Selfless Fruit

IMG_7869-300x225.jpgSeveral weeks ago I was reading Matthew’s account of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. As I contemplated his great sacrifice and the eventual victory he experienced, my thoughts brought me to Jesus’ forty-day temptation in the wilderness. The report in the book of Mark indicates that it is likely the devil sought to tempt Jesus to sin in various ways and many times more than what is written in Matthew and Luke. The three instances recorded in those books reveal temptations regarding provision, position, and power. In each case, Jesus used Scripture to combat the wiles of Satan. It occurred to me that when Jesus resisted the enemy, he exhibited two important virtues – self-control and patience. He was willing to wait on his Father’s timing in the short-term to satisfy his hunger, and for a much longer period to inherit his kingdom and to wield the authority that accompanied his rightful role. He took no shortcuts, he did not claim entitlements, nor did he push his way through to a place of ease and adulation (though legions of ministering angels were always at his disposal – from Matthew 26:53). Jesus manifested patience throughout his life and ministry, taking a much longer and harder road to the cross. His selfless act made it possible for his Father’s perfect plans to be fulfilled.
As we navigate through challenges that certainly could be characterized as those of biblical proportions, tremendous opportunities are open to believers to live out our faith in new and interesting ways. As we open our hearts fully to the workings of the Holy Spirit, we can show the same virtues that Jesus did to those around us – our children, our parents, co-workers, neighbors, and friends, even while keeping social distancing in mind. In the book of Galatians these virtues are called “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23a, ESV). Along with patience and self-control, the characteristics of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness are listed. These all testify to a genuine faith in the Lord and a willingness to yield to his ways and promote his values and principles to the world.
In the first of a series of pamphlets entitled “The American Crisis” Thomas Paine, a British-born political philosopher turned American and supporter of American independence, wrote in the midst of the revolutionary war era in 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” While some of his philosophical writings are not in line with Christian doctrine, presently, we can relate to that particular statement. It is hard to live through such a time when there is so much sickness and death, businesses folding, and financial hardship in millions of households. Perhaps most heartbreaking are the accounts of people who are either ignoring authority, taking advantage of others’ needs, or willingly sacrificing civility, displaying concern only for themselves. These “works of the flesh” have been evident since Adam’s fall from grace. God desires that we his people show others the best of who he is through attitudes and actions that are counter to human nature and in line with his character. It comes down to a simple choice: selfishness vs. selflessness. Through the Holy Spirit at work in us we can be patient and self-controlled in the midst of trial as well as demonstrate true love, joy, peace, and the other fruit of the Spirit in ways big and small.
A couple weeks ago before stay-at-home procedures became the mandated norm in her state, my daughter, Katie, was at a store with her little girl. As she waited in line, a mother near her gave her young son four quarters and told him it was all he could have to get a little squishy ball from the adjacent vending machine for himself and for his little brother. My three-year-old granddaughter, not wanting to be left out of the procurement of such a valuable treasure, began to express her desire to get one too. Mama held her ground as Jordyn gave way to her emotions over the thought of leaving the store without a ball. Obviously seeing her distress, the little boy turned around to my daughter and asked, “Can I give her mine?” Not wanting to steal his joy and with tears in her eyes, Katie allowed Jordyn to receive the precious gift. This small act of kindness speaks volumes in a world that often encourages a “take what you can” mentality. As we go through what may be the biggest crisis of our lives, let’s pray that God will allow his Spirit to rise up in us so we can be more like his Son and like that little boy. May the fruit of the Spirit be so evident in each of our lives allowing selflessness to triumph over selfishness, and we will open the door for the perfect plans of the Lord to be fulfilled. “Now the works of the flesh are evident… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:19a, 22-23, ESV).
We pray you had a very blessed Easter. In spite of the times, “He has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6b, ESV) and that gives us cause to celebrate no matter what is happening around us.
Resource:
Thomas Paine,The American Crisis, Wikipedia, edited update: April 11, 2020, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
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The Heart of Communication

