GraceFor it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9


October 31, 1517: “Five hundred years ago, an unknown monk named Martin Luther marched up to the church in Wittenberg, a small town in what is now Germany,” reports, “and nailed a list of criticisms of the Catholic church to its door…and Luther had just lit the fuse of what would become the Protestant Reformation.” Luther’s grievances, called the 95 Theses, would change world history. The “universal” Christian church would divide, wars would be fought, and dissenters would be tortured and killed. This was the birth of Protestant Christianity, and the basis of this great divide could be summed up in one sentence: we are saved by grace.


Luther’s bold action brought about the elimination of the controversial sale of “indulgences,” or corrupt payments to church officials in the belief that money could reduce punishment for sins after death. Luther stood firmly on the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9, that nothing any human being can do will save us from our sins except the atoning blood of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, Who willingly laid His life down for each and every one of us (1 John 2:2; Romans 5:9). Luther also contributed to literacy among common people by spearheading the translation of the Bible into languages other than Latin, and by insisting that people no longer needed to rely on priests to read and interpret God’s Holy Word. At a time when education was only available to the wealthy, He promoted universal learning for girls and boys. He was an early supporter of education for all boys and girls, believing in the correlation between literacy and liberation, both in society and in the church.


In the modern world, many Protestant churches are now collaborating and partnering in innovative ways. Several churches in our area have joined forces with a Catholic-run homeless shelter to ensure the facility’s doors remain open. Disaster relief, third world orphanages and refugee camps, and health crises worldwide draw cooperation and support from many denominations. I think God would approve that His saving grace is being shared widely and wisely today.


Not by what we’ve done, Lord, but by Your grace, are we saved from peril. Amen


smores-costumeJesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6


I am a S’mores fanatic. There is no greater sweet treat on the face of this earth than a well-made S’more. According to the quintessential source of all cultural history, National Geographic, this delectable snack “dates back at least to 1927, when a recipe for the formally designated ‘some mores’ appeared in Tramping and Trialing with the Girl Scouts, a helpful tome which also includes instructions for building 12 different kinds of campfires.” I learned about S’mores from my rockin’ Girl Scout older sister Barbara, when I was only sitting on stupid toadstools with the Campfire Girls. My sister, seven years my senior and infinitely more worldy than I, brought the recipe for the S’more home with her and subsequently on our next trip to the lake. My addiction was born.


In modern times, people have tried every method known on earth to “fake” S’mores. It can’t be done. We have imitations in the following forms: cookies, breakfast cereal, ice cream, ice cream cones, cake, brownies, stuffed animals, kids’ bedding, and even—gasp!—Halloween costumes! When my husband’s family found out the resort where we held our last reunion did not allow campfires—blasphemy of blasphemies!—my sister-in-law had the audacity to suggest we could wrap graham crackers, chocolate squares and a marshmallow in foil and cook them over a charcoal fire. It didn’t work; they burned to a crisp. Nothing can take the place of the Real Deal: Jet-Puffed Marshmallows toasted to a golden brown over a well-built and slowly tended campfire, smashed together with Hershey’s chocolate squares and Nabisco Graham Crackers…unless you get into  Gourmet S’mores. But that’s another story altogether.


Jesus us The Real Deal in the Savior Department. He cannot be duplicated. He was, is and always will be God’s only Son Who came in human form to live among us on earth, to teach us the way of peace, and to be put to death on a cross for each of our sins. But the best news is that He didn’t stay in the tomb. He rose again and sits on the right hand of God the Father, where He reigns over all the universe, forever.


Thank You, my Lord and Savior, for being The Real Deal. Amen


eleanor-rooseveltHe was despised and rejected by mankind, a Man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like One from Whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem…. Isaiah 53


Just this week, I read an appalling article in the New York Times about a “secret sisterhood” in the United States, Mexico and Canada that is supposed to “empower” women. Some who have left the group are now reporting that they were made to provide “compromising material” to a “master”—material that would be used against them if they disclosed the group’s existence. Unsuspecting women were “initiated” into this cult by evil men and other women on the pretense of “helping” them become more confident in themselves. Instead, the women were consigned to a form of slavery. Recent news that a certain Hollywood producer has for years sexually harassed and raped women in the entertainment industry has also dominated discussions worldwide. The Hollywood scandal gave rise to a campaign called “Me Too,” in which women posted widely across social media that they too had been harassed or assaulted. I was one who posted “Me Too.”


In my counseling career, I have often quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, who stated prophetically, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Yet women who have looked for ways to grow into themselves and advance in their careers have been subject to lies and manipulation from cruel people who abuse their positions of power. In modern society, the trajectory from “innocent” teasing to bullying to sexual harassment to abuse to rape to torture to murder is a straight line. Like sin, it’s all the same: insidious, pervasive and not likely to end any time soon. And we as Christians are morally bound to speak the truth when we see it happening.


