomas and the other disciples were confused about which way to go.They wanted to follow Jesus, but there didn’t seem to be a clear path before them. Jesus’ striking answer is just as apropos today as it was when Thomas asked his question.But it’s an answer with a twist: Jesus doesn’t answer Thomas’ “How?” question.Instead He answers a “Who?” question and points Thomas—and us—to Himself!
So here we are with all of our questions.None of us has ever experienced a worldwide pandemic before; it’s not easy to follow Jesus through this uncharted territory.But He’s welcoming us to engage in conversations with Him about all of our quandaries and conundrums.He has answers for all of our questions, and He knows the path we each should take.He understands our unique needs, and He’ll point us in the right direction.He is more than happy to reveal to any one of us what our next step should be.
And one of the rich beauties of this all is that Jesus’ answer to each one of us might be different.It’s not a one-size-fits-all road: He provides a tailor-made path for each individual. He knows your unique way and mine because He is the way.
So as we face each new question that arises from this pandemic confusion, let’s keep turning to Jesus, who is offering Himself as the way forward.
Prayer I’ve never been down this path before, Lord.I don’t know what to do, and it’s often difficult to know how to follow You.Be the Way for me today.
Key Thought I know the way: it’s Jesus Himself.
May 10, 2020 - Janet Mueller - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
“He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings. His faithfulness will be a protective shield.” (Psalm 91:4 HCSB)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4 NIV)
They were busy.The pair were fluttering in and out of the evergreen bush just outside our front door.More twigs, more grasses, and more mud were needed to line the nest, molded by the female to the shape of her breast.Soon the mourning dove couple had completed their nest and were ready for their first clutch of eggs for the season.
“Wooo-oo-ooo-oo-oo-oo,” they cried their haunting, sad song over and over evoking the feeling of grief for which they were named.This spring as I have heard them, I am reminded of the sense of national and worldwide grief, sorrow, and lament over the coronavirus and the multiple lives it has disrupted and taken.Repetitively, my heart joined in with the doves’ soulful sounds.“Oh, God, oh, God, oh God!” my spirit moaned searching for words but coming up empty.
Shortly, two white eggs appeared in the doves’ nest.Momma bird didn’t leave the nest often but brooded softly and silently, her tiny, black eyes watching me as I walked past the bush on my daily rendezvous with the mailbox.
One day during my dove observations, I became aware that the Holy Spirit is our national Mourning Dove brooding over us in expectation of birthing something new.Just as the momma bird cannot force the eggs to hatch but can only patiently wait, so we, too, cannot hasten this season too quickly.We must wait, under the wings of the emblematic Mourning Dove, for the full work of incubation to take place.
My prayers matched this awareness as I prayed for a spirit of godly sorrow and repentance to come to our nation.Repentance for how we have forsaken God, gone our own way, and lived independently of Him.I was reminded of this Scripture from Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, “For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:12 HCSB)
Day after day, I became increasingly aware how God was faithfully covering our nation under His wings.He had not abandoned us but was carefully brooding over us in this season of abrupt cessation of activity and “sheltering in place.”Will our eyes open?Will there be a new birth from this time?Will there be a Third Great Awakening for our nation?
Key Thought:As we grieve our losses, may we stay under the wings of the Holy Spirit, our Mourning Dove, as we turn our lament into trust and our waywardness into surrender.
Photo credit - Janet Mueller
The God who Sees
May 3, 2020 - Laura Strack - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me!”
“Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!” (Genesis 16:13 MSG)
Her name was Zara. She was small in stature, usually quiet, and not very friendly, and was often rather cantankerous when she was out and about. She mostly kept to herself but would wander out once in a while to roam the halls on the Alzheimer’s unit where I had recently started not only a new job but a new chapter in my life. Zara also had a little bit of a reputation with the staff, who warned, “Watch out for her; she’s a little mean!”
One day Zara had come out of her room and was sitting in a chair in the common area by the nurse’s desk. I was on my way to fulfill some task, in a hurry as usual, and as I rounded the corner where she was sitting, she grabbed me by the hand as I passed by. I remember thinking, “Oh Lord, now what?” but I stopped and stooped down to see what she needed.
Zara placed both of her cold, wrinkled hands on my face, looked me square in the eye, and with complete clarity and compassion said, “Honey, God wants you to know how special you are and that you’re doing a good job. He loves you so much.” She dropped her hands from my face, and turned away, once again in her own little world. I was completely undone! I thanked her and searched for a quiet corner where I could collect myself so I didn’t start bawling like a baby! Right there in the middle of an Alzheimer’s unit, I came face to face with God. He saw where I was, knew what I needed, and cared enough to communicate His love and understanding through the most unexpected of sources. He has a way of finding us in our low places, our fearful places, places we would least expect to see Him.
I began to ask questions about Zara’s history and background. I found out her name, Zara, means “princess,” and she had been very actively involved in church leadership before this disease took over her mind. God didn’t just see me, He also saw Zara. He saw the eternal part of her that belonged to Him, and it certainly changed the way I saw Zara. I took time to read the Psalms or sing hymns and choruses to her on occasion, but I don’t recall ever seeing her do anything again like she did that day.
Life today is such a challenge! We find ourselves isolated from one another because of the pandemic. Fear and frustration have been rampant, but God is not hindered by disease or isolation or fear or frustration. He SEES us. My prayer is that we will encounter God during these times and respond, “You’re the God who sees me!” Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!
April 26, 2020 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
Aging is a fact of life; it is what we do. When we are children, it is a vision of grown-up freedoms which can’t come fast enough. As young adults, it exists as some future calamity which perhaps can be avoided if we just live fast enough and smart enough. By middle age we have realized it is inevitable, yet we don’t know what to do with it; we mostly try to disguise it. As the years pass, we begin to take our aging more seriously, particularly as we deal with those who have died or are near death, and face our own mortality.
A perceived goal is to age gracefully. Some seem to age slowly, others do it more efficiently. For some, the process is an ordeal, for others it is an adventure. For those of faith, it’s a process with a glorious end. Yet it remains for us to live the life we are given, and we do it best if we have learned to age stubbornly.
Now, aging stubbornly does not mean being in denial. It is not about stubbornly denying our mortality. Instead, aging stubbornly speaks to the process in which we march steadily forward with a purpose. It means to acknowledge that God had a purpose for each of us when He created us. Our goal is to work out that purpose, and we do it to the degree we are able to hear Him clearly and follow Him faithfully. St. Paul called it running the race with the goal of seeking the prize of that upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Ref. Phil. 3:14) In short, aging stubbornly is to acknowledge that death to this life is a certainty, but one for which God has a remedy. Ours is to seek it steadfastly, -- that is, stubbornly.
The problem with aging seems to be that the inevitable changes which occur in our person and in those around us cause us to lose focus on our purpose. Rather than to focus on the prize, as St. Paul defined it, we become focused on our immediate situation. It has been said that a sure sign of getting old is when our primary conversations concern bodily functions; those which work and those which don’t. This goes along with the saying, “getting old isn’t for sissies.”
However, we can better handle and actually enjoy our aging when we are able to refocus on the task God has prepared for us. While we understand our greater call to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22:36); we must also deal with the specific task God has ordained for each day.
