Marci is one of our more prolific writers. Here is a collection of her devotional words.
The changing of the guard is always hard;
whether it be in civilian, religious, or military life.
It is to ourselves that we must first show mercy.
At the retreat center where I work, we are getting a new “gatekeeper.” This is the main security person who works at the front gate. He decides who comes in and who does not. The older one has been here for twelve years; and he has decided it was time to retire. I remember the time when my younger brother retired from his post at the Air Force military place, where he was serving. They had a really nice dinner, and people were invited to comment about his service. I also remember my dad being in a parade, when I was a young kid. He wore his full Navy uniform with the hat. He looked sharp! Both my dad and my brother have hung up their full military dress uniform for the civilian way of life. I also remember my brother's graduation from the Air Force Academy. That was another “changing of the guard.” People also mark their changing of the guard in various ways. Some can be formal or informal, depending on the preference of the organization.
Lent Happens when the days begin to lengthen or have more daylight.
Lent is the span of time in the church calendar that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert, and Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the grave after his crucifixion.
Some Lenten practices can include Ash Wednesday, where some “Christians mark their forehead with ash as sorrow and mourning over their sin; Special or additional worship services, “which focus on various ways on man's need for repentance.” Some Christians also choose to “give up a habit or behavior during Lent. This observance could be anything from giving up chocolate to fasting.
Some Christians commit to a special devotional activity, such as Scripture reading, regular prayer through the Lenten Season, or perhaps through some volunteer work. If one Lenten practice does not work for you, you can always choose something else in the Lenten observance. The spiritual focus needs to be on Jesus during this time of prayerful fasting.
From the Bible Gateway website, paraphrased.
I had to turn away from the old and make room for the new in an experience I had at our church. While it is never easy to adapt to something better; I felt God nudging me gently to let it go. I consider Lent to be a season of turnings and letting goes. I am learning how to deal with letting things happen in God's time; and not be screaming, “But I am not ready for the next best thing!”
Our church has been going through one of its spiritual discernment times. We decided to bring in an interim minister while we were making decisions on a more permanent pastor.
The congregation had grown used to the interim minister. Now, it is time to move on in another direction. The incoming pastor has already made an inaugural sermon.
I have hope for our congregation's future. God is always constantly changing, moving forward, as a wise lady told me one time when I had requested prayer. Sometimes, being human, I feel God is moving way too fast. That is when I need to slow down, take a deep breath, and try be glad of the new growth our church is going through. Church is not just made up of one person only, it is a whole lot of people.
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”
Wow! With all these comings and goings, it can seem like the church is never in a be still mode. Growth and development are taking place in God's universal church all the time! God is the only constant. His church will be ok. We are all seeking the same path, differently, towards one of Heaven. Think about it, if there is no growth, change, and development currently going on in your own church; what is the worst that can happen?
While transitions in the Winter time, can seem to be unpleasant; I am already looking for the arrival of Spring.
May you experience Lent in a radically different and unusual way, out of your normal comfort zone.
Get ready! Be ready! God is going to turn up the volume!
Peace be unto you
With God's ever abiding love and hope,
"The Loving God"
By Marci McGowan
Written in December 24, 2004
People wage war
They do Peace
still, God sets his table
God sets his table
Still, God sets his table
God sets his table with Love
Bible Verses are taken from The Message Bible
Resilience (noun) from The American Heritage Dictionary
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness:
2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape;
3. elasticity: "nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience"the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness:
Lamentations 3: 25-27 (from the Message Bible) God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.
A Note from the Life of my maternal grandmother, Catherine Ann Clark Voss (June 7, 1914- March 24, 1989)
My husband and I were young and life was good. Our teenage years had come during the Great Depression following the crash of 1929, so we grew up looking forward to being a part of a reconstructing and hoping world.
After finishing high school I took a job for thirty dollars a month at a small branch bank in a rural southern town [in Alabama, USA] where my Dad was the manager. Since it was the Depression years and help was scarce, he had me doing everything from mopping and cleaning the floor to making a loan to one of the local farmers as it happened in one case.
Our little bank was simply one of many struggling businesses working and hoping for a more secure economy. The depression years were being felt by all so that we had to work on a very tight schedule in order to conserve both time and money. In order to keep the bank open through the dinner hour, my father went to lunch at a eleven o'clock while I took my lunch hour at twelve.
One December morning in 1936, after Dad had gone to lunch, I had a friend come in to transact some business for the Federal Land Bank. Being in a Southern town, and since no one else was in the bank at that time, we spent a few minutes talking about the latest happenings about the town.
As soon as she left, a highly strung young man with slim build, about 5’2" in height and steel blue eyes, and who had been waiting outside of the bank, quickly entered the front door. Nervously, he asked "Is the man in the back?" I replied, "What man?" As he watched the front door I assumed that he thought someone could have come in the alley door that was located in the back of the building. At any rate, that instant adrenalin began to flow, my heart began to race, and I felt an unfathomable fear become very real.
On the wings of my fear, he pulled out a gun and said, "This is a hold-up; hand over the money!" I froze for a split second. Then the nature of my make-up rebelled and I said, "I'll not help you; if you want the money you'll have to come around here and get it."
I thought that it took him a long time to be standing before me but it could not have been, because I could still hear the clanking of the swinging door in the manager's office as he scooped up the monies in the cash drawer. All this happened while I was talking to him, telling that his act could not be gotten away with. All I clearly remember saying was that "God will punish you for this." I'm sure I said more, but my thoughts raced faster than my memory could hold.
Once he had finished emptying the main drawer, he next turned to the change twill and other unposted receipts. All the while I was trying to discourage him from going through with what he was doing.
As I realized I was getting nowhere with words, I, without forethought, and disregarding the nuzzle of a gun staring me in the face, started pushing him away from the change till. This brought a scuffle, with the bandit grasping his gun by the barrel and attempting to hit me on the head. As we struggled, his gun went flying in one direction and my glasses in another. I picked up the glasses as he darted for his gun. I pleaded for him to go because he had done enough damage.
At this point, the robber stopped in front of me, flaunted his gun and said, "Get in the vault, and lie down or I'll kill you." We had two vaults, one for lock boxes and money and a smaller one for filling daily receipts. It was the smaller of the two vaults that he ordered me to go into.
I refused to his bidding, “You've got the money, you might as well go, because I'm not getting in the vault." I was close to the phone, about one foot away, and had a deep seated feeling that I might have a chance to get or attract help. At any rate my feet would not move.
Then, for a second time he threatened my life if I did not do his bidding. Still, I would not cower in the face of his threats.
With the threat this time, the nervous man with the steel blue eyes sent a German Luger bullet ripping through my body. He fired at close range, about three feet, and although he had aimed at my heart, the bullet grazed my shoulder socket, throwing the bullet up and out the back of my shoulder into the ceiling above. The impact threw me across the floor, and momentarily left me in an unconscious state of shock. I say momentarily, for again I heard the swinging door as he ran out of the bank. I began screaming and clicking my meager fingernails against the cage door while my body lay limp in a pool of blood.
My screams were heard by some men across the street, who, once they realized what had taken place, got guns from the racks of a hardware store and gave chase. The robber was caught three blocks away. He was empty-handed, for he’d had enough time to hide his loot in a garage close to where he was captured. Due to my efforts, the take was small.
As for me, a young man delivering milk ran for the police while a doctor going to an adjoining upstairs office rushed in and gave me emergency treatment. The ambulance was called and passed my husband, who was walking on his way to pick me up for dinner. As it passed him they yelled, "Hey, Bob is going after your wife; she's been shot," He tells me that he ran all the way to the bank, only to see the ambulance pulling away just before he reached there.
I spent a week in a local hospital, watched over by a special nurse. Although I was in considerable pain, it was the effects of the shock that gave me the most trouble. During the day as my tired body tried to sleep, I would be jerked to attention by my jumpy nerves. It was impossible to rest without some kind of sedation.
During this time a history-making event took place with the King of England abdicating his throne for lovely Wallis Simpson. The event was broadcast on the radio, and as everyone else, my nurse wanted to hear the King speak. I assured her I would be all right. It was then, for the first time, when I was left alone that I began to cry. It came uncontrollably. Afterwards, I was finally able to relax and give my body a chance to recover.
A month later I received the gold medal of valor, the first one ever given to a woman for this particular kind of courage. It was presented by the National [Surety] Corporation, and I graciously accepted it. So ended a time in my life that aged me far beyond the time it took to live the events.
