Devotion Archives 2021, January - March

 

Today is a New Day by Janet Gehlhar

     Forget the resolutions!  I’m not setting myself up for failure again.

     Something that was reinforced over the past year is that I have zero control over what happens around me.  I’d prefer control – or would I?  And that is where God reminds me that His plan is the best for me.  Well, of course it is.  I seem to momentarily forget that important fact.  As I work on my go-with-the-flow attitude--let me correct that--as God teaches me to adjust my attitude, I must admit that it's a painful process.  And yet, as I move through the process, my heart becomes more content and at peace, knowing God is handling everything.

     I have a new focus.I’m picturing each day as a clear canvas, forgetting the mistakes of yesterday, not worrying about what is coming tomorrow, and focusing on following what God wants me to do today.

     For focus, I recite my paraphrase of Psalm 118:24 and Lamentations 3:23:

This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it. 

God’s mercies are new every morning.  Great is YOUR faithfulness.

Lord, use me today to carry out YOUR will.  Today will be a great day.

     I must admit I felt a bit silly the first few times I boldly spoke those words out loud when I woke up.  But now I feel empowered as I start my day because my focus is on God’s plan – not mine. 

A WORD for Women

How Wise are You? by Kathy Schreiner

     My best friend of sixty years was born on January 6, Epiphany. In all these years, I have yet to find an “Epiphany” birthday card. Hello! Hallmark? Anyone?

     “Epiphany” is also known as the “Gentile's Christmas”. It is the day the early Church set aside to remember the coming of the non-Jewish "wisemen" to worship Jesus, King of the Jews. Their knowledge of the coming Savior of the world tells us that God's promise is for all. Even in the ancient kingdoms of the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians, the prophecies and promise were proclaimed and believed. Educated men in the East who studied the stars; men who sat on advisory councils to kings—society’s wise men—also believed. When they saw His star, they dropped everything to find Him so they could worship Him and give Him precious and valuable gifts.

     Are you willing to drop everything to worship Him?

     Are you willing to give Him His heart's desire?

     Jesus doesn't desire gold, frankincense and myrrh from you. All Jesus desires from you IS you. He wants you to be His own, to belong to Him. Do not look on this "ownership" as being like a piece of property. Far from it! It is like being the most valuable, cherished thing someone could have. Like a child you would give your life for. That is just what Jesus did, gave His life for yours.

     "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1a)

     There is a phrase that has become popular with a picture of the traditional three "wisemen" on camels following the Star. It’s titled, "Wise Men still seek Him".

     Are you among the wise?

     But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29)

     Wise (wo)men still seek Him!

 
A WORD for Women
 

The Boil Pot of PTSD, part 1 of 3 by Julie Luetke

     Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is like a boiling pot of soup. You have to keep your eye on it because it can boil over any minute. It might calm down while you are talking to a friend, praying, or focusing on something, but it is still on the verge of boiling over. No matter where you go, it tags along like a foreboding shadow.

     PTSD is filled with pain and fear, and for good reason. You have experienced the unthinkable. It may be one event or many. It just won’t stay out of your head.

     People may tell you things like:

     “If you just had more faith...”

     “If you were just busier...”

     “If you just think about something else...”, and so on.

     You may have used alcohol, food, gambling, shopping, or drugs to escape. They carry problems of their own. I am sorry you have to endure this pain. Far more important, God is sorry you have gone through such trauma, and still suffering from it. 

     God’s reasons for letting us have PTSD are His own. That does not mean He isn’t helping you endure it.

     Matthew 11:28 Jesus invites us, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

     This is a promise from God!  Go to God by listening to His Word, praying and pondering the love He has for you. Seek out a pastor or Christian friend who will remind you of God’s love and promises. God promises He will never leave you. He says you belong to Him and He loves you.

     “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

(To be continued January 22, 2021 with The Brokenness of PTSD, part two)

RESOURCES

     Angie Molkentin, APR, Director of Marketing and Communications for WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions writes:

"Our minds and souls need care. When the need goes beyond what we can do on our own, it is wise to seek professional help. Mental health care professionals are one way God cares for his dear children. Be sure to reach out for immediate help if you or someone you love is in crisis."

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life (Psalm 138:7a)

 

Christian Family Solutions provides counseling and mental health treatment for individuals and families in need through telehealth and in person at 50 clinics in six states. The CFS is 800.438.1772, option #1, any time. During business hours, the CFS staff can talk with you about care options available at CFS, including outpatient counseling, mental wellness and skills groups, and Intensive Outpatient Programs - a higher level of care that provides the necessary intervention when symptoms are escalating. CFS serves all individuals in need of care, with the ability to integrate Christian faith principles as desired by clients. When you invite the God who created you and loves you into your treatments, the results are powerful! 

 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Mental Health America has crisis resources available to address a variety of concerns.

