November 30, Day Two of Week One – The Way of Peace through Hope

Bible 2Luke 24:  13 – 16   “On the Road to Emmaus. Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.”

Word of God Speak      Song Link

God Speak

Word of God Speak

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

REFRAIN:  Word of God speak  Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness 
Word of God speak

I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise
All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice  REFRAIN x 2

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay

Reflection 4Reflection:  As a kid, I walked everywhere.  Walked to the little general store where penny candy still reigned.  Walked the backroads with cousins, talking all the way.  Walked to school, uphill one way.  Walked with my best friend in junior high school giggling about boys and singing songs.  Walked in the woods and along the beach, soaking in dappled leaves and vibrantly messy sunsets. As an adult, I walked the church aisle to my future husband who waited with love in his eyes.

I wonder how often Jesus walks with us, while we are unawares?  Was he with my cousins and I as we walked and talked about the web of dysfunction that ruled mine and my cousins’ lives?  Was his companionship what kept our hearts open to love and to treasure the families that created the chaos against which we would fight our whole lives?  Was his presence there when my best friend and I walked and shared secrets of our hearts and made plans for a future that ended for her at 20?  Was his presence what kept her hope in the future even as leukemia rampaged through her blood?  Was he there when I hobbled the church aisle with a sprained ankle and new heels, on my own, with no father to guide my steps, walking toward the man who owns my heart?  Was his loving hand what kept me steady and fearless about a second marriage? How often was he there, forming my heart into a place of hope, filling my soul with peace, encouraging me with a trove of resilience?

Action 3Action:  How often has God walked and talked with you?  Today, walk and talk with God.  Look and listen for his presence.  Let his heart be yours.  Let go of grievances.  Make a gesture of forgiveness.  Breathe life into your dreams even if they seem far off and unattainable.  Take God with you as you journey toward what your heart desires most.  Feel his steady guidance and find courage in his presence.  Let hope be your way to peace today.  And then again, tomorrow.

Dear God, our greatest thanks for walking with us, even when we don’t see you.  Just as a seed doesn’t need to be told how to grow, fill our hearts with your peace so we know how to grow without hesitation.  Help us to Dear Godwalk with forgiveness, abundant hope and perpetual courage.  In this time of Advent, slow us so we are still and know that you’re in this place. Let us find ourselves in the midst of you.  Walking with you, Amen.

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Random Acts of Kindness Tree

Family Corner Idea for Week One of Advent

Random Acts of Kindness TreeTo emphasize bringing peace through hope, create a Random Acts of Kindness Tree.  Hope brings peace through our sharing of kindness.  Kindness, especially unexpectedly, brings hope to our hearts.

It can be a branch from a tree, a small artificial tree, a tree cut from construction paper and put on a window or a door.  Your children’s imaginations may have other ideas.  The key is you need something that represents a tree.

Each day this week, encourage each member of the family, no matter how young, to perform random acts of kindness.  A random act of kindness can be many things.  Some suggestions are:

  • Holding the door open for people
  • Let others go in front of you when you’re in line
  • Pay for the next person’s order
  • Draw a picture and leave it secretly for someone else
  • Shovel the snow for someone

On the first Sunday of Advent, sit down together as a family and create your tree.  Talk about all different kinds of random kindness.  Consider when someone unexpectedly did something kind for you.  How did you feel?

There are some websites that have many ideas about random acts of kindness individuals and families can do.  Some websites are:

Each evening, have members of the family share the random acts of kindness they did that day.  Write them down on paper ornaments and hang on the tree.  Talk about how it made you feel.  Also, talk about random acts of kindness that were done for you.  How did that make you feel?  What difference did it make in your day?

On Saturday evening, look at the Random Acts of Kindness Tree and talk about what was learned about sharing hope through kindness.  Ask if everyone wants to keep doing random acts of kindness.  Celebrate with a favorite dessert or treat.  Watch the movie Pay It Forward (may not be suitable for small children as it has some sad moments – think Bambi).

November 29, Day One of Week One – The Way of Peace through Hope

Bible 2Luke 24:30-32   “Jesus Has Risen.  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.  When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

Song:  Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone  Song LinkAmazing Grace

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Refrain:  My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

Refrain X2

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God who called me here below
Will be forever mine, will be forever mine
You are forever mine

Reflection:  It may seem strange to start Advent with the story of Easter Reflection 4Sunday.  However, when we celebrate Christmas, are we not celebrating the result of the life of Jesus?  The wisdom of Jesus’ stories that teach us how to act and how to love.  The acceptance of all people, not just the ones that let us stay in our comfortable places.  The forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.  When we celebrate a small babe, we celebrate all that he brought to us with his life on Earth.  When we reflect on a bright star, it is not just the story of his birth that brings us hope.  The peace that carries us through our days is found in the Easter story, the end of a story which was really the beginning.

