Saturday, July 13, 2019

Son Flowers

“You will find Me only when you seek Me with all your heart." ~ Jeremiah 29:13
She’d never forget that call.  "House fire," was all Kelvin said.  His voice sounded like the words were formed of smoke, his lungs charred.  The line went dead.
Kara’s drive home passed in a blur: she remembered no traffic lights, no turning from one street to another, not even parking behind the fire truck.  Their home resembled something from a horror movie - twisted plastic and charred wooden posts.  Nothing to salvage, not a single thing.
Eleven weeks later, Kara turned the corner onto their former street and braced herself.  She needed to discuss rebuilding plans with the contractor, but the thought of seeing that empty lot, where her family’s house had burned to the ground, sickened her.
Kara knew she should be grateful that everyone had escaped unharmed.  But she couldn’t help wondering why God left them nothing to start over with but dirt … and sunflowers?
She stopped the car and rubbed her eyes in disbelief.  Among the dry-looking weeds and chunks of broken concrete, there was a field of cheerful yellow sunflowers - dozens of them - growing where their house once stood.
They’d never grown sunflowers.  None of their neighbors did either.  The contractor explained they’d started springing up in the lot (and only theirs) over the past few weeks.
Kara stared at the vibrant flowers.  They must be a sign from God, a promise that life would blossom there again.   The flowers also reminded her of a basic spiritual truth: that He’d be found by those who sought Him passionately (Jeremiah 29:13).
If flowers were known for their personality type, sunflowers would be classified as optimists.  Kara had often marveled at how sunflowers stood up straight and tall, always pointing in the same direction.  They constantly pivot to face the sun as it moves across the sky during the day.  But they also rotate 180 degrees during the night to greet the early morning sun – a behavior scientifically known as heliotropism.
When everything is dark and bleak, the sunflower turns itself until it finds the little sunlight that peeks through the clouds and it turns its face that way.  It focuses on the positive.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be like the sunflower?  To turn our backs on the negativity and face the brightness of possibility?  Just as the sunflower closes up and loses some of its luster in the dark, so do we lose our bright smiles, enthusiasm and exuberance in the darkness of negativity.
Yet God reveals His intimate love for us in an intriguing way, pointing us toward the sun, teaching us to lean in and press on, reflecting joy, beauty, and grace.  And all through a simple sunflower.
Father God, help me stand tall like the sunflower; beautiful, bold and bright.  Like the sunflower, guide me to always look towards the Son.  And remind me that even during the dying process, that their seeds provide life, not death.  Amen (by Martha Vetter)

Monday, July 8, 2019

While I'm Waiting

“I’m waiting on You Lord, though it’s not easy.  But faithfully, I will wait." ~ John Waller
After Frankie and Drew Ahrens, a couple in their early 30s, saw their physicians for routine physicals, they didn’t have to wait for his blood work.  Just two days later, Drew logged onto a Website, perused his lab results and sighed with relief.  All normal.
But when Frankie followed suit, no results were displayed.  Instead, a curt message flashed: ‘Contact Your Doctor immediately.’
Internal alarms began screaming.  Fear drenched her mind until there was no room for anything else.  These next few days would either pass as a blip in the course of her life, or they would be the trauma that shattered her into pieces.
Whoever said there's no way to make time stand still clearly never had to endure the unbearable wait for medical test results.  In an age of instant everything, waiting for data from cutting-edge technology in anything less than a nanosecond defies logic and seems unnecessarily cruel.  A potential result with an “Oh No!” conclusion is like walking across hot coals in gasoline flipflops.
Frankie considered her options during the patient limbo period.
She could try to inoculate herself by imagining the worst.  If she could stare, unblinking, into the abyss of worst-case scenarios, maybe the chasm would blink first - and the news would be good.
Or she could keep busy to avoid ruminating.  She could do something helpful for somebody else.  She might even try combatting her anxiety by doing things she enjoyed – like power-shopping.
That day she left four messages for her doctor.  No response.  The next day, Frankie, who had a family history of breast cancer, pleaded with the receptionist for help.  The woman pulled her chart and said, “I can’t tell you what it says, but I don’t think you should worry.”
Now frightened AND angry, Frankie chose to pray … with urgency.  Her impatience had come from forgetting that God was in control; that His plan and timing were always best.  As a result, the delay in getting what she wanted caused her anxiety, irritability and intolerance.
Three days later the doctor’s nurse called.  The test result that’d caused so much uncertainty and misery was a vitamin D deficiency.  Frankie was literally stunned by relief; as if her life’s movie had been kicked out of freeze frame by simply getting more sun and eating better.
When we remind ourselves that because God is good, and His love and grace are enough, we can trust Him for how our day turns out, even in the midst of delays.  The solution to impatience is learning to trust God for how things turn out and that His timing and purpose for things is good, even when our plans are delayed.
Heavenly Father, instead of trying to control people and things to accomplish my goals according to my schedule, help me “fight the good fight of faith” and choose to trust Your outcome, no matter what it is and how long it takes.  Amen

