It can be so easy to think solely in the here and now and remain focused on only what is in front of us. After all, in our own families with young children, mom’s name must be uttered at least three hundred times a day, and multiplied needs are ever-present. “Where’s my shoe?” (not both, but one). “When are we going to the park?” “Can Tommy come over to play?” “Is lunch ready yet?” “My library book has paint all over it ‘cause Emma needed a cover on the table for her art project!” “Can I have… fill in the blank?” Or in more mannerly households, “May I have… still fill in the blank?” And so, it goes. And even if Mom and/or Dad don’t fulfill all the requests, the words still swim around relentlessly in the brain like sharks looking for a tasty meal. Then even as kids age, a whole new set of needs will inevitably take over – ball games, music lessons, assignment help, dentist and orthodontic appointments, etc. Add in parents’ own schedules with work, meetings, necessary car repairs and the like, and local church and ministry commitments, planning time to breathe seems to be the only necessary addition to an already overflowing family schedule.
The Lord absolutely knows our situation and the demands that are already in place, particularly in young families. But he also does ask us to look outside of ourselves and consider the needs and plight of others, even elsewhere in the world. Most of us are familiar with this passage of commissioning, spoken to Jesus’ disciples, but applicable to all believers: “’All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, (emphasis mine) baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’” (Matthew 28:18b-20a, ESV). It can be tough to think about that “one more thing” that should occupy our time and require our attention, but this responsibility is set before us as a priority that deserves consideration.
Obviously not every person or family is called to become full-time missionaries who sell much of their belongings, pack up what’s left, and head to a far-away place to devote their lives to full-time service. Perhaps you have or you will come to realize this is your calling – may God’s blessings and care be abundant if that is so. But there are so many ways to make an impact for Christ on the lives of people that live elsewhere on the earth. I have recently become aware that our songs from the Sing God’s Word CD Series are being listened to around the world. Places as diverse as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, Hongkong, Iceland, Australia, Latvia, Malaysia, Uruguay, and more have taken advantage of various streaming platforms to listen to the Scripture songs we share. It is so humbling to realize that God has taken imperfect vessels to impact people globally with what he has inspired us to create. Amazing! I have two family members, a son and a son-in-law, who within the last couple months have taken short-term mission trips to two very different countries, the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, and Brazil in South America. Each left, but even more so left with blessings, having willingly giving his time, talent, and attention to others from a foreign land filled with people who need Jesus. Likely you are aware of, and perhaps have participated in giving to, organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse who sponsor the yearly collection of gift boxes to give to impoverished children in various parts of the world. There really are so many ways to follow this command that Jesus has given us. We are all very different, and the way we answer will be unique and personal for each person and family, taking into account what God has given each of us and put on our hearts.
Pray and ask the Lord to reveal to you how you can be a part of his great commission. Prayer alone for a missionary or a people group that is unreached or barely reached for God is in itself an effective way to be used by the Lord to further his kingdom and is a great family endeavor. Seek God’s will in regard to this all-important task. Remember that he could put something on your heart for the future, but it is essential to find something now that you can do to fulfill his commission. Whatever his answer for you will be, remember that the Scripture in Matthew 28 ends on this encouraging note: “’And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:20b, ESV).
As happens sometimes, I woke up well before the sun would make its appearance, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. When that occurs, I would rather make better use of my time than to toss and turn and lament the fact that I’m losing shut-eye, so I will use my phone app and read the day’s devotion along with an Old Testament and a New Testament passage. There is really no better way to spend one’s time, and along with prayer, this regimen redeems those wakeful hours. I had just finished my reading and I believe I was spending some time in prayer when all of a sudden, I heard what sounded like a door opening and closing. I immediately elbowed my husband out of his sound sleep and whispered, “I just heard a door open and close.” He was instantly propped up on his elbows listening intently. After a few moments, he laid his head back on his pillow, and we both stared at the ceiling waiting to see if we heard any more signs of what might be an intruder. It only took another couple minutes, and there it was again, the sound of a door opening and closing, only louder this time. My husband was up immediately – he grabbed a small pistol and proceeded to investigate the origin of our middle-of-the night disturbance.
