Bringing Courage and Hope

Ruth 1 through 4:12
The book of Ruth is one of my favorites. Even though it has a lot of grief and sorrow, it reveals the responsibilities of the kinsman redeemer. Most often I have focused on Ruth, her loyalty to her mother-in-law’s God and her submissive response to what Naomi tells her to do.

Yet today, Ruth 1:19 caught my attention. “….When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.”

While we don’t know exactly how long Naomi lived in Moab, it was more than ten years.

Her little boys grew up into young men.

Her husband died,.

Her sons took wives from Moab.

Her sons died, bonding her with these young Moabite women in the sisterhood of widowhood.

In our modern era of instant communication, it is difficult to imagine that the women of Bethlehem hadn’t heard about the tragedies in Naomi’s life. It appears that they didn’t know of her devastating losses.

But they remembered Naomi. For all the many years that Naomi was in Moab, the women of Bethlehem still spoke of Naomi, who went with her husband and young sons when the famine was intense.

They remembered Naomi with joy. They celebrated her return, happy to have her in their neighborhood again.

But Naomi’s experience had changed her from a joyous, fun-loving young bride and mother, to a bitter, cynical widow.  She had given up on life and had come home to die. Or a place to stay bitter and withdrawn.

But bitterness cannot last long when it meets the impact of genuine love and compassion. Before long, Naomi is orchestrating a way to introduce Boaz to her daughter-in-law, Ruth.

Perhaps it would have gone like this anyway. But the women of Bethlehem, with their warm encompassing welcome, “greased the wheels”. Their love and attention gave Naomi the willingness to take a chance again.

 

After life’s difficult, painful journey, looking to the future with hope takes a transformation. God is love, but we are his hands and his feet, his ambassadors of love.

In what ways are you extending a warm, compassionate welcome to people that come into your life?

DSC03824.JPG

Advertisements

There IS Rest

“Sometimes life feels like you’re running on a treadmill while someone keeps pushing the button to increase the speed faster and faster.” from “The Lies of Busyness: Devotions from Time of Grace”
 
As I read that, I remember that feeling. Even after the girls were grown up and creating homes of their own, it seemed there was never enough time in a day or a week.
Swinging
 
But as I read this quote this morning, a quiet voice nudged my thoughts.
 
“You don’t experience this feeling too often anymore, do you?”
 
It is true.
Quietly, imperceptibly, I am learning that the treadmill continues to go around, but I can choose to step off.
 
Two things have changed that.
 
#1 – Observing Sabbath rest.
First, I chose to do only tasks that weren’t on my list, tasks that felt creative on that day. For instance, baking cut-out cookies and decorating them with my granddaughters was NOT on my “to-do” list, but on a “Make memories with grandma” kind of list.
When that got easier, I began to give myself permission to read for a couple hours. Something fun,something frivolous, something that wasn’t on any list except my own “Books I want to read someday” list, or a recent recommendation from a fellow reader.
Then I was introduced to an on-line friend friend at a retreat in the middle of Nebraska. Shelly Miller’s Sabbath Society is a weekly letter about learning to observe Sabbath through the ups and downs of life in our day.
So I am journeying toward observing Sabbath. Not always perfectly, not always quietly, but recognizing it as a day to invest in people, relationships, and my inner self. It is not a day to catch up on what didn’t get marked off my to-do list or, even more damaging, getting a head start on the list for the coming week.
Rather than dread Sabbath, as it seemed so terribly dull to me as a child, and wasteful as a busy, employed mom, it has become a defining rhythm of my week, and as I discovered this morning, of my life.
It is a gift of God, reaching down, helping me to step off the treadmill.
#2 – Hosting Christmas 2013, knowing that it was very likely the last Christmas we would have to spend with Kenne’s mom. Though I had begun planning early for the 24 hours her immediate family would spend together in our home, I found myself adding things to the list to make it a memorable time for all twenty-two of us.
While the last minute purchases of prizes for a couple games were fun, and the photo booth that my girls helped me put up at nearly the last minute made a back drop for some fun photos, it did not define our time together like laughter, singing, our traditional program, and spending time reflecting on favorite family memories.
But it did help me realize that while lists can help me to focus on what needs to be done, my tendency is to keep extending the list.
Sabbath reminds me that the list needs to have a stopping point. That Christmas’s never-ending list is a marker for realizing my propensity for continually adding to a list.
But what a gift this morning that I am learning, slowly as it may be, that time is not my master. God’s gift of Sabbath, once I embraced it, has helped me be more subject to Him, my Lord and my Master.
So yes, I am learning that God wants me to step off the treadmill, to slow it down, to rest in Him.

