Friday, May 29, 2009

God's Presence

Read Isaiah 58:6-12

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
-1 John 4:12 (NRSV)

A year after Hurricane Katrina, I went to New Orleans with other students in my campus ministry group. We spent a week hanging drywall, spackling, and sanding in Alice's home. Alice was an older woman who had lost three siblings in the year after the hurricane. As she served us peach tea and showed us her paintings of Jesus and Mary, she told us about her life.

By the end of the week, Alice's warmth, gratitude, and faith had inspired and strengthened our faith. Before we could thank her for sharing her life with us, she put her arms around us and told us, with tears in her eyes, "Y'all have been God's presence in my life. You don't know how much you've blessed me. God has been good to me by sending you."

That night during our evening devotions, we reflected on the reciprocal nature of God's rich blessings. Alice had taught us about faith, hope, and love as much as we had helped her as she rebuilt her house and grieved her losses. God truly does become present through the people in our lives; God lives, heals, and loves through our interactions with one another.

Alison VanBuskirk (New York, USA)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Maybe Yes and Maybe No"

Read Proverbs 3:1-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
-Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)

YEARS ago a little girl in our preschool class would always sit up front next to me for our morning "circle time." When I'd show the children's name cards for the helper chart, she'd blurt out, "What about me?" Or she would ask, "Is it my turn today?" I finally began telling her, "Maybe yes and maybe no." For some reason, that answer seemed to comfort her, and she would smile and echo my words.

Over and over again, I'm reminded of my words to her. If I want to know if something is going to happen in the future, I'll think, Maybe yes and maybe no. If I want to know if certain prayers will be answered, I'll repeat those words to myself.

When I do this, it somehow comforts me as it did that student. I realize that it does me absolutely no good to try to figure out all the little details. I just have to trust in the Lord. I repeat the words over and over - "maybe yes and maybe no" - until they are planted in my heart to stay. They remind me that I can trust any decision to an all-powerful God who loves me.

by Beth DeLong (Hawaii, USA)

Planting Tomatoes

Read 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

Paul wrote, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."
-1 Corinthians 3:6 (NRSV)

MY dad loved to plant and grow vegetables, particularly tomatoes. However, because he was in the military, we had to move every three or four years. Even if we knew we were about to be moved, Dad would plant and tend a garden anyway, and say with a smile, "I'm planting tomatoes for someone else to pick."

Dad's words come back to me at times when I feel my work for God is not showing any result. I have never helped someone find God in a single encounter, nor have I ever helped guide a straying Christian to return to God's path in a single conversation. Frankly, most of what I have done for God may not bear fruit in my lifetime.

Each act I do for God nudges someone closer to God's grace, but never all the way. In the few cases that I've been present when someone does find God for the first time or is restored to spiritual health, it's always been the last of a long series of events in that person's path.

God calls us to work in the garden. We can plant or water, whether or not we get to enjoy the harvest.

by James M. Playford (Kansas, USA)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Praying the Psalm: Praising God In Every Situation

Read Psalm 103:1-5

Let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God . . . will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4:67

I received devastating news: I had breast cancer. Teary-eyed and frightened, I returned home from doctors' appointments and lab tests to find a message on my answering machine. My aunt's voice said, "Read Psalm 103:1-5. Read it over and over again. Read it every day."

I picked up my Bible and read: "Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being." I marked that page in my Bible. "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits . . .who . . . heals all your diseases" (niv). I typed out the words to take to the hospital.

As I repeated the verses, I replaced the word your with my: ". . . who redeems [my] life from the pit" (verse 4). I read the psalm through surgery and recovery and while I waited for test results: ". . . and crowns [me] with love and compassion" (verse 4). I continued reading it through my treatments, more than once a day when I was weak, exhausted, and afraid of the future - if I had a future - "so that [my] youth is renewed" (Ps. 103:5, niv).

I read those verses daily for over a year, until my strength was renewed and I had another opportunity for life. Today my life is back almost to what it used to be, but I am not the same. Now I understand the importance of praising God in every situation.

by Carol A. Lowe (Texas, USA)

Friday, May 15, 2009

More than Words

Read John 14:15-27

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
-Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

I have always loved books - new hardbacks with crisp pages, musty volumes with yellowed leaves, or well-worn paperbacks. Books take me to adventurous places. So it seemed a dream come true when I became the owner of a quiet little bookstore located in the tranquility of the mountains. I happily traveled there every weekend.

After some time, I began to feel uneasy. My children were going to church without me. The Holy Spirit began leading me to pray that I could sell my beloved bookstore, go to church with my children, and be involved in that part of their spiritual education. Almost immediately, I was asked to teach my daughter's Sunday school class. I sold the bookstore, trading thousands of books to study the Bible, the greatest book of all, with my daughter's class. And in doing so, I found the peace I needed.