IMG_7757-300x225.jpgIt is no secret that in this world filled with technology, we living in relative prosperity have become attached AND distracted by said technology. As I am writing in a busy airport terminal, in row after row of passengers I see screens of every type. Viewing cell phones, e-readers, and tablets, very few people are engaged in conversation with each other, though I will say there is a din (travelers likely in momentary discussions over seat assignments, delays, or where to find a good cup of coffee). It is apparent that while we may be sitting within spitting distance of family and friends, let alone people with whom we are unfamiliar, people in general, and particularly this younger generation, are more likely to have Herculean-strength thumbs from tapping a cell phone all day than they are able to engage in meaningful conversation for more than a nanosecond (likely to ask if they can plug into a shared outlet). It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway—what a changed world we live in! Yes, I know that in many ways there are benefits and betterments. But there are also many things we are losing due to the technological advances society has made, especially in the last fifty years.
I have a fond memory of a fourth grade unit we did in school. It was a series of lessons on the telephone. The telephone booklet, which I have saved in a scrapbook of school memorabilia, walked us fourth graders through the mechanics of the telephone including how to dial, the proper way to speak into the receiver, information and emergency calls, and use of a phone book to find both personal and business numbers. Among the pertinent information are several pages on telephone manners. It was definitely something we practiced. With two telephones in the room, each classmate had likely more than one opportunity to participate in a polite exchange. Among the booklet’s phrases are recommendations for passing on a message to another household member, letting the caller know that the intended recipient of the call will soon be available, apologizing for making a call to a wrong number, and kindly responding to someone who has made the wrong-number call. It is also interesting to see that proper phone etiquette includes hanging up the phone gently so as not to cause a banging noise in the caller’s ear.
If you and/or your children were scratching your heads throughout most of the last paragraph, let’s move into the twenty-first century. We, of course, largely communicate through the devices mentioned in the first paragraph. I’m fairly certain that schools do not teach a unit on a proper way to make calls and converse on the cell. Nor is there some sort of tutorial on polite messaging of any kind. We have largely moved away from verbal (deep) conversation on a device, and we especially lack the skills to do so face-to-face. Probably one of the oddest practices is to see people texting each other not only in the same building, but in the same room! Their messages are not only concise, but they can be downright cryptic! “BTW,” “TY,” “RTN,” “K,” and the ever-popular “LOL” are all a part of accepted text conversation. Alexander Graham Bell invented the original telephone in 1876, and he is either gleeful about the advance of his invention, or he is turning somersaults in his grave at the loss of true, heartfelt communication among members of the human race.
As with all matters, it is important to look into God’s Word to see what he has to say about communication and connection. First of all, God invites us into the most intimate relationship with him, calling us his children and making himself known as God the Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, ESV). He has opened an avenue of communication with him through prayer. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5b-6, ESV). His desire is that we spend time with him just as Jesus modeled many times. “In these days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, ESV). It is clear that the Lord also wants us to have fellowship and connection with each other. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
In Ephesians 4 and 5 we find advice to guide us in our communication: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor,” (4:25). “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (4:26). “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” (4:29). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32). “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (5:4). It is apparent that the Bible promotes healthy, loving, encouraging communication to develop and enrich relationships among us. We would be wise to heed the Lord’s direction.
Of course, Jesus did not carry a cell phone in the back pocket of his tunic, but he has always known the future of communication, both to the positive and negative sides of the matter. His desire has always been for us to speak in real and affectionate ways to our heavenly Father and lovingly and truthfully converse with one another. This is the essential art and the true heart of communication.
Resource:
Bell Telephone System. Audio-Visual Materials Consultation Bureau, College of Education, Wayne University. The Telephone and How We Use It. Copyright © [1964?]
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Perfect Surroundings; Christmas

IMG_6803-300x225.jpgFor those of you in colder climes where the appearance of snow is a winter norm, there can still be something unsettling about the amassing of the white powdery stuff, especially if it appears too early in the fall or hangs around too late in what should be spring. For me, there is really only one time of year when cold and snow feel absolutely right—the Christmas season! That will surely make sense to you when I share that I grew up southeast of Buffalo, NY within five miles of Lake Erie. But even when we lived in a basically one-season part of the US, locals suggested turning the air conditioning down to about fifty degrees on Christmas Eve and donning sweaters to pretend we were spending an idyllic Christmas in the perfect surroundings. In truth, even during the years in Buffalo, we would often have a dry, green Christmas Day and then an Easter with three-foot drifts. Those are the times when the environment did not seem to match the occasion.
Our first snow here this year in The Springs was on 10 October, way too early in my estimation. We were out of town when the next storm hit, and then at the end of October, Mr. Snow showed up again. By that time, I was beginning to do some early shopping for Christmas since we were traveling for Thanksgiving, and it made sense to take Christmas gifts with us versus shipping them to each family. The snowfall had subsided by the time I drove, and with the sky still a nice US northeastern gray (only appreciated by those of us who grew up there), I donned my sweater, winter coat, scarf, and gloves to keep me cozy. It felt like the perfect day to get holiday shopping started. One over-eager radio station had even started playing carols in their mix. It all went really well until the sun emerged through the clouds. At our altitude, the sun appearing can bring up the temps quite quickly and intensely. I turned off the heater, and I began shedding layers faster than a Siberian Husky relocated to the tropics. By the time my left ear began to burn from the sun in the driver’s side window, I was not going to continue the drive, much less the quest for the perfect Christmas gifts that had been “so much fun” just an hour before. The environment had changed, and my desire to make some early purchases melted with the snow on the ground.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem on what we now refer to as the first Christmas morn, the environment could not have been more out of place for a coming King. The first roof over his head was a stable. His first bed was a manger filled with hay. His welcoming committee, aside from his mother and earthly father, were common animals. His first visitors were the lowest of the low in society, shepherds. Nothing could have been further removed from true royalty, and yet, there he was in such humble surroundings, born into the world for ALL of the world! God knew; God planned for it to be just so. As much as he deserved the finest reception for his advent here, his entrance in humility opened the door for anyone with a needy, repentant heart—rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, young and old, the mighty and the weak—to come to him and receive his loving embrace and saving grace. Only God in all his wisdom knew that his Son, the King, would best come in a time and place that would defy the world’s preconceived notions and norms so that he could change the hearts and lives of any and all who would turn to him.
So, come to the place where he lay. Imagine the environment where he first entered the world, and know that in spite of what you may see around him, here lies the Savior. The occasion of his coming can melt the heart of all who choose to bow before him and make the biggest change in each repentant life. Those who trust in him can look forward with anticipation and joy to a perfect time and glorious surroundings when he comes again. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:7-11, ESV).
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The Whole Ball of Wax (One Thing Leads to Another)