Jesus was acquainted with maltreatment, including death on a cross for the sin of all humankind. Though He came in peace, He was disbelieved, rejected, beaten, mocked, called a fraud, and made to endure a horrible death. He understands how that straight line of sin and hatred progresses and He wants us all to heed His message: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).


Prince of Peace, grant us courage to stand up to evil, knowing You have already won the battle. Amen


stumbling in the darkEven the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. Psalm 139:13


Each summer during college, I worked in the gift shop at the Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Because of an outdated law in that state preventing women from working in underground mines, only boys were allowed to be cave tour guides. They made ten cents an hour more than the girls, which even back then seemed unfair. But every year, the Cave manager allowed the summer workers to have a party one night after closing, and we all got to explore parts of the Cave that were not open to the public. The boys delighted in trying to freak the girls out by turning off all their flashlights together, plunging us all into absolute total darkness. Eventually, they would turn their lights back on and once again, we could see to move around inside the caverns.


When things in my life seem to be beyond my control, I sometimes recall that feeling of total darkness. It is a helpless, hopeless feeling, and not one I relished even with a cute boy by my side. But sometimes I continue to stumble around in God’s world as though all the flashlights have gone out and I am without a clue which way to go. The good news is that God is always there to give me the light of His Word to help guide my way.


Old Testament prophet Isaiah reported this divine message: “I will turn the darkness into light before (my people) and make the rough places smooth….I will not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16). That same prophet foretold the coming of Christ: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). John, Jesus’ longest living disciple, saw end-of-life visions of Christ speaking to the church, “I am writing you a new command….the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). In thousands of years, from everlasting to everlasting, the message has never wavered: God will show us the way by the light of His Word and His Spirit, if we will only pay attention. We don’t even need a flashlight.


Jesus, You are the Light of the world. Guide us through this present darkness into Your eternal Light. Amen


WritingHave mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed. Psalm 57:1


Less than a week after the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada this past Sunday, I gave a motivational speech at the annual conference of Women of Words, a sisterhood of female writers in Minnesota. How could I get these women excited about writing when we were all reeling from yet another horrific act of violence? This is what I said:


“This week, we once again find ourselves dealt a sorrowful blow in our nation, in our world. As we pause to think of the lives lost and shattered in the senseless shooting in Las Vegas, we want to run…to hide…to forget…to plug our ears and not hear one more replay of the sound of gunfire directed by a misguided person at innocent people. But then we remember that we are the ones with words when there are no words. We must stay. We must write.


“Irish Statesman Edmund Burke made a statement over three hundred years ago, the ‘gender friendly’ version of which says, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.’  We could add to that today: ‘It’s also important for good women to write.’”


Words with integrity have the power to heal and transform. Not all Christians are writers, but as God’s ambassadors, we are charged with bringing a voice of comfort and reason to those who are hurting. Whether we speak directly to someone who has been affected by incomprehensible violence, write a compassionate letter to that person, or just send an email to our government representatives to initiate change, we can boldly enter the dialog that brings all of us to a place of peace and relief in this broken world.


Someone said to me the other day, “Do you think our entire nation could be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?” I believe that this temporal life can traumatize us collectively in times of great upheaval. But in the words of Lamentations 3:22-23, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.”
Great is Your faithfulness, Lord. Fill us with Your transforming power in the face of discouragement. Amen


Native TongueHow sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:103


Children learn to talk by listening to their parents. Loving adults use various means to help the child learn. Adults repeat small words, particularly ones that will have special meaning to the child. “Mama” and “Daddy” are often the first words a child says. We use books with pictures of objects and later, illustrations of ideas and concepts. Many hours of research has gone into determining age-appropriate learning tools that can be used at home, in day care centers and in pre-school and kindergarten, all the way up through the school grades. If we are lucky enough to have a diverse language family or exposure to foreign tongues in other ways, we can learn some words—or even become fluent—in more than one language.


The psalmist knew that God whispered in his ear all day long. As I searched for today’s Scripture quote, I saw dozens and dozens of passages using “Your Word” or “God’s Word.” When we make it a daily habit to read the Scriptures, even without trying very hard we pick up on passages that hold special meaning to us. Just as we, as youngsters, doted on every word our parents spoke to us, we also find blessings in God’s wonderful words. And the deeper we dig, the more those words in the Bible connect the dots to countless thought-provoking ideas that feed our faith.


I wrote a devotion once about musical “ear worms,” which are sometimes called “brainworms,” “sticky music,” or “stuck song syndrome.” Wikipedia describes these as “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.”  If I find myself hearing the lyrics of a Christian song or hymn in my head (even a song I don’t particularly care for), I can almost always hear a message from God. I don’t believe this is accidental. God said His Word would not return to Him without accomplishing all He intended for it ((Isaiah 55:11). So how will you learn God’s “native tongue” and commit it to memory? By listening to your loving Father as He uses the same tools our earthly parents used to teach us as children.


Father of Marvelous Words, speak to us in a language we can learn and share with others. Amen