As I stayed lying in bed, I had quite the urge to get up and use the commode, but I squelched that inclination knowing that any noise I would make could alert a prowler or cause my husband to mistake me for one who did not belong. So, I prayed and I quoted as many Scripture passages in my head that I could to quell the worry and concern in my mind and heart: “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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV). “Thank you, Lord, that you are in control, and please keep my husband safe.” “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV). “Lord, please put your hedge of protection around us and help us.” “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7-8, ESV). “Thank you, Jesus, that you are here with us!” As the time passed for what seemed like an eternity, I texted my daughter (in a different time zone) for prayer and my son to make sure he hadn’t shown up unexpectedly from his traveling occupation. At that point, I wished that my husband had taken his phone so I could know what was happening and he could call for help if needed. My daughter gently reminded me later that if my husband had a phone and used it, any prowler would have a heads-up as to his where-abouts. After about fifteen minutes, my husband returned. Thankfully, there was no unwelcome person inside our home! He shared that on the ground at the north side of our house were two huge owls. Apparently, they had each used our roof as a landing site. As I thought about that and we actually began to laugh over our misinterpretation of the event, I wondered what caused both owls to make a two-part noise. Practicing a gymnastics’ move and a perfect landing for the Owl Olympics?
Notwithstanding the benign intentions of our feathered guests, this was obviously a situation that precipitated fear. Fear can be irrational, or it can be a natural response to a particular circumstance. Certainly, it can be a deterrent to participating in harmful or unwise behavior. Clearly God recognizes that fear is a part of our emotional makeup as he has much to say about it in his Word. He emphatically declares that there is only one fear that we need to manifest in our lives, and that is the fear of the Lord. This fear is a deep reverence of him and a tremendous awe of him. According to the Book of Proverbs, the “fear of the LORD” – “is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7), “is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10), “prolongs life” (10:27), brings “strong confidence (14:26), “is a fountain of life” (14:27), by it “one turns away from evil” (16:6), “leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied” (19:23), and it brings a reward of “riches and honor and life” (22:4 [all references from the ESV]). In answer to all other types of fear, God reminds us that he is the one to whom we can turn, whether our fears are irrational or warranted. We can take comfort and put our fears in his capable hands as we remember he says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, ESV).
The next time I’m faced with a questionable situation, I can’t guarantee I will not respond with fear. But I do believe I will again turn to God in faith, pray, and meditate on his Word, which can bring his peace and answers for all our troubles. There is nothing that is out of his control, even death, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54c-57, ESV). I can say with King David, “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11, ESV).
Image by danny moore from Pixabay.
As to the owls, how about some notification the next time you schedule gymnastics practice on our roof?
Ah, summer! It’s finally here – one in which we can actually leave our own four walls and explore the great outdoors virtually bare-faced and bare-footed, depending on our environs. In case you’ve forgotten best practices, keep in mind that shoes of some type are still required in most places even as masks become unnecessary.
When I was a child, our summer outings were basically within a hundred-mile radius of home. For the adventuresome type, this probably seems tremendously restrictive. In general, I would have to agree, especially since much of my first ten years of marriage were spent in Europe. But I can’t go on without mentioning that I grew up within 30 minutes of the Canadian border and just a short distance more to what has often been included on various lists of the world’s top natural wonders, the powerful and majestic Niagara Falls. We would often go to the Canadian side of the Falls where one can view all three sections the best – Horseshoe Falls, The American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. We would pack a picnic meal in order to spend the day, often stop along the Niagara River to fish for a while, and bring along swimsuits to enjoy a dip in the water at a small beach not far from the main attraction. At some point we would stroll along the walking path that skirts the Falls. And we’d stop and look at the massive formation with the great deluge of water coursing to the rocks below. Impressive – of course. Awe-inspiring – absolutely. Commonplace – unfortunately for me, this also was true. Somehow I had come to view this extraordinary creation of God as ordinary. I began to take this amazing display of nature for granted, as if something so wonderful was found in everyone’s backyard. This desired destination for so many from not just North America but for millions around the world was a normal, everyday part of my experience, and I lost the wonder along the way.
It reminds me of the experiences of the Israelites as the Lord brought them out of Egypt. They were prone to taking an awful lot for granted, but even more so, they were a complaining crowd. Moses had been given the information to pass on to them about how God was going to provide for them in the wilderness. One would think that as a sustaining substance miraculously appeared on the ground that first morning, they would have stood there, mouths agape, proclaiming, “This is a wonder from heaven!” But their first comments were quite to the contrary. Can you hear them quizzically or even sarcastically ask, “What is it?” which in Hebrew sounds like manna. Not only did they not recognize the wonder before them, some of them didn’t follow God’s explicit directions regarding its gathering, and then as they continued seeing it on the ground and therefore on the daily menu, they complained about it. What an ungrateful group!
