Where there is hope

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Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. ~Heb. 10:23-25 (CEB)

There seem to be many people who have begun to lose hope. Those who hunger for life’s basic needs but see no relief; those who see too many problems and cannot see a solution. When there is no hope, there is no life- we lose our will to fight, to trust, or to live.

Sometimes problems seem hopeless both to the victims and bystanders. Hope is inseparably connected to love and faith… God’s love and faithfulness. We can trust and hope that He continues to supply for the needs of many through us and through all the means available today.  Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering because the one who made the promises is reliable”. Empowered by hope in God we can do great things

I begin to lose hope when the world’s problems seem too big to handle. My heart cries out at the needs of others and I begin to feel overwhelmed with the needs. When Pastor Amy Probst said in her sermon series Sharing God’s Abundance the words, “There is too much for us to do everything but there is enough for each of us to do something”, I began to stop looking at the “big problem” of hunger. Instead, I began to see how I could help with “small actions” by collecting food at a food drive, serving meals at the Welcome Table and participating in Crop Drops.

When I ignore a problem, I begin to believe that there is no way that the situation can change. I sometimes find that I begin to accept that that is just the nature of things. I become blind to the need. With the sweet potato drop that I participated in a few weeks back, I felt that each potato I picked up was one more meal for someone who was hungry. The sweet potato drop was a tangible situation where I could be a part of the solution instead of just ignoring the problem. Who knew that hope could come in the form or a huge sweet potato that was too big for the market? Hope not just for the people who would receive a meal, but hope for the people who gave of their time to be a part of the solution.

Through our good works not only do we see hope begin to flicker in the eyes of others but we find by reaching out that hope begins to grow in us as well. Hope is the opportunity to be a part of the solution. As we reach out encouragement goes both ways and the lines between victim and bystander are demolished.

Heavenly Father, May I not become blind to the problems of the world. May I always see with Your eyes and feel with Your heart. May I see “small solutions” to the “big problems” that face our society and be Your hands and feet in the world. Amen.

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Hands to use

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Paul went to the synagogue and spoke confidently for the next three months. He interacted with those present and offered convincing arguments concerning the nature of God’s kingdom. Some people had closed their minds, though. They refused to believe and publicly slandered the Way. As a result, Paul left them, took the disciples with him, and continued his daily interactions in Tyrannus’ lecture hall.  This went on for two years, so that everyone living in the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the Lord’s word. God was doing unusual miracles through Paul. Even the small towels and aprons that had touched his skin were taken to the sick, and their diseases were cured and the evil spirits left them. ~Acts 19:8-12 (CEB)

God is looking for hands to use and feet to go about His work. I may not have anything special to offer, but if I give God a willing spirit He can use me for His good work. Through Paul’s hands, extraordinary deeds were being done in Ephesus. Sweat-bands and aprons of the working men that had touched Paul were able to be carried on to others for further healing. It is important to note that it is not Paul who does these special acts but God through Paul.

This is not the only miracle of this passage. Paul taught in the hall of Tyrannus from 11-4 each day. This was the hottest part of the day when the people of Ephesus slept. It is said that there were more people sleeping soundly at 1 pm in Ephesus than 1am. Another miracle I see is that Paul was so eager to teach that he worked all morning and evening and taught during the middle hours. Also the people were so eager to hear God’s word they came and listened while others rested and slept.

This surely shames me when I think of how often I complain of not having enough time to get things done. What times could I be seizing that I would otherwise claim as too inconvenient? Sometimes I feel that miracles no longer happen. What would happen if I gave my hands for God’s work? In times that might be inconvenient if I gave my hands and feet for His service would I see miracles around me?

Heavenly Father, Help me to do Your work this day. May I not be too tired in my busy-ness. Out of my thankfulness may I be willing to give up the time I think so precious so that I can see You work miracles. Through me may others see Your love. Amen.

Forgiveness

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Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy- seven times. -Matthew 18:22-23 (CEB)

“Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another”seventy times seven”. Forgiveness is the cement of community life.  Forgiveness holds us together through good times and bad times and allows us to grow in mutual love…

To forgive a person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you.” But there is more. Were also free ourselves from the burden of being the”offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.” -From Bread for the Journey,  by Henri Nouwen

Forgiveness may be the number one reason that keeps us from living free. It is hard to extend forgiveness to those who have failed us. Especially when they have failed us again, and again… and again. Sometimes I find myself asking,  “God,  just how often should I forgive?” His reply is, “Every time.”

I know forgiveness sets me free.  But this is one area I seem to struggle with on a regular basis especially when it deals with something I want to be changed and promises have been made and changes don’t come… or come as soon as I would like. But in the quiet of the night, when I am receptive again to God’s voice, I hear whispered in my ear, “Every time.”

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the countless times You have forgiven me. Give me the strength today to forgive again and every time. Amen.

Special

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Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. ~1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

“Special”, my daughter used to tell me means that you are different. Being different apparently means there is something wrong with you. God didn’t make us all the same. It would be boring if He did! There is no comfort when you tell your children that God has made us all different.

Sometimes I too find myself longing for someone else’s kind of different. It might be nice to be more outgoing maybe even flamboyant. Some days I think it might be nice to not be so contemplative and analytical. Although sometimes I do find myself more outgoing than others I cannot change the personality that is me.

