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February 21

But you will not go out in haste, nor will you go as fugitives; The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. Isaiah 52:12 

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1

Ever have those days when things aren’t going so well? The news media reported today that, on average, we have 60 bad days each year. That is about 1 day each and every week. Now, there are days like that when we just want to move along into the next day and leave the current one behind, but one day a week? That must include bad hair days along with all the other problems that crop up in our lives. Bad days where we are perhaps ill, or lonely, or have fears and worries, and maybe feel far away from our friends and even from God.

Isaiah is speaking to the remnant of Israelites as they are to depart Babylon. They have probably had a whole lot of bad days, they are in exile, they are far from home, and far from the center of their religion. But now they have the hope of returning. They are told to get out of Babylon, take the Holy things, and know that The Lord is right there with them. In the translation from the Message Bible, Isaiah 52:12: “But you don’t have to be in a hurry, you’re not running from anybody! God is leading you out of here, and the God of Israel is also your rear guard.” Just like when they left Egypt and God sent a pillar of fire to follow, He again will lead the people where they are to go. And, He is watching behind them so that they will be safe.

We spend a lot of time worrying about what has happened in our lives, maybe dwell on those bad days, and fear what the future might hole. Somehow we tend to forget the here and now, the time we are in that is where we are in fellowship with each other in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. But God already knows all about us and our fears, He already planned our salvation through His Son. When we fear what is ahead, Lord, you say to trust you here and now. When we fear what is already past and gone, you say to trust you here and now.  We need to just remember that God goes everywhere we go and is with us always.

As you go on your way, may God go with you.
May God go before you to show you the way.
May God go behind you to encourage you,
beside you to befriend you,
above you to watch over,
within you to give you peace.                     (Lutheran Vespers blessing) 

Dear Lord, thank you for your Spirit and for your call to trust you right now where we are, for the past, the future, and all moments are in your strong hands.  With you by our side we shall have nothing to fear. Help us to boldly share this Good News with others. Amen.

Chris Gabel



February 19

There is hope for your future says the Lord.  Jeremiah 31:17 

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” John 9:8

We all have things we don’t like about ourselves.  Some are physical things and some are behavior or emotional.  But they all can be changed.   Pretty much everything about ourselves can be changed – where we work, where we live, who we hang out with and so on. We see countless examples of celebrities getting plastic surgery to enhance their looks or to challenge the effect of aging.  We also see programs everywhere to help people change (AA for example).  Or we embark on personal behavior or attitude change when we feel the need to be different or “improved”.

One thing I have noticed about successful change is that there are some people out there who manage to always be looking forward.  They seem to have no regrets or doubts and are simply able to take from the past the lessons and focus their attention on the future.    But there are others, like myself, who sneak a few too many peeks in the review mirror of life and occasionally think a little too long about the coulda, woulda, shoulda of the past.   When I do that, I wish I could snap my fingers and say “Hey!  Pay attention! What happened, happened for a reason.  Just take the lessons of what you learned and keep facing ahead to what hasn’t happened yet.  After all, we can’t undo, but we can do.”

God understands all of this. He understands both groups.  But frankly, I think he wants us to be in the group that doesn’t spend a whole lot of time rethinking the past.  God’s promise includes that he loves us unconditionally. Our knowledge of God’s love and forgiveness didn’t happen because people thought about the past for a long time, but rather because people started living and sharing their faith.  For example, the disciples didn’t get hung up on what they did before they became disciples. They went forward.  I would never consider that trait lucky and imply they were wired a certain way, but I would call it confident – like the confident among us who already know to own their past without dwelling on it.  

So for us, today, as we live and learn and continue to march forward we should be aware and be confident that God – and our family and our friends – love us for who we are, not for what we might have been or could have done.  Indeed, an occasional look in the rear view mirror is a good thing, but let’s not look too long and miss out on what’s in front of us and yet to be.

Dear God, thank you for loving me for who am I and for giving me such good friends and family. Your promise of a hope filled future helps me live confidently into the unknown of tomorrow.

Al Rivers



February 16

he Lord your God has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. Deuteronomy 2:7 NASB

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. John 8:12

Light is necessary for life itself. We cannot live without the results of what the sun does to produce all that we need for sustainable life. Jesus knew that believers would understand the use of his example of walking in light, because all life needs light to continue.

