Monday, December 1, 2014
By: S. Jadlow
A friend shared her story with me:
Mom married Dad and soon found herself in a horribly abusive union. His abuse didn't stop with her. We children suffered under his tirades also. Many years later before she died, she shared a couple of incidents with me, her daughter.
At any minute Dad would fly into a rage with no real provocation. It could be caused by a slight misstep. A burned potato. Or a word said with a wrong inflection. All our lives were a constant tight-rope walk. His evil nature ever simmered below the surface like an agitated volcano, ready to erupt at any minute.
Mother learned early in life to rely on Jesus. Life married to Dad drove Mother more solidly into Jesus' arms. I truly believe she would have died at Dad's hand, had it not been for Jesus' protection.
She told me about a time she stood in her bedroom and heard him snarl from the kitchen, "I'm going to kill you."
By this time she was so worn from his explosions she prayed, "Lord, either save me or take me. I'm so weary."
His stocky footsteps thundered down the hall toward the bedroom. She braced for what was coming.
When he reached the open doorway he bounced back as if he had hit an invisible plate glass door. The impact threw him to the ground.
Mom turned to see him on all fours shaking his full head of dark brown hair, stunned.
"I'll get you for this," he said as he rose to charge a second time. He hit the invisible shield again and bounced back. He turned, rubbed his head, and staggered to his easy chair in the living room.
"He never spoke of it again," Mom said.
I asked her why she didn't leave him.
"Our pastor told me it was immoral to divorce or leave him. He said I should not provoke him. I tried. It didn't work."
On another occasion, after the children were grown and married, they moved to an acreage with a pond on the outskirts of the city. Mom wasn't a very proficient swimmer, but did enjoy an occasional dip in cool water on a hot summer day. One day she floated in the pond. She saw Dad stomping toward her, fists clenched, spewing curses.
"You b-----! I'm going to drown you here and now."
He waded into the water and reached for her arm with his huge hand. His grip failed. Each time he grabbed her he couldn't hold on.
"It was like I was all greased up," she said.
Finally, in frustration, he left, cursing as he went.
Shortly after, the Lord spoke to her heart. "I've saved you these many times from his murderous hand. You must not keep assuming I will rescue you. You must take responsibility. It's time for you to get away from him. Leave him and don't come back."
Mom finally did leave him. It took all the children to help her escape. Finally, in her late 50s, she was free of his daily abuse.
God is merciful. He desires all to come to Him rather than spend an eternity in hell. He will go to any length to bring a wayward sheep home.
Dad found the Lord in his later years, but was tormented by the memory of the hurt he had inflicted on others. He did not believe his sins would be completely covered by Jesus' blood. He lived in daily fear of hell.
When Dad was in his 80s and still lucid, alone in a nursing home, his niece came to see him.
He greeted her with excitement and said, "I'm not going to hell. They called me on the phone and told me. They said when I die it will just be a transition; a change into another type of life."
He was finally at peace. He died unexpectedly a month later. Oh, and Dad's room didn't have a phone.
Psalm 91:11 "He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways (NASB)."
II Peter 3:9b "…not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (NASB)."
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Every day I walked along the concrete walkway that led from our condominium unit to the stairway. And each day I was annoyed by the sight of a dedraggled, overgrown plant hanging over the edge of the walkway above, down to the second floor where I lived at the time.
"Why doesn't Lois do something about that thing?" I asked half aloud. "It's an awful sight and it's practically dead anyway."
I complained to my husband about it.
"Don’t look at it," he said. "It's hers. Leave it be."
I should have listened, but I didn’t.
Later that week, I could no longer resist the urge to clip, clip! So I did. I reached over the railing with my pruning shears and snapped them shut around the ailing limb. It dropped into my free hand and from there I sent it down the trash chute! I felt better–almost heroic. I had put this poor thing out of its misery.
I went on with my day. About 11:00 I returned home from some errands, picked up our mail, and ran up the stairs, suddenly stopped by the sound overhead of a woman crying. Then I heard the soothing words of another woman. I looked up and there stood Lois, my neighbor on the third floor. Her neighbor Nancy stood with her, as the two commiserated about the plant that had been pruned.
I felt like a criminal. My heart pounded so fast, I could hardly talk. But I knew what I had to do. I had to confess or someone else in the building, and I knew who it might be, would receive the blame for something I had done.
I ran up to the third floor, breathless. "Lois," I said, "I'm the culprit. I'm the one who cut your plant. I’m so sorry. I should have asked first. But I thought it would be okay to prune it a little since it was hanging over the railing all the way down to the second floor...and...."
