The Whole Ball of Wax (One Thing Leads to Another)
By the Numbers
Joining the ranks of the text savvy, our family belongs to a thread that links sixteen of our family members, which includes our five oldest grandchildren. Because hundreds and thousands of miles physically separate most of us, it serves to keep us connected with picture posts and weekly, if not daily news bites and quips from each of our members. Though many might lament the misuse of cell phones as a detriment to personal relationships, myself included, this is one positive way that we have of staying close to each other.
The five grandkids mentioned just spent a week together at the home of the two living in southern California. They have not had much time together over the last several years, so the visit gave them a great opportunity to share a part of themselves not previously known, including their strengths, talents, and gifts. Along with visits to the beach and local tourist attractions—hiking, singing and guitar jams, hairdo sessions for the girls, games, and compelling sleight of hand—were all a part of their special, but all too short, days together. Anthony, the second oldest, decided to show Kori, the older cousin by only five days, his mastery of calculus, displaying a highly intricate equation on the chalkboard relating to perspective and the perception that an object is getting larger as one moves closer to it. (Huh?) His Aunt Robyn took a picture of it and put it on the text thread. My comment was, “I am in awe!” and I should have said, “That just went way over my head!” Of course, my husband the systems engineer, understood it, and he and Anthony went back and forth discussing it. A few of us made suggestions as to perhaps what Anthony could discover for the practical benefit of humanity some day such as a time machine, a teleportation machine, and a self-cleaning house. The cutest response was from twelve-year-old, Josie, Anthony’s sister and the tween on the trip. She piped in with, “2 x 2=4,” which was probably the most clever contribution any of the rest of us could make.
All these facts and figures have caused me to think about the One who has had them perfectly calculated and solved before time began. In fact, God is the one who came up with it all! He knows exactly what position the planets, sun, moon, and stars need to be to keep them in perfect alignment and in working order. He does the same for the human body, for all of the plant and animal kingdom, bodies of water, and the earth’s landmasses. He keeps the air at the exact proportion of the correct gasses to sustain life here. Even beyond Anthony’s understanding of the intellectual equation, God is the one who brought it into being, and his intelligence and knowledge are mind-boggling!
Under severe testing, by God’s permission but by Satan’s actions, compounded by the merciless judgment of his friends, Job, a righteous man, wonders why he is enduring such difficult trials. He hears from the Lord out of a whirlwind, and God lays out the facts about his intricate involvement in every facet of creation and his sustainment of it. “‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’” “‘Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?’” (Job 38:4–7, 18–20, ESV). God further gave information about his knowledge and control over the animal kingdom, the oceans, the heavens, life and death. God helped Job understand his greatness and how there is nothing that escapes his view and nothing that he can’t accomplish.
I am still in awe of Anthony’s ability to understand and share that equation, as I am in awe of all the wonderful gifts and talents my grandchildren possess. (Isn’t every grandmother?) But I am so much more in awe of the God who brought all the facts and figures and numbers into being and who continues to hold everything together. It has led me to the conclusion that the greatest number-related statement is contained in a prayer in the book of Psalms: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, ESV). Let’s live each of our days wisely, loving and serving the Lord and each other. In God’s perspective, that is the equation for optimal living.
Wind, Sand, and God’s Hand
I was so blessed to be heading to my daughter’s home in West Texas for the birth of another grandbaby, Katie’s second child. She lives just far enough away from me that I had made an overnight stop at a hotel so I only had a little over three hours of travel on the second day. I didn’t rush that morning – I was taking the last few hours to bank my energy to meet the needs of my daughter’s household for the next few weeks. Katie’s final month of pregnancy had been difficult for her, and with an active two-year-old and the birth of the baby seeming imminent, I knew I needed to have some extra strength to take on this temporary live-in role.
The wind was blowing steadily when I left my waypoint on day two, but it wasn’t causing any particular problems. I made a rest stop about an hour after I started, but because I thought that gas prices might be better further into the trip and the gauge indicated I would be fine for a while, I elected to move on. It wasn’t long after that the wind more than doubled in velocity, and of course, I was in very flat terrain driving past acres of dirt with no noticeable vegetation. It didn’t take long for visibility to be limited to just a few feet in front of my car. There were times when I couldn’t see to determine if I was actually in the correct lane. I significantly slowed down, and I put on my flashers praying I would avoid an accident. The word “haboob,” a severe desert sandstorm, had entered my mind. Apparently this was not that particular weather phenomenon, but you could have fooled me. It was in the thick of the storm that my car began to lurch and then took to just creeping along the road. Before my car stopped moving altogether, I did pull over onto the small shoulder. When I came to a full stop, I was barely off the road, and I was again concerned that a car could easily run into me. I called my husband and my daughter, and we guessed that between a malfunctioning gas gauge and the dirt and dryness of the storm, I was now out of gas.