Henri Nouwen in his book, Bread for the Journey says this about temperaments, “Our temperaments – whether flamboyant, phlegmatic, introverted, or extroverted – are quite permanent fixtures of our personalities.  Still, the way we “use” our temperaments on a daily basis can vary greatly.  When we are attentive to the Spirit of God within us, we will gradually learn to put our temperaments in the service of a virtuous life.  Then flamboyancy gives great zeal for the Kingdom, phlegmatism helps to keep an even keel in times of crisis, introversion deepens the contemplative side, and extroversion encourages creative ministry.”

Nouwen goes on to say that we should treat our temperaments as we do gifts that help us deepen our spiritual lives. God made different people because He has different kinds of service. Instead of looking at how it must be nice to be comfortable in a crowd of people, I should use my contemplative nature as God intends, in service to Him.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for my kind of different. May I use who I am in service to You. Amen.

Margins

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Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. ~Mark 1:35 (CEB)

It is that time of year again time to schedule, plan and gather information. There is something comforting in the laying out of information and the putting plans on a calendar for me to follow. There is nothing like having “life” laid out on paper (or computer) and knowing where you will be and what you will be doing when. At the same time it is very daunting as well. Sometimes after getting into the new schedule I find there is little or no margin. I have learned just because it works out on paper doesn’t mean that it will work out in real life.

So as I look at lesson plans, art projects, Bible studies, music rehearsals and social obligations, I am reminded that I must allow some breathing room in my schedule for the “what-ifs”.  I am reminded that a schedule that I am able to begin with is not necessarily the same one that I can keep up with. I need room to breathe. I need margin in my schedule before I begin to feel that there is not enough of me to go around. As I plan out how I am going to take care of those around me, I need to also remember to give myself some space.

Jesus realized that he needed times to have space to breathe. He regularly took time to slip away for time with God. No matter the needs of the people there was still his need for quiet to spend time with his Father.

When I don’t plan some margin in my schedule so that I can find places of rest and times to connect with God I find that I can’t keep up with things. Then I find that it is tempting to cut rest and quiet to make up for my lack of time to get other things done. How crazy is that? The most needed things, rest, quiet, time with God are the things that slowly get left out when we scramble to keep up with our life.

Heavenly Father, in my planning help me to stick to the need for margins that will allow me the time I need for quiet, rest and most importantly, time with You. Amen.

The well

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The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”  Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.” … The woman put down her water jar and went into the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ?” They left the city and were on their way to see Jesus. ~John 4:25-30 (CEB)

What was the woman at the well needing? Healing, love, closure. What was it that Jesus was offering her at the well? Real love.  Not temporary, momentary love, but deep lasting love that could satisfy her for all time. She had tried to heal her broken heart, one messed up relationship at a time. Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter. “Where have you been looking for love?” In all the wrong places.

There is no condemnation in Jesus’ questions. Without addressing the hard questions healing cannot happen. “Come to me “, is his reply, “I can give you that true love you long for. Come to me and you will never be hungry or thirsty again. Come to me and I will heal your broken heart.” No matter what we are broken from aren’t these words that need to be heard?

What was the response the woman had to Jesus’ words? She immediately went to tell others what she had found. She wanted to share the good news. She went back to the same people who had probably been critical of her situation. The same people who probably didn’t know that underneath the behavior was deep pain. The woman at the well had found healing, closure and a new life. She was unable to contain the news. It bubbled up from her.

When we look to heal our brokenness on our own or through someone else, we find ourselves going again and again to the wrong places. There is only one Source. When healing is found and joy is complete we find we can’t keep this miracle to our self.  Good news must be shared even to the ones who never understood our pain.

Heavenly father, I thank You for giving me a real love that touches the depth of my soul. I thank You that healing can happen when I take the time to ask the tough questions. Amen.

Moods

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But now thus says the Lord,

He who created you, O Jacob,

He who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name,

you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not

overwhelm you;

when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I give Egypt as your ransom,

Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

~Isa. 43:1-3 (NRSV)

It is so easy to let my moods hold power over me. Sometimes it just sneaks up behind me and grabs on tightly. I struggle for patience. Soon I am snapping at those closest to me.

“Are we condemned to be passive victims of our moods?  Must we simply say:  ‘I feel great today’ or ‘I feel awful today,’ and require others to live with our moods?

Although it is very hard to control our moods, we can gradually overcome them by living a well-disciplined spiritual life.  This can prevent us from acting out of our moods.  We might not “feel” like getting up in the morning because we “feel” that life is not worth living, that nobody loves us, and that our work is boring.  But if we get up anyhow, to spend some time reading the Gospels, praying the Psalms, and thanking God for a new day, our moods may lose their power over  us.” ~Bread for the Journey, by Henri Nouwen.

Reading God’s Word reminds me who walks through the storms with me. He will not let me be overwhelmed. When I am in the midst of fire, He will not let me be burned. God knows my name. He formed me and created me. My moods have no true power. They do not have to define my day. “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (Isa, 41:13)

Heavenly Father, I thank You for this new day you have given me. I thank You for the house I live in, the food I have in my cabinets, and the love of family and friends. I thank You for Your Word from which I can draw strength to face the day. I thank You also for the reminder that my mood does not have to hold power over me. Amen.

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