I couldn't stop. I was mortified, embarrassed, apologetic, and defensive all at the same time! How right the Bible was in reminding me that "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Prov. 3:34 (NIV).
Lois stood listening with eyes wide in disbelief. And Nancy didn't know what to say. I stopped. Lois spoke. She told me how she had worked so hard to get that little plant going. She couldn't imagine why anyone would be so cruel. Of course she was right. It was a cruel thing to do–even though I didn't see it that way at the time. I was so caught up in my opinion of what looks good that I took action regardless of how it might affect another person. I certainly did not consult with the Lord about what to do. I simply had done what I wanted to do.
I apologized profusely, hoping Lois would understand that I wasn't motivated by spite (though I wasn’t sure at that point). I was only tidying things up a bit!
She thanked me for being honest, dried her eyes, and we parted. The rest of the day was pure misery for me–not so much because of the plant. I knew it would keep growing. I hadn't destroyed it. But I had hurt a neighbor. Someone I like. A person who lives close by.
I couldn't let it rest. I prayed about what to do. And the Lord spoke clearly. I needed to make amends. There was no second guessing his guidance. I ran downstairs, jumped in the car, and drove directly to the local nursery. I spent some time selecting a beautiful, thriving, flowering plant that looked similar to the one I had cut. I bought it, wrote a note on a card, acknowledging my fault once again, and asking for Lois' forgiveness.
Within moments of leaving the gift at her doorstep, I received a phone call. Lois accepted my apology and thanked me for such a thoughtful gesture. I was stunned at how easy–and how difficult–that experience had been.
That day had turned out differently than I expected, but still, it had turned out. I had made things right when I had been wrong—by asking for and receiving forgiveness–and in turn, my neighbor did something for me. She, like the Lord, gave me the gift of a second chance.
"Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned" Luke 6:37 (NIV).
Saturday, November 15, 2014
By: B. Keith
Benji used to have this fuzzy blue puppy blanket that instantly got him to sleep. It was a miracle worker, Mommy's helper, the only thing that got me a break.
Well that was until I misplaced it.
We spent weeks looking beneath sofas and even inside vent ducts. Then we started trying to find substitutes but none ever quite "fit". This also meant weeks of bouncing, endless nights of playing lullabies on a loop and trying desperately to find anything to get normal back.
I'd all but forgotten about the blue blanket months later – that was until Ben discovered this big floppy eared bunny that he now likes to have laid across his tummy when he gets sleepy. The bunny is at least ten years old. It is dingy and green. (Sounds a little gross right?) Frankly, it smells a little weird. He found it when he learned to scoot right next to the closet I was cleaning out. Long story short - he loved it and took it for his own.
It's old. But to him it's a new thing. Now it's become his comfort. It has replaced the little lost blanket and even though we have since found it, the bunny still WINS when it comes to nap time.
But I remember when he first saw that green bunny a few months ago. When all he could do was sit in the hall stationary, he didn't care a thing about it; but that was before he could grasp it.
I think we adults are a lot like our children. We would like to think that we outgrow our blue blankets, but we never really do. They just change shape, take on new forms. The things that comfort me are my old red sweater, my hippo pillow pet (like a million years old) and life that doesn't change! But like you, I have discovered that the last thing I mentioned is something that comforts us all – and something we all eventually learn is quite impractical!
Life is always changing. It is never stagnant. Even when we think it is.
"Behold I will do a new thing." (Isaiah 43:19)
It's the verse I have turned to so many times when the "comfortable" was ripped from my hands.
We all long for the new thing. But when the new thing comes, God has to pry the old thing from our hands. At first it's uncomfortable. At first, let's face it ... it stinks. But soon, like my Ben, we find that God hasn't taken away our blue blanket, whatever that means for us, away forever. He's just holding it a while. He wants us to find our comfort in Him, not in it; and when we can grasp the comfort of the new thing - we learn it's better. It's just as safe. It's just as miraculous and praise worthy.
The new thing can take on many forms. It can be incredibly exciting or completely the opposite –
Maybe you have recently discovered a new season in your life that is uncomfortable. Maybe you are battling an illness, starting over, praying for a miracle or walking into the pathways of the unknown.
Whatever your new thing is – I want to assure you this much – God is a God of new things. Like the Israelites, God is always moving us forward.
