Weekly Devotions

November 11, 2019

Trials

There was a blacksmith who gave his heart to God. Though conscientious in his living, still he was not prospering materially. In fact, it seems that from the time of his conversion, more trouble, affliction and loss were sustained than ever before. Everything seemed to be going wrong.

One day, a friend who was not a Christian stopped at the blacksmith’s shop to talk to him. Sympathizing with him in some of his trials, the friend said. “It seems strange to me that so much affliction should come to you just at the time when you have become an earnest Christian. Of course, I don’t want to weaken your faith in God or anything like that. But here you are, with God’s help and guidance, and yet things seem to be getting steadily worse. I can’t help wondering why it is.”

The blacksmith did not answer immediately, but finally, he said, “You see here the raw iron which I have to make into horse’s shoes. You know what I do with it? I take a piece and heat it in the fire until it is red, almost white with the heat. Then I hammer it unmercifully, to shape it as I know it should be shaped. Then I plunge it into a pail of cold water to temper it. Then I heat it again and hammer it some more. And this I do until it is finished.”

“But sometimes I find a piece of iron that won’t stand up under this treatment. The heat and the hammering and the cold water are too much for it. I don’t know why it fails in the process, but I know it will never make a good horse’s shoe.” He pointed to a heap of scrap iron that was near the door of his shop. “When I get a piece that cannot take the shape and temper, I throw it out on the scrap heap. It will never be good for anything.”

He went on, “I know that God has been holding me in the fires of affliction and I have felt His hammer upon me. But I don’t mind, if only He can bring me to what I should be. And so, in all these hard things my prayer is simply this: Try me in any way you wish, Lord, only don’t throw me on the scrap heap.”

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Lynell Waterman

November 4, 2019

Walking With Jesus #34
    “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”    Luke 6:27-28
     Jesus encourages us to be loving, not just toward people we like, but loving people we don’t like, even people who have hurt or abused us. Jesus’ focus extends beyond our extended family, to the Christian fellowship, our neighbors, work-mates and people we may not know at all. In these words Jesus gives us an ethical guide to the Christian life, saying that love involves not judging or condemning people, but rather being open, forgiving and generous. These are not easy instructions to follow.  It is not a message that we naturally want to hear, because our natural inclination is not to “turn the other cheek” or to give a freeloader the chance to abuse our generosity. Our natural inclination is to get something back for helping other people.  What we get back may be the satisfaction of helping someone, and that is not a bad thing unless it is not the only reason that we help them.
     When I was teaching health education at the university, I had students who were preparing to go into various helping professions, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or teaching. I always asked them in the first class of the semester, “Why do you want to work in a health profession?” And invariably most students would say that they liked helping others because it made them feel good. The good feeling that they had after helping another person was what enticed them to be in a helping profession. This is generally our human response to helping others. It does make you feel good when you see that your assistance has benefited someone. But if that is the only reason we help another person then we are helping them for ourselves rather than as a gift of love.
     So Jesus is saying something that we would not naturally want to hear. It is important to admit to ourselves that we are naturally inclined to want some gratification when we have been wronged by another. Jesus is saying in this version of the Sermon on the Plain that we must search our own hearts and forgive and care for those who have treated us badly. To “turn the other cheek” when someone has wronged us is a response that comes directly from the grace of God that God pour into our hearts, not from our natural tendencies.
     In reality, many of our acts of “love” are selfishly motivated. We love others in order to be loved or appreciated in return. Often, whether or not we continue to serve and love others is conditioned by how they respond toward us. Jesus seems to be saying that expecting love in return for the love we have given is not loving as God loves us. We are to serve others, expecting nothing in return from them. Our reward will come from God, and in the bounty of God’s grace He always rewards us far beyond that which we deserve.
     We also have to remember that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. But that is part of learning to love as God loves us. Only after recalling what Christ has done for us can we see that these hard things are exactly what it means to follow Jesus, and what our fallen nature has the tendency to reject.
     The renewing of our minds requires that our thinking and motivations change from our natural way of thinking into the way of Christ. This is a lesson we will probably have to learn more than once, but it is founded in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, for all people.
Questions:
  1. When have you loved your enemy or did good to someone who hated you? How did you deal with that, and how did God help you love them?
  2.  Have you ever experienced what we call “burn out”? Could it have been prompted by not getting in return what you expected from all that you gave to those who totally disregarded your gift?
  3. How can you find ways of learning to love as Jesus wants us to love in your community, your congregation, your profession, or at home?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

October 28, 2019

Walking with Jesus #33
     “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” Romans 3:28
     Faith is trusting God’s promises as Christ did, even unto death. Faith is my son who at age 2 jumped off the top rung on the barnyard fence into his daddy’s arms with no doubt that he would catch him. Faith is throwing ourselves into the arms of God in all of life’s situations. Faith is what draws us into God’s work in the world.
     A great story about faith is the story about the Great Blondin. Charles Blondin was a French tightrope walker and acrobat. He toured the United States in the 1800’s, and was known for crossing the 1,100 ft. Niagara Falls Gorge on a tightrope. The rope was just two inches wide and spanned the width of the gorge, 160 feet above the raging water of the falls. Merely walking across wasn’t enough for Blondin though. On his first attempt, he stopped midway to pull up a bottle of wine from a boat below and had a small drink standing above the dangerous waters. One of his acts included pushing a wheelbarrow filled with a sack of potatoes as he crossed. After he did it he asked the crowd, “Who believes that I can carry a person across in his wheelbarrow? The crowd yelled, “We do! We believe!” Then he asked, “Who will get into the wheelbarrow?” Well that was different. No one volunteered. No person risked their life taking the ride with Blondin.
     Faith is no armchair business.  Faith is getting in the wheelbarrow with Jesus knowing that you will be safe even though the journey may be life threatening. Faith is not believing creeds or doctrines. Our creeds are there to remind us of the depth of God’s love and commitment to save us. Faith is putting our trust in this living God who loves us completely, in life and in death. Faith is Abraham believing God’s absurd promises. Faith is Moses standing before Pharaoh and knowing that God will act according to his promises. Faith is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Lord let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless not my will, but your will be done.” In short, faith is throwing ourselves into Jesus’ wheelbarrow come hell or high water without a doubt that he will keep us in his loving arms. And you know what? It is an exciting journey. We never know where it might lead us, but we know that God is with us every step of the way.
Questions:
  1. What faith stories do you have? Write them down and share them with others. I would love to hear your faith stories.
  2. When and how has your faith been tested?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

October 21, 2019

Walking with Jesus #32
     “Will God not do right by his chosen, the ones crying out to him day and night? Will he be long in helping them?  I say to you that He will do the right for them quickly. Even so, will the Son of Man, having come, then find faith on earth?” Luke 18:7-8
    “Hurry up and wait!” are notorious words for the traveler waiting to get checked in at the airport, or a husband waiting on his wife to get dressed for an important dinner with the boss. These are also words to be pondered in our prayer life.
     Sometimes events we pray for happen at breakneck speed, but as I have observed in my life that is rare. Others seem to take an eternity. God seems to answer some prayers now, and other prayers he answers “in the future.” Many times, the prayers we want answered now involve some kind of growth, conditions, or preparations that simply requires our patient waiting and continued prayers.
     Jesus taught in this parable in Luke that God answers those prayers with which we keep pestering God, but in his own wisdom, and in his own time. If we object to his means or his timing, can we really think of it as a request in faith? It requires at least a mustard seed of faith that God will answer our prayer, and God’s timing is always the best. Faith requires that we always pray and never give up trusting that God will answer in God’s time. God is truly in charge.
     Jesus teaches us about persistence and patience in our prayer life with this parable about a widow who kept coming to the judge with a complaint that required justice. And she did not give up, even though it seemed the judge would never relent to give her justice. She kept coming, day in and day out, and finally she wore down the judge and he gave her the justice she sought.
     In college during the late fifties I prayed to God to send me to the mission field. I thought that would be in a foreign land. I applied to the Mission Board, but it did not happen. I kept praying about where God wanted me to serve while I prepared to teach, and after teaching for five years in public and private schools I got two graduate degrees and spent another 25 years teaching in two universities. All those years I continued to pray for discernment of how God wanted me to serve. Somehow it never dawned on me that I was serving in a place of preparation. I continued to believe that there was another place of service other than higher education where God was preparing me for the next step. At the age of 49, I felt God calling me into ordained ministry, something that wasn’t possible at the beginning of my discernment prayer journey. I applied to seminary and with the Bishop of the denomination in which I was a member.
     There was still a year of waiting. After which the Bishop turned me down for entering holy orders. Even though I had been accepted by the seminary, and began a Master of Divinity program I was still at a quandary of where God wanted me to serve. It was then that I was introduced to the Lutheran Church, ELCA, and within a period of six months was accepted as a candidate for ministry. Looking back on those 25 years of prayer preparation and teaching before entering the process to become a pastor I can see the journey that God required of me was needed for serving as a pastor.  The mission field was in Texas, not a foreign land.
     I learned that constant prayer requires faith in a loving God who listens and patiently answers our prayers at the right time. The content of my prayer petitions over the years grew to reflect the quality of a growing faith. In the beginning the content was probably self-serving, but it grew over the years to listening more intently to God. God answered time and time again, “Wait,” and I came to trust that waiting was God’s answer to my prayer. I am now retired after 25 years of serving as a pastor in two congregations, but God keeps revealing that pastoral work is not tied to the paid office of a congregational pastor. It is tied to persistent and faithful prayer for new revelations and new relationships for service.
Questions:
  1. How has your prayer life grown in the face of adversity? How persistent are you in prayer? Are you willing to patiently wait for God to act in God’s time?
  2. Is your prayer life centered on God’s will, and will you pray constantly for his will? Will you trust God for an unknown future?
     Reflect on these questions. Make the same petition every day. After a week or a month, are you willing to continue with that petition, or do you feel like giving up? Be totally honest with yourself! If you feel like giving up, don’t despair. Instead, thank God for the opportunity to pray and move onto the next area in your life and place it in God’s hands.
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