IMG_5530-287x215.jpgI must begin my writing today with a confession. Perhaps some of you will follow my lead, if need be, and just get this out in the open once and for all. Ready? I am lousy at taking my daily supplements! There. I said it. I’m not sure what it is about it, save possibly that some of them seem like horse pills, but other than that, one would think that it would not be a major issue to swallow a few (ahem—too many) capsules each day. I decided that one of the things I could do to make taking them as easy as possible would be to keep them in a more accessible place. After all, a walk across the kitchen can be a sufficient deterrent. So, I made the decision to move them, at least several days’ worth, onto the area where I eat breakfast, which happens to be my center island. To keep the island looking organized, I also determined that I needed a nice container in which to hold them. Since it is the fall season, I looked around for something that would be fitting fall décor. I hunted through cabinets and closets, rejecting this basket because it was too large, and that bowl because it didn’t look at all like an autumn piece, and that plastic holder because, well it was just pretty ugly. Then I looked in my corner cupboard and found a perfect vessel—a pretty fall-themed ceramic mug. I felt like Goldilocks upon her discovery of the perfect bear bed—the mug was not too big, not too small, but it was just right! There was only one problem—this ideal receptacle had at one time been used to hold votive candles, and the bottom third was still filled with wax.
Easy fix you say. I beg to differ with you, though at first I thought the same thing. I tried to just dig it out, but that was akin to pulling out a healthy adult tooth—it wouldn’t budge! So, I thought that maybe if I poured boiling water into the cup, I could pry out the stubborn wax blob and move on. I had very gradual success, and to make sure I did not put wax down the drain, which would have brought on a whole new set of problems, I used a strainer to catch the candle remains. Of course, some of the candle wax melted and did not come out in a nice big disposable blob, but in a stream that hardened once it hit the strainer. I did not let that fact deter my removal project, and I poured and chipped and scraped and strained until I was down to only a very light smear of wax that I was certain would dissolve in the dishwasher easily and without ugly consequences to the machine. However, now I had a strainer that I still wanted to be able to use for its original purpose, so I got an enamel pot in which to rinse the strainer with boiling water. That allowed the strainer to be ready for the dishwasher, but then I had wax floating on the surface and adhering to the sides of the pot! Eventually I poured the cooled water from the pot through a paper towel, rubbed and scraped out the rest of the offending wax, and placed the pot in the bottom rack of the dishwasher. Happily, all three items were restored.
Thinking back through the unwelcome and time-consuming experience, it seems that this is a pattern that can so easily ensue in relation to sin. Maybe there’s one problem that causes us to stumble. We don’t dig it out, but we cover it up, and inevitably it carries over to something else so that it stains another part of our being. We don’t stop there either, and we allow sin to continue to consume more of our hearts and minds until it is just one big ugly ball of wax. We are left alienated from God and his ultimate purpose for us.
The Bible speaks about sin in this way: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15, ESV). Ouch! Thankfully there is a perfect solution. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:9-10, ESV). How much easier life would be if we were so in tune with God that we would immediately recognize and admit our offenses against the Lord and confess them to him without delay! It should be every believer’s desire to be so transparent with him and to always ask his forgiveness for those things we might have done and those things we have left undone. God’s cleansing is complete, and it restores us to a pure and right relationship with him, a perfect vessel (with no wax buildup) that can be used for the purpose he has in mind.
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By the Numbers

IMG_5530-287x215.jpgJoining 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.
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Wind, Sand, and God’s Hand

IMG_5530-287x215.jpgI 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).
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Misconstrued Message

IMG_5606-300x300.jpgA 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

IMG_53981-e1550020894557-225x300.jpgEddie 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!
Resource:

Proverbs 25:11
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Silent

Silent PostThe 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. Silent PostA 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
Silent Post
Music Box from the Silent Night Chapel
in Oberndorf, Austria
“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

References:
Stille Translation
World’s Best Loved Carol
The Story Behind Silent Night
History of the Song
Celebrating Holidays

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No Small Prayers

No Small Prayers PostI 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.
No Small Prayers PostFrom 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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