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December 21

The memory of the righteous is a blessing. Proverbs 10:7

The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Matthew 13:43

Each of our memory banks are stored with memories of those for whom we are grateful; whether it be a spouse, parents, grandparents, extended family, teachers, dear friends, work colleagues, children, etc. How long would your list be if you listed all of these people in your life? Mine would be long as I have had and still have marvelous people who add immeasurable richness to my life. They shine brightly in my memory bank. The legacy of faith instilled in my heart and soul at an early age; the ones who taught me the value of hard work, honesty, sharing, etc.; the ones who taught me to see irony and humor in life; the ones who taught me to listen, have empathy, and value the opinions of others; I could go on and on.

Our Father has blessed us with righteous ones to show us the way to his kingdom. We are grateful for them. Having such a legacy keeps us from being attracted to the darkness. Thanks be to God. We must also shine to transform the darkness around us into light. As the much loved hymn says, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Let it be so.

Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,

You know us well. You know there will be times of great difficulties for all of your children. Thank you for the people who lift us up at such times and who teach us to follow you and your precepts. Let us, in turn, be light to turn the darkness into light in the world. Amen.

Florence Smallfield



December 20

I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.  Psalm 9:2

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.  Luke 1:46-47.

The Magnificat, named for the first line of the text in Luke, is Mary’s hymn of praise to the Lord.  It is also known as the Song of Mary.  After the angel tells Mary that she is to be the mother of the son of God, he also tells her of Elisabeth’s pregnancy.  Mary hurries to her relative, wanting to be of help. Elisabeth is amazed and joyful that Mary should come to her with such news. Mary, also overcome with joy, declares her praise to the Lord.

Mary’s song offers us a look at her characteristic humility and grace.  She expresses gratefulness for what God has done for her and for others.  But in spite of her joy, who knows what other thoughts were going through her mind.  She was facing scorn and strong disapproval from her family and community. 

Women in her circumstance were sometimes killed.  And how would her betrothed, Joseph, react to this news?  Would anyone even believe her? Could she believe it herself?

Mary, a young woman of lowly birth, poor, uneducated, chosen to be the mother of God’s son!

Like Mary, we can praise God for who He is and for what He has done for us and all peoples.  We can sing our songs of joy with hearts full of love.  In spite of circumstances,  we can be joyful for we are loved beyond measure.  Let our voices ring out this Christmas with the good news of Christ’s birth.  Let us be glad.

Most High, Praise and thanks to you forever and ever.  Amen.

Joan Perlich



December 19

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; Psalm 19:7 

All who obey his commandments abide in God, and God abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. I John 3:24 

Many times people are not so happy if they have to follow all the rules. We have rules for many things, parents have rules for their children to follow, and there are rules when driving a car, earning money and filing taxes, safety rules and lots more. There are many rules/laws that no longer make sense and may sound silly, but that are still on the books. Then, if a person doesn’t know a rule, they don’t follow it and there are problems. Rules are in place to keep us safe, to help us live in harmony with others, and to keep society functioning. Sometimes it seems there are just too many rules for any one person to actually know so that they can follow them. 

Then we look at the rules that God has set out for us to follow. The psalmist tells us that the law of the Lord is perfect – no silly rules, no extra rules – just the rules we need to live as He intended. The Talmud says that there are 613 commandments that are laid out in the Torah – 248 Positive ones (the do’s), and 365 negative (the don’ts.) There is however no list of all these commandments in the Talmud. (If you would like to see a list, try Chabad.org, they have one). At the top of any list are belief in God, one God and no other. Then to love Him, fear Him and sanctify His name. You might like # 608, He who has taken a wife, built a new home, or planted a vineyard is given a year to rejoice with his possessions – Deuteronomy 24:5. 

 Of course we have the 10 commandments to follow, and the great commandment that Jesus gave us – to love the Lord our God above all and our neighbors as ourselves. That really sums it up, whether for God’s laws or our own society’s rules, Love God and others. This is not complicated; there are no detailed rituals to follow, or specific words to say. In the Psalm it says the simple will be made wise through God’s work, all we need to do is read it and follow. 

From the Good News translation the verse from I John reads: “Those who obey God’s commands live in union with God and God lives in union with them. And because of the Spirit that God has given us we know that God lives in union with us.” This is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises that He will be there with us, forgiving us when we stray, and giving us wisdom as we strive to learn about and follow His commandments to love one another. 

Spirit of God, enter our hearts and stay for a while. Help us to love you above all else. Remind us of your commandments, for too often we do forget. Give us the simplicity we need to see you at work in the world and give us the wisdom we need to submit to you at work in our lives. Renew and increase in us your Spirit and empower us for your work today.  Amen

Chris Gabel



December 18

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. Merry Christmas.



