Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A to Z Blogging: T is for...Thoughts

By Shelly Burke, Editor

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” 2 Corin. 10:5

My thoughts, especially in the middle of the night, can take me to scary places. “What if I lose my jobs—both of them…can’t get another nursing job of any kind anywhere in the whole state (or country!)… and I eat alllllllllll of the food in my cupboards….still don’t have a job so get evicted…and my Envoy breaks down….so I have to have it towed down by the river so I can live in an Envoy, down by the river…?(Like whatever that song is, about “ living in a van, down by the river”).

Or, even darker…”What if I can’t get insurance when our COBRA runs out…and then I get cancer (I’ve had two friends diagnosed with breast cancer in the last few weeks)…and I’m all alone…and NONE of my friends will take me to ANY appointments…and anyway I’m living in my broken-down Envoy, down by the river…”

OK, in the bright light of day, and even during the night, I realize how ridiculous these thoughts are. For one thing I am blessed with many wonderful friends who would help me out, just as I would help them.  But I think everyone has had those dark and racing thoughts at some point—especially during a time of transition and in the dark of night.

I think the devil likes us to have these thoughts—he wants us to live in fear, both to take away our joy of living, and to make us doubt what we know about God, and the promises that God has given us.

What Paul is telling us here is that we have more than just ourselves—our flesh—to fight these thoughts. We do not have to do it alone! We have the divine power of the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word, the Holy Bible, on our side, to dispute these thoughts. We can look to His word and destroy the thoughts that are contrary to what we know of God.  

And what does God’s word say about His character and His promises to us?

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
     Deuteronomy 31:6

“And He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”
Psalm 91:11

“Cast all your anxiety upon the Lord because He cares for you!”
1 Peter 5:7

Pray to be discerning, to be able to tell when your thoughts are going into those dark places. When dark thoughts enter your mind, take them captive. Compare them to what you know about God and about His Word. Claim His promises. Accept His peace.

For FREE verse cards of the above verses, e-mail your request to shelly@shellyburke.net. I’ll get the verse cards in the mail to you, to encourage you when those dark thoughts intrude on the peace that God wants you to have, in Him.  

Would you like to read articles to “encourage, inspire and motivate you in your Christian walk”  every month? Subscribe to the Nebraska Family Times and you’ll find local, Nebraska
and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, columns by
Nebraska and nationally-known Christian authors, and much more, in your mailbox every month!
A one-year, 12-issue subscription is only $20! See the
right sidebar on this page to order, or e-mail shelly@shellyburke.net for details.
Shelly is also the author of the book “Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom’s Guide to Caring for Herself, Her Family, and Her Home. Click to find out more!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A to Z Blogging: Catching up: L, M, N, O, P, Q, R and S

by Shelly Burke, Editor

What’s that line about the “best laid plans of mice and men”? (After looking it up to make sure I got the quote right I realized the tragic ending of the book it came from, “Of Mice and Men.” Why do so many “classic” novels have sad/disturbing plotlines and endings? Guess that’s for another post.)

Anyway, I knew last week would be busy; it’s the week of the month that I gather all of the articles and other information needed to put out the next issue of the “Nebraska Family Times” newspaper (if you would like a FREE sample copy of the paper, please e-mail your request, along with your mailing address, to shelly@shellyburke.net. I promise I won’t put you on any other mailing lists! My goal with the articles in the “Nebraska Family Times” is to “inspire, encourage, and motivate you on your Christian walk.” We cover local as well as state and national news from a Christian point of view.)

The previous Saturday, when I usually get a start on the paper, I spent shooting guns—as a part of the Citizen’s Police Academy. The CPA is a 14 week class for civilians. During the time we learned about many of the different things that the police force as a whole, does. I’m planning to write an article about the Citizen’s Police Academy in the June issue of the “Nebraska Family Times.” It was a nice day to be outside—we haven’t had many “spring” days in Nebraska yet—and I learned a lot about firearms.

On Saturday afternoon we began setting up for a book signing for my friend Deb Burma’s new book “Stepping Out: to a Life on the Edge.” You can read more about her book on her blog, Fragrant Offerings and an excerpt a Stepping Out  . The book signing was Sunday afternoon and we had a great turnout! A lot of people put a lot of work into arranging the signing and it was nice to see things come together. Deb’s talk left people encouraged and her book will too. (I already read it when I did some editing and proofreading back in September, before she sent it to the publisher).

As well as putting the paper together and working on the book signing event I worked at my nursing job on Monday and Wednesday morning. I work at Columbus Surgery Center and we do cataract and other eye surgeries (OK, “we” don’t do the surgeries, the doctor does, but “we” –the nurses--get patients ready for surgery and care for them during and after surgery). I only started at the end of January but I really feel like I’m learning my jobs—and loving my jobs—and all of the people I work with (on Mondays I’m the circulating nurse in the operating room; I make sure patients are ready for surgery, take them to the operating room, help as needed with medications and supplies during surgery, and take them to the post-op area after surgery, and on Wednesdays I’m one of the pre-op nurses who gets patients ready for surgery).

