Friday, April 3, 2020

Some Questions to Consider

By Pat Russell

Consider this –

A couple of nights ago I let our three pups out the back door just before bed. They usually run off the deck into the fenced yard for their last “business of the day.” Then they come back to the door ready for their final treat. As they “do their thing,” I wait in the kitchen doing odds and ends. This particular night I heard them come back on the deck barking, all three. That was not so unusual but what I heard next was. It was a pack of coyotes right next to the house howling into the night as they prepared to make a kill!

I immediately ran out the door onto the deck to get my three pups inside the house. My heart was pounding as I expected to see coyotes on my deck. I think I would have started yelling and kicking those varmints if I saw them around MY pups. Protection! Adrenaline! However, and thankfully, the coyotes were not on the deck but down below.

Obie, the biggest dog ran obediently back inside as I yelled with extreme firmness “Get in the house!” Buddy, Mary’s tiny dog who can’t hear a thing, finally caught the drift of my wild hand signals and ran inside. That left Sophie who’s our fearless creature. She was going to get rid of those coyotes if it was the last thing she did that night. She is about the size to feed 2 coyotes with her stout shape and not taller than a foot.

Sophie has always resisted direct orders if they do not fit her desires at the moment. She proceeded to bark and try to dance around my flailing arms. She was making this into a game which I did not want to play. She wanted to get down the steps so she could bark and chase those varmints away. I was working to block her way. In the meantime, the coyotes kept on howling.

Finally, to my great relief, she darted back into the safety of the house. I followed close after and closed the door in relief, maybe slammed would be a better descriptor. I hugged each of my pups with a passion.

So, what’s my point in telling you this story? Try these questions on:

Which “dog” are you during these days of threat and danger?
What do you think the heart of our Father is in these days?
How have you experienced our heavenly Father watching and listening on your behalf?
How do you think he feels and thinks about all the vulnerable people in this world in these days?
What have you seen others do to come to your or someone else’s “rescue?”
How might you be watching out for others with effort and risk on your part?

Lamentations 2:19-22. The thought of my affliction and my homelessness (stay-at-homeness) is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Luke 11:13. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children (or dogs) how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

Luke 12:6-7. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Matthew 6: 25-27. Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Luke 12:32. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell all your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Jesus Every Minute of Every Day

By Marilyn McGrath
How I want to live in Jesus every minute of every day. I pray and talk to God; I even listen for answers. Yet, hours will pass when I do not think about Jesus and find myself making decisions without Him. I know He is always with me and in me, and life is full and lovely when I am in Him. Why wouldn’t I just stay there? After all, Dallas Willard writes that “people are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to. . . Given who we are by basic nature, we live – really live – only through God’s regular speaking in our souls and thus by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Ruth Haley Barton writes “The capacity to discern and do the will of God arises out of friendship with God, cultivated through prayer, times of quiet listening and alert awareness.” I am inconsistent with prayer and times of quiet listening, but it is the alert awareness that really slips through my fingers as I am distracted by any number of people or events, especially now during these times of uncertainty.
Scripture urges us to “keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14) I love these verses. The first verse draws me back to spiritual awareness, and the next pulls me right back into Jesus’ presence. Then, there is Isaiah (30:21) whispering “When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” It gives me goose bumps and I feel the presence of the Lord all around me, filling me up with every breath.
There are many more verses of scripture that remind me that Christ lives in me, and I find comfort and closeness with Jesus through them. I am also in need of Jesus’ urging to stay with him. In Matthew, Jesus was chiding the disciples for not remaining awake during the hour preceding His arrest. But what Jesus said next to Peter had a deeper, spiritual meaning: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing [i.e., intentions are good], but the flesh [mere human willpower] is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). To remain in Christ every minute of every day calls for me to practice and practice again. Beth Moore writes that she keeps her eyes on Jesus, a choice she makes a thousand times a day until this thought pattern is etched into her brain. Dearest Lord, may it be so for all your beloved children.
Prayer adapted from Day by Day, by Peter Scazzero
Father, you know how easily I forget about you for hours at a time. Help me to hear your voice in my joys and hardships, in scripture, and in the voices of others. I ask you for grace and power to pay attention and listen to you during all my waking hours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Year of Pilgrimage

By Susan Spear

Looking back, I see several pilgrimages in my life. Early in our marriage, Bruce and I hiked for seven weeks across the Rocky Mountains, a physical and mental challenge. In 1995, we left our three young children with my parents and traveled to Israel for two weeks. That trip was an unexpected gift, literally and spiritually. With two of our children, I toured Romania playing keyboard in a Christian band called Effection. Our trip to Italy two years ago was a cross-cultural adventure and an emotional pilgrimage. Another trip that was a literal gift. Three short months ago, in December of 2019, I wrote in my journal “2020 is the Year of Pilgrimage.”