Action 3Action:  Consider what it means to have eternal life.  Consider how you would be different if you didn’t believe in God’s promise of hope.  Consider the emptiness of grief, the absoluteness of death.  When we attend funerals, we are celebrating the life of the one who has left us and the joy that they have entered eternal peace with God.  It is knowing that they live still that brings a measure of peace to our grief.  “Unending love, amazing grace.”  Give thanks for a God who loved us to send a babe on a night with a bright light that shone with the love of his greatest gift to us.  Live this day with that deep gratitude.

Dear God

Dear God,  like a flood, your mercy reigns, an amazing grace.  Thank you for your love that brings hope to death.  Thank you for the gift of Advent, as we prepare our hearts again to receive the blessings of the story of Jesus’ birth.  Help us to act in ways that honor such a gift.  Keep our hearts humble and wide open.  Knowing your grace is enough, Amen.

The Way of Peace

 

Advent Candles 2

“I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue.”  Pope Francis

The theme for Advent this year is The Way of Peace.  This year we are using the traditional weekly Advent themes to emphasize the Way of Peace.

  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Hope
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Love
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Joy
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Peace

Peace 2

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”  Mother Teresa

In our world today, peace seems to be in short supply.  Our world is noisy, demanding, overloaded with information and technology, filled with ongoing world discourse and multiple situations in own country that fly in the face of all that is peaceful.  What does it matter if we seek a way of peace for ourselves this Advent?  How will it make a difference in the world?

I boldly say it makes a vast difference.  Just as loose change adds up to dollars, small bits of peace dent the noise around us.  Peace begets peace.  Peace can be something as simple as a smile.  When you smile at someone, they will return the smile.  When you say hello, they will respond in kind.  Physiologically, these acts send good nutrients to our brains.  A kind act of peace will encourage the other person to do the same.  Some of my most tender and remembered moments have been when someone has visited an unexpected kindness on me or when I have shown a small kindness to someone else.  When we realize we belong to each other, no matter our differences, we are headed the way of peace.

There is no path to peace

Our own peace reflected outward is how we create peace in the world.  Seeking peace in ourselves and in our worlds – that is peace.  Choosing to respond to our world in a way of peace and not anger or indifference, is peace.  Meaningfully finding ways to accept our own life, wrapped in a context of peace, is peace.

Peace doesn’t mean to not have chaos or angst.  All of us have parts of our lives that are not how we wish them to be.  Peace describes how we respond to the chaos and the angst.  Peace is the God in me seeing the God in you and letting that vision rule my heart and my responses, knowing peace is the path.

Peace I leave with you

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

During the Last Supper, Jesus prepared his disciples for a world after he has left them.  Thomas asks how they will know the way to him if they don’t know where he is going?   Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  He goes on to say if they love him, they will keep his commands.  He promises that God will give them help through the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  He tells them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  And finally he tells them, “Peace I leave with you and my peace I give you.”

This Advent, we will reflect on the way of peace. As we ready ourselves and our hearts for the baby Jesus, we will consider Jesus’ life as a guide to the way of peace.  We will look for ways to walk in peace in our daily lives, in our prayers, in our own keeping of Jesus’ words.  We will look for the way of peace through hope we can offer others.  We will explore the way of peace by the way that we love, by remembering we belong to each other.  We will exult our way of peace through the joy we find in His world and the joy we scatter for others.  Finally, we will share the way of peace by showing the peace that flows within us and recognizing that peace in others, knowing peace is the path.  When we come to the night when the star shone bright, we will stand in the sanctuary, singing Silent Night, Holy Night while the peace of God wraps around us, sending us on our way knowing the true gift that is Christmas.

Peace Be With YouPeace Be With You  Song Link

Life so full I give to you
As the Father sends me so I send you
Spread my light throughout all life
Peace be with you


Dear God,
Ready us, as we journey again through the Advent season, preparing our hearts to seek Jesus through his peace.  Still us, so that we can absorb your peace and not stay the same.  Let our hearts rest in your peace so we can whisper it into our days.    HelpPrayer candle us keep it close in our everyday, reminding us, challenging us to act in peace. Hear our thanks in our songs and our prayers for bringing us a tiny babe that granted us your unworldly peace.  In Glory, Amen.

