Pet Peeves; we all have them. They can perturb in the home: my husband is particularly annoyed that I do not squeeze the toothpaste tube starting at the bottom. And how about the proverbial seat up/seat down challenge in regard to the bathroom throne? They can agitate while driving a car: Perhaps you have been tempted to slam on the brakes to alert the avid tailgater that you’ve seen enough of his face in your rear-view mirror. Don’t you just love the driver who feels entitled to pole position as he weaves and dodges lane to lane in heavy traffic? And how about in the grocery store: Perhaps you’ve made your way to the express lane only to find a shopper behind a cart laden with goods who feigns innocence as to the number of items that are really allowed in said lane. Have I pushed any buttons yet?
I, like possibly many of you, try to be patient and refrain from holding a grudge in regard to any habit, practice, or behavior that might be particularly irritating. But there is something that is often committed by those in retail that is especially maddening when the item being sold is more than likely meant to be a gift for another or something that is intended for display. It is definitely my pet peeve. I’m talking about the sticky price tags that somehow become hermetically sealed to the object, whatever it may be. I’ve had the eternally adhered labels stuck to the glass front of a picture frame, to candle jars, to mugs, to the covers of books, to cellophane wrapping on gift boxes of candies and bouquets of flowers, and even on some articles of clothing. It is a pet peeve that I hold onto like the tacky offenders cling to things themselves.
While shopping during this past Christmas season I happened to find bookmarks that I thought would be very special for some teacher friends. They had lamination on the front to protect the adage, the Scripture, and the appropriate picture. The back had places marked out on which to write the name of the recipient as well as the giver. I chose two and took them home only to find that the price label on the paper backing of each was as stuck and stubborn as any I had ever encountered. I tried pulling, scraping, lightly rubbing with a sparsely damp cloth, all to no avail. When I did remove some of the top area that held the pricing information, it still left the tacky residue behind on the bookmark, and that looked pretty unsightly! Eventually I had to use a plain white label to cover the messy back and hope that the front was attractive enough to keep the attention there.
In dealing with this sticky situation, the Lord reminded me of a Scripture and a principle of his that has literally stuck with me over these past couple months. I am so grateful to him that the sins we commit are not something that remain glued to us forever! God’s Word assures us that our sins are fully removed as we confess them to him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV). In the Old Testament we find these encouraging words: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-12, ESV). We don’t have to pull, scrub, or scrape at the mess that grips inside from the offenses we so often commit. We pray and ask his forgiveness, and he forgives, and we are clean. We can also ask him to give us the courage to ask forgiveness of others and make amends when we’ve hurt someone through our actions or inactions, as the case may be. And note, being that we are in the month that emphasizes love, it is because of his great love for us that he grants us such a great forgiveness.
Pet peeves; we all have them. Sin; we all fall short of God’s glory and commit transgressions that are an affront to God and others. But, unlike the pet peeve I shared, those sins can be confessed and forgiven so that the Lord “’will remember their sin no more’” (Jeremiah 31:34e, ESV). They will not stick to us like an ugly, gummy price tag. We can be clean and free from all residue as we confess our sins to the Lord. As such, we are lovely and presentable just like a special gift or a precious item for display.
It has been an ultra-busy fall season, the details of which would take up at least a blessings blog amount of space to recount. Basically, my schedule was packed day-to-day and just about minute-to minute from the get-go in September, right through and actually beyond the end of October. I’m not sure that I had really counted the cost of two months of an agenda that afforded no wiggle room, but as my sister-in-law so aptly says, “It is what it is!” and I took a big breath and went with the flow.
The final endeavor of this two-month travel and activity merry-go-round was a trip to my daughter’s home in Texas to watch her three little ones (girl-6 and boys-4 and 2) while she went on a ministry retreat. I am more than happy to spend times like these with my wonderful grandkids, particularly because our time with them is more often than not separated by months at the least, and it is dear to me. I did not take this on wearing rose-colored glasses, however. I did have time with all the littles (7 of them) earlier in October, and I’m certainly not naïve to the energy and effort just a few hours with even one family can take.
