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January 1

O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts. Psalm 95:7-8
 
Be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18
 
“Tis the season,” isn’t it? Along with worship, music, good wishes, family, feasts, gifts we are reminded of why we have this time. Jesus, the gift of this season is the gift beyond compare.  It is a time of worship and listening to the Word of God. It also reminds each of us that we are aways commanded to act on what we know to be right and good. 
 
It is such a time even when we face difficult times during the Christmas season. God still speaks to us and listens to our voices, even when he feels far from us. He still instructs each one of us to be filled with the Spirit. Maybe that comfort feels far away, but it is still there. He listens to our deeply buried hurts that shut out his love and the love of others. 
 
Christmas Day 2019 and a fire breaks out in the Drake Hotel in downtown Minneapolis displacing over 200 people each of whom has suffered losses far beyond that which most of us can imagine. It is a structure which was being used to house those who might otherwise be homeless, or living in substandard housing. Where is the hope? Hope comes when so many generous folks donate diapers, blankets, clothes, etc, until no more can be accepted. Hope comes when the Red Cross and other resources mobilize and step in. Hope comes when fund-raising opens the hearts and wallets of thousands. Comfort may seem far away for many of these folks; yet, they are receiving glimmers of hope through the avenues of the hearts of those who are filled with the Spirit, and who care and reach out.
 
May this Spirit of love and compassion continue to fill hearts and lives throughout the days ahead. God asks no less of us, his chosen family. We are to be filled with the Spirit and to help one another through countless selfless acts of kindness. In giving such we each receive blessings beyond compare. God bless us every one, and he does.
 
Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,
Thank you for being the mender of hearts and lives. Help us to reach out in compassion and love just as you have to each one of us. Help us to forgive others and to live in love as you have taught us to do. Thank you for being there during the difficult times. Amen.
 
Florence Smallfield


December 31

Keep far from a false charge.  Exodus 23:7.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8.

 The writer of Philippians has given us a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution, to think only about what is good and pure and worthy.  Could we keep that resolution, as commendable as it is?

A new year begins for us tomorrow.  What will be new and pure and excellent about it?  The old stares us in the face, unrest in the world, chaos in our national government, starving children, homeless people, diseases, weather disasters, on and on.  We must think about these things if we hope to make a difference in the lives of people. 

Our congregation boasts a new member, born in September.  A babe in arms, he joins another boy about a year older who is joyfully exploring his surroundings on pudgy little legs.  Both have a parent who leads us in worship. If there is an appropriate word for the futures of these two babes, I would choose hope.

Hope that they will both grow strong and healthy, hope that they will be the future of our church. 

Hope is what we need as we face this new year.  Hope, instilled in us by a loving God who knows what we need as imperfect beings in this imperfect world.  “And this hope will never disappoint us because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts.”

Romans 5:5.

Happy New Year.  Be at peace.

Loving God, help us to face this new year with confidence in your promises.  Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to guide us each day.  We long for peace and justice in our world.  Give us what we need to do our part.  Amen

Joan Perlich



December 30

“This assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear.”  1 Samuel 17:47

“A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”  James 3:18

“Peace on earth …” we sang.  Peace is elusive.  Even an optimist such as myself knows an end to fighting isn’t likely.  Human beings are too self-centered and greedy for control and possessions.  There are cultures where vengeance is a sign of strength and honor, expected and accepted.   Grudges last for lifetimes, generations, centuries.    We need a savior.

Even if our nation is not at war many live in cities and neighborhoods with gang violence; drive-by late night, early morning, anytime shootings.  Even if our neighborhood feels secure and free of violence, there is division within homes and relationships.  Peace would be heavenly but I can’t sleep, struggling with my own doubts and insecurities, anxieties and worries.  I need a savior.

“… and good will to all” we sang.  “Let’s share God’s peace with one another” the pastor says … my pew, pews close by, a wave across the church.  The pastor really means … Share God’s peace beyond the church walls, beyond one hour of worship time.  If I needle and barb I am sharpening my sword.  If I respond in anger or hurtful cynicism I am not forging plowshares.  If I am filled with fear and mistrust, a mean fighting spirit, if I am quick to react in anger, live with anger, cannot forgive, I am not a peacemaker.  I need a savior.

Isaiah said he would be called Wonderful Counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father … the Prince of Peace; that a little child would lead us to peace.  They named him Jesus – for he will save his people from their sins. 

May “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Amen  (Phil 4:7)

Verla Olson



December 20

Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Isaiah 50:2

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us. Ephesians 1:18-19 NIV

We are blessed to be chosen by God as his adopted children. He sacrificed his son, Christ, to give us redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ and therefore, forgiveness of our trespasses. He has lavished us with the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:4-8 paraphrased).