Monday, July 1, 2019

Lean In

“God will not give you more than HE can handle." ~ I Cor. 10:13
It started with an ugly argument.  Bankruptcy was lurking; the lifestyle they’d enjoyed until now would end soon.  Plenty of blame to go around.
Words flew from her mouth that she’d never thought before, let alone verbalized.  In that instant their relationship shattered into glassy shards.  Nothing would ever be the same again.
Craig knew that when tensions escalated, he should inject love instead of anger, but sometimes it just wasn’t that easy with Carol.  So he went outside and began taking the Christmas lights down.
Their financial crisis was Carol’s official excuse for wanting a divorce but mostly she couldn’t stand the sadness anymore.  After 34 years of marriage, their love had changed, become flatter.  Craig, too, felt emotionally drained - nothing left to feel, nothing left to say, nothing left but the void that clouded his brain in darkness.  Then things got worse … when he slipped off the ladder.
Emergency surgery would nearly repair Craig’s back, but a lengthy homebound recovery left him alone for perhaps the first time in his life.  The bedroom window had been his only connection to the outside world.  The phone seldom rang and the door remained shut except when the home nurse checked on him or his daughter stopped by with groceries.
Things got even worse when a letter arrived from his employer announcing a “restructuring.”  At age 55, his job had been eliminated.  He recalled something his mother had once said, “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle.”
“What crap!” he thought.
Solitude offered plenty of time for reflection, for penance, for prayer.  Since he couldn’t get down on his knees, he talked with God while on his back.  First he begged for answers, “God, why me?”  Further consideration led him to “Help me, Lord.”
When he received a phone call from a (now) former coworker who’d called to see how he was doing, the conversation turned to the hardships she was facing in her own life.
Craig listened thoughtfully as her situation seemed unexpectedly similar.  They found solace in shared Christian beliefs.  Despite their struggles, they trusted God completely; confident that their faithfulness would be rewarded on the other side of eternity.
A budding friendship evolved – one that would help heal them both - not by commiserating, but by consoling, by restoring.  Years later they would marry, find new jobs and live forever grateful.
The promise of Scripture doesn’t pretend that we won’t go through hard times.  What Scripture does promise is that at all times, good and bad, God is ready to helps us handle what we’re given.
He also wants us to turn towards each other.  We are here as God’s answers to prayer; to help one another face things that are more than we can possibly handle alone.
God my Father, bless me with strength when I’m weak, courage when I’m scared, direction when I’m lost and humility when I’m victorious.  Amen