Trust in the Lord means we maintain a confident vision of the bigger picture while concentrating on the present. It acknowledges that which the Lord God has prepared for each of us from the beginning, and encourages us to live out the purpose for which we have been uniquely selected. We are assured that the Lord will not call us to do anything for which He has not first prepared us. Therefore, any limitations we think we have can be overcome by accepting the fact that we live to fulfill His purpose. And we discover His purpose only as we stay focused on Him, remain steadfast in our faith, and are willing to take just one more step. We live because He wants us to live, and we do it best when we are determined to age stubbornly for Him.
The Long, Dark Tunnel
April 19, 2020 - Peggy Lundy - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
Isn’t spring wonderful? Sunshine, warm days, bright daffodils, vibrant violets, and soft new grass are reminding us life gets renewed. Nature continues to sing as if the only trouble it’s known lately was winter, just like every year since forever. And yet, in spite of all that reawakening, we have been put on hold . . . indefinitely.
Waiting has never been a hardship for me, especially when alone, but I’ve never enjoyed waiting for an indefinite length of time. The ever-moving, shifting date for the end of “hunkering down” is distressing. It’s like being in an ever-extending railroad tunnel, that no matter how long or how fast your train flies down the track, the light at the end is always far, far away. Voices all around you are frightened, nervous, demanding, threatening, and accusatory. You try clinging to hope but feel it disintegrate with the light. It seems as though the darkness could smother you. You take a deep breath, fearing it will be your last. Then you hear a voice of calm in the chaos saying, “Soon. The light will return. The tunnel grows shorter.”
The conductor. Of course! If anyone knows when the tunnel ends, he does. He’s certainly ridden these rails before. Your pulse slows. Another deep breath relaxes your straining nerves. And the tunnel becomes just another part of the journey, another detail along the way.
As we chug along this track through the spring of 2020, remember to listen for the voice of The Conductor. Here are some of His Words I have been hearing. What has He been speaking to you? Write them down. Repeat them until they take root in your thoughts.
“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28 NASB
“I will never leave you or forsake you.“ Hebrews 13:5b HCSB
“My plans are going to bless you, not bring you harm.” Jeremiah 29:11 (paraphrased)
“I make things work together for your good. Especially as you love me and pursue my purposes for your life.” Romans 8:28 (paraphrased)
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 2:11 NASB
“Keep rejoicing, keep praying, and keep giving thanks in everything.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (paraphrased)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Revelation 22:13 NASB Prayer:Heavenly Father, thank You that Your presence is always with us, comforting us and lighting our path. Please, attune our ears to more clearly hear Your voice. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
*credit to Rhonda Bailey (Heartland Church of Fort Wayne) for this devotional's visual content.
For Such a Time as This
April 12, 2020 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
“Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’"
This passage from the Book of Esther speaks of a time when the King, Queen Esther’s husband, was being persuaded to destroy all the Jews of the province. The rules of the palace were so strict that even the Queen could not approach the King without invitation, under the penalty of death. Esther, a Jewess, had been asked by Mordecai, her cousin and a man who had earlier proven his loyalty to the king, to intercede with the King to save his people.To do this was quite risky for, yet Mordecai encouraged her to trust God and do what was right for her people; reminding her that she had been called “for just a time as this.”
We are now in a time when the people of our nation and of the world face an uncertain future. No, we are not greatly concerned that one political party or one ethnic group will annihilate another, (although rhetoric from some quarters approaches such thought.) but we are facing an enemy more feared in that it cannot be seen and no good weapon has been found to combat it. So we are on the defensive and have been instructed to separate ourselves from one another by staying home and avoid unnecessary traveling. And we are finding it difficult. So we are called to make sacrifices, we will have to suffer a little, some more than others; but we can do this, if we trust in the Lord. We can do this because He has prepared us for just a time as this.
St. Paul reminds us that Jesus came to earth in God’s perfect timing. Galatians 4:4-5; “But, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” -- “In the fullness of time” means in God’s good timing. It means, “for just a time as this.”
Everything that Jesus has done and continues to do is in God’s timing. And if it is in God’s timing, it is for our benefit.
Jesus called his disciples, including us, to follow Him, for just a time as this. He healed the sick, the blind, the deaf and the lame for just a time as this. He cast demons out of the possessed for just a time as this. He called us to follow his examples of love and mercy and kindness for just a time as this. Jesus taught us how to pray and to be disciplined in fasting and meditation on God’s word for just a time as this. He showed us how He had the power to forgive sins and taught us to forgive others for just a time as this. He chose to suffer and die for our sins, and promised to send the Holy Spirit to us for just a time as this. Jesus lived and died and walked among us to grant us eternal life, as well as to enable us to be prepared and strong for such a time as this.
Celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord this Sunday from wherever you are, in full knowledge and strength that the work Jesus did on the cross was for you and for such a time as this.
In a Time of Reset
April 5, 2020 - Laura Strack - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
How quickly times can change! I have had periods in my life, as we all have, when personal circumstances have changed, and I found myself at a loss ... fearful, sometimes angry, confused, stumbling around, and unsure of what to do. God has used those times to shape and mold me, teaching me to fear less and trust Him more, to not rely on my own strength but to turn to Him a little quicker, to take time to press into His word rather than leaning on my own understanding. And I have experienced times of corporate change at work, where changes in policies and schedules have affected my life. Change is inevitable, but I can honestly say I have never encountered anything such as the COVID-19 virus and the changes it has brought to all of our lives.
As I have been processing this trial and the ever-changing grid of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past couple of weeks, I keep hearing the word "reset" over and over again. I believe God has us in a time of reset and even though we may not like the restraints, inconveniences, uncertainty, panic, and all the seeming insanity of it all, it is not without purpose. Resets are necessary at times. Maybe the power went out and you need to get back on the right time. Maybe your memory is too full on a device, and it needs to be reset so some of the clutter is removed and it can operate efficiently again. Maybe you fell and broke a bone, and it needs to be reset so it can heal properly and be restored. Maybe you have to reset a piece of machinery so it can make improvements or even a completely new part. Are you seeing these images as I think about things being reset? Timing, clutter being removed for a more efficient use, healing and restoration, something new? Isaiah 55:6-8 (MSG) says, “Seek God while he’s here to be found, pray to him while he’s close at hand. Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking. Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness. I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” I don't know about you, but I am finding I need God to reset my thinking daily and often hour by hour. Am I going to give in to fear, depression, or anger? No, I am choosing to let Him reset my thoughts, emotions, and will. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get there, but I am determined to be reset as I come back to God and be transparent with Him and others and repent of my own wicked ways. There was one more definition of reset from the Collins Dictionary that I found to be the most interesting of all. In Scottish, the word reset means the receiving of stolen goods. What?! Oh, I don't know about you, but I am ready to receive some things back that the enemy of my soul has stolen from me! Things like peace, health, relationships, family members back in right standing with God, and loved ones delivered from the enemy's hands.
Father, Your ways are not our ways and Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Forgive us when we forget and allow our flesh to rule us and we complain or murmur about what You are doing. You are a merciful God, who will lavish Your forgiveness and mercy upon us when we come back to you and turn from our wicked ways. Help us be willing and mindful of the reset You want to do in our lives, both individually and worldwide, as we look to You. Amen.
Don't Inconvenience Me!
