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!
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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!
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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?
Click the Music Box
“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).
Music Box from the Silent Night Chapel
in Oberndorf, Austria
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
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No Small Prayers
I have just spent an incredible seven weeks with my daughter and her family. My primary purpose for the visit was the birth of Kelley’s fourth child, another beautiful little lady who came safely and wonderfully into the world. Not only was I in attendance at the birth, little Abigail made her appearance with only her mom, dad, her eldest sister, and me to welcome her here. The midwife was two hours away at the time, and remaining in contact with her by cell phone, though the connection was at times spotty, my son-in-law and I assisted my daughter with Abigail’s delivery, quite the experience to be sure! In the midst there were prayers asking Jesus to ensure both Kelley’s and Abby’s health and safety. As always, God showed his faithfulness to us, and we are so grateful to him for his love and care over us all.
Though the miracle of my granddaughter’s birth was obviously the highlight of my time with my family, there is something else that has had a great impact. The family had just moved to their present home earlier in the summer because Kelley’s husband, Michael, took a new position in a brand new area. Though their new house was comfortably arranged, there were still some things that hadn’t quite found their place. In this environment, normally readily available and necessary items can tend to disappear. Add a brand new baby and three active young girls, and missing things become the norm.
For about a week we were looking for a Kindle that holds homeschool information, key when the school year is about to begin. We seriously turned the house inside out and upside down to search for the lost tablet. With an eleventh hour push to find it, I finally said to my granddaughter, “Libby, I think we need to pray,” which we did. I am not exaggerating: within minutes the lost Kindle was found behind a microwave that had been recently moved onto the kitchen counter. Had it not been an answer to prayer, I would have said that it was a fluke that I even looked behind it. With much excitement we thanked our gracious God for immediately answering our request.
From that point on, Libby was quick to say, “Nonnie, we should pray,” whenever there was any kind of need. Along with petitions for the Lord’s help when something could not be found, there were prayers for healing, traveling safety, and success at school. In each case, God graciously responded very quickly to our request, a testament to his genuine interest and care for every detail of our lives. Can you imagine what a faith-building experience this was for six-year-old Libby? We adults certainly benefited as well.
It is really such a shame that prayer is often a last resort rather than our first response when there is a concern. We tend to initially exhaust all the inadequate resources we believe we have at our disposal and hold out until we’re desperate and/or totally frustrated before we pray. When we do so, we rob ourselves in so many ways. Primarily we forfeit peace, not just the world’s standard of peace, but God’s peace that fully calms the heart. Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV) tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”. We totally miss out on an opportunity to witness God’s power and grace. The Word tells us in James, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b, ESV). The most obvious loss we bear when we hesitate to turn to God in prayer is his perfect answer for our problem. King Asa in the Bible is a heartbreaking example of what happens when we fail to pray. After a great beginning to his reign and many years of following the Lord, Asa began relying on natural solutions for his troubles rather than turning to God. He made a covenant with the worldly king of Syria, giving him all the silver and gold from the treasuries of the Lord’s house as a means of protection from invasion by Israel’s King Baasha. Here is the final recorded incident regarding Asa’s life: “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign”
(2 Chronicles 16:12-13, ESV). Though it cannot be said that Asa would have lived if he prayed and trusted God, he would have felt God’s grace and peace as he departed this world.
One thing I want to be sure to avoid here is trivializing prayer and God’s response to our petitions. There are times and circumstances when we pray hard and often over things both small and great, and we don’t see answers to those requests. God can feel so far away, and we wonder if he’s listening. We question his intentions, and we head toward an attitude of doubt and fear. We can easily forget that though we may be enduring a painful situation, God is at work on our behalf and may be orchestrating something bigger and better that we cannot fully appreciate or comprehend. When our prayers do not seem to be powerful and effective, remember Jesus’ words found in Luke 18 (ESV). “And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘“Though I neither fear God nor respect man yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’”
Continue to pray about everything. Through your communication with him, seek God’s peace and grace in all situations. And remember, there are no small prayers in the eyes of our very big God!
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A Crazy Day; God’s Amazing Ways
It was one of those days. Actually, it was one of those weeks! We had just returned home at the end of our springtime conference schedule. We have four children: three of the four were moving/preparing a house for sale, and in some way we were helping all three. Mind you, they were not just doing these activities in the same month, but in the same week, and technically the same day! Did I mention that they live in various parts of the country, meaning our trek took us coast-to-coast? If I went into great detail, this blessings blog could easily become a book, but yes, amidst our conference travels we were packing, painting, hauling, and babysitting for both human and furry babies throughout the month.