October 14, 2019

Walking With Jesus
     When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. Luke 17:14-15
     When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem he met ten men with leprosy, and they called out to him for healing. His response, as always, was to heal. And, they recognized their healing as they followed his instructions to go show themselves to the priest, who would see they were healed and allow them to reenter the community. One of these men was a Samaritan, and would not be accepted into the community even if the priest declared that he was clean. He recognized that God had healed him and in his overwhelming joy returned to bow down at Jesus’ feet to give him praise and thanksgiving. I can’t help thinking of the faith of this person who was an outsider as I read this story of Jesus’ healing the ten lepers. What stands out is the grateful response of the Samaritan.
     Last night I presided at the weekly worship service of Treehouse Ministry, a Lutheran campus ministry at Texas A&M University. The openness of this congregation of students is a beautiful example of welcoming the outsider. The Welcoming Statement they advertise and truly apply in all of their being together is: At Treehouse, we celebrate that each person is of sacred worth. We embrace all people, affirming the gifts of race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and faith. No matter where you are on your journey, you are welcome here.
     After worship as I was leaving one of the students introduced himself and asked if he could walk me to my car. He thanked me for coming and then shared a bit of his journey with me as we walked. He had grown up in another church denomination that did not ordain women as pastors/priests. He was so grateful for what I had offered and was so thankful that in Treehouse he was accepted as a LGBT person who had been rejected by so many other groups and individuals. Our conversation was a reminder of the Samaritan who returned to give praise and thanks to God as he bowed down prostrate before Jesus. I gave this young man a hug and told him that whenever he felt he was being rejected by others to repeat to himself, “I am a child of God, and God loves me.” His eyes lit up as he said, “I will, and thank you for reminding me of that. He thanked me for coming to bring communion to them. He said, “Your words, and your presence has opened my eyes to the love of God and how it is shared here.” Without a doubt, God was already at work in the life of the Samaritan and the young man I met last night, so that they had to offer a grateful response to the unexpected gift of God’s love shared with them.
     As I drove home I wondered about how God is already at work in the life of someone, an outsider, we least expect who we might just encounter in our community, neighborhood, or congregation.  In a world too often marked by fear and division, might healing just be ours to offer (and in turn, receive) if we simply reached out with a word of kindness, curiosity, or affirmation even to someone we have never seen.
     Indeed I was reminded again last night that you and I can be agents of healing in our world today.
Questions:
  • How might God already be at work in an outsider in your community, neighborhood, or congregation?
  • How can we look outside of ourselves to see where God might be at work in the world?
  • How might we be called to restore others to community by simply engaging them in casual conversation, or listening to their story?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

October 7, 2019

Walking With Jesus #30
     The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord said, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:5-6.
     Are we to believe that faith, measuring so small as the size of a mustard seed, is missing from us? We who attend worship each week, maybe teach a Sunday School class, or volunteer in some ministry in the church, is our faith less than the tiny mustard seed? Or have we simply not used it? Maybe it is just not a normal tool we are accustomed to using in the day-to-day conduct of our lives, as we face conflicts in the home or in the work place.
     I have begun to see faith as a muscle, and if it is not used regularly, stretched a bit beyond its general usage then it begins to wither and get smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker. The more we use it, the stronger it gets. I think Jesus is telling his disciples then and us now to use the faith we have and we will be surprised at the outcome. God has given us all the faith we need if we just recognize all the God-given opportunities God gives us to use it. I think about some of the simple things that might occur every day, reaching out to someone who is lonely, being a friend to someone who needs a friend, or someone who needs a helping hand.
     Perhaps this is the place where we are. We have faith but perhaps it gets down to our readiness to use it. There are lots of ordinary situations that we see all the time and, if our faith muscle is used in any of those places they will be blessed by God and it is like the extraordinary event of a mulberry tree uprooted and planted in the ocean. They become pretty extraordinary too.
     I suspect that we have all been in those places where we felt we did not have enough faith. We wanted Christ to step in and help our unbelief so that the mountain in front of us would move. I recall a time before I became a pastor when I was teaching at Texas A&M University. I had a student that had failed a major exam in my class. I knew that something was wrong. This did not represent her capabilities. She had always aced the other exams. So I called her in to discuss what was going on in her life at the moment. She explained that her parents were in the midst of a nasty divorce and she was worried for both of them. She was being pulled in two directions as she wanted them to find peace in their relationship. I asked her if it would be okay if I prayed for her and for her parents. She readily accepted that as a gift. After our prayer I could see relief spread over her face, and much of the tension seemed to be eased in her expression. Her confidence seemed to glow.  Then I did something I had never done before, I asked if she would like to retake the exam. I would write up a new one, and give it to her the next day. She was relieved at the opportunity. The next day she showed up for the test and she aced it.  There were other times when I had not given students a second chance as I did her that day. It just so happened I stretched a faith muscle on that occasion and it taught me a lesson. It helped my faith get stronger in what God can do if we just show up and offer what we have to help another.
     I think faith can also be an adventure, especially if you exercise it. I had never done that with a student before, so it was a new adventure to make such an offer. So, whether solving a problem at work or giving someone a second chance, faith can be stretched if we recognize our God-given opportunities and do what needs to be done. So go ahead, stretch the faith muscle God has given you anywhere and any way you can. The unimaginable Mulberry tree will be uprooted and thrown into the sea.
Questions:
  • Can you recall a time when your faith muscles were stretched and God blessed all who were involved in a wonderful way?
  • As you have worked with people in Via de Cristo, have you seen faith muscles stretched in them?
    Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

September 30, 2019

Walking With Jesus #29
     Parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Read the parable and pray for God to reveal Christ’s message to you.
     One of the things I’ve learned from writing weekly devotions over the last seven months is that biblical passages can stretch further than we sometimes immediately see in the text. Sometimes we need to stretch them so that they speak to our hearts. This Sunday’s parable is a good example.
     We should not be surprised that this parable expresses God’s unrelenting care and compassion for the poor and vulnerable. This is a theme that is consistently present in Scripture but we are generally pretty inconsistent in our thoughts and actions. It is not a parable to tell us that we can work our way to heaven, but to help us understand our calling as children of God, and followers of Jesus Christ.
     I want now to invite you to stretch the parable by imagining a different ending. The gulch between the rich man and Lazarus in heaven is much like the one that existed between them here on earth. On earth the rich man made no attempt to relieve the suffering of Lazarus, and he surely knew him because he was always visibly present at his gate. In the afterlife he recognizes Lazarus and calls him by name. Yet, he continues to treat Lazarus like he is a servant.  When he asks Abraham to send him to bring a drop of water and is denied, he wants him to go warn his brothers not to make the same mistakes he has made by not caring for the poor. He still does not treat Lazarus as a human being, as one deserving of compassion. It seems he has only learned that he made some mistakes that did not turn out well for him.
     So here is the stretch. Abraham says that the rich man’s brothers would not believe even if a man who rises from the dead goes to them. Yet, we have seen a man put to death for caring for the poor, for announcing God’s mercy for all, and for daring to forgive the sins of any. We have heard the testimony that this man was raised from the dead and vindicated by God as the supreme incarnation of God’s love and God’s kingdom. We have come to believe in Christ who rose from the dead and we have followed him. He wasn’t just any man, he is God himself in the flesh, and he calls us to love others as he has loved us.
     When I think about how small the requests of the rich man are: a drop of water, and a messenger to tell others, I wonder why we can’t at least do these same things? Why can’t we help bring relief to those who are suffering and are in need and tell everyone we meet that God wants us to care for each other?
     In a children’s sermon I once gave a dollar bill to each of the children and told them it was all theirs. Then I asked them if they each had a Bible and if they read it or someone read it to them. Every child answered yes. I then told them about children in Africa who had never had a Bible of their own, and longed for getting one to read in their language. I shared with them that it was possible to give one of these children a Bible for $10.00. I had only given them one dollar, and if they wanted to give that dollar to help buy a Bible for someone in Africa they could put it in the envelope I gave them and put it in the offering. I also stressed that the choice was theirs, because I had given the dollar to them as a gift to do with as they pleased. The offering attendants gave me all the envelopes and some extra checks written by parents and others. All the envelopes were returned with extra money in them. A total of $488.00 was given to the Bibles for Africa Project, which is a part of Spiritual Renewal Ministries. I was amazed that so many adults had actually listened to the children’s sermon and contributed to the Bible project that I shared with them that day.
     This parable helps to remind us that the needs in our world are always present. The need for clean water, the need for food, the need of medicine and doctors, the need for schools, and the desperate need for God’s Word to be shared in the native language of the people. We do not need to look far to find those who are in desperate need even in our own communities. A drop of water, and a messenger can go a long way in loving our neighbor.
Questions:
  • How are you challenged by this parable of Jesus to bring assistance to those who are in need?
  • What persons, people, or concerns tug at your heart to move you to serve those who are in need?
  • How can you get others to join you in helping those who need to know that God loves them?
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

September 23, 2019

Walking With Jesus #28
     “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Luke 16:13
     In today’s gospel Jesus says we can serve either God or Mammon, but not both. Mammon serves as an image for the gaining of wealth, the “most common god on earth,” according to Martin Luther (Large Catechism, Explanation of the First Commandment). Charging interest on loans was forbidden in the Bible because it exploited the poor, those who were most vulnerable. This statement of Jesus came as a culminating remark to a parable he told about a rich man and his steward/debt collector and somehow I think he had put both the rich man and his debt collector into the same class with this concluding remark. The rich man along with his steward, were both exploiting desperate peasants by charging them more than what they should have owed.
     As I think about what Jesus challenges us to do in choosing who we will serve, God or wealth, it forces me to ask questions about how we practice loving our neighbor in economic relationships. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that we live in the midst of unjust financial structures in our world today, and Jesus repeatedly warns that we cannot be disciples while accumulating wealth at the expense of the poor. Luther’s warning about Mammon 500 years ago and Jesus warning about letting wealth become our Master over 2000 years ago is still a valid warning for us today. It is true that money and possessions are indeed the most common idol on earth today.
     Like the manager, we have nothing that really belongs to us; we are stewards of God’s abundance. And yet we often think that the paycheck we receive is ours, not God’s. God is much more giving and compassionate than any human, because God gives us all that we have at our disposal.
     One prayer we might offer is for a constant awareness of the gifts God showers upon us so that we can discern how to share those gifts with the people with whom we work and serve, and those who need our assistance. We might also pray that we would become more aware of our total reliance on God’s grace, mercy, and love, and that we might trust that God will show us how to serve God and our neighbors with the gifts of wealth with which God provides. The result would surely be that together we might come to use our resources for the good of all, and not just for self as our number-one consideration. What if we truly trusted God to take our humble offerings and multiply them for ministry? What might it mean to own the concept of being stewards of abundance rather than hoarders of scarcity? Perhaps then we could begin to use our resources–time, talent, and money–to help people come to know God’s saving grace, amazing love, and life-giving abundance. Then, we could move step-by-step and day-by-day toward a life that is more fully faithful and focused on what truly matters.  Help us O Lord, to be good stewards of all that you shower upon us. Amen.
Questions:
  • What does it mean to you to be a faithful steward of what God has given you?
  • How can you begin in focus on the needs of others and their needs more than your own?
  • How, in your personal experience, can you bring this challenge to life in your church community?
  • How can you be the change agent that brings awareness and change in our giving to God and those who are in need?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

