Archives for : Hope for the Journey

The Faithful Favor of God

The Faithful Favor of God – By Mary Zigan

We can’t ignore that we are STILL in lockdown from this horrible pandemic! In my little downtown that is usually bustling, streets are nearly bare, schools are still closed, church is by livestreaming only, retailers and salons have CLOSED signs on every door. And I need a haircut badly!

Sorrow hangs over us like a thick cloud as we grieve the loss of so many lives that have been taken. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty still plague us. We would like to help, but we feel stuck and out of touch with NORMAL. But do we really want our normal back as we have known it? Someone recently said to me, “I don’t want to get back to normal. I want to get back to NEW . . . a life where we are more aware of others.”

In this cosmos we live between good and evil. How can we become more consistently aware of our faith walk?

  • Do we want Jesus only if He provides the American Dream for us?
  • Do we want God’s blessings but not Him?
  • Do we want His provisions and promises . . . but without the persecution?
  • Do we want Him to follow us instead of the other way around?

What if faith is putting God between us and our circumstances? 

Scripture states, “Everything we can comprehend through faith’s vision belongs to us.”

All we long to do for God is within the possibilities of faith. No desire will ever be placed in us by the Holy Spirit unless He intends to fulfill it. In Philippians 2:13 the Apostle Paul says, “It is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose.” All this happens through the power and love of the Holy Spirit.

By faith we get to choose between life and death. God loves us so much that He died for us that we might live for Him.” Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.” How great is that?!

If you feel weak and wounded today, take hold of God’s promises and provisions. He is faithful and will never fail you.

Life Is Filled with Unexpected Events

Life Is Filled with Unexpected Events . . .

Like the First Easter, for Example.   By Sharon Sheppard

This morning I pulled on my sweats, poured a cup of coffee, and without taking time to put on makeup or give a second thought to how I looked, I attended our Sunday morning worship service.

It was a whole different experience because today I participated while sitting at my kitchen counter, staring at the screen of my Mac, as our church’s Sunday morning service streamed live. Due to the coronavirus restrictions imposed by our Governor, it had just become illegal for more than ten people to assemble in one place—a law we never would have dreamed of three short months ago.

I was pleasantly surprised by what an uplifting, worshipful experience it was to sing along from home to Martin Luther’s words from “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”: 

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. 

The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. 

His kingdom is forever.

Luther wrote these words in 1529 following the lethal bubonic plague (a disease far more deadly than the coronavirus, since it claimed millions of lives throughout Europe.)

As we look forward to Resurrection Sunday, we can only imagine what an astonishing worship event took place after Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James came to anoint the body of the dead Jesus with spices. These were women who had followed him and believed he was the Messiah—only to have their hopes dashed to bits as they watched him die a slow, agonizing death on the cross.

They were stewing around about how they were going slide that huge stone away from the entrance of the tomb, when a couple of men in dazzling garments quietly said to them, “Don’t be alarmed. He’s not here anymore. Remember how he told you he was going to be crucified by evil men, but that he was going to rise from the dead on the third day?”

 Then they remembered.

“That same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, 

“Peace be with you.’”  John 20:19, NKJV

 This was and is the pivotal event in all of history. It’s the event that gives us hope for our own life after death if we embrace what He offered when He gave His life as an atonement for our sins.

Happy, HAPPY Resurrection Day!

JOY? In a World Like This?

Joy? In a World Like This? You’ve Gotta’ Be Kidding! 

By Sharon Sheppard 

No doubt about it—joy seems like a pretty scarce commodity these days. 

As the political arena heats up, insults fly, tempers flare, and so much of the news is contentious. Add to this scenario issues like poverty, homelessness, global warming, the coronavirus, and so many other concerns, and the picture can look grim. 

Joy seems unattainable. Unless we start looking for it in the right places. 

I’m frequently reminded of the way my Dad began every. Each morning he would look out the window to see what the weather was like. And whether the temperature hovered at 40 degrees below zero or had climbed to a humid 80 degrees above, Dad would daily quote this verse: “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will be glad and rejoice in it.” (Psalm 118:24) 

Recently I was asked the question: “What brings you joy?”: 

I didn’t have to think twice about that one. Virtually every day I sit down at the piano and play. Sometimes it’s just five minutes. Sometimes it’s an hour. My fingers wander over the keyboard as I experiment with chords and different progressions. Sometimes I pull out a hymnal or my old 59 PIANO SOLOS book from college piano lesson days. I love everything from classical music to jazz, and making music lifts my spirits and gives me joy. 