On Tuesday I spent the entire morning in a police car! It was fun to post that as my status on FaceBook—I try to be a “good girl” so I think it shocked some people! I spent the morning in a police car as part of the CPA.

Being busy is not an excuse for getting behind on the A to Z Blogging—but as we all are, I’m doing the best I can! Here are my thoughts on the letters I missed:

L – I am loving my new job and thanking God for it!

M-Morals.  I had a great devotion, about morals, planned for the A to Z Challenge. It’s based on 1 Corinthians 15:33, which says, “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” This is a good lesson for our kids—and for adults too. (I’m still planning to write the devotion!)

N-names in the Bible. It struck me last night how many are so strange—like Aristarchus, Agrippa, Lycia and Cauda (the last two are locations)—and how many are still used today, thousands of years later—like Paul, Rachel, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and right here in Nebraska—Syracuse!

O-Opportunities. I’m so thankful God has given me so many, with the “Nebraska Family Times,” writing, friends, job, etc. What opportunities are you thankful for today?

P-Citizens Police Academyone of the most interesting, most fun things I’ve done in a very long time. Many cities hold their own Citizen’s Police Academy—check it out in your city!

Q-I am so thankful for the quietness of the last few days…after some really busy days, and having a cold, I needed them!

R-I was going to blog on Resisting Sin for the blogging challenge. I’ll still write the devotion, but for now I’m going to share the verse it was going to be based on—James 4:7b “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Thankfully James also gives us some suggestions as to how we can do this—with God’s help. Immediately before this verse he says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God…” and right after he tells us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

S-is for the stuffy nose and cold I picked up last week! Thankfully it’s going away…but slowly…

Ecclesiastes tells us that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (Eccles. 3:1). Last week, my time didn’t go as I had planned…so today is time for catch-up. Come back tomorrow when the letter for the day is “T”. On the “Nebraska Family Times” blog the devotion will be based on “thought” and on the “Home is Where the Mom Is” blog I’ll give you my thoughts about teaching your kids about “temptation” and what they can do about temptations in their lives.

God’s blessings to you today! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for…Knowledge

By Shelly Burke, Editor and Author, Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom's Guide

The Bible tells us that God’s knowledge is omniscient—He knows all things (Psalm 139), including the “secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21b) and “the thoughts of man” (Psalm 94:11) As the saying goes, “knowledge is power” (usually attributed to Sir Francis Bacon). I enjoy learning new things and frequently  check out books from the library that cover topics I know nothing about—like caving—or that explore in depth issues like lying, memory or the science behind cooking. There’s no end to the interesting things to learn in the world!

Our most valuable knowledge, however, comes from knowing God, His Word, and His will.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Prov. 9:10

In the context above, the word “fear” can be translated “standing in awe” or “reverence”. How can we be reverent of someone, or in awe, if we do not know them? Through Bible Study we learn “knowledge of the Holy One”, which provides insight as to how we should strive to live. Of course we will never be all knowing, as God is, but through the Bible we see that He is fair, just, compassionate, and so on. We also learn that He never compromises what is right, for what is “easy” or “popular.” As you read the Bible, consider marking or writing down passages that give you insight into the characteristics of God.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Phil. 1:9

Here Paul is speaking to the Philippians, telling them of his prayer that they will, among other things, have knowledge and discernment of what is pleasing to Christ. When we have knowledge of Christ we can discern what is pleasing to Him, what is excellent, and how we can live for Christ. Again, the Bible is our source of knowledge of just what that is.

Many people say that the Bible cannot be understood, that it’s just a story for people of long ago and doesn’t apply to our lives today. Study of the bible, however, will show you that it is clear about what is right and wrong, and the principles laid out in the Scriptures thousands of years ago do, indeed, apply today. (Some of the practices laid out in the Old Testament—sacrifices, for example-- do not apply to us today, but it is no mystery why not—the Bible clearly tells us that through Christ’s crucifixion He took away the need for those sacrifices.)

Rather than reading self-help books, which often mislead (even some so-called “Christian” books and Bible studies are not Biblically sound), I challenge you to spend time reading…your Bible. Consider a study Bible, which has notes that will clarify passages and give insight as to cultural practices and other factors and deepen your knowledge of Scriptures. Be sure to choose a literal translation (which
is a literal word-for-word translation from the languages it was written in, Hebrew and Greek). Tools like a Bible dictionary, maps and commentaries will give you additional knowledge.

Finally, ask God to give you the desire to read, study, and understand the Bible, so that you can gain the most valuable knowledge-- of Him and His Word.

Lord, please create in me the desire to read and study Your Word. I want to gain knowledge of You, so that I can live in a way that is pleasing to You. Please bless my study of Your Word. Give me insight and understanding. Amen.