September 16, 2019

Walking With Jesus #27
     “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.” Psalm 51:10-11
     We read Psalm 51 on Ash Wednesday each year as we begin our spiritual journey of 40 days with Christ moving toward the cross for our sins. This Psalm restates for us the nature of the loving, and forgiving God to whom we pray, as well as our need to seek God for our cleansing from sin. This God is filled with steadfast love and abundant mercy, a God who is eternally “for us” with the endless love of a mother for her child. Asking for God to give us a clean heart and a right spirit is the beginning of being right with God. It is also the beginning of being right with our neighbor, and treating them with a concern for their feelings, thoughts, and understandings.
     Unfortunately we have a habit of believing too readily in our own competence, our own brains, our own plans or instincts, to the exclusion and omission of the competence, brains, needs and plans of those who may think differently than do we. The inability of governments to agree on much of anything is a direct result of a lack of consideration.  The belief that any idea that is not mine might have any possible merit sometimes never enters our minds. It can also relate to something very simple we do without thinking that we may hurt another. Sometimes we make decisions for others with good intentions which demonstrates how we typically think that we know what is right, or what is needed.
     I recall when I was babysitting my nephews one Saturday morning several years ago. Paul, age three, came in the kitchen and asked me for a banana. Knowing how small children often take one or two bites of something and put it down, I peeled the banana and cut it in half, and offered him half a banana. He began to cry unmercifully as if his heart was broken. He said, “Put it back together.” Well, that option was not really possible, so I just reached for another banana from the fruit bowl, partially peeled it and gave it to him whole. He smiled at me through his tears and took the banana and went back into the den to watch cartoons with his cousins.
     It was a small thing but it reminded me of how we assume that we always know what is right, or how to fix things for others. It reminded me of how we daily need our hearts to be cleansed with God’s right spirit put into us anew, so we know how to treat others, and can see things as others see them. I was completely out of touch with a three year-old boy’s need to hold a banana, with the skin in-tact as he enjoyed peeling it and eating it like he had watched the monkeys do on the nature film he was watching on TV.
Questions:
  • Can you remember a time when you made a decision about something that was not at all what those who were affected by your decision felt should be done?
  • Can you identify with the need for God to cleanse your heart and put a right spirit within you?
  • Can you think of times when all you could do was rely on the grace promised to you — grace that may have let you ‘begin again’ by ‘blotting out’ your sin or by repairing your brokenness?
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

September 10, 2019

Walking With Jesus #24
     “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27
     I begin this devotional with a question that cuts to the depths of my soul and possibly yours too. What is my cross? What is your cross? I recognize that a cross can be many different things for each of us at various times of our lives. Yet it seems that one thing is for certain. A cross always means sacrifice, and sacrifice is not a popular topic to any of us.
     Jesus asks his disciples both then and now to sacrifice. This is why we are asked to count the cost — because the Christian life is worth our commitment in terms of our time, attention, and money. Jesus is not talking about our salvation when he asks us to pick up our cross and follow him. That was finished when he died on his cross. It was completed by God’s grace alone. He is talking about the cost of our discipleship –what it actually costs us to follow Jesus.
     Everything we think is important in life is costly. We make sacrifices so our children can have a good education. We stay up nights to help them with their homework, or we make sure that they are preparing for an exam by helping them study for it. We make sacrifices to be trained in order to get a better job, one that is gratifying and one that pays more.
    We are accustomed to sacrificing for those things we value. I know a lot of parents who give up nearly every weekend for their kids’ travelling sports team, and sometimes those sports also require a big financial commitment. I know lots of career-minded folks who put in long hours in jobs they don’t love in order to secure their futures or just to make ends meet. Lots of people spend hard-earned money to join a gym to get healthier. And many of us sacrifice in order to make sure our kids are dressed well and have a chance for further education?
     I’m not criticizing any of these choices. I have made them too, but why do we make these and other sacrifices? I believe it’s because these things are important to us. We sacrifice according to our priorities. Jesus is saying that if the Kingdom of God he proclaims and the kingdom life he exemplifies is our hope and desire and our priority, then it will be costly. The cross is a symbol of the price he was willing to pay for our sins, and it is his first priority. So if following him is our priority it will also cost us.
     Jesus asks us to count the cost before signing up for discipleship. If we sign up to see that our child is a part of a traveling soccer team we count the cost. If we choose to move into a higher priced home, we count the cost. If we want a college education we count the cost.  We are already making sacrifices, and Jesus is saying that Christian discipleship calls for the same.
     And that sacrifice is marked by our confidence in God’s love of us and for all the world. That sacrifice is a commitment of love that comes from our relationship with Christ.
     It is not a commitment that ensures our eternal destiny. God has already taken care of that. It is about the loving character of our Christian lives, and it is saying that if being a follower of Christ is worth doing it takes our time, energy, work and practice. In a word it takes our loving sacrifice.
Questions:
  • “What is your cross?”
  • After counting the cost are you willing to pick it up and carry it?
  • Are you bearing your cross in love or as a duty?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

September 3, 2019

Walking With Jesus #25
     11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”Luke 14:11, 13-14
     Counting is so important in our lives and most of the time we don’t even know we are doing it. Whether we are counting how much money we have in the bank or we are considering what our neighbors think about us. Even before we dress for the day we consider what people will think about us if we wear certain clothes, or we consider what our neighbors might think about us if we don’t bring in our empty garbage can after the city dumps it’s contents into their truck. We are continually counting something. Why do we value our neighbor’s opinion of things so much? Is it because we have a general idea that there is not enough money, time, prestige, or recognition etc. to go around, and we want to make sure that we are the best, or we fit in, or we get our share of something?  But what if there was more than enough to go around? What difference would that make in our mental counting and the way we treat others? What if we saw others not as competitors for scarce resources or valued opinions, but as partners who are charged by God to hand out the riches of God’s goodness and grace?
     When I was growing up I was the youngest child in my family. We had a tradition that the youngest person in the family was “Santa’s helper” when it was time to open gifts. For several years I was the one who got to distribute all of the presents to the rest of the family. When I first started doing this I didn’t like it because I did not get to open my presents until I had given all the other presents out. But then, as I grew older it became one of the most enjoyable parts of our family Christmas celebration. And about the time I began to really enjoy giving out presents and watching everybody open them, I had to give up that role to a niece who was younger than me. What I had come to appreciate is the joy that comes when you are part of giving to others out of abundance.  I think that’s what Jesus is wanting us to experience as children of God. He wants us to stop counting and measuring who gets the most and start giving and blessing others any way we can.
     Jesus upsets the logic of a world which gives great importance to merit, honors and privileges. He focuses on giving loving care for others in the relationships in our families, at our work and socially.  In the giving and not counting who gets what or how much, we receive blessings beyond what we can count. Perhaps he is asking us to see what it would be like to live into the freedom of not counting social prestige and simply be a giver to those around us, and particularly to those who do not often receive kindness. That has some great possibilities in our work place, our schools, and in those places where we volunteer, play sports or socialize. Jesus is asking us to look out for those who seem off the social charts and invite them to take an honored place in our lives. He invites us to a life free from the unnecessary constraints and burdensome worries of what everyone else thinks, and experience the joy of being “God’s helper” in handing out the abundant gifts of dignity and worth and value with which we have been blessed.
Questions:
  • Can you think of any ways that you count on some form of prestige in your life and how important that prestige is to you?
  • How many of those ways do you think are important in God’s eyes?
  • How can you give to those who cannot return the giving to you?
  • What are the values upheld as important in the world around you? How do these words of Jesus challenge or affirm them?
  • In what ways does Via de Cristo teach us to give abundantly to others?
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

August 26, 2019

Walking with Jesus #24
     25… “Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26:But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27:For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Luke 22:25-27
     This week we celebrated the life of a disciple named Bartholomew. Although some famous hospitals are named after Bartholomew, there is no evidence that he was any more skillful at the healing miracles mentioned in Acts than the other apostles. We know nothing about Bartholomew— except, that he was a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. That is all. He was a follower of Jesus and servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
     Jesus says “I am among you as one who serves.” This is also the role of a disciple of Jesus. To serve is in a sense to do our work then disappear or hide. When Jesus met two disconsolate disciples on the road to Emmaus, and after he had made himself known to them, “he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24.31). That is what Jesus does when he makes himself known to us. He still vanishes from our sight. Now you see him; now you don’t. He does not await around for our recognition.  By the time we recognize it was Jesus in our midst, he is off somewhere else.
     I recall when my husband died in the early morning hours of Ash Wednesday, 2002, there were five council members at the hospital with me that morning and I had not called any of them, and when I got home from the hospital three women from the congregation showed up on the parsonage door step to sit and pray with me, and a local pastor came that morning to say he would cover my Ash Wednesday service for me that evening. Servants kept showing up on my doorstep for weeks to help me, and then without notice when they had done what they came to help me with they vanished, often before I could thank them for their care. So many times a person in one of the congregations I have served has been Jesus to me.
      We know when we have met him. There was that moment, at the edge of an abyss, when he touched our lives, steadied us, and saved us from falling. Only later did we recognize who it was — and by then he had gone. He had moved on, as he did when he traveled and ministered, taught, and healed in Galilee. That is perhaps how Bartholomew learned about ministry from Jesus.
     There are Bartholomews all around us, whose hidden service to their sisters and brothers becomes known only when they have left us, when they themselves are lost in sight. There are many more Bartholomews whose story — before the books are opened — we shall never know. I’ll venture to say that you too are a Bartholomew at times too. Keep on serving my friend anywhere there is a need, it what Jesus calls us to do.
Questions:
  • Who are the Bartholomews who emulate Jesus in your life?
  • How can we be a Bartholomew who emulates Jesus to others?
  • How does Via de Cristo help us learn to be a Bartholomew who serves like Jesus?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