And so, I came with a plan: I had some good ideas about where food and drinks would be consumed, how toys that continued littering the floors would find themselves in a trash bag (temporarily – honest!), and that on days when we did have to do things outside the home, we would prepare the night before with clothing and lunches at the ready. I also often do my own routines at night rather than in the morning when I’m with young grandchildren so that I’m adequately prepared for the following day. It actually was all going really well, not perfect, but manageable. That is, until Saturday! It wasn’t long after the morning dawned that things seemed to go south pretty quickly. The four-year-old, Caden, was manifesting symptoms of a fairly bad virus, and his nose was not afraid to show it. It needed constant wiping and attention. At breakfast, Mr. Two used his water bottle to flood his food tray, the floor, and himself. At least that mishap led to a cleaner area when addressed. There were fights over favorite blocks, a tussle over a Santa hat (yes, Santa hat on the first weekend of November), and clashes over other toys that all needed intervention and a level-headed perspective. Big sister engaged baby brother in a game of what I call “pedal-pusher;” each child pushes on the feet of the other in pedal fashion while holding hands. This managed to leave a bloody bottom lip on the little guy with the ensuing care needed for such an incident. We had a potty accident followed immediately by a dirty diaper, each requiring major clean-up, in more ways than one. By this time, it was way past noon. The shower I had hoped to take to allow for me to wash my hair was a pipedream, and as I considered the way things had gone so far that day, this phrase swirled in my mind, “my grandkids present a never-ending circle of need!” When we finally got to making lunch and I dropped the jelly jar on the kitchen tile sending glass fragments and jelly all throughout the floor, I realized that I had entered that circle of need myself.
Now, I can hear you saying, “Move over, Grandma! This is my story daily, and it doesn’t take until afternoon to get there.” Believe me, I am aware. I was a mom before the grand was attached. But there is some great news that we can all hold onto and that we especially think about at this time of year. When God sent his Son into the world not “to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17b, ESV), Jesus entered right into our circle of need! In fact, he came as he did so that he could relate to the needs of all humankind. As an infant, he didn’t arrive with a self-changing diapering mechanism, a continuous feeding tube, and a recurring hygiene system. No! He came with the need to have nurturing care provided by his mother and protection and provision afforded by his dad, both his earthly parent and his heavenly Father. We are left to imagine what most of his life must have been like as a boy, but considering that day and time, he was vulnerable to the same difficulties and challenges of any other child. Picture fleeing to Egypt and then the trek back; the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover traveling over rough and rugged terrain; the trials of living as a poor family in the sometimes-hostile environment of first century Israel. And then, even as a man, in spite of constant contact with his heavenly Father, he still had the need for companionship, the need for sustenance, and the need for shelter and clothing. There was nothing about Jesus’ life that was above what we face. However, he had the ability to face it in full harmony with God and with continued strength and confidence that God the Father would meet his every need. Do you believe the same?
Jesus empathizes with our needs, and he is there to meet them. This Christmas, invite him into your circle of need through prayer, taking in his Word, and spending time before him, even if you have just a few precious minutes in the day. He will enter in and bring his peace that passes all understanding along with his answers for your everyday needs as well as the bigger challenges you face.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV).
Before the summer season winds down and the anticipation of beautiful colored leaves, crisp apples and the resultant apple edibles, and a cooler weather pattern come into being, a quintessential American activity begins. By August, many people engage in supporting their favorite teams that compete in the rough and tumble sport of football. Expectations are high as fans from cities and areas all over the country believe that it will be their team that will make it to the ultimate competition, The Super Bowl.
The pre-season is designed for coaches to assemble their teams from prior players and new draftees to compete for the final fifty-three-man roster. Something that really caught my attention this year is how the coaches play their tried-and-true players compared to those with whom they are not yet familiar. It is quite common for the veteran players to sit on the sidelines while the newbies take the field for the majority of these pre-season games. Along with evaluating the capabilities of the unfamiliar lot, keeping the vets off the field prevents a known valuable team member from risking injury in a game that will not count toward the team’s season record. In the regular season, the stars take the field often to ensure wins when they really count.
God’s team strategy can be a bit different. In God’s Word we find that many times it was the unknown draftee that God put in for a big win. Gideon comes to mind. While he threshed his wheat in a winepress to hide it from Israel’s oppressors, the Midianites, God had his angel greet him as if he were a prized warrior. “And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, ‘The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.’” (Judges 6:12, ESV). Gideon questioned why Israel was enduring such hardship if God’s presence was with them, but the angel of the LORD continued. “‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’” (Judges 6:14b, ESV). Though Gideon still couldn’t believe the call God had placed on him, and he requested a sign to confirm the words spoken to him, Gideon did follow through with God’s plan, and victory was afforded Israel in a miraculous way, Gideon leading the charge with a very small number of men.