I’m also blogging at Home is Where the Mom Is. Today’s post is also about “knowledge” specifically how to talk with your kids about the importance of knowledge and knowing God.

Would you like to read articles to “encourage, inspire and motivate you in your Christian walk”  every month? Subscribe to the Nebraska Family Times and you’ll find local, Nebraska
and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, columns by
Nebraska and nationally-known Christian authors, and much more, in your mailbox every month!
A one-year, 12-issue subscription is only $20! See the
right sidebar on this page to order, or e-mail shelly@shellyburke.net for details.
Shelly is also the author of the book “Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom’s Guide to Caring for Herself, Her Family, and Her Home. Click to find out more! 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for…Joy

By Shelly Burke, Editor, Nebraska Family Times and Author, Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom's Guide

I was trying to define “joy” (it’s one of those words that is hard to describe—to me at least) and finally decided to go to my Bible dictionary, which defines joy as the “State of delight and well being that results from knowing and serving God…the fruit of a right relation with God…not something people can create by their own efforts.”

The first thing that hit me was that I don’t have to—in fact, I cannot—create joy by my own efforts. This is good, because it would be pretty hard for me to create my own joy in the context of some of the events in my life and some of the Bible verses I found for this devotion.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:5b

I have wept during many nights, and I’ve been with friends who have wept during dark times of their lives. I could not have found joy in the morning in those situations and I think they would have said the same. Yet all of us, at some point, had a sense of well being or at least peace in the situation, and that could have only come from God. When we know God and are right with Him, we know that He has a purpose for everything that happens—even in terrible circumstances. We might not know or understand for many years, or we may not know until we get to heaven, but we have faith that there is a reason.

Jesus said, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:22

In many cases the word “joy” is at the end of a verse that talks about sadness. How can we so quickly move from sorrow to joy? Again, this is something that we cannot do by our own efforts. In the verse above Jesus is talking about His death and resurrection.  I think God is reminding us that  even though we don’t always have “happy endings” here on earth, we can be sure that in heaven we will be with the Lord and all of the other believers we knew on earth.

Another part of this verse that I like is the end; “no one will take your joy from you.” Just as no human can create joy, no human can take it away. I can claim—and keep—my joy no matter what. This is part of the gift of a “right relation” with God. When I know Him through the Bible, church, and Bible class, when I communicate with Him through prayer, and seek to do His will, I will have a right relationship with Him and the joy that is a result of that relationship.

Thankfully we do not have to be perfect in our relationship with God; He forgives us through His grace—and He takes joy in doing so! “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail, and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

Here, Habakkuk is warning readers that Judah’s faith would be tested—but he is convinced that they can rejoice despite circumstances. I think we could all make this verse our own, substituting the negative events in our lives for what Judah would face. Though we face broken relationships, troubled children, financial problems, illness and disease, vehicle breakdowns, and more, we can still “take joy in the God of {our} salvation.”

Thank You so much, Lord, for the joy you give me in spite of circumstances. Amen.

Would you like to read articles to “encourage, inspire and motivate you in your Christian walk”  every month? Subscribe to the Nebraska Family Times and you’ll find local, Nebraska
and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, columns by
Nebraska and nationally-known Christian authors, and much more, in your mailbox every month!
A one-year, 12-issue subscription is only $20! See the
right sidebar on this page to order, or e-mail shelly@shellyburke.net for details.

"Stepping Out: To a life on the edge" Book Signing Event

I'm so happy to announce the publication of my good friend Deb Burma's new book, "Stepping Out: To a life on the edge"! I was blessed to read it as she was editing it this fall and it is a wonderful, encouraging book! She shares so well how we can "step out", with God's strength, to serve Him in whatever He has in mind for us. 

Please join us: 

This coming Sunday, April 14th, at
Peace Lutheran Church, 2720 28th Street, Columbus, NE

2:00-2:30 PM, special "Stepping Out" message from Deb
2:30-4:00 (or later!) refreshments and book signing!
Bring a friend! 

Books will be available for the special price of only $12 for this event only.

Deb's other books, "Treasured," "Beautiful Feet," and "Chocolate Life" 
will also be available. 
For more information, call Shelly at (402) 750-3496

(if you are unable to attend, you can check out the books at www.cph.org)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is for…Instruction

By Shelly Burke, Editor and Author of Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom's Guide 

Do you ever wonder why the narratives in the Old Testament were recorded to be read now,  thousands of years later? (Our pastor pointed out that calling them “stories” can imply that they’re fiction; in our denomination we believe that all of the events recorded in the Bible took place as written.)

What is the relevance today of the book of Judges? Or the Psalms? Or even the record of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years? What about Nehemiah, and the minor Prophets?

Romans 15:4 tells us, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4. This verse refers specifically to Psalm 69, quoted in the verse previous to this one. But we know that every word of Scripture—Old Testament and New—is God’s Word to us, and therefore of value to us today.