December 14

“Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshipping them.”  Deuteronomy 11:16

“For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

In 1880, Thomas Edison tinkered with lights on a string. In 1882, a colleague laid such a string on tree branches.  In 1895, the White House Christmas tree was adorned with electric lights (President Grover Cleveland).  The world was on its way toward a billion dollar industry of lights and other holiday decorations that have come to be the essence of Christmas for so many. 

We would agree as Dr. Seuss’ Grinch eventually learned that Christmas doesn’t “come from a store.”  But holiday trappings and expectations can get the better of us when we let glitz and to-do list pressures dominate our attitudes.  It’s easy … indeed people are busy.  And while there might seem an excess of materialism and spending I see some goodness in Christmas traditions.  Lights add sparkle to the dark winter days.  It is good to share cookies and special foods, conversation and memories.  We see love in another’s eyes with a special, thoughtful gift.  Cards, family pictures and letters keep separated friends and family in touch and updated on the year’s highlights and changes.

I received a forwarded email that wisely said Thanksgiving is not a day but a way of life, an activity.  The same is true of Christmas.  We will pack away lights and decorations, vacuum up tree needles, and get leftover baking out of the freezer.  But Christmas is not over.  It is a way of life.  Peace on Earth … light in dark places … thoughtfulness and giving.  The light of God’s grace in our lives lasts throughout the year.  

“Wilt Thou help each one of us to keep Christmas alive in our hearts and in our homes, that it may continue to glow, to shed its warmth, to speak its message during the bleak days of winter…   May we hold to that spirit, that we may be as gentle and as kindly today as we were on Christmas Eve, as generous tomorrow as we were on Christmas Morning.”  Amen                  
                                                                                                                                                                                (Peter Marshall)

Verla Olson



December 12

Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high. Job 16:19 

(Paul wrote): At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. 2 Timothy 4:16-17 

Both Job and Paul are in settings where the people around them are not very supportive. Here is Job with all the things that have gone wrong, surrounded by his wonderful “friends” who keep asking him what he has done wrong. He must have done something awful to deserve all this trouble. Then, Paul has been in court and at his hearing no one of his friends was there to support him. 

Blaming people for their problems is certainly a popular pastime. You can read and hear all kinds of comments about single Moms who are using their SNAP food stamps to feed their families. I have a friend who comments a lot about “those welfare people” as though it is choose to be poor, and need the assistance of our community. Many things can go wrong in our lives, through no fault of our own. Jobs can be lost as companies close, illness occurs that costs way beyond what a person can afford, or natural disasters like fires and floods that wipe out entire towns and all the homes in them. Housing is expensive, it can be hard to both pay the rent and buy food. There are many times when a lot of us feel totally without friends that are supportive. 

For Job, the friends are probably trying to help him figure out what might have been the cause of all his troubles. Rather than support him they talk on and on about all manner of things that could have been wrong. After all, they reason, why would God do such things to a person who had not done something really wrong? Paul’s friends are more likely scared of what might happen to them if they are seen to be supporters of Paul. After all the Romans do not appreciate anyone who preaches a religion that is not worship of the emperor. 

Now for the good part:  God knows all about this! Job knows that God is there in heaven as his witness, a very powerful friend who can vouch for him. And, in the end, all is restored to Job. Paul is very gracious toward those friends who don’t support him. First of all he asks that it not be counted against them – that sounds pretty forgiving.  Then he too knows that God is right there beside him giving him strength. Paul even turns all this trouble into good, as a means to preach the gospel of the Good News. We probably are not in as much trouble as either Job or Paul, and we have that same God and Lord to stand by us and give us strength. 

Lord, you know all too well the frailty of our faith. Thank you for always standing beside us no matter what life brings us. Help us remember that your promise to be with us always is shown in the life, death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us the strength to share this message with the world. 

Chris Gabel



December 5

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. Psalm 121:5-6 

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

Psalm 121 is labeled as a “song of ascents” apparently referring to annual religious pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Some think that this Psalm is a “soldiers’ psalm”, written when David looked for God’s protection in battle. However, it is more commonly considered a “traveler’s psalm”, perhaps written by David when he was going abroad. It reads as a dialogue, of confession and assurance, and when used as a “pilgrimage song” may have been said either by one individual, or a group traveling along together.    

We don’t need to be going on a long journey or certainly not a battle, in order to see where this Psalm fits into our lives. Whether we are at home, nearby, or far away on a trip we are exposed to many things that threaten and distress us. The question then is upon whom do we rely? When there is trouble do we try to solve it ourselves without help? Can we depend upon others to truly help us? Sometimes yes, the immediate situation can be resolved but the distress, and worry may persist. David says his confidence is in His Lord alone. In verse 1 he tells us that he lifts his eyes up to the hills, and asks “where does my help come from”. He answers in verse 2 “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” 

And, He is with us until the end protecting us at all times and shading us from danger. During the time of sun or time of moon – we are protected from everything both day and night. We are protected from all that threatens and distresses us.  This Psalm directs and encourages us to put our confidence in God, and by faith to put ourselves under his protection. We can commit ourselves entirely to His care. 