Another example is young David. After Saul proved to be a regrettable choice as king because of his disobedience to the LORD’s commands, Samuel, God’s prophet, was sent to Jesse the Bethlehemite to anoint Israel’s next king. All of Jesse’s sons came before Samuel beginning with the eldest, and they looked strong, handsome, and capable of excellent leadership. But God told Samuel his method of choosing members of his team. As Samuel looked on Jesse’s first son, Eliab, he thought that he must be God’s choice. “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7, ESV). It wasn’t until David, the youngest son, was brought from the fields where he was tending sheep that God said to Samuel, “‘Arise, anoint him, for this is he.’” (1 Samuel 16:12d, ESV).
And God does not spare his MVPs from injury and hardship. When God had a conversation with his disciple Ananias of Damascus regarding the Apostle Paul’s conversion to Christianity, Ananias was hesitant to include him in the rank and file of God’s chosen due to his ardent persecution of those in the Body. While the Lord assured Ananias that he was choosing Paul to be his witness to both Israel and to the Gentile nations, interestingly he included this statement: “‘For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” (Acts 9:16, ESV). Ananias obeyed God, laid hands on him, and prayed to expel the blindness Paul experienced in his encounter with Jesus, and Paul started his active participation on God’s team to become who some consider God’s greatest apostle. Indeed, he did suffer for the cause of Christ, and through his letters found in the New Testament, he has remained influential in the lives of believers throughout the ages.
Essentially, those of us who have a relationship with Jesus are on his team to do his will and further his kingdom. Whether our call is to be on the field for every big play, or we are put in for what seems like minor movement, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23, ESV). Even our small contribution can be much in his hands, and we can propel God’s team to victory in his Name!
Once we hit July, this year’s summer schedule was fairly open for us, and as such we decided to go camping. True diehards that participate in this activity would be sure to say that we actually went glamping, being that we use our truck to pull a Fifth Wheel in which we sleep, cook, and even engage in electronic entertainment in the evenings. OK – you’ve got us. But we still did book ourselves into a somewhat rustic campground for a week in southwest Colorado to take in the sights, connect with nature, and relax and enjoy the creative and varied world God has given us.
One of the things we did on the first morning of our arrival was to hike around the lake adjacent to the campground. Lest you are led to believe it was a huge effort, this lake was really just a large pond, but it still leant us thirty minutes plus of exercise and interesting flora surrounding the lake to examine. As we got to the path, I noticed the beautiful puffy white clouds overhead. I was enjoying the billowy shapes, in particular one towering directly in front of me. In the next moment, I observed something right in front of the cloud. I had to adjust my focus to discern exactly what it was, but I realized it was a bit of some kind of white fluff floating lazily by. I looked around to see if there were any plants that were growing something of that nature that would have blown into the air, but saw nothing else like it. I immediately had a crazy thought: “That’s a wannabe!” At least that’s what it looked like to me, that little old fluff competing with the grandeur of the huge puff in the sky.
It got me thinking about how we can be like that small fuzz drifting in the air. We strive to imitate something we view as impressive and put our effort and energy into possibly something we’re never meant to be. It may be that God has a different goal in mind for us, but we’re too busy looking way off into the clouds, and we miss the opportunities he is placing right before us.
It is important to recognize that there is nothing wrong with dreaming big dreams and reaching for what may be lofty goals. But, so often our eyes are on the wrong prize. If we truly search within and find that we are driven by the desire for a loaded pocketbook, recognition, some sort of power, or another worldly or temporal ambition, we will likely realize that we are definitely not on the path that the Lord would desire for us to follow. To put it in the words of The Preacher, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, ESV).
A good biblical example to consider is found in the Book of Acts. Philip, a man chosen as one of seven who helped the apostles in ministry, was serving in Samaria. A man who practiced magic arts named Simon, had fooled many people with his enchantments, and they acclaimed him as great. As these same people witnessed the genuine power and godly work that Philip was doing there, they believed in Jesus, received his good news, and were baptized. Simon took note of the miraculous works, and the Bible says, “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed” (Acts 8:13, ESV).