But forward doesn't have to be scary. His track record is incredible. He never starts something He can't finish. He never moves without purpose. He never fails. He is faithful and He can be faithfully trusted with the new thing.
Until you find your Promised Land, or in this case your green bunny, may God be your comfort. May He fill you to overflowing as He whispers to you "Everything's going to be ok, My child." And most of all, may you discover that all changes are changes you can find rest in; especially when they are faced with the God of never-changing-grace. (Romans 8:18-19)
Sunday, November 2, 2014
By: N. Jeter
With a hammer in one hand and a large scroll under his arm, Martin Luther approached the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He paused to take a couple of nails from a pouch hidden in the folds of his dark woolen habit then began pounding his 95 theses to the church’s heavy wooden doors.
The date was October 31, 1517 and the event changed the course of human history.
Luther’s protest was not against ghosts and goblins or children dressing up to trick-or-treat. He chose All Hallow’s Eve because it was the night before All Saints’ Day, a day when most of Wittenberg’s inhabitants would be in church. It was good advertising.
This was not the United States of America where freedom of speech is protected as a Constitutional right. The Catholic Church was the supreme authority in the land: those who went against the Church did so at the peril of their lives.
What prompted this act of courage and defiance on Luther’s part?
As Luther studied Scripture, his eyes were opened to a new concept: the concept of God’s grace. Passion burned inside him as he read verses like Ephesians 2:8-9:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The established Church in Luther’s day misled people into thinking they could be saved by their own works through pilgrimages, confessions and by purchasing indulgences, which were basically “get out of hell free” cards. It became clear to Luther that men could not purchase God’s grace: it was freely given. This conviction led him to write out 95 main points of contention with the Catholic Church, his “thesis,” which he ended up nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg.
Today many Christians debate the proper stance to take toward Halloween. Some believe that the holiday glorifies witchcraft and evil, while others see it simply as innocent fun. One of Satan’s most successful tactics is to incite Christians to fight each other on matters of doctrine. Perhaps we would do better this October 31 to focus on what is most important to God, just like Martin Luther did on that fateful day in history.
Luther was determined. He was passionate. He was willing to sacrifice his credentials, social status, even his life for the sake of sharing the news about God’s saving grace. The words of Romans 10:14 struck him at the core:
“And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
Are you willing to make similar sacrifices to bring people from darkness to light?
Taking It to the Streets
Here are some ideas for taking God’s grace to the streets this Halloween.
Organize a prayerwalk around your neighborhood. Before the night falls and costumed children begin their quest for candy and fun, walk around your neighborhood alone or with friends, praying that the children will be protected from physical and emotional harm inside and outside their homes. Pray that the people in your neighborhood might be brought from darkness to light.
Be a Witness. How will they hear unless they are told? Halloween provides a great chance to plant seeds for the Gospel. It’s like door-to-door witnessing in reverse: the lost come to you! Try slipping in a kid-friendly tract along with any candy you distribute. And be friendly: these are likely to be kids from your neighborhood. You may not recognize them out of costume tomorrow but they’ll sure recognize you!
Organize a Neighborhood Party. Provide a “holy” alternative celebration for children and adults in your neighborhood. Consider hosting a “Reformation Day Celebration” in commemoration of Martin Luther’s brave act or a “Harvest Party” that celebrates the things we love most about fall.
Lend a Hand. Many churches organize Halloween alternatives but need help from volunteers to decorate, bring candy, or to help out at the event. Join in their efforts to provide good, clean fun.
Luther’s brave act was like a bolt of lightning rending the midnight sky. Now it’s your turn to do something revolutionary: give someone the gift of God’s grace this Halloween.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
By: L. Holth
Emotionally exhausted, I crawled into my car and pulled onto the road. Instead of being happy for the newly engaged couple in my Bible study, I was jealous. I wanted a partner, too, someone to walk through life with and tell me I was worth fighting for.
After seven years of singleness, someone like that didn't seem to exist. I felt like I was in the disciples' boat when the storm came up all of a sudden, pouring water into the boat, and threatening to capsize it, and Jesus was asleep, blissfully unaware of the problem (Luke 8:22-25).
I was so tossed around and pummeled emotionally, I didn't know how I was going to make it through another day, month, year, or however long it took for Mr. Right to materialize.
I knew God could fix everything. He's God! But, He seemed to be asleep at the wheel ... again. Mysteriously, conspicuously absent. Why wasn't He DOING something?!
I finally decided God was big enough to take whatever I threw at Him, so I vented every ounce of my anger and frustration: Don't you even care?!
