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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

Scripture:
Job 41: 10, 11 “Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me... Job 42:1 “Then Job replied to the Lord: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”

Pray and Vote or Vote and Pray?

It’s coming to an end! No, not the world. Just this juggernaut of an election campaign. If you’re like me, your phone has been ringing non-stop with political calls, you cannot get through a TV program (even on Hurricane Sandy!) without a series of political ads, and the candidate’s names have almost become a thorn in your side. If one more person tells you how important your vote is, you’re going to spit in their eye. I watched the debates, tried to study the candidates’ platforms, and I still feel stressed out about voting. Let’s face it. For Christians, it’s just one of those elections where the decision is gray (perhaps they all are). A couple I spoke with recently, who have been staunch Republicans for years, said, “We’re going to reluctantly vote for Obama.” And I’ve heard others talk of reluctantly voting for Romney. It’s just that kind of election. Are you tempted to not vote at all in order to avoid supporting the wrong candidate? If you could vote on moral values alone, it might be a little more black and white. But then there’s the economic issues, etc. What to do?

Can we pray and vote, trusting God with the outcome? How many of us have come to that place of peace? Do you remember studying for a crucial exam? You did the work, studied hard, and yet felt that you could probably study round the clock and still not feel prepared. Finally, you had to say, OK. It is what it is. I did my best and God will have to do the rest. More often than not, you did just fine on the exam. Feeling like that student at exam time, I prayed. When I was praying about this election and my part in it, one scripture came to mind. “Be still and know that I am God.” ( Psalm 46:10)
At the end of the day, that’s what it comes to, doesn’t it? God is in charge. So pray and then vote. Then be still and know that God will do what he will. It is what it is.

But unlike what I said at the beginning of this D-mail, it’s really not coming to an end on November 6th. Life will go on. Things will happen that the candidates never anticipated. Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have anticipated the bloodiest war our nation had ever faced. George W. Bush could never have known that he would have to face 9/ 11. Who saw Katrina coming? President Obama could not have known how huge this recession would become or what the fallout of a hurricane striking New York City would be. So after voting on November 6th, as we should always be doing on behalf of our government, we must pray. Pray for whoever wins the election and picks up the reins of power. No matter what level of office, they have a heavy load. No matter whether we voted for them or not, they need our prayers for wisdom and courage. Our nation needs us to lift her enormous challenges up to God, who truly holds the reins of power. (see Job 41 and 42 above) So between now and next Tuesday, pray and speak your mind at the voting booth. Vote and pray, for we need God’s guidance and blessing more than ever before.

Prayer

Almighty God, we humble ourselves and ask for your wisdom on voting day. I pray that all eligible citizens will go vote. We place our future in your hands. May your will be done. Amen

Scripture: Isaiah 55: 8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

GOD WORKS IN STRANGE WAYS HIS WONDERS TO PERFORM

Thanks go out to Donna Bornbach, who sent me this metaphoric story which is an extension of last week’s D-mail message!

When Your Hut’s On Fire

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.
Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements, and to store his few possessions. One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, ‘God! How could you do this to me?’
Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! ‘How did you know I was here?’ asked the weary man of his rescuers. ‘We saw your smoke signal,’ they replied.


It’s easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn’t lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. His ways are not our ways. Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons
the grace of God.

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust that you are working behind the scenes to answer my prayers, even when I cannot see anything happening (or something completely illogical happening) .

Amen

Scripture: II Corinthians 1: 3-5 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Psalm 37:3 Trust in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land (settle down and hold on to the last) and you will feed surely on God’s faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed (in return).

OUR STRENGTH RETURNS WHEN WE LEND IT TO SOMEONE ELSE

I spent this past week out in Colorado visiting my son, his wife, and my two grandchildren while my husband attended a medical conference in Denver. I was somewhat concerned when we left because my fibromyalgia pain was rearing its ugly head and I felt drained. You don’t want to feel drained when you spend a week with a three and a five year old! However, we had promised to watch Katie and Andy while our son and his wife took a very much needed weekend away and I also wanted to be a help to them through their crazy busy work week. What I found remarkable was that helping them and caring for the children made me feel better. Oh, the pain didn’t let up; I just didn’t have the opportunity to pay attention to it. Although I had some rough nights and am now ready to soak in a hot tub and sleep for a day, I praise God for giving me the strength I needed to not only help out where I was needed, but to enjoy it! God has been faithful through 26 years of illness to lift me up when I needed to be on deck and to give me the opportunities to use my pain to help others, if in no other way than being understanding and compassionate.