I remember touring Wind Cave in the Black Hills one summer. At one point the guide asked us to turn off every source of light that we had with us. Soon we experienced total darkness. Then the guide turned on one very dim light. The whole room in that cave lit up. Just as that dim light made such a difference in that cave, the light we as believers always have with us lights up every aspect of our journeys through life. 

At a recent Stephen Ministry meeting we were discussing what a blessing faith is throughout all aspects of our lives. I see it as the light that shines no matter what happens. Sometimes the light seems dim when tragedy strikes, but it is still there giving any one of us hope in spite of the darkness in our hearts. It seems to shine brighter during times of great happiness and rejoicing, but it never leaves entirely. Just as we learned in the song, “This Little Light of Mine,” we know that the light of Christ in our our hearts will always shine. It gives us hope always.

Dear Lord and Savior,

Thank you for being the guiding light in our lives. Thank you for directing our days and deeds to help us serve our neighbors. Forgive us when we go astray. Shine your light on the paths we tread, that we may walk in your ways.  Amen.

Florence Smallfield



February 15

I know, my God, that you search the heart, and take pleasure in uprightness.  1 Chronicles 29:17
 
Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Ephesians 4:15
 
 
In 1 Chronicles, King David speaks to the people, offering up many talents of his gold and refined silver and pledges artisans to work on the house of the Lord. Soon, the others chime in, giving their metals and precious stones to be used in the construction and decoration of the temple, and all rejoice that they’ve so freely given what they had to God.
 
A few verses later, David praises the Lord, remembering and reminding the others that all of the great gifts that they have pledged to the Lord, come from the Lord. He’s pleased with himself and with the others, knowing that the Lord is pleased with uprightness — that is, being honorable and honest; in this case, giving generously in the service of God, freely and joyously.  
 
As I’ve been reading through the Bible so far this year, some parts are familiar and easy to read, especially the Gospels, being so familiar since I’ve heard them and read them since childhood. Lately I’ve been reading Leviticus, with its detailed instructions of how the priest’s clothes are to be made and decorated, construction of the tabernacle, and the rules concerning all of the different kinds of sacrifices — what sorts of animals and birds are to be offered in which ways for which types of sins, and when offerings of grains may be made (and how they should be prepared first) instead. 
 
I’ve done some thinking about offerings in general, and even considered if there’s any sort of present day burnt offerings that could be or should be offered to God, in our part of the world or others, in search of something that will please Him. Then I remembered a reading from the Bible that’s a favorite of mine both because of it’s message to us and memorable because of its the basis of an anthem that we in the choir have sung a number of times, Micah 6:6 –
 
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
Shall I come before Him with yearling calves?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
or with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give God my firstborn for my transgressions,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
God has shown you, O people, God has shown you what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
 
It’s so easy to complicate things, trying to decide what should be done when it is spelled out so clearly, and something that can be offered to God whether you are rich or poor, or somewhere in the middle.
 
Lord, our Father, you have given me so much, and I too often give into temptation to either spend it on something that will make me happy for a day or two, or hide it away in fear of what could happen in the future. Remind me of how much happier I am when I share what I have with others, who can make use of money and other gifts in the best possible ways to help someone who is hungry or cold today. 
In your holy and blessed name we pray,
Amen.
 
Lynda Tysdal


February 14

Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Jeremiah 7:23 

So He said to the Jews who had believed Him, if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. John 8:31-32 

“The truth will make you free” – that phrase is heard a lot in a variety of situations – all by itself with no indication that it is part of something more that Jesus said. Somehow the implication is that whatever the truth happens to be in that situation, once it is known and spoken the people involved will be free.

This is not quite the truth that these verses from John intend. What happened to the first part of this quote? Those who believed in Jesus and continue in His word – are those who will know the truth. This truth that makes us free is about faith and believing in Jesus Christ.   

Certainly it is important to have truth in many other matters, to be honest with each other. After all there is a commandment that tells us not to lie. But knowing the truth about the weather, or how to do math, or many of the wonders of nature does not really set us free in the sense that John intends.  He is, or rather Jesus is as John reports, talking about those that do believe, and are about to grow in their faith through learning and the action of the Holy Spirit. Those listening and believing have just heard Jesus’ words; they are at the beginning of their faith journey. 