* * * * *
Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night!
My life is God’s prayer. -Psalm 42:6-8 (from The Message Bible)
"Making the best of…" to make the best of.
To accept (a bad situation) in as good a light as possible
-from The American Heritage Dictionary
Marci McGowan: My maternal grandmother is still teaching the family life lessons even after her death. She managed to get through this difficult situation. When things come in our lives, I know we can have courage too.
Keeping the Faith
May God bless you and yours during the new year of 2017
Holding on to the Light
In loving memory of my maternal grandmother, Catherine Ann Clark Voss.
Opening photo, by Marci McGowan, from the Biltmore House Garden, Asheville, North Carolina, USA
Marci McGowan is a team member at DisciplesNet Church and regularly shares her devotions, photos, artwork and inspiration with DisciplesNet Church and around the world. Marci lives in Asheville, North Carolina, USA and is a member of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) there.
“The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” Mark 12:30-31, From The Message Bible.
Last week, August 7-13, 2016 was really difficult. On top of everything else, the weather was especially humid, muggy and hot. At work, at home, it seemed that all I did was sweat. Even when I turned on our air conditioning unit all I did was sweat.
Wednesday afternoon, I arrived home from work to find a moving van taking up a big space in our back alley. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere. The van brought back a ton of sad memories from the life-changing move I had to make my senior year in high school. The next day the neighbor lady complained about me wanting them to move the truck out of the alley. This upset me so much my husband went outside to see what was going on. Usually the city notifies us in advance that someone is moving in next door. I knew they if they were having to move into Section 8 housing, they must be in a difficult situation. I was too exhausted and worn out to deal with any extra stress at that point.
Saturday, August 13, 2016, I read the awful news that in Joplin, Missouri, USA, someone went on a random shooting spree and shot two comfort dogs and two of their handlers from the Lutheran Church Charities. These dogs are beautiful and kind, like my beloved golden retriever Buddy. I follow the comfort dogs and support their work. The comfort dogs are specially trained to bring comfort to people who have been victims of trauma and loss. When I saw the news on Facebook, I started crying. I could not believe it--who would shoot agents of ministry? These dogs are just so special! A lot of effort, time, and training goes into the formation of these dogs and their handlers.
As I found out more of the news on the comfort dogs, I learned that a shooter was apparently angry and randomly shooting at vehicles. He shot at the van the dogs and the handlers were in. Two handlers were injured, one very seriously. One of the dogs—Jackson—was shot in the ear; and Louie was shot in the neck and had to have surgery. Later I read that to help these dogs and their ministry cope, they’d brought in other comfort dogs from around the country!
As Christians, we are called to the ministry of love, faith, hope, charity, and forgiveness. There are times when a wrong has been done that we do not want to forgive ourselves as well as others. Sometimes we do not want to make things right again—for some reason we want to hang on to the trouble.
But God’s love calls us all to a higher standard of living and being. Sometimes, love can be really hard, such as in the shootings that took place in Orlando, Florida this Summer of 2016. We are called to forgive and even love the shooter(s) in all these senseless killings and misunderstandings in life. The greatest commandment of Christ is, “The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” Mark 12:30-31, from The Message Bible.
I have a passion for these Comfort Dogs. I am friends with several of them on through the Facebook Connection. I read of the good they are doing. I love the dogs and the Comfort Dog ministry. They bring healing, mercy, and love to those who are hurting in life. They are the ones who need to be comforted.
The act of forgiveness and mercy does not condone what has been done in violence. What it does is helps one’s heart to heal, to somehow move on in life rather than be chained to the past. It shows us that one can rise above the senseless hurt and horrible deeds. It makes us a better person. Sometimes the person who has committed the horrible violence could also really be hurting. Jesus forgave those who put him on the cross.
In my own life, the neighbor lady is very likely a single mom. I know that moving any time is stressful; moving with kids even more so. When I am ready, I may take one of my stuffed comfort dogs over to her place in Section 8 housing, and let her keep the dog for comfort.
Tonight, when we did our Lectio Divina Readings for the day, the song, “There is a Balm in Gilead,” was the Vespers Hymn. I told my husband, how appropriate that hymn was for the past week. It seemed to validate everything I have been going through. God will bring us hope. Light will overcome the darkness and the hard times. We will get through all this seemingly senseless tragedy and grief. We must “practice faithfully random acts of kindness.” The world today needs that now more than ever.
Addendum: Late Monday afternoon, August 15, my own dog Buddy died. He was six and a half years old and had been doing well, except had been a bit lethargic for a few days. We thought it was the heat, but had scheduled a visit to the veterinarian for Tuesday, the next day. He never made it. As we grieve Buddy’s loss and all else that is happening in the world, I continue to believe in hope. I give thanks for those that bring us some sense of comfort, those who show us love and grace in this world full of trouble. If you have animal companions in life, don't forget to treasure the gift they are while they are with you, even if they aren't perfect.
I may not understand it all now, but give thanks to God, who understands it all, and provides ways to find peace, love, and ways through misunderstandings--and right now, most of all, God provides ways to keep hope alive.
Wishing all of you peace, love, comfort, and hope through in whatever is going on in your life.
In Christ, Amen.
Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection. -1 Corinthians 15:12-15 , from the Message Bible
While we’re still in Easter season of the church, I am thinking back to this past Easter Sunday weekend, March 25-26, 2016. Do you remember what you did that weekend, or what Easter Sunday worship was like for you? Did this week have some times in it to help bring you closer to God?
This Easter was different for me in some ways. Between a whirlwind trip and bittersweet images of past, present, and future, my mind kept being brought back to the image of the risen Christ.
That weekend, Good Friday had brought its typical sorrow at thinking of Jesus’ death on the cross. But that Good Friday was also the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. Remembering brought a sense of sadness at the great loss of her presence with us, but also a sense of joy in remembering my grandmother’s life well-lived. All this was framed into the powerful image of the risen Christ who came that Sunday and took away the worst sting of death.
My mind traveled even further back to a time when we were children visiting my grandparents over an Easter weekend. A big thunderstorm came through on Saturday night, frightening us all. I finally went to sleep, only to awake early the next morning, about 1 a.m., still feeling nervous. Our family tradition was to have Easter candies waiting for the children on Easter Sunday morning. I went looking for the candies and was soon joined by my sister who had also woken up. Papa came in and gently told us to go back to sleep; all was okay. This may be like the message that our heavenly Father gives us with the Easter message: storms will come, but the new day will dawn. Easter morning will come--and Christ is already there with a promise of something special awaiting for us. All will be okay.
Our whirlwind trip the 2016 Easter weekend saw my husband and I driving westward from our home in North Carolina to the South Carolina-Georgia border. There we'd meet up with my parents, who were driving eastward to meet us. The point of the trip? My father wanted to hand over his car to me. My parents had made a successful move into a new retirement community and had decided they just didn’t need two cars anymore. They wanted me to have the extra car.
So, after a few hours drive, my husband and I arrived at the highway rest stop between South Carolina and Georgia. I went outside the car to sit and wait. A friendly young man came up, about college age, and sat next to me. I told him I was looking for my parents and that we were going to have a picnic. He told me that God had laid it up on his heart to talk and pray with me.
He also said that he was trying to know God. And so we began talking about Easter in general. I told him he could pray with me about us having a safe trip. He did, and then I gave him a hug, and went back to where my husband was waiting in the car. We waited and watched for the parental unit to arrive.
After a while my parents came driving up, my dad in his car and my mom in hers. They'd brought food from a nearby restaurant for us to share. We spread it all out on one of the rest stop picnic tables and had our picnic together. As we ate we chatted about things and Dad gave me instructions on how to use the car that was now mine.
Then, the time was over. We watched Dad get into my mom's car, then together they drove away. As that lone car disappeared down the highway, my husband and I were now the ones getting into two cars. As proud as I was of my parents making a good transition into the retirement community--and as happy as we were to get the car (we surely can use it), I have to admit that as I was driving back toward our home, some sadness was sitting in the front seat beside me, too. Another change had come. We'd reached a new stage of our lives. Our tomorrows would all be different from what we’d known before. That is a bit scary. Tomorrow with a nice car now to drive would be great. But thoughts of a tomorrow, now a step closer, when my parents are no longer in this earthly life? That is a tomorrow that I don’t like to think about.