March 28, 2020 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
Okay, I admit it, I am a bit discombobulated. I had plans for this morning. This is the day I meet with a small group of men for breakfast. We don’t do much; we are old men, and we mostly eat and tell stories about the way things used to be, while embellishing them a bit to make our adventures seem more exciting than they were. But, this is our ritual it is what we do. Then, the governor of our state has the nerve to order a shutdown of all restaurants. What a terrible disaster, a wrong, an affront, … okay it is an inconvenience at best.
For a few weeks now, I have been watching things unfold in our country as the news about the COVID-19 virus spread, and I perceived that the news media and politicians were using fear tactics to sway public opinion one way or another and it angered me. I kept remembering the warning from President Franklin Roosevelt at the start of World War II, -- “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” -- and believed that we were seeing a real demonstration of that truth. And I still believe it to be a fair warning for this time.
But as I have also watched and experienced the words and actions of the citizens of our country, even those in my immediate surroundings, I am dismayed by the level of intolerance we have for one another, and our totally out of balance reaction to what has really, for most of us, been nothing more than an inconvenience. So we have to stay home a bit more. How many of us have hoped and prayed for a day off, a day which was not full of planned events? So, we have to skip a couple events we would have liked to have attended; so we have to endure a little slower pace. How many of us have begged for “just a little peace and quiet?”
Now, I know I am preaching to the choir here, as I am having just as much difficulty, and at my point in life, the truth is that I really have very little I absolutely have to do. I have all the food and supplies I am going to need for a while. I have heat and water and all these electronic gadgets that allow me much more access to the world than I either need or want. Yet I am fighting the dis-ease of being inconvenienced, of not being able to do what I want, when I want to do it. You see, it is really about pride. It is about the pride of thinking we are in control, that we able to direct our every situation in every moment.
But look around at the panic that is going on. Just visit a store, any kind of store, and see the results. People are panicking over a bare shelf in a store. AND NO ONE CAN CLAIM TO BE IN CONTROL WHEN THEY ARE IN A STATE OF PANIC.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-8)
Most likely you are familiar with this scripture. It may be among your favorites. It is just one of many which calls us not to worry about the matters of the world, but to put our trust in God. If nothing else, once we engage in an exercise of prayer and supplication to the Lord, we will find it very difficult to remain upset by the these mostly very minor interruptions to our routines, and perhaps even find in them an opportunity to do some of those little things that we always said we were going to do someday. Maybe today, is your “someday?” Give thanks for the opportunity this is presenting you.
Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. “ (Mt. 11:28)
Call to Prayer and Fast
March 22, 2020 - Archbishops Ben Kwashi and Foley Beach
GAFCON Chairman Archbishop Foley Beach and General Secretary Archbishop Ben Kwashi issue a call to prayer and fasting for this Sunday, 22 March, interceding against the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, swarming locusts in East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and famine and hunger in regions of Africa.
In these days where global fear and anxiety are on the increase due to the pandemic spread of the Coronavirus, and the exponential growth of locust swarms and famine, we look to our Sovereign Lord God for refuge, consolation, intervention, wisdom, cure, and provision.
We know from Scripture and experience that God acts differently when we pray. We believe that He not only hears our prayers, but that He uses people like our leaders, scientists, and medical professionals to accomplish His will. We pray that God would grant them wisdom, insight and strength in these coming days. We pray that in this time, people will call on Jesus in their pain, suffering and worries and find the rest and hope that only He can provide.
We call on Anglicans around the globe to join together in the Holy Spirit, in prayer and fasting this Sunday, 22 March 2020. Let us pray and fast for our nations:
repenting of our sins and asking God's forgiveness
asking God's intervention to stop the spread of this virus
asking God’s intervention to stop the locusts
asking God for healing for those who are sick
asking God for miraculous provision for the hungry
asking God to use us, his people, as agents of love and compassion
asking God to draw people to himself through the saving power of Jesus on the cross.
“Return to Me with all your heart,” says the Lord, “with fasting, weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who know whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him. Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast.” - Joel 2:12-15
Let us pray: Eternal God, whose son Jesus Christ bore our grief and carried our sorrows, hear us as we pray for those in distress: the hungry and the homeless; the incapacitated and the handicapped; the mentally afflicted and depressed; the sick and the dying; the aged, the lonely, and the bereaved.
Help us, O Lord, who offer these prayers, to bear the sufferings of others as we seek to minister to them in your name, demonstrating your love and bringing your grace to bear in their lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may strengthen one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. BCP, 2019 #44, page 659 Faithfully in Jesus Christ, Archbishop Foley Beach, Gafcon Chairman Archbishop Ben Kwashi, Gafcon General Secretary
Call to Prayer
March 15, 2020 - Archbishop Foley Beach - Anglican Diocese of North America
A letter from Archbishop Foley Beach calling for a day of prayer and fasting regarding COVID-19.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, The President of the United States has called the nation to a day of prayer regarding the coronavirus this Sunday, March 15. As a Province, let us join in this effort, whether from Canada, the U.S., or Mexico. This Sunday, let’s pray and fast for our nations:
repenting of our sins and asking God’s forgiveness
asking God’s intervention to stop the spread of this virus
asking God for healing for those who are sick
asking God to use us, his people, as agents of love and compassion
asking God to draw people to himself through the saving power of Jesus on the cross.
Let us remember the words God gave to Solomon: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
In Christ Jesus, The Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church in North America
March 8, 2020 - Kathryn Kircher - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
“Isn't this the One who opens blind eyes? Why didn't he do something to keep Lazarus alive?" (John 11:37 The Passion Translation.)
Those nasty "Why?" questions. I'd stopped asking them. I had decided it was an expression of trust in God if I didn't even go there. I figured it would be better just to accept what has happened—I wanted to avoid making accusations like the one Lazarus' friends expressed here. Besides, there seldom seems to be an answer. . . . at least not one I can comprehend. These "Why?" questions seem so fruitless.
. . . and futile. . . . and painful.
So when my friend, Judy, passed away a couple of months ago after a dreadful battle with cancer, I didn't let myself entertain the "Why?" questions, even though her death took me by surprise. I really thought she was going to beat this thing and return to the grace-filled, fruitful life of compassion that she was known for. But I didn't want to sound like Lazarus' friends, so critical and reproachful. So my "Why's?" went unasked.
But then I remembered: just a few verses earlier, Jesus had clearly told His disciples what was going on. When they thought Lazarus was just sleeping, He told them straight out: "Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I'm glad I wasn't there, because now you have another opportunity to see who I am so that you will learn to trust in me." (vs. 14-15 TPT) It struck me: What if I've been avoiding the "Why?" questions when Jesus actually wants to share some insights with me like He did with His disciples here? What if He is actually providing another opportunity to “see who He is” and extending an invitation to “learn to trust in Him.”
We’ve all got our own “Why?” questions.And maybe it's actually okay for us to ask them. Maybe the process of asking and listening will draw us deeper into Jesus' heart as we seek to grasp some of His motivations. Maybe we'll actually get some answers—and possibly even some peace—in places where we’re unsettled. We’ve all got our "Why's?" and Jesus doesn't seem to be offended by them. In fact, He's probably glad that we’re asking—that we want to hear what's going on in His heart.
So let’s ask.
Is there something that's going on in your life that just isn't making sense? Have you experienced a painful loss recently? How do you feel about asking Jesus the hard "Why?" questions? Is He extending an invitation to you to ask Him some of these questions?
Prayer Thank You, Lord, that You welcome us to ask our “Why?” questions.We’re grateful for the invitation to wrestle with you about the things that trouble our hearts.Please help us to see who You are and trust You a little more in the process.Amen.