 

PTSD: National Center for PTSD

 

Veterans Crisis Line

*NEW RESOURCE ADDED* "A Pastor looks at PTSD; IEDs on the Road of Faith"

A WORD for Women
 

The Brokenness of PTSD, part 2 of 3 by Julie Luetke

     If you have PTSD, life before the trauma may seem whole, the way life should be. Since then, you may feel broken. Tears or anger may come too easily, fear and shame always at the door. Loneliness and depression are nighttime companions. Life just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,

since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:18)

     Jesus endured many things that would give all of us PTSD. He was arrested without cause, put on trial illegally, crowned with thorns and beaten by ruthless Roman soldiers. Crowds shouted hatred and called for His crucifixion. Spit on and nailed to a cross. He hung naked for hours before giving up His life for you. Jesus’ resurrection proves His power over sin, death and the unthinkable events of your life.

     I am not suggesting that since Jesus endured this you should just suck it up and endure your pain. I am saying that Jesus understands your pain. Find your strength in Jesus. A coach knows how to direct a player because he was once a player himself.  Jesus coaches when he says, “Do not be afraid”. He knows what fear is. Be confident taking His direction. He never gives up on you. He is always strong, always ready and able to help.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

(Psalm 18:2)

 

(To be concluded on January 29, 2021 with "Peace in the midst of PTSD, part three". If you missed Part One, "The Brokenness of PTSD", click here to find it.)

 

RESOURCES

     Angie Molkentin, APR, Director of Marketing and Communications for WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions writes:

"Our minds and souls need care. When the need goes beyond what we can do on our own, it is wise to seek professional help. Mental health care professionals are one way God cares for his dear children. Be sure to reach out for immediate help if you or someone you love is in crisis."

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life (Psalm 138:7a)

 

Christian Family Solutions provides counseling and mental health treatment for individuals and families in need through telehealth and in person at 50 clinics in six states. The CFS is 800.438.1772, option #1, any time. During business hours, the CFS staff can talk with you about care options available at CFS, including outpatient counseling, mental wellness and skills groups, and Intensive Outpatient Programs - a higher level of care that provides the necessary intervention when symptoms are escalating. CFS serves all individuals in need of care, with the ability to integrate Christian faith principles as desired by clients. When you invite the God who created you and loves you into your treatments, the results are powerful! 

 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Mental Health America has crisis resources available to address a variety of concerns.

 

PTSD: National Center for PTSD

 

Veterans Crisis Line

*NEW RESOURCE ADDED* "A Pastor looks at PTSD; IEDs on the Road of Faith"

A WORD for Women
 

Peace in the midst of PTSD, part 3 of 3 by Julie Luetke

     Imagine a cup of coffee so full that one more drop would make it overflow. When your PTSD overwhelms you, is that how you feel? Now think of the coffee not as PTSD, but as peace from God.  If we drink in all of the peace God wants to give us, there is no room for fear, shame, loneliness or any of the dark sides of life.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

 

     God’s peace is His gift to you. You don’t earn it. Hearing God’s Word brings peace. Living in the moment, with constant thanksgiving brings peace. Having your best friend, Jesus, always by your side brings peace. Wait, isn’t Jesus always by my side? Yes, but we are imperfect and let things get between us. Imagine physically holding His hand. When fear comes around, hold that hand tighter and take the peace instead of trying to solve the problem with a substance or action that doesn’t last and carries problems of its own. You are the center of God’s attention and affection. Let Him fill you with the peace He longs to give.

     Your heavenly Father loves you so much He let His Son die on a cross and rise from death to assure you His peace of forgiveness.  Peace that nothing will separate you from the love of the Father. Peace that you will live forever with Him in heaven. Peace in the midst of the worst PTSD attack. When you are overwhelmed pray over and over:

     Father, fill me with your peace, Jesus hold me and drive out the fear. Wash your peace over me. Thank you for your peace that passes all understanding. Amen

 

(This concludes the three-part series on PTSD by Julie Luetke. Click to access the entire series.)

Photo by Emmanuel Phaeton on Unsplash

RESOURCES

     Angie Molkentin, APR, Director of Marketing and Communications for WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions writes:

     "Our minds and souls need care. When the need goes beyond what we can do on our own, it is wise to seek professional help. Mental health care professionals are one way God cares for his dear children. Be sure to reach out for immediate help if you or someone you love is in crisis."

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life (Psalm 138:7a)

 

Christian Family Solutions provides counseling and mental health treatment for individuals and families in need through telehealth and in person at 50 clinics in six states. The CFS is 800.438.1772, option #1, any time. During business hours, the CFS staff can talk with you about care options available at CFS, including outpatient counseling, mental wellness and skills groups, and Intensive Outpatient Programs - a higher level of care that provides the necessary intervention when symptoms are escalating. CFS serves all individuals in need of care, with the ability to integrate Christian faith principles as desired by clients. When you invite the God who created you and loves you into your treatments, the results are powerful! 

 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255.

 

Mental Health America has crisis resources available to address a variety of concerns.

 

PTSD: National Center for PTSD

 

Veterans Crisis Line

*NEW RESOURCE ADDED* "A Pastor looks at PTSD; IEDs on the Road of Faith"

A WORD for Women

New You by Tracy Hankwitz

     My hope was running high as the New Year approached. But venturing in, not much has changed. The virus still rages, and politicians fight over truth. Amidst this volatile landscape, can peace, joy, and fresh possibilities exist? I believe they can! It begins with a new perspective - a new me.