As all this came together in my mind, I realized that that first Easter weekend brings the most powerful hope and comfort I could imagine. Our losses get overshadowed by the hope of the Easter resurrection, a time that teaches us what it is like to have new life in Jesus Christ. New life in Christ means things we’ve never experienced before. But that new life also brings a promise of Christ already there, saying, "Peace be to you," and with something special waiting for us. Christ will see us through whatever may come. All will be okay.
And in that new life, our bodies will not wear out at all. As Christians, we believe in the hope of promised eternal life with God. That is basic to our beliefs. Good Friday is good because Jesus rises on Sunday to win over death!
We need this annual reminder of the Christian faith, hope, and love. I hope it is that way in your life, in this past Easter for you, and for your every tomorrow. My prayer is that whatever joys and sorrows you have mixed into this particular stage of your life, that you keep this reminder close to your heart and soul: Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed!
Marci McGowan is a long-time DisciplesNet team member and regularly shares her gifts. You can find other of her devotions here. Marci is a member of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Asheville, North Carolina, USA.
But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. -Jude 1:20-21 From The Message Bible
Nestled in the hills of North Alabama is a special place--St. Bernard Monastery. This is where my uncle, who is a priest and a monk, goes about his work. In the eyes of the world his work may not seem so glamorous. But there in the monastery my uncle meets God.
On the inside, the monastery is shaped like an upside-down boat. Here the monks have a special place to pray and to feel the wind of the Spirit. The Hebrew word for this is ר֫וּחַ ruach, meaning breath, wind, spirit. In Greek, the word is “pnuema.” πνεῦμα. The Holy Spirit within each of the monks equips them to go out and do God's work among the people.
We may not have a monastery to pray from within. Yet if we are willing, we can create our own quiet place to meet God. Perhaps we could start creating such as space by turning off our cell phones, computers, laptops, and tablets--and listening for God's voice. As we pray, as we listen for the wind of God, the breath of God can enter. In such times we, too, can know the quietness of the Holy Spirit that is moving within us, moving within the world.
During the rest of this Lenten Season, how about listening more to the Holy Spirit; and less to what the world is saying?
For the United States and many other countries, 2016 is an election-driven year. During this time, remember that we do not have to be controlled, be steered by the clamor and tension which seem to come naturally with the political process. A better way waits us for dealing with the “wilderness.” Perhaps you could finish out this Lenten season with prayer and pausing for the Holy Spirit to speak in your life.
- Where is your separate (holy) place to meet with God?
- Who has controls of your ship's rudder?
- How are your Lenten practices going by now?
- Is there something you would like to add?
- Is there something you need to take away?
Thanks be to God.
Peace and Prayer on!
Psalm 147: 3-6 The Message (MSG)
God‛s the one who rebuilds Jerusalem,
who regathers Israel‛s scattered exiles.
He heals the heartbroken
and bandages their wounds.
He counts the stars
and assigns each a name.
Our Lord is great, with limitless strength;
we‛ll never comprehend what he knows and does.
God puts the fallen on their feet again
and pushes the wicked into the ditch.
Where I live in the USA, as the winter days begin to lengthen and we're getting more daylight, I'm reminded that we are rapidly approaching the season of Lent. That season has now begun--this year, Wednesday, February 10.
Today many will attend Ash Wednesday services and receive ashes on their forehead with the pastor saying words something like this: “Remember, human, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words, the ashes, are a stark reminder of our own mortality.
Lent gives us a time to acknowledge our own brokenness and those dark, shadowy sides of ourselves that we sometimes try to pretend don't exist. Lent invites us to dig deeper into what we are all about for 40 days. Our introspection is preparing us for the glory of Easter. As Christians we need this seasonal reminder in our lives.
I'm on a book launch team. The book I received to review is titled, “Surprised by the Healer: Embracing Hope for Your Broken Story,” by Linda Dillow and Dr. Juli Slattery. This book includes nine stories and a ten-week bible study that can be used alongside the readings.
I've found some of these stories difficult to read. That is ok. I began to pace my reading, a little at a time, as I wandered into stories that screamed of too much hurt and brokenness. When I finished the stories, however, I was more able to see how the people were surprised by what the Ultimate Healer could do with their brokenness. With the Healer's assistance, the people were able to rewrite their stories as ones now of hope and forgiveness.
God does not abandon God's people in their pain. God walks right besides us, offering us wider views of faith, hope, and love, at work in the world around us. We are never called to be a people living in darkness, despair, and bondage. The Great Physician is constantly inviting us to walk in the Light.
Hold on, Easter will come soon, that giant declaration of the Light capable of eliminating total darkness. We are to be an Easter people! We are called to Hallejuah! Amen!
Questions for thought and Reflection:
- How do you deal with the season of Lent?
- Do you give up something for Lent, such as chocolate? Do you change your habits, such as attending an extra church service each week?
- We are invited to give alms, fast, and pray during this time. How might this look in your life?
- Fasting from food is not the only fasting we can do during Lent. What are some other forms of fasting that might be meaningful to you?
- How could you make a difference in the lives of people living in poverty, or with other challenges, in addition to giving alms?
Consider some of these questions each week, will help to make the Easter time more holy for you.
The season of introspection is now here! It's time to do Lent!
"A Change is Gonna Come," from an 1980s song by The Neville Brothers
From the diary of my maternal grandmother, Catherine Clark Voss:
[Life] Is a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece perfectly cut. Some parts have the jagged edges of pain. Some the curses of frustration. Some the confusing points of hate. Some the simple lives of love. The synonyms of puzzle pieces and words are endless; each part is a day of living, a human labor of love, to make a complete picture. This complete picture is to be presented before the Divine Cutter of all patterns.
And from 1 Corinthians 12: 27-31, The Message Bible:
The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”:
those who pray in tongues.
But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. And yet some of you keep competing for so called “important” parts.
The only constants in life seem to me to be death, taxes, and changes. Over this Christmas season I have been dealing with some of each. It is funny how new experiences have a way of also dredging up memories of times past. The changes of today took me back to another winter, the middle of my senior year in high school when my father's place of work closed, and we suddenly had to move. I think I was in shock, not wanting to move, not knowing how to say goodbye, and then in a new school not knowing how to make new friends when everyone else had known each other seemingly forever. The whole experience taught me some hard lessons about friendship.
I thought about one particular good friend I had at the Catholic private school I attended through eighth grade; we stayed friends through the next year, but after that things got a bit confusing, and the friendship fizzled out. Nobody's fault, but I learned again about what it takes to be and to keep a friendship strong. Years later, my husband is my best friend and it is something that I do not take lightly. Relationships are not to be taken lightly because as change comes, it helps to be thoughtful of how we and each of our roles is changing.
Over the Christmas holidays my family gathered in Pine Mountain, Georgia, the home of a retreat and resort area known as Callaway Gardens. The two main areas we went to see, however, were the small shop that my younger sister owns there and a new retirement community being built nearby. The retirement community has options of independent living and assisted living, and my parents told us they are planning to move there. Right now it is still under construction, so we just got to see the outside.
My parents said the people get around there by way of a golf cart vehicle. The day we visited it was raining, so we joked with them that they'd need curtains for their golf cart to keep the rain out, and more seats in the back for us all--well, at least a place for their pet dog--to ride. I appreciated that we were having something fun and new to focus on, when really none of us were wanting to dwell upon the reality of the change of them getting older, less capable, and a day coming when each of them would no longer be with us.
Since we returned home from our trip my husband and I had our worries in the house tax bill coming due January 2016. Money is very tight at our house and my husband kept wondering how we'd be able to pay. We ended up using some of the Christmas money to help cover the cost. Sometimes I think we can worry too much and not have faith it will work out.
My parents thanked my sister in advance for helping them with the care they will be needing in the future. They will be near my sister and her three children, who this year are undergoing their own big changes. This spring my sister's oldest daughter will be finishing her second year in college and her youngest child finishing his second year of high school.
Changes, whether or not we wish them to happen in our lives, are gonna come, regardless. That is for certain. It helps if we can anticipate and plan accordingly as my parents have done in their lives. I realize that through their actions my parents are continuing to teach us all how to look ahead and gracefully manage difficult changes that will happen later in our lives. I thank them for doing so. And I thank them for their love story that continues throughout the ups and downs of their lives together.
The photo shown here is one that I took this vacation of my parents standing in front of a stained glass window. As I looked at it, my heart filled with the sense of this devotion. I reflected that just as it takes variations of colors and shapes of pieces in making a stained glass window to be whole, so also it takes an assortment of shades and shapes of experiences to create the whole tapestry that each of our lives becomes.
