For Building Up

For Building Up

While most professionals appreciate feedback to help them grow, in most cases anonymous notes are not helpful. My grandfather once told a story about a preacher who received a note in his box at church that simply said, “Idiot.” And so the very next Sunday the pastor got up in front of the church and said, “You know in all my years of ministry I’ve received many letters where people forgot to sign their name – but this is the first time someone signed their name and forgot to write the letter!”

There are times when we need to say what is on our heart. Whether it is to our pastors, our co-workers, our neighbors or spouses, how we say it makes all the difference.

The Apostle James reminds us that “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves…”

The Apostle Paul gives this a positive spin. He encourages us to speak, “…only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words would give grace to those who hear.”

Today, may your words give grace to those who hear.

Let us pray: We remember the words of Psalm 139: Before a word is on our tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. And yet, you love us still. Guard our mouths today. Help us to think through what we want to say and how we want to say it. Give us gracious spirits that seek to build up and not tear down. As we give grace, may we also notice ourselves receiving it. Amen.

God Looks on the Heart

God Looks on the Heart

A little girl was sitting on her grandfather’s lap as he read her a bedtime story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. She was alternately stoking her own cheek and then his again. Finally, she spoke up, “Grandpa, did God make you?” “Yes sweetheart,” he answered, ‘God made me a long time ago. God made you just a little while ago.” Feeling their respective face again, she said, “God’s getting better at it, isn’t he?”

The joke is funny – but it’s not true. It’s funny because it fits our culture. Yes, God did make the little girl. And God did make the grandpa too. But it’s not true because younger is not better. God created us to look one way as a little girl or a little boy; but we were not created to look that way forever.

Presbyterian Pastor Gilbert Bowen once said, “I think we need a new way of seeing. We need to learn to see one another and ourselves with the eyes of God. We need to learn to listen and sense the soul beneath the skin, the beauty and strength within. We need to look at one another with eyes that are patient and perceptive enough to pick up the décor of the soul.”

1 Samuel 16:7 reads, “The Lord does not see as mortals see. They look at outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

May you learn to see yourself and others with the eyes of God.

Let us pray: We thank you, O God, that your love for us is more than skin deep. We thank you that you created each of us in your own image – and that you love your creation. I pray for all those today who are struggling with aging or with their self-image. Remind us Lord, that what we see on the surface is not complete. Wash over us with your grace and give us eyes to see the soul beneath the skin and the beauty and strength within. Amen.

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Standing on the Promises

Standing on the Promises

There is an old church hymn on the theme of what God has promised which we sing often in our church. The hymn is “Standing on the Promises.” It has a martial beat to it that might be reminiscent of an infantry brigade marching across a field. The militaristic flavor may well be because Kelso Carter, who wrote both the words and the music to this hymn, was a teacher at a military academy at the time he composed the tune.

If the life of faith is like a journey, then there are times when we march proudly along. There are also times when we dance or run or walk slowly with heavy hearts. Our hymns and our praise songs help us express our hearts wherever we happen to be along the way.

Wherever you are, may the promises of God be a place to find solid footing – especially when crossing treacherous terrain. May they be like an unseen presence in which you experience the love of God.

In the second verse of that old hymn, we sing, “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God.”

Let us pray: Loving God, you have promised never to leave us or forsake us. You have promised that when we cry out to you, you will hear. Help us to trust you, and to rest in your grace; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Speak the Truth in Love

Speak the Truth in Love

Paul Harvey tells an amusing story about some airline baggage handlers who retrieved an animal carrier from the luggage bay of an airliner. As they removed the carrier, they made a gruesome discovery – the dog inside was dead. The baggage handlers panicked. They thought that there might be lawsuits, and that they might even lose their jobs. They told the woman passenger that her dog had been sent to another destination by mistake, and they promised her they would find her dog and have it delivered to her. With that assurance, the woman went home.

The baggage handlers then buried the woman’s pet. Afterward, they set out to find another dog to replace the animal that had died. Finally, they found a dog that was a dead ringer for this woman’s pet. They put the substitute dog in the animal carrier and sent it to the woman’s address. —–The woman took one look at the dog and exclaimed, “That’s not my dog! My dog is dead,” she told them. “I was bringing it home for burial.” (Paul Harvey’s FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, New York: Bantam Books, 1991, p. 67).

My dad used to say, “Honesty is always the best policy.” It’s true, isn’t it? Think about all the trouble that simply telling the truth saves us.

Let us pray: We pray today for integrity, O God. Help us to live in tune with what we believe, to speak the truth in love, and in doing so, may we experience your peace deep within. We pray today for those who need your guidance, your leading, and your love. Meet us wherever we happen to be this day. Amen.

To Forgive as We Have Been Forgiven

To Forgive as We Have Been Forgiven

The Templeton Foundation recently funded a major nationwide study on people’s attitudes toward forgiveness. It was co‑sponsored by the University of Michigan and the National Institute for Mental Health, and it was fascinating. The study found that 75% of Americans are “very confident” that they have been forgiven by God for their past offenses. 75%! This includes people who are not regular church attenders.

However, only about half of the people surveyed claimed that they had or would forgive others who had hurt them. What was interesting to me is that while we are sure that God has been entirely gracious to us, we have a hard time being gracious and merciful to others. No doubt it is hard to forgive people who have hurt us, and yet it is so important.

In that same study, researchers also found that there is a significant link between forgiveness and better health. The more prone a person is to grant forgiveness, the less likely he or she will suffer from any stress‑related illnesses. In addition to our physical health, forgiveness is directly tied to our spiritual health.