August 19, 2019

Walking With Jesus #23
     “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  Luke 12:49
     When we think of fire we are immediately thinking of something that is destructive. However the fire Jesus speaks about in Luke’s Gospel is different in that it seems to be to be the saving message of the gospel. Jesus speaks of the fire of God’s love that consumes whatever is material and earthly and tests what is pure. It is destructive in that it destroys sin. But, with this fire you and I are inflamed to love others, and change those injustices in our world that work against the redeeming love of God. The fire Jesus wants to kindle in us is a fire of love and compassion that moves us from the acceptance of the way things are in the world and change the status quo of pain and anguish to caring relationships.  The fire of God’s active presence in the world in you and me will bring about that change.
     Jesus yearns for “the kingdom of God” to break forth into the world in all its fullness which will bring about transformation and justice. God’s love brings something very different than what the world and its schemes, its desire for power and control are doing.  This means that oppression has to go. Greed has to go. Idolatry has to go. Exploitation, dehumanization, narcissism, and all other evils we can think of that prevent the thriving of all people and all creation have to be burned up in the fire of God’s love. Those poisons become powerless in the presence of God’s redeeming love.
     So what does this mean for us? Whatever our background, whatever our place in life, Jesus challenges us to take off our blinders and see the injustice, the poverty, and the suffering that is so prevalent all around us. We are surrounded by hurting people. And the first step toward doing something about it is to take a long, hard look at this suffering. That’s a place for us to allow the fire of God’s love to burn hot enough within us to bring about a change.
     When we look at the injustices around us we have to say, “this isn’t right.” When we speak those words it begins to divide people immediately. Those who benefit from the status quo will fight long and hard to oppose and prevent anyone who tries to change things. They will do their best to avoid having to see the reality of injustice. It seems to me that’s the kind of division Jesus was talking about. He didn’t retreat from the Gospel of peace; he just realized that the cost of peace is justice brought about by the fire of God’s love.
     May we find the courage to see the challenges that are all around us, and let the fire of God’s love burn in us.
Questions:
  • As you look around your own community, what are the injustices that the fire of God’s love in you could begin to change?
  • When have you seen the fire of God’s love bring a change in your family, your church or your community?
  • How do you see that those who have been to Via de Cristo have been set on fire with the fire of God’s love and it is making a difference in your congregation and your community?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

August 12, 2019

Walking With Jesus #22
     “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms.” Luke 12:32
     This first sentence goes right over our heads most of the time because we cannot fathom the meaning of the kingdom. Then it goes right out the window when we read what comes next, where Jesus asks us to sell our possessions, and give alms. That’s what grabs us. I wonder, why is that? Jesus shares with us the promise of God to give us the kingdom and we get hung up on our stuff, our ownership of earthly accumulations, or our fears.
     We can’t seem to fathom the meaning, the vastness, and riches of the Kingdom of God. It is larger than anything we can wrap our earthly minds around. God giving us the kingdom is the promise of God’s good pleasure in us, which reinforces to us our identity as a beloved child of God. It is God who gives us self-worth, not the things we own, or the degrees we have earned, or the status we attain, and it is given to us by God because God loves us, and wants us to put our trust in him. God wants a trusting relationship with each of us to be a reality that flows over into all of our relationships.
     So, it boils down to one thing – TRUST in God. We say we have put our trust in God, but have we really? So much of our lives are filled by demands, like the demand to accumulate more and more so we can have financial security. Or the demands of our work to prove our worth every day. Or the demands we lay on ourselves worrying about so many things because we have been convinced that we are at risk because of these things. Being constantly bombarded day in and day out with demands, it becomes hard to TRUST God’s promises and give up our worries and concerns so we can give ourselves more generously to others.
     So the question for us today is not really about us gaining some form of self-actualization to improve ourselves, but how can we trust God enough to give ourselves away in relationship and service to others. God wants to give us a deeper sense of self, which only comes by trusting God. This sense of self is more than we can imagine. And, it is all a matter of completely putting total trust in God.
     We are born to live in community, and it is only by trusting God and giving ourselves away in loving service to others that we begin to understand our meaning and purpose as a child of God. The Kingdom of God becomes ours, simply by trusting God and giving God’s love to others. As we trust in God’s promises and we give ourselves away in love to others, the Kingdom of God is ours.
     Try this little exercise with another Christian friend or family member. Take a blank piece of paper, and on one side write, “God wants to give me all good things.” Then on the other side write down a fear or worry that you carry around with you all the time. It might be about not having enough money to cover your family’s needs, or about your work environment, your family relationships, your health, the health of someone else, or anything about which you are always concerned. Give your note to a friend or loved one and ask them to pray for you. Ask your friend or loved one to do the same, and you pray for their fears or concerns. All of God’s children have that same promise. God wants to give you the kingdom. Can you believe it?  Can you trust God to give you the kingdom?
Questions:
  • When have you come to an impasse with something and you turned loose of it and put your trust in God?
  • What have you discovered about trusting God with things you can’t handle yourself?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

August 5, 2019

The Compost Pile
     “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”  Colossians 3:2-3, 8.
     A few years ago my husband and I had a large garden. We had a compost pile in one corner of the garden so we could add compost to the soil before each planting. In that pile we dumped food garbage, the leaves we raked up in our yard, grass clippings and sheep dung from the barnyard.  For any of you gardeners out there, you know the magic of a compost pile and how compost enriches the soil.
     Once when we had left on vacation we failed to take out the garbage before we left. When we came home after being gone for five days, the garbage stunk to high heaven. We had turned the air conditioner up to 80 when we left and the stench filled our house with odors that nearly knocked us over when we entered. I quickly grabbed the rotting food and took it to the compost pile.
     Later while spraying the house with air freshener and lighting candles in the kitchen and family room, I remember thinking of these words Paul wrote to the Colossians.  “Get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth” (which is like the “smelly garbage”). I think the compost pile image makes a lot of sense for Paul’s list of emotions and actions. For example, think of an emotion you may be struggling with now. I personally would vote for anger, because I came from a Scotch-Irish background. My dad had red hair, and so did two of his sisters. So I can blame it on my ancestry, right? No, not really.
     Well, this text says I need to throw my anger on the compost pile! Now it was easy to understand that the smelly, rotten food and the sheep dung needed to go to the compost pile, but how does that work with things as anger, or wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language? Perhaps it works–the exact, same, way.
     First, you take out the trash, which means you have to locate it and bag it up.   Often we don’t recognize that we have some of these things stinking up our lives.  They can be hidden in, around and under our denial, and, if it isn’t stinky to us then we don’t recognize it’s even there.
     Have you ever discovered some trash under a piece of furniture that you had no idea was there. You had not looked under that couch in months, but there it is, dust balls and pens and coins, a piece of jewelry, or a bone the dog lost.  Sometimes we have to stop and force ourselves to look around our lives in order to find our emotional or behavioral garbage.  We can’t put in the compost pile if we don’t recognize that it’s there.
     Paul says we need to gather up our stinky emotional trash and throw it on the compost pile –the anger, the wrath, the malice, the fear. We have to realize it’s garbage and let it go. I’m not talking about giving up–I’m talking about letting go. Unlike giving up, letting go is an act of power.
     When we let go of a stinky trait greater forces can take over. Like the food that decomposes when left in the kitchen garbage can too long it can become rich dirt if composted. When we hand over our anger, our fear or our pain–to a greater power, it fades and begins to change.
     That is when something beautiful begins to grow in its place or as Paul says, we “clothe ourselves in something new.” Anger on the compost pile can become empathy. Fear can become insight, and pain can become strength.
     The lesson for me in this scripture is this: If I leave this garbage in my life too long, it will surely stink up my life and definitely affect those around me. And the longer I leave it, the worse it smells.
Questions:
  • What foul smelling stuff—anger, fear, shame, slander or jealousy—do I need to toss onto the compost pile?
  • What beautiful things will God grow in their place?
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

July 29, 2019

    2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but deliver us from evil.” Luke 11:2-4
     The word for us today is that God desires for us to ask for those things we need, and carry on a conversation with God. All we have to do is ask. Indeed, sometimes, often, we don’t even have to ask and it is still ours to receive. I think that is part of what Jesus is getting at in this instruction he gave to the disciple who ask him to teach them how to pray.
     Jesus teaches us to address God as our “Father” recognizing God’s sovereignty, and seeking first for God’s Kingdom to come in us and in our world. Jesus wants us to understand and depend on God as a loving Father, providing what we need. This is a relationship where we often find ourselves asking, searching, and knocking. Yet, I am sure that there is not a person reading this who has not had a prayer go unanswered, or hasn’t struggled with what God is up to in the world. Yet Jesus is saying that prayer is how we stay connected with God, and that we should not give up in our asking for those things we need.
     There are lots of things I do not understand about prayer, but there are two things I  believe passionately. God wants us to pray because God loves us and wants us to love him. Unless we converse with our creator and redeemer we don’t have a close relationship with God. In prayer we are getting to know God and God is getting to know us. When my sons were each born, I was overwhelmed by how much I loved each one. I did not know them, but I loved them. I couldn’t get over how strong my desire in those very first moments of their lives was to love, protect, and provide for them. In those initial moments, I looked forward to a lifetime of relationship, a lifetime of listening and talking, of laughing and even crying, together. I believe this is the way God feels about us.
     More than that, God wants us to ask for the desires of our hearts. The word many Bibles translate as “persistent” in Jesus’ parable on prayer is anaideia (11:8). This word is actually better translated as “shameless.” So Jesus is saying that our petitions to God should be bold, and shameless.
     God meets us in the darkest, hardest, most painful moments of our lives. God knows our pain and suffering, fear and loss first hand. God, in his Son Jesus, took on our humanity and died so that we might know there is no where we can go that Christ hasn’t already gone, and that there is nothing we can do — or have done to us — that God cannot love and forgive, redeem and save.
     God loves us, always has and always will, and for that reason God listens to our prayer, and desires to be in relationship with us, so when we pray we can count on God’s attention.
     Of course, prayer is more than asking for things. Prayer is praise; prayer is thanksgiving; prayer is conversation; prayer is questioning; prayer is arguing; prayer is lamenting. Prayer is all these things and more. But prayer is also asking God for what we most need and desire…shamelessly. Go ahead.
Questions:
  • How have you experienced God as a loving parent giving you all that you need?
  • What are your daily practices of conversing with God?
  • How have you experienced God answering your prayers, maybe in ways you did not expect?

Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

July 22, 2019

     41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:4142)
     Maybe we appreciate these words of Jesus to Martha because we relish any time we have in our busy life to just sit and listen, time to just be rather than do. Time to smell the roses.
     But as compelling as this is, there is also a danger to it when thinking about this conversation that Luke records. Too often, when we hear or read this story, we diminish the importance of Martha’s service, and romanticize Mary’s choice to sit at Jesus feet and listen. We conclude that Jesus just wants us to sit and listen and not serve. If we accuse Martha too harshly, she may decide not to serve at all, and if we commend Mary too much, she just might sit there forever and never serve. The point is there is a time to go and do, and there is a time to sit and reflect. Knowing which to do when is a matter of spiritual discernment.
     It is precisely the discernment that is important.  The one thing that Martha needs more than she needs her sister to help her to get everything done, is to discern when it is time to sit and listen and contemplate and when it is time to go and do.
     The Kingdom of God had come near to Mary, Martha and Lazarus because Jesus is visiting in here home. And, it was Martha who invited him in to visit. Being in the presence of Jesus the time was ripe to sit and listen to Jesus. And when our time with Jesus draws near, we have the timely opportunity to receive the Kingdom of God if we only discern it. Just as Jesus told his disciples when he sent them into the villages ahead of him, they were like laborers entering a harvest, the Kingdom of God was drawing near whether the people received or not.  The fact remained that the Kingdom of God had drawn near. Discerning the time of our visitation by the Kingdom of God, and knowing in that moment what matters the most, comes from listening to the Holy Spirit.
     There are times when what matters most is giving an active response, like that of the Good Samaritan who stopped his trip to help someone is dire need of medical care, or the woman at the well, when she went back into town to tell the people that she had met the Messiah. Neither the Samaritan nor the woman at Jacob’s well could sit still, they had something that needed to be done right then because the Kingdom of God had come near to them.
     When we are in the presence of who is one in need we also recognize that the Kingdom of God is breaking in and we must respond by going and doing what needs to be done. Then sometimes, what matters the most is a contemplative response. Sometimes we need to sit and listen like Mary did on this occasion. The key for us is to allow the Holy Spirit to give us the discernment to know what is called for from us in the moment. One response is not better than the other. What matters most is listening to the Holy Spirit in order to discern what to do on each occasion.
     Figuring out what is ultimately more important demands discernment. And nothing is more important than receiving the Kingdom of God, wherever you are, when it comes near. Some-times when we discern that it is near, the faithful thing to do is to drop everything and sit still and listen ~ like Mary. At other times when we discern the presence of the Kingdom of God, the faithful thing to do is get busy and commit to the task at hand ~ like Martha.
     I think if we were to ask Jesus which of these two things we need more of, sitting and listening or action, he would probably say both because both have their time and place. The key is to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts and minds into the one that is needed most in the moment.
     So we can be watchful for the ways in which the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world around us. It might happen any time when we least expect it. Who knows what form it will take, this Kingdom of God that is ever drawing near and coming among us? May we look for it in the midst of the daily routines of our lives; and pray for the ability to listen to the nudging of the Holy Spirit to help us discern when the Kingdom is near. If we are open to the Spirit then we will know the one thing that is most needed in the moment.
    Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

July 8, 2019

     “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16
     Jesus knows the human condition well. “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). This is his forewarning to the 70 disciples as he sends them out into the villages on their way toward Jerusalem. They need to be aware that they will sometimes be received and sometimes not be received in those towns. He is teaching them by experience how to deal with rejection and how to receive the gift of peace from those who receive them.
     Human nature hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years. Human beings today are still much like those to whom Jesus’ disciples were sent. When was the last time you invited someone to Via de Cristo and they ignored the invitation with a polite excuse, or simply found themselves too busy to take a weekend off. I have discovered that my invitation can be an open door to a person or it can be seen as a detour that some folks just don’t want to take. So I have learned to not feel rejected when someone says no to my invitation to a Via de Cristo weekend. All I can do is share with them that the kingdom of God has come near. If they refuse, I shake the dust off my feet and seek another pilgrim to become a VdC traveler.
     A pastor friend asked me the other day how did I determine when a person was ready for Via de Cristo. Was it because I could see that they were eager to serve God any way they could in the church, or was it because I could see the gifts they had to serve God, and yet were not using them? My response to that question is both. However, it is really when a person sees their need to grow spiritually that they will be open to attend a Via de Cristo weekend.
     Those who don’t see the need for spiritual growth or a closer daily walk with Jesus — in the end do not want the Kingdom of God to come near. It is no accident that Jesus sends his disciples ahead of him so they can learn what it means to be rejected and what it means to be received. The disciples need to experience both rejection and reception. What Jesus will experience when they get to Jerusalem is total rejection to the point of death. So anyone who follows Jesus needs to understand that when the Kingdom of God is near, some will receive it in peace and others will reject it.
     Jesus teaches us here the persistence that he knows we will need if we follow him. We have to be ready to move on to those who will receive the good news of God’s love and forgiveness. It is our certainty in the truth of the gospel that gives us the ability to shake the dust off our sandals. Of course we also must realize that people do change, and it is always possible that at some later time you can come back to them for a VdC opportunity and invite them again. I am sure I am not alone when I admit that sometimes it’s just easier to leave people alone and let them do their own thing. Rather than risk being turned down again, we ignore them, hiding behind that rejection wall we once experienced rather than taking a risk of inviting them again.
     I find it comforting that Jesus doesn’t send the disciples out alone. He sends them out by twos. We each need a comrade to accompany us and pray with us as we go. We need each other in ministry as we invite others into the Via de Cristo walk. We may need to shake the dust off and move on — but we also do not need to travel alone. Be a friend, and bring a friend to help you invite another to know Christ more deeply and to make Christ known through Via de Cristo.
    Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

July 1, 2019

     Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
     Have you ever been in a place where you lost control of things? I have. I have left home to go on a short trip of 40-50 miles and after getting half way there realized I did not have my cell phone. Without my phone I felt I had lost control and it felt scary. If I needed to contact someone for help I was out of control, and so what did I do? I turned around and went back home to get the phone and be in control again.
     I’ll make one more confession of losing control. I had a funeral one Sunday afternoon several years ago. I had prepared my sermon and taken my sermon notes to the church office to review prior to the funeral. After reviewing them and praying, I took what I thought was my notes to the pulpit to be there when I needed to refer to them. As the service got underway, and it was time for the sermon, I stepped into the pulpit, read the gospel, and looked down at my notes. That’s when I discovered I had brought my Sunday morning sermon notes instead of the sermon notes for the funeral. I had lost control. The message I delivered was totally from God in the moment that I needed it. As I spoke to the family, friends and community gathered that day it was what God wanted to say to them to comfort them and bring hope to their hearts. Without a doubt, God was in control.
     Whether it’s forgetfulness, simple mistakes, illness, sudden death of a loved one, or job loss, all kinds of things unsettle our plans and snatch control from us. And that can be deeply troubling in the moment.
     Those Jesus referred to in this statement were individuals who perhaps wanted to follow him, but had other priorities that kept them in control of things in their life. They could not put their hand to the plow for Him until those things were all in their control.
     Learning to keep my hands to the plow and not let other things draw me away from what God calls me to do is a life-long lesson. I just seem to have to keep learning it. I am reminded of what Elisha did in 1 Kings when Elijah cast his mantle of calling on him to be a prophet of God out there in the field as he plowed. He first wanted to go home and bid farewell to his family. Then I think he decided to let God have control, so he killed the yoke of oxen, cut up his plow and used it to barbeque the oxen to celebrate his new calling from God. He decided to celebrate the moment of giving God control of his life. No more farming for Elisha. His farming tools had been given over to God, and he devoted his life to be God’s prophet. I wonder, how can we celebrate giving God control of our lives?
     These are some of the questions that this statement of Jesus causes me to ask of myself. How about you? Consider your own control issues then pray that God will give you the courage to celebrate giving that control over to Him so that you can keep your hand on the calling that God gives you.
    Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