We may not be able to understand some of the things that are going on now. We are not supposed to. All good things happen in God's own time. We just have to trust the Master Planner.
Thanks be to God.
May you have a blessed and happy life in the year 2016! The future marches on.
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for the gift of life, and the changes and people that are part of each of our lives. Please give us the strength and the grace to keep moving ahead, learning and working with those around us in ways that make will make something beautiful in our time. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen
All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort— we get a full measure of that, too. 2 Corinthians 1 (The Message Bible)
"Oh Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
Oh Tidings of comfort and joy."
from the Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
That first Christmas, so long ago, was really messy.
Jesus was born in a barn, of all places! The animals had a smell about them no doubt, and things were dirty and dusty. No water to take a shower; no heater to keep warm. People may like to think of Christmas with cheerful wrapping paper around the gifts, tasty food, Christmas carols, and families getting together. Sometimes, though, Christmas is not wrapped in cheerful packages. The season seems messy.
Some people may see Christmas nearing with a measure of great dread, for celebration seems the farthest thing possible. Perhaps there's been a loss in the family, such as loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship, a hope, one's health. The loss may be emotional, physical, and financial. The feeling may be related to circumstances; the feeling may be related to a medical condition such as depression.
Sometimes we end up wanting to be alone, to not participate in the usual preparations. Where I live, he shorter days and longer nights around Christmastime do not help. For some, the times seem desperate, with Christmas surrounded in a waves of darkness that end up displacing the light.
Well, I sure don't have all the answers to dark times such as these, but I can offer a few humble thoughts that might be able to help just a little. Because, you see, sometimes I've been one of those feeling the darkness wash over me, feeling like I was being swallowed up. I found how much it helped if I could think of anything to help see or imagine that there is even a glimmer of hope. Yes, beyond darkness and despair, there is always a glimmer of light. And into a dark world long ago, that is what happened. Hope and joy came along. If you can see, or think, or hold onto the promise of hope and of joy for even a fleeting moment, it may help.
Something else I have is a mental "tool box" of what helps me. Do you have such a thing?
One item in there helps me adjust my idea of preparation for things, my responsibilities that come at me. Especially when I am down, instead of feeling like I have to do everything myself, completing a long list of preparations by myself, and finally getting overwhelmed-- I just stop and take a breath. Be realistic. Very little on the list may actually have to be done. Be willing to let some of it go, be willing to be far less ambitious, be willing to share the load of the essentials.
Sometimes we've grown to think family all must get together in a certain way as been done in the past. Yet consider that it might help NOT to go all out at this time of year to visit family. What if a visit was scheduled later on at a calmer time when things were so stressful.
When the darkness seems never-ending, some more things I find in my toolbox that might help:
1. Calling a friend, or chatting on the internet.
2. Spending some quiet time with my dog, a golden retriever named Buddy. Buddy can be a great source of comfort to have on hand when I have days and times I cant seem to find the motivation. He seems to pick up a sense of things not going so well for me, then does his best to comfort me.
3. Sometimes i have to force myself to move, such as doing some housekeeping around the home or going for a walk.
4. Attending church helps me;
5. Keeping a journal and coming back to it to see I have grown maybe more than I thought;
6. Listening to some favorite music .
7. Reading a good book.
8. Going to a hot tub if I can access one.
9. Thinking of spring and St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
I0. Interacting with the Comfort Dogs on the Internet. Why the Comfort Dogs? They are a ministry of faith, hope, and love sponsored by some Lutheran churches here in the USA. Each comfort dog has a card with a color and their own Bible verse. They are called to spread the good news of God's love. They also go into various places such as nursing homes, schools, and hospitals.
I have a few replicas of the dogs in a plush stuffed animal version. Some have a bandana with their name on it. Yes, when I am having a really rough time or tough day, I will go and pick up a comfort dog plush version to be with me.
These are some of the things on my list which I have in my tool box.
The list can be endless. The more items you have in your toolbox, the more likely you are to have what you need when the time comes.
What are some of the items you have in tool box that you can use when things seem bleak?
Did you know that the items in your tool box can change? Perhaps you could share from your toolbox when they are having difficulties in their life.
This Christmas, no matter if we are up, down, in-between or not sure, we are still called to the Presence of God's Love. We are still to be guided by God's voice everyday.
May many blessings come your way, and may you be able to see at least just a small part of these blessings.
How can you bless someone today? How have you received blessings in your own life from others?
Wishing you a Christmas season of faith, hope and love.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration. --John 4:24, the Message Bible
From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Church: noun \ˈchərch\
: a building that is used for Christian religious services
: religious services held in a church
: a particular Christian group
Worship: A noun and a verb. wor·ship \ˈwər-shəp also ˈwȯr-\ noun:
: the act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other
: people who believe in the same god : the act of worshipping God or a god
: excessive admiration for someone
It was a different sort of day at work recently at the Christian retreat center where I work as housekeeper. We were in the thick of the fall season, one of our busiest times of the year. Management had brought in some auxiliary help to the laundry, and suddenly one of the workers there broke into a rendition of the beloved hymn, "His eye is on the sparrow...." My, could she hit those notes! We all stopped to listen before returning, inspired, to our individual work assignments.
Yes, even though it gets really hectic at work sometimes, I was reminded how much a pause to praise God, even in the height of our busy-ness, can help to remind us what it's all about. "Amen!" we said when the singer finished. Someone said they felt like they were in church. I thought to myself I wonder if they realized how right they were! Praise God and clean on!
Since that day at the laundry room I've been putting some extra thought into the topic of worship. I've been wondering:
- What happens when we worship God during the hardships and trials of life?
- How does such worship affect our outlook and purpose in life?
- What happens when we pause to worship God even as we hold onto the messiness of our lives?
- Could “church” take place any time and any where, not needing to be centered or focused just within a physical building?
- What if “Church” had no walls for division? How would the ministry of the church be changed in that form of thinking?
- Can you imagine “Praising God all the day long?”
- Suppose you were praising God as you went about the duties of your work or service--what would that look like in your life? Would it possibly shift the way you look at true work as a vocation?
When our duties go beyond ordinary they become extraordinary. We become extraordinary when we think and act beyond the “everydayness” of ourselves. Suppose, then, if we keep our worship focus upon praising God for our lifetime, then we will not have to fear our death! Our worship will take on a different form of being when we come unto God!
God wants all the aspects of our lives from birth to death. I don't know about you, but it is easy for me to try to separate and contain the parts of my life such as job, family, work, school into mental "boxes". We say “Ok, God, I'm here doing this thing at this point in time, and I'm trying to be God-focused.” We cannot put the departments of our lives into such neat little boxes. God wants the parts even that don't fit right into the boxes. God wants all of ourselves, all the time. To give only a part of that is to not give unto God our whole being.
Thanks be to God!
For help with a moment of worship today:
For many Christians in the Western part of the world, the church's new year will soon be here, beginning with the first day of Advent. The date moves year to year but is always the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year that day is Sunday, November 29, 2015.
Advent literally means "coming." This season invites us into a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming birth of Christ as seen through the eyes of people long ago, and the coming realm of Christ as seen by Christians today.
Our brothers and sisters of Jewish faith have just observed the start of the new year with Rosh Hashana, meaning the 'Head of the Year.' This two-day observance, which also calls observers to a special time of reflection, began this year at sundown on September 13 and ended September 15. Rosh Hashana also begins the Jewish "High Holy Days" and will be followed in 10 days by Yom Kippur, the "day of atonement."
Where I live, the secular world begins the new year on January 1. Many of us will buy a new calendar to keep track of the days.
Sometimes we observe a new year in a less formal way. For me the first official day of school is full of anticipation and a sense of growth. In the United States this time typically comes around August or early September, although variations seem to be springing up all over. Traditionally, many parents will take a "first day of school" photo of their child in a special place each year, such as in front of their home or school. I love to compare the series of photos over the years, showing the person growing from being a child to a teen to an adult.
Another of the many ways to see a new year is by marking a special date when something happened, such as a major world event, a personal accomplishment, or a deep loss.
However a new year begins for each of us, such time is one for reflection of what we have left behind and anticipation of what is along the path ahead---a new beginning, a new chapter in life using the gifts we have with us this new day.