Flirting with Temptation
March 1, 2020 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
As we enter into this first week of the Lenten season in the church, we may find that many Christians, indeed many churches, are tempted to ignore this most important season within the ecclesiastical year. There are many reasons why this may be true but I suspect that one major cause is that we just don’t want to be reminded of the ways in which we have given in to temptation and of our need to repent.
Temptation is a fact of life. It has been from the beginning. Genesis 3 tells the story of how Satan, having entered a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to the point of establishing sin as a fact of human nature. Yet being tempted, in itself, is not the sin. The sin comes when we entertain the temptation. It comes as we cooperate with our enemy by grasping ahold of the tempting item or situation.
In truth, we not only grasp for things tempting but we seek them out. The entertainment world survives on our desire to pursue the temptations in our lives. In fact, the economy of the world runs on the knowledge that we can and will be tempted to buy and possess anything which can be presented to us as “must have”, must do, must see, and must try.
Yet, God’s word fully explains the nature of the temptation; that its overriding purpose is to destroy us. The Apostle John explains sin as existing in three basic forms. “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. – is not of the Father, but of the world.” (1 John 2:16)
Two direct and major encounters God’s people have had with Satan in the Bible involve these three temptations. In Genesis 3:6, Satan presented a counterfeit description of that which God had said was forbidden fruit, persuading our first parents that the fruit was “good for food, (lust of the flesh) pleasant to the eyes, (lust of the eyes) and able to make one wise.” (the pride of life.) Then, in Luke 4:1-13, there is the story of how Satan chose a time, when Jesus was fasting in the wilderness, a time when he thought the Son of God would be most vulnerable and promised him three things. “Food, “turn the stone into bread, (lust of the flesh) promised him authority over all the kingdoms of the world, (lust of the eyes) and tried to persuade Him to demonstrate His power by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple.” (pride of life.)
While these temptations worked on Adam and Eve, they did not work on Jesus. Satan has not given up; he daily works on God’s people using the same three methods as John had stated and he has found ready participants in all people, even in God’s people!
Part of the problem seems to be that we like to see how close to the temptation we can get without, we think, actually succumbing to it. This is a dangerous game. All a person has to do is to hang around with those consistently tasting of the forbidden and, chances are, they will one day stick their finger into the pie. And it can be a very addicting pie indeed.
Each year we are given this season of Lent to call our attention to the sin in our lives and to remind us of the remedy for it. We should not ignore it. Rather, we should do all we can to live the discipline it demands. It can pull us back from the brink of temptation’s chasm.
"God For Us": An Explanation of Lent and Some Suggested Practices for the Season
February 24, 2020 - The Rev. Kristen Yates - The Mission Cincinnati
Lent is almost here, friends, and we are excited at the Mission Cincinnati to journey through this season together. If you come from a tradition that does not follow the Christian Calendar, you may be wondering what Lent is all about.
Well, in the simplest terms, Lent is the 40-day period prior to Easter that starts with Ash Wednesday. It is a time of devotion and discipline as we prepare our hearts for the great celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday. (By the way, the Sundays in Lent are not counted in this 40-day penitential period since Sundays are always feast days.) As we journey through this 40-day period together, we keep a double focus.
On one hand, during Lent, we seriously consider sin and our fallen human condition. If we are truthful with ourselves, during this season of Lent, we say with the apostle Paul “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). During Lent, we admit that we are sinful individuals – that we continually wrestle with pride, self-centeredness, hatred, a need to be in control, envy, prejudice, and many other vices.
On the other hand, we also reflect on the Christian hope throughout the entire season of Lent. Though we are sinful, Christ so loved the world that He died for us while we were still sinners and then He was raised from the dead, opening up the possibility for those who believe to be reconciled with Himself.
Not only that, but he opened up the possibility of healing, transformation into Christlikeness, and abundant life through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. So, in Lent, we are always looking forward to the triumph of Easter Day even as we grapple with the our fallen conditions.
So while Advent (the Season before Christmas) can be said to be about “God with us”, Lent (the Season before Easter) can be said to be about “God for us”. As Greg Pennoyer says, “If Advent/Christmas is a revelation of God’s presence with us, then Lent/Easter is a revelation of God’s desire to use all of life for our wholeness and our healing – the revelation that he will pull life from death. . . . Lent and Easter reveal the God who is for us in all of life – for our liberation, for our healing, for our wholeness. Lent and Easter remind us that even in death there can be found resurrection.” (Pennoyer, “God for Us”, x)
So with this great truth in mind, we enter into this season of Lent with a firm sense of God’s love for us, as well as a desire to engage practices that will open us up to God’s healing, liberation, and transformation.
And so friends, since the earliest of times, it has been typical in the season of Lent to take on some new rhythm of prayer, self-examination, confession, fasting, and giving/generosity. We give up certain habits and take on other habits so that we might we might become more like Christ and so that we might grow closer in our relationship with Him.
Some of you may be wondering, however, “how do we do this?” So, with this question in mind, I have compiled a list of suggested practices that you might take on during this season. You can find it below.
Before you check out this list, however, let me provide the following caution. Please do not feel as if you should do all of these. Especially if you are new to Lent, take on one or two new practices and put your energy into those.
Remember that the point of these practices is not to check off as may boxes as possible but to be self-reflective, to draw closer to Christ, and to open yourself up to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. So consider which practices will help you do this the best in this season. And if you are unfamiliar with these practices, consider coming to Oasis on Wednesday nights, where we will engage in some of them throughout the season. Also seek me out for guidance.
Practices for Lent - Some Online Resources Daily Lenten Devotionals – Take on a daily Lenten devotional. There are many out there, but here are two that I suggest for you:
An American Lent– Given our church’s context, I believe this would be a great devotional for us as a church to engage this season. Written by priests in our denomination, as well as others, this devotional will lead us through a process of understanding the 400 years of slavery, oppression, and racism that have existed in our country and will invite us into a process of reflection and prayer.
Prayer– Consider taking on practices of daily prayer, examen, or lectio divina during this season. You can find explanations of these practices at The Vine and the Way, my spiritual formation blog, as well as find links out to prayer resources.
Fasting and Feasting– Consider taking on rhythms of fasting and feasting during the Season. Here are three articles to help you understand what fasting is all about: “Fasting for Lent” and “Fasting and Feasting for Lent” and How to Fast for Lent. Also, you may consider fasting from a habit, a habit that in itself may not be bad, but seems to be increasingly taking you away from “loving God and loving neighbor”, a habit that is becoming a bit of an idol, is controlling you rather than you controlling it. (i.e., many people give up social media for Lent.)
Reading Scripture– Take on a Scripture reading plan or join a Bible study for this Season. If you are a woman, consider joining Katie Mosley’s Women’s Bible Study this Lent. As another option, Anne Rothaas also suggests this Bible study on Job that you can do on your own. If you would like to wrestle more with some of the content of Anne’s sermon from a couple of weeks ago, this could be a good study for you. Article originally published March 1, 2019
February 16, 2020 - Janet Mueller - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
"Do you recognize this?" my sister asked me in a note accompanied by a photo of a blue blouse. I thought to myself, “No, should I?”
After pondering the photo for a while, I remembered she used to wear a blouse like this back in the 70's. But why was she sending me a picture of it? I called her to ask for an explanation, and she relayed to me this incredible story.