Learning to Love God

Over the past four days, we’ve had the pleasure of caring for our nearly 8 year old and 3 year old granddaughters. It has been a joyful time, filled with lots of fun farm activities.

Water puddlesrock wall and kittytrampolinewashing RangerPetting one week old pigletsBest buddies

It has reminded me that it takes many prompts, by example and with words, over many years to develop good habits, like washing hands and brushing teeth.

So it should not surprise us that Moses reminds the children of Israel again and again and again that God loves them and desires their undivided love and devotion.

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Deut. 6:5

Even after the dramatic showing of God’s power through the ten plagues in Egypt that led to Pharaoh relenting that all the men, women, and children could leave, the Children of Israel forgot.

Despite the miraculous rescue when the war chariots of Egypt were pursuing them from behind and before were the waters of the Red Sea, they forgot and complained that God had forgotten them.

A few weeks later, when Moses was on the mountain receiving the Laws of the covenant, in less than forty days, the people forgot about the Holy God and begged for Aaron to make a ‘god’ for them to worship.

If they needed reminders after seeing the mighty hand of God, we are more likely to forget.

Just as we tire of reminding our young family members to wash their hand, brush their hair, put on their gloves and boots, eat their vegetables, etc., we become weary of reminding them about loving God and obeying his commands.

Our task is passing down the legacy of our faith has eternal consequences. In our heads and our hearts, we know that it is the most important work we do.

Yet we are human.

We need reminders.

God knows that.

 

Make His Word a part of each day.

Cultivate friendships for holding yourselves accountable.

Do not tire of speaking of your faith.

Pray over each other.

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24,25

Give your spouse, your kids and grandkids a hug and a reminder that God loves them today.

Getting to Know God

But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. Psalm 1:2

The first time I heard about a plan to read through the Bible in a year was at Bible camp when I was in Middle School.

Open Bible

Ever since then I have had one plan or another tucked inside my Bible. But after the creation, the flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, and then Moses bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt, the descriptions of land, counting of people and genealogies would weaken my resolve.

I would fall behind in my reading, overwhelmed when trying to catch up and check all the boxes that I’d missed.

Bible studies and devotional guides kept me in God’s Word, but at times it felt more like a fast food diet – filling but lacking the depth my spirit longed for.

Bible study journal

Then a new friend from California whom I’d met at a retreat invited me to read through the New Testament with her and several other women. This eighteen week commitment seemed like a good idea. Besides there weren’t so many places to get bogged down.

Reading through the Bible chronologically was interesting and took a bit of adjustment. What helped me was that each day was laid out under the date. When I fell behind a day or two, I moved ahead to the current date. The more I read, the more I looked forward to my reading time.

So I decided to make another attempt at reading God’s Word in a year.

And though I still miss a day or two each week, something marvelous has happened. God’s story of redeeming us is a thread that flows from beginning to end. The Old Testament, the old covenant of the Law, still has shimmers of grace woven into it.

Congregational window

Our faith grows because we give attention to it, and learn more about who God is and how He wants us to live.

If you feel like your faith is stagnant, I encourage you to be intentional in reading and meditating on God’s word every day. You can also request to join our reading through the Bible group on Facebook. We’d love to have you join us.

Giving Generously

John Wesley’s Works of Mercy – Individual Practices – Giving Generously to the Needs of Others

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ,[a] who gives me strength.”  Philippians 4:11-13

Giving to the needs of others means that we will live in a disciplined manner, limiting the consumerism that surrounds us.

I am reminded of this when I look for an empty hanger in my closet, and see how my clothes are crammed together. Or when my daughters come home and look at the expiration dates on my food condiments. Or move a stack of books to another room, because there is no space on my bookshelves.

DSC00499

Two things that I am trying to make a regular practice in my life is reducing recreational shopping and appreciating the beauty of clothing, art, furniture, or anything without the need to own it.

Two years ago, a friend challenged herself to spend $50 per month on groceries during January, February and March. While that seemed like a burden to me, I considered my spending habits. I determined not to go into a store unless I knew what I was planning to purchase and hold myself to those items.