So on this crazy day when I felt rather spent, I had work at home that needed attention along with continued refinement on our CD3 curriculum and the CD4 project. I was trying to catch up with laundry, painting clothes included. I had checked all the pockets – no tissues, gum, lip balm, or various other small objects that can often be carried in them. I started the laundry and headed to the kitchen, which is adjacent to the laundry room. The two furry babies now staying with us were in need of water, and because I was in a hurry I grabbed a pitcher and poured from maybe a distance of eight inches above the bowl; okay, maybe it was twelve. I was never a physics buff, but as I poured, Newton’s third law of motion immediately popped into my mind, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” And there it was, a geyser-like shot in the air that caused a huge puddle of water, soaking the plastic dog mat and slowly flooding across the floor. Having shared my watering can woes in the last blog, I used the lesson learned from that experience and took care of the situation: I applied a couple old towels to the trouble spot, wiped the mat and the dog bowl, and poured the next “round” very slowly and carefully right at the rim.
Meanwhile back in the laundry room, my washing machine sang its tune to let me know the wash was done. (It really does sing – I decided recently that the tune is some version of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Appropriate!) So, I unloaded all the clothes into the dryer, but before I started the drying process I noticed I had a small, light blotch of color on my wrist and on the last item I was going to put in the dryer. Oh, no! It looked like it could be ink. I’ve dealt with that hassle before, and I did not have the desire or the time to take up the challenge again. So, I removed all the clothes from the dryer and examined them one by one, patting down pockets and checking for ink stains on any other clothing. I found nothing, and there was nothing in the dryer or the washer, so I loaded it all back in the drum, shut the door, chose a cycle, and pushed the start button. Though I was grateful that everything looked fine, I felt robbed of more time than I cared to lose.
When my dryer sang out the same “I’m finished” tune, I went to retrieve all my nice, clean laundry. Not! I pulled out a shirt with several light ink blotches on it, followed by another, and another. Some clothes weren’t touched at all, ironically, the pants I wore for painting included. But, one item, the culprit that had likely held what turned out to be an offending pen, took the brunt of the assault. My husband’s olive green cargo shorts, which sported a logo of his former company, were stained beyond help. How they had concealed a pen so well I will never know, but they are now relegated to the pile of clothes used for such things as painting. The last thing I picked up out of the dryer was the writing implement turned weapon, and as I did so I noticed that the inside of the dryer had not escaped the ink battle. It certainly gave new meaning to the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Having to add the dryer to the list of items that now needed cleaning, I just wanted to cry! These words from CD4, uttered by our little instrument character Dilly Dissonance who is exasperated by his brothers’ negative activities around town, came to mind: “Everything’s going…wrong!”
Life can seem like that, and I’m sure you, dear reader, are no stranger to it. In fact, some of you have endured so much more, that my challenging account is trivial. In our story, Dilly’s encounters with his
friends in Symphony City allow him to see that there is a heavenly Father who cares about every little thing happening in our lives. Not only does he care, he is actively working in ways that we often cannot see to bring help and relief from the circumstances that threaten to, at the very least, rob us of our joy and take us away from truly important things we need to accomplish.
The Bible holds the stories of many people who in spite of their relationship with the Lord could make the same claim as our CD’s Dilly. Noah, Joseph, Moses, King David, and the prophet Elijah are all Old Testament figures that come to mind. Then in the New Testament after Jesus had already lived, died, and rose again, the apostle Paul had his own share of heartache. He wrote to the church in Corinth, “ “I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-27, ESV). Wow, Paul, if anyone would have the right to shout “Everything’s going…wrong!” it’s you! But Paul chose a better way: he prayed and trusted God in every circumstance, and he was so confident that God was in control of every situation, he wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Even when he didn’t see the results he might have hoped for, in communion with the Lord Paul penned these words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (Romans 12:9, ESV). Somehow through his goodness, power, and great love for us, God can take the tragic and turn it into a triumph; he can even make that which is awful into something amazing!
So, in the midst of my difficult morning, finally, I prayed and asked the Lord to help me. And he did! I was able to remove most of the troublesome ink from the stained clothes (minus the shorts) and the dryer drum in less time than I imagined, and I was able to dive back into the CD work that needed to be finished. I hope that you too will be able to pray and trust the Lord even while enduring hardship. It may not remove you from the difficult situation, but it will allow you to go through it with grace, peace, and endurance that only God can provide. May you find God’s grace to be sufficient in all of your challenges and trials so that you can proclaim that he is working all things for good because you are called according to his purpose. Pray to him and let him turn a crazy day (week, month, year) into his own amazing ways!