There are many other things that bring me joy, too. Meaningful conversations with dear friends. The beauty and fragrance of flowers. Settling in with a really good book. 

Laughter lightens my heart. I still love hearing my son and daughter laugh when they get together at family gatherings. I love it when my grandsons tease me, because I’m good at giving it right back at them. (I’ve had lots of practice at this, having grown up as the only girl among three brothers.) 

Fortunately, joy doesn’t depend on having all the circumstances of our lives line up in the Favorable column at the same time. Joy is more of an attitude, an act of the will. It’s a habit worth cultivating. Savor the little things in life. And the big things. 

Talking to the God who created the Universe brings awe and a sense of peace and assurance that we can know the One who is in control. 

As we celebrate JOY in this month’s blog remember that”…the JOY of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) 

Has Kindness Become a Thing of the Past?

Has Kindness Become a Thing of the Past?   By Sharon Sheppard

Last June, summer surely didn’t look like it was going to be much fun for 

3-year-old Quinn Waters. After receiving treatment for brain cancer that temporarily wiped out his natural immunity, his doctors said he couldn’t go outdoors for three whole months.

But then a wonderful thing happened. Friends, relatives, and complete strangers starting showing up outside his window to create spontaneous entertainment for little Quinn. 

Two of Quinn’s uncles staged a water fight outside his window. Local police and firefighters put on a show for him that included police cars and red firetrucks driving past with engines roaring and sirens screaming.

During the weeks that followed, the punk band Dropkick Murphys stopped by to perform. Later, others showed up to read stories, juggle, sing, and do their very best to lift this little boy’s spirits and keep him entertained. His summer turned out to be anything but boring.

Quinn’s dad, Jarlath Waters, said, “We opened the window, and the world showed up.”

At a time when conversations often turn to less upbeat topics ranging from Congress to climate control to cyberbullying, it’s refreshing to know that not everyone has forgotten how to show compassion.

Our “Fruit of the Month” is KINDNESS, and it can be surprisingly easy to extend it to others who may desperately need some encouragement. It doesn’t always have to take a lot of time, money, or effort to help someone feel happy, appreciated, or encouraged. A compliment to a store clerk, a thank you note telling a neighbor or lonely relative or an overworked teacher how much you appreciate them can mean more than an expensive gift.

The Bible tells us we should “. . . Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32 TLB)

Let’s “Just Do It!”

FRUIT OF THE MONTH: PATIENCE

FRUIT OF THE MONTH: PATIENCE . . . the virtue we wish everybody else had, but which we hope nobody expects out of us    

By Sharon Sheppard

“Lord, give me with patience,” we might mutter in a trying situation. But I don’t think I’ve ever 

heard anyone pray “Lord, give me lots of opportunities to be patient.” 

We’d rather God gave us a quick, painless, lifetime injection of patience with the hope that we would never actually have to use it. Unfortunately, we all regularly have an abundance of opportunities to exercise patience–more occasions than we ever wanted.

Sitting in traffic, for example, waiting for the kid in the car ahead of us to quit texting and realize that the light has turned green. Waiting for someone to show up who promised to be here 20 minutes ago. (Especially if that someone is habitually late.) Discovering we’re out of toilet paper and the person who does the household shopping is out of town.

If you’re a parent, I don’t need to cite examples, because you’ve had plenty of opportunities to exercise patience. But in all honesty, more often than not, irritation bubbles to the surface because we feel entitled to something we aren’t getting. We believe we have a right to expect courtesy, alertness, and a willingness on the part of other drivers to yield the right-of-way to us in traffic. We believe we have the right to expect that the volume of their listening devices should not cause our windows to vibrate.

What would happen if we decided to thank God whenever annoyance rears its angry head?

If another drive cuts in ahead of us, we might say, “Thanks, God, for protecting me from an accident.”

When traffic seems impossible, “God, thanks that I have a job to go to, and a car that runs.”

If a spouse doesn’t get everything done that she or he had intended, we might say, “Lord, thank you for the gift of a partner who is loving and faithful and who cares for me in so many ways.” 

The book of Proverbs has some wise things to say about patience:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels. (Prov. 15:1)

A short-tempered man (or woman) is a fool. (Prov. 14:17)

A wise man (or woman) restrains anger and overlooks insults. (Prov. 19:11)

Abundant Life: Possibility? or Pipe Dream?