His power inspires us. There is no other baby whose birth is celebrated as is the birth of Jesus. As we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we are reminded that because Jesus was born, died, and rose again on the behalf of each one of us, we are inheritors of the hope to which he called us; that is the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints. No matter what, God is there to redeem each one of us. May we rejoice in this marvelous inheritance and share this good news during this season of celebration, and reach out to those who feel lost.

Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,

It is a glorious gift that we have been chosen as your adopted children and inheritors of eternal life. Thank you for never giving up on us and for welcoming us back into your fold no matter what has caused us to stray. Let us share the good news of you glorious inheritance. Help us to realize again and again what a marvelous gift it is for each of us to be counted among the saints. Amen.

Florence Smallfield



December 18

The God of heaven is the one who will give us success, and we his servants are going to start building. Nehemiah 2:20 

We are God’s fellow workers. I Corinthians 3:9

That is such a simple sentence: “We are God’s fellow workers.” We often hear that God has no hands but ours; things that He wants accomplished are to be done by us. In this chapter of I Corinthians, Paul writes about divisions in the church, those who want credit for their contributions, or only follow certain leaders. As Paul says, various people may plant the seed and even water it, but only God makes it grow. Our part is important, and working together with God supporting us means much can be accomplished.

There are people close to us that we can reach out with our hands to help very directly. There are people across our world that we can also touch. From donating toys and food to local food shelves and projects, to helping with Global Health Mission or purchasing from the ELCA “Good Gifts list we can help those near us and those far away.

We see people using their feet in a variety of walks and runs to raise money and awareness for many causes. We see people using their hands: preparing food and serving meals, preparing shelters for the homeless in this frigid weather, collecting and distributing toys. We hear the voices, carolers and speakers and authors who listen and send the message of God’s love and caring along to the rest of us.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

St Teresa of Avila

 Lord, I think I hear you saying “Get going!” Thank you for leaders who call us to action based on complete confidence in you, the master builder. Forgive and heal our laziness. Create in us a willing, zealous heart and hands ready to work today. God, through your mighty works you created us, your workers. In all that we busily do to prepare for your coming this Advent season, remind us that our work is for your good and perfect will. Amen 

Chris Gabel



December 17

From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised. Psalm 113:3

The night is almost gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:12

I love Christmas….the lights, the pageantry, the songs, the anticipation…Advent, a promise of something wonderful to come. For Christians, that something good is God-with-us, Jesus, born of Mary, the Rose of Sharon, as the medieval theologians would say. He comes to us in a feeding trough surrounded by peaceable animals. The sick and outcast come to him. The poor adore him. He is a well of living water in the human desert. He turns that water into wine of endless supply. He multiplies loaves for us in the wilderness. Jesus is for us the graceful well-being promised from of old. And in his presence, as sign and proof that this is the handiwork of the compassionate God, there is singing.

“Gloria in excelsis Deo!” sing the angels to announce his birth. Glory to God in the highest heaven! Everything makes music. And we do too. Our singing is a gift. It is also (to steal a line from Frost) “a momentary stay against confusion.” For when we gather together, we don’t come alone. Along with us come also the power struggles of spouses, the resentments of children, the toxic waste of landfills, the gunfire of our streets, and the injustice of our economic system. When we gather together, the world is always with us. And in these circumstances, and because of all the odds arrayed against Advent’s beauty and promise, we have no choice but to sing. As people of God’s song we are compelled to believe that sooner or later, the tireless rendition of our singing generation after generation will so bewilder the enemies of love that they will have no choice but to give up and turn themselves in. Sooner or later, a crack of light will appear under the locked door of life, and the door will fly open. Sooner or later, the song will be on the lips of all creation, and God’s hope for the world will come true. When we sing we feel the world we can only imagine. Sing as if you believe that at the sound of our songs, one more generous heart will embrace a stranger. Sing as if you believe that by singing, one day the only sound in the whole creation will be a melody of delight – God’s delight in us, and ours in God. Sing, heavenly bodies in your orbits, stars in your exploding light. Choirs of angels, sing. Sing, a song of healing, a song of resistance, a song of peace. Sing, all the earth, and praise His name.

Lord, I praise and thank you for your wondrous ways. You are light and life to me. I claim this day for your glory. May each moment be a gift from your hand lived in the light of your truth, and song. Amen.

Peace, Susan Hanson

p.s. my annual Christmas devotion.



December 16

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”  Isaiah 49:15

“I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,”  Romans 8:38-39

After 42 years I still recall the focus, having to will myself to concentrate on anything else, other than that upcoming, amazing, life-changing event – childbirth.  What greater love could there be?

After centuries of human bad behavior, an endless list of wrongs, “the Word became flesh, and lived among us.” (John 1:14))  One would think that during the season of Advent our focus would be on the upcoming birth of Jesus Christ, amazing and life-changing indeed, our Savior, our messiah.  But there’s much to do and little time … baking favorite sweets, shopping for something thoughtful, remembering loved ones with cards and notes.  Each of these is a good thing in itself but too many things on our minds can divert our focus away from the Christ child, God’s gift of grace given to us.  Preoccupied with places to go and things to do we can separate ourselves from God; but God will never separate from us – Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. 