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A Useful Vessel
When we returned home from our winter/spring travels in the end of April, I was delighted to see that my two tulips planted so lovingly with my granddaughter two and a half years ago were between three and four inches high, each sporting a small bud. For those of you who have a green thumb the size of a watermelon, you may wonder why I would even mention two small blooms in a blog. If you have read my writings in the past, you know that growing anything is a task outside of my wheelhouse and beyond my capabilities. Between the often harsh and unexpected weather in Colorado, my inability to keep vegetation of any sort alive, and the bunnies that, despite the dwarf plants I do produce, decide they make tasty meals, trying to raise anything herbaceous is pretty much a fruitless effort. This is why I really was beyond delighted, I was excited to see I had a couple little plant babies to tend to, and I was hoping for full blooms by the time I would head out on my next trip in the end of May.
I have one small watering pitcher in the house, but I remembered having a large watering can somewhere in the garage. If I could fill that and keep it on the porch, I’d be able to quickly water each morning without having to replenish the container each day. I did eventually locate the can, and because I had to pass through the kitchen to get back out to my little floral treasures, I stopped at the kitchen sink to do the filling. I set the watering can on the counter next to the sink, and I used the pull down faucet to fill it. This is a large can, so I was expecting that it might take a little while to get the water near the top. As I was doing this task, I was looking around and thinking about what other things I would need to accomplish since we had been out of our home for a couple months. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized what was occurring on the counter. While the pretty blue watering can had seemed functional, I failed to notice the huge crack in one side about one-third from the bottom. So while water was flowing into the container, it began to pour out, flooding the entire countertop. I fortunately caught the mishap before I had to don wading shoes and a safety vest. Aside from having to sop up all the water, there was actually an upside to this incident: my sink counter hasn’t been so clean!
Several times in the Bible, people who are followers and servants of God are referred to as vessels. According to Romans chapter 9, it is God as the potter who has the right and the control over who we will become and how we can be used in the kingdom. Believers are considered vessels for honorable use and vessels of mercy, which are created for glory, God’s glory. The greatest component of the equation is God: we are nothing without him, and it is only “in him [that] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28 ESV). 2 Timothy 2:20-21 states, “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” We are to strive to be honorable vessels for the Lord’s use. We each are made for a unique purpose and our contributions to the kingdom will be diverse, but one of the problems is that we are all leaky vessels to some degree, not perfect or perfectly useful on our own. It is only as we allow God in to cleanse and refine us that we can become useful vessels to accomplish his purposes here on earth for the good and glory of his kingdom.
I have decided to keep my permeable watering can and actually use it to continue to water my tulips. Yes, the water comes out from the crack in the side, but other than the occasional shoe shower I may receive, the can is doing its job and serving a purpose. Keeping and using it reminds me that while I am a leaky vessel too, I can continue to serve God to the best of my ability, empowered by his Holy Spirit and covered by his grace for the good and glory of his kingdom.
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My sister-in-law and her husband own a cozy home near Lake Ontario in upstate New York. It is an older house, but they have renovated and upgraded throughout their time of habitation. David and Brenda are very welcoming to family and friends hosting many in the spare bedrooms that lay adjacent on the upper level, on couches and floors in their family area, and even at times when company is plenty, in trailers in their backyard.
We have been privileged to stay with them on occasion, sometimes with four kids in tow, sometimes when just the two of us have come for a visit. One of the rooms open to guests is one they have named The Sports Room. Packed onto hanging shelves, in an old cupboard and on other pieces of furniture, and attached to the walls are many souvenirs, pictures, pennants, and other items primarily from David’s favorite sports teams. Neatly organized and visually appealing, this comfortable accommodation is a very interesting and inviting place to stay.
An encompassing term for such a collection is memorabilia. Memorabilia serve as reminders of special events, good times, and interesting information. They are collectibles and can include items that are of value, especially to those who are interested in the particular field or theme of the collection. Those who own such a compilation likely can give facts about most of the objects contained therein including dates and times and all the details of the circumstances surrounding their acquisition.
The root of the word memorabilia is, of course, the word memorable. The Sports Room reminded me of a collection all those who consider themselves believers in Jesus should have. It is not necessarily a physical assortment of keepsakes, but something that is stored in the heart and mind of the Lord’s followers: the recollection of all the great things God has done. The Lord speaks about ”remembering” many times in his Word. The fourth of God’s Ten Commandments instructs the people of Israel to “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… On it you shall not do any work… You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:12a, 14b, 15a, ESV). And further in Deuteronomy, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not… You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is to this day” (Deuteronomy 8:2a-b, 18, ESV). As a response to the safe return of the Ark of the Covenant, David directs all to sing and praise the Lord, writing into song, “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered” (Psalm 105:5, ESV). Isaiah encourages God’s people by stating, “I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Isaiah 63:7, ESV). Remembering helps us to honor God, to walk in his ways, and to direct thanks and praise to him. It recalls how faithful God has been and brings confidence that just as he has held onto us and helped us in the past, he will continue to care and provide for us in the future. A collection of remembrances about what God has done is valuable beyond compare!