     Do you remember the New Testament story of the jailer and the earthquake? Thinking Paul, Silas, and the other prisoners had escaped, the jailer intended to take his own life. But Paul preached good news to him and - here comes the good part - ‘immediately he and all his household were baptized. ..he was filled with joy, because he had come to believe in God’. (Acts 16:33-34 NIV)

     He was baptized then filled with joy. Holy water washed his filthy heart and filled it with joy instead. He was made new.

     Baptism is the key! God’s mercies are new every morning, lavishly washing me clean with his love, like a sacred daily ritual. This is where joy is found.

     So I’m taking a step toward restoration and wearing a perspective of gratitude and joy. Join me in finding three small things for which to be grateful. Then do it again tomorrow, the next day, and the next. Let’s cultivate this habit of counting blessings, because each is evidence of his love. He alone is our source of joy, peace, and fresh possibility.

     ‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’ (Isaiah 43:19 NIV)

 
A WORD for Women

Mask Up! by Karen Maio

     We’ve all heard a toddler or tween belligerently stamping her foot and saying this classic line of power play or rebellion: “You’re not the boss of me!”.  A wise parent will remain calm and explain that when it comes to rules or decisions that affect that child’s well-being, they are not negotiable; the parent is keeping her child safe. 

     With the COVID pandemic still all around, I am a bit shocked to see some adults acting the same way. 

     “You can’t make me wear a mask; I have rights!.”

     “I’m not staying home for the holiday!”

     While none of our sinful hearts like to be told what to do, we need to remember that the government and health agencies in charge are establishing these rules and guidelines for our safety and to try to end the surge of the virus.

     1st Corinthians 10:23-24 address Christian freedom:

     I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

     Philippians 2:3-4 teaches us about imitating Christ’s humility:

     “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

     A person may think “It won’t happen to me” or “it’s just a virus; I’ll be fine”, but that possible a-symptomatic COVID-carrying person may be putting their immunocompromised loved one or stranger at risk.

     I understand that there are some who physically or emotionally cannot cover their faces, but to all the rest, I urge: Humbly love one another, respect those in charge, and mask up! God-willing, it won’t be forever.  

 
A WORD for Women

The Big Game by Kathy Schreiner

     I am an unapologetic "Cheesehead”, born and bred. I started watching NFL Green Bay Packer games with my dad when I was eight years old. Every Sunday I would cut the roster of players from the Milwaukee Journal, and listen as Dad would explain the plays to me. I was allowed to have a few sips of champagne following the Packer's win in the Ice Bowl of '67. One of my greatest pleasures was when I was able to take my dad to a game with tickets I had scored from a liquor sales rep. This was during the "non-glory days" of the Pack. Still, if you are from Wisconsin, it is kind of like a trip to the Holy Lands to be able to see a game in person.

     The 2020/2021 Packers’ season was a bright spot during this COVID year. They made it all the way to the playoffs followed by yet another let down. No Super Bowl game for us. No Lombardi trophy. There is always next year. While it is fun to follow a beloved team, cheer them on to victory, and commiserate with fellow fans when they lose, one must remember, it is only a game. Not so with real life. There may not be a "next year" for you or someone you love.

     That being said, what is the "crown of victory" you wish to win?

     What does your personal “Super Bowl” look like?

     Is Life a game where first downs and penalties are just the way the game is played, and nothing more?

     As Christians we know better. Our salvation is not a team sport with MVP individuals. There is only one Super-Star, only one who the entire "game" relies on. It is Jesus who has the play book laid out in His word, the Bible. We know that Jesus is there to throw a flag when the devil tries to penalize us for our sins. Jesus has canceled all our sin penalties. Not only does Jesus carry the entire game by Himself, He willingly gives you and me the victory trophy He won by His perfect life, innocent death, and victorious resurrection. By the gift of faith in His work of salvation, we will be crowned with Him in heaven. That will be the best celebration there could be.

     With Jesus' win for me, I'm not going to Disneyland, I'm going to heaven!

     “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on the day---and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)​ 

 
A WORD for Women

Crazy for Christ by Christine Wentzel

     The other day I was searching the Internet for free images to use for Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. While in this task, I found some people tripping over Jesus in the dark because of their curiosity over the smudge of black on a person’s forehead. One described it as a cross-shaped tattoo, and another as a painted black + (plus) sign. What followed was a discussion thread with people offering answers to this anomaly. They ranged from the absurd to generic Wikipedia definitions for “Ash Wednesday”, but no specific mention of the Gospel. Christians will joke that the easy answer to every bible-study question is “Jesus” so I was hoping to see his name pop up on the first page…nada, zip.

     But this diversion from my work gave me rich food for thought...

It’s not odd to see some people in any time or any place with facial markings or tattoos.

However, it is odd to see random people

in the same area

with the same marking

on the same part of the face

on the same day

of the same month

each year.

     Now that did create some interesting theories in a discussion group!

     So what is the Mystery behind this strange annual practice?