In that moment of absolute honesty, I heard for the first time in my life a nearly audible voice. "Do you believe I know what's best for you?"
"Well, ... of course You do!"
"Then why don't you trust Me?"
"Because You're not doing what I want you to do!"
"Do you believe I know what's best for you?"
We went round and round with these two questions the rest of the drive home. If I believed He knew what was best, why wasn't I trusting Him to take care of it?
I remember that conversation with God so vividly, and periodically those questions haunt me when God isn't doing things my way. As I read the story of Jesus calming the storm in Luke 8, I'm reminded of those questions yet again.
I can just imagine the disciples' thoughts when Jesus accused them of not trusting Him. "Are you KIDDING me?? We're about to get KILLED in this storm, and You're ASLEEP!!"
How were they supposed to know He had everything under control? He didn't even appear to know what was happening! If He wasn't acting, how would they know to trust Him?
The same questions continue to plague believers today. How can we have faith when it doesn't seem like God even knows we're hurting? Or worse, what if He does know and chooses to do nothing?
Two years after that over-the-mountain argument with God, I was again lamenting to a co-worker the fact that no Mr. Right – or any man for that matter – had shown up in my life and that God didn't seem to care. She stopped me and lovingly, but firmly said, "Laura, I really feel like God wants me to tell you this: He has a husband for you. But, he's not ready for you yet."
Little did I realize, God was preparing my now husband during both of those rock-bottom moments. During that late-night drive, Erik was a junior in college, just becoming comfortable in his own skin and learning to be a godly man. When I was crying in my co-worker's office, Erik was fresh out of college, struggling to find God's call on his life. God knew I needed this particular man, but he wasn't ready to be married yet; so He kept working on Erik behind the scenes – and putting up with my tantrums when I didn't understand the incessant delays – until he was exactly the man I needed. How thankful I am God waited to bring my husband until he was mature and perfectly ready for me!
Hindsight is always 20/20, and with this new perspective, I'm learning to trust that God does know what's best for me and is always working behind the scenes, even when I don't see His movements.
If you feel like God's asleep below deck and unconcerned about the frustrating events in your life, take heart. Maybe He's just dreaming up something better than you ever could have imagined for yourself.
Monday, October 6, 2014
By: John L. M.
The starting point of all accomplishment is desire. Keep this in mind: feeble desires bring feeble results just as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat. Be passionate about your life.
Deep desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents. Attitudes alter abilities. It's passion that persuades. Does the path you're traveling capture your heart? Learn to be comfortable with being enthusiastic.
Every time zeal and passion are discussed someone brings up balance. Balance is a tremendous virtue, but the immediate neighbors of balance are apathy and weakness. Being balanced is usually an excuse for being lukewarm. Indifference, lukewarmness, and neutrality are always attached to failure.
Enthusiasm can achieve in one day what it takes centuries to achieve by reason. Put a smile on what you do. When your enthusiasm increases, stress and fear in your life diminish.
Passion is powerful.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
By: C. Irvin
Have you ever sat and really looked at God's handiwork? Isn't it amazing? You can see the starlit sky at night. The stars seem to shine like diamonds. Or have you ever watched the heavens at dawn when it looks like a blazing orange canvas? Even when stormy days come, filled with gray skies and torrents of rainfall, and winds sway the trees like they are dancing, it is a sight to see the wonders of God's artistic hand.
I couldn't help from daydreaming the other day as I gazed out my window. I watched the lightening and heard the thunder. The rain was so heavy you could hardly see the shapes of the trees. The Creator of the universe created all that artwork. Our minds are captivated at the wonders of God's creation. Flowers bounce back after torrents of rain. Birds and squirrels even sit in the trees as if to watch what is happening around them. Yet in all this beautiful scenery there is something greater.
His greatest masterpiece is you and me. Wow! When the Lord created the heavens and the earth, He rested and said all that He made was good. Yet, something was missing… us. So He made man in the image and likeness of Himself. Man and woman were created to have fellowship with God. We weren't the afterthought in creation. We were the special finishing touches. He longs for the day when he shall gather His children and we shall be with Him for all eternity.
The Lord dropped a thought in my heart. He loves us so much he chose not to live without us at the beginning of creation nor when He went to the cross! We are His greatest work of art, so valuable that He says we are the apples of His eye.
For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye. He says we are His workmanship (Zechariah 2:8).