A Rose for Nick
The Sports Room may hold even more importance in David and Brenda’s life now. David shared many of his sports experiences with his son, Nick, their only child, who went home to be with the Lord in March. The room serves as a reminder of many special events and good times. Even more important are the memories of all the great things God has done, including the day he reached into Nick’s heart and life and saved him. Recalling and reflecting on God’s faithfulness, goodness, love, and care in the past gives David and Brenda confidence that he will hold on to them and walk them through whatever they face in the future. This collection of remembrances surely is valuable beyond compare.
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The Beauty Shines Through
Though the winters in our area can feature wide-ranging temperatures and nary a flake until the spring, the snow has seemed particularly scarce this year. So when we happened to have a decent snowfall over the weekend, I was drawn to the window to watch the white fluff dance in the air. Enough snow had already fallen to leave significant amounts on the ground, which also meant that there was a sizeable accumulation on those areas that would have to be shoveled away, especially since we were having company later that day. I was admiring the pretty snow-covered evergreens that were in my view and at the same time praying for our family to arrive safely, remaining aware of the possible hazard the roads had become. As all of these thoughts swirled in my head like the flurries outside, a question suddenly popped into my mind: “How could something that can cause heartache be so incredibly beautiful?” When there is snow, accidents can be numerous, in the mountains within hours of us, avalanches occur, and people literally get lost in blowing snow and are overcome with hypothermia due to frigid temperatures. Yet, there is no denying that there is something picturesque and lovely about fresh falling snow. The beauty of this winter wonder shines through.
An hour or so later, there was quite another scene to view. Our local television stations were carrying the memorial service of a fallen hero, a deputy who had lost his life in the line of duty protecting others in an investigation that had turned into a detrimental attack. Though other officers were injured, the swift action of this deputy saved lives, including that of a civilian. At thirty-four years of age, he left behind a wife and two young children, his parents, brothers and sisters, other family and friends, and his fellow officers. As I continued watching the emotional testimonies of representatives of local law enforcement, his family and the pastor along with the ceremonial protocol, my mind formed a new question, “Where is the beauty in this, Lord?” The Lord allowed a swift answer: this deputy was a believer, and the beauty was the testimony and legacy he had left for his wife, his children and all who had the blessing of attending and viewing his memorial. Wonderful, personal stories were shared about his fun and quirky personality, his determination, devotion, and commitment to his chosen profession, and his thriving, vibrant and constant love for and trust in his God. We joined thousands of people who lined his procession route in the bitter weather holding signs and waving flags to affirm his heroism and honor his bravery. Though certainly there was, is, and will be heartache for those whom he loved and who loved him, Jesus is using his loss to reach out and touch others with the truth of the Gospel. The beauty of a life well lived shines through.
My present Bible reading is nearing the end of the Gospel of Matthew. It is always hard for me to read the end of each of the Gospels. They show the ugly side of man and the heartache that accompanied the arrest, trial, contemptible treatment, and crucifixion of Jesus. My heart wants to cry out, “Where is the beauty, Lord?” But, his response is swift and sure: “My child, you are the beauty that has come from the heartache I endured on the cross. For it is in my death and resurrection that you have eternal life. You will be with me forever, you and all who trust in me for salvation.” His scars will always be there to remind us of the anguish he endured for us, but the beauty of his selfless act of love and grace will forever shine through!
“On that day the Lord their God will save them as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty,” (Zechariah 9:16-17, ESV).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We want to thank Deputy Micah Flick and his family for the incredible service he provided to our community. He is a hero whom we will continue to hold in our hearts. We are praying for his family and for those with whom he served.
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When I was two years old I spent a fair amount of time in the vicinity of a television, particularly because there was only one room in which we could congregate. Due to the fairly unremarkable shows back in those days, I would spend my time playing with my toys with the black and white screen as my background. There were, however, two exceptions: commercials that featured catchy jingles and The Mickey Mouse Club. As young as I was, I learned the theme song quickly and happily sang my own version – “M-I-C-‘CAKEY’- Y-M-O-U-S-E.” I believe I became the resident entertainer, at least during that particular moment in my life.