She had stopped at a vintage clothing store, one she had never been in before, in Des Moines. Her eyes landed upon a blouse, and she felt very drawn to it. She kept looking at it and studying it carefully. It was handmade with a hand-embroidered piece in the center. There were flaws in the seams, and the zipper was not sewn in straight.
Suddenly, it dawned on her that she had made this very blouse herself! She wore it when she was in high school 40 years ago in our hometown about 100 miles from Des Moines. How in the world did it get in this used clothing store?
She concluded that she had probably given boxes of clothing to Good Will when she moved into her current house 30 years ago. Someone evidently bought the blouse and just recently decided to sell it in a consignment shop that my sister just happened to walk into that particular day. She bought the blouse, of course, expensive as it was! It was her blouse, now twice owned. Once by virtue of creation. And once by virtue of paying the price.
Have you ever lost or sold something you made only to have it returned many years later? Do you remember the feeling of joyous astonishment? These kinds of stories tug at our hearts because they speak a universal truth to us. That which is created by someone will always hold a piece of their heart. Even if it is sold or lost, it remains theirs in an abstract sense because they were the creators of it. They hold a type of ownership over it because it originated in their mind or imagination.
So it is with our Creator. He made us, and He wants us back. He loves and likes us in spite of our flaws. We will always hold a piece of His heart. Will you place yourself there again?
“And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’” (Luke 15:9 NKJV.)
February 9, 2020 - Allison Gardner - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
Growing up, I had the absolute best dad.He was loving, funny, protective, and wise.I knew, no matter what, he was the guy I could depend on.But when my grandma passed away during my junior year in high school, something changed.The drinking became more frequent, and his behavior became more and more unpredictable. There was one night I vividly remember. I sat on the front porch, staring blindly into the pitch black of night, begging God to make it all better. My dad still wasn’t home. It had happened before, and it would happen again.
That was the night I began gaining weight. It came in waves, and it compounded year after year, hurt after hurt. The weight of rejection and fear, the weight of shame and perfectionism, the weight of anxiety and the need to control. For several years, I carried that weight around.It got heavier and heavier until it was more than I could bear.It was too much for me to carry.But God. He rescued me.You see, we were NEVER meant to carry those weights. He showed me that trading my weights for His was the way to freedom.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
What weight do you need to lose?Is jealousy weighing you down with its chains of comparison?Is the weight of bitterness or unforgiveness sagging your soul?Maybe it is anger crushing you.Maybe it is fear, lust, or rejection. The list is long. The weight is heavy.
BUT take heart. His weight loss plan is simple. Lay it down. Lay it at the feet of Jesus, and run into your newfound freedom that is only possible because of His sacrifice.
Watch and listen with me:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HT5JrK1J6OU Pray with me:Jesus, thank You that You bore every sin and took on every weight as You gave up Your life for us. Thank You that we don’t have to carry this weight any longer, and we can simply lay it down at the foot of the Cross. Thank You for the freedom You give us in exchange for this weight we were never meant to carry. Amen.
Praying or Prying
February 2, 2020 - Janet Mueller - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty. (Zachariah 4:6 NIV.)
“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16b NLT.)
I have been praying for years for the heart of someone I love to be open to Christ.As a simple reminder, I placed some Scrabble tiles on my kitchen window ledge to spell the word, PRAY.This was just a visual prompting to pray for my loved one whenever I stood at the kitchen sink. One day as I was dusting the window frame, I accidentally knocked over the letter A.Now it spelled PRY.In that moment God asked me, “Which will it be?PRAY or PRY?”
Heading to the online dictionary, I read that pry means to move, raise, or open by leverage; to obtain, extract, or separate with difficulty, for example, to pry a secret out of someone.Was I going to trust the Holy Spirit to open the heart of this one or was I going to turn to the leverage I have to pry it open?If through leverage, I am able to get the result I want, will it be the result I would want years from now?Will it be genuine heart change?Will it come from the free will of the individual?Will it be lasting?Sadly, I knew it would not.Only the Holy Spirit’s power will work.
We all have been given good gifts that can serve as leverage to open difficult situations or people.Things like wisdom, persuasiveness, knowledge, strength, beauty, gifts, and yes, even love.“Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20.)How and when we wield our leverage to turn a soul and whether it is in our own strength and will or in God’s way and time, determine the effectiveness.And sometimes God does things without any of our help.Because He can.Because He is God.
For eons of time, He has been opening darkened, deceived, blinded, and broken hearts.He has been reversing circumstances that have been set in stone for years. Impenetrable, immovable, and seemingly unchangeable situations can change in a moment.This one is no exception.Neither is yours.
Pray with me: Father, I yield my leverage to you.Help me to wield it when You say, “Now,” and not a moment before.Give me Your patience as silently and secretly the Holy Spirit works.Amen.
A Child's Confidence
January 26, 2020 - Janet Willig - Heartland Church of Fort Wayne
Hebrews 4:16 (NASB) “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
At some point during most Sunday services at Heartland, two-year-old Zadok Frincke marches across the front of the auditorium and straight into Pastor Dave’s welcoming arms. It makes no difference to him if it’s during worship, communion, or in the middle of his daddy’s sermon. He knows he will always be received with a smile and a hug. When Zadok was just learning to walk, his gait was unsteady, and he would often snuggle longer with his dad. Now he strides confidently, and usually he lingers for only a short time before he’s ready to be set down and released to his next adventure. Zadok can be confident because he has learned that his daddy is always happy to scoop him up and hold him as long as he wants. Many of us smile as we watch Zadok because he’s cute! However, Pastor Dave drew a powerful spiritual analogy, which makes those weekly treks much more than simply cute. We can see in Zadok’s approach and Dave’s response a beautiful picture of our Heavenly Father’s love for us. Each of us can approach God with childlike faith knowing that He is there for us. It makes no difference whether we’re hesitant and unsteady or confidently “touching base” before heading off to our next adventure. He’s always available, always ready to scoop us up, and always happy to hold us as long as we want or need. Now sometimes when I watch that adorable little boy make a beeline for his daddy, I close my eyes and whisper, “Abba, Father.” Lord, thank you that you are indeed our loving Heavenly Father. Please help us to remember that we can always come to you in childlike faith—with full confidence.
I'm Still Here
January 19, 2020 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
A bit more than a year ago, October 16, 2018 to be exact, I wrote an article I called, “How Do You Keep a Tree From Dying?” The inspiration for that article was a large white pine tree which is a prominent feature of our front yard. At that time, the tree appeared to be dying. Its needles were turning brown and falling off, wholesale. I mentioned then that I had inquired of others, and several agreed with me, that the tree had reached the end of its life; I couldn’t bear to think of loosing that tree.
Well, from where I typically sit to write, I can look out my front window, and that pine tree still fills my whole view. It is as full of needles as it could be and looking as healthy as any I have seen. To see this tree in all its splendor, I have to walk out to the edge of my porch, lean out and look upward about 80 to100 feet. Better yet, I could walk the hundred yards of my driveway and look back to where I can see this tree in its full height and breadth. Did I say, it is a particularly beautiful tree? And its still alive!