June 24, 2019

     “Return to your home, l and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:39
     Let’s first set the scene for this verse. Jesus crossed over the Sea of Galilee to the land of the Gerasenes, which means that he he also crossed boundaries. Because the land of the Gerasene’s is the land of Gentiles, and no self-respecting Jewish rabbi would take his disciples there.
     When he got there, he was immediately confronted by a man who was demon possessed. Actually, he’s more than possessed, he’s occupied. This guy isn’t possessed by just one unclean spirit, but he’s occupied by a host of them. We don’t know how many, but he was not able to live in his community because he was so full of demonic powers.
     This verse then is the perfect ending to a tragic story. A man who was alone, wandering the tombs was clearly a hazard to himself and to others. But Jesus healed him, sending the host of demons to inhabit a herd of pigs, which so tormented the pigs that they ran into the lake and drowned. In response to this healing, people are amazed, the man who was healed was grateful and wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus told him to stay where he is, sharing what God has done for him in his own homeland.
     It seems to me that this story is all about identity — his identity and ours. This man had no identity left, except for what he was captive to. He was completely defined by what assailed him, by what robbed him of joy and health, by what hindered him and kept him bound. All those things kept him from an abundant life.
     As I read the story of this man I thought of my own identity and what I allow to form my identity.  At times I think a lot of us tend to define ourselves in terms of our deficiencies, our setbacks, our disappointments and failures.
     We live in a world that seeks to create a sense of lack in us. Advertisements that bombard our media have a goal of creating a sense of insecurity in us. They may focus on our looks, our status, our possessions, our health or our relationships, and they try to create in us a sense of need that can only be corrected by buying the product they sell. All too often we buy into it. Just take a look around your home and notice how many things you bought that you didn’t need or didn’t live up to the advertisement. Why did we buy all this stuff? Because we believed the promise the product made, but in order to believe its promise we also had to believe that we are insufficient in a way that the product will correct. Ahh, so we, too, are Legion in some ways as we look for identity. Jesus went to a man who was tormented and healed a human being who was also a beloved child of God. And when he had healed him Jesus charged him to go back into his town and tell all his neighbors what God had done for him.
     Jesus is still crossing boundaries into our unclean lives to do just that. He is still coming into our needy lives to cast out our demons. Again and again he says to us that we are more than the sum total of our past failures and disappoints. We are God’s beloved children, forgiven of our sins, healed of our disappointments, and blessed with an open future. So no matter how many ads we see telling us the contrary, Jesus calls each of us — and shows us — just how much God loves us. Our identity is not found in what the culture says we should be, but it is found as a child of God, first announced in our baptism when we were washed with water and the Word, marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. We need not be trapped by past hurts, or disappointments, or possessed by a culture that tries to induce a sense of lack in us. Each time we come to church to worship we are reminded of just how much God loves us, which gives us the impetus to live out Jesus’ instructions to this man to tell others of what God has done for us.
     Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

June 17, 2019

     “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:12-13
     You will probably all remember that Norwegian proverb that says, “All good things come in threes.”  You may have seen a recent commercial that has capitalized on that saying. Well, Jesus capitalized on it long before it was spoken by the Norwegians, as he introduced his disciples to the Holy Spirit that would come to them after he had departed into heaven to be with the Father. He explained that the Holy Spirit would be their Advocate and guide them into all the truth about him and about the Father. The Holy Spirit would be their heartline connection to what God and Jesus would teach them as they carried the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.
     As a child I had an aunt who tried to explain the Holy Spirit to me. She understood it as only being evident in the speaking of tongues. I went to church with my aunt and uncle at their Pentecostal Church several times during my summer visits with them and sure enough there were people at the altar at some time or other during the worship services speaking in a language I could not understand, some very loud and some almost in a whisper. She prayed for me that I could receive that same outpouring of the Spirit, and I wanted to please her and please God, so I prayed for it as well. To make a long story short it never happened, and I felt a bit like I was either too young, too stupid, or simply just not worthy of that gift of tongues that was evidence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I grew up believing that I would probably never know the voice of the Holy Spirit. That sense of inadequacy stayed with me for several years. I was probably in my late twenties before I began to understand that the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, had actually been speaking to me and guiding me in God’s truth all those years as I read God’s Word, listened to a sermon, listened to a teacher of the Bible, listened to beautiful music or saw the beauties of God’s world in nature.
     That understanding came to me most clearly when I first read Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Creed. “I cannot by my own understanding believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Wow! The Holy Spirit had been speaking to me and sometimes through me all along, ever since my childhood. What a wonderful revelation and gift to know that hearing the Holy Spirit did not depend on my worthiness. The Holy Spirit is a gift of God’s Grace poured out on his children.
     The Triune God gives us opportunities everywhere we turn to know God more fully by communicating to us through the Holy Spirit. The result of which is what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”  The Spirit of Truth comes to guide us into a deeper relationship with God the Father and God the Son. Perhaps this is the best example that, “All good things come in threes.” Thanks be to God!
     Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

June 11, 2019

        “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” John 14:12
       Before Jesus let go of earth, he has more to say to his disciples. This is the beginning of his last lecture series to his disciples where he says some startling things. Verse 12 is one of the most startling. If anyone other than Jesus had said this we would call it blasphemy or ignorant braggadocio. Greater works than Jesus? Not possible!
       Jesus is talking about the life of his disciples here on earth which makes it seem even more impossible. Then a bit later Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” Jesus will not be with them physically to do such things as wash their feet as he did that night before he died, but they will be washing each other’s feet, and serving others as he had been doing. His Spirit will live in them. They will remember that night when he took the basin and towel, bent down and surprised them all by saying that he was their servant as well as their Lord and their teacher. They will be impelled by His Spirit to have a servant heart.
       Jesus promised to be present with the disciples in a different way: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” But forever wasn’t a reference to after they had died. It was to be from the moment the Advocate came to them and forever. He would continue to be a powerful force in their lives as the Advocate, the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. Pentecost is often called “The Birthday of the Church.”
       This promise of the Holy Spirit was indeed personal to those first disciples, but it is an ageless and communal promise that is to be shared by all who believe and follow Jesus. This church that we are a part of will be the body of Christ in all the world, carrying in it the Spirit of Christ. Still, those of us who are part of the church know we are not what Jesus called us to be. We spend too much and share too little; we judge too many and love too few; we wait too long and act too late. Our human nature wins out many times when the Spirit of Christ desires to lead us to do something more loving.
       God calls us through the Holy Spirit to respond to him and to others in love as a choice that we make freely. God doesn’t want puppets he can manipulate. He wants people who choose to accept his love, and who in turn choose to share that love with others.
       I’m not sure what “greater works” Jesus had in mind but I can think of no “greater work” than people living out the character of Jesus, doing the things he did, relating to people in love as he did while he was on earth. And it seems to me that was the purpose for God pouring out his Spirit on “all flesh” at Pentecost. We do have to listen and pay attention to the Holy Spirit in order to do the work that Jesus calls us to do. That is what the disciples were doing that day in Jerusalem when the storm of the Holy Spirit came in such a powerful way to allow them to speak in languages that all the visitors from all over the populated world could understand the message of who Jesus is. They were waiting and praying just as Jesus had instructed them to do and that is when the Spirit of Christ came to empower them to do such great things that day. That same Holy Spirit is in you and me, all we have to do is pray, wait, and listen to this Spirit to teach our hearts to love and live as Jesus did.
       Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

June 3, 2019

     “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worship him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” Luke 24:50-53

     Suddenly, the disciples were without their guide, their teacher and leader. They no longer had an authority figure in their midst to tell them what to do. Someone “at the top” no longer could explain everything to them. Yet, Luke says that they worshipped him.

     When I was about 14, my mom asked me to cook dinner for the six men my dad had helping him with the wheat harvest. She had taken a job in town and I was needed to fill her shoes in the kitchen. She would not be there to watch over the meal preparations and correct my mistakes. I had been with her in the kitchen many times and helped with cooking lots of dishes, but to plan the meal, and prepare the whole thing myself was much different. The meal I planned was fried potatoes, Salisbury steak with gravy, baked beans and cornbread. After peeling and slicing the potatoes I realized I had not soaked the dried beans overnight and it was going to take longer for them to cook. Timing was everything, and I was obviously going to be late getting this meal to the men in the field.

     After a few mistakes like that, getting the cornbread cooked at the last minute, and boiling the beans as long as possible before I mixed them with the sauces and put them in the oven to bake, I was already late with this meal. I finally loaded everything into our pickup truck, sat down behind the steering wheel, popped the clutch and took off down the field with the meal and three gallons of iced tea.

     I was nervous when I uncovered the food for their lunch, but they ate every bite, even though the beans were a bit chewy. My dad gently gave me a few suggestions as I went about picking up the left-overs to take back to the house. I obviously had much to learn about meal preparation, and feeding a crew of hungry men. Yet I somehow knew that my parents had trusted me to prepare lunch for the men in the field, just like my mom had been doing.

     All morning long in my mother’s absence, I nervously went about the cooking operation trying to remember how to season this or that, how to make gravy at the right consistency, how to make everything come together at the same time (which did not happen). It was definitely a learning experience.

     Yet my mother’s absence was a sign to me that she trusted what she had taught me, and she also trusted me. Her absence was somehow empowering rather than disabling. It authorized me to trust myself and trust what she had taught me. I would never have learned to cook a meal for six men had I kept working anxiously under her critical eye, hanging on to every gesture and comment from her.

     This, I believe is how the disciples must have felt as they left the place where Jesus departed from them into heaven. He had loved them, taught them, and now he was giving them the commission to go and give his message of love and hope to the world, with the promise that he would be with them in the Holy Spirit. He chose to leave his ministry to them. These were the same ones who were capable in one breath of inspired declarations of faith and in the next breath bumbling it so badly that Jesus calls one of them Satan. Jesus chose to trust his mission to these disciples—just as he chooses us with that same mission.

     This church that is capable of great acts of faith in one moment and then bumbling it badly in the next, Jesus trusts us with his human and divine mission.

     Just like I was trying to remember how my mother used to season this dish or that, or how long I should cook something, we too in our human frailties make mistakes in sharing the message of God’s love with others. But we can rest assured that Jesus has given us the mission and we can do it. It is 2,000 years later and we haven’t destroyed the church yet, and we won’t, because God is God and we are not. We are entrusted with a part of the mission, but it is God who gives us his blessing and power from on high. We can leave the results of our work in God’s hands. Every Via de Cristo Weekend is a testimony to that great truth.

     Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

May 28, 2019

     “A new commandment I give to you; love one another. As I have loved you, you are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35.
     Many times the last thing a person says before he or she dies takes on a very special significance. It is as if the very essence of that individual is somehow summed up and compacted in that message.
     Those first disciples must have felt that way about those words Jesus spoke to them on the night prior to his death. Jesus was telling them that loving others would be the way that folks would know their true identity. And so it is for us. Jesus set an ideal pattern of how we are to love one another. Exactly what does that love look like that is so different from the way the world loves?
     St. Augustine once said that Jesus loved each one he had ever met as if there were none other in all the world to love, and Jesus loved all as he loved each one. Jesus’ love is so individualized that he loves you like there is no one else in all the world to love, and he loves all people just as he loves you. This is the way that Jesus loves and invites us to love each other.
     I recall standing beside the bed of an elderly member of my congregation after he had suffered a devastating stroke. His family was gathered around him, and in walked four of his friends from church. All of us stood around his bed praying for him silently. His friends had taken off from work and driven 50 miles in the middle of the week to see their sick friend. When they saw his condition, and that he could not speak, they seemed to not know what to say. Then one of the men said “Let’s pray.” After his prayer he said “Let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer together.” As we all started praying the Lord’s Prayer, the sick man, who had not been able to speak anything but gibberish in three days, began to pray the Lord’s Prayer in German. This was the language he had learned it in as a child. Our tears flowed in joy as we listened to him speak to God in perfect German. After his friends left to go back to work, the sick man motioned for me to come closer. In English he said in a very low tone, “Anyone who doesn’t have a church home is stupid.” Those were the last words he spoke before he died the next morning.
     He knew it was love that brought his family and friends to his side to support, comfort and pray with him. He understood the kind of love that shares time, resources, hopes and prayers because he had been a part of that kind of love all his life. Even though his last words were curt, they spoke of the kind of love that Jesus spoke about in his last words. When he had not been able to speak at all because of the stroke, he miraculously spoke in both German and English to pray and give God praise for this love that Jesus speaks about in John.
     Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

May 22, 2019

     “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27
     So much of the time when we think of peace we think about peace in the city, peace in our nation, and peace among nations. We have prayed for peace in the Middle East, and now we pray for peace between our nation and North Korea, and China, and Russia, and all the places the news tells us of trouble. We know that our prayers for peace will have no end because even when there seems to be peace in our world it is not lasting. Jesus gives a peace not like any of these. His peace is a gift that sustains our hope and our faith in the midst of all the conflicts of our world.
     When we are faced with conflict at home, in our congregations, in our community and in our world the only peace that brings comfort is the peace the Jesus gives through the Holy Spirit. It comes to us in the midst of our struggles, our pressures, our conflicts and disharmony. Look at the moment when Jesus gives this message of peace to his disciples. It was the night before his crucifixion when conflict and danger were looming, in the very midst of his own execution. Yet in that moment he not only knows peace but gives it to others, and he does the same for us.
     I wonder how often we sense the depth of God’s gift of peace, the promise that no matter what happens, God will not abandon us but is always with us working for our good. Through us God is also working for the good of our neighbors and our world. We have the joy of sharing God’s gift of peace with others.
     I’ve followed more than one church conflict as a pastor and interim pastor. In each case I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what had happened, and invariably various ones would blame the conflict on some individual or group of individuals. Finally, in one congregation I gave up trying to mentally work through the causes and wrote a confession for the congregation that included all of the accusations, like name calling, gossip, hard feelings, unforgiveness, etc. I had been given by various people in the congregation. I printed up an insert for the bulletin with this confession and the absolution on it.  On Sunday morning, I asked that all who wished to come to the altar to verbalize this confession together could do so if they wanted to. All of the congregation came forward to make the confession. I then pronounced God’s words of absolution and restoration.  This one act of corporate confession and hearing God’s forgiveness somehow seemed different to them than the corporate confession we speak at the beginning of each worship service. The very specific confession and absolution was healing. It brought peace in the hearts of the people and between people. It was an experience of the peace that Jesus gives because it voiced the reassurance that God loved them in spite of their conflicts, and that God was giving them a new beginning – a place of peace. Oh, that we can let God’s peace wash over us all in the midst of any of our conflicts, struggles, and fears so we can reach out to our neighbor in love.
     It is not a peace that we can give, but a peace that only we can receive from God who loves us, and when we receive it we can pass it on to others.
     Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director

May 13, 2019

     My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28.
     Many years ago some school children in America learned to know the voice of Walter Damrosch. He taught thousands of children to know and love music over their school radio. At a certain time of the morning, the school radio was tuned into Walter’s music program. He began each lesson with “Good morning, my dear children.” What followed his greeting was a half hour of beautiful music for the children to participate in. Then he would tell them the meaning and the message in the music. Children loved their thirty minutes of music with Mr. Damrosch.
     Walter was invited to visit one of the schools that always listened to his music lesson. He was asked by the school principal to address the whole school. Since the children had never met Mr. Damrosch, they had no idea what he looked like. He sat on the stage before his audience of elementary children, who fidgeted in their seats as the old man in front of them was briefly introduced by the principal.
     Mr. Damrosch stood up and smiled. The children were not excited to think they were going to be addressed by an old man, who would probably give a long boring talk. Then he spoke.  He said, “Good morning, my dear children,” and immediately the whole auditorium of children stood to their feet clapping and cheering.
     Mr. Damrosch said, “Why do you cheer? You do not know me.” The children replied, “Yes we do, we know your voice.”
     That in essence is what Jesus was trying to explain to the Jews who were questioning him that day in the portico of the Temple.  These men did not know his voice and would not believe him because their hearts had not been listening to Jesus speak of God’s love. Those who had been following him would recognize and follow his voice, but these who were not following him simply would not believe in him. They were not accustomed to listening to his voice.
     One of the most interesting things about us humans is that most of the time we think that our belief shapes our behavior, thus our actions follow our convictions. But, truth turns out to be just the opposite. Get a person to start recycling and before you know it their commitment to the environment goes beyond just recycling. If we ask a person to help with a feeding program for the indigent, and they get involved in the work, they begin to feel the need of those who are suffering and see that what they are doing is an important part of following Jesus. They begin to hear the voice of Jesus in those they are feeding. It is by following Jesus and living the Christian life that we hear His voice and believe. Any good we do is God working through us as the Holy Spirit guides us as we listen to Jesus, which makes it really hard to be an armchair Christian.
      Like the experience of those children with an unseen teacher helped them recognize Walter Damrosch’s voice when he visited their school, our experience of following Jesus in serving others is often where we hear and know his voice. How reassuring that we can never be snatched out of his hand because He knows us.
Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

April 29, 2019

     But Thomas (who was called the Twin) one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25
     Thomas has been labeled “Doubting Thomas” since this event was recorded by John, and many throughout the centuries have ridiculed him for questioning Jesus resurrection. However, Thomas’ response was really no different than the others, or from any of us. The others needed physical proof too. That is why Peter ran to the tomb to check out Mary’s report. It was only after Jesus came to them that evening through a locked door that they were certain of his resurrection.  Thomas needed a personal encounter with Jesus too.
     And yet most people simply remember Thomas as a doubter. Perhaps we need to recognize Thomas as one who was seeking to know Jesus more fully. Doubt is not rejection, but holding a belief with hesitation and uncertainty. Doubt involves believing something with questions about whether it is really true or not.
     God does not reject those who question. Jesus did not reject Thomas or deny him his need to touch his wounds. When he saw Jesus he believed in the resurrection. Jesus’ Presence was enough. God welcomes our deepest questions so we can come to faith, and when we seek him, God will supply us with the faith we need. When we think belief requires certainty, then doubts and questions can be paralyzing, painful, and sometimes even lead to despair, but the Bible does not teach that certainty is required for faith. Faith comes as God supplies it to us and with that supply God brings peace and continues to encourage us to seek to know God even more. Understood this way, belief does not require certainty. In fact, we each hold beliefs with varying degrees of confidence.
     A colleague friend of mine when I taught at Texas A&M University claimed to be an atheist. She always questioned me about troubling things she had read in the Bible. The fact she was reading the Bible indicated to me that she was seeking to know God. Yet she put up a good front. Before she retired she had to have surgery for cancer. My husband and I went to the hospital to pray with her prior to her surgery. She said, “Well you know I don’t believe in God, but obviously you do. Thank you. I want us to keep talking about this later.” So we did, and when she left the hospital she asked me to baptize her. I baptized my friend at age 65. She said, “I’m not sure what I believe, but I do believe there is a God, and I want to know God better.” Her faith grew by leaps and bounds. She told me two weeks before she died at age 65 “I am so glad that I know God and that God knows me and still loves me.”
     Understanding faith in God also means that we need to be available to people who have doubts, and fears, to extend God’s loving care to them, which gives them opportunities to believe. That is touching them with faith and physical evidence that Jesus can bring faith and peace to them. You can provide the physical evidence, like that which Jesus gave to Thomas, bringing them to a stronger faith in God. No doubt about it. Believing in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a faith sight that God gives when someone reaches out to support someone else who needs to touch Jesus.
     Who can you touch today? Alleluia! Christ is Risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

April 22, 2019

     “The angels said to her ‘Woman why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” John 20:13-14
     That was a day Mary would never forget. She and the other women had come to Jesus’ tomb to finish His burial anointing. They had worried about how they would get the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, but when they arrived it was already rolled away and Jesus was not in the tomb.
     They did exactly what I would have done. They ran out in fear and confusion to tell the disciples that the tomb was empty. Later when she returned to the empty tomb she met two angels and finally the Lord Himself. But she did not recognize Him at first. She was not expecting to see angels and she surely wasn’t expecting to see a living breathing Jesus. Her fear and her tears may have been part of the problem she had in not recognizing him, but there he was alive. It was only when Jesus called her by name that she recognized it was her Lord. At that moment she was joyfully surprised in the midst of her grief. Her sorrow and her fear turned into joy in one brief moment.
     I recall when my husband passed away in the early morning hours of Ash Wednesday, 2002. When I discovered that he could not respond when I called his name, I called 911 and while the EMTs were on the way I gave him CPR, but to no avail. I still recall those fearful waiting moments at the hospital when the doctors finally called me in to tell me that they could not revive him. That day, and all of the events up to his burial service are still fresh in my memory. Friends came to sit with me, and brought food for my family. Pastor friends came to pray with me, and one volunteered to conduct the Ash Wednesday service for my congregation that evening. He also preached for me the following Sunday. In the days that followed I was in a state of shock, grief, uncertainty and functioning somehow by remote control. I called two of my close pastor friends to conduct the burial service, contacted the musicians with the music, met with the funeral home director, wrote the obituary, and prepared the bulletin for the burial and Holy Communion service to give to the church secretary. It wasn’t until I sat in that service and listened to the scriptures, the words of remembrance, the sermon, the singing of the hymns, the prayers, and then one of the pastors, who led the worship service, took me by the hand and led me out in front of my husband’s casket at the end of service that I felt the power of all the love that had been poured out on me and my family during that whole week following my husband’s death. The joy of God’s love seemed to flood over me in a powerful way during that worship as I said goodbye to my husband, and dearest friend of almost 50 years. The joy of resurrection filled me as we walked to the church cemetery that day. The power of the Resurrection seemed to overpower all of my fear and sorrow.
     In our grief, worry, fear and times of great loss sometimes we cannot recognize the powerful love of God that is all around us, just as Mary was that morning when she went to anoint Jesus body. Then when he called her name her grief, her worry, her fear all turned into joy. The Resurrection was Real!
     It is because Jesus rose from the dead that the joy of resurrection also belongs to those who He has called by name. Our grief, fear, and pain are all natural because death is a reality in this world.  But, thanks be to God they are turned into joy as we begin to realize that Jesus is alive and we will live eternally with all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for Jesus rising from the dead!
    Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