As so many families in the sixties, we continued our fascination with Disney watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. They were truly family-oriented shows with good messages that made us laugh and cry as we enjoyed them together. There was something magical and compelling about being whisked away to other times and places and joining in on exciting adventures without stepping out of your home. Somewhere in the midst of these years, I learned about Disneyland. At one point there was a coloring contest in which the grand prize was an all-expense paid vacation to the California park. Traveling distance was not in my parents’ wheelhouse, and so I really wanted to win that trip. But, my coloring skills not being as appealing as my childhood vocal ability, I did not get to go to Disneyland, but…
As fate would have it, we wound up living in Florida where we visited the Disney Magic Kingdom and the Disney MGM Studios Parks many times. (I also eventually got to go to my beloved Disneyland in California!) Attending a Disney Theme Park is truly a celebration! One place that we missed out on, however, was Epcot Center, Walt Disney’s “Experimental Prototype Community of the Future.” Walt’s original vision was to actually create a futuristic city, and the park’s initial offerings were tailored to the interests of adults.
We just had the blessing of visiting Epcot at the beginning of December 2017. With time and technology, many things have changed and displays and experimental presentations have been turned into rides and video games. Still, it was very educational and entertaining and well worth our trip and the cost. As I looked around and considered the imagination, creativity, and skill it has taken to design and build such a place of amusement, this one thought entered my mind, “All because a man could draw a mouse.” Everything in the Disney Parks has its origins in the work of an animator. Though Walt Disney himself had many more creative ideas and ventures, I wondered if he realized the direction his empire would take and all the technology that would come into being to make his dream a reality. Were his reasons for all that he accomplished selfless, or largely driven by the benefits for him and his progeny?
Motive aside, Disney’s ingenuity falls far short of a supremely creative being: our Creator God. One can find passages all throughout his Word that speak about his creativity. In fact, the very beginning, the very end and even the middle of the Bible relate the wonders of his works. In the book of Genesis we see how he created the world out of nothing, forming the water, the sky, and the land, night and day, light and darkness, and populating the world with creatures in each element. Psalm 104 is replete with descriptions of all that God did in creation and his ongoing work. Revelation contains a great summary of God’s creative power, stating, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” (Revelation 5:11, ESV).
At this time of year we focus on the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and how God sent him into the world to bring atonement for the sin of mankind. It was completely selfless for God to give his perfect Son as a sacrifice for us. While a man can imagine the direction of his future, God knew the future from before time began. It was “all because God could…” that he did the only thing that would save us. Everything he has given us and has done for us has its origins in who he is: a good, loving gracious and merciful God. Creative, yes, but genuinely altruistic as he watches over us, his most prized creation.
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In the Clouds
Cloud technology allows users to access computer stored information on a hi-tech device from anywhere in the world. Though I know I’ve used it from time to time, I also know that I really do not understand much about it, nor could I explain it to an inquiring soul. There is no visible evidence of what is happening as it is working, but the speed of data transfer is instantaneous and the results can be seen on screens of all sizes and types when the information is accessed. For me, it is aptly named, as the concept is just as far above my head as the clouds are in the sky. Kudos to the creators at Apple for this twenty-first century wonder.
Returning home from the studio late one evening, I happened to look up to view a cloud pattern that I have not often seen. Set against the light of the moon, these altocumulus clouds reminded me of another wonder. One day Jesus is going to return in the clouds, and not only that, those who have trusted in Him as Savior and Lord will rise to meet Him up in those clouds! This transfer will be instantaneous, but unlike Cloud technology, there will be a visible manifestation of the experience – we will see the magnificence of Jesus as we look into His beautiful face. The Apostle Paul explained it this way in his first book to the Thessalonians: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words,” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (ESV).
I do not often have significant dreams, but back in the early nineties I had an incredible dream that I will likely never forget. I dreamt about the rapture, and I remember looking at clouds in the sky and effortlessly being lifted upwards knowing that I was going to meet Jesus. Though I woke up before encountering the Lord, in the midst I felt perfect peace, all-encompassing love, and I realized that I had absolute knowledge of everything there is to know. For days I could think back on the dream and re-experience the accompanying exhilaration. The real event will be spectacular as all believers head toward the clouds to meet Jesus and live with him forever.
As awesome as technology has become, nothing will ever touch the power, imagination, and creativity of our God. Though I may access information that is mysteriously hanging around in a cloud, I look forward with great anticipation to a real trip to the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. It is an amazing thought that the God of the universe who is as far above me as the clouds are in the sky has made a way for this meeting. All praise to The Creator for this eternal wonder!
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