All through last winter, I kept thinking that I would have to get someone to cut it down for me, yet my spirit kept saying, “Don’t get hasty, let’s see what God is doing.” And sure enough, when spring came, even while more dry needles were falling off, the new growth was evident and new needles began to replace the old ones. A few days ago, I had walked to the mailbox and, as I was returning, I stopped to enjoy the woodland surroundings (okay, I had to catch my breath) when, once again, my eyes focused on this tree. I thought I heard it whisper. “I’m still here!”
But then, maybe it wasn’t the tree I was hearing at all. Instead, it could have been the Lord speaking to me, reminding me of that truth. You see, it has not been a particularly good year for me, or for that matter, for many around me in regard to human life and times. Perhaps many of us are experiencing similar situations. I am rapidly approaching the end of my 7th decade and I seem to be spending far too many hours visiting folks in hospitals and funeral homes. I am a semi-retired priest and the majority of church services I have celebrated recently have been funerals and life memorials. These are sad times for the families involved, yet they are also times when the Lord reminds us that He is still here.
In that October 2018 message, I drew from the Book of Job where God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” This being part of a strong reminder that God is in charge and He has His purpose. If we keep our faith in Him, we will one day understand. We will be with Him for eternity.
Today, I am again reminded of the faithfulness of God. (He heard my cries and restored one single tree, perhaps for no other reason than He loves me.) In this event, I also hear the voice of Lord reminding me of the timelessness of God, that “to everything there is a season;” (Eccl. 3) and He hasn’t asked me to be in charge of this or any season. He does allow me to enjoy them.
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, I can’t predict how long my pine tree will continue to stand erect to welcome me each morning. Current indications are that it will be for the rest of my life and beyond. Yet it could be no longer than the next windstorm. One thing I am quite certain of is that, whenever I am able to humble myself before him and continue to acknowledge that He is Lord of my life, and when I am able to listen, I will hear His comforting voice proclaiming, “I am still here.” And that is sufficient for me!
Short and Sweet!
January 12, 2020 - Kate Krumreig
No fancy words this week. Just two simple questions to ponder:
How have you seen the Lord move in your life and the lives of those around you this week?
When are you going to tell someone about how amazing that is?
A Resolution for the New Year
January 5, 2020 - Kate Krumreig
Are you someone who likes to make resolutions as a new year begins? I am not.
In fact, if I'm being brutally honest, I sometimes scoff to myself when I hear or see others share their resolutions. I think, "Yeah right, good luck with that one. Let's see how long that lasts." I know that is incredibly wrong of me; Who am I to judge? Who am I to put people down behind their back? Would I appreciate someone not believing in me when I am committed to a healthy change in my life? NO! I should never assume someone will be unsuccessful in their goals, especially when they are excited to better themselves. I guess I'm just someone who struggles to see the point in making a plan that will, most likely, become a disappointment. I cannot stand to disappoint others and I very much cannot stand disappointing myself.
Wow, Kate. What are you even talking about? These are miserable words to ponder as we begin a new year in the Lord. I think I'll stop reading now.
Yeah. I don't blame you for wanting to stop. I wouldn't want to keep reading either if I were you...except that, as I've been typing, Jesus has been giving me that "Keep going. You'll get to My point" feeling in my stomach. Ever had that? It's a pretty convicting feeling.
As I've been writing today, He has been reminding me of my incredibly imperfect human nature and His unfathomably perfect ability to forgive. It is only through Him that we can be forgiven of our sins. We read in 1 John (1:5-9):
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
I do not claim to be without sin. Father God, I am a sinner. I am most definitely a sinner. I confess that I have sinned against you and ask for forgiveness, Lord, for my ill thoughts towards others who want nothing more than to do good and be well. I ask that you guide my heart and my mind to do Your will. Help me today and each day to bring glory to Your name. Amen.
I suppose I should rethink that new year resolution thing. What can I resolve to do that will bring glory to my King in 2020? Maybe I should resolve to think before I think, speak, and act? Perhaps I should resolve to spend more time encouraging others and walking with them in their journey?
What will you resolve to do this year for the Lord?
On the Fifth Day of Christmas
December 29, 2019 - Kate Krumreig
"On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me"...you know the words...sing it! FIVE GOLD RINGS!!!
I just love this part of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for so many reasons. First, I currently teach music to about 500 elementary school students and to hear them sing "five gold rings" at you (ok, maybe closer to shouting than singing on the last day of school before a two week break is a more accurate description) is a sound to behold.
Second, I cannot think of this song, particularly this part of the song, without thinking of the version recorded by John Denver and The Muppets where Miss Piggy adds her "ba dum bum bum" to the last 2 times through and the whole crew joins in on the last time. Don't know it? You will now! Click here to give it a listen.
Third, and maybe my most favorite reason, it that it is the first point in the song where things slow down and change what has come before it. The words remain the same for "four collied birds, three french hens, two turtle doves" but the melody changes and becomes, in my opinion, sweeter and no longer monotonous.
Isn't that just like God? Doesn't He jump right in when things feel like they're just going to be exactly the stay the same, when they're boring day after day, when you need things to change? Doesn't He shift the direction of your song? Read these words from Isaiah (43:19):
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
As we finish these final sixth-twelfth days of Christmas, ponder the idea that God is bringing you, one of His true loves, five gold rings. He is doing a new thing in you as he softens your heart regarding all that has happened in your 2019 song. He is making your song sweeter as He makes a way in the wilderness you face. He is preparing you not for monotony, but for new, exciting, and wonderful things to bring Him glory in 2020!
Fourth Week of Advent
December 22, 2019 - Fr. Dale Minor - The Reclaim Ministry
“And it will be said that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him.and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” (Is. 25:9)
Perhaps every adult, while reflecting on their childhood, can remember a Christmas or Christmases when they had high hopes of receiving a special gift and the excitement that grew within them as the great day approached. Perhaps your dream was realized, perhaps it was not. I guess I have been fortunate enough to have experienced both, the realization that my dream gift was not to be obtained as well as the temporary joy of having been given my hearts desire.
I use the word “fortunate” in both circumstances because nearly seven decades of experience have afforded me an appreciation for the gift of anticipation. What I am getting to is the fact that so much of what we desire on this earth has only temporary value and thus can provide only momentary satisfaction; but the anticipation of the gift often leaves us with cherished memories and lasting rewards.
Yet today, I remember with a smile how I longed to find an electric train under the tree, but it never arrived. Later, I would just as fervently anticipate the gift of a new ball glove which I did receive. Yet, I can’t perceive how either event appreciably changed my life one way or the other. However, the anticipation of those gifts has stayed with me; perhaps because I now understand the sadness in my parents’ hearts when they were unable to provide my coveted toy, as well as the joy they shared when they were able to bless me.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote [in my weekly E-Musings] about the traditions of Advent and mentioned that the four candles of an Advent Wreath represent the gifts of hope, faith, joy, and peace. All of these can be seen as subsets of the greater gift of love, the Love that came down at Christmas in the person of Jesus Christ; and they most often are listed among the greatest of our heart’s desires.
Among the several lessons Jesus taught in what we know as The Sermon on the Mount is a section testifying to the Father’s desire to give good things to those He loves, and He loves us all. Matthew 7:7 begins, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” Then, beginning in verse 9, He asks the following, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Jesus then answers his own question for us: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask of Him!”
The issue here isn’t the gift but the love of the Father. Any loving father knows that sometimes the most loving thing he can do is to refrain from giving his child what they are asking for. It will do no good to grant the child his most heartfelt desire if the end result would be to do him harm. Even the harm of allowing his selfish wishes to be granted. But at the same time, a loving father will go out of his way to give his child the things which will benefit him most.