With my colleague Dr. Tom Copeland, I have been teaching a course about Irish Literature and History, both new topics of study for me. I’ve been digging deep and studying novels, poems, the Celtic cross, maps, the novel Ulysses—all things Irish. We were scheduled to travel from May 25-June 5. At our first meeting I told the students that for me, this trip was a pilgrimage. I would leave home behind (temporarily) and focus on the people and land around me. I would also turn my phone off except for pictures and the daily text home. I invited them to think of themselves as pilgrims. When the “school” part of the trip concluded, Bruce would meet me and we would spend time near Iona, a small island off the coast of Scotland where Columba founded a monastery that is still used today for spiritual retreats.

Alas. Enter Covid19. Dr. Copeland’s well-orchestrated trip has been canceled. I am disappointed; however, this is wisdom in action. The Year of Pilgrimage bears a new face. At the heart of pilgrimage is leaving something behind to seek God. I think of Abraham leaving behind Ur of the Chaldees. Peter and Andrew leaving their nets on the beach. Patrick leaving England to return to Ireland where he had been previously enslaved. They heard God’s voice, and they set off. This year I will not enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral, nor will I spend time in silence at Iona. Instead I am sitting in my home office at my computer, creating lessons for my students to read in front of their computers, many miles away. Yet, over the past two weeks of quarantine the Spirit has stirred my imagination. 

Must a pilgrimage involve long distance travel to a renowned site such as The Wailing Wall or Gethsemane? Must it be a physical challenge like the El Camino de Santiago which stretches from France to Spain. The answer is no. After I brushed my teeth on Monday, I looked in the mirror, made the sign of the cross and said “In the Name of the Father, the Name of the Son, and the Name of the Holy Ghost.” 

Today is my pilgrimage. I leave behind my expectations and set out to seek God. I make the same sign and repeat the same words as I sit down at my desk. I am traveling into a digital classroom, which for me is the unknown. I travel to the kitchen. I travel to my comfy chair in the living room. I travel to the mailbox. Twice, I have traveled to King Soopers (with a bit of trepidation). I travel via text message to greet our daughters. I phone a friend I haven’t talked to in months. I open my “home” for a ZOOM conference with ten poets. I make the sign of the cross and utter the simple prayer. This is the Year of Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage is uncertain. I put aside plans and expectations. For me, not to travel is to travel. Now is the time to leave something behind. Now is the time to seek God.

Pilgrims, go with God.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Shelter in Place

By Phil Wood

   "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."
   When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
                                                                                    Matthew 7:24-29

I've been staring out the window a lot lately, reverting back to a practice from my childhood when my mom would make me stay in the house because it was raining, or I had a cold, or I'd been bad. Our sofa was set along the wall under the front window, so I would jump up on my knees, with my belly against the back of the sofa, and stare out the window for what seemed like hours.

There wasn't much to look at out there, just the houses across the street in a somewhat dreary, inner-city Detroit neighborhood made even grayer by the ever-present clouds and rain. But there was a deep longing in my heart.

Although the view is different now, the longing remains. Yet I have come to realize that, even as I gaze out the window, what I'm longing for isn't really out there somewhere. It's in here.

And by here I don't mean here inside our warm, cozy house where I feel so safe and sheltered from the storm. Picture me holding my fist against my chest. What I'm looking for is in here.

In here, where God is.

In here is my true shelter in place. This is where I'm safest from the driving rain, the rising streams, the winds that blow and beat against my house, and the evil virus that prowls around outside. This house is built on the rock.

I like to think that our earthly home, this physical structure that Marianne and I have shared now for 34 years, and where we raised our wonderful son, is also built on a rock. But it's not immune to disaster. It's not impervious to viruses. I still stare out the window longing for something else.

The only shelter that truly keeps anyone safe is the one that's built on Christ. And it's not made out of wood, or stone or concrete or steel.

A couple weeks ago, there was a blizzard that, overnight, covered our region with about ten inches of heavy, wet snow. The homeless people in Arvada, who normally come to our son's church for shelter at times like this, had to be turned away because of the corona virus and the need to keep the volunteers and congregation safe. Ten heartbroken volunteers, spaced six feet apart, had to distribute blankets and food, trust God, and turn people back out into the storm.

The saving grace was knowing that, in God's hands, with Christ as their rock, those people would be alright.

A prayer.

Lord Jesus, I long to get back out into the world, go where I want to go, do what I want to do, be with friends and family. But we are called to shelter in place. And I can't think of a safer place to shelter than "in here." Thank you, Lord.

Lord Jesus, help me remember that my deepest longing is really for you. I long to lie down in green pastures and walk beside quiet waters with you. Only here do I lack nothing. Only here do I find restoration for my soul. Only here do I fear no evil. Because you are here. Thank you, Lord.

Lord Jesus, at a time when no man-made shelter is totally safe, and even a structure we call God's house cannot provide refuge, may we all find shelter in you.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Be Still

By Pat Russell

This has been our first week as an on-line community.  I encourage you to find some private moments today and take stock of several things. You might grab a piece of paper and write some of these thoughts down.

First of all, step back from yourself and make an overall inventory of your thoughts this week. To what has your mind turned during this time? If you are worried about things, write down what worries you. If you are afraid of the future, write down what makes you afraid. If you have found yourself thinking about the goodness in your life, write that down. If you have had so much to do and your thoughts have been centered on making things happen, write down how your mind functioned while being busy.