I think about the twisted family narratives in Genesis. Cain and Able. Sari and Abram (later Sarah and Abraham) trying to force God’s promise of a child, by bringing Hagar into the picture. Esau selling his birthright for a plate of food and Jacob deceiving his father and receiving his father’s blessing. Laban deceiving Jacob and forcing Jacob to work for 14 years to get the woman he loved. Dinah being defiled and Jacob’s son’s killing and plundering for revenge. Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.

Why are these recorded? I think for several reasons; one, to reassure us that dysfunction as a result of sin has been part of the world since Adam and Eve first sinned.  As well as reassurance that we are not alone if we live in a dysfunctional family, the narratives also serve as a warning and show that there are consequences, sometimes severe, of not following God’s will and instructions.  

Many of God’s people in the Old Testament are great examples for us: Noah’s faith was demonstrated when he built the ark. Abraham’s faith shown by his willingness to sacrifice his son.  Joseph kept his values and during his years in slavery, which  resulted in Joseph being able to save his family years later during a famine.

And that is all in Genesis!

Exodus gives us the Ten Commandments,  applicable to our lives today.

Judges shows us the pattern of the people trusting in man rather than God…turning from God to idols…being suppressed by different people…turning back to God…asking for forgiveness…and repeating the cycle.

Nehemiah teaches us lessons about priorities and focus. (Click here to read "Lessons from Nehemiah" one of my posts from the A to Z Blogging Challenge last year.)

The book of Esther contains one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)  Esther is also a wonderful example of the “bad guy” getting what he deserves.

What about the poetry of the Psalms? How can we use that today? When I was going through probably the most difficult time in my life, I could not focus enough to read anything but Psalms. Every day I found a Psalm that expressed what I felt and reassured me of God’s love for me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found comfort in that book.

Proverbs offers us wisdom for many “real life” situations.  

A large part of the Old Testament is prophecy of what will happen either in the New Testament or later, or is yet to happen.

There are difficult verses, chapters, and books in the Old Testament, but there are always examples of God’s love and forgiveness for those who are truly repentant, and His promise of a Savior Who will save each and every one of us if we accept His gift.

I encourage you to read the Old Testament. It is fascinating—mysteries, drama, history, sex, violence, faith, forgiveness, and evidence of God’s hand. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathes out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

Would you like to read articles to “encourage, inspire and motivate you in your Christian walk”  every month? Subscribe to the Nebraska Family Times and you’ll find local, Nebraska
and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, columns by
Nebraska and nationally-known Christian authors, and much more, in your mailbox every month!
A one-year, 12-issue subscription is only $20! See the
right sidebar on this page to order, or e-mail shelly@shellyburke.net for details.
Shelly is also the author of the book “Home is Where the Mom Is; A Christian Mom’s Guide to Caring for Herself, Her Family, and Her Home. Click to find out more! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for…Hope
by Shelly Burke, Editor and Publisher 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13

What are you hoping for today?

Enough rain to break the drought? A new job? A way out of financial troubles? A relationship repaired? A new home? A new baby? A disease cured?

Paul’s letter to the Romans tells them (and us) to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) How can we rejoice, when our hope is that a hopeless situation won’t turn out in the way it seems destined to? How can we be patient when our world seems to be falling apart around us? For me, being “constant in prayer” is easy when I’m struggling. Thankfully God doesn’t require fancy phrases or the “right” words—I can just plead, “Lord, help me endure this! Show me what to do! Be with me!”

We can rejoice in hope because of what Psalm 39:7 says: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” Our hope is not in earthly things like money, or banks, or a new job, or a relationship, or even an earthly cure for a terminal illness. Our hope is in the Lord, and in the gift that He has given believers, of eternal life. We can rejoice in hope because we know that even if our hope is not realized here on earth, it will be in heaven.

Many times our hopes will be fulfilled here on earth. God answers our prayers, often in ways we do not expect, in ways that seem to be impossible. We thank Him for those times.

While we are in that time of waiting to see how our prayers will be answered, we can pray that God will fill us with joy and peace in believing in Him, and that through the Holy Spirit we will continue to have hope.

Lord, you know what I am hoping for today. I do not know what Your will is regarding this situation, although I pray that you will answer my prayers. While I wait, please enable me to rejoice, to be patient, and to fill me with joy and peace. Amen.

Would you like to read articles to “encourage, inspire and motivate you in  your Christian walk”  every month? Subscribe to the Nebraska Family Times and you’ll find local, Nebraska
and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, columns by
Nebraska and nationally-known Christian authors, and much more, in your mailbox every month!
A one-year, 12-issue subscription is only $20! See the
right sidebar on this page to order, or e-mail shelly@shellyburke.net for details.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for…Gift

by Shelly Burke, Editor and Publisher 

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…”
1 Peter 4:10

(Google Images)
God has given each of us unique gifts. Every one of us has something to offer.  

