Why Do We Have the Church?

Jesus said to his disciples: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” Matthew 18:20

I grew up going to church with my family every Sunday. My parents were members of a  Finnish Lutheran Church that was part of an association of Finnish churches. During the summer we sometimes attended the annual church convention. People from across the United States came to a host church and were housed by the local church members. Guest speakers came from Finland.

The convention lasted four days. Each morning we listened to two sermons and then had a community lunch that was organized by the host church. In the afternoon two more sermons. Then a community dinner followed by two more sermons.

I was sheltered from many things. Young people in the church did not go to movies or attend dances. For several years my family did not have a television. It was legalism, but I gained a foundation of faith. I knew that I, like all humans, was a sinner. I asked Jesus to be my Savior.

When I went to the University of Michigan I became involved in Intervarsity and joined the Reformed Church. Through participation in Intervarsity and the church I was able to sort through the legalism—my faith was refined and grew stronger.

I met my husband in the young adult ministry of the Reformed Church. After we were married we chose to become members of the Evangelical Free Church.

It is true that the Church is not perfect. It is made up of sinners who need to confess their sins regularly and repent. The Church is a spiritual family. Both our family of origin and the church family have flaws, but we need them. God has given the family unit as foundational unit for society. 

The Church is the spiritual family that helps us know God and develop spiritually. We sing and praise God. We pray together, confessing our faults and seeking God’s will. We study the Bible together so that we understand God’s commands and obey. We help each other.

When we consider how God has designed us for relationship and community, we can understand why the restrictions imposed by the pandemic are so painful. The isolation that my mother and many others are experiencing in nursing homes is not right. Churches are struggling to navigate through this time.

And so we pray for this pandemic to end, for the officials making decisions about restrictions, for truth and for God’s mercy.

Sharing this post with the Five Minute Friday writing community. I am grateful for this community led by Kate!

Luke’s Orderly Account

Next week our women’s Bible study will begin a study of the gospel of Luke (meeting in my backyard). So I am reading and meditating on the first chapter as Luke relates the unfolding of God’s plan to send Jesus.

The angel Gabriel visits Zechariah to announce that God has heard prayers for a son. Zechariah and Elizabeth are going to have a son that will turn the hearts of the people to God.

Zechariah has been obediently serving the Lord in the temple, but he is astonished by this message. Is God going to do this now? This is beyond my expectations? How will this work out?

God’s ways and his timing are truly beyond our understanding. As we see the chaos in our country fueled by the pandemic, the riots, the fires we may wonder how this will end. God is sovereign and He will fulfill all the promises in scripture. We need to hold fast to our faith.

After Gabriel gives the message to Zechariah, he visits Mary to tell her that she will give birth to Jesus, the promised Savior. Mary wonders how this will all happen, but responds in faith. 

May we be like Mary waiting expectantly for God to carry out his plans.

The gospel of Luke will go on to tell about the events in Jesus’ life on earth in a chronological order. I am looking forward to studying each chapter. The events in Luke are covered in the other gospels, but John makes an interesting statement. 

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25

Bible

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Loud Songs of Joy

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! Psalm 47:1

The pandemic has made it difficult for us to worship at church. In the beginning weeks of the lockdown I listened to the hymn sing led by the Getty family on Facebook. The hymns refreshed my faith and gave me joy.

Our church was meeting on zoom. We are a small church and at first did not have a way to include hymns . . .  but our pastor kept pressing forward and when our tech assistants were able to post the words to hymns with screen sharing, we all sang from our homes. I don’t always stay on tune, but it was good to be singing with other believers. 

More recently we have met outside and/or in a room with social distancing. We have been singing hymns accompanied by keyboard, violin or guitar. I am blessed by the hymns. It is an affirmation of our faith in a stressful time. We need to sing!

This past Sunday we sang Jesus Messiah, written by Chris Tomlin. The words of the third verse have a powerful message about our Savior.

His body the bread, his blood the wine

Broken and poured out, all for love 

The whole earth trembled, and the veil was torn.

Love so amazing  

Hymns turn our eyes back to God and his love, his plan for us.

This post is shared with the Five Minute Friday writing community.