     Can I get a witness?

     The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, gives the reason for the crazy things believers do in light of God’s amazing Grace for all people!

     If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. (2 Corinthians 5:13-15 NLT)

     Whether we choose to fast or not, or whether we receive the imposition of ashes or not, let our faith walk point the way to the Cross and empty Tomb for no other reason than Christ’s love compels us!

     God gives Christians "The Ministry of Reconciliationto plead with the lost to…

REMEMBER

God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin

REPENT

so we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view

REJOICE!

the old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God

 
A WORD for Women

I Yada You by Emily Krill

My lover said to me,

‘Rise up, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.'”

Song of Songs 2:10 NLT

 

     In the 90’s, Jerry Seinfeld popularized the term “yada” in one episode of his show, Seinfeld. Still to this day, the phrase “yada, yada, yada” is used to gloss over details of a story that the speaker doesn’t want to explicitly define.

     I had no idea what the significance or meaning of that word actually was until I did some digging. According to multiple resources, Yada is a Hebrew term that has a variety of applications, but one of the core meanings describes the intimacy God desires with his people. That is “to know, to be known, to be deeply respected.” Isn’t that cool?!

     The only word in the English language that even comes close to this level of intimacy is sex – and look what we have done with that?! It’s become something we “have,” as though it’s a beer or a burger; it’s become merely an act of consumption. Our television commercials make money on it. Our education system teaches about it as something to wrap in rubber or run from. No wonder there is a massive epidemic of fear of intimacy in our culture today; it’s become so far from what God designed it to be.

     All this leaves me desperately searching for a “reset” button. I want to know, to be known, and to be deeply respected. I want to understand God’s yada.

     I found it alright – it’s called the Song of Songs. My husband and I have been reading it together for the past week or so, and it’s pretty intense! (By intense I mean that some of the verses have me blushing shades of purple.)

     It’s purpose, according to my study notes, is:

  • To tell of the love between a bridegroom (King Solomon) and his bride,

  • To affirm the sanctity of marriage, and

  • To picture God’s love for his people.

     As I have read through these chapters, I’ve found myself deeply refreshed and renewed not only by what an intimate human relationship should look like, but also the depth of God’s love for us. I’m not going to get into details about it because I want you to challenge you to go read it yourselves, however, I am going to share one section of verses that so powerfully display the beauty of the excitement a man has for his wife and, simultaneously, the excitement our God has for us and that we should have for him:

Ah, I hear him – my lover! Here he comes, leaping on the mountains and bounding over the hills. My lover is like a swift gazelle or a young deer. Look, there he is behind the wall! Now he is looking in through the window, gazing into my room. My lover said to me, “Rise up, my beloved, my fair one, and come away. For the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone.

(Song of Songs 2:8-10 NLT)

 

     Can you hear the two different voices of intimacy intertwined?

     The voice of a man returning to his beloved, calling her away with him after being apart for the winter – a beautiful reunion!

     The voice of God calling us to Heaven when we die, signifying an end to tears, heartache and pain – a beautiful reunion!

     These eight chapters should be required reading for any married couple (once the kids go to bed, that is). Let it define intimacy for you. Read it with the goal of knowing God, being known BY God, and to share a deep respect. Then, bless your mate with that same gift.

___

 

Dear Lord, your creativity astounds me. Just when I believe that I have a full grasp of your depth and love and grace, you open my eyes to even more that I could ever imagine. Thank you for wanting us and allowing us to know, to love and to respect you. Let us offer this gift to each other as you have taught us. Amen.

 

Devotion used with permission from Messy Worship.

 
A WORD for Women
 

God’s Great Love by Erica Koester

     A few months after having my son, I began to struggle internally. I was navigating motherhood for the first time, and trying to juggle many other obligations. Foreign, negative thoughts started to creep in. It reached a point so low that I genuinely, truly believed I was failing as a wife, as a mother, as a friend and as an employee. It was at that time that I sought Christian counseling. In talking with a professional, we slowly unearthed the very root of the problem: I had consistently believed the lies of the Enemy.

     That is a heavy story to share, but the work of the devil needs to be exposed. Dear sisters, what lies have you believed about yourself that directly contradict what God says about you in His word? We are fearfully and wonderfully made; God carefully formed us together in our mother’s womb.

     Not only did God create us, but he loves us dearly. Paul shares beautiful words about Christ’s love in Ephesians 3:13-17: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

     The love of God is so great that it surpasses our human knowledge. Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time grasping it! May you be reminded today that your Father in heaven created you and loves you more than you even know. 

A WORD for Women
 

Beautiful day! by Karen Spiegelberg

     My maternal grandmother lived to be 104!  She was one of the most amazing women I ever knew.  She journaled every day for many of her years.  While reading her journals recently, I noticed one specifically impressive thing—most days she started by writing, “Beautiful day!” What a great attitude. Some studies even say that we may potentially live longer with a positive attitude.