Yes, some will even write resolutions or goals they'd like to accomplish during the year. Allowing failure could even be a resolution, with grace for times when things don't work out as we've planned and hoped!
The year 2015 has brought many endings and beginnings to my own family. What about yours? For instance, my brother's oldest son graduated high school and began studying at the US Air Force Academy. My younger brother retired from the Air Force in August with rank of Lt. Colonel. My sister's middle son and my cousin's youngest daughter have started their senior years in high school; their final year doesn't seem possible because it seems like only yesterday when they were small children at our family reunion.
Yes, my sister took a photo of her high-school senior son. I could tell that he was not thrilled to have his picture taken! In years to come he may be grateful that she did take the photo; he, too may be amazed at how he has grown.
In my church, we have a young woman who has received her Master of Divinity degree and will be ordained into Christian ministry this Fall in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It has been interesting to watch her grow and develop as a person and a minister, especially because I can remember when she was only nine years old. What are some of the milestones that you are seeing around you?
During cycles of beginnings and endings, keep in mind that progress is in the making. Sometimes it feels likes life is not progressing at all, even that we are in a rut or going backwards. But when we look back, sometimes even years later, we see how we were growing all along despite what we thought.
Despite the differences in our calendars--the human made ones, our personal ones, and God's own time, part of our calling is to grow and develop into the complete person that God has called us to be.
When I was a high school student a song called The Rose came out. I loved what it said. It talks about a seed planted in the soil, then growing silently and sometimes seeming not to grow at all. Meanwhile this seed in winter is getting what it needs all along--the nutrients, moisture, and just the right temperature from nature. Then in the spring, the flower blooms into the fullness of its own time.
Happy New Beginnings, New Starts, New Chapters, and New Year to you!
- What is God calling you to do at this special point in your life?
- Where could God be directing you in the next few years ahead?
- How could you help someone as they travel their own life's path?Life comes at us, full circle.
God bless you and safe travels on your way, wherever you are guided.
What's in your bag?
Don't take a traveling bag for the trip, a change of clothes, sandals, or a walking stick. After all, the worker deserves to have his needs met. -from God's Word Translation
Where I live in North Carolina, USA, right now it's summer and it is hot. Traveling season is in full swing. And, each traveler must make decisions about all sorts of stuff that could go into his or her luggage. Each must even choose what goes on their luggage as they add a name tag to help identify the bag. Decisions, decisions.
Then Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a wallet, traveling bag, or sandals, you didn't lack anything did you?” “Not a thing!” they answered.
People carry with them emotional, spiritual, and physical baggage, too. Emotional baggage could come from an experience such as losing a family member, a beloved pet, or a life-long dream. Spiritual baggage could come from having a faith crises as the pieces of life seem to be unraveling.
Physical baggage could be challenges a person was born with or had happen later in life. Some of my physical baggage includes scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. As a young teen I had to go through the whole process of wearing a clumsy and visible back brace. Later on in my life I've had to deal with a broken shoulder that even now has good days and bad that I have to work around.
My husband had to deal with losing his dad when he was still in high school. Later, while he was still in college, his mom passed away. Sometimes dealing with excess baggage in one's life is nowhere as quick and easy a thing as setting aside that extra pair of shoes you think you can do without. Dealing with baggage can take time and other people who will come alongside to help us and support us for the way ahead.
I remember having to pack for the trip to my younger brother's graduation from the Air Force Academy a long time ago. We were to fly from Asheville, North Carolina to Colorado for the ceremony. I told my husband that I had packed too much. And I was right; the luggage and clothing became something we had to endure on the trip. We ended up worrying about whether or not our luggage would actually survive the flight home. We felt fortunate when we and the luggage arrived home more or less intact.
I've learned that people have to learn how to pack, and that for about any type of trip you take you will find packing lists available. Although I do not like to use lists I do spend time trying to think through what I know I will probably need and what I will probably not need, thus only packing essentials. Overpacking my bag might even cause me to end up forgetting what is most necessary, such as medicines and travel documents.
Sometimes packing up is no fun at all. That was the case in an unexpected move that I had to make in the middle of my senior year in high school. Our family home sold sooner than expected when my dad had taken a new job in another city. I remember happily coming home from a karate class one night, only to find my mom and the realtor ecstatic that our house had just sold! I was not ecstatic, to say the least. I was terrified, angry, and in shock.
We ended up having to move to an apartment and packing up most of our stuff to go into storage. We celebrated Christmas early that year so my dad could go on ahead to start his new job.
When we were able to move to the new city, we packed things up to unpack once again when we arrived at a hotel where we would stay while waiting to move into our new house. We lived out of our suitcases at the hotel until our new home was finally ready for us. Meanwhile, I was starting at a new high school where all the other Seniors seemed to have known each other forever and have little space for a new, short term friendship with me. That move and the unsettledness that came along with it seemed to define my senior year and beyond. Unfortunately, remnants of the move are still part of my life's baggage.
One thing I've discovered is that the baggage we carry with us can itself become like an idol to us and keep us from growing and healing. That is not God's way. The way of God is always light.
“You might be needing forgiveness before the day is out. Stoop down, and reach out to those who are oppressed. We are called to help “share their burdens, and in doing so, complete the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:1-3, from the Message Bible
Some of the ways I have found to unpack “baggage” are:
- listening to music
- What is some of the baggage that you are carrying with you?
- How can you unpack in a safe and helpful way?
- Who can you speak with to help you get through your unpacking?
- Who can pray with you during those times the baggage seems really heavy and too much to bear?
I will leave you with a link to and the words of a song, “No, Never Alone,” that often helps to lighten my load:
I’ve seen the lightning flashing, And heard the thunder roll; I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, Trying to conquer my soul; I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, Telling me still to fight on; He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
No, never alone, No, never alone, He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone; No, never alone, No, never alone, He promised never to leave me, Never to leave me alone.
Marci McGowan has been active in helping with the Leadership Team of DisciplesNet Church since 2010, and regularly contributes her work to share with our DisciplesNet viewers. She is a graphic artist, housekeeper, and writer, and makes her home in Asheville, North Carolina, USA with her husband and faithful dog Buddy.
Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to you out of that dead end, emptyheaded life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately at the end of the agesbecome public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It's because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God. -1 Peter 1:18-21 (The Message Bible)
Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves. -Philippians 4:22 (The Message Bible)
The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you! - 1 Thessalonians 5:28 (The Message Bible)
On a cold winter night in February 2015, suspected heart trouble sent me to the hospital. I was whisked in, bypassing the emergency room, straight to the Clinical Observational Decision Unit.
This all came about because I had been having lung congestion. I'd tried to get medicine called in to my pharmacy that I thought would help, an inhaler and cough medicine, but the doctor's office wanted to see me before prescribing medicine. The doctor's office said I could come that afternoon and they'd work me in to see a doctor, although my regular doctor wouldn't be available.
The doctor who examined me listened to my lungs and said they were all clear. To rule out heart trouble she gave me an EKG right there in her office--a heart test. She observed that my "left ventricle was down" on the test, and was pushing me to go to the hospital and get it checked out. When I hesitated--I didn't want to spend the money--another doctor came in, telling me also that they both thought it best I go in to the hospital. So I did, and found myself staring up at the ceiling in the Observation Unit.
Luckily I was there for only one night. They ran heart test after heart test on me. By the next afternoon the doctor cleared me saying that things looked good enough with my heart and that I could go on home! Yay!
But I knew the bill was yet to come. Just that one day and night in the hospital cost $10,000. After the insurance was figured in, the cost to me came down a lot, to $816.36. Even at that, when I showed my husband the bill, all I could ask was, "How are we going to pay that?" We live on a very small fixed income and can barely manage what bills we have.
Then an acquaintance suggested I call the "Help" phone number listed on the bill. So I did, and they sent my information on to “Charity Care.” Charity Care is what they call their extra help program for patients who don't have financial means beyond their insurance to pay their hospital bill. In my mind I see this as a help out, not a hand out. We anxiously waited to hear if the program would be able to help in my case.
Finally this past week the letter came in the mail. I was nervous as I opened it, then read: we would not have to pay any amount on the bill--we were receiving a 100% discount! A 100% discount! Paid in full. That was the best piece of news that my husband and I have had in a long time. I cannot begin to describe to you how this felt, but for someone struggling to get by each day, the feeling was such a powerful lift to our lives.