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
Next time you look in the mirror, see what God sees and cherish your time on this earth. Take time to tell Him how much you love Him and all He has done for you. Try not to take life for granted, but rather value it. I see the tiny newborn baby who looks for someone to hold it and take care of it. I am glad that their mother chose not to abort them. Then I think of the sick and elderly people, and how they look to the Lord to help them.
The point I am trying to make is that you are the most prized possession God has. You are His masterpiece. What matters most to Him is you. He loves you.
Friday, September 12, 2014
The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size (Numbers 13:32).
Perhaps you’ve wondered, as I have, why God required the Israelites to work so hard to inherit a land He had already promised to give them. When someone offers to do us a favor, we normally expect no strings to be attached.
God has a long and storied history of requiring human activity to carry out His will – not because He needs our help, but because He wants our hearts. I’m not so sure we would relinquish this most vital of organs any other way.
If God did everything, He’d become a genie. If God did nothing, He’d become an afterthought. If either was the case, the best you could say of us is that we acknowledged God’s existence. But that’s not the same as knowing or loving Him.
The only way for God to have a relationship with us is for God to have a partnership with us. That’s His desire, and that’s one reason why He won’t always give us the easy way out.
As you look out over the landscape of your own life, you may see some very real problems. There are giants in the land. They aren’t living, breathing Canaanites, but they’re a big deal to you – fear and guilt and worry – not to mention the really big sources of pain like losing a child or watching a parent grow old.
If He wanted to, God could remove these giants in His sleep. And we sometimes slide into bed at night hoping He’ll do it in ours. He rarely does, and for this, we should be thankful. Because if He magically removed all the problems in our lives without asking us to do anything hard, anything “impossible,” we would never be able to demonstrate faith. That means we would live our entire lives without ever pleasing God. We would gain the Promised Land in such a way that it would cost us the very thing we need most: a relationship with our Creator.
We serve a God who has the ability to do anything, but chooses not to. He doesn’t let us off so easily. But the real beauty of it all is that, even when He requires us to do the seemingly impossible, it’s never as difficult as it appears. And sometimes, it’s almost easy – at least after that first difficult step.
In the end, all we need is faith . . . midget-sized faith. That’s all it takes to embolden us to walk into the land of giants, trusting God to either make them smaller, or to make us bigger.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
By: C. Davis
“To obey is better than sacrifice …”1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV)
Life is full of meaningful moments, days and events. Often, when thinking of anniversary moments, we think of weddings, birthdays, deaths, and other special events which impact our lives.
A while back, an interesting discussion took place at church regarding the high price of gasoline ($4.19/gallon at the time) and how it would affect travel to out-of-town weddings and graduation parties. The majority felt it would be less expensive to not travel, and add extra to a money gift.
Suddenly, my husband Wade, popped up from his seat and said, “I have a story to share!” He told of a man who had faithfully attended an out of town archery shoot for ten years. It was one of the biggest in the Midwest and he looked forward to it every year.
One day he opened his mail and found an invitation to a graduation party for the same weekend. This man was immediately filled with conflict over which event to attend. The graduate was the daughter of a close friend he had known since he was 3-years-old. On the other hand, the archery shoot had been a top priority in his life for many years; one he anticipated with great excitement as it involved an extended weekend of camping, shooting and renewing friendships. What a dilemma!
When he sought advice from his friends at work, they suggested sending a card and some money. “After all, they only want the money,” was the consensus. The man agreed, and yet he couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling he should go to the party.
A few seconds passed; then Wade quietly shared . . . “That man was me. Had I just sent the check, I would have missed out on a big blessing!” he reflected, as he pointed toward me. Yes, we met at that graduation party, married two years later, and recently celebrated our ten year anniversary.
As he ended, the story brought to mind a favorite scripture, “… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
Wade made a choice that year to be obedient to the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Even though he was a new Christian, he knew in his heart an important choice must be made. He chose to sacrifice an exciting weekend and the desires of his own heart to make a decision that would have positive, lasting consequences far beyond both of our imaginations.
Choices made correctly result in blessings, both seen and unseen. However, incorrect choices can be, and most likely will be, “blessing-blockers”. What choices are before you today? What blessings could you missing?
Father God, so many choices come our way daily, even hourly. We pray for your heavenly guidance and wisdom in making these decisions. Holy Spirit, we thank you for your counsel and direction. And Lord Jesus, most of all, we give thanks for your sacrifice for us; so undeserving are we of your love, mercy and grace. Amen.