Abundant Life: Possibility? or Pipe Dream?   By Sharon Sheppard

Probably most people yearn for the Good Life. And for each of us, this might mean something different. Some long for popularity and acceptance. For others, “Success” is the ultimate goal. Many aspire to wealth, while a homeless person might settle for just a roof over his head.

Finding the “right” life partner is high on the list of many—maybe most. We dream of being adored, swept off our feet, and ultimately marrying that one “perfect” person.

Still others thrive on adventure—new and different experiences, preferably in exotic locations—without ever giving a thought to “settling down.”

The Bible has some interesting things to say about The Good Life.  I call this passage in the Book of Philippians The Secret to Happiness:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! . . .Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

A similar passage in 1 Thessalonians (5:16-18) urges us to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

By the sound of these verses, we can choose to rejoice and be thankful (even when things might not be going so well). We can choose to keep in close touch with the God who created us, and He has invited us to “draw near to Him.” He longs to have fellowship with us, and He has promised that if we draw near to him (by thanking Him, confiding in Him, asking Him for what we need) He will draw near to us.

If we don’t feel close to God, we can be pretty sure that He isn’t the one who moved. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Talk about a Good Life! It’s available to us for the asking, and it doesn’t get much better than that!

A Look at Lent

Lent . . . should it be a time of fasting or feasting?

Lent is a 40-day period of time (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter, the day more accurately known among Christians as Resurrection Sunday.

A reflection on Lent, by Sharon Sheppard

Though the word lent is not found in the Bible, observance of this period of time leading up to Easter/Resurrection Sunday can take many different forms. Christians from a broad spectrum of denominations, ranging from Catholic and Orthodox to mainline and evangelical denominations.

For some, it is a somber time of fasting and self-denial. A time of introspection and repentance.

Some use it as a time to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross to sacrifice Himself to pay for our sins. This can bring a new appreciation for what

Others make light of it, and it becomes a joke. A non-golfer might say he is giving up golf for lent. Or a college student might say she is giving up studying for lent.

For still others, it may be marked by an emphasis on doing good deeds, hoping to earn points they hope will help them make it to heaven.

Since Lent isn’t mentioned in the Bible, it would seem we can’t go wrong by choosing one of God’s principles and devoting 40 days to cultivating one of those that we might not be practicing on a regular basis:

Love one another. Jn 13:34 or James 4:8  (Is there someone you’re having trouble loving that you need to show kindness to?)

Draw near to me and I will draw near to you. James 4:8 (Are you spending at least as much time daily time in fellowship with God as you do online?)

Godliness with contentment is great gain. Heb 13:5(Do you catch yourself complaining: about the weather, politics, the high cost of living?)

Give to the poor. Prov 22:9 (Is there someone you know who is deeply hurting financially that you could help?)

But in any case, it is probably best observed by

What Does it Take?

What Does It Take to Build A Marriage That Goes the Distance? By Sharon Sheppard

            With attitudes toward marriage shifting and divorce rates soaring, it’s refreshing to take an occasional look at some marriages that have stood the test of time. Here is one of my favorite true stories about couples I have known.

            My sister-in-law, Marlene Moser, made frequent trips to check on her parents, Bob and Doris Coulter (Pine River, MN) after they moved into an assisted living apartment. The couple had been married for seventy-plus years, and now both of them were rapidly declining in health. Marlene, who has a gift for interior decorating, had arranged their cozy living quarters, and placed a small table between their two recliners to hold their coffee cups while they watched TV together.      

            The next time Marlene stopped in, she noticed that they had moved the little table to a different spot.

            “You have a new arrangement,” she commented.

            “Yes,” her mother said, “it’s too hard for us to hold hands with that table between our chairs.”

            As in any marriage, life had not always been easy for the Coulters, and during those years the two of them had weathered plenty of difficult times. There were anxious years while Bob was away fighting in the Philippines during World War II. They lost a daughter to cancer and shared other heartaches along the way. But their faith in the Lord remained firm, and their tender commitment to each other was unshakable.

            Several years ago, as I was working on an article on marriage for the Baptist Standard, I went to the experts for advice—couples who had been married 35 years or more. “What’s your best advice for achieving a love that goes the distance?” I asked.