 

Advent Devotional Dedication and Gratitude

Advent 5Each year, I write the Advent devotional as my way of giving back to my faith community that fills my life with so much love, peace, hope and joy.  Last year we did excerpts from the devotion each day on this blog.  This year, each day’s entire devotion will be posted here.  The devotion in its entirety can be found at Complete Advent Devotional Link

This year I have dedicated the devotional to three friends whose journeys have embodied everything that goes in the container called faith .  I also have to say thank you to the people who help me along my devotional way.  Below is the dedication and gratitude pages from the devotional.

Dedication

“I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;
With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.”

***

Gratitude walks with me every day.  I think it always has because I can’t remember a time without it.

Okay, maybe the year my mom insisted I be a Dutch girl for Halloween, wooden shoes and all. I wanted to be Superman.  My fingers got slammed in the car door as I tried to get that crazy multi-layered skirt in the door without the shoes falling off my feet.  I may not have been hand in hand with gratitude that day.

I have a sign in my writing room that says, “You cannot be grateful and bitter.  You cannot be grateful and unhappy.  You cannot be grateful and without hope.  You cannot be grateful and unloving.  So just be grateful.”  The author is unknown but I’m pretty sure it was scripted by God.

He will be our peaceThis year, I have been blown away by the upbeat spirits of three friends faced with harrowing winds.  Their smiles are not manufactured, their peace is not manmade, their steady faithfulness tethered by a strong belief in prayer is powerfully real.  Micah 5:5 says in part, “And he will be our peace.”   I know this is true because I have seen it in the eyes of my friends.  These three have been my stalwarts of grace, a bottomless sea of buoyant belief that has made my own faith bolder and are my sweet inspiration for this devotional.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jen and I

Jennifer has been a friend for a long time.  She lives in California, I’m in Minnesota.  We don’t talk daily.  Often we go months without speaking.  She gave me a figurine many years ago that sits on my kitchen counter.  It’s an angel, tiredly leaning into the crook of a star that says, “Believe in your dreams.”  It nudges me when I’m slipping in the muddiness of life.   There is a scripture in Thessalonians that says that we should encourage each other and build one other up.  That’s Jen – everybody’s cheerleader.  Even when we tease her about it, she refuses to be any different.

Her breast cancer diagnosis in her mid 40’s last year was a sucker punch for us all.  The woman is vivacious, spirited and energetic.  Cancer tried to take that away from her just as her husband tried to take away her cell phone when she was in the hospital.  Cancer and her husband had a lesson to learn.  She has discovered how to fight for herself, for her health, for her life, for her family.  But it’s not a bitter battle.  Her battle plan is her faith, laced with a strong conviction in the power of prayer.  Part of the plan rests in a gentle acceptance of every possibility.  Her cancer will not define her and she resists every limit it tries to put on her.  She has a robust family life, raising three teen boys and filling her home with extended family.  Her career is manifested by helping people, teaching people, inspiring people.  I have loved this woman for years but this last year has given me a keen appreciation of what she means to me.  The depth of her faith has powered mine deeper.

***

Greg and I have been friends for a long time too but I’m convinced we met in heaven before we were born.  To look at us, you’d never know we shared a soul.  He is a black, married, gay man from Louisiana.  I’m a white, married, straight woman from the Yankee netherlands.  We finish each other sentences as we teach together, can share ideas with a look and know each other’s heart intimately.

Greg and Paul

Paul and Greg

When I learned he had stage 4 colon cancer, I wept.  Then he told me how this was going to go.  Replace my tears with prayers.  Firmly focus on his recovery as nothing else was acceptable.  His mom, his grandmama, his kids, his husband and his siblings had all agreed that a large part of his treatment was going to be positivity and powerful prayer.  The doctors could bring on the medicine for his body but we were doing all the soul work.  His sister started a GoFundMe Page and sold t-shirts that read, “Life Him Up!”   When you look him in the eye, you know his belief in the power of prayer and God’s healing strength goes all the way to the inside of his big toe.   When fundraising became critical so he could get into a highly expensive treatment, we all prayed and shared his story endlessly.  An anonymous donor contributed all the necessary money for the treatment.   When he told me the news, his smile, the joyfulness in his voice, the gratitude for a stranger’s generosity, the sense of God, resonated in my soul and brought chills to my skin.