Now, let’s take stock of your feelings from this week. What stands out as your overall feelings? Loneliness, confusion, happiness, peace, anger, no feelings (those are feelings)….

What about your body? How has your physical body been acting this week? Are you sleeping, dreaming, having more aches and pains, sensing strength or weakness or someplace in between? Have you been eating more than usual or less or about the same?

Then, think about your spirit. This is perhaps the most difficult to “read.” Here are some questions that might help: How have you experienced the presence of God in your life this week? How have you heard His voice through prayer or Scripture or through the devotions that Pastor Bruce sent out - something comforting or instructive or encouraging. What has your communication with the Lord been like - what are you telling Him or hearing from Him? How have you experienced PAC = Peace, Accessibility, Confidence with the Lord (from last Sunday’s sermon)?

Stopping along the way to take stock helps us know to what we might need to pay more attention in our life these days.

The other day I was walking my two furry friends around the circle near our home. As we moved along, I found myself occupied by getting my heart rate up, stopping my dogs from visiting every road marker, thinking about what I was going to make for supper that night etc. And then I saw “it.” The sky was our beautiful Colorado blue and the Ponderosa pines stood like green sentinels along the roadside, the breeze was blowing, and it was wonderfully fresh. No virus surrounding me. It seemed that out of the pure air came the words, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

These words are from Psalm 46. Maybe you have memorized this psalm. It is a great one for these days. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.” How reassuring that is to me! He has got it; He has got me, the United States, Italy, the whole earth!

Notice where the comma is. Notice the present tense of the verbs. We will see Him in these days IF we will choose to be still. At times I need to still my busy thoughts, choose to let my feelings stand beside me, bring my body to full stop and wait on the Lord. “Be still, and know that I am God.” “Be still, and know.” “Be still.” “Be.”

Thursday, March 26, 2020

My Invisible Friend

From Pastor Bruce

Let me share some thoughts from award winning author and retreat speaker Joyce Rupp. This story of the spiritual stirrings of her early childhood reminds us that there is "Someone" who is always with us in spite of our temporary confinement and isolation.

"When I was a young child of eight years old, I lived on a beautiful farm in Iowa. Like my other siblings, I had chores to do after school. Mine consisted of feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs. I didn't like doing this because my free spirit wanted to be out in the grove playing or down by the creek watching tadpoles and catching minnows.

"But one day all of that changed for me. I learned that I had a secret companion who always kept me company, even when I was doing the daily farm chores. Hidden away deep within my heart was a loving being named God who would always love me and would never leave me. It was at this time that a wise teacher taught me about friendship with God. She assured me that l would never be alone because l was carrying the very life of God within me. I was enthused about this discovery. I could sense that "Someone" was there. I began carrying on endless conversations with this Friend. Walking home from school, doing my chores, playing in the grove — all of these activities became opportunities to be with my "special Someone." This was the beginning of my relationship with God.

"And as l grew older, I recognized this inner presence as a dynamic source of guidance and consolation. I became ever more deeply rooted in the belief that this indwelling God loves me totally and unconditionally. To this day I draw comfort and courage from the belief that l am a container holding the presence of God. This awesome and humbling gift of the Divine indwelling constantly enlivens my spiritual path and seeds my transformation."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

All We Need Is Love...and a Little Listening

By Marilyn Travis

In times of uncertainty we need more love than ever! Now is a good time to talk or correspond with one another. Though we are not able to be physically present with many of our friends and family members, we are still able to communicate with them. Mitch and I were touched by two fellow members of our church who checked in on us via social media and email Sunday. A group of dear friends, my old teaching team now retired, have decided to use a live connection to play some games and enjoy some fellowship. We have a unique opportunity to comfort one another, listen to concerns and fears and offer comfort through God’s word and His love.
Love is a big deal. The concordance in the back of my Bible has over 600 entries for the word “love.” 1 John 4:7-12 says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

This type of love is not passive. It requires action. Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)
Part of this active love involves listening. At the transfiguration described in Mark 9:7 God says of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” If we do listen to Jesus, we learn we also need to listen to each other. Henri Nouwen describes such love this way:
From experience, you know that those who care for you become present to you. When they listen, they listen to you. When they speak, you know they speak to you. And when they ask questions, you know it is for your sake and not their own. Their presence is a healing presence because they accept you on your terms, and they encourage you to take your own life seriously.
In the same way, God invites us to grow in the quality of our presence to others so that they might experience his love through us. (Day by Day, Peter Scazzero)
David Augsburger writes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
If we listen to God, and act upon his word, He will teach us to listen. He will teach us to listen to Him and to each other. He, in turn, will listen to us to us as we pray.
We are a community, a family of believers. We already love one another, and we enjoy each other’s company. We are physically separated from one another, but we can stay emotionally close. I encourage each of us to connect with several people this week. Let’s listen, and spread a little love.
I’d like to close with a prayer from Day by Day by Peter Scazzero:
Father, we are so easily distracted and preoccupied…, but we each long to be the kind of person who genuinely listens and is fully present. We ask that you would change us so that we can be a powerful presence for others. In Jesus’ name, amen.