            Over coffee and dessert, the panel pooled their combined 270 years of marriage experience to come up with their top ten tips:

  • Recognize and celebrate your differences.
  • Be quick to apologize.
  • Treat each other with respect.
  • Handle each other’s shortcomings with sensitivity.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to be able to read your mind.
  • Learn to communicate by becoming transparent with each other.
  • Learn to fight fair.
  • Keep your romance alive.
  • Become an expert at knowing what makes the other person happy.
  • Nurture your faith as a couple.

            Marriage was God’s idea in the first place. Inviting Him to be a full partner in a couple’s  marriage journey can make all the difference between a contentious relationship and one where differences can be resolved peaceably.

            From 1 Corinthians, here is some of God’s best marriage advice:

            Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. . . If you really love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

            There are three things that remain—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love.

            1 Cor. 13: 4-7, 13 (TLB)

Christmas Gifts that Matter

Christmas Gifts that Matter . . .

Each year many of us say to ourselves, NEXT year I’m going to make it a point to give more meaningful Christmas gifts.  NEXT year we’ll spend less on ourselves—since we really don’t need anything–and remember those who actually are needy.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

Locally:

  • Go online and type in Angel Tree – Prison Fellowship to see how you can donate online. OR if your church or other organization has an Angel Tree, you can pick a tag off the tree that gives the name and age of a child whose incarcerated parent has signed up for the program. The tag will give you some suggestions for a gift you can buy for a child who has a parent serving time in the correctional system.
  • Go online and type in Angel Tree – Salvation Army for making a donation to a similar program that serves needy children whose parents are not necessarily incarcerated.
  • Visit someone you know in a nursing home. OR if you don’t personally know anyone, call a nursing home and ask for the name of someone who gets few (if any) visitors. You might bring a small gift of homemade cookies or a CD or another thoughtful gift. If you have young children or grandchildren who might be willing to sing or tell jokes or play a musical instrument, bring them along.
  • Go food shopping and bring bags of groceries to your local food bank.
  • Volunteer to help serve Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army or other mission facility, or make a donation toward feeding the homeless and other needy people. OR invite an extra person (or 2 or 3) into your own home for a Christmas meal with you—someone who might otherwise be alone for the holidays.

Globally:

  • Go online and type in Samaritan’s Purse – Disaster Relief. This organization provides food, emergency shelter, medicine, and other practical help to bring relief from poverty, war, and natural disasters both in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Check out World Vision online to see how you can sponsor a child or make a donation toward needs worldwide.

Or broaden your own vision by putting up your antennae and looking around you to see who could use some time or attention or physical or financial help from you. You will be doubly blessed, and you’ll ask yourself, “Why haven’t I done this before now?”

by Sharon Sheppard

Gratitude

     Unhappy is the man, though he rule the world who doesn’t consider himself supremely blest.                                                                                                                                                                                             ~ Seneca

 

In November, more than any other month, our hearts turn toward thankfulness. Thanksgiving, always the third Thursday of the month, causes us to pause at least momentarily and offer gratitude for all our blessings. Yet, as I write, it seems like a more thankless and threatening time in our world is happening. Pipe bombs are being sent to prominent politicians, multiple fatalities have occurred on an attack in a Pittsburgh Synagogue, where a house of worship ought to be a refuge. Democrats and republicans are undermining each other across the aisle with lies and deception to stay on top of their game and be the winner. This hate and evil causes me to ponder, and question, where is the love of God being shown in our world?   I am reminded of a recent lesson I experienced at the supermarket in the check- out line. We were held up for a price check…and it was my price check that was holding things up! When I apologized, the man behind me said, “I am in no hurry! You just take your time. I’m so happy to be alive at 87 that when the good Lord is ready to take me home, I have faith in Jesus that I will arrive safely.”

 

Wow! I was immediately filled with hope in mankind. That elderly gentleman had his sights set on things to come, what the Bible says; on things above. While living in the now, his thoughts were on a future home. Thoughts of all the great and glorious blessings of living with his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ forever. This way of living, granted him a perspective of faith, hope and love; that seems neglected or for sure negligent in our society. It would behoove me and possibly you, to choose this month of November, to dwell on things above, and pray for those who don’t!  A thankful heart will be your reward!

 

 

              Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Above all, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule your heart, since you were called to peace.  And be thankful. Sing songs of praise with gratitude in your hearts giving thanks to God the Father forever and ever, amen.                  (A paraphrase from Colossians chapter3)
Mary Zigan