***

We have known Amber since she was a teen.  She took a GED and turned it into a law degree as a single parent and a captain in the Army.  Last year at this time, she was thrilled to pass the bar and begin her law career.  Tonight, she is sitting in a Denver hospital in the NICU, watching over her daughter Hannah and grieving the loss of Hannah’s conjoined twin Olivia.

Amber Tristan Savannah

Amber, her son Tristan and daughter Hannah

The unexpected pregnancy last winter didn’t change her plans to build a law firm and a great life for her and her 6 year old son.  She was prepared to go forward, with or without the baby’s father.  When the baby became babies became conjoined twins, the father favored termination of the pregnancy.  Amber soldiered on alone, despite medical diagnoses that said her daughters would never be viable, that she was endangering her own health and the proclamation that they wouldn’t deliver her babies in their hospitals.  Her inquisitive, brilliant mind allowed her to understand all the medical terminology flung around by doctors all across the country, comprehend the legalities and ethics of the decisions the medical community had to make and find the one place in the country that was willing to give her daughters a shot at life.  But one abiding belief carried her beyond it all.  Amber believes pugnaciously in the power of prayer.

When she was no longer able to work and terrified she wouldn’t be able to support her son, she launched her GoFundMe page.  We shared her story with our own circles.  And the power of God swirled up a miracle on my Facebook page.  Once Greg learned that the anonymous donor was going to cover the cost of his treatment, he chose to shut down his own GoFundMe page.  Upon learning about Amber and her babies, he turned the spigot of his circle’s prayers and funds onto Amber.

His loving and happy generosity, in the midst of his own crisis, reminded me of a scripture a Sunday school teacher taught me in elementary school.  I could only remember part of it but the internet remembered the rest for me.  2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Greg’s spirit, joyfulness and quiet peace has brought me to my knees in gratitude for his presence in my life.  In days, Amber’s fund grew from a couple hundred dollars to thousands.  The love and caring of strangers for this young woman we love like a daughter filled me with a joyful hope.  God, again, proving to us that love shows up when we believe and pray.

Amber’s tenacious belief in the power of prayer and her soft spoken gratitude brings fortitude to my own faith.  I really thought my faith was lock, stock and barreled solid.  Her gracious example, in the face of every parents’ worst fears and then some, caused me to challenge myself to go to a deeper place with God and allow my vulnerabilities to live in that relationship.  In turn, it has brought me to a more candid place with the world about my faith and my heart.

***

This devotional is dedicated to Jen, Greg and Amber whose commanding faith has graced my heart.  It is in memory of Olivia, whose face I came to know and Dedicationrecognize in sonograms and who sits on the crook of a star in the heavens, watching her sister, brother and mom, whispering, “Believe in your dreams.”  It is in honor of Hannah, a feisty little spirit whose determination to live should propel us all to gather up piles of gratitude for each breath we take.  I am blessed to have them in my world, to inspire and challenge me in my faith and how I show up in the world.  They have changed me, changed my heart, changed my life.

 

In Deepest Gratitude

Gratitude 3“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”  ~William Shakespeare

A tremendous thanks to Pastor Kris for believing in me enough to let me continue to do this Advent devotional.  I have no formal education in religion or ministry.  Yet, she agrees to my doing this work of love each year.  Her example this last year, celebrating and grieving her mom, teaches much about grace and grief.  Easter is tremendously fortunate to have a woman of her insight, faith, compassion and joie de vivre to lead us.

And to Cindy Wilson, who does so much more than make this devotional be a printed page or a web link.  Even when facing her own hurdles this year, she championed me through the writing.   Her photos, her humor, her gentle spirit encouraged me in ways big and small.  To know Cindy is to smile.  The God in her is amazing.

Lastly, to my husband Chris, who journeys with me, ever supportive and always kind.  He makes strangers laugh and inspires those who know him with his gentle and helpful heart.  When you look in his soul, only love resides.  This fall, as I undertook the writing of this devotional, I became seriously ill and was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.  Every day he was there, filling the sterile hospital room with his warm strength.  When I was home, he cared for me with a heart only God could plant.

Each year I learn how much I don’t know in the writing of this devotional.  I discover songs and artists that slam my heart with love.  (Don’t miss Christmas Eve’s song.)  It strengthens my faith, builds my commitment to letting the God in me see the God in others and opens my eyes and soul to the many ordinary miracles that fill my each and every day.  It changes the eyes through which I see this world.