     As Christians, we often need a reminder to have a better daily outlook. In Psalm 118:24, David tells us, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” But this passage is not just telling us to be upbeat and positive about each day.  It is reminding us that every day, no matter what it brings, is a precious gift from God.  Each day that we live in God’s grace is a day that has been perfectly crafted by him, for his plan and for our purpose.  Embracing each day doesn’t guarantee our longevity but it does ensure that we are living as best we can for Jesus and to God’s glory.  After all, there’s no guarantee that we will even have another day.

     My grandma didn’t journal in her last few years. She was getting weak and couldn’t write as well.   I have a feeling though, that each precious last day the Lord gave her, the first thought on her mind was, “Beautiful day!”

A WORD for Women
 

Beauty for Ashes by Karen Maio

     Spring is right around the corner. I don’t know about where you live, but here in the Midwest United States, we don’t hold our breath when the groundhog fails to see his shadow. Either way, there are six more weeks of winter… for us, at least! In fact, after this year’s record blizzard, I’m not sure if anybody even saw the groundhog!

     Everything is just kind of brown, gray, and dingy...including my mood every now and then. I have no real reason to feel this way; indeed, I know that I am blessed with my family, friends, plenty of food, clothing and shelter. I am content, so what gives? I suppose we, as women, can blame it on hormones, but they get blamed for enough already. So, do I host a pity party? No, the Lord tells me I’m supposed to rejoice and not just when I feel like it, but all the time: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

    So, what do you do when you don’t feel like rejoicing? You get into the Word. God promises to help us in all things, and this is no exception.

     Jesus speaks to us in Isaiah 61:1-3: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

     At first glance, this passage might be mistaken for God’s promise of rescue from physical and political captivity that the Old Testament nation endured. However, the “brokenhearted captives” are all of us sinners; the dark prison is hell. Jesus came, not only to proclaim the good news, but to win it and deliver it to us. He has done that by taking our sins, and dying the death we deserve on the cross.

     In Old Testament times, the Year of Jubilee was celebrated every 50 years. When the Jubilee Year came, all debts were forgiven, all slaves were freed, and all inheritance land was returned to its original owner. The past was forgiven and forgotten, the slate was wiped clean, and everyone was given a new beginning.

     The “year of the Lord’s favor” is now, today. By grace you believe in Jesus as your Savior; by willful stubbornness and by rejecting God, you earn His vengeance. God comforts our mourning over our sins (our repentance, symbolized by ashes on the forehead) with the beautiful assurance of forgiveness. No more “ashes and sackcloth” for us, but, rather we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. We no longer need to be afraid of death or hell; heaven is ours! He has given us beauty for ashes. How can our hearts not be joyful and full of praise?

A WORD for Women
 

Desperate for Peace by Janet Gehlhar

     I sooo want to release all the anxiety I’m feeling as I try to cope with so many things out of my control.  Instead I feel paralyzed in this state of “what ifs” that causes my heart to race.  I desperately want peace.

     “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 EHV)

     God tells me to bring all my fears to Him to handle.  Of course I know He already knows them, and yet the process of pouring out my heart in prayer is a release.  I continue on and tell God what I want, what I think I desperately need, and beg Him for relief.  He patiently listens to it all.  At that point I take a deep breath and in that calm moment I remind myself that God knows what is best for me.  I picture Him wrapping His arms around me, gently rubbing my back and assuring me He has it all handled. I am loved and safe with Him.  Lingering in His presence, viewing my life from His perspective, gives me peace.

     I know the process will need to be repeated, and I’m grateful that God’s patience and listening “ears” are available 24/7.  His compassion and love never end.

     God has renewed my peace . . . again. 

A WORD for Women
 

“I Think I Made a Mistake” by Carolyn Webb

     “I think I made a mistake. I didn’t think it was real.”

     These are the haunting last words of a young man who died from COVID-19 infection. He didn’t believe the news stories from all around the world. He didn’t believe the infection could be that serious. Instead of protecting himself, he went about his life as if the virus didn’t exist.

     How many people have this same attitude about sin and the salvation story?

     Do we heed God’s warnings about the seriousness of sin, or do we think I’m not that bad?

     The Bible gives us an example in Luke 16:19-31 of a rich man who didn’t think there was any harm in living a selfish life: “When poor Lazarus laid at his gate begging for scraps of food, the rich man ignored him. When the rich man died, he went to hell and begged to have Lazarus come back from the dead to warn his brothers so they didn’t end up in hell with him. Abraham replied, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

     We have the full salvation story. “Whoever believes in (Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18)

     The only protection we have from an eternity in hell is salvation through Jesus’ perfect life, innocent death, and victorious resurrection.

     Make no mistake—this is real! 

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Peace and Hope in the Midst of Suffering by Karen Maio

     Towards the end of last year, social media was full of comments and cartoons about being relieved that we’re almost done with 2020. I laughed and thought, “What? Do these people think that all of the COVID-related troubles will magically disappear on January 1st?”

     While I remain hopeful that people will stay vigilant in their masking, hand washing, and social distancing, and that the vaccine will be safe and effective, the fact is that the virus and its effects are still raging. Some may ask, “Why is God allowing this?”