The season of Advent is arranged such to encourage and enhance our anticipation of the Coming of Christ. Not just a remembrance of His coming as a child in Bethlehem of Judea, but anticipation of His coming again to judge the living and the dead. This is an event worthy of anticipation; it is the gift that is assured.
Third Week of Advent
December 15, 2019 - Kate Krumreig
Are YOU ready??
I survive on checklists. Well, checklists and coffee. OK, checklists and coffee and...that reminds me: I need to pick up half and half, romaine lettuce and cucumbers when I head to Aldi later. Oh, I keep forgetting dental floss. And gallon freezer bags, but the double lock ones, not the slide ones. Those things leak every time! Ugh, I need to write a checklist... Folks, this is my life. Anyone else?
I had the pleasure of having dinner with some of my best friends last night and, as we were in conversation enjoying our chips and queso, my friend said to everyone the table, "Wow, it's almost Christmas. Are you ready?" My mind immediately went to my Christmas gift checklist: Mom, check! Dad, check! Siblings, check! Oh my gosh, my nephew is going to love his new BoomWhackers (Don't know what these are? Look them up - they're fun!), Still need to get a gift for my friend Sara by Friday, Tracy, Isaiah... And then my brain made a drastic switch.
Mary. What about Mary? Was Mary ready for Christmas? Was Mary at all aware of what she was about to endure? Would Mary ever know that her son and his birth would be celebrated year after year? Did Mary have a checklist??
My guess is no. I don't think Mary was ready. I don't think Mary was aware. I don't think Mary would ever know and I certainly don't think Mary had a checklist. However, Mary had trust in her God, our God. Mary knew that, no matter what was coming her way, she had the favor of her Lord, our Lord.
I absolutely love the Magnificat - Mary's Song - as is written in the Gospel of Luke (1:46-55).
And Mary said:“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
OK, God. I hear you. Thank you for redirecting my thoughts, not on "the stuff" of Christmas, but on the Christ of Christmas. Thank you for allowing me to spend time, as Mary did, considering Your greatness and praising You for Your mighty works. Thank you for reminding me to be humble, selfless, and to serve only You. Now, that's a checklist.
So...are YOU ready?
Second Week of Advent
December 8, 2019 - The Very Rev. Mark A. Engel - Gateway Church
A Childlike Advent
Growing up in a small, Ohio village with a rich, German heritage, the advent wreath was always a part of our seasonal celebrations, both in church and in our family home. Terri and I continued that traditional, family practice in our home with our children as they grew.
I must admit, that as I reflect upon my own experience of this practice as a child, my mindset was, perhaps understandably, childish. While we read the appropriate Scriptures and prayed the appropriate prayers, the lighting of the candles was, in my view, a countdown to Christmas that focused on the soon to appear presents under the tree and the delicious, big family meal (both of which I still enjoy each year!). My focus was more on the fun aspects of celebrating the Christmas holiday (including the story of that first Christmas) than on a heightened expectancy at the hope and joy of Christ’s future appearing.
Now, like Paul, I am endeavoring to “…put away childish things.”(1 Corinthians 13:11 – NKJV) Rather, I am aspiring to a more childlike advent season. Allow me to explain.
As a child, we lived on the north edge of town on the state route that bisected our village. My father, along with several of our neighbors, carpooled daily to work at the railroad terminal in the small town 4 miles north. Many late afternoons after school, I would wait in our front yard, watching for the carpoolers to appear and my father’s return home hoping for a quick game of “catch” in the front yard before supper. I waited and watched, hoped for and anticipated my father’s return. That is the heart attitude and focus of thought that I desire for this year’s season of advent. I want to be a believer in Christ who waits and watches with hope-filled anticipation of our Savior’s return! Lord, let me be numbered among the saints “…who have loved his [Jesus] appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8 – ESV) Will you join me in a prayerful longing that our hearts and minds will be rightly focused this advent season. Let us have hearts and minds that joyfully celebrate the reality of His first-appearing in the flesh and that expectantly look for His second-appearing in glory…“Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus!”
First Week of Advent
December 1, 2019 - Rev. Heather Ghormley - Tree of Life Anglican Church
In November of 2013 a massive Typhoon hit the island nation of the Philippines. Roofs came off, buildings filled with water and then were swept away and many people ended up hanging on to debris as they floated through the flood. It was a good day to be an able-bodied young man…but of course not everyone in the typhoon had that luxury.
In the chaos of the storm, most people ended up fighting for their own lives, but not Dolores Baculanta and Oscar Macaray. These two workers at a government-run orphanage for about 100 orphans in Palos, one of the hardest hit cities, chose to rescue others. Dolores says she was getting ready to bathe all the preschool-aged children when all of the sudden she heard screams coming from the toddler room of the orphanage. Like most buildings in Palo, the roof was starting to fly off the building and the children were being swept up in an inflow of water. It would have made sense for Dolores and Oscar the security guard to simply grab what children they could see and run for the safest part of the building, but they didn’t. They risked their own lives, forcing their way into the toddler room, scooped up every screaming child and put them into two cribs, which as the waters rose became makeshift rafts. They managed to wheel the cribs out of that room just as the walls caved in and the swell rose. As the water seeped into the hallway they pushed the toddlers from room to room and helped other children crawl on top of tables and any other structure they could find until the waters subsided. Everyone prayed. The cement wall of the orphanage held. And when the waters subsided, not a single child had drowned.
It would have been easy, and even understandable for these orphanage workers to simply seek their own refuge in the face of that horrible storm. Who would miss a few dozen orphans in the midst of what seemed like the end of the world? These orphans have no mother or fathers to mourn them, no one threatening to sue the orphanage if they get hurt. What could a couple of aging day-care workers do against the power of a wind that could lift the roof right off a building? But in the moment, of crisis, Dolores and Oscar didn’t think like that; they had only one thought: save every child we can or die trying. They were heroes.
Of course Typhoon Haiyan isn’t the first time a giant surge of water has given people the chance to be heroes, and won’t be the last. In the Gospel reading for the first week of Advent, Jesus reminds his listeners of the terrible story of Noah’s flood.
Often in movie versions of the flood story, we see Noah and his family trying to save others. We see them begging other people to get in the ark with them…but actually, the Bible doesn’t say anything about that- Noah only saved the people and creatures God told him to save. When you actually read what the text says, you get the sense that the flood was more like how Jesus described it; no one else even saw it coming: “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until flood came and swept them all away.”
No heroes putting toddlers in cribs here. The only people who saw this thing coming were working for PETA; everyone else drowns. This may be the most troubling story in whole of Scripture. It’s not like other troubling stories that tell of horrendous acts done by humans. In this story God destroys the earth. God kills unsuspecting men, women and children not to mention puppies and baby elephants. But according to Scripture, this isn’t just a simple act of violence. It’s an act of judgment, and it’s an act of mercy. The earth had gotten too evil. God couldn’t let it go on like that. Just as in the original sin of Adam and Eve, God instituted human death as both a judgment and a mercy, so now God intervenes in a sick, demonized society, to put an end to the cycles of human torture-it can’t go on forever. It’s got end. So God leaves no mourners, save eight brave survivors on an exotic floating zoo.