In II Corinthians 1: 3-5 Paul says,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

I like to think that is why God has allowed me to experience the profound fatigue, pain, depression, and brain-fog that are the hallmarks of fibromyalgia. He knew I needed to move beyond my pain and weakness to do something good for someone else who was hurting in the same way. Rather than curling up in a dark corner with my pain and fatigue wrapped around me in a blanket of selfishness, God commanded me to reach out and do good. When I obeyed him, he turned my distress into wings upon which quite a few people’s answers could ride. And, in turn, He sent others to comfort me.

Our human nature is to turn inward when trouble comes our way. We look around to see who is going to help us. The truth is that what we need the most is often a byproduct of meeting a need in someone else’s life. And it is certainly true that when you look around, you are most certainly going to find someone who is suffering a lot more than you are, right? If I am in pain, I can find someone who is in agony. If I am physically disabled, I can find someone who is quadriplegic. If I am struggling financially, I can walk the streets and see the destitute. If I am lonely and depressed, I can look into the eyes of a thousand who are lonelier and more depressed. Christian radio speaker and author, Cynthia Ruchti, wrote,

Moving from helpless to helper is not so much a matter of physical ability as it is a matter of the heart. You will be amazed at how miraculously your own needs will be met when you stop focusing on them and instead focus on lifting someone else’s burden.

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 37 gave us a prescription for fighting discouragement amidst suffering. In verse three he wrote,

Trust in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land (settle down and hold on to the last) and you will feed surely on God’s faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed (in return).

We don’t find it unusual in difficult circumstances to hear the advice ” trust the Lord”, but look at the rest of the prescription; do good. God carries the thought beyond trust to action. The last thing I feel like doing in a crisis is to do a good deed, and yet that’s what God asks. He says that when we feed on His faithfulness and do good, we will be fed. In times of crisis, the ones we call heroes are the ones who stop wallowing, pick themselves up, and use what strength God gives them to help the other victims around them. The Bible tells us that somehow, miraculously, our problems fade and our strength returns when we lend it to someone else. Suffering is all around us and yet, when we are called to endure hardships or pain, we seem to think that we are the only ones that are experiencing it, don’t we? I am certainly not belittling anyone’s suffering. I know only too well what it feels like. Perhaps this D-mail message was meant for me! Anyway, if it grabs your attention as it has mine this week, I hope you will remember to trust God and do good.

Prayer : Lord, I praise you for your faithfulness in times of pain and distress. I trust that you know better than I what I truly need to survive painful times. Thank you for putting needy people in my path to pull me out of my cocoon of suffering. Thank you for using me and the experiences with depression, pain, and distresses that I have survived through your mercy, to make me more compassionate. Help me to comfort others as I have been comforted. Amen

Scripture: Exodus 26:33, Exodus 28: 33-35, Matthew 27: 50-51, John 19:30

Hebrews 4: 14-16, Hebrews 5:7-10

APPROACH THE THRONE WITH CONFIDENCE

Have you noticed that more and more places have been cordoned off to regular folk by tighter and tighter security? People fear for their loss of privacy, leaders fear for their safety, public buildings require special “passes” to enter. When I was eight years old, I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. I don’t remember very many of the sights we visited, but I clearly remember touring the White House. When we heard that Mamie Eisenhower was “home”, our tourist group buzzed with anticipation that at any moment, she might come around a corner and greet us – which was often known to do. On my most recent visit to Washington, the White House was closed to the public. You practically have to have an Act of Congress to see your Congressman these days. There are even thorough security checks just to get into the stadium to watch the Brewers play! And try to talk to your doctor on the phone! The only doctor I can get through to nowadays is my husband and even he is protected by a receptionist.

In the Old Testament times, no one but a temple priest could communicate with God. No one but the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and then only once a year. A heavy embroidered curtain separated the Holy Place from the rest of the tabernacle (Exodus 26: 33) We also read in Exodus (Ex 28:33-35) that bells were sewn on the garments that the High priest wore. He was to jingle them from time to time from the other side of the curtain so that the people outside would know that God had not struck him dead. According to Jewish tradition, one end of a rope was tied to the High priest’s ankle and the other end remained outside the tabernacle. If the bells on his robe stopped tinkling while he was in the Holy Place, the fear that he had died could be tested by tugging on the rope. Talk about feeling out of touch with God! But that all changed when Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay the ransom for our sins. At the moment Jesus cried, “It is finished,” the curtain or veil that marked the door to the Holy of Holies in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51 and John 19:30). Kings and presidents who rule on earth tend to make themselves in- accessible. Ordinary people almost never gain an audience with them. Even dignitaries must plow through red tape and protocol in order to speak to them. But the King of Kings declares himself totally accessible to us.