With much love and a humble thanks to all.  May you have a blessed and rich Advent.

thank you

Thank You Lord”  Thank You Lord song link

I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

For all you’ve done in my life,
You took my darkness and gave me your light
Thank you, Lord
You took my sin and my shame,
You took my sickness and healed all my pain
Thank you, Lord

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

Angel in Amsterdam

Last week I traveled 4000 to meet my daughter, Megan, in Amsterdam who was there on a business trip.  Within the span of 2 weeks, I book my flight, secured a hotel and scoured tour guides for sightseeing ideas.  I do not usually travel alone so I was quite nervous the day of my departure.  With my passport, a couple hundred euros and 2 credit cards secure in my hidden wallet, I clasped my travel bags in my fists, threw my shoulders back, breathed deeply and prayed for a safe trip as I hurried to check-in at the Minneapolis/ St Paul International Airport.

Landing at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol after an 8-hour flight and feeling the effects of a seven hour time change, I began to understand the reality of my situation.  My body thought the time was midnight and was ready to end the day but the sun was just rising over Amsterdam. As I took my first step off the plane and into The Netherlands, bright lights, IMG_0045incomprehensible signs and blinking monitors assaulted my senses. Blood raced to my head and my feet walked without direction. I felt as if I landed on another planet.

Trains, buses and trams stopped outside doors, at the end of ramps and hallways.  I asked a tall blonde woman perched at the “informatiebalie” where I might purchase a train ticket – a “chipkaart”.  With a great sigh she winged her arm behind her to the right.  “Dat vay.” I saw nothing discernible in the sea of signs.  I asked again, “Where?” With another sigh and a head shake for emphasis, she threw her arm back just as she did before.

Almost an hour later and with a train ticket in hand, I sat to catch my breath, calm my heart and decide which of the many gates might lead to the train I needed.  I prayed again.  “Oh dear God, help me to think straight, to find my way and and be safe.”  Then with all the courage I could muster, I picked a gate, watched how others accessed the entrance with their “chipkaart” and followed them inside.

I don’t even remember how I finally found my train, but I did.  Nervous and tired I leapt from the ramp onto the train then dragged my suitcases up 5 metal steps to the seating area.  Overwhelmed, I wondered why on earth they have steps on commuter trains?  That thought gave rise to another fear.  Was I on the wrong train – perhaps headed out of town or even across the border?!  My eyes blinked nervously at the screen announcing the upcoming train stops.  “Station Bijilmer ArenA” appeared.  I almost cried with relief.

With the train still moving, passengers bound down the isle anticipating the next stop.  Startled into nervousness again I wondered how much time I had to exit before the train closed its doors and pulled away.  Following the lead of the other passengers, I stood holding one bag in each of my hands and noticing how weak I felt in the knees. The train chugged and tossed the crowd of passengers.  As my right foot touched the third step down, the train lurched, my foot caught and my entire body flung forward.  With a bag in each hand, I watched the metal grated floor speed toward me helpless to stop myself or brace for impact.

While falling, as if in slow motion, my eyes locked with those of a young man in a puffy black coat and wisps of brown hair peaking from a hat pulled low over his ears.  His arms reached up precisely catching both my shoulders in mid-fall. Then in one smooth motion he pushed me back to a stand on the stairs.  With a gasp of gratitude and disbelief of what just happened I blurted, “Oh my God Thank you!”  He nodded his head, whispered something in Dutch and stepped off the train.

Solidly and safely standing on the tiled floor of the train station I pulled my bags to a bench to gather my wits. My body trembled as the reality of how close I came to landing face first on the metal grated floor of a train in a foreign land sunk into my bones.  My mind raced.  How did that man catch me so perfectly? Why was he standing with his back to the train’s door facing in my direction instead in the direction he was headed?  Why did my body stay rigid enough to be pushed up like way?  I could not come up with a logical explanation.