Friday, August 29, 2014
By: M. Johnson
"It is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend. What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God. Let death stalk my enemies; let the grave swallow them alive, for evil makes its home within them."Psalm 55:12-15 (NLT)
Of all experiences in life, betrayal by a trusted friend is one of the most difficult to bear.
Because of his preaching of judgment, Jeremiah found himself increasingly isolated until finally his close friends turned against him, seeking his downfall (Jeremiah 20:10).
Similarly, our lamenting psalmist describes an intimate friendship: "my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, with whom I kept pleasant company" (verses 13-14).
They had worshiped together in the house of God, but now the friend has joined the enemies. From his enemies he could hide (verse 12), but how can he deal with treachery?
Betrayal by a close friend is devastating. It produces a feeling of worthlessness for having trusted an untrustworthy person. If foments anger and depression. It raises questions about our judgment. Because of the intimate friend's knowledge of our situation, such betrayal has great potential for further damage.
The betrayed psalmist turns to God, but with what language! He curses them to "go down alive to Sheol" (verse 15). In ancient Israelite thought, Sheol was the grave, around which might hover the specters or shadows of the dead.
But here the thought perhaps includes also the idea of punishment for the "evil [that] is in their homes and in their hearts" (verse 15). So also, Jeremiah prayed that his enemies "will not succeed" and that "their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten" (Jeremiah 20:11).
Can we do better, even in the extremity of betrayal by a friend? We can perhaps not rid ourselves of our negative emotions, but we can keep in mind that revenge is counterproductive. The word "forgiveness" in New Testament Greek means to "let go" -- not necessarily to have a change of emotion. If we can let go of such experiences we can move beyond our betrayal.
Help me, Lord God, to let go of the hurts that have come my way. Amen.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
By: E. Jones
However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. - Ecclesiastes 11:8
Twenty-six years ago I drove my wife to the emergency room. For the next eight hours we played backgammon while waiting for her condition to improve. It didn't. The pain became unbearable; they gave her drugs. This helped, but not enough. My parents were in Atlantic City, gambling. Hers in Charlotte. So there we were, a young couple facing our first life or death moment without friends or family nearby.
I forget what I wore that day. A surf shirt, probably. I do recall wearing a white headband with the word "Coach" printed in blue marker. I guess I was a good coach because later that evening she delivered a baby boy, our first.
Birthdays are a big deal in our family. Not as big as Christmas, but close. Birthdays mark our beginnings and suggest we might leave a lasting impression on others. In our family, when it comes to birthdays, nobody does a better job of celebrating our legacy of life than my cousin Ricky.
A typical "Cousin Ricky" birthday box includes a specially mixed CD with songs from the year you were born, DVD movies tailored to your tastes, toys from the Dollar store and candy. Lots and lots of candy. Sometimes the candy has melted by the time the box arrives, but that's okay. Chocolate in any condition and shape is good.
In the past I've received a plastic whistle (with compass) to help ward of bears and keep me from getting lost on the trails above Black Mountain, old Westerns DVDs, several copies of the movie Jaws (in case the player eats one), CDs with music from Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beach Boys, Beatles, etc… and candy. Lots and lots of candy.
The writer of Ecclesiastes advises us to enjoy all our years – not just those early ones when people were making a fuss over us. Too often we adults discount birthdays and other days and pretend they're not a big deal. But they are. Every day is huge. If you don't think so, try living without one.
I wish every family had a Cousin Ricky. I wish I cared about people as much as Ricky. None of us knows how many years we'll have together; but it seems to me, setting aside one day out of 365 to acknowledge the life of someone we love is a small testimony to their worth.
The Psalmist writes: All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. - Psalm 139:16. When it comes to birthdays, "B" in the moment. Inhale the sweet smell of fresh cut grass on a ball field and hear the sequels of laughter on a playground. Taste and see that God is good today and everyday.
The next time a friend or family member has a birthday, give candy and a song from their good old days. The shipping will probably cost more than the gift but that's okay. It's the thought that counts.
And thoughts of love and life are priceless.
Friday, August 15, 2014
By: S. Jaynes
A little child will lead them. Isaiah 11:6
“And dear God,” my little boy whispered, “I pray that you give Mommy and Daddy another Jaynes baby.”
After four years of praying for God to bless us with a second child, we realized that might not be His plan for our family. However, every night my little boy, Steven, prayed for another “Jaynes baby.” But how do you tell someone to stop praying a prayer?
As I pondered this dilemma, God took care of it for me. Just before his fifth birthday Steven and I were sitting at his child-sized table eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He looked up at me, and with all the wisdom of the prophets asked, “Mommy, have you ever thought that God might want you to have only one Jaynes baby?”
“Yes, son, I have,” I said. “And if that’s the case, I’m glad He gave me everything I ever wanted in one package when He gave me you.”
“Well, what I think we ought to do is pray until you’re too old to have one. Then we’ll know that was His answer.”
Steven had no idea how old “too old” was. He knew Sarah in the Bible was 90 when she delivered Isaac. But whatever the outcome, Steven wasn’t having a problem with God saying no. My son knew I said no to him many times, and no didn’t mean “I don’t love you.” Rather it meant “I’m your parent, and I know what’s best for you.”
God taught me a great lesson that day. Through Steven’s childlike faith, God gave me an example of the attitude of trust I should have toward my heavenly Father who loves me and knows what’s best for me . . . and sometimes that means accepting when His answer is no.
Friday, August 8, 2014
By: N. Jeter
I must admit I’m not a very thorough housekeeper. As long as things are reasonably organized and superficially clean, I’m satisfied. Though I have a horror of clutter, I tend to neglect ceiling fans and baseboards and the rather out-of-the-way areas that a more conscientious cleaner might maintain well-dusted and well-scrubbed.
But I’m indebted to an elderly woman in England for reminding me of the importance of sweeping the places no one sees.
Early in the morning on a recent trip to England, I looked down from my bedroom window and spotted a small gray-haired woman slowly and meticulously sweeping the concrete slab in front of her home. The street was lined with row houses and this particular woman had basement rooms, just below street level, so that you would actually have to lean over the railing to see her front porch.
Why, I wondered, would anyone wake up so early in the morning to sweep a place so inconspicuous, so out of the way … a place that no one ever really sees?
Perhaps she was expecting a special guest. Perhaps she was obsessive-compulsive and couldn’t rest knowing that the porch remained unswept. Whatever her reasons, it struck me as I watched her that I, too, have unswept places that no one sees. Often I’m so busy fixing and cleaning the more obvious places that I don’t take time for the places that only God and I can see. I know deep inside that it should be the other way around: if I start by allowing God to sweep out the secret places of my heart, then some of the more visible places will take care of themselves.
King David understood and demonstrated the importance of coming clean before God when he prayed such transparent prayers as, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, NIV) and “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)
Do you desire to keep your heart continually cleansed before God? Praying without ceasing, as Paul commanded in I Thessalonians 5:17, is a good place to start. Here are ten easy ways to incorporate prayer into your day:
1. Pray in the morning when you first open your eyes. Thank God for making it through the night and for the day ahead.
2. Pray in the shower. Thank God for his many attributes, like his goodness, faithfulness and grace.
3. Pray over breakfast. Thank God for the food he has blessed you with and that you don’t have to go to school or to work hungry.
4. Pray during your daily quiet time. Pray for your family, your friends, your neighbors.
5. Pray during your morning commute. Pray for the people on either side of you. Pray over the work day and ask the Lord for wisdom, guidance and divine appointments.
6. Pray over lunch. Thank God for food to nourish your body and give you strength for the day.
7. Pray during the mid-afternoon slump. Pray that the Lord will help you finish the day strong. Pray for your colleagues and bosses.
8. Pray during your commute home. Pray for the people on either side of you in traffic, that God will reveal himself to them in a special way. Pray over their homes and their lives.
9. Pray over dinner. Thank the Lord for a productive day and a chance to unwind.
10. Pray before going to sleep. Pray that God will give you and yours the peaceful rest that you need. Thank him for the day and for his many blessings.
Remember the elderly lady in England to whom I’m much indebted? There’s a little more to her story. Later that day, I glanced out of my window and saw an elderly gentleman arrive at the woman’s doorstep, flowers in hand. Mystery solved! Love is a powerful motivator. And love, too, should motivate us to rise early in the morning, to sweep out the inmost places through communion with God, getting everything straightened out before the “day-to-day” has a chance to introduce its dust and grime into our lives.
This spiritual housekeeping is our most important task of the day.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
By: E. Jones
When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself, enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face. The "worst" is never the worst. Lamentations 3:29 (The Message)
"What's the worst that could happen?" I asked the college admissions officer.
"You could flunk out."
"Not if you won't let me in, I can't. Please, sir, isn't there some place you can put me?"