The apostles Peter and John were sent to Samaria from Jerusalem upon hearing about the new believers there. The Holy Spirit had not yet come to these recent converts, so Peter and John laid hands on them, and they did receive the Holy Spirit. It is at this point that Simon displayed the heart of a wannabe. He actually had such a desire to perform this same miraculous work that he offered to pay the apostles to be granted the same gift. This repugnant longing was quickly rebuked by Peter who said, “‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:20b-22, ESV).
Simon did request prayer, but it is not clear if he had a sincere change of heart that led him to trade his covetous attitude and his longing to be someone great in the eyes of the people for a true heart of a servant. While we may not have a Peter figure in our lives to tell us when we are puffing up beyond God’s call, it is my hope that each of us can take a good look inside and ask for the Lord’s position on the state of our ambitions. Whether they appear great or small, may they be in line with what God is desiring for each of us. Steer clear of being a wannabe, and glide on the wind of the Holy Spirit for his good purpose and glory.
It can be so easy to think solely in the here and now and remain focused on only what is in front of us. After all, in our own families with young children, mom’s name must be uttered at least three hundred times a day, and multiplied needs are ever-present. “Where’s my shoe?” (not both, but one). “When are we going to the park?” “Can Tommy come over to play?” “Is lunch ready yet?” “My library book has paint all over it ‘cause Emma needed a cover on the table for her art project!” “Can I have… fill in the blank?” Or in more mannerly households, “May I have… still fill in the blank?” And so, it goes. And even if Mom and/or Dad don’t fulfill all the requests, the words still swim around relentlessly in the brain like sharks looking for a tasty meal. Then even as kids age, a whole new set of needs will inevitably take over – ball games, music lessons, assignment help, dentist and orthodontic appointments, etc. Add in parents’ own schedules with work, meetings, necessary car repairs and the like, and local church and ministry commitments, planning time to breathe seems to be the only necessary addition to an already overflowing family schedule.
The Lord absolutely knows our situation and the demands that are already in place, particularly in young families. But he also does ask us to look outside of ourselves and consider the needs and plight of others, even elsewhere in the world. Most of us are familiar with this passage of commissioning, spoken to Jesus’ disciples, but applicable to all believers: “’All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, (emphasis mine) baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’” (Matthew 28:18b-20a, ESV). It can be tough to think about that “one more thing” that should occupy our time and require our attention, but this responsibility is set before us as a priority that deserves consideration.
Obviously not every person or family is called to become full-time missionaries who sell much of their belongings, pack up what’s left, and head to a far-away place to devote their lives to full-time service. Perhaps you have or you will come to realize this is your calling – may God’s blessings and care be abundant if that is so. But there are so many ways to make an impact for Christ on the lives of people that live elsewhere on the earth. I have recently become aware that our songs from the Sing God’s Word CD Series are being listened to around the world. Places as diverse as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, Hongkong, Iceland, Australia, Latvia, Malaysia, Uruguay, and more have taken advantage of various streaming platforms to listen to the Scripture songs we share. It is so humbling to realize that God has taken imperfect vessels to impact people globally with what he has inspired us to create. Amazing! I have two family members, a son and a son-in-law, who within the last couple months have taken short-term mission trips to two very different countries, the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, and Brazil in South America. Each left, but even more so left with blessings, having willingly giving his time, talent, and attention to others from a foreign land filled with people who need Jesus. Likely you are aware of, and perhaps have participated in giving to, organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse who sponsor the yearly collection of gift boxes to give to impoverished children in various parts of the world. There really are so many ways to follow this command that Jesus has given us. We are all very different, and the way we answer will be unique and personal for each person and family, taking into account what God has given each of us and put on our hearts.
Pray and ask the Lord to reveal to you how you can be a part of his great commission. Prayer alone for a missionary or a people group that is unreached or barely reached for God is in itself an effective way to be used by the Lord to further his kingdom and is a great family endeavor. Seek God’s will in regard to this all-important task. Remember that he could put something on your heart for the future, but it is essential to find something now that you can do to fulfill his commission. Whatever his answer for you will be, remember that the Scripture in Matthew 28 ends on this encouraging note: “’And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:20b, ESV).