What surprised me was that it even impacted the daily task of mail sorting, as all those mail ads went immediately into the round waste file. It also made me aware of the time I dilly-dallied away in a store, hauling my purchases into the house, and finding a place for them.

That practice helped me realize that often I was purchasing an item for its beauty, when I had no use for it, nor a place for it. Having dispersed the households of my parents and Kenne’s parents, we have plenty of “stuff.” Many of these things have sentimental value, but it also helps me realize that our children already have many things to disperse when we move out of the house. My goal is that they will know WHY we had things and how we used them.

By finding ways to simplify our lives, we make room for God to use us as channels of His goods. We are stewards of the wealth that He gives us. He wants us to be like a river, our wealth flowing in and flowing out, not like the Dead Sea, accumulating salty mineral deposits, choking out life.

When we choose to live more simply, with less to care for, we open the opportunity to give more generously.

DSC00496

Prayer – Important even when not urgent

Most of us can pray the Lord’s prayer from memory. This model from Jesus focuses on God, but includes our needs. Praying for each other and our struggles is a vital part of fellowship.

DSC00564cr

For several years, I’ve been using Scripture prayers to guide my thoughts and intentions.  One of my favorite passages is Ephesians 1:16-19.

This morning my Bible reading app centered on Colossians 1:9-13, Paul’s prayer for the believers in Colossi. Some of the things Paul prayed included

1) complete knowledge of His will

2) spiritual wisdom and understanding

3) lives will honor and please the Lord

4) produce good fruit

5) grow to know the Lord better

6) strengthened in his power

7) filled with joy.

Somehow, God connected Paul’s prayer with an idea from Steven Covey about how we often deal only with the urgent items- surgeries, illness, and loss- while neglecting the important things, like spiritual growth and wisdom. This leads to burn out and dissatisfaction, for the weekly prayer list is consistently long.

In Covey’s First Things First book, some of the important, but not urgent items include preparation, prevention, planning, relationship building, empowerment.

When was the last time you made a list of important but not urgent matters to pray over your loved ones and the people in your church family?

Bible & tea cup

Try praying a few verses of Scripture for people in your life. Here is one based on the verses in  to get you started.

Father, as I think of _________ today, give them complete knowledge of your will today, along with spiritual wisdom and understanding. Let the choices they make today bring honor to You and please You. Work in their life to produce good fruit, like you describe in Galatians 5:22, 23 – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. As these fruit become evident in their life, may they continue to know the Lord better every day. And today, strengthen them in Your power and fill them with joy that overflows to those around them.

You might discover that God opens up “showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26) as you pray His Word and His blessing into the lives of those around you.

2 candles Dec 8 2013

How a Yoke Can Be Easy

“Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

napping w Grandma

What is more restful than snoozing with a little one, fresh from the womb laying on our chest?

But whenever I hear this quote of Jesus, I picture two animals, usually oxen, straining together with a plow behind them.

yoke and cattle plowing

And this visual makes it hard to hear the rest of the verse. How can that hard work give us a place of rest?

The yoke itself is heavy, but necessary for accomplishing the task. But the quality of the yoke or tool can make a difference in the work.

Have you ever tried to cut fabric with a dull scissors? Or slice bread with a dull knife? Or paint with a roller not suited to the texture of the wall?

The yoke is important to how much energy the animal expends to do the task.

The yoke the Jewish leaders laid on the people was layers and layers of laws and rules. While many of the common people looked forward to the Messiah, the customs and foundations overburdened and discouraged them.

Sacrifices cut into their already meager existence.

“Clean” was determined by not doing some tasks that were part of daily life.

Strict enforcement of Sabbath rules were strait jackets rather than restful practice.

As Jesus explained how His ministry was a fulfillment of John the Baptist’s work, Jesus demonstrated a release from disease, hunger, and spiritual darkness. His loving acts, and gentle compassion introduced a new style of yoke.

A yoke that connected the people to God the Father.

A yoke that led to intimacy with God through Jesus.

The promise of rest.

The yoke is still there, not as a burden, but as a foundation to base our lives on, the tool that helps us

cut out the excess,

slice into useable portions,

effectively refresh the dingy old ways,

lets us rest on the Father’s lap.

I need the yoke to guide my days, but Jesus is the yoke and He is gentle and humble.

Congregational window

Rather than rule after rule, his instruction is “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’  The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30,31

As we begin Advent, take this yoke, this foundation, as you prepare your heart for welcoming Jesus into the world.