Along with wind and sand, the outside temperature was hot, and of course, I could not open windows, which caused me to sweat profusely and feel light-headed and slightly ill. I did step outside the car for a moment, but it was like being hit by a sandblaster, and I quickly got back in. I had water to drink, but the more sips I had, the more I could feel the need for a restroom. I began to pray, and I asked God to be with me and to help me in this situation. I thanked him for his care, and I sang a little praise song. My daughter had tried contacting local authorities and my husband the insurance company for roadside assistance, but the police could not find me and roadside assistance was going to take quite a while to get there. Because I couldn’t charge my phone, I was concerned that the battery would run down and I would be unable to stay connected with family. I began to feel somewhat disoriented, and I continued to ask the Lord for his assistance.
It was then that I was able to see a pick-up truck on the opposite side of the road, which slowed down and stopped directly across from me. The man inside weathered the biting sand to come over and ask how he could help. I had to open the door to talk, and through gritty teeth and the competing wind I shouted out that though my gauge was not indicating that I was empty, I was pretty sure I was out of gas. I told him that I was waiting for someone from either an area law enforcement agency or my insurance company to help me get some gasoline. At that point, the man said he had a five-gallon container of gas in his truck and that he would be glad to fill me up to get me back on the road. After putting the gas in my tank, he actually followed me to a station in the next town about eight miles up the road. His name was Dean, and I told him he was an answer to prayer, an angel if you will. After thanking him profusely and offering him some cash to refill his container, he left and I was able to get back on the road to head to Katie’s. One week later our precious grandson was born, and I had a busy yet wonderful time being a hands-on grandma to Jordyn and little Caden, and hopefully a blessing to my daughter and her husband as well.
Though we often do not know the when, where, or why of our challenges, we can absolutely know the who intervening in our circumstances. I have no doubt that God’s hand was never far away and that he was aware of each part of the scenario that played out that day even before it occurred. He was at the ready to care for me and answer my prayers for help in his perfect timing. The prophet Daniel was in great need of answers as he mourned and mulled over the difficulties being faced by his people. He had an encounter with a heavenly visitor and he was very afraid, but the man said to him, “‘O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.’ And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words’” (Daniel 10:11b-12, ESV). The angel went on to explain to Daniel that his delay was due to a spiritual battle, but it is clear that the Lord regarded the cry of Daniel’s heart, and he sent his messenger to minister to Daniel’s crucial need.
Psalm 121 speaks about God’s care and how he continues to watch over us. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:1-8, ESV).
Those are such words of comfort and peace for God’s people! Rest assured that God is watching over you in all the situations you face. The storms of life, as biting as they may be, never catch him off guard. He is there with the answers to “uphold you with his righteous right hand” always. (from Isaiah 41:10, ESV).
A couple months ago in the midst of running errands I remembered I needed a coffee shop gift card. The shop was nearby and the route easy. When there, I made the purchase, and as I was heading toward the door, a young man and woman stepped inside. In an instant I recognized them: he had been in my son’s church youth group years before, was good friends with my youngest daughter, and my husband and I had actually attended this young couple’s wedding a year and a few months earlier. We exchanged warm hugs and greetings and chatted for a few minutes. I hadn’t realized they had moved out of state, and though it was obvious at a glance, I did not know before this encounter that they were expecting their first child.
Because they had grown up in church with Nathan, I knew both of my daughters would be interested in the exciting news. I called my youngest daughter, Katie, and then I texted Kelley to share the information. I sent that message on a Friday evening. Being a pastor’s wife, weekends are often very busy for her, so I wasn’t necessarily expecting a reply. Neither was I expecting the response I received on Monday. “She’s fixed!” read the words on the screen, to which I replied, “Huh?” I was pretty sure Kelley didn’t know Nathan’s wife personally at all let alone enough to be made aware of any intimate problems she might have faced. Shortly after, a new text arrived with a picture of my daughter’s doll from when she was a very little girl. A few years after Kelley had been given her special dolly, my son was playing around with it and tore off the arm. I had tried to fix it myself, and when Kelley got older, I dressed it in a cute outfit and gave it to her as a memento of her childhood. Just recently someone offered to fully mend the doll, and Kelley wanted me to see a picture, which she did not attach to the original text. Though she had read the message about Nathan and his wife, she had totally forgotten about it and started a whole new conversation. It took a couple texts back and forth for us both to realize what had happened. Now at the point of understanding, Kelley sent a startled Emoji, a crazy Emoji, and one expressing tumultuous laughter to state that she could only imagine how confusing her texting response to Nathan’s news had been.