     Nobody knows the answer to that, but one shouldn’t be surprised by its occurrence. God has told us that in this world, we will have trouble. Even the upright suffer (think of Job). Though he was restored with double blessings, he bore the lasting painful scars of his ordeal.

     We may, too. But we don’t despair because there is hope!  We can find peace in the fact that God is not judging or punishing us for our sins - Jesus has already suffered for all our sins; we are forgiven. We know our God is always with us and will strengthen us through this challenging time. He has promised that even our tribulations will be for our good.

     We can help comfort other people during this time of fear and uncertainty with Jesus’ gospel promises.

     While I don’t have the answer to the question above, I cling to this bible verse and the eternal hope Jesus’ promises provide:

     I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NIV)

 
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Cleared to Watch by Julie Luetke

     My backyard slopes downhill to a very pleasant wooded area.   It had gotten overgrown and became a tangle of brush, thorns, and vines.  The growth was smothering desired plants like wild flowers and berries.  After spending many afternoons clearing the unwanted growth, I feel a peace and hope that wasn't there before.

     Why am I telling you about my woods?  God tells us to watch and pray and be ready for His return.  How can we when we are distracted by unwanted thoughts, fears, drama or time consuming habits. 

     In order to walk at peace in the woods, the obstructions had to go.  In our faith lives we need to remove obstructions too, like distancing ourselves from people who tear others down, control our use of social media, ban stress-inducing topics at the dinner table, watch less news and discern what we read.  These small steps add up to clearer minds and hearts so we can focus on Jesus’ Word and promises.

     When I pray more, read the Bible more and surround myself with people who love Jesus, I can see more clearly to watch, pray and be ready for Christ’s return.  Everything about me is at peace.

     And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. 2 Thessalonians 3:2-3,5 (NIV 2011)

     Dear Lord, fill my mind with Your thoughts.  Take my desire for things of this world away from me, so I will cling to you and be ready for your return.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

 
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Why Lent Matters by Tracy Hankwitz

     I dip the paint brush and climb the tall ladder again. For the past three weeks I’ve been renovating a church which will soon house my place of business. The pews, altar, and parishioners have long been gone, but I often think about the many praises and prayers that have filled this sanctuary over the past 150 years.

    As I paint, scrape, peel, and give this place a deep clean, I see the parallels to the sanctuary of my own heart. It daily needs a deep cleaning, a stripping of pride and false narratives that cannot fool my all-knowing God. If He knows how many hairs are on my head, He certainly knows the thoughts that fill my mind and sees the dark corners of my heart.

     Regular soul-cleaning is necessary - especially during this season of Lent. We need to hear repeatedly how filthy our hearts truly are. We need God’s Word to cut with conviction, so it can wash with restorative forgiveness and grace. We cannot celebrate Easter with true resurrection joy without first walking with Jesus to the cross and confessing our sins that nailed Him there. The hard truth is that until we sacrifice our own will, we cannot live the full abundant life He lovingly offers. This is why Lent matters.

     With praises and prayers of thanksgiving, restoration on my heart sanctuary continues. 

     “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

 
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Temptation by Christine Wentzel

     During the season of Lent as I am reminded of the price Jesus paid to make me right with my Father, my thoughts immediately drift to the trials of temptation. For me, they can be as pesky as gnats or as impossible to conquer as going against a Goliath without faith.

     When a particularly strong temptation comes my way, I'm also up against the temptation to doubt, "Surely Jesus didn't have to face this one! It's too ugly to contemplate my holy Lord being exposed to this." Ha, if only I really understood.

     Think about the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert being bombarded by the temptations of the father of lies. In Hebrews we're told He was "tempted in every way". God mentions three of them, but with so many days for the devil to play with every temptation, the evil one had a field day. God didn't need to list them all. His grace is sufficient for what He did reveal. We are so-called authorities on the topic of temptation for all the times we've been confronted and succumbed so we can well imagine the rest.

     In a nutshell we're told...

          the devil tempted the Bread of Life with food.

          the devil tempted the God of all gods to worship him.

          the devil tempted the WORD made flesh to break His word.

     Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But consider how easy the devil won over angels in heaven to follow him to hell. Look how easy it was for Eve and Adam to doubt God while living in the midst of Paradise. Beware! By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the devil's false sense of security made him believe he could take on His creator despite the Promise that Jesus will destroy him (Genesis 3:15). Have to hand it to our Grace Giver for He allowed the devil a 40-day shot at Him then HALLELUIAH He had him fleeing with a short, but sweet command.

     The Sacrificial Lamb once again proved His qualifications to be our substitute in the face of the Law Giver's wrath and judgment. He also proved His qualifications to understand our weaknesses. There is nothing He can't empathize. There is nothing He will allow to overtake us. If you're in the middle of temptation, look up in His eyes of love-His standing right in front of you shielding you from harm.

     "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16

 
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Seeking the Lost by Kathy Schreiner

     The temperature said “minus 2” when I pulled into the parking lot of our local animal shelter for my Saturday volunteer hours.  I was greeted by two women in arctic-weather attire, and binoculars hanging from their necks.  They were going out to look for a reported lost dog.  They did not hold out much hope of finding him alive. I said a prayer for them and all God's creatures that should not be out in that weather. 