In Jeremiah God tells the people to obey Him, and then He will be their God, they will be His people. He doesn’t need sacrifices, what He wants is joyful obedience, a response to all He has done for them. What a wonderful relationship in this covenant that God has for them. Of course, the next verses we learn that they did not do a very good job of following the law. 

We don’t do such a good job of obedience either. Today, Ash Wednesday, we enter into Lent and focus a bit more on how we fall short of what God intended for us. However, we have the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have heard the truth; we can know the truth and this truth will make us free. When Christ makes us free, He truly makes us free. We are free from sin, free from the effects of our disobedient actions. And, we are free to use the gifts God gave us to love our fellow human beings as God first loved us. 

Thank you Lord for the privilege of serving you. Help us to see that your will is life and peace, freedom and joy for all of us. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to instruct and guide us. Gracious God, we surrender our pride to you in favor of your grace and truth. May we be humble in giving. Forgive us when we resist doing what is right out of our fear and ignorance. Teach us the truth that truly makes us free. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen 

Chris Gabel



February 13

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones. Isaiah 49:13

I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. 2 Corinthians 2:3

I have often asked myself whether it’s right to experience joy in a world so ravaged. If we, as flawed human beings in a flawed world, have a right to joy? Because the world is filled with horrible dangers, and if dreaded things happened to people we love, would they forever after be doomed? If “this” or “that” we re to take place, would joy forever be beyond my reach and I would just never, ever be truly happy again.

It took years of living and learning, and the personal experience of some of those dreaded devastating events, to find out that joy was not something God distributed as a reward to those who managed to live their lives avoiding pain. Joy was, instead, an integral part of our human spirit. I did not need to seek it, I only needed to stop fearing, and seeking, long enough to let it be. I learned that in my own life, as well as in the lives of those around me, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, and moving beyond suffering and myself, by mindfully living fully in that moment………….. joy happens!

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

Your joy in me Lord, is joy to me. Thank you for your comfort and compassion, which let me rest in you. The gift of your Creation both cradles me to sleep and wakes me into the day. Let confidence in your love be my companion as I follow you, especially through the pain of life and death. Amen.

Peace,

Susan Hanson



February 9

Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!  Psalm 3:8

God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:9 (NASB)

I’m pretty sure I’m far from the only person who moans and groans when it’s time to get up in the morning and have to get out of bed to turn off the clock radio. It feels like life would be so much better if only… if I could just be rich and didn’t have to work, if I only had a job that started later in the morning, if only I could win a lot of money and could afford to retire. 

Thankfully, most of the time I come to my senses pretty quickly. Really, all it takes is for me to notice my Bible sitting on the nightstand as I’m glancing back longingly at my warm, comfortable bed, and realize how very blessed I am to have such small things to complain about, how generously I have been blessed in my life, and how much I take for granted. 

My husband and I have jobs where we work a fair and legal number of hours, are paid fairly and are given generous benefits to cover a large portion of our healthcare and dental care. We sleep in a warm bed, in a house with heat and running water. Of course we take these things for granted, but I feel ashamed as I remember how many people, even in our extremely wealthy country, lack what seems like the very basics of life to those of us who are used to them. 

We have food in our cupboards to feed ourselves (and our two cats, as well as affording regular healthcare for them), and even money to eat in restaurants. In remembering to pray for people who are homeless, I forget that millions of people in our country have a place to live, but live in fear of being displaced by rising housing costs, who wonder each day if this will be the day they get laid off from work or how they will stretch their dollars enough to pay for rent and food and transportation. Which will be the one that will need to be skipped this month? 

With that in mind, I pause to read a few Bible verses and thank God for my job and the transportation to get there, and the countless other things that I have to be grateful for, and then I pray for the people who were not privileged to start out on a higher rung of life’s ladder as I did.

Heavenly Father, thank you for what you have given me, which I have not earned but received by your grace, generously bestowed.  Help me to remember to find the good in all your gifts, and to share what I have with others without first counting to make sure there’s enough left for me.

Amen.

Lynda Tysdal



February 7

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:16-17 

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

How close is heaven? I suppose we all have a different version of what heaven might be – a faraway place, somewhere we go after death, the place where God lives. As we go through our daily lives, most of us don’t think much about heaven being something that is nearby. We even sometimes forget that God is not far off, but is near to us.