It went beyond the hospital bill for me. This experience has also given me a better picture of God's grace. With the Easter season here, I thought of God's son Jesus dying on the cross, his heart full of love for the world. Rather than worrying about how we can account for all of the sin and problems in our lives, how we can pay for God's forgiveness, instead we get the Good News that all has been "paid in full.” This was no small amount, either, beyond what we can imagine.
Through God's son Jesus we have an assurance that God forgives our sins, and we don't need to go on living under the burden of something we don't see a way to change by our own power. It took a bill paid in full for me to understand to a new level.
Jesus used real life parables in his time to explain the things of God. I think God still does that for us in our time as well! Who knew what meaning a simple 100% discount, to someone on a fixed income, would mean so much more!
Alleluia and Amen!
When has some one in your life given you grace, lately?
How have you shown grace to others?
How have you given thanks to God for his grace to you?
Prayer: Dear God, we thank you for your amazing grace shown to us through Jesus, for your forgiveness of our sins when we call upon your name to help us. As we celebrate the risen Christ in the world this season of Easter, we pray for you to help us to show grace to others, and to live in ways that tell let your grace be known around the world. We pray this in the Holy name of your son Jesus, Amen.
About Marci McGowan: Marci has been a regular leadership member with DisciplesNet Church since 2010 and often contributes devotionals, artwork, and wisdom to share with our viewers. Marci is a graphic artist and writer, and is a member of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Asheville, North Carolina, USA.
72 parts of the heart
What if God has an extremely large heart?
1 Corinthians 13 (The Message Bible) If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and make everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always “me first,”Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sings of others, Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end...
- Who are your “valentines” this month?
- How are you going to show love to others?
- What has God done to show his love to you?
O God of Love, thank you for giving us life--- and with that life, hearts that can feel to the fullest the great joys and great sorrows that go along with being alive. In all of these feelings, help us to feel your Love with us, lifting and abiding with us, all the days of our life.
Please help us to continue learning to love more like you do, each day, even as we learn to love you more fully. In Jesus name we pray, Amen
About Marci McGowan: Marci is a team member and a regular contributor to DisciplesNet. She is a member of First Christian Church, Asheville, NC and a graphic artist with published artwork. In 2010 Marci's exuberant golden retriever puppy, Buddy, ran into her legs, causing Marci to fall on the stone and cement walkway and shatter her left shoulder. While in the hospital for reconstructive surgery on her shoulder, Marci discovered how writing could help. Marci has a knack for seeing God in the everydayness of life.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out.
Plans to take care of you, not abandon you,
plans to give you the future you hoped for.
-Jeremiah 29:11 The Message Bible
The year 2015 is a huge milestone year in my family. According to Wikipedia, a milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary at intervals of one mile or occasionally, parts of a mile. They are typically located at the side of the road, or in a median. They are also known as mile markers or mile posts. Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, or to give the remaining distance to a destination.
On the road of life, one of the destinations I am coming to this year is a 50th birthday. I will turn 50 on September 13, 2015. I noticed that on this year's calendar for 2015 my birthday falls on the same day as the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah!
My husband is having an educational milestone of his own; 40 years since his college graduation. My brother's oldest son, Nathan, is having a milestone during his 17th year.
He will be graduating from high school. In the fall of 2015 he will be going to the Air Force Academy on a full scholarship. He is going to the school that his dad, my younger brother, attended. We are all very proud of Nathan; he has put a lot of hard work into the scholarship, and his efforts are paying off.
Luke 2:41-52 The Message Bible
Every year Jesus parents traveled to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went as they always did for the Feast.
When it was over, and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents didn't know it. Thinking he was somewhere in the company of pilgrims they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for him among relatives and neighbors. When they didn't find him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for him.
The next day they found him in the Temple seated among the Teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with him, impressed with the sharpness of his answers. But his parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.
His mother said, “Young man, why you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.
He said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” They had no idea what he was talking about.
So he went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.”
Jesus' time at Temple when he was twelve was definitely a milestone. It marked the beginning of what would follow as he began to explain to the world how God wanted us to live and act, each in our own lifetimes.
The new Year of 2015 is also a milestone. January 2015 is a beginning. What are some of the milestones that are happening in your life during the year of 2015? How do you mark time and special events? What is God calling you to do?
Gracious and loving God, thank you for the milestones, the markers we have that remind us of where we have been. Please help us to remember that we did not make it this far alone, that come tough times, proud times, even ordinary times, you have been with us. As we continue in this new year of 2015, help us to remember that you go with us every mile of the way. Help us to know you are there and hear your voice as you lead us in the ways that we should go. In Jesus' name, Amen
“Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” -Luke 2:8-12, The Christmas Story, from The Message Bible
The Give-Away Box
At the retreat center where I work we keep a Give-Away box as well as a Lost and Found box. The Give-Away box is plain and simple. It is a plastic storage container. The administration people will call the guests who stayed in a room and accidentally left one or more items behind when they checked out. Often, a guest will tell them to give their stuff to charity. Charity is the “Give-Away” box!
I have found stuff in there. Some of it is really good. If it looks like something that someone I know is in need of, such as in the church, I will take the stuff home for the ones in need and put an offer out; they can take it or leave it but the choice is theirs. It feels good to be able to share this gift, hoping that this will fill a real place of need in someone's life. It feels good to be able to pass along a gift that someone else started in motion, even if I never saw the giver in person.
How does this relate to the Christmas season and beyond? Well, God gave us a part of himself, something so plain and simple yet so profound in nature: the gift of Jesus! The baby Jesus came into a hurting world with no birth announcements. Most people in the world at that time did not even know about his birth. In those days his tiny little hands didn't seem to be holding gifts that would transform the world. In fact, at the time his life depended on a steady stream of what others could give to him: mother's milk, warmth, holding, consoling, cleaning, rocking, safety.
Yet Jesus would turn out to be the most amazing gift that the world has been given! Too often, we overlook the real meaning of Christmas by getting distracted by shallow, loud and meaningless stuff that comes our way at Christmastime, year after year. How about for this Christmas we focus our attention instead on the low-key birth of Jesus? Jesus was not born in extravagance. He was born in a simple and smelly stable among farm animals. His family had to major hotel chain to stay in when they were far away from home.
Yet over time the gift of Jesus began to change lives, change the way we saw God. Jesus would come shining a bright light into our lives. He would come to eradicate the darkness and show the world the true meaning of faith, hope, and love. This Gift is yours by grace. Have you made it your choice to receive? Have you made it your choice to share this gift with others?
Prayer: Thank you, God, for sending a tiny child into the world as a gift that would grow up and change the world. Thank you for making the Good News of your love known to us by Jesus. Please help us during this busy time of year to keep our eyes on the gift of Jesus to the world. In doing so, help us experience the miracle that in giving away to others the Good News of Jesus' Christ, it comes to us even stronger. We pray these things in Jesus name, Amen
full of grace and truth.
We have beheld his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father.
-John 1:14 (Revised Standard Version)
A Uniform Matter: Fall at the Retreat Center
During the month of October it gets really busy at the Christian retreat center that I work at as a housekeeper. Our center is a popular destination in the North Carolina mountains. As the fall air becomes clear and crisp and the leaves turn to gold, orange, and red, our rooms fill up--and our housekeeper's workload gets stretched to the limit. Our daily housekeeper's room list, showing which rooms we each need to clean, gets long enough to almost seem overwhelming.
Yet, first and foremost, we and the other employees work in all the ways we can to be good hosts for the guests who are visiting us. Our Management leads the way by helping our staff be good hosts. It doesn't matter what job position someone holds at the Center; the emphasis for each and every one is on hospitality and the ministry aspect of servant work.
Last week, October 12-16, I saw things get taken up a notch. That was when we looked up as we were working and saw our management team wearing the regular uniforms of housekeepers, pitching in to help out. I can't begin to say what an impact that had on me as a worker. It reminded me immediately of what Jesus had done when he came to earth. He had taken on the “uniformity” of humans.
Jesus became fully human and fully divine. I was able to relate to his fully human aspect last week because of what our management had done. The ladies on the management team have no idea how much of an impression they have made on me by putting on the regular housekeeper's uniform and helping with all we had to do. They modeled Jesus! I needed that reminder during the extremely busy week.
Our work as housekeepers may seem ordinary but what we do is important, making a real impact on our guests and our co-workers as well. Who would have thought that something so simple such as putting on a uniform would have such a huge impact?
Jesus is around us today. We only need to look, listen, and be available to his presence.
