When Blessings End

“No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him …” 1 Corinthians 2:9

I just received word from my friend and prayer sister, Karen, that her church will be leaving the AFLC for a different Lutheran denomination.  This means that after October, she will not be managing the prayer partner program I have been part of for a number of years.  Karen and some of the other ladies I have met through the program have been an inspiration and a blessing in my life.  I feel sad that it is ending.  I know we will stay in touch, but things won’t be exactly the same.

This has caused me to reflect on other times in my life when something that has really blessed me has come to an end.  My husband and I joined a church when we were a young married couple and stayed there for over twenty years.  It is the place where I felt I truly grew up and matured as a Christian.  I made wonderful friends and learned so much about how to lead a Christian life.  When Terry became a Pastor, we had to leave that safe and nurturing home.  I was sad then, also.

At one point in my life, I joined a neighborhood Bible Study.  I met women we lived nearby but belonged to different denominations.  The woman who led it was a more mature Christian than I was then.  At the time I had young children, a job and found myself like Martha, “distracted and worried about many things.”  A wonderful sense of peace would descend on me when I walked in her door each week.  I so needed that.  Of course, in time, people moved, schedules changed, and the study could not continue.

This reverie is leading me around to the realization that yes, blessings end;  but God still has good things in store.  He knows what we need as individuals and churches, and in His perfect timing, we will receive them. Each time I have “lost” a blessing, God has replaced it with something else new and challenging. So while we can be sad when things change, we need to look forward to the next blessing God has prepared for us.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness” Lamentations 3:22-23

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Bonhoeffer on Peacemaking

This is one of the beatitudes we can easily understand. Peace is a blessing and something that we all long for. However, peacemaking is not easy, as we have to renounce our own will and replace it with the will of God.  We all want peace, but do we want to make peace?

finally human

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Jesus’ followers are called to peace. when Jesus called them, they found their peace. Jesus is their peace. Now they are not only to have peace, but they are to make peace. To do this they must renounce violence and strife. Those things never help the cause of Christ. Christ’s kingdom is a realm of peace, and those in Christ’s community greet each other with a greeting of peace. Jesus’ disciples maintain peace by choosing to suffer instead of causing others to suffer. They preserve community when others destroy it. They renounce self-assertion and are silent in the face of hatred and injustice. That is how they overcome evil with good. That is how they are makers of peace in a world of hatred and war. But their peace will never be greater than when they encounter evil people…

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Be the Hands and Feet

Before we leave the topic of Blessings, I want to tell you about two specific times that others have blessed me without even thinking about it.

A long time ago (or it seems that way to me!!) when my children were small, my husband and I lived in this old hotel on the third floor. Joe had just gotten out of the Army (volunteer, no conflicts at the time), and we were just re-establishing ourselves back in our home state. Joe had some trouble finding a job, but was working enough to support us. I was home with our two boys; our youngest not even age one yet. This place that we lived was terrible, it was mice and roach infested, very old and drafty and it wasn’t the best decision that we’d ever made to move into this place. But it was cheap, and we didn’t have much money. Food stamps and WIC helped to feed us. Our parents would help when they could. We lived there for nine months and it was nine months too long. Anyway, there was a little Lutheran Church down the road and every once in a while, Joe and I would get everybody ready and we’d go to church there. It was very “hit and miss”; we were not regular church goers at this time.

The holidays were coming up and I think I remember that our families were all going to Thanksgiving somewhere else. We weren’t invited to these dinners and I know that it was hurtful for both Joe and I that we got left out of everyone’s plans. We didn’t have money to have a big dinner on our own and the thought of going out to eat just didn’t cross my mind. I was resigned to just having a regular dinner; probably hamburgers or hot dogs with mac and cheese.

Just before Thanksgiving there was a knock at our door. I was floored when the pastor of the Lutheran church was there along with some people, all holding boxes and bags. They had brought Thanksgiving dinner to us. There was a turkey and all the fixings, not just instant potatoes, but a five pound bag! Not just a can of green beans, but five or six cans of a variety of vegetables. They gave us a dinner, plus food. I was so blessed by this act that even today, 35 years later, tears come to my eyes just writing this.

Fast forward about 20 years. Joe was scheduled to have a very serious operation at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. The surgery was so detailed that we were told it would take about 7 to 10 hours to complete. Both Joe and I were terrified and Joe was convinced he would die during the operation.

Joe and I were a part of the Via de Cristo community by this time and we had everyone praying about this operation. One acquaintance came up to me and told me that he worked at Johns Hopkins and that he would meet me at a food court at lunchtime and let me know how Joe was doing. He knew that the nurses really don’t tell you anything while you’re waiting for someone in an operation. The day came, and it was nerve racking to sit all morning, waiting for a word of how it’s going. The people in the waiting room would come over and tell me that they just heard that everything is going OK. That really doesn’t tell you much. At lunch I went down to meet our acquaintance and he came up and told me he just came from the operating room after checking on Joe, that his vitals are good and the surgeon says that everything was going as planned.

After I picked my mouth up off the floor I was able to talk!! You were in the operating room? Yes, he does that all the time as part of his job. You actually talked to the surgeon?!? Yes, it wasn’t a big deal. Joe looks good, his vitals are strong. God is good. Then he left. I sat there in the food court and cried with relief. God had sent him to me to let me know that everything was well. It was one of the many times that God let me know that HE was in control.

My point through this long blog is this: You don’t know when you are going to be a blessing. The members of that church barely knew us and wouldn’t remember us today, but they made a huge impression on me. Through them the Lord took care of us. Our acquaintance didn’t think it was a big deal to swing by an operating room to see how someone was doing, but it was a huge thing for me. In both of these instances God used ordinary people in ordinary settings to send a huge blessing to me.