I know that in the past I’ve shared that physical coordination is not my strong suit. I recall that I took tap lessons for about half a year when I was about six. I think all I came away with was a maneuver called “shuffle-ball-change,” a move that could easily look like the beginnings of a stumble. So, I was thrilled when my granddaughters in Virginia were signed up for ballet lessons with a Christian company that uses their church for rehearsals and performances. Due to the studio’s benevolence, all four girls are able to participate. I feel especially blessed when I get to see them perform, but even when I cannot be there, it is a great use of present-day technology to view the performance live on a screen or by video a short time later.
During last year’s recital, my then eight-year-old granddaughter, Bekah, was doing a lovely dance to “Today Is the Savior’s Day (by Rend Collective).” All was going beautifully when the group began taking side-steps toward stage left. Bekah was the farthest dancer on that side, and all of a sudden, she swung her arms and flopped right on the floor. Her recovery was immediate. To Bekah’s credit and proficient demeanor, she picked herself up, got right back in the dance, and never missed another beat! The routine was finished to perfection, and it is now a sweet and special memory to treasure.
I’m writing this message in the midst of Holy Week; we’ve just celebrated Palm Sunday. This year as I listened to the sermon at our church, I started to let my mind wander a bit to contemplate the distinct contrast between the hailing crowd that sang the Lord’s praises on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the rabid and angry crowd calling for his crucifixion a few days later. The most interesting thing is, it was predominantly the same people participating in these diverse events. How could those who were seemingly following Jesus get so out of step with him? To contemplate that rapid change can be quite unnerving! Of course, we know from the gospels that while they were not a part of the bitter throng save for Judas, each of the twelve disciples struggled with his own blunder in regard to Jesus. Judas betrayed him, but Peter denied him, Thomas doubted him, and most deserted him. How could recovery occur? Fortunately, the Bible records instances of reconciliation with the Lord, the most notable being Peter.
As the disciples gathered together after Jesus had already made two post-resurrection appearances to them, Peter and six other disciples of Jesus made plans to go fishing. Having an unsuccessful night on the sea of Galilee, a voice called out to them from the shore at daybreak to cast their net on the right side of the boat. When their catch of fish was so large it could not be hauled in, John immediately recognized the mystery influencer as Jesus. Impetuous Peter jumped right into the water and swam to shore. Jesus made provisions for breakfast as they all returned, and then he took time to bring Peter back into a right relationship with him. “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs’” (John 21:15, ESV). Three times Jesus asked him the question, matching the number of times Peter denied knowing Jesus. Though verse 17 states that Peter was grieved to have Jesus ask that third time, Jesus’ purpose was to restore Peter as his beloved disciple, servant, and friend. Essentially, Jesus invited Peter to pick himself up, dust himself off, and get back in the dance. Peter’s recovery was sure, as in the book of Acts Chapter 2, Peter preaches a heartfelt and significant sermon that confronted the Jewish leaders and compelled the people of Israel to turn to Jesus and be saved.
And so too, we are continually called to get back in step with the Lord because of his great compassion and love for us. Whether we make a misstep, a mistake, or even commit an outright sin, our recovery and ability to resume movement in the right direction is assured by this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, ESV). Or if we are simply feeling a little bit off balance and need some help to recover, the Lord is always there to guide our return onto the right path. We are brought back by grace into the perfect choreography he has ordained for our lives. It is always his desire that we continue on to fulfill the purpose that he has for us. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6b, ESV).
I am so looking forward to being in the audience for the girls’ next recital that takes place in just a couple weeks in which Bekah is once again a part. I am also excited to share that Bekah can be heard on our newest CD #5, Sing God’s Word – Spirit Among Us, voicing the role of Bekah Belle. I am happy to report that she did a fantastic job, and she never missed a beat!
My husband has a rock ministry. Oh, no, no, no – he does not have an electric guitar strapped to his neck using head-banging flare and flying fingers to attract perhaps a younger crowd with contemporary music. I am talking about literal mineral formations. Whenever my husband walks the sidewalks at our church, he intentionally uses his feet to move stones from the pavement to the adjacent gravel bed. He has always appreciated impeccable landscaping, and ensuring that the church walkways are free of those little rocks and debris is an important contribution. In fact, I would say that he does it out of love for the church, the staff, and our fellow congregants and that it brings him much joy as he completes his task.