It seems that messages can sometimes be misinterpreted for whatever reason. Even those that are clear and well expressed are not always received as the message-bearer intended. Jesus had that experience often. One message that stands out in particular was his forewarning that he would be cruelly mistreated, put to death, and then be raised on the third day. It is recorded in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and all three books reveal that he made the statement more than once to his disciples. The following Scripture is the third recorded account in the Book of Luke regarding Jesus’ prophecy about himself: “And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:31-34, ESV). The disciples’ misunderstanding is confirmed in several passages containing Jesus’ message to them. In fact, in both Matthew 16:21-23 and Mark 8:31-33, Peter, the man who was Jesus’ closest friend, rebuked the Lord when Jesus shared his destiny. Clearly, no matter how many times Jesus tried to give them a heads up on his impending future, no one, not even his disciples “got it,” when he was in their midst.
It was Jesus’ mission to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, ESV). His death occurred during Passover, which tied his sacrifice to God’s mandate to the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood on the two doorposts and lintel of each Israelite house so that the Death Angel would pass over the marked houses and spare those inside. On that same night, the Egyptians suffered the loss of every firstborn male of both man and beast among them. Though the scourge of death had threatened all people since the fall of man, the blood sacrifice instituted at that first Passover was God’s redeeming answer for man’s sin problem. However, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4, ESV). According to the verse just prior to that one, the continual sacrifices just served as a reminder of sins each time they were offered. But, “[Jesus, Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:26b-28, ESV).
Praise the Lord that finally after his resurrection, by the power and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples finally understood (all except his betrayer, Judas Iscariot) that Jesus had to die in order to give people the gift of eternal life. And because they understood, they have in turn passed that message on to all of us. Jesus took our sins to the cross, and the sting of eternal death has been transformed into the blessing of eternal life for those who believe and receive the gift of salvation. This is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and the essence of the Easter message. May God bless you with a deeper understanding of that message as you remember his death and celebrate his resurrection. Happy Resurrection Sunday!
Love in Word and Deed
Eddie and Millie met stateside after Eddie served in the U.S. Army during WWII. As did so many young people in the post-war era, they fell in love and were married in August 1946. They lived modestly, yet happily as they began to build their life together. Millie had resided at home until marriage in her mid-twenties, and she was very close to her mother. When her mom became ill and consequently passed away less than six months into the marriage, Millie became sick as well. Though at first it seemed like she had caught a cold that was just not going away, in time it was discovered that she had contracted tuberculosis, a very serious, often deadly disease. Over the next five years, Millie and Eddie’s lives revolved around lengthy hospital stays, chest x-rays and continuous exams, endless medication, and of course, separation from each other. Eddie remained faithful to Millie, visiting her as often as possible while holding down his full time job. Eventually the tuberculosis was arrested, and Millie was allowed to go home. Forever after she was breathing on only one lung, the other having been collapsed. It was fairly doubtful that the couple would ever have children, but much to their delight, they were able to have their first child, a daughter, in February 1955. A son was born about two and a half years later.
You may have already guessed, but Eddie and Millie were my parents. I’m sharing their story because it vividly highlights love and faithfulness in a marriage, particularly on the part of my dad. From the beginning of their trial all the way through their time together, Dad was attentive to and physically cared for Mom. It is my understanding that when I was a newborn and needed bottles and settling in the middle of the night, it was my dad that would get up and walk the floor with me, even though he had to wake up early to head for work. Mom was the cook and a very good and appreciated one at that, but Dad was the “bottle washer,” doing the dishes every night after dinner and then spear-heading the effort when my brother and I were old enough to pitch in. On Saturdays, he cleaned the house. On vacation days he did the laundry. He ironed our clothes. He provided all the transportation for the family because my mom did not ever drive a car. He took her shopping, to weekly doctor visits, and to gatherings and special events. I never heard him complain about any of it. However, Dad was not always the conveyor of tactful speech. Dad did love Mom’s cooking, for the most part. There were a few things Dad learned to loathe when they were served as a part of rations in the Army. As a result, when Mom offered him some apple pie she had lovingly taken the time to make, Dad said, “Yeah. I’ll take a piece of that junk.” I believe that Mom did not speak to him for a week! Still, there was no doubt that Mom knew she was loved as demonstrated by my father’s actions performed every single day.
God is a God of love in both word and deed. He definitively expresses his love with words. Even when his people turned their backs on him, he continued to communicate his love. In a time when the Israelites were exiled and were also living far apart from God in their hearts, God spoke to them through his prophet Jeremiah: “‘At that time, declares the LORD, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.’ Thus says the LORD: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you’” (Jeremiah 31:1-3, ESV). And Jesus told his disciples, “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16: 27, ESV). God spoke the above words to Jeremiah the prophet to share with his people, and Jesus spoke the words from John to his followers. Now we have them in written form in the Bible so we know the love that God has for us.