But after many days the waters receded and God told Noah and his family it was safe to leave the ark. Then God made a covenant with Noah, “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God puts a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of hanging up his bow and arrow. God won’t be at war with humans anymore.
The rest of the biblical story from Genesis 9 on is about God living out that promise. God did not stop being a God of both judgment and mercy- God is good, which means God can’t just turn a blind eye to evil and injustice. Nevertheless, although every human heart has a taste for sin, God promises that never again will God destroy the whole earth, with only an ark full of righteous survivors to keep things going. Instead, God takes another approach, a costly approach, an approach that requires not just people who can escape judgment but who will be heroes in the midst of an evil age. God selects a people and tasks them not just with staying alive, but with becoming a blessing to every nation on the earth. Instead of an ark, God builds a church- a church not separated out of the wayward world, but engaged in it, inviting all people to be saved. And yet, God won’t let the age of human evil and sorrow continue forever. Another day of judgment will come.
Jesus says that as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be the coming of the Son of Man, by which he means, so will be the day that he, Jesus, returns again to judge the human race. Like we talked about a couple weeks ago, no one will be able to predict exactly when this day will come. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:36) And yet, just like Noah sitting in the ark waiting for the flood, we know that day will come…only unlike Noah we won’t be in the ark. Jesus says, “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left” (40-41). Those of us who trust in Jesus are not going to be on a ready-made zoo on the Day of the Lord. According to Jesus, we’re going to be out with our friends, alongside our co-workers or at home with our family members. And there in the midst of our ordinary, everyday lives, when we least expect it the day of reckoning will come…
In the season of Advent, Christians observe Advent by preparing themselves to greet Jesus. Some people choose to make more space for Jesus by fasting from things like streaming Netflix or Christmas sweets and remembering their need for a savior. Some pick up extra practices of prayer or good works. Thought these practices we try to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our savior.
But preparing for the coming of Jesus isn’t just about getting ourselves ready. It’s about calling the whole world to get ready also! Advent isn’t just a reminder that we personally must be ready to face the Day of the Lord. It’s a reminder that we are called to be heroes clothed in armor of light in the midst of a dark world. We are called to be the ark so that on the Day of the Lord, so that more of the people around us might be saved! That’s why we’re here. Advent reminds us that once we’ve found Jesus our time on this earth has essentially two main tasks. The first is to prepare our own souls for the day we will meet Jesus face-to-face. We do this by rooting out all the seeds of darkness within us and submitting ourselves again and again to the Lordship of Christ. And the second, task is to be heroes- people who help the rest of the world meet Jesus now, so they will be ready on the Day of the Lord.
All I Want for Advent
November 25, 2019 - Fr. William Eavenson - The Mission Cincinnati
It’s happening again. Commercials about new cars topped with giant red bows are filling up the ad breaks in my Hulu shows, rumors of Black Friday specials are creeping into my newsfeed, and for some reason I can’t get that stupid song “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” out of my head.
You know what this means: “the holidays” have arrived. As a little kid, I loved this season. The annual ritual of driving from Atlanta (where I grew up) to Knoxville for Thanksgiving, and returning home in time to decorate the house for Christmas (ALWAYS on the weekend AFTER Thanksgiving!) is deeply etched into my emotional memory. I still have my childhood Advent calendar, and I still remember waiting with my sister outside my mom’s bedroom door on early December Saturdays for “mommy wrapping machine” to finish disguising yet another exciting present we would have to wait a few more days to open. I remember how Christmas Eve used to feel like magic as my mind was a-blur with the mingled stories of Santa and Jesus, lit candles and wrapped gifts. Perhaps what I loved most about those days each year, was how powerful the sense of expectation was.
We lose things as we grow up. Many of us lose our childhood sense of wonder as we learn more and more about how the world really works and that (**spoiler alert!) Santa isn’t real. There are no mysteries anymore for the initiated. Everything in our mechanical universe has an explanation. Some of us lose our joy over what we wanted to be when we grow up when we actually become that doctor (or astronaut), when we actually find that long-imagined lover and start a family and learn that communication is hard work and kids are messy and loud. Some of us lose spouses, friends, or loved ones to divorce, death, or the slow separation of time and distance. And when we stare into the face of our losses, Christmas and “the holidays,” feel less magical and more masochistic; a societal choreography forcing us to move through the motions of a feigned joy that does nothing more than remind us of the good things we used to have but don’t anymore.
I want things for Christmas this year…but not presents. I want my childhood wonder back. I want my friend’s divorce undone, his marriage repaired, and his heart healed. I want people around me who have died this year to come back to life. I want the power to fix other people’s pain, to be able to press a button and end their hurt. I want peace between nations and peace in my heart. I want to lock anxiety in a box and ship it to Mars or drop it in the deepest part of the ocean. I want to see our politics de-polarized, and for us to stop our ridiculous partisan bickering. I want my friends who have lost their faith to find it again. I want to be able to express my love to my family and friends in a way that is clear and not needy. I want people everywhere to have real hope.
I can’t manufacture those things and Santa can’t deliver them. But Jesus can. For the last few years, I have needed Advent even more than Christmas. Because I need intellectual honesty in my faith. I need room to reconcile the hard things I experience with the good things I believe. Advent makes space for this. In their wisdom, Christians in history designated time on the church calendar before Christmas, to live deeply into a season of anticipation and expectation for Christ to come into the world as an infant in the glory of the Incarnation, and to come back again at the end of time as benevolent King of a fully-realized, cosmic Kingdom. In Advent, we wait. We long. We GROAN. We sit with recently exiled Ancient Israel whose people haven’t heard God speak to them in 500 years. We clutch the letter of Revelation desperate for hope and assurance of God’s love for us, alongside 1st century Christians whose friends had been ripped from their homes, strung up on trees in Emperor Nero’s Garden, and lit on fire as mood lighting for parties. And we cry out “how long!?” with our brothers and sisters whose families are driven from their homes by violence in Africa, or whose lives are torn apart by drugs and gun violence on our own American streets. Advent affirms that waiting and longing have always been part of what it means to be a Christian. This season shows me that I can feel deep sadness AND hold on to real hope. I can acknowledge the truth of ALL the hard things in the world, feel ALL of the emotions, and still be a Christian. And Advent also reminds me, that the full range of human experience and emotion takes place between the starting point of our world’s creation at the hands of a God of inestimable love, and its conclusion when Jesus, the Son of that same God comes back to topple oppressors, end violence forever, raise dead people, and wipe every tear from every eye.
THAT LAST PART IS ALL I WANT FOR ADVENT. It’s what every Christian throughout history has wanted. And it’s not just an empty promise. It’s a true and certain hope that we can bank on.
The Apostle Paul says it this way in Romans 13:11-12: “the hour has come for you to awake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So the let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
You may not get back all the things you’ve lost in this life. I can’t promise you will feel the same wonder tomorrow you felt yesterday. But if you are in Christ, you WILL get Jesus: coming back to you at the end of time to set every wrong right, heal every wound, and make all things new. And as Advent reminds us, its okay to WANT THAT. To LONG for Christ’s return and the final repair He will bring, to cry out with every fiber of your being—in grief or in joy—for Him to come back and make our world new. Because practicing that longing is not an exercise in wishful thinking. It is a pressing of our souls into the deepest and most true reality of the universe that is meant to give us ultimate and durable joy and hope: Jesus is coming back to make everything new.