Paul told the Corinthians, and by extension, us, that as there are many parts of a human body that must work together to make it function, so are we all part of the body of Christ and all necessary for it to function.

What is your gift? What do you enjoy doing? What are you good at doing? Do you feel like if you find a task “fun” it’s probably not what God wants you to do? God loves you—don’t you think He would give you a gift of doing something you enjoy? Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 tells us that “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” While we know that what we do here on earth will never bring us complete fulfillment, God does want us to use and enjoy the gifts He has given us.

No matter your age or physical ability, you are a part of the Body of Christ and therefore have a purpose. I saw this last year when our church hosted its annual salad luncheon. Several of our members are elderly and don’t like to be out and about; they offered to make phone calls from their homes. One lady gets around with the help of a walker and can’t stand for more than a few minutes. She offered to take money at the door; she sat at a table to do so. One lady has painful arthritis; she volunteered to wash dishes as the hot water eased her pain. Those who enjoy cooking made several salads; those with good organizational skills oversaw the whole event.

You, too, have a gift to share, not only in church work but in your work, in your family, in your community. I enjoy writing and don’t mind talking in front of people, so I occasionally write blurbs for the bulletin about upcoming events, and talk to Bible Study groups about them. I enjoy teaching so volunteered to present new things to the nurses at work.

A friend of mine is great on the computer, so she creates posters for events. I know several people who are shy in large groups but great in small groups, especially brainstorming about new ideas. Another friend remembers the details of everyone’s lives and asks about the new grandbaby, or how college classes are going, or how tests turned out.

To figure out what your gift is, just ask yourself what you enjoy doing, and what you are good at. Pray for God to show you your gift, and how He wants you to use it. Every gift can be used in some way. If you feel your gift is minimal, remember that Jesus served others by washing their feet. Even the least-seeming gifts are important and useful.

If you’re asked to be part of an organization or help with an event, consider saying “yes” even if it’s something you’ve never done and don’t know if you’ll enjoy. You might discover a new talent!

On the other hand, if you’re asked to do something for which you don’t have a gift, it’s ok to say “no.” While I enjoy teaching adults, I’m not good at teaching children. When asked to teach Sunday School I simply replied that that was not one of my gifts, and offered to bring snacks instead.

Remember—God wants you to enjoy your life here on earth. Honor Him by determining what your gift is and how you can use it for Him.

Lord, thank You for the gifts You have given to me. Please show me how You want me to use them.  Amen. 

Would you like to read articles to “encourage, inspire and motivate you in  your Christian walk”  every month? Subscribe to the Nebraska Family Times and you’ll find local, Nebraska
and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, columns by
Nebraska and nationally-known Christian authors, and much more, in your mailbox every month!
A one-year, 12-issue subscription is only $20! See the
right sidebar on this page to order, or e-mail shelly@shellyburke.net for details.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for…Fear

By Shelly Burke

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  2 Tim. 1:7

What are you afraid of today?

Perhaps your financial situation is not stable or you have overwhelming debt or are in danger of losing your job.

Maybe you’re worried about test results, or a family member or friend suffering from a disease or illness.

Are you apprehensive about a relationship that is going through a hard time? Maybe a child is making bad decisions in his or her life and you fear the consequences, or your marriage is rocky with the future uncertain.

It is normal to have a healthy fear of things that could, realistically, happen. In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul writes to Timothy from a Roman prison; Timothy could be persecuted and  imprisoned as well, for his preaching. But God does not want us to live with a spirit of fear; fear is not to dominate our emotions.

Paul says that God gave us a spirit…of “power and love and self-control.”       

We are not powerless in the face of fear; we have power in our faith, in prayer, and in action appropriate to the situation. Remember, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13). We cannot do it through our own power, but through the power the Lord gives us.

We are to have a spirit of love. We can love the person who has done wrong; we can ask the Lord to show us how to do so through His love for us.

And we are to have self-control. Even when we cannot control a situation, we can control how we react to it. Rather than lose control or react in anger, we can count to 10, or not say a word. Rather than withdraw in fear, we can reach out to Christian friends and ask for prayer. Rather than sit helplessly we can open our Bibles and read God’s word, and ask Him to take away our fear.

You are not alone in facing your fears. We are never, ever alone, even during the times that we are the most afraid. God says, For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the One Who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13

Would you like to read articles to “encourage, inspire and motivate you in  your Christian walk”  every month? Subscribe to the Nebraska Family Times and you’ll find local, Nebraska
and national news from a Christian point of view, as well as devotions, columns by
Nebraska and nationally-known Christian authors, and much more, in your mailbox every month!
A one-year, 12-issue subscription is only $20! See the right
sidebar of this page to order, or e-mail shelly@shellyburke.net. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for…Encouragement
by Shelly Burke

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  1 Thess. 5:11

One thing I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older (more “mature”) is that even the most confident-appearing, fashionably dressed, perfect-hair-day-every-day person is insecure in some way.