Seconds later gratefulness washed over me.  I was safe, saved from unknown disaster and injury.  My faith told me the man on the train, whether he knew it or not, was meant to save me from harm.  God uses all of us to accomplish his work in different ways. Why not in this way? I felt amazed, encouraged and humbled at the thought of being worthy of this kind of loving attention.  I cannot be sure if that young man on the train was an angel or someone divinely placed in a position to catch me that morning.  Some people would call it luck or coincidence.  As for me I will forever believe – I was saved by an angel in Amsterdam.IMG_0175

Dear God,  Thank you for keeping me safe in Amsterdam  Your ways are mysterious and miraculous.  I am so grateful to know you care for me and send me help in unexpected ways when I need it most.  Amsterdam was a blast.  Spending time with Megan a splendid gift. Thank you so much!  Love, Jean

Psalm 91:11-12  For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

 

 

Bible Marathon: Seven Things I Learned In Reading the Entire Bible in (Roughly) One Year

Cover of The NRSV Daily BibleIn the summer of 2014, I began hearing about a program at Easter Lutheran Church called “Bible in a Year.” The challenge was to read the bible, cover-to-cover, over the course of a year, beginning on Oct. 1, 2014. Outside of the obvious biblical stories, history, and facts I learned, there are a few things I would like to share from the experience:

1. The Old Testament is a lot longer than I realized. Have you ever counted the pages in the bible–with all that fine print? Tried to read the Old Testament straight through?  After the first month or two I found myself positively hungering for Jesus (as did many of us!). The benefits of reading the Old Testament, however, are many. For one thing, I came to understand ancient Middle-Eastern history/culture a little bit better—and that also helped me understand the situations surrounding the life and times of Jesus and his followers.

2. The image of God in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is much more varied than I previously thought. It’s a stereotype to say that God of the Old Testament is warring, vindictive, arbitrary, wrathful, and harsh god.  Yes, we can find lots of OT stories in which God might seem this way. But the Hebrew Scriptures also the describe God as ever-faithful to us, as “slow to anger and rich in mercy,” the God who delivers people from slavery, gives them fertile land, identifies wise leaders, offers them a better way of living, desires justice and mercy more than sacrificial offerings.

3. We are a community of believers. I am not as self-sufficient and self-disciplined as I think I am. I wanted to quit a million times and often was lazy about doing this devotional reading. It was the others in the group who kept me going.  Although we mostly communicated via Facebook (with the occasional meeting), it was the strength of knowing other people were doing this—and, like me,  struggling along at times with certain readings—that kept me going.

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4. Deepening my understanding of the role of the bible in my life.  Christians have various ways of describing the bible’s importance (“sacred text,” “inspired,” “Word of God,” “inerrant,” or “inerrant in the original language”). Reading the bible forced me to ask myself: What do I personally believe about the bible?  What place does the bible hold in my own view of reality and Christian faith? How will I use the biblical teachings in my daily life? I found myself thinking that we worship God, and we hold the bible in high esteem because it reveals something of who this God is.

5. It’s so easy to quote favorite verses and ignore the Scripture passages that challenge us. Having favorite verses can be a way to truly feed our souls and guide our lives, but what I’m talking about here is the way some people in our culture use bible verses as a weapon to sling mud and condemnation on other people. In the morning, I would read about Jesus being full of mercy, kindness, healing power, and compassion—but then I would turn on the news and hear about people promoting the opposite values while purporting to follow Christ. I don’t know what to think about this—and I haven’t any answers. I’m just saying: I don’t get it.

2901744981_45c6284906_z--Red Letter bible by J Mark Bertrand with sig6. For Christians, the gospels are the four “aces” in the deck. Do you remember the old bibles that had the words of Jesus printed in red? My thought is  that although all parts of the bible are important, Christians actually worship Jesus Christ—and that gives the gospels special priority. It’s why Christian lectionaries have a gospel reading assigned every Sunday. It’s also why many mainline Christians stand when the gospel is read on Sunday, out of special respect (humans stand when kings, judges, or leaders enter the room, and we stand when excited during a rock concert). The gospel deserves special attention from Christ-followers.

7. We are never done pondering the mysteries of God and the wonder of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Reading the bible in a year was like a quick plane trip, flying around the entire globe in less than 24 hours. Once done, there are so many more places to land and explore in greater depth, and I plan to go back and do just that. As one person in the group pointed out, reading a bible passage leads one to specific questions and once those questions are answered, that leads to still more questions.  One is never done pondering the wonders, compassion, creativity, and mercy of God.

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For discussion/reflection: 

What do you believe about the bible?  How does the bible fit into your own faith journey? Do you have a biblical story or passage that has special meaning for your life? How so?

Easter Lutheran member Julie McCarty is a writer, spiritual director, and budding artist who is the volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. She also offers spiritual reflections at Spiritual Drawing Board blog and on Facebook’s Spiritual Drawing Board page.