In all honesty, I have no right to point fingers at them. The other day as I was reading the passion of the Christ in the Book of John, these words gripped my soul, “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands” (John 19:1-3, ESV). Having read the Gospel passages about Jesus’ denigration and crucifixion so many times before, I was absolutely struck anew by this description of the utterly contemptible treatment the Lord took for me when he chose this path to save me from my sins. How could I have read it so matter-of-factly in the past and missed the outright wonder of this most loving, devoted act by the God of the universe? I literally paused in awe, thanksgiving, and repentance for what the Lord willingly endured for me. And of course, this is only one piece of the wonder of who God is.
There are so many wonders to behold in God’s creation. May we not just accept them as part of our everyday experience and take them for granted when access to them is easy and/or in close proximity. As an adult, I’ve had many opportunities to return to Niagara Falls, and I have a far greater appreciation for the marvel that it is. I have tried to pass that on with excitement to my children and grandchildren. Even more so, I desire to continue to appreciate the wonder of all that God is and all that he’s done for me. Communicating that to my progeny is far greater to share.
For the last couple months it has been my joy and pleasure to be with my three-year-old granddaughter and her baby brother. We spent some of that time in her home, some in mine, and some traveling for a family gathering. My daughter, Jordyn’s mom, is very selective and careful about screen time, but when driving in the car passing the hundredth cow or the thousandth acre of flat farmland, it’s time to bring out the video entertainment. Such entertainment is also useful when every adult in the household needs some down time and the kids are still at the top of their game. During the weeks we were together, Jordyn became captivated with a particular movie and its spunky and endearing character, an ambitious little land snail who became known as Turbo. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Turbo has a dream to be a racer, and when he winds up flowing through a car’s fuel system and becomes infused with nitrous oxide, he is able to live out his wish, and he actually wins the Indy 500! I will spare you reiteration of scenes and quotes, which I definitely could do because we watched the show at least ten times. We also read and learned about land snails and their water-inhabiting cousins, and Jordyn became quite the expert in all things snail.
God, of course, was observing all of this even more intently than we were, and he chose to give Jordyn a special blessing. When we arrived at my son’s house that is in a small, gated community in southern California, much to Jordyn’s delight, the lower part of his house was a snail haven. The funny thing is, though there were snails here and there on other homes in the neighborhood, the majority of mollusks had decided to take up residence on Uncle Kris’ abode, and there were numerous sizes and choices with which Jordyn could engage. And engage she did! Of course, every snail received a name from the movie, most of them “Turbo.” Jordyn would hold one each day, and interestingly, these little creatures would reveal themselves while in Jordyn’s hands. They would stretch their mushy bodies out of their shells, and with their knobby eyes they would view this little girl that had become so enamored with them. She would talk softly and insure them that they needn’t be afraid and that they were in good hands. If you are unaware, the natural response a snail would have to ANY creature picking it up would be to take refuge inside its shell and stay there until put back into a safe environment. Somehow Jordyn had acquired the knack of making these little creatures feel comfortable enough to share time with her. To my mind, it is quite the accomplishment both on the part of Jordyn and her shell-bearing friends.
I wonder if I can be so receptive and comforting to those who are taking cover in their own shells. Not snails, of course, but individuals who are encased in armor built of shame, fear, self-degradation, addiction, or the myriad number of habits and heartaches that are not their homes but their means of incarceration. Do I have an open heart, mind, eyes, and ears to welcome a person needing to reveal inner thoughts and feelings without being threatening or judgmental? Can I be a confidant for one who may have a view that I myself do not hold? Can I be more like Jesus who sought to save the lost by meeting people where they were, helping them to have a better understanding of God, and sending them on their way healed, filled with hope, and aware of God’s unique purpose?
The Bible reminds us in James, “Know this, my beloved bothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV). It surely is an accomplishment to be able to put these things into practice and make people feel comfortable enough to open up to us and share what is inside. As we carefully engage with others and give them a place to feel safe and understood, we will bring God’s love and grace to those who are hurting. We just may be able to bring them out of their shells and set them on a path to healing, filled with hope and purpose.
Thank you for the lesson, my little snail whisperer! I look forward to watching Turbo with you again sometime soon.