Hebrews 5: 7-10 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he (Jesus Christ) was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (see Hebrews 7:1-3)

Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.

When that curtain was torn, it opened the way for you and I to meet our Savior and Lord face to Face. No Pope or priest or any other mediator except Jesus Christ is necessary. We must never take that marvel for granted. We can commune with the Creator of the Universe anywhere and anytime – even in the comfort of our own homes. Outside of redemption for our sins, that is the most precious gift from Jesus Christ we can ever receive. So, child of God, what are you waiting for? Do not be afraid. Go on in and speak to your God.

Prayer: We praise and thank you, our Savior and Lord, for your love and mercy and for the privilege we have of a free audience with you, which you shed your blood for on the Cross. May we never forget nor neglect this most precious gift. Amen

Scripture: Psalm 68:19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

I John 4:18 There is no room in love for fear. Perfect, unconditional love banishes fear, because fear is crippling. A fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not

yet fully formed in the presence of unconditional love.

It Was My Fault

Have you ever told a lie to save your skin or to hide a failure or to simply not look foolish? It doesn’t have to be a “bad” lie. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have trouble with time. I just don’t have a feeling for how much time is elapsing. Consequently, I find myself running late a lot. I can think of several occasions when I was late for an appointment because I had overslept or dawdled too long before leaving home or just lost track of the time while enjoying a good book or lunch with a friend. On those occasions, I would grab the car keys, jump into the car, and speed toward my destination, probably breaking the speed limit. Nevertheless, I would arrive late. But instead of apologizing and accepting the consequences for not being punctual, I would find myself concocting a completely false story of why I was late, a story in which being late was not my fault at all! I didn’t want to look irresponsible. As I would explain why being late wasn’t my fault, on the inside I felt terribly guilty. I tried to rationalize the lie, but I had to face the fact that I had lied to make myself look good – or at least to not look bad. Telling the truth might have been humiliating, but at least I would have walked on feeling free and clean.

Of course, guilt and humiliation over much more serious sin can tear people apart. We hear about it every day. However, I don’t think Jesus has a priority list for sin. Sin is sin in the eyes of God. (So my little white lies didn’t get me off the hook with Jesus) Fortunately, he is more than willing to forgive our sins, “major” and “minor”. Walking along the road of life, carrying one burden of guilt on top of another, without allowing Jesus to unload them, makes walking exhausting. When the road then becomes steep or slippery, that load of guilt on our back makes us much more likely to stumble and fall. Eventually, we fall apart. I picture Jesus looking down, just shaking his head at our foolishness.

Our Lord is saying to us, “Walk with me in the freedom of forgiveness. If you ask me, I will remove that heavy burden from you. When I unburden you, you will be undeniably free.” Have you noticed that when a person is carrying something very heavy on their back, they have to stoop over to remain balanced ? Years ago, when my oldest daughter left to spend a summer backpacking through Europe, she was carrying the biggest, heaviest backpack I had ever seen! She could not stand up straight and she could barely climb a ramp, much less climb stairs or climb up into a train. I have no idea how she managed for three months traveling that way. From a physics point of view, when you stand up straight and tall and remain in that position, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone to place more burdens on your back. When Jesus forgives you and takes the burdens from your back, you can stand up straight again. In his presence, no one can pile those burdens on you again.

In Christ’s presence, you walk in unconditional love, the love that frees you from both the fear and guilt of failure and sin. Jesus will take the punishment that you fear – and deserve upon his back. Boy, doesn’t that make you feel free! Psalm 68: 19 declares that Jesus will do this daily. I John 4: 18 says that there can be no fear in the presence of unconditional love. Since only our Lord is capable of that kind of perfect love, it only makes sense that we would want to bask in his presence all of the time. One of my favorite verses is found in I Peter 5:7. I leave you with a Sunday school song that I love based on that verse and hope that it gives you a sense of the peace that comes from God’s forgiveness. It goes like this:

I cast all my cares upon You.

I lay all of my burdens

down at Your feet.

And any time I don’t know

what to do,

I will cast all my cares upon You.

Prayer

Oh most gracious and merciful Lord, help me to lay my burdens at your feet. Help me to ask for your forgiveness when I sin so that I can find freedom in your unconditional love and mercy. Take the burden of guilt and shame from my bent back and restore me to standing straight and tall in your presence. I praise and thank you. Amen