     I do laundry and dishes at the shelter.  It is quiet and gives opportunity for prayer and contemplation. 

Today I could not help but think of the amazing dedicated women who would brave that sub-zero weather to search in the deep snow for this poor dog.  My thoughts turned to Jesus' parable about the lost sheep.

     “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home."  Luke 15:4-6 NIV

     These women braved dangerous conditions to look for a lost dog.  How much effort have I put into looking for lost souls? How ashamed I felt…

     This is what part of my Lenten focus is about—Jesus coming to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10). This is one of the things God directs us to help with, seeking the lost.   While we can do nothing to save them or ourselves, we can look for the lost.

     We have the map (the Bible)—they need to get home (heaven) safely. 

     Do you have a wayward sheep in your circle?

     Will you tell them the Good News of the Salvation? 

     "Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." Luke 15:6b, 7 NIV

     What a blessing it is to be able to share the saving message of Christ crucified with fellow sheep. The words of the hymn, Amazing Grace, remind us why we would do this…

 

Amazing grace

How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I'm found

Was blind, but now I see

 
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Plane Ride Incident by Lori Malnes

     I returned yesterday evening from a visit with my daughter and grand kids.  I was supposed to return the evening before – but as the plane was taxiing down the runway about to lift off, there was a loud clunk/thunk/bang from somewhere underneath my feet startling me and the rest of the plane full of passengers.  The pilot slowed down and veered off the runway, stopping on another runway.  After some preliminary investigation…(click here to read the entire devotion at Be Still and know that I am God blog by Lori Malnes) 

 
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Letting Go of Bitterness by Erica Koester

     I recently made the alarming discovery that I was harboring bitterness in my heart over words someone spoke to me over two years ago. I took my sister’s sound advice to pray for that person. Over time, I began to consider the grudge I was holding onto in the context of the fact that Jesus was willingly nailed to a cross to forgive the sins of the entire world. Suddenly, that grudge became extremely small.

     I encourage you to open your bible to “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus delivered this parable after his disciple Peter asked Jesus to provide an exact number of times we should forgive someone. In this parable, the servant had a huge debt cancelled by his master, but then turned around and demanded payment on a much smaller debt owed to him.

    I find myself relating to that unmerciful servant all too well. God has removed the enormous debt of my countless sins, and in response…I harbored bitterness for over two years over one single sin. I also find myself relating to Peter! I am often tempted to keep track of the number of times my friends or spouse sins against me.

     God’s forgiveness knows no boundaries or limits, it never runs out, and it lasts forever. He extends it lovingly to everyone, and he calls us to do the same. My prayer for all of us is that our hearts would be so filled with thankfulness for what Jesus has done for us that we can’t help but extend that same love and mercy to everyone we meet.

 
A WORD for Women

Quilt of many colors by Kathy Schreiner

     I volunteer at our local animal shelter. Like many non-profit organizations, we depend on donations and not just monetary ones. We appreciate receiving blankets, quilts, rugs, towels and the like. Blankets are used for bedding for the dogs in their kennels. I do laundry on Saturdays so I see pretty much everything that comes in. Sometimes the bedding has seen better days. Sometimes the things donated look better than what I am using in my home.

     One morning, a newly donated quilt caught my eye. Frankly, it is kind of ugly. It must have been made during the seventies as it contains a lot of double-knit polyester fabric. If you lived through the seventies, you recognize these fabrics instantly. Like me, you may smile, recoil or laugh when you see them. We thought they were so "cool" back then. Now they are just ugly to me.

     But I kept being drawn to this particular quilt. It did not have a single hole, stain or tear in it. I noticed how it had been hand-stitched. In my mind's eye I could see some little grandma lovingly cutting, placing, stitching, filling and finishing this quilt. I could see her smile as she remembered the times she saw someone wearing those fabrics. I imagined family reunions, picnics, piano recitals, funerals. Suddenly the quilt was not so ugly.

     While the washer and dryer are going and I am folding, my thoughts often wander. I was suddenly thinking about my life and my past (and current) mistakes. I thought about how they were like the ugly polyester fabric in the quilt. I may have thought I was being "cool" when I made bad choices. I have made a lot of mistakes (let’s face it, they were/are sins) in my life. Sometimes they are colorful in my mind just like the many squares of the quilt.  Just like indestructible polyester it seems impossible to get rid of them.

     Fortunately, the ONE whose handicraft is even better than the quilt makers stitches my mistakes together with the thread of forgiveness. Jesus, my Lord and Savior, takes all the little patches of my sins and covers them with His blood.

     Just like a quilt can provide warmth and comfort, even more so does the knowledge that Jesus is the "Friend of Sinners".  Our BEST FRIEND draws us to Himself and wraps us in His love.

     Well, I just could not let all the work put into this quilt end up on the concrete floor of a dog kennel. I rescued it and donated to a friend who sews old blankets into sleeping bags for the homeless. May the Lord bless all the hands that touch this quilt. Bless those who are warmed in its comfort; in Jesus’ name, amen.