The Bible considers love as a key component to valuable service. The most significant passage addressing this tenet is the well-known 1 Corinthians chapter 13, the love chapter. Chapter twelve speaks about being members of the Body of Christ and the gifts God appoints to individuals for selfless service. The chapter ends with a statement regarding an excellent way to use the gifts that are given, and then chapter thirteen begins: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have all prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV). God is letting us in on his point of view regarding our participation in the church and the things we do for others. It doesn’t matter who, what, where, when, or how, if love is absent, so is true service, and essentially our ministry is an epic failure in God’s eyes, no matter how many others we may think we fool or impress.
And, oh how often I fail! If I evaluate myself honestly, I know that despite the time I may give or the effort I put forth, my heart can often be in the wrong place. There can be so many things that take the place of the love that accompanies true godly ministry. Pride, self-fulfillment, compulsion, a need for recognition, a reluctant attitude, and even guilt can be detrimental substitutes for the love that the Lord wants to see surrounding the work we do for him. No doubt there can be times when we are compromised by circumstances such as illness, a hectic schedule, exhaustion, and/or unforeseen problems that will cause us to feel burdened rather than benevolent. Those weak moments need to be turned over to the Lord – he will be strong in the midst of our weakness. But, in general we need to approach the things we do in his name with a selfless and loving attitude knowing that we “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (from Colossians 3:23, ESV). In this, he is honored and we receive blessing and joy in our giving.
Thank you, dear husband, for your selfless and secret ministry that you provide to our church each time you walk to and from its doors. It is a great example of loving service, and while it may go unnoticed and could be seen as trivial, nothing done in love escapes the Lord’s view. Keep up the good work!
I am so blessed to have some wonderful Christian sisters who mean the world to me. A couple, in particular, are close both in distance and in heart. We often celebrate holidays, birthdays, and other occasions together, which is a tremendous blessing when most of our family live so far away. One of my dear sisters, Cindy, has a birthday in mid-November. Over the years we have observed her special day in different ways – sometimes I’ve traveled to her house; this year she came to mine. Last year we decided to spend the day together at Colorado’s largest mall. As is typical during the holiday season, among the over 180 shops was one dedicated to all things Christmas. Interestingly, so much of what this place featured was white décor. I’m rather partial to the old red and green traditional colors myself, but there were many decorative and pretty ornaments and other adornments filling the shelves and spaces. One item in particular caught Cindy’s eye. It was a very simple ceramic nativity that featured Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the stable. It was all white, all one piece, and was about eight inches tall and maybe ten inches wide – perfect as a table top creche. Cindy said she had been looking for a manger scene, and though she was quite taken with it and it was on sale, she just couldn’t purchase it at that time. For the rest of our mall visit, I tried to think of a way I could sneak back to the store and pick it up as her Christmas gift, but I never found the opportunity to do so. Since my husband and I would be traveling past this mall again in just a few days, I decided to stop back by then to make the purchase.
Though there were several on display for that first visit, by the time I returned, there were no white manger scenes to be found. Highly disappointed, I made it my mission to find this nativity somewhere. I tried home stores and big-box stores, department stores and boutiques. I even looked in larger grocery stores that had a dedicated holiday section, all to no avail. Then I hit the Internet. Nothing resembled that precious Holy Family display! Being that Christmas and our gift exchange were fast approaching, I decided to put aside the nativity gift thought until this year and get something else instead. I resumed my search this November. This is the stable design that is often seen on cards, ornaments, and wall hangings, but this particular piece was nowhere to be found! I decided it was either a specially-created limited edition sculpture, or it was selling at that Christmas store at the end of its run. I began to think how nice it would be if a great big star would either appear over a particular merchandise establishment or pop up on my computer so I could find this special little manger. Realizing that the décor that Cindy admired was not available, I found another creche that I believed she would like just as well and gave it to her for her birthday a few weeks ago.
Within the last few weeks, I have read through the passage found in Matthew chapter two regarding the visit of the Magi, or wise men, that occurred as much as two years after Jesus was born. These men were from the east, and so they were pagans, which makes it truly interesting that they were looking for the “King of the Jews” so they could worship him. They saw the star that God set in the sky, and on the way, they came to Jerusalem where they inquired as to where they could find the child. They had a meeting with King Herod who, along with all of Jerusalem including the religious leaders, was troubled by the news. Herod did send them on to Bethlehem, as he had been advised by those leaders where the Christ would be born according to the Scriptures. He told them to bring back word regarding the place where they found Jesus under the pretense that he too wanted to worship him but with the intent to get rid of this threat to his rule. Something grabbed my attention in the next part of the passage. “After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way” (Matthew 2:9-12, ESV). We see that the Magi did listen to King Herod, but when there was a conflict between Herod’s directives and God’s instruction, these men truly displayed wisdom by following the command of God over the dictates of man.