Prayer: Loving God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to dwell among us. As Jesus wore a servant's heart and taught us through his actions and his love, help us to do likewise. Thank you for those who model Jesus' teachings to us. Please help us each to show servant leadership and hospitality to all we meet. For it is in Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Marci McGowan is a member of First Christian Church in Asheville, North Carolina and a regular at DisciplesNet Church, contributing in many ways, including her devotionals.
This devotional comes from Marci McGowan, DisciplesNet regular and member at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Asheville, North Carolina USA. DisciplesNet welcomes devotionals from the community. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2 (NIV) There is a sun dial in my front yard that says “Grow old along with, me...The best is yet to be.” Another Christmas season has come to a close, and another year is now underway, and the clock keeps on moving ahead. Did you know that the ancient Greeks had two words for time? Chronos was used for scheduled time, such as days, months, and years in a person's life. Chronos is “of the clock; the o'clock part of let's say, “4 o'clock pm.” Kairos was different, used for the seasons in a person's life that are beyond or outside of regular time. Both types show up in the New Testament. As I think about time, I think of Mark, our hospice houseguest who is busy reapplying for Medicaid, something that he has to do every year: chronos. We have recently been on a trip to visit my family, including my sister and brother and their kids. We look at old how the kids are getting--all of them now in school--and what each is doing at the particular stage in his or her life. For instance, the oldest, my sister's daughter, is now in her senior year of high school. This time for her is exciting as she applies for admission and scholarships to various colleges. We are waiting to hear which school she will pick. Time has passed quickly for my brother's oldest son. No longer a little boy, he's a member of his high school's cross-country team. All of these things are related to kairos time. Kairos time can be thought of as experiencing life and the things about life in its present moment. Often people gets so involved in what they are doing with their life, they do not notice the chronos time passing by. Much of my life seems to be ordered by chronos time, as I having to work on a schedule and set the alarm clock for each next day. But when I am involved with my writing, photos, or graphics, time passes rapidly; scheduled time almost loses some of its meaning or purpose. I prefer the kairos moments, but chronos has its own purpose and place, especially in ordering and measuring our life experiences. Much about birth and death are chronos time. We know that Mark is currently dying, which will occur on some day and be written in the books, chronos. The process of dying, kairos is difficult for Mark and the rest of us because we don't know when it will occur, but we want to make the most of the time we have. For many people in hospice, the process of dying takes much longer than they thought. When it does happen, it will be the right time for Mark. And when it comes, we will deal with it. Sometimes God's time can seem to move very slowly. We do not know why or how things happen. I still miss my Granny and Papa during holiday time, although they have been gone a long time. I still mourn the loss of a special dog I had in my life, named Koko, who lived to an old age of 16. She died of a stroke, and we saw her through her death. Both chronos and kairos times are needed to help make some sense out of life. The Christian faith deals with both time and measurement during the everydayness of our lives. The Church has its seasons, such as Advent, start of the new year, ordinary time (which is anything but ordinary), and special days in between. All help to give our lives of faith meaning and purpose. My husband has been out of work for over 2.5 years. I often wonder when he is ever going to get a job. I've decided that part is on God's time, and I am having to base our near future on faith. In the meantime, we continue with the food stamps. I continue to work at the retreat center, we look for fun and free things to do, and we work our way through the times of life. We can save time, spend time, use time, go on Daylight Savings time, or be out of time. If any of you have ever been on a retreat or long vacation, you know that it is very hard to get back to normal “clock” time when you return home. We mark our days by special celebrations as a reminder of how far we have come in time. Time is a gift from God. How we use it and what we do with it, even if we choose not to use our time wisely, is up to each of us. Today, I am trying to be more thoughtful of how I use the time that I have been given, because if I use the gift of time wisely, this can be part of my offering of thanksgiving back to God. What are some of your ideas about time? Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the gift of time that you have given to each of us, both chronos and kairos. None of us knows how many days we have, but we know that if we live our days in the way you have told us to live, we get closer to the kingdom of God, everyday. We thank you that we don't have to fear time, because in trusting you, the best is yet to come. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen
The following devotional comes from Marci McGowan, a DisciplesNet regular and a member at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Asheville, North Carolina USA. DisciplesNet welcomes devotionals from the community. Submit these to: email@example.com
“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
My work is at a retreat center, doing as-needed housekeeping. My assignments could be anywhere from cleaning a suite room, to four guest rooms, to the lobby areas or the cabins. If I find a tip in the room---an amount of money left for the housekeeper---that is a big motivator to me. I have also found notes, such as thanks, or blessings, which make my day. Guests who leave these things make the work seem lighter as I go about my job, through each room, being careful to note what is and is not needed for the next guest.
Often when I enter a room I'll find wet towels scattered about, the ironing board left out and various personal items left behind. If the linen crew comes in to strip the beds and take the sheets to the laundry area, I get lucky. Otherwise, by my fourth room of taking off sheets and putting them on, I am ready for a break.
The procedure for making each bed is the same: fitted sheet first, then flat sheet, fleece blanket, and then another flat sheet over the blanket. That all has to be tucked in with just-right hospital corners on the end of the bed. Next comes the bedspread, until finally the pillows finish the job, four to each queen-sized bed.
We make sure towels are in place, folded just right and ready to be used. However, our rooms have a printed card reminding guests to “conserve.” This gives guests the chance to be thoughtful about not using towels and linens unless they are really needing to be used.
Room by room, housekeepers continue until their assignment sheets are completed. At the end of our shifts, we each look at the cart we've used and replenish it with the proper amount of sheets, pillow cases, toiletries, and chocolates. Of course, our giving thanks to God at the end of a busy shift helps us on the ride home.
I really like where I work and what I am doing. The best part about the job is knowing that I have made a difference for the next guest coming in, giving them a chance to relax better because their needs have been thought of then seen to. No matter how busy our jobs may be, now matter where we are, we all have jobs to do in the business of sharing one another's burdens.
Want to be a perfect guest? Here are a few tips that make a big difference to house keepers.
When people leave tips, the amounts usually range from $1 to $20. I hope guests don't see these tips as "throwing money away.” It could be the housekeeper’s gas or groceries for that particular week. Housekeepers can never ask a guest for tips; that is considered rude and wrong.
Even if you cannot afford a tip of any kind, the little thoughtful things do help, such as leaving the towels in a pile or the sheets stripped off the bed. Any housekeeper would appreciative the guest doing so. These thoughtful acts build up.
We are all called to serve, whether it is in housekeeping or something else. Each job, no matter how insignificant it may appear to be, is actually very important in the eyes of God. And every thoughtful act toward each other speaks of God's love.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you the opportunities we have for work in our lives, and for your inspiration to always do our best, whatever we set our hand to do. Help us to see that every calling from you is a great one, if we work to do our best with the talents and resources that you give us. Help us to not sell ourselves short in thinking that what we do does not matter.
Thank you for the gift of seeing the world through another's eyes, and of respecting the place of each of your dear children in each and every situation. Help us as we learn to help each other, and discover the the great privilege it is to share one another's burdens. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. -Romans 12:10 (New International Version)
It was a Friday afternoon after work. There had been a rapid response training session going on at the retreat center. Part way through the housekeeping, I saw a retriever puppy with a vest. The vest means that the dog is working. I asked, “May I pet?” It was ok. The name of the dog’s vest was “Amazing Gracie.” I petted her and continued to finish the housekeeping.
When I got off work for the day, out in the parking lot I saw another retriever dog wearing the same type of green vest. I went over to the people and asked if I may pet. They said I could. I bent over to pet her. I found out her name was “Mrs. Brown.” During that time I was petting her, then put my head directly on her head, I felt a Godly presence surrounding me in that parking lot. She was showing me pure unconditional love. I kissed her on the nose and found out her handler was on Facebook. It was hard to leave Mrs. Brown. I knew she was there to go through the training. So I went on home, and she and her handlers went on to finish the training.
That was the one thing I needed reassurance about at that moment, that God is always with me, no matter what hard times I’ve been dealing with or going through. The experience with “just a dog” in the parking lot at that moment seemed almost holy to me. God is always present with us in our lives, whatever and where ever we may be. We just usually have to ask and then wait for God’s unending answer of Pure Love. This love may also come to us in a form that we are not used to experiencing. God’s Love is always there, we just need to be open to look, learn, and live! During that supposedly very ordinary moment in the parking lot at work, Mrs. Brown, Honor Dog in Christ, had been an instrument of God’s faithfulness and love.