The person who (to my eyes) gives brilliant answers in Bible class worries that people will think she’s “dumb” or “talks too much.”

The member of the choir who sings beautifully? Fears that others will think she is “showing off”.

And the “everyday” people? The mom who takes her kids to church thinks her kids are “too loud” during the sermon.

The quiet elderly man in Bible Class? Terrified to ask a question (which happens to be a question I’ve thought about for years).

Everyone—even the most confident-appearing people—needs and appreciates encouragement.  1 Thessalonians 5:11 instructs the Thessalonians, and by extension, us, to encourage each other “just as you are doing.” Paul doesn’t provide a list of things the people had been doing, so I think they were simple, every day things—probably things you have been doing or can easily start doing, in order to “encourage and build one another up.”

     *Tell the harried mom whose kids kept her busy during church, “I’m so glad you’re here! I know it’s a challenge, but it’s worth it to get your kids to know God.”

     *Thank the pastor, choir director, soloist, education director, organist, secretary, Bible Study leader, your co-workers or boss, for what they do. So often we are touched and encouraged by what they do…but we forget that they need encouragement too.

     *Ask someone you know is going through a difficult time, “How are things going?” The person may answer with just a few words—or you might hear a detailed accounting of the last few days. Either way, you’ve showed that you care. You don’t have to have the “right” words—just listen and, if appropriate, tell her you are praying for her.

     *Give a hug “just because.”
     *Text a Bible verse to your kids or a friend facing a difficulty.

     *Pray…for your family, for friends, for acquaintances if you know they are facing a tough decision or hard time. You do not have to know the details; ask God to bless the person and care for and provide for him or her as the person needs. God knows the details!

     *Send someone a card of encouragement and include a Bible verse that is specific to his or her situation.
     *Surprise a friend or acquaintance—with a flower, treat, or something they’ve mentioned needing or wanting, like a book, a CD, or scented lotion.

     *Give anonymously or to a stranger. Pay for the purchase of the car behind you in the fast-food drive through. Ask the cashier to apply the change from your purchase, to that of the person behind you in the check-out line. Wish the cashier a nice day. Smile at the person who looks lonely; take a few minutes to chat about the weather or what you’re making for supper.

A wonderful "side effect" of encouraging others is that you will immediately feel better about yourself and your life. God Himself encourages us through His Word and the people He puts in our lives. Share His love and encouragement by passing on that love and encouragement to those whose lives you touch.

Lord, thank You for encouraging me through Your word. Please, help me to show your love by encouraging and lifting others up. Amen. 

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D is for…Discernment

By Shelly Burke

Life offers us many choices, every day.

Many, if not most decisions don’t matter much more than a few moments—what to prepare for supper, what to wear, evening plans.

Some choices have short-term or minimal consequences; where to vacation, whether to attend an event.  

Some, decisions, however, have much larger and longer-term consequences. Whether or not to marry. What career or job to seek. How to react to a child’s continued negative behavior. Whether or not to continue a friendship with someone who makes negative choices. Whether or not to accept a new job that requires relocation across the country. Whether or not to continue a marriage. How much debt to obtain.

The easy decisions are, well, just that. Easy. Trying a new recipe could result in a stomach ache but probably nothing longer-lasting. A vacation to a resort that features a tiny, algae-filled pool and only sandwiches at the “gourmet buffet” will probably result in nothing more than bad memories—or a few good laughs and the resolution never to go back there!

But those big, sometimes life-changing decisions require discernment, which can be described as “the process of determining God’s will in a situation or for your life.” How can we discern God’s will?  
Begin with prayer. Tell the Lord about the decision you face and your options. Ask Him to help you discern the path you should take. Pray that He will lead you to make a decision that is pleasing to Him. Listen for His still, small voice. You might not receive a clear answer right away. Continue to pray, and  pay attention to people who cross your path, Bible verses that come to mind, and more information you might find regarding the decision.

Next go to The Book which offers guidance to making all of the decisions you will face.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

We must remember that no matter what “the world” says is acceptable, as Christians we test our options against God’s Word. In doing so we can quickly discern that working in an abortion clinic is not in line with His Word. Helping someone steal, even in extreme circumstances, is not obeying Him. Despite what “the world” says, we can quickly discern from His Word that homosexuality is wrong (Romans 1:26-29, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:8-10).

“Walk as children of light and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:10

How do we walk as “children of light”? By reading God’s Word and determining what is “pleasing to the Lord.” He gives us many guidelines throughout His Word, perhaps most notably the Ten Commandments. We can build our character by seeking to develop the “fruits of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). Throughout His word we can learn from the mistakes people made during Bible times, and we can find principles to follow.

Proverbs 15:22 tells us, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Obviously, if you seek enough counselors you will get the answer you want to hear, so be sure to seek counsel from people you trust to tell you the truth, God’s truth.