Mercy in a Children’s Book

A terrible accident took place in the hills of Switzerland. A child sustained a debilitating injury and one boy, Lucien, had provoked the accident.  This is how the story begins in Patricia St. John’s book, Treasures of the Snow. This book for children was first published in 1948.

As I continued to read, I was startled by the clear themes of sin, anger, and bitterness—and the way sin makes barriers between people. The story was told with gentleness, but was bringing a clear message to children about the human heart.

The grandmother has nuggets of truth for Annette who struggles with bitterness.

Every day of your life, ugly, angry selfish thoughts will knock at the door and try to get in again. Don’t try to push them back yourself. Ask Jesus to help you by filling you with His love. Read about the love of Jesus every day in your Bible. If you keep your heart full of it, there won’t be room for those bad thoughts to stay. [p. 172]

As the story continues Annette and Lucien both realize their own sin. This is the beginning of mercy, compassion and healing. //

Patricia St. John’s story has lingered in my mind because of the deep truths embedded in the words.

In the book of Hebrews we find this guidance.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14 – 16

Linking this post with the Five Minute Friday writing community and Heart Encouragement.

Text edited: Correction made to scripture reference. The scripture text is from the book of Hebrews.

The Right Life-map

This past week I skipped my morning Bible study a couple of days. Instead I read a few articles in the newspaper at the breakfast table.

The tension of our current time put my nerves on edge. I felt irritable. I drank more coffee and spent too much time on social media. I pondered the effects of the pandemic and the various theories and recommendations. The current state of politics upsets me too. I didn’t sleep well.

Yesterday I pulled out my Bible and spent time in prayer to begin the day. I was reminded that my hope is in the Lord. God is sovereign and He knows what is happening.

With calmness and focus I went outside to work on the yard. I pulled weeds and trimmed bushes. I prayed for our neighbor who lost a sister this week.

The wild rose bush was a challenge but I stayed with it. I chopped the thorny branches until I was tired. Then I came inside for a cold drink of water. It felt good.

The fall season that is coming will be a challenge. There are many uncertainties and we need God’s guidance. He is faithful. I need time reading the Bible every morning.

The revelation of Yahweh is whole and pulls our lives together.

The signposts of Yahweh are clear and point out the right road.

The life-maps of Yahweh are right, showing the way to joy.

The directions of Yahweh are plain and easy on the eyes.

Yahweh’s reputation is twenty-four carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee.

The decisions of Yahweh are accurate down to the nth degree.

Psalm 19: 7-11 MSG

Linking this post with the Five Minute Friday writing community. Todays prompt is: RIGHT

Smiles Behind the Mask

Our library is open again! Yesterday I picked out a stack of books and a few DVDs. When I went to the desk to check out, the librarian commented on my stack. “Ah.looks like you are catching up on reading.”

And I responded, “Actually I had a couple thicks books on my shelf that I planned to read someday. And someday arrived. But I am so glad that the library is open again.”

She chuckled and I could imagine the grin on her face. I had to imagine because we were both wearing masks.

In this age of mask wearing our smiles must come with the words we speak. We have opportunities to share cheerful thoughts with cashiers, waiters, waitresses and postal workers.

I am thankful that my neighbor and I can share smiles and gardening tips over the back fence. We don’t need to wear masks in our backyards. 

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24

Amazing Microbiome

Linking this post with the Five Minute Friday writing group. Today’s prompt is: SMILE

When and How to Compromise

What comes to mind when you hear the word compromise? With the division that we see in politics, compromise doesn’t seem possible. In fact the divisiveness is so bitter that I have to limit my intake of news.

I have been musing on this today. Certainly in marriage my husband and I have made compromises. Some are easy. We like different TV programs. So I will watch Oak Island with my husband and he’ll watch Father Brown with me (but not Call the Midwife).

Other decisions—like household projects—are more difficult. We have to spend more time in discussion, listening to each other. I will confess that sometimes I don’t listen carefully, sometimes my husband doesn’t listen or talk enough. We are both flawed human beings and need to forgive each other.

Good communication and mutual respect is essential for issues that require compromise. 