More about he Honor Therapy dogs at: www.HonorTherapyDogs.org
2 Corinthians 5:7
“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage.” (New American Standard Bible)
Ssssssshhhhhhhh! God is at work!
Recently there have been a lot of uncertainties in my life. Mostly these have to do with jobs and getting by. My husband and I each keep trying to find work. We are hoping so much for even more, one that would have benefits. Right now I am waiting to hear back about a job at the place I worked before the accident when I shattered my shoulder.
Then there is the food stamp recertification process, so much paperwork and waiting. I know the letter has been received because I got a call from someone the other week. I sent out a thank you letter to the lady who interviewed me earlier this past week. I am trying the best I know how, but in all that happens, I have no control over what happens.
Have you ever been in that place before? For me life seems stuck at that place where people keep encouraging, “It's always darkest before the dawn,” and “For every door that closes, another door will open.” During this waiting time, it seems that nothing is going on that I can visibly see, despite everything we are trying.
So, I have been dealing with this--by walking. I've now managed to add another half mile to the walk, making the total I now walk each day to 4.5 miles. Because of the heat I am having to walk later in the day now.
With my walking, I have been able to see progress. I have also started turning the walking time into an active form of prayer. Sometimes it is hard to see what God is doing or not doing by human standards. Someone had to remind me recently that things happen in God's time. God doesn't need to follow some schedule I set or calendar I keep.
I am also seeing how God is providing during this endless difficult stretch. We have the food stamps until we get through with the recertification process. I am back on an assistance program which allows me to see the doctor and get medicine. My husband's application for help has not been processed yet, but I'm having faith that it will go through. I am learning firsthand how God's answers do not always agree with what I think or want. God's answers may be "not now," or "there's something better I have in mind for you," or in some cases, a very big "Yes!"
Also during this time, I have been active in working to help my church get ready for a fundraiser, benefitting our community assistance ministries and Habitat for Humanity. I've worked on some of the details, such getting banners and posters for advertisements and a band to play for the benefit. Getting ready for the benefit has been like putting a 3-D puzzle together, but it is coming together now, and businesses, individuals--and a band are coming to help.
As for my husband's job, I have faith he will eventually get something. At this point in time, I'm not sure as to what, where, or how his job or anything else will work out. I do know the hand of God and the power of prayer have been keeping me pushing on and walking on. I will get to my goal of those seven miles. I am even considering signing up for some 5ks (3 miles) walks here in town. I know that God is working. Even when we're not completely sure of the direction that God is steering us, sometimes we have to just help the faith along the way by keeping going, keeping on putting one foot ahead of the other, all while praying. This is what I call walking in faith.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (ESV)
How to Run a Race
Back in high school I was on the cross-country team. For three and a half years during cross country season our team would practice regularly, doing "runs" across various terrains to get used to running in the competitive races.
Our days back then could be exhausting. As soon as the school day ended, track practice began. Our routine included stretching, a warm-up run, then a practice run which often meant a 6.5 mile round-trip from the school. Some days my body was aching and screaming even before I began my one-mile walk home from school.
Some days it would have been tempting to forget the reason behind the training, but that is where being on a team helped. When one of us would experience down times on the team or in life, having support from team members--as well as from others at school or my family, made such a big difference.
All the while, I was learning. I learned that it takes everybody for a team to work: each individual and the team as a whole must to be persistent and stick with the training and preparation for what lies ahead. Encouraging others along, especially when the going gets tough, could make all the difference in how things turned out.
Although I usually ran on the Junior Varsity and did not place in the big races, I was still part of the team as a whole. I did my part and in the end earned “letters” in cross-country and JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Program, which also called for great amounts of physical training and fitness.) Letters are patches awarded at the end of the season; they can be sewn onto a school jacket. Not everyone who participates gets a letter. Earning a letter signifies accomplishment, of having been faithful in sticking with the team along the way and being in the top number meeting the requirements.
Earning the letters was important to me then and now. Even more importantly, however, has been the learning from those experiences that has stuck with me since and influenced my life and my walk in faith as a Christian. Maybe you have some similar experiences that keep on helping you in your Christian faith.
Some big lessons I learned were: 1) the value of sacrificing what I need to sacrifice in order to keep strong enough to persist in what is worthwhile in life. 2) the need to work with others along the way in reaching goals that are higher than any one person. 3) the need to push myself to run new "terrains," to try new things, so I can be best prepared to navigate well through whatever unknowns that lie ahead.
Years later, I still train physically, even after quite a few health challenges. I am still on a walking program and take it mile by mile. Some days I do not walk because of the weather or my health. That is okay. But it is important to me to keep going, to set goals for myself physically, and to find people who encourage me in reaching my goals. In the same way,I try to be the encourager for others, too.
The Christian life is not meant to be accomplished all at once. We train and grow in steps that continue throughout each of our life. As with physical training, that support system is important in following Christ. We are called to be church together, to help and encourage one another in each individual's continuing challenges in life and in faith. We are all different and can all learn from others' experiences, all while supporting each other. And in all we do, we can encourage each other to keep our eyes ahead, on the race that Christ is calling each of us to run. Wherever you are, don't be discouraged, you can do it! Just keep at it and never quit.
Dear God, thank you for calling us into this life of faith that puts us with those around us in training, practicing, working hard, and sacrificing each and every day so that we may accomplish your will. Help us to run this race of life faithfully and persistently toward the goals that you have set before us, growing each day in our understanding of the disciples that Jesus Christ calls us to be. These things we ask in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
It is calvary in the night's
Time awaits when morning shall,
and wonders if it will ever show up
Then hence comes Death
ringing at the doorbell of life.
And brings its' own
and its own darkness dressed in black.
For it is in Death that no harvest
ever blooms to yield full beauty
in its bounty...
and there exists malice with anger,
condemnation and misery,
and abomination done
unto the utmost severity.
It molests the very existence of life
with the taunting mockery of its own
Death, oh grimful Death.
Of fire and brimstone,
and burn-in-hell death.
Hear thou the cries of the children,
of the children of men.
Please, oh please.
Do so kindly yield unto their babylonian cries of the ages...
of their children,
and their children's children.
Tell them to weep and wail not.
For the graying time of winter
Turns into the brilliance of summer.
and so does the fading autumn
bloom unto Spring.
Thou must harken thy way onward,
Though thou thinkest thyself
ageless, thou are aging, Death.
For the newborn, Life, is fast
drawing thy last breath.
And putting color into a world that
only black and shades of gray,
To make the truth a brilliant
gold, and turn night into day!
Dear God, when things seem most dark and bleak, as it did on the hill of Calvary long ago, keep the spark of hope in our lives and souls for the resurrection of life with you everlasting. Help us to feel in our hearts that peace that passes all understanding even in times when we cry out in despair. For we know that Jesus Christ will reign within us throughout all the days of our lives, and the Lord's day is coming when all night will be as day.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, we pray, Amen
From The Better Way, by Marci McGowan:
Luke 15: 7-9
“Or supposed a women had ten silver coins, and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”
New International Version
Recently I had been looking everywhere for one sandal from a favorite pair of flip-flops that I own. I had taken them with me on a retreat weekend. Now I feared that I had accidentally thrown one in the trash or that my puppy, Buddy, had had a shoe lunch. My husband offered to help me find them. I had told him I tried sweeping underneath the sofa, in our dining room. I was not able to locate the missing sandal.
So, hubby got on the floor, and with a flashlight, looked under the sofa. He said that it was way in the back, and I would not have seen it. He retrieved the missing sandal! I was so relieved that it was not Buddy or that I had not thrown it out after all.
If you are like me, it is not so unusual to lose things. So what does this common event have to do with our faith? Well, for one I could definitely relate to the woman that Jesus told about who had found her missing coin. I found myself posting on Facebook that I had found the lost sandal! Also I was so grateful to my husband who cared enough to help me keep looking.
And, like the sandal that was there all the time, I was reminded that sometimes in our faith we just have to dig deeper and persist longer so that we can find what is waiting there for us, through the grace of God. Sometimes it is only when we seek with all of our resources that we finally find it is what is there all the time.
What is it that you are seeking today?
Dear God, thank you for helping us as we seek with all our hearts to know you. Thank you that you are always present with us, even when we lose sight of you, forget, or ignore you. Thank you that we have the privilege of coming to know you and your ways. In Jesus' name, Amen.