April 15, 2019

     “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:5
     The day before had been a long day of conflict and victory over sin and death. This hour in the darkness just before the sun rose was a time for Jesus to prepare Himself for another great mission of love. Talking with His Father was the place of renewal, and refilling. It prepared him for what the new day would bring, a new challenge of sharing God’s love, this time accompanied by His first four disciples.
     If Jesus prayed early in the morning how much more necessary is it for us to pray before the world gets possession of our thoughts and before we are surrounded by unholy feelings and we get our minds centered on our work. When we rise from our beds each morning and while the world around us is still, it is a wonderful time to seek God’s face for the inspirational guidance of His Holy Spirit.
     This was a practice that I began in my life when my children were very small. It was the only time that I had alone with God, when I could share my perplexities, frustrations my burdens and my joys.  It was the only time my household was quite enough for me to listen to God. Over the years I have found it easy to keep this hour for a time with God. The early morning time seems especially holy because there are no interruptions, no traffic, no phone calls, or noises of conversation.
     This practice of early morning prayer, that Jesus modeled for us, is an opportunity for more free and full communication of our deepest concerns shared with God our Creator and Redeemer. Because of the silence and absence of interruptions it is a perfect time for a personal conversation with God, a time when we give the first fruits of ourselves to God and we listen to God. You may also find it is a good time for study of God’s Word when God can speak clearly to you, but it is especially dear to God when we come to Him for a conversation, when we can listen and hear Him speak to us without interruptions. Another advantage of this daily practice is that it leads us into knowing that the presence of God is always with us, and it reinforces that prayer can be on our minds and in our hearts throughout the day. May God bless your times of prayer whenever that may be. Amen.
    Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

April 8, 2019

     20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Philippians 3:21
     Have you ever watched a butterfly flapping its wings on a bright sunny day and been in awe of its beauty, and how those thin, dainty wings can work so effectively. The life of a butterfly is very brief, with only four stages in its life cycle. Each stage is different, and has a different goal. The whole process of a butterfly becoming an adult is called metamorphosis.  Its life cycle process can take anywhere from a month to a year, depending on the type of butterfly.
     We human beings are a bit like butterflies. We have our own life cycles that can be different lengths. We go through stages in our lives that move us through life as we are morphed into something new.
     Jesus’ life and ministry went through stages of metamorphosis too.
     The beginning stage of the butterfly is the egg, which might be seen as Jesus’ early life, growing up in Nazareth. The caterpillar stage of the butterfly might easily relate to his years of learning the trade of his earthly father, Joseph, as they worked in the carpenter shop together, and as he studied scripture.  We get a glimpse of him at age 12 when he stayed in the Temple in Jerusalem talking with the priests and scribes about Holy Scripture. It was a stage of brightness and movement and fast growth. It was a time of trying out his knowledge with the learned men who served God in the Temple. It was a protected time  when he grew in love and in obedience to God. At the end of his caterpillar stage, Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan.
     Then just as all bright colored caterpillars begin to change there comes a time when it must go into the stage of a chrysalis. In that stage it attaches itself to a leaf and develops a hard shell of protection so it can change inwardly once again to its final stage of a butterfly. The chrysalis is a place of waiting and testing as well as a place of change. In the chrysalis stage Jesus was sent to the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tested, and strengthened for the mystically beautiful butterfly he was preparing to be.
     The final change for the chrysalis is changing into a butterfly, which is the last stage in the life cycle. When the butterfly comes out of the chrysalis, it learns to fly.  That is when we are mesmerized by the beauty of this delicate creature as it flits around the flowers on a sunny day.
     The butterfly stage for Jesus was his ministry. His miracles, the calling of disciples, the healing of those who came to him, the sermons and teaching about the Kingdom of God, the totality of his ministry was the last most glorious stage in Jesus earthly Life Cycle.
     For Jesus and for all who have placed their faith in him, this will not be as the butterfly’s last stage which only lasts about 30 days. Instead the butterfly stage of life for Jesus of Nazareth will be eternal because when he dies he will rise again to eternal life. His colors will be brighter that ever, his glory will be that of a light similar to what Peter, James and John saw on the mount of Transfiguration. His life, his death and resurrection show us that he is God who has come to us in human form. The fullness of his glory we will behold when we see him in heaven.  The next time you see a butterfly may it remind you of the transformation Christ is making in you. May you have a blessed and meaningful Holy Week next week.
     Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

March 31, 2019

     “No one ever spoke like this man!” John 7:46
     As the time grew near, Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane where he had prayed all night while his disciples slept.  A crowd of soldier came to arrest him with the help of Judus, one of his own disciples.  Jesus stepped forward to meet them instead of running away or hiding like any other person would have done. He asked them who they were looking for and they answered “Jesus of Nazareth.” He calmly said, “I am He.” When he said that he was really saying with authority, “I am YHWH, your God.” They recognized the power in him and fell to the ground. They quickly recovered as they remembered what they had been sent to do.
     Then Peter initiated some combative efforts to defend Jesus by wildly swinging his sword, cutting off the ear of one of the men. Jesus rebuked Peter for fighting. Then, before this man, named Malchus, could even know what had happened to him Jesus reached down, and picked up his ear off of the ground and placed back in its proper place on his head and healed him. Jesus had healed one of his enemies less than 24 hours before he would be hanged on a cross to die by his enemies.
     Yes, Jesus healed his enemies. That is just what Jesus does. He comes to us and heals us out of his love for us. With his love he changes us from enemies to the beloved children of God.
     I wonder if Malchus became a disciple of Jesus later. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but I can’t imagine that he could have done anything else but follow Jesus after that. Every time he heard the birds sing, or listened to others speak, or touched his ear he was reminded of Jesus healing him.
     As we follow Jesus to the cross let us give him thanks for healing us and making us His own. Even when we responsible for sending him to the cross he reaches out to heal us by his Grace.  When have you experienced the healing power of Jesus in your life and you knew without a doubt it was Jesus? When has God done something really wonderful for you that you did not expect? Jesus still heals us when we least expect it. Thanks be to God and his Son. Amen.
     Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

March 25, 2019

     “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary; there is no limit to his understanding. He give strength to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Youths may become faint and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not become weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31
     As we get one week deeper into our Lenten Journey with Christ, we may be experiencing a bit of weakness in holding to that promise we made to eliminate something from our daily life that we chose to give up for this 40 day period. We may be tempted to cut out that positive thing we added to each day. Walking with Jesus on this journey to the Cross is not supposed to be easy. It is to remind us of the price Jesus chose to pay for our sin.  The thing we eliminated or added as we began this journey is probably something that we know helps us stay connected to Christ and his intentional journey to the Cross. There is also no doubt that if we fall short of our promise God will forgive us. That is God’s nature, to love and forgive us, but we can also ask God for strength to stay the course when we grow weary.
     In Isaiah we have this promise that God made to the people of Israel centuries before and still is His promise to us today. He will give strength to us when we are faint and strengthen us when we are powerless. We can call on him in prayer for strength when we are tempted to falter in our promises and in our failures.
     Regardless of where we are in life, whether we are experiencing success or struggle, whether our focus is on our life’s profession, at the workplace, in the classroom, at home or in our congregation where we worship, we can put our trust in the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never becomes faint or weary and there is no limit to his understanding.
     When our hope is in the Lord and our trust is centered in God our relationship with God will strengthen us and keep us focused on the journey rather than on the weaknesses that sometimes get us sidetracked.  Prayer keeps us focused, bolsters our hope, and keeps us connected to the one who strengthens us for this journey. So let’s keep praying.
     Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

March 18, 2019

     When I was a pre-school child we lived in a small town in Texas where everyone knew everyone, and everyone looked out for their neighbor’s child. My mom often sent me on my tricycle to the local mercantile store to pick up thread, zippers, and various needs for her sewing endeavors. I rode my tricycle down the sidewalks of that small town like they were part of our back yard. Being sent on an errand by my mother was something I looked forward to because I got to meet people on the street and in the stores. I never feared the traffic, because people looked out for me. I never feared a stranger because that little town was a safe environment. It was not at all like our world today. No parent would dare send their child to the store on their tricycle today because of the danger.
     When God sent his Son into our world, even though he was born in the small town of Bethlehem, it was not a safe place either. It was filled with evil just as our world is today. There was no doubt that Jesus life was in danger from the very beginning. Herod the Great would have killed him as an infant if his parents had not escaped with him to Egypt through the advice of an angel. Yet, in all, that danger and evil Jesus came to bring the love of God to this world, and share our human condition by bringing God’s love to us.
     As he prayed to God the Father just prior to his death on the cross he prayed for his disciples who he was sending into the world with that same love to share with others. He sends us on this mission also. And each day we have many opportunities as sent ones to share God’s love. So as we begin our day let us ask ourselves, “How will I share God’s love today?”
     Pray for God to guide you to someone to whom you can share God’s love. It may be a simple act of kindness, generosity, a smile for someone who needs an uplift in their spirit, or giving a helping hand to someone in need. It may be words of encouragement or comfort that someone needs to hear. If we let God guide us through the Holy Spirit we will find a way to let Christ send us with the Good News of God’s love. Pray for God’s guidance, because Jesus sends you to share this news with others.
     Rev Sue Beall – NLS Spiritual Director

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: