Way back when – 1980, Worms, Germany, to be exact – my husband, young son, and I were once again at the beginning of an overseas assignment. We had become settled into government-leased housing in the small town of Horchheim on the outskirts of Worms. The commute to the military post where my husband worked and where all of the American facilities were located was not within walking distance. Also, we were expecting our second child, and my doctor and appointments were in Heidelberg, a forty-five-minute drive from us. Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay.
We decided a second vehicle was needed, and we opted to look for a pop top camping van so we could also use it for leisure travel while in Europe. Just like in the US, we had newspapers with a classified section advertising items for sale from various parts of the country and even beyond. My husband searched for a suitable van and eventually located a good deal in a place that was a couple hours away. We were fortunate to have neighbors that had quickly become good friends, and they watched our son Kris so we could both drive in the car we already owned, pick up the new-to-us VW, and each drive a vehicle home.
We headed out after my husband’s work day in the late afternoon. Our route included quite a distance on Germany’s equivalent to the US interstate system, the Autobahn. If you are not familiar, in terms of speed, just about anything goes on this superhighway. I’m not sure what infractions might incur a stop from the polizei, but if anything, it’s driving too slowly. At any rate, we made it to our destination in the Stuttgart area just fine. We picked up the new vehicle without incident and were actually quite happy with our van purchase. My husband had me drive the car since I was familiar with it, he drove the van to assess its performance, and the plan was for me to follow him home. It was getting dusky due to night approaching, but I was not concerned, certain I could keep up following an orange van; that is until the Autobahn. With the fast flow of traffic, we fairly much stayed in the right-hand lane, and we were making good time. There happened to be a slow-moving truck traveling in that lane (probably going 55 mph). My husband signaled to the left, and I followed him into the left lane. No problem, until my husband crossed back into the right lane and headed directly off an exit with no time for me to do the same. My stomach immediately turned upside down on top of my five-month tummy bundle. I got off of the next exit, which was quite far down the road. As I continued, the surroundings became more suburban, and I finally stopped in a residential neighborhood. By now it was dark; I felt stranded! I was fretting, sobbing, and wondering out loud how my husband could do that to me, and if I did call out to the Lord, it was to ask why this had happened. I was in a pickle – a dilemma, a predicament, a quandary. It is important to note that this was pre-cellphone, pre-GPS – even a good old paper map did not have this area marked out, and it was for me also, pre-relationship with Jesus. I had no resources to help me and no idea how I would get home or how anyone would find me.
Contrast that with the story in the New Testament featuring the apostle Paul and his relatively new traveling companion, Silas. Paul and Silas had been spreading the good news in the city of Philippi in Macedonia, and they were being followed by a slave girl who was practicing fortune telling through the power of a demonic spirit, and therefore she was a great source of income to her owners. She kept loudly announcing, “‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation'” (Acts 16:17b, ESV). Though this was absolutely true, Paul was annoyed by her continual declarations and he commanded the spirit to come out of her, which it did. Her owners were angered that now this form of income ceased, and they brought Paul and Silas to Roman leaders who beat them and threw them into prison. Paul and Silas were in a major pickle! Locked away in the inner part of the prison, feet chained in stocks and under heavy guard, these men could easily have been angry, fretful, crying, and questioning God as to why they were in such a dire situation when they were being his faithful servants. But here is how the story continues, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” (Acts 16:25, ESV). They were praising God in the midst of their troubles! They believed God would never leave them stranded, and God did not disappoint. Our amazing God, the faithful One, showed them his grace and power, “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s bonds were unfastened” (Acts 16:26, ESV). Paul and Silas were freed from their shackles, had the care and hospitality of their former jailer, and they were able to go back to their friends, but not before they had the glorious opportunity to witness to the jailer and his household to see them all come to Christ. As incredible as this story is, we have the same opportunity to see God work in our lives as we pray to him, trust him, and praise him just for who he is! Likely the rewards will be great and the circumstances will convert into a platform for glory and honor to our benevolent God.
I can share that I eventually did find my way home by traveling quite out of the way to a place with which I was acquainted and from which I knew the roads to bring me back to Horchheim. I believe that now as a Christian, if I find myself in another pickle, I will pray to and praise my great God who is my resource for everything, who will never leave me stranded, and who has all the answers for the dilemmas that can be a part of life. On that note, I’ll gratefully enjoy a cup of tea and a small dessert, because I just had my dinner, pickle included.
I have once again been blessed to have spent time with my daughter and her family in Texas to welcome our newest little grandson, Easton Levi, into the world. I helped with the care of all three little ones, and while it was a very special time, it was also often hectic. I tried to be diligent to keep up with the household chores such as the never-ending laundry and the dirty dishes that made their way to the sink (or not) throughout the day. But I also am keenly aware of how important it is to continue to care for myself so I remain healthy and strong in mind, body, and spirit. I often read my Bible and took a shower or bath at night to make sure to get those necessities in. And there is one thing I did in the mornings every day as per usual to keep my back from giving me trouble – a thirty-minute exercise routine that includes stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, and scrunchies, my four-year-old granddaughter’s term for crunches.
No matter where I visit, all my younger grandchildren are interested in my daily ritual, and I often have company participating in close proximity. On one of the first few days of this stay, my terrific two-year-old grandson, Caden, took it to the next level. He decided not only to join in, he was on the bottom part of my legs with his chubby little hands grasping above my knees as I did those aforementioned “scrunchies.” It made for quite an interesting, humorous, and very cozy process. This was not unlike the camaraderie I experienced from a dog we had a few years back who also held to the philosophy that he had to continually occupy the same square foot of space as I did, despite the large size of our home. Both Caden and our beloved furry friend provided a tangible illustration of the word “near.” So congenial of them both!
A few days after this incident, I was reading about Saul, the first king of Israel, in the Book of 1 Samuel Chapter 10. This chapter relays the anointing of Saul and his humble beginnings as king and even his hesitancy to sit on the throne. That would not remain true, but at this juncture, Saul was all about following and honoring God. As told in the prophecy of Samuel the Seer (what prophets were called in those days), Saul was to see three signs confirming his kingship. The culmination of these signs was Saul joining a group of prophets. “Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6, ESV). The following text really caught my attention: “Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (1 Samuel 10:7, ESV). This may have been just a little bit heady for Saul as he quickly turned from humility to self-sufficiency, making decisions without God’s input and performing sacrifices, which he was not authorized to do. Samuel’s advice from God, however, was sound. When one finds himself connected to God, listening to him in prayer, following his Word, and observing how God is moving around him, doing what the heart is urging is natural and very appropriate. But it takes that nearness to God to be able to confidently step out in faith and accomplish much in his Name. His closeness is welcome and more than congenial – it is a necessity to our growth and victory as believers.
My time with the family in Texas has come to an end. It was hard to leave behind those chubby little hands, the impish grins, the chaos, and the crazy. But I know that each time I do my exercise routine, I will cherish the memory of the nearness of one little boy that September morning. And, I am moving forward with the hope that I will inch ever closer to my Savior so that my hand can do what it finds to do for his glory.
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory… For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (Psalm 73:23-24, 27-28, ESV).
It was super sweet. My eight-year-old granddaughter, Libby, is becoming quite handy in the kitchen. In that particular way she takes after this Nonnie, and following in my footsteps, a lovingly made edible is a gift from the heart. Thus, for Mother’s Day, Libby decided to make her mother breakfast in bed. It was simple enough – a piece of toast, eggs, fruit, and some tea, but it was very appreciated by her Mama who was grateful for the wonderful gesture that allowed her to linger in bed a little bit longer on this celebrated day.
It was her younger sister, Bekah, who told me about Libby’s gracious gift to their mom. She was also quick to inform me about a time when Libby treated her to breakfast in bed. I’m not sure if it was just for the ease of preparation or if it happens to be a favorite, but Bekah’s breakfast special was cereal. Keep in mind that Bekah sleeps above her sister in a top bunk. I still laugh when I think back to how Bekah told me about Libby’s surprise. “Yeah, Libby made Mommy breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day, but she did for me one time too. Mine was cereal, but when she gave it to me, she got cereal sand all over my sheets!” First of all, I’ve never quite heard the crumbly remains of cereal referred to in that way before. But I noted that Bekah was telling me this in a very jovial manner, and I interpreted that as her delight and thankfulness for her sister’s kind act, gritty sheets and all.
The reason I love this story so much is because I am familiar enough with my granddaughters to know that there are times Libby and Bekah are not showing much love and appreciation for one another. Anyone who has seen two children in the same room for more than a passing moment would be able to concur that disagreements, arguing, and sometimes outright fighting come with close proximity. But Libby’s overture toward her sister and Bekah’s receptive response show how they can often pull together and support each other, demonstrating kindness, gentleness, and love that is heartwarming and genuinely considerate.
Unfortunately, people in general can treat each other with disrespect and even hostility, stories about which seem to cram news feeds these days. It is so sad! The saddest thing of all, though, is when it happens amongst those in the Body of Christ. In the book of Galatians, Paul makes reference to those who “bite and devour one another,” and tells them to “watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15, ESV). This was written to people in the church, and it shows that the problem has been around since the church’s inception, and it is ongoing.
Before Paul warned people about the hardship of tearing each other apart, he gave the positive side of the equation by reminding them to “serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13d-14, ESV). He also wrote these words in the end of second Corinthians: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss,” (2 Corinthians 13:11-12, ESV). The words speak loudly to us today. While those in the church may disagree and argue from time to time, the bottom line is that we need to love and support each other, asking for forgiveness when necessary and remembering our common ground that gives us true peace, our relationship with God the Father through his Son, Jesus. While Libby and Bekah have a blood relationship by birth that brings them together, the church has the kinship of blood-bought-redemption through Jesus’ death on the cross.
The bond is strong and so should be our affection for one another and our willingness to put aside differences and love each other as Christ has loved the church. It will show the world much when they see brothers and sisters in Christ demonstrating kindness, gentleness, and love toward each other. And even if a little cereal sand is a result of the effort, we won’t let a little bit of grit get in the way of a godly response that will bring honor and glory to our Lord.
The Whole Ball of Wax (One Thing Leads to Another)
I 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.
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!
If you’re like me, listening to a scholarly individual preach/teach from the Word of God leaves me a bit awestruck over the intellectual’s ability. Not only is it obvious that he is well read and well prepared, but the words just seem to flow continuously, publicizing an enormous vocabulary, and the mastery of the subject is without question. When I look at the verses that are being shared, I wonder if I’m reading from the same passage, let alone the same translation. The interpretation is profound, and listeners can come away feeling as if they’ve just truly learned something valuable, or one can scratch his/her head and come away wondering, “What in the world was that all about?” In truth, if this person has a relationship with the Lord, he would tell you that he too is learning and that there are many things that will be left unanswered until he is face to face with Jesus.
By contrast, one might assume that a very young child does not have the capacity to understand the Gospel to be able to receive the gracious gift of salvation. I was faced with this dilemma when at four years old my very precocious daughter began not just talking about how Jesus loved her and she loved Jesus, but she repeatedly kept saying that she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart. Now, I was thinking about how much Kelley was hearing that phrase in our home and at church, and I was highly skeptical that she could understand salvation and forgiveness enough to actually begin a true relationship with the Lord. I was aware that in three out of the four Gospels, Jesus called on a little child to stand amongst his disciples as an example of the innocence and humility that God desires in those who come to Him. But, surely this was an illustration of the type of posture any person that was mature enough should take when coming to the Lord. “Little child,” the words used in the account recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, surely did not mean a preschooler.
I continued to think about Kelley’s express desire to receive the Lord into her life. I kept telling her how nice it was that she loved Jesus, and I prayed for wisdom to know how to respond to my insistent little girl. It was in one of my prayer and pondering times that I heard the Lord’s still, small voice speak loudly and clearly, “Who are you to decide what Kelley can or cannot understand? Lead her to me!” Later that day with her brother and me by her side, Kelley prayed to receive God’s precious gift of salvation, and she is still boldly serving Him today.
“The Word of the Lord is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” Hebrews 4:12 (emphasis added). It is appropriate for people of any status or category. To the learned it offers a wealth of knowledge to explore and devour; to those who are just learning, it offers a simple, straightforward message that can be easily grasped and appreciated as truth. That is why we do what we do – Godstruck Ministries 4 Kids exists to help children hide the Word of God in their hearts through His wonderful gift of music. God wants all people, educated or unschooled, rich or poor, child or adult to know Him through His Word. He is ready to meet each one there in a way that is personal and appropriate, from the oldest scholar to the youngest child. Praise the Lord!
God never wastes a moment. He always allows circumstances in our lives that have purpose and value. Even those challenges we face, maybe most especially those challenges we face, are working to improve our character, our faith or our life’s perspective. Sometimes, as in the case of the man who was born blind (John 9), God’s purpose is to display His glory in the situation. At other times, just like a loving parent who desires to bless a child, God is seeking to bless us because of the love and care He has for us as His children. In conveying the following personal experience, I see a combination of all of what’s best about God’s hand in our everyday lives.
Our executive pastor taught from the Word this past weekend on the subject of God as our refuge in difficult times, which he entitled, “Refuge: Between The Rock and A Hard Place.” I thought it was very insightful and compelling, and I went home prepared to make sure that in my devotional time I would go over the notes and glean further from what God’s Word has to say about God as our refuge.
The next evening I was thinking about where Godstruck is as a ministry and questioning how we might go forward. We had made no sales of our CD, Sing God’s Word – Psalms in Tune in over a month, and it brought on a rather dejected mood. I mulled over everything again the next morning before I began to pray. In considering the circumstances, it caused the phrase, “I feel as if I were between a rock and a hard place,” to pop into my mind. I immediately remembered the sermon and just began praying to God my refuge, the One who is The Rock. As I shared things with my daughter via Skype that afternoon (she’s our marketing director), she just started typing letters to some of the staff involved in children’s ministry at her church regarding the possibility of reaching the kids and families with news of the CD. Within a very short time, she received a response from one of the pastors approving the presence of a Godstruck Ministries table at their Fall Festival. What an incredible demonstration of His power and the answers that are found when taking refuge in “The Rock that is higher than I!” We are moving forward with a resurgence of purpose and a trust that no matter what things look like or how they feel, God is in control. He will work all things together for good because we do love Him and we have been called to do His work. Being between The Rock and a hard place is not a crushing experience; it is a place where one finds a strong, yet tender embrace that will never let go. It does not immobilize, but moves one forward to a greater depth of character and a launch into better works for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom.
Moment noted: All glory, praise and thanks to God for allowing us to live through this circumstance!