     Blessed is he whose sin is forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Psalm 32:1-2 NIV

Photo by KBStargazer

 
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Forgivable—not Excusable by Janet Gehlhar

          I have tried to justify my sinful actions and tell myself that God will understand because He loves me.  That is mixed up, faulty logic. 

     Why can’t God just excuse sin or be understanding of my disobedience?

     “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 NIV

      God is a just God and He is very clear.  He expects perfection and my sin deserves punishment in hell.  Ouch – really?  My sinful heart hates that.  It’s so harsh! 

     But here is the good news...

     God forgives sin...

     He doesn’t excuse it.  Big difference.  Excusing tries to lessen the blame whereas forgiveness totally wipes it away.  God loved me so much that he sent Jesus to pay for my sins on the cross.  Jesus exchanged his perfect life for my sinful one.  When I repent, I am instantly forgiven and my sins are gone forever.

     “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 NIV

      Oh the relief and peace in my heart, knowing God forgives!

Photo by Michelle Engel

 
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Ask me about Jesus by Kathy Schreiner

     In today's COVID world, it was inevitable that wearing a mask would become an expression of individuality. “Cute mask” is a great conversation starter.

     I have two favorites. One is made of fabric with lots of little wiener dogs dressed in various outfits that my sister made for me. We both had dachshunds for many years so it has special meaning for me. The other is made of ivy-patterned fabric. Nothing special until you get close enough to read what I wrote on it: "Ask me about Jesus". It was my hope that someone might do just that. While I have had many people stop and read my mask, I have yet to have someone ask me about Jesus, but many have commented on the dog mask.

     Why are we reluctant to ask about Jesus? Perhaps some have no idea who Jesus is. For those who have a little knowledge of Him, maybe they don't care to find out more.

     For those of us who know who He is and why He came to earth, perhaps we do not want to be reminded of why. Why did Jesus come to earth?

   We are in the season of Lent. Lent is all about "why" Jesus had to come to earth. He had to come because of our sins. We can do nothing, not one thing, to save ourselves from God's judgment. But God loves us so much He was willing to sacrifice His one and only perfect, sinless Son in our place.

     This is so amazing. Maybe even more amazing is the fact that Jesus was willing to do this for us. Jesus left His life of praise and glory in heaven as the King of Kings to come to earth, to become one of us (John 3:16).

     Jesus then went on to suffer the unimaginable pain, anguish, death and separation from His Father that we should have suffered. Contemplate that for a minute—the Son of God being separated from God His Father.

     Jesus was then able to claim His life again at His resurrection and be reunited with His Father in heaven. Because He lives, we will too through faith in Jesus.

     Soon it will be Easter, Resurrection Day. I think I will write on another mask "He has risen. He has risen indeed".

     The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. (Matthew 28:5-6 NIV)

 

Photo by Soul Sisters

 
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In Step with Jesus by Janet Gehlhar

     After playing outside with my two-year-old grandson, we took off our shoes at the door. When I looked down a minute later, he was snuggling his shoes next to my shoes. My heart melted—he wanted his shoes to be close to mine.

     I want to follow that example and snuggle close to Jesus. I want to follow in His steps.

     I want to be like Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:19). They were fishing when Jesus asked them to follow him. They left their nets immediately. Wow—I can’t imagine having that response. But, oh, how I want to! I picture myself marching in step as Jesus leads the way.

     Reality is that, in spite of my good intentions, I fail. Too often I fall out of step and into the ditch. I relate to Paul when he wrote “I fail to do the good I want to do. Instead, the evil I do not want to do, that is what I keep doing.” (Romans 7:19 EHV)

     So what’s the answer? Confess my sin, ask for forgiveness and ask for strength to fight temptation. And then I receive encouragement, because it isn’t about me—it’s about what Jesus has done for me by dying on the cross. It is about His mercy.

     “By the mercies of the Lord we are not consumed, for his compassions do not fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 EHV)

     Today my focus is on Jesus and following in His steps. Close, snuggled in, secure.

Photo by Janet Gehlhar

 
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"Do you Believe in Miracles? Yes!" by Talia Steinhauer

     Have you ever seen the movie Miracle? It’s the underdog story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. The coach, Herb Brooks, filled his team with a bunch of twenty-something college guys who all came from rival teams. In the semi-final game, the scrawny U.S. guys lined up to face the husky Soviets who had been playing on a team for over 10 years together. But it is thanks to Coach Brooks’ non-traditional coaching approach that the U.S. overcame the Soviets. I still get goosebumps every time I hear Al Michaels yell, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

     You know what, I do believe in miracles. I own a book filled with miracles made possible by OUR SAVIOR. Turning water into wine, healing lepers, dying on a cross and rising from the dead...

     Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27

     For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

Psalm 139:13-14

     Both of these passages are proof not only of God’s incredible love for us, but his amazing power. Your Savior is all powerful, and will stop at nothing to help and keep you. Although God may not physically perform miracles in the way he did during bible times, he still performs a miracle of forgiveness when you hear the gospel message.

     Don’t ever stop believing in miracles. God continues to shape billions of people into His masterpieces—including you.

 
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