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul admonished: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Let us pray: Merciful God, We have heard the Good News that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. While sometimes we accept this forgiveness, other times we do not. Sometimes we are able to forgive others, but sometimes we hold fast to old grudges, hurts and fears. Sometimes we feel unable to forgive – even ourselves.

Have mercy on us, O God. Help us today to let go… Help us to accept that we are accepted; and to forgive as we are forgiven; that new beginnings may be ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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100 Points

100 Points

Today I would like to say a special word of thanks to those of you who have supported the Dial Hope Foundation with a financial donation. Your gifts make this ministry possible!

There is an old story about a man who dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” Okay, ” the man says, “I was married to the same women for 50 years and I was faithful all my life.” That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points.” Three points?”

He says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.” Terrific!” say’s St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.” “One point? Well I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says. “Two points!”

The man cries. “At this rate, the only way to get into heaven is by the grace of God!” St. Peter smiled. “There’s your 100 points! Come on in!”

The truth is we can’t earn the gift of salvation. The gift is free and it is called grace.

In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Let us pray: We are so grateful, Loving God, for your grace. And we give you thanks that in spite of our failures, in spite of our shortcomings – you love us still. Empower us to live in response to that grace by serving you and those you love; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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The Lamplighter

The Lamplighter

It is an old story, but it is true and it is good. The famous British author John Ruskin one night in his later years, sat watching a lamplighter who, with a torch in his hand, was lighting the lamps on a distant hill. The man himself could not be seen, but the lights would gleam as each one was lighted. Ruskin said to a friend, “That is what I mean by a real Christian. You can trace their course by the lights they leave burning.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16). Friend of Dial Hope, make today a masterpiece with your contagious enthusiasm, the light of your joy, and hope.

Let us pray: O God of china blue skies and dazzling sunrises, with each new day your promise of hope is restored. Each day is like the Day of Resurrection filled with new life and hope. Grant us the boldness to move out of comfortable security to the risk of faith, the joy of service, the laughter of love. Now bring healing and comfort to Cindy, Betsy, Ann, Tica, Jeanetta, Roberta, Bob, Ginnie, Kitty, Cameron, Judith, Marti, Nancy, Terry, Jeanette, Don, Bill and Jo. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Entertaining Angels

Entertaining Angels

In a recent sermon, Pastor John Ortberg told about an 8-year-old boy who was kind of a nerdy, clumsy, chubby kid. One time, a group of bullies were chasing him and calling him, “Fat Freddy.” He ran toward the home of an elderly widow in the neighborhood. He prayed she would be home to let him in, and she was. The fact that she was home, he said, greatly increased his faith in God!

Freddy’s full name was Fred Rogers, as in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. One of the main reasons why being part of a neighborhood was so important to Fred Rogers, was the hospitality he received from this elderly widow who took him in and kept him safe from bullies.

This story makes me wonder: What are some ways you and I can show hospitality to others? How can we too be good neighbors?

In the book of Hebrews, we read these words of encouragement:

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Let us pray: God of Love, today I pray especially for those who need love or friendship and for people who are feeling lonely and low. I ask you to bring the right people into their lives. Surround them with your grace and lift them up with your Spirit. Help each of us today to reach out to those in need and as we do so, may we recognize your angels. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Time for God

Time for God

We probably all know that we should make better use of our time—after all, time is not an unlimited commodity; it will expire for each of us. As the poet Virgil wrote: “Time flies never to be recalled.”

The New Testament writer, Paul, suggests the Christian life should be distinguished by a wise use of time. Is it wise to waste our time on dread and apprehension? Is it wise for us to spend time in bitterness and hatred? Is it wise for us to spend time comparing ourselves to other people?

Ever wonder how adults in the U.S. spend their time? One study showed that adults use their time sleeping, working, watching TV, housework, travel, eating, socializing, recreation, childcare, dressing, washing, reading, and relaxing. Significantly, prayer and service to others did not appear in the study.

Many of us feel that there is never enough time to get everything done. We often say, “I am so busy, there just isn’t enough time.” But I wonder if many of us even know where our time goes? When was the last time you stopped and reflected on how you used your time—and if you are using it wisely, which is not the same as productively.

Are you taking enough time with your children or grandchildren or friends? Are you taking enough time to understand what God wants for you? Are you volunteering somewhere?

May you learn to use your time more wisely. May you come to understand the will of the Lord for the remaining time in your life.

Let us pray:

God of eternity, help me to use my time more wisely. Help to become a person of deep prayer. Help me to use my time to help other people and through this wise use of time, help my hope in you to become as deep as the ocean. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Faith in Action

Faith in Action

To be passionately committed to our calling as Christians means that we put time and effort into whatever it is that God has called us to do. I know that we are busy people. But my experience suggests that too often we offer God what is left of our time and our talents, our money and our hope.

God wants your passion. Find a way to serve God and other people. Your service to God and your place of worship does not have to be large or grand or public.

In the first church I served, there was a very elderly woman named Jewel. Jewel was passionately committed to writing cards to people who were sick or hurting. One day I asked Jewel why she wrote so many notes to so many people, some of whom she did not even know. Jewel replied, “At my age, it’s about the only thing I can do for God and other people. But I figure, God wants me to do something. And this is something I can still do.”

May you find a way to use your passion for God. And may you know that God has a great passion for you.

Let us Pray: God of grace and giver of passion, may you strengthen our resolve to work for you and to your glory. And may we, your humble servants, find our faith, hope, and love renewed as we serve Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.