I sat in the admissions office at NC State hoping they'd give me a chance. That's all I needed, just a shot. But a look of disgust spread across the face of the clerk reviewing my transcripts. Months earlier, with SAT scores in the lower latitudes and grades barely above average, my college application had been swiftly dismissed.
"Son, I'd like to help, but honestly; you have no business at this university. Worse, you have no hope of graduating."
I persisted. (Tenacity was all I had left after he'd insulted my intelligence.) He finally relented, admitting they had a few unfilled slots in the Industrial Arts Program. Art, I thought. I hate art. And painting boring buildings at that.
"Okay," I said. "Industrial Arts it is."
Four years later I graduated with a degree in English.
My life remains a series of "worst case scenarios" that never happened. As a professional writer, I'm assured of only one thing: rejection. Each month my wife asks me; "Where's the work gonna come from?" I never know. But it always does.
And always has.
Despite my caustic personality I spent eighteen years as a paper salesman, three times making the President's Council. After a career in sales (and even though I could barely spell HTML), IBM hired me to code web pages. When I left Big Blue, I launched my own web design firm even though I knew nothing about running a business. Despite suffering through one of the worst economic periods in the past 50 years, I prospered and eventually sold the business. Each time it looked as if I'd reached a dead-end. I hadn't.
The Old Testament writer laments: Life is hard. Amen to that! But the writer also coaches us on how to deal with life's adversities. Seek solitude, pray, don't doubt God's goodness, and stop asking "why me, what's next, and how, when and where, Lord?" We're to face our difficulties with a full-on, in-your-face tenacity.
Mark Twain once quipped; "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
I have, too. And the thing I've found after each "dead-end" was the next thing was better than the one before. Each lost job led to better work. Not necessarily better pay (as my wife is quick to remind me), but more fulfilling. I still dream about my prior jobs but when I wake up, I call them what they are: nightmares. I don't want to "go back" because God is calling me to "come on."
What "worst-case scenario" looms before you? Don't run from it. Seek God in silence, voice your concerns, and wait for His strength. Chances are, your "worst case scenario" won't happen, but if it does, at least you'll face it with God by your side.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. Psalms 126:5-6 (Today's New International Version)
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
By: D. Delay
I recently heard a story that may help us. A young boy had caught a handful of crickets and put them in a wide-mouth jar. He placed inside the jar your typical supplies: grass, flies, berries, etc. Then he put the lid on the jar with several holes punched in it so the crickets could breathe. Immediately, they began jumping hysterically trying to get out of the jar only to hit the lid and bounce back down. This behavior went on for a couple of days and then suddenly stopped. The crickets became content with their jar, moving about inside it, eating and adapting to their new surroundings. But when the boy decided to take the lid off, the crickets didn't notice. Wanting to see what would happen, he left the lid off the jar – but the crickets never tried to escape. Before, they had tried to get out only to be beaten down. Now that they could leave, they contently stayed. Why? Because in the process of time, they had programmed themselves to believe their fate was sealed.
Unfortunately, many Christian are like these crickets.
Proverbs 4:23 says, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." In other words, be careful what you believe. If you believe you are a failure, an outcast, or unworthy, you will believe your “jar" is your fate, when in reality it is nothing but a barrier to the truth. "Keep (or guard) your heart with all diligence, for OUT OF IT spring the issues of life." Whatever belief system you put in your heart is what will come out. And whatever comes out of your heart is the picture you believe. This can be a very unhealthy cycle. Others can tell you the truth and even point to the exit, but if you don't believe it, you will never attempt it – no matter how good it sounds. "For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). When the crickets no longer believed there was an escape, they stopped trying to find one.
The Hebrew word for issues in Proverbs 4:23 is literally translated as boundaries or controlling factors. So the Psalmist is saying: "Keep (or guard) your heart with all diligence, for out it spring the (boundaries or controlling factors) of life." Maybe someone beat us down with their words or treated us with contempt or prejudice. We may have fought back at first, but over time, the fight got tiresome and little by little we adjusted our whole life to fit within the lie. Therefore, (often unknowingly) the words and actions of others, and then our own words and actions built an invisible prison.
Thankfully, there are two sides to every coin. When we learn the truth of who we are in Christ Jesus and the righteousness we have received through faith in Him, the lid is removed. Then as we guard our heart, allowing only the truth of God’s Word to reside there, out of the self-same heart good boundaries and controlling factors will spring up.
The Apostle Paul said, “Having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Sin caged us in. But righteousness, and our understanding of it, set us free. So guard your heart!