I was so blessed to be heading to my daughter’s home in West Texas for the birth of another grandbaby, Katie’s second child. She lives just far enough away from me that I had made an overnight stop at a hotel so I only had a little over three hours of travel on the second day. I didn’t rush that morning – I was taking the last few hours to bank my energy to meet the needs of my daughter’s household for the next few weeks. Katie’s final month of pregnancy had been difficult for her, and with an active two-year-old and the birth of the baby seeming imminent, I knew I needed to have some extra strength to take on this temporary live-in role.
The wind was blowing steadily when I left my waypoint on day two, but it wasn’t causing any particular problems. I made a rest stop about an hour after I started, but because I thought that gas prices might be better further into the trip and the gauge indicated I would be fine for a while, I elected to move on. It wasn’t long after that the wind more than doubled in velocity, and of course, I was in very flat terrain driving past acres of dirt with no noticeable vegetation. It didn’t take long for visibility to be limited to just a few feet in front of my car. There were times when I couldn’t see to determine if I was actually in the correct lane. I significantly slowed down, and I put on my flashers praying I would avoid an accident. The word “haboob,” a severe desert sandstorm, had entered my mind. Apparently this was not that particular weather phenomenon, but you could have fooled me. It was in the thick of the storm that my car began to lurch and then took to just creeping along the road. Before my car stopped moving altogether, I did pull over onto the small shoulder. When I came to a full stop, I was barely off the road, and I was again concerned that a car could easily run into me. I called my husband and my daughter, and we guessed that between a malfunctioning gas gauge and the dirt and dryness of the storm, I was now out of gas.
Along with wind and sand, the outside temperature was hot, and of course, I could not open windows, which caused me to sweat profusely and feel light-headed and slightly ill. I did step outside the car for a moment, but it was like being hit by a sandblaster, and I quickly got back in. I had water to drink, but the more sips I had, the more I could feel the need for a restroom. I began to pray, and I asked God to be with me and to help me in this situation. I thanked him for his care, and I sang a little praise song. My daughter had tried contacting local authorities and my husband the insurance company for roadside assistance, but the police could not find me and roadside assistance was going to take quite a while to get there. Because I couldn’t charge my phone, I was concerned that the battery would run down and I would be unable to stay connected with family. I began to feel somewhat disoriented, and I continued to ask the Lord for his assistance.
It was then that I was able to see a pick-up truck on the opposite side of the road, which slowed down and stopped directly across from me. The man inside weathered the biting sand to come over and ask how he could help. I had to open the door to talk, and through gritty teeth and the competing wind I shouted out that though my gauge was not indicating that I was empty, I was pretty sure I was out of gas. I told him that I was waiting for someone from either an area law enforcement agency or my insurance company to help me get some gasoline. At that point, the man said he had a five-gallon container of gas in his truck and that he would be glad to fill me up to get me back on the road. After putting the gas in my tank, he actually followed me to a station in the next town about eight miles up the road. His name was Dean, and I told him he was an answer to prayer, an angel if you will. After thanking him profusely and offering him some cash to refill his container, he left and I was able to get back on the road to head to Katie’s. One week later our precious grandson was born, and I had a busy yet wonderful time being a hands-on grandma to Jordyn and little Caden, and hopefully a blessing to my daughter and her husband as well.
Though we often do not know the when, where, or why of our challenges, we can absolutely know the who intervening in our circumstances. I have no doubt that God’s hand was never far away and that he was aware of each part of the scenario that played out that day even before it occurred. He was at the ready to care for me and answer my prayers for help in his perfect timing. The prophet Daniel was in great need of answers as he mourned and mulled over the difficulties being faced by his people. He had an encounter with a heavenly visitor and he was very afraid, but the man said to him, “‘O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.’ And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words’” (Daniel 10:11b-12, ESV). The angel went on to explain to Daniel that his delay was due to a spiritual battle, but it is clear that the Lord regarded the cry of Daniel’s heart, and he sent his messenger to minister to Daniel’s crucial need.
Psalm 121 speaks about God’s care and how he continues to watch over us. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:1-8, ESV).
Those are such words of comfort and peace for God’s people! Rest assured that God is watching over you in all the situations you face. The storms of life, as biting as they may be, never catch him off guard. He is there with the answers to “uphold you with his righteous right hand” always. (from Isaiah 41:10, ESV).
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.