Currently I am reading Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World by Eric Metaxas. It is a slow read because the theologians that supported Luther and those against him are described as well as theological views. But the chapter on Luther’s marriage is a great read—and I read some of it aloud to my husband. Martin was 42 years old and had been a monk. Katherine was 26 years old and had been a nun. Both found joy in marriage as God designed it.

One other take away from Martin Luther—as Christians we must never compromise the truth of God’s Word. We need to read the Bible and know what it says. God has given us a design for life in the Bible that is good.

This post is linked to the Five Minute Friday writing community. The prompt is: COMPROMISE It took me much longer than five minutes to gather my thoughts on this word.

The Cherry Tree and Martin Luther: Life Lessons

My husband has offered to cut the cherry tree down. Several times.

I was thrilled when the tree offered a bountiful harvest of cherries, sweet with a little tartness.

Then came the year of brown rot and mold. We spent a week picking all the rotten fruit and cleaning up the mess. 

Another year a late snowfall came while the tree was in blossom. There were no cherries that year.

Over the past few years Japanese beetles have discovered the tree. They eat the leaves on the tree, weakening it. So I tried picking them off, dropping them in a bucket of soapy water, as some fell down my shirt. Last year I treated the tree with neem oil.

This year is a recovery year, but the robins honed in on the ripening fruit. I have to admire their zealous pursuit of the cherries. I hung a couple of garden shop owls in the tree and also shiny CDs.

The cherries were of such great worth to the robins that they played out a dramatic scene.  I can see the tree—it is just outside my kitchen window. 

The robins showed acrobatic moves, twisting their necks to reach a cheery hanging below a branch. They would fly in with a focus on a cherry, see an owl and flutter like a hummingbird. Then they would seize a cherry and speed away.

I picked a quart of cherries. The robins consumed the rest. I have been thinking about the focus and determination of the robins (and also my determined attempts to save the cherry tree lol). What are the things of great value, deserving my focus? //

During this time at home I have pulled some books off the shelf that had intimidated me by their length. Currently I am reading Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and changed the World by Eric Metaxas. 

Martin Luther was totally focused on understanding the Bible, learning the true meaning. He pursued faith in God with his whole heart. Luther demonstrated in his life the most worthwhile goal—an example for us to follow. The greatest treasure in our lives is a relationship with God through Jesus.

This post is linked with the Five Minute Friday writing community. Today’s prompt is: WORTH

How to Have Hope

The Bible does not shrink from telling us the ugly side of human history. God’s word tells us the truth, and clearly states that God’s desire for us is good. We need to seek God and His ways in every aspect of our lives. 

“How you have helped him who has no power!
How you have saved the arm that has no strength!”
Job 26: 2

Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
Psalm 31:19

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Psalm 104:24

During this time of unrest and turmoil we have the opportunity to spread the hope of God’s word.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Isaiah 52:7

photo courtesy of unsplash

This post is linked with the Five Minute Friday writing community. Today’s prompt is: HOW

Remembering with Hope

Today we went to the cemetery and tended the family graves. We planted flowers and walked among the stones marking family members. As I read the names I was recalling family history.

My husband’s grandparents immigrated from Holland in 1911. In 1918 they lost three of their children when scarlet fever and the Spanish flu afflicted the family. William was a young adult, Winnie was a teenager and Cornelius was school age.

The family had worked hard to adjust to life in America and pay back the debts incurred during the first year. They had a deep faith in God and persevered. With support from a community of faith, they persevered through the grief of losing three children in one week.

We are blessed to have a family history written by my husband’s uncle. He wrote about his family and each of his sisters and brothers. He described the faith of his parents and siblings.

 I reflected on this as I thought about our Steven. The years of his cancer treatment were tough. He kept a journal, continued with school work and Awana lessons. He memorized many Bible verses. Three verse are listed on his gravestone.

The first one was chosen for him when he was dedicated as a baby.

Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:3

The second one relates to his participation in Awana, his Bible study.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

The third verse is one that he talked about in the last weeks of his life.

He [God] shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

As a family we are bonded together in faith and hope. We remember those that have gone before us to eternal life.

If you, dear reader, are not a part of the family of God, you can be. The word [of faith] is near you . . . because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God, raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9