You may be surprised at path the Lord puts you on or asks you to take but by seeking His will and using discernment, you can be sure that you are on the right path. 

Lord, when I face decisions, please help me to use Your word, listen for Your voice and seek wise counsel so that I may discern the choice that pleases You. Amen. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A to Z Blogging Challenge: C is for Courage

By Shelly Burke

After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua…”Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go.” Joshua 1:1, 9

Courage is a requirement for life today, just as it was approximately 3400 years ago when these words were written.

In these verses the Lord was talking to Joshua. Moses, the great leader, had just died, after leading the Israelites out of Egypt and in the wilderness for 40 years. Now Joshua was tasked with not only leading the Israelites into the promised  land but also conquering the people who were already there. The task was daunting, to say the least.

What are you facing today, that demands your courage? Troubles with a child? The break-up of a marriage? Single parenting?  Illness of a friend or family member—or perhaps yourself? End-of-life decisions? Unexpected or sudden life changes? Financial challenges?

God gave Joshua a huge task, but He also gave him directions.

     *”Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or the left…you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” .

   *”Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed…”
We can follow the same directions God gave Joshua—following His word. Meditating on it day and night. Being careful to do what we read in His word. (Thankfully the death and resurrection of Jesus released us from having to follow all of the laws of the OT, but the principles of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament still apply today.)

He also gave Joshua and the Israelites promises:

     *”Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” Joshua 1:5b
     *”…the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9b

And we can also claim these promises as well. We know that through whatever we face, God will be with us, wherever we go. He will never leave us or forsake us. We can take courage in knowing that through the Lord, through His Word, and His promises, we can face our future with courage because we will never be alone.

Lord, I thank you for your guidance, and for your promises. With them I need never fear, as I know that You will guide me and that I will never be alone. Amen. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for…Be Still
by Shelly Burke, Editor

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

From the time I get up in the morning until the time I go to bed at night, I’m moving. Maybe not very fast or very far, but I try to be productive. I’d imagine you do the same!

But God tells us in this passage that to know Him, we must “be still.”

Unless we concentrate on Him, we cannot know Him.

God wants us to stop our multitasking, stop our scurrying and errands, stop checking FaceBook and texting, stop working on our long to-do list and…be still.

When we’re mentally making our to-do list during Bible study time…when we’re planning supper during prayer time…when we’re anticipating the “big game” that afternoon, during church, we’re not being still, and not concentrating on Him.

I think most of us are all about multi-tasking, but research is finding that when  a person multi-tasks, he or she is actually  less efficient at both tasks, than when concentrating on the tasks individually.

It seems that God really knew—thousands of years ago, when this Psalm was recorded-- what He was talking about when he said, “Be still.”

How can you “be still” during your time with God when you’re used to non-stop activity from the time you get up to the time you go to bed at night?

     *First of all, make time with Him a priority. Designate a time when you’re less likely to be interrupted; early in the morning, right after the kids leave for school, or late at night, just before you go to sleep.
     *When it’s your personal Bible study or prayer time, read this verse to focus your thoughts: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
     *Get rid of distractions—turn off the TV, your cell phone, and anything else that will tempt your thoughts away from the Lord.
     *Practice focusing your mind and shutting out distractions. When you notice your mind wandering, consciously bring your focus back to what you’re reading, or prayer.
     *If random thoughts of groceries you need, that bill that hasn’t been paid, or that phone call you need to make tend to interrupt your concentration, keep a pad of paper or sticky notes near where you’re studying. That way you can jot it down and push it out of your mind, knowing you don’t have to try to remember it.

The devil does not want us to strengthen our spiritual life, and he will do whatever he can to distract you. But with practice, you’ll become better at being still and knowing God. Don’t give up—the time you spend getting to know Him will pay off in a closer relationship with Him.

Dear Lord, please help me today to concentrate on my relationship with You. Help me to be still, that I can know You. Amen.

I’m also blogging at www.achristianmomsguide.blogspot.com

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Stepping Out: To a life on the edge"

by Deb Burma

(Editor's note: I am so happy to be able to print this excerpt from my good friend Deb Burma's just released book, Stepping Out: To a Life on the Edge," based on her keynote speech at the 2011 National LWML Convention. If you would like to order the book, go to Concordia Publishing House, "Stepping Out: To a Life on the Edge"  If you would like to meet Deb Burma and get a personally autographed copy of "Stepping Out", plan to attend the book signing event at Peace Lutheran Church, 2720 28th St., Columbus, NE, on April 14th, from 2:00PM - 4:00 PM. Deb will give a special "stepping out" message (2:00-2:30) and we'll have refreshments and the book signing from 2:30-4:00PM. Books will be available at the special price of $12 for this event only!  
For more information call (402) 750-3496.)