The story in Genesis, the one with “Jacob’s ladder,” is familiar. There is even the song we all learned at some time, that says “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder.” There is something wrong with our terminology. Jacob did not make this ladder, and did not climb on it. He didn’t have a plan to climb up to heaven and talk with God. He is traveling, it gets dark so he stops and goes to sleep for the night. While asleep he sees this ladder, with angels going up and down, and with God at the top. God speaks to him (doesn’t seem like he actually got to see God.)  When he awakens he is overcome with awe and realizes that God is right there in that place. He calls it the gate of heaven, as though there is an actual place we could find that would allow us to enter heaven. He marks the location, as though it is the only spot to really encounter the Lord.

Then we read what John said in his gospel. We are told that Jesus, the Word present from the beginning of creation, the Son of God, actually came among us and lived among us. While no one can see God, the disciples and people around that time could see Jesus. Not only Jesus, but they were able to also see His glory. They experienced the fullness of His grace and the truth of the gospel. The Good News that we all received through their reports: Jesus is the son of God, our savior, and He is right here among us. We don’t need a special place to go to find this gate so we can enter heaven. God is present throughout all of Creation. The gate is not a geographical location; it is rather a personal experience with God, with Jesus as the door.

Dear Lord, Your glory is all around us: the wind as it blows through the trees, the song of the bird, the morning dew, a child’s eyes! What wonder it is to be alive. We thank you, Lord. Help us to live in the light that streams into our darkness through your example of faith, hope and love, so that others also may find and pass through the door that leads to life – Jesus Christ, Lord of all. Amen. 

Chris Gabel



February 6

Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will help you.    Proverbs 20:22

See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 1 Thessalonians 5:15

Interesting timing…………………………………..

What does injustice look like? Maybe it is the brutality and pain inflicted by people against other people. Pain that wounds the body, pain that wounds the spirit. Finally we can’t take it any longer, we throw up our hands in desperation, and let heaven know exactly how we are feeling. We vent our pain in ways that are not helpful or that maybe even cause us more pain. We are heart broken, and we look for an answer from God. We are crying from our hearts about the rampant injustice and brutally inflicted pain that characterizes so much of the world today.

What does justice look like? Maybe it means putting righteousness into practice – rolling out God’s design and intent for creation. God’s 3-D action to his plan. After all, it is what propelled the Son of God to become human and come to earth.

Picking up broken pieces, hope to harried lives, peace to ravaged hearts, new opportunity to disadvantaged people, a future to those trapped in dead-end living……………God will not remain silent forever.

Injustice and brutality will not be allowed to swallow up and destroy creation entirely. He plants a vision in the heart of humanity – a vision that speaks of the end, and does not lie. A vision that we are all called to wait for. A vision that will surely come.

It’s a vision that we are called to hang on t o in faith. Hard as that is…………..

God is alive.

God is real.

God is in his holy temple.

Believe that.

Wait for that.

How hard is it, Lord, for me to turn the other cheek when I feel offended or victimized. Yet, your words remind me to be forgiving of my enemies and to seek what is good for them. Gr ant me the strength and courage to forgive those who do me wrong, and help me to be loving toward all my neighbors. Amen.

Peace,

Susan Hanson



January 31

I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Exodus 15:1

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. 1 John 3:1 

Because I love music, I often hear scripture as I “sing” it in my mind from an anthem I have sung or heard. It reminds me of the saying, “He who sings prays twice.” Hymns, anthems, solos, and music in many other forms enhance our worship experience and often touch our hearts beyond what the spoken word does. When our hearts are touched in such a way we feel closer to God and are renewed in the knowledge that we are his children.

As a Stephen Minister I have often had the privilege of being with someone near that person’s end of life. In addition to reading the Word and praying with and for the person, I sometimes sing favorite hymns. The Word in song always adds a measure of comfort and assurance to the care receiver. It is a gift to me to rejoice with such a person who has God in their hearts. “Jesus Loves Me” is often a favorite. It is easy and is probably the first hymn the person has learned. It also says what needs to be said, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

“See the love the Father has given us…” In addition to the gift of eternal life he has given us many ways to thank and worship him. To God be the glory.

Dear Lord and Savior,

Our voices lift up to you loving Lord, because we are blessed to be your children and have your paternal love. Help us to love others even as you have loved each one of us. Show us again and again how we can love one another. We praise you for your inestimable gifts to each one of us. Amen.

Florence Smallfield