And that is wisdom that we too can display in our lives. As we go through the holiday season, we can bring the treasure of our own appreciation, obedience, and love of God to our precious Lord and Savior. No matter what might be attempting to dictate the use of our time, our talents, and our devotion, we can follow God’s word that reminds us to “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8, ESV). And, along with the psalmist, David, we can “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29:2, ESV). It is only in so doing that we can find ourselves in the company of the Magi who came from afar to pay homage to the One and Only King who reigns forever and ever. Though I had a hard time finding a specific simple representation of the Christ child, you will never have trouble finding Jesus when you truly seek him. Make the time, take the time to come to Jesus!
Way back when – 1980, Worms, Germany, to be exact – my husband, young son, and I were once again at the beginning of an overseas assignment. We had become settled into government-leased housing in the small town of Horchheim on the outskirts of Worms. The commute to the military post where my husband worked and where all of the American facilities were located was not within walking distance. Also, we were expecting our second child, and my doctor and appointments were in Heidelberg, a forty-five-minute drive from us. Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay.
We decided a second vehicle was needed, and we opted to look for a pop top camping van so we could also use it for leisure travel while in Europe. Just like in the US, we had newspapers with a classified section advertising items for sale from various parts of the country and even beyond. My husband searched for a suitable van and eventually located a good deal in a place that was a couple hours away. We were fortunate to have neighbors that had quickly become good friends, and they watched our son Kris so we could both drive in the car we already owned, pick up the new-to-us VW, and each drive a vehicle home.
We headed out after my husband’s work day in the late afternoon. Our route included quite a distance on Germany’s equivalent to the US interstate system, the Autobahn. If you are not familiar, in terms of speed, just about anything goes on this superhighway. I’m not sure what infractions might incur a stop from the polizei, but if anything, it’s driving too slowly. At any rate, we made it to our destination in the Stuttgart area just fine. We picked up the new vehicle without incident and were actually quite happy with our van purchase. My husband had me drive the car since I was familiar with it, he drove the van to assess its performance, and the plan was for me to follow him home. It was getting dusky due to night approaching, but I was not concerned, certain I could keep up following an orange van; that is until the Autobahn. With the fast flow of traffic, we fairly much stayed in the right-hand lane, and we were making good time. There happened to be a slow-moving truck traveling in that lane (probably going 55 mph). My husband signaled to the left, and I followed him into the left lane. No problem, until my husband crossed back into the right lane and headed directly off an exit with no time for me to do the same. My stomach immediately turned upside down on top of my five-month tummy bundle. I got off of the next exit, which was quite far down the road. As I continued, the surroundings became more suburban, and I finally stopped in a residential neighborhood. By now it was dark; I felt stranded! I was fretting, sobbing, and wondering out loud how my husband could do that to me, and if I did call out to the Lord, it was to ask why this had happened. I was in a pickle – a dilemma, a predicament, a quandary. It is important to note that this was pre-cellphone, pre-GPS – even a good old paper map did not have this area marked out, and it was for me also, pre-relationship with Jesus. I had no resources to help me and no idea how I would get home or how anyone would find me.
Contrast that with the story in the New Testament featuring the apostle Paul and his relatively new traveling companion, Silas. Paul and Silas had been spreading the good news in the city of Philippi in Macedonia, and they were being followed by a slave girl who was practicing fortune telling through the power of a demonic spirit, and therefore she was a great source of income to her owners. She kept loudly announcing, “‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation'” (Acts 16:17b, ESV). Though this was absolutely true, Paul was annoyed by her continual declarations and he commanded the spirit to come out of her, which it did. Her owners were angered that now this form of income ceased, and they brought Paul and Silas to Roman leaders who beat them and threw them into prison. Paul and Silas were in a major pickle! Locked away in the inner part of the prison, feet chained in stocks and under heavy guard, these men could easily have been angry, fretful, crying, and questioning God as to why they were in such a dire situation when they were being his faithful servants. But here is how the story continues, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” (Acts 16:25, ESV). They were praising God in the midst of their troubles! They believed God would never leave them stranded, and God did not disappoint. Our amazing God, the faithful One, showed them his grace and power, “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s bonds were unfastened” (Acts 16:26, ESV). Paul and Silas were freed from their shackles, had the care and hospitality of their former jailer, and they were able to go back to their friends, but not before they had the glorious opportunity to witness to the jailer and his household to see them all come to Christ. As incredible as this story is, we have the same opportunity to see God work in our lives as we pray to him, trust him, and praise him just for who he is! Likely the rewards will be great and the circumstances will convert into a platform for glory and honor to our benevolent God.