In I Corinthians this is reinforced; God will be with us and strengthen us until the very end of time. All those worries and things that stress us are nothing compared to God’s compassion and grace. He has ensured our salvation at the end, making us blameless through Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Thank you for your protective covering, God. Your Holy Spirit anoints us with a balm of blessing and a screen of safety. Let us live with boldness and give praise to you this day. God, like a newborn’s mother, you wrap us up in your protecting arms. We adore you forever. Keep us from everything that assails; build us up for our journey and watch over our every step. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen. 

Chris Gabel



December 4

I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord. Ezekiel 37:14

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26

The fable is told of a Bagdad merchant who sent his servant to the market to pick up some goods for him. While the servant was making the purchases in the market place he found himself face to face with Death! In great fear he returned to his master and told him that Death had given him a menacing look and that he must have a horse so he could escape to Samara, a city some distance away. The master quickly gave his servant a horse, and then went to the market place to find Death. When he found him he asked, “Why did you give my servant a menacing look?” Death replied, “I wasn’t looking at him menacingly, I was merely surprised to see him here in Bagdad; for, you see, I have an appointment with him tonight in Samara.”

“I just sat there. I just held Shelby’s hand. There was no noise, no tremble, just peace. Oh God. I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.” Steele Magnolias 

Dying is part of living. Death is not an exception, but the norm. Faith recognizes that living and dying is what all of God’s creatures do. Dying is part of living. That we will die is not open to question. What is open to question is how we die. Dying is part of living, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fear death. Woody Allen said, “I don’t fear death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Dying is the most universal of human customs. And wanting to not talk about dying, wanting to not even think about dying is almost as universal as well. We are sad when a loved one dies. We are afraid when we think about our dying. Dying leads us into unknown territory. Fearing death is a natural, normal human response. It is even healthy to be afraid of dying – our fear leads us away from dangerous situations. It is in dying that we glimpse the humanity of God, who enters human life and human suffering, living and suffering with us. And it is in dying that we grasp the divine destiny of humankind created in the likeness and image of God.

How mistaken we are about death. We think that we are going from the land of the living to the land of the dying. Not so. We are going from the land of the dying to the land of the living. Jesus Christ has said it, and it is so.

Father, when I imagine that I can secure my own safe place in this world, call me out of that foolish fantasy and into your land of promise. When enemies threaten to attack me, show me that your nail-pierced hands are stronger. Help me to learn your song of victory over death so I can sing it for others. Amen.

Peace,

Susan Hanson



November 30

The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone. Proverbs 16:33

Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

God has a plan for each one of us. Also, he has given each of us the ability to decide for ourselves. Will we follow his plan, or will we try to go on our own ignoring his guidance in our lives? Life can be discouraging and difficult. Sometimes it can seem as though God isn’t advocating for us. Our basic needs may be met. Our homes are comfortable; we have enough food; the thermostat keeps the temperature just right; there are friends and family who care, etc.

Yet, life can seem overwhelming. Sickness, death, loss of employment, family issues can loom to make us ignore the blessings we take for granted. We try our best to accomplish what can only be accomplished with the help of our Lord and Savior. His guidance gives each of us hope and a more positive perspective on whatever befalls us.   When we return to letting God be in charge, we can see the light of hope in the midst of all of our concerns. Our concerns may still be real and difficult; however, it is much comfort to walk this walk with the help of God who gives us what we need.

Joseph Scriven said it well in a favorite hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” I remember singing this with Grandma. She struggled mightily and knew well the power of turning life over to God. What a nice memory for me to know the power of faith in her life. How fortunate I am to benefit from a legacy of faith to follow and to share with others. 

“What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry Ev’rything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear–

All because we do not carry Ev’rything to God in prayer!
 

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged–Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness–Take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Are we weak and heavy-laden? Is there trouble anywhere?

Precious Savior, still our refuge–Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer.

In his arms he’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.”

Dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Lift us up to look to you no matter what happens in our lives. Strengthen our faith and help us to share our faith with others. Help us to always know what a friend we have in Jesus. Amen.
 
Florence Smallfield 


November 29

Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.  Psalm 39:4

Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.  Revelation 1:17-18

I love the holiday season.  The decorations, the outside lights that brighten the dull brown landscape, and now our snowy one.  I don’t mind the waiting in line to get a table or to make a purchase.  I feel full of good cheer, (most of the time).

I love the Christmas season in church.  We wait patiently for the Christ child to come again (and still and always). The old and well-loved carols appear, some that we can sing without looking at the words.  We light the Christmas tree and the Advent wreath, buy caramel rolls and poinsettias, donate gifts to Ebeneezer and cookies to our home bound friends. It is the season of giving and light.  It is a blessing in our lives.

Our waiting ends.  The story is again told.  And we rejoice. Thanks be to God.

Holy Lord, I pray for those who do not have Christmas in their hearts. May your blessings pour down on all people.  May we be instruments of your peace.  Amen.

Joan Perlich