“And the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:4)  It is a time of year when we are motivated to give to those we don’t personally know … extra for toys and food shelves, mitten trees, pigs and goats, those red kettles!  God is love 24/7, 365 … all year long, all life-long.  Loving and giving are not seasonal, but a way of life.  And next year we will have an extra day of God’s love poured out upon us(!), an extra day to pass it along to others. 

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans— and all that lives and moves upon them.  He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused—and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”   ―Sigrid Undset
 
Verla Olson

 



December 11

Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord. Genesis 6:8 

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. . Colossians 2:6-7   NIV

We all know this story of Noah, and the flood, and a lot of animals crammed into an Ark.  God was displeased seeing the way the people He created behaved in the world they had been given. It says in Genesis that He was grieved and His heart was filled with pain. So, God had decided to send a flood and wipe out all the people, and animals and creeping creatures and birds. Then maybe start over again with a new Creation?  All new people and animals?

Not quite, however, since we read that Noah found favor with God. He was a just man; he tried to be obedient to God’s plan. He was not perfect, no one is, but he tried to please God. So gets to spend years building an ark, filling it up with pairs of animals, and probably endures a lot of ridicule from his neighbors. Then God’s favor, or grace, is with Noah. His family is saved, the animals and birds are all there too and things can start over again.

Today as we read the paper and see the news on TV and other media, we might wonder if God is feeling that same displeasure and grief with what He sees in our world. Is He going to pick out someone to build an ark or the equivalent to save a few people and animals? God has a different plan, one that He has had ready for us since Creation. He sent Jesus, His Son, for all the people in the world. As we receive Him as Lord we may initially be filled with joy; sometimes this fades. Paul warns us that we need to continue to live our lives in Jesus. Remain to be strengthened in our faith as we meet with other Christians. We learn and in turn teach others. And, never forget to be so thankful that we are overflowing with thankfulness for God’s grace and salvation for each and every one of us.

Thank you, Lord for being present and alive in us. Eternal God, we give thanks that we may count ourselves as part of the heritage of faith. We praise you for your favor bestowed on generations that came before, as well as on those that will come after. Anchor us in your love. Build up our faith, helping us to respond to your call as Noah did. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Chris Gabel



December 10

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore. Psalm, 125:2

God will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:8

There are two kinds of people when it comes to comfort, those who need it and those who give it.

Maybe you could use some comfort from God or from other people. Life is tough, jobs are lost, homes are lost, and people are cruel to each other.  Then there are those who need to provide comfort. You know, the whole people need people thing

The apostle Paul was a hand holder, and he was an encourager, and he encouraged other people to in turn to help and comfort each other. And this is very important because we become hardened, we can become cynical, and we can forget that people need people. We have to be reminded that God wants us to have soft hearts, not hard hearts.

“God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.”

Lord God, what a comfort to hear that you surround me in such a marvelous fashion! Forgive me for not always seeing that you are doing this for me. Open my eyes to see where you are present and working in my life so that I can encourage someone else in their walk with you. Amen.

Peace,

Susan Hanson



December 4

I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake. 2 Kings 19:34 

Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. Acts 9:31

The city of Jerusalem is important to the Israelites. Their temple is there, they believe that is where they encounter the Lord. Having another country conquer it and take the city over as their own would be seen as a sign that the God of Israel was not as powerful as other gods.  Hezekiah the king has prayed that the invaders will not win. And God responds that He will defend that city, the Holy City. It will be defended for His sake – that other nations will see the power and salvation of Israel’s God. One battle, with the angel of the Lord killing lots of the enemy soldiers, and Jerusalem is saved, at least for the moment.  There may have been peace for a while, but further wars and exile ensued.

Can we have peace in our troubled world? In Acts the disciples have been busy, and they have established religious communities in various places. After Saul’s conversion, and rescue, the church has a time of peace. According to the NIV text note, the verse doesn’t refer to any specific church or any formal church, but rather to the whole body of Christians that was growing as the Word was spread.  It is church in the sense of a universal church with the districts listed an indication of the areas where it was Flourishing.

It was a time of peace, believers encouraging each other, respecting the Lord. Jesus had promised to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit and that had happened.  Whether there were times of trouble and unrest, or peace and prosperity. It doesn’t matter. It is always time to gather together, to worship the Lord and accept the Comfort of the Holy Spirit. Although peace in our world is beyond our abilities, it is not beyond the ability of an all-powerful God.

Lord, we pray today for peace that reaches all the troubled spots on earth and in our communities and homes. We praise and thank you, almighty God, for your providential protection that brings us peace. Help us to proclaim this good news and to turn to you each day, trusting in your mighty hand to save. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Chris Gabel