I can share that I eventually did find my way home by traveling quite out of the way to a place with which I was acquainted and from which I knew the roads to bring me back to Horchheim. I believe that now as a Christian, if I find myself in another pickle, I will pray to and praise my great God who is my resource for everything, who will never leave me stranded, and who has all the answers for the dilemmas that can be a part of life. On that note, I’ll gratefully enjoy a cup of tea and a small dessert, because I just had my dinner, pickle included.
Traveling and spending time with family and friends along the way is a big part of our lives in this present age and stage. It can be a challenge to be consistent with optimal habits and lifestyle choices as we do so, particularly in regard to diet and exercise. We have a 12-volt cooler, and we try to take along wholesome food options, which saves us money, time, and the unwanted pounds that can easily accumulate from the fast-food choices that beckon in most localities. So, the desire and the attempt to consume what is nutritious is high on our priority list, at least most of the time. Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay.
In line with my nutrition efforts, most of the family calls me the Salad Queen (though my granddaughter, Josie would claim that the title belongs to her). My breakfast choices are also well-known as my regular routine is to eat half a grapefruit and some almonds every morning. Because they are usually not available at hotels and they are not among the most affordable fare for those people with whom we will be staying, I like to just bring them along. One morning on my recent visit to my daughter’s, my six-year-old granddaughter, Hannah, engaged me in conversation about these eating habits. Hannah: “Nonnie, why do you eat grapefruit and almonds every day?” Me: “Well, Hannah, because they are healthy.” Hannah touches my face and further asks, “Then why are your cheeks so squishy?” Taken a bit aback by this and trying to give a somewhat humorous reply, I quickly said, “Because I’m old,” to which Hannah just as quickly and knowingly responded, “Oh yeah!” Well, I certainly opened the door for the honest, yet likely unintentional jab.
As cute and innocent as Hannah’s conversation with me was, truly, life can be filled with some real quips, zingers, and judgments that leave us feeling inadequate, less-than, and not up to the standards we believe are in place, most particularly those we impose on ourselves. Sometimes, such as in my example of the stark reality of growing older, the impressions others may have of us are not something over which we have much control. But there may be times when we make a mistake or somehow contribute to an inadvertently bad result. In either case, we are more likely than not our own worst critics, and our self-assessment is unforgiving. But it is even more upsetting when we believe, for whatever reason, that others hold a negative opinion of us or our actions. Such thoughts and feelings can quickly spiral into something that is difficult to overcome and can leave us in a helpless and hopeless state.
As many are already in the beginning of another school year or on the verge of classes starting again, it might be a really good time to check where we are emotionally, physically, and spiritually so that we can take all our concerns and inadequacies to the Lord, put our best foot forward, and make a fresh start. It is especially good to heed the words found in 2 Corinthians 12:9, something that I contemplate often and consider to be my life verse: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (from the ESV Bible). The writer of that verse, the apostle Paul, was so confident in the Lord’s willingness and ability to cover our shortcomings, real or imagined, that he further wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10, ESV). This is also a good time to talk with your children about the hurtful things people may say or do and the way they might judge themselves in a harsh manner. It will, of course, need to be an age-appropriate discussion. Be their greatest encourager, but also help them to realize that God sees them with gracious eyes, loves them for who and where they are, and cares deeply about all their concerns. Pray for them, pray with them, and teach them to pray when they feel overwhelmed, inadequate, or misunderstood. Lead them to the One to whom they can turn in any circumstance and for any need.
As for me, I am aware that there is no way I can put the brakes on in regard to aging save for God calling me to my heavenly home. I can share with Hannah the Bible verse that says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31, ESV). This can help both of us rest in the beautiful fact that growing old is actually a great blessing from the Lord, “squishy cheeks” and all!