It is also very clear that God is a God of love as evidenced by action. So many times in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, the declaration of his love is accompanied by the word “faithfulness.” One need only look in the Psalms to see this pair of descriptive words often. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10, ESV). “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5, ESV). “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15, ESV). God’s love was wrapped up with faithfulness as shown by his deeds. He always afforded his presence, provision, and protection to his people. Of course, his greatest act of love and faithfulness was when he sent his Son, Jesus, to take our sins to the cross to save us and grant us eternal life. The key Scripture of the Christian faith expresses this act of love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).
God desires that just as he does, we would show our love for others by what we say and by what we do. We see encouragement for grace-filled speech in the Proverbs: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, ESV). The right words at the right time can be a tremendous blessing to the one who listens to them. We also find these words in the Book of Ephesians, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV). Words are powerful, whether they are helpful or hurtful, and God expects us to choose to show love through words that build up and encourage. But, we can’t just say, “I love you,” without accompanying actions. We find in 1 John 3:16-18, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” If we are to truly follow the Lord’s will for us, we must learn how to speak in a way that is appropriate for a person of faith, and we must pair those words with actions that show a deep love for those around us.
I am truly thankful for the legacy and example my dad left me as to what it means to really love another. Though his words were perhaps careless at times, I can forgive him (and I know my mom did too) because as the old cliché states, “Actions speak louder than words.” Still, it is my desire to honor the Lord by following his example to love in both word and deed. His Word demands nothing less!
The story of its creation and promotion has several variations and differing nuances. The length of its rise to fame spans decades; its influence has continued for two hundred years. Not only is it known throughout Christendom, but also it is likely recognized and employed during the holidays by even those who have not come to faith in Christ. What, might you ask, would have such an enormous impact on humanity save for the Word of God itself? It is the beloved carol sung and played throughout the Christmas season, Silent Night.
This year is the 200th Anniversary of the musical composition and inaugural performance of the song known for its beautifully simple lyrics and melody. An authentic score was found in 1995 pinpointing the date of Mohr’s original writing as being in 1816. Tales abound as to the reason this carol was written, as well as about the circumstances of its employ. A faulty organ at St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Austria is often given as the reason for Mohr’s request that the song be accompanied by guitar. Some credit ravenous mice for the problem, believing they damaged the organ’s bellows. No matter. When Father Joseph Mohr passed on the lyrics to organist, Franz Gruber, his request was for the stringed instrument, two voices, and a choir to bring the first sounds of this tender carol to the listeners’ ears. And so it was that Franz Gruber created an accompaniment and fashioned a melody that along with Joseph Mohr’s poem has touched the hearts and lives of people ever since.
As I think back to the night about which Silent Night is written, the birth of our precious Lord and Savior in a lowly stable, I wonder just how silent a night like that could be. Wouldn’t there have been a lot of hustle and bustle around a young mother about to give birth in such an unlikely place? Could the animal occupants, perhaps shooed and unsettled from their regular stalls, hold back their moos, baas, bleats, and other utterances that would normally be heard among them? And what about Mary herself, a young lady having her first child? Would she have delivered without a sound or a cry as she brought forth that baby boy? Though the Word itself is silent on the probable ambient noise surrounding the birth of the infant King, it is not hard to imagine that the awe and wonder of his arrival was met with a holy silence all around as his presence dawned on our fallen world. The Savior, the promise and hope that all mankind so desperately needed, captivated his mother, his earthly father, the animals surrounding him, and the shepherds who came to worship him, and the earth held its collective breath. The same awe and wonder must have captivated Father Mohr as he penned his apt lyrics.
And what about us? How silent is our reception for the Savior of the world? Our lives are most likely filled with parties, plays and concerts, shopping days, baking and cooking, visiting and being visited. We barely have room to breathe let alone make room for an uninterrupted audience with him. The title of the song in its original German language is Stille Nacht. In English, “Stille” can be translated silent, but also quiet, peaceful, calm, and of course, still. How often do we take the time to just be still before the Lord? His Word does encourage us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, ESV). It is only in the still moments that we can truly reflect on who he is and what his coming means to us and to the world. It is only in the realm of silence that we become aware of the awe and wonder experienced by those who were first in his presence, and we can then become captivated with the One and Only Son of God sent into our world to save us. Can you take some time to be still to focus on his coming this Christmas season?“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12, ESV).
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin mother and Child;
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace. – Father Joseph Mohr
World’s Best Loved Carol
The Story Behind Silent Night
History of the Song