So as you go about your ordinary life, doing your ordinary things, remember this: you may never know if God will use you to be a huge blessing in someone’s life today. So as you walk out your door, be prepared to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Blogging is a Blessing

“I long to see you, that I might impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith,  both yours and mine.”  Romans 1:11-12

As I thought about this month’s theme, it occurred to me that the Lutheran Ladies blog has been quite a blessing in my life.  Each of us has God-given talents and spiritual gifts, and when we use them in a way that pleases Him, we feel His pleasure.  I never sit down to write a post with the feeling that it is a chore, or a burden.  I’m so thankful that God has given me an occupation in retirement that I enjoy, and that feels useful.

Writing for the blog has made me think deeply about each monthly theme, reading, studying and praying about it.  Often it helps me examine my own conscience and discover areas of my life that need improvement or attention.  It’s also interesting to hear how others think about these things, both authors and readers.  Certainly the blog has deepened my faith and understanding of God and His will for me.

Through our blogging together, I’ve developed closer relationships with the other Lutheran Ladies.  Although I knew them all before, and go to church with some of them( and went to church with others), in blogging we have shared both dreams and failures.  We’ve worked together to produce something none of us could have accomplished alone.  It has been my joy and my privilege to see each of them grow in their faith journey.

I hope and believe that this blog has been an encouragement to others, as this was our original vision.   The books we read, the quotes we love, the movies that inspire us, the songs that uplift us, the thoughts God places in our minds, and the emotions of our hearts, are all offered up to strengthen others.  As we open our lives to our readers, we are in turn blessed by the comments and kind words we receive back.  As Paul says in the quote above from Romans, we have been “mutually encouraged”.

So to all our authors and readers, today I am saying “Thank You!”  You have blessed my life in an amazing way.

The True Blessing

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21

Most of us in the United States grow up looking forward to achieving “the American Dream.”  That means all manner of material blessings:  a nice car, a beautiful home, a stylish wardrobe, exciting vacations and more.  All those things are blessings, although we would do well to remember that they come from God, not as a result of our own merit.  The big problem is, they don’t last.  I love to go to thrift stores and it’s amazing to see all the things, some very nice things that end up there.  I imagine many of them are collections and treasured belongings that were once important, but are no longer;  the person who owned them has died, moved on to another interest or hobby, or possibly had to “downsize” and couldn’t afford to keep them.  So the question is, why invest our time in acquiring all these “things” in the first place?  Why not spend our time and money on treasure that is real and permanent?

I’m no different.  I spent a lot of my life acquiring things that I’ve now lost, things that wore out, became outdated, or that I had to sell or replace.  In retirement I look back and see that many of them weren’t as important as I imagined.  So what is?  Relationships, for one– our relationships with our parents, children, friends, and most of all God.  The Bible teaches:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Luke 10:27

and

“Love never ends.  1 Corinthians 13:8

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the rich young ruler is told that loving God and his fellow man is the way to eternal life with God.  That’s the true blessing and the only treasure that lasts.

Problems or Blessings #2

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

Well, I almost blew it again.  Just like Paul in the book of Romans, I know the right way to act, but more often than not, I keep choosing the same old sin.  A little while back, I blogged about how most of our “problems” are really just annoyances or inconveniences, and instead of whining and complaining, we should focus on the actual blessings we’ve received.  Today I had a test of just this sort of situation, and I came close to forgetting all my good intentions.

On Tuesday our church has a regularly scheduled Bible Study at 10:30AM.  I went over an hour early so that I could run off some copies needed for the Wednesday Prayer meeting and the next Fanning the Flame meeting.  I got there only to find a repairman working on the copier!  I got pretty cranky with my husband–after all, he could have called me to let me know what was going on, couldn’t he? I didn’t even bring a book to read (duh, what about my Bible?) and I didn’t have anything to do until class started. What a waste of my precious time.

Then it dawned on me — Joan, this gives you an hour to pray!  No interruptions, no phones, a beautiful sanctuary to sit in — what a blessing!  It calmed me down and I realized that not only did I have my Bible, I had my little Pilgrim’s Guide (a book of prayers of Bible verses from my Via de Cristo weekend) in my purse.  So I spent a peaceful hour thanking God, examining my conscience (something that I evidently sorely need to do), and reading over the chapter we’re studying (which I hadn’t found time for).  And you know what?  After class, I got the copying done, too.  Another first world problem solved!

 

 

Mountaintop Blessings

Most Christians have had what they describe as a “mountaintop” experience… a time when they felt especially close to God and keenly aware of His presence and blessings.  Some people may associate that time with their conversion;  others with a special time away on a Via de Cristo or other sort of retreat.  At these times, we feel on fire for God.  We are energized and ready to do anything and everything required of us to lead an authentic Christian life.

My devotional reading this morning focused on how mountaintop times, wonderful and blessed as they are do not last.  We can’t recapture them, but we can continue to use them.

“We must learn to live in the ordinary ‘gray’ day according to what we saw on the mountain.”

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chamber

How were you blessed on the mountaintop?  Were things clearer, brighter?  Did you feel loved and called for a special purpose?  Did you experience the joy of Christian fellowship or the peace that passes understanding? Even Jesus and the disciples experienced this:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:2-3 ESV)

Yet, they still had the valley of Calvary ahead of them.  I’ve found that continuing in the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study and fellowship (even when the day is gray and I don’t really want to) help keep the mountaintop feelings alive and fresh in my life.  These are the daily blessings that keep us growing in the valley.