Excerpted from the chapter, “Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone to a Life Filled with New Opportunities”

Fishermen Fishing for Men

Theirs was a lowly occupation, a simple trade. Day after day, they boarded their boats, dragging large fishing nets with them, anticipating their next catch. This day was probably like most. Standing near the shore, preparing their nets, they were probably talking about the weather. Not just idle chit-chat, but important dialog concerning the next catch and the day’s work. Were the skies stormy or clear? Was the water choppy or calm?

Likely, their trade had been handed down from generation to generation. The family business; a way of life. Predictable. Comfortable. Common. They certainly were not nobility, and their lives were far from luxurious, but their simple life was a constant. That is, until one memorable day when Jesus stepped into their world. With perfect purpose and specific intent in every step, Jesus walked along their little portion of the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And as He walked, He called out first to Simon (Peter) and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

Can you picture these fishermen at that moment? Did they stare at each other incredulously, wondering what Jesus’ words meant? With this simple statement, Jesus rocked their world, asking these fishermen to step out of their boats, out of the world they knew, where they fished for fish. And as He did, He asked them to step into the great unknown, where they would fish for people. Did they hesitate? Scripture doesn’t tell us that they did. Mark records that they obeyed; that they abandoned their work and took off after Jesus. The very next verse says, “Immediately [no hesitation!] they left their nets and followed Him” (vs. 1:18). Apparently, James and John were down the shore just a bit, fishing with their father, Zebedee. Again, Jesus called out. Again, there was no hesitation. They left their father, the boat, and the family business. They dropped everything to follow Him.

I am afraid that I would have hesitated. I think I would have asked for clarification, details, an agenda. That is so like me. “Okay, Jesus, but I would like to know a few things first. What is the plan, and where are we going? I’m not sure I am comfortable stepping away from my nets and out into the unknown. And just what do you mean by ‘fishers of men’ anyway? How will this work, exactly?”

These soon-to-be disciples were simply obedient to His call. Even when that meant leaving everything that was comfortable and common to them, even when that meant stepping away from their livelihood and tradition and family. The fact that Jesus chose them at all is amazing in itself. Hardly theologians, not even close to being experts in the Jewish law, they were simple men of trade. And yet He did choose them.

Jesus Steps In

Today, He chooses you and me right where we are. Jesus steps in and says, “Follow me…” He calls us to step out of our collective comfort zones to go where He leads, to be committed – as the first disciples were – to follow Him above all things. While we may remain businesswomen, teachers, homemakers, wives, mothers, and more, we are Christ-followers first.

In our sin, however, some days we hesitate; other days we simply fail to follow altogether. We are not committed. We fail to place Him first. We shrink back and huddle into our nice little comfort zones, content to stay just where we are. But God doesn’t let us stay there, huddled in our zone. He knows we cannot step out on our own, so He comes to us in the midst of our sin.

Through Christ, God forgives us for our hesitation and our failure to follow. He fills us with the Holy Spirit, enabling and empowering us to step out. Because the Holy Spirit has gifted us with faith, we can follow the Lord just as the disciples did – without hesitation, clinging to His every Word, going where He leads, serving each person He places in our path, trying something new, exploring a gift or talent, and reaching out in His name.

Stepping out of our comfort zone and following our Savior to a life on the edge may not require a physical or geographical move on our part. It may not require a step out of America and onto foreign soil. It may not even mean taking a step outside of our community. Maybe our occupations stay the same. Maybe our neighborhoods are the same. And maybe our church home is, too. But our purpose, as Christ reveals it to us with increasing clarity, changes us and permeates every part of our lives. We step out for Him in our workplaces; we courageously cast nets in our neighborhoods; we fish for men and women and children who have yet to meet the Savior; we fish for those who desperately need to know Him and what He has done for them.

The message of grace and salvation Christ shared with His disciples was the same message He led them to share with the world. The disciples’ journey was not an easy one. Each step took them to new people and to different challenges, through many obstacles and into frequent persecution.

Their journey is ours. Oh, sure, today it looks different. The people are different. But challenges are not so different. We also face obstacles in the form of resistance and denial; we may even be persecuted. And Christ’s message of grace and salvation is the very same. In our homes, communities, and places of work, whether we remain in familiar surroundings or make a major move, we serve others and give the Good News of our Savior to them. We may not be theologians or degreed Bible scholars. But simple people like you and me can be emboldened by the Holy Spirit to simply share our faith. And we do so courageously by God’s grace, even when that means overcoming obstacles that may threaten our ability to reach out with His saving love. We are fishers of men!

Stepping out of our comfort zone means yielding our life to Him. It means putting our life in His hands and trusting Him to provide and protect, even as He leads us into uncharted territory. On the back end of the diving board, it seems more comfortable to attempt to retain complete control over our lives (as if that were possible). But out there on the edge, it is incredibly freeing to just let go and let the Lord take over. He gave up His life for us. In response, we can drop everything to place Him first and follow Him. And we pray that others might see our lives yielded to Christ and be drawn to Him as a result.
Read more by Deb at Fragrant Offerings