When we try to live by our own wisdom, we often end up feeling that something is missing. By following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can find the life that God offers us, life that feels complete and right.

by Madsen-Ostinato (Virginia, USA)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sustainable Monday

Read Philippians 2:12-18

God . . . works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
-Philippians 2:13 (NIV)

I am not fond of Mondays because they mean the return to another long week of problems at work. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension showed that the risk of having a heart attack and stroke is higher on Monday than on any other day of the week. My moment of truth came one Sunday evening as I once again began to worry about everything that could go wrong the next day at work where I was surrounded by complaints, problems, and negative people. As I struggled to trust God with my worries, I remembered God's past faithfulness and promises to keep us safe and to give us strength to sustain one day at a time.

Since then, my morning meditation and prayers have sustained me through Mondays and other difficult days. Through God's grace, I have been able to react differently in many difficult circumstances.

Philippians 2:13 says that God is working in us, giving us the desire and power to do what pleases God. I am learning to struggle less and to believe more as God gives me the power to do what accomplishes that "good purpose," even in the most difficult times. God's mercy and grace are sufficient and new every day, including Mondays, so our lives can shine brightly in all circumstances.

by Era Pawlowski (Illinois, USA)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Love's Example

Read John 13:1-17

Jesus said, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
-John 13:15 (NIV)

JESUS' words in the Gospel of John, chapters 13 to 17, tell us about the days just before the Crucifixion - how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and prayed for them and for us. It was Jesus' time to be glorified, to give his life for us. My human mind is too limited to understand the greatness of this act of love; I can accept it only from my heart.

And once I accept this gift, how do I show my gratitude? By doing what Jesus tells me to do. Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35, nrsv). Loving our neighbors is often not easy or simple, but for the Christian it is compulsory. Nothing can justify us if we are able to help the needy but choose not to.

We find the strength to love others and give ourselves for them by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth. That powerful witness for the Savior who loved us to the end gives us strength to do his works. When fear and despondency try to pull me down, the Spirit encourages me. And as I meditate on the words and actions of Jesus in the final days of his life - how he washed the disciples' feet and prayed for them and for us, how he gave himself for us - I find hope in his example of love.

by Alice Atanassova (Varna, Bulgaria)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Helping the Fallen

Read Galatians 6:1-5

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.
-Galatians 6:1 (NRSV)

RECENTLY I had an accident while I was working with my guide dog, Elko. I tripped on a bad section of sidewalk, lost my balance, and fell into the street. I wanted to continue our route, but I was in a lot of pain and could not manage to get up. Fortunately, someone stopped and helped me. Elko and I continued on our way.

This incident reminded me of today's Bible reading. When someone in a congregation "falls" into sin, the church's members have a responsibility to help that person back onto his or her feet. We offer this help not as superior and saintly but in a spirit of meekness and humility, knowing that we are all sinners, fallen and in need of God's grace.

God and God's people pick us up when we fall and set us on the right path again. When we confess our sins, God "will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). When we see fellow believers sin, we do not stand aside and wish them well; we work to restore them and to show them God's love and grace. Then other people can see that God's love and forgiveness are real.

by Roger E. Brannon (Florida, USA)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Daily Bread

Read Matthew 6:9-13

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
-Matthew 4:4

I love it when people wish me "bon appetit" or simply say, "Enjoy," as they place a meal before me. What a blessing it is to have a good appetite!

While living in Africa, we experienced many food shortages. On one occasion visitors brought supplies, and so my refrigerator was full. But then I lost my appetite because I was ill. I needed healing - and asked for it.

Although it is as important for us to feed on God's word as it is for us to eat food, sometimes we lose our appetite for studying the Bible. We can ask for healing for this too.

Living alone now, I often feel I don't want to eat. But I know if I am to stay well, I must eat good, balanced meals. So I thank God for my daily bread, both physical and spiritual, and I ask God to give me an appetite to enjoy it.
Pauline Lewis (South Wales, United Kingdom)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Time and Space

Read Ruth 2:1-13*

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left. . . . When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
-Deuteronomy 24:1921 (NRSV)

WHEN Ruth and Naomi found themselves widowed, homeless, and hungry, they survived by gleaning in the fields of Boaz. Showing the compassion instructed in Deuteronomy, Boaz left some grain in his field. He welcomed gleaners, saying, "The Lord be with you."

What does this passage tell me about generosity, about leaving something for those in need? I don't have a field or a vineyard, but I do have a calendar. Can I learn to leave time to help those who need food or shelter or some other gift of compassion that I can offer?

Leaving time unscheduled frees me from worry about where I need to be next. Leaving time free allows me to be interrupted if a friend needs someone to listen or if a neighbor needs a meal. Leaving space in my schedule gives me time to slow down and think of others, to think of God's grace given for me and of the ways I can offer that grace to another.

by Amy Fryar Kennedy (Michigan, USA)
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