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Too Many Voices

“Avoid all that distracts you from God; put His work first." ~ Matthew 6:33
While vacationing recently on Ft. Meyer Beach, I noticed that certain areas were closed off by fences and signs that said "Sea Turtle Eggs."  Nesting turtles once had no trouble finding a quiet, dark beach on which to nest, but now they must compete with tourists, businesses and coastal residents for use of sandy beaches.
Female sea turtles swim to shore between May and August to dig nests in the sand and lay their precious eggs.  Months later, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles instinctively crawl toward the brightest light.
On a secluded beach, the brightest direction is most often an open view of the night sky reflected by the ocean.  Hatchlings also tend to move away from darkly silhouetted objects associated with the dune profile and vegetation.  This sea-finding behavior can take place during any phase of the moon; they don’t depend on lunar light to lead them seaward.
On a developed beach, however, the brightest light can be an artificial light source coming from restaurants, homes and condominiums along the coast.  The combined glow of artificial lights (known as skyglow), may attract hatchlings away from the ocean, leaving thousands of them wandering helplessly - in dunes, pools, or on roadways.  And if they don't find the ocean, they’ll eventually die.
It occurred to me that we humans face a similar challenge.  Rather than follow the path we were meant to follow; we are too often distracted by insignificant things that move us in the wrong direction.
Technology, online media, money, relationships, ourselves, bad habits, addictions, stress, busyness and meaningless distractions lead us astray.  Too many voices, too many choices!
Instead of following the pure light of perfection, I’ll admit to allowing bright and shiny artificial things sabotage my faith journey.
So, what about you?  Are you distracted from God … or devoted to Him?  Are you a Believer … or a Disciple?
Are you following your priorities and pure light to the right destination or are you allowing artificial distractions to lead you in the wrong direction?  Are you following the path you were meant to follow or are you letting meaningless things keep you from being your best?
It’s a constant struggle to keep our eyes fixed on Christ, and to not become distracted by the passing concerns and things of this world.  But if we’re aware of what can, and does, interfere with our walk with God, we can begin to take the necessary actions to prevent them.
But unlike sea turtles, we have the ability to think, adapt and change direction when we realize we’re following the wrong path.  We can tune out the distractions and focus on our priorities and let the pure light lead us to an ocean of possibilities and a great future.
Lord Jesus Christ, empower me to live the life that is pleasing to You.  May the confession of my mouth be seen in my feet as I follow in Your steps.  Amen

Friday, June 21, 2019

Thanks Living

“Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Dawn broke last fall as Nebraska farmers gathered to harvest a field full of corn.  There were smiles on their faces but their hearts were heavy.  They met to help a friend in need.  Because underneath their weather-beaten skin and tough exteriors, those ten men were soft and mushy inside.  They dropped their own chores that day to work a friend’s field during fall harvest; a critical time.
Their friend Gene, a third-generation grain farmer nearly died a few weeks back while fixing a 3 ton combine head when it came crashing down on top of him, crushing him underneath.  Every breath became a frantic struggle.  It was the longest 3 hours of Gene’s life as he clung to life praying for someone to come along and help.
Eventually an unexpected salesman came along and found him pinned under the massive machinery.  Gene was airlifted to a local hospital.  Three surgeries and months of rehabilitation later, he recovered by the grace of God.
His friends gathered that day to help Gene in his time of need.  Three combines, three grain carts, 5 grain haulers and 10 farmers tackled the fields, pulling up 144 acres of corn before it was too late.  Gene watched from his window in a wheelchair; his grandchildren nearby witnessing it all.
The combines quickly and methodically plowed along, scooped up the crops, harvested the kernels, and trucks hauled them away.  The farmers did in 8 hours what would have taken Gene and his helper nearly a month to do.
It ended with a luncheon.  Wives brought food and gratitude to the table despite the tragedy.  Gene personally thanked each one: for their help, their friendship and for God’s hand in it all.
It’s just what farm communities do – somebody needs some help – they get it.  An emotional journey for Gene and his family, but also for the farmers who did the only thing they knew how to do when one of their own was down.
It’s also how Christian communities rally around God’s children to help when needed.
The outpouring of love recently had my family and I full of tears and thanksgiving.  Prayers, emails, Facebook posts, calls from friends near and far, and perfectly-timed words sent straight from heaven, poured in.  Every single reassurance and prayer had sent me praising God for such people.
Thanksgiving occurs but once a year.  “Thanks Living” happens daily!  We all know “Thanks Living” people.  They radiate joy and thankfulness.  Everyone loves to be around them.   They have a servant heart, a smile, and an uplifting word for everyone.  They offer a spiritual perspective that transforms even the darkest situations.
Guess what?  You too can be that person!
Lord, when the troubles of life knock me down, help me realize that the best place to be is when seeking You in prayer.  When I can’t seem to muster the strength to pray for myself, surround me with intercessors who come to You on my behalf.  Amen

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Not Everything Happens for a Reason

“God is always at work for the good of those who loves Him." ~ Romans 8:28
There's that nanosecond between action and consequence, when whatever you did has occurred but the reaction hasn’t yet come.  The seed of embarrassment gets wedged inside you ready to blossom red upon your cheeks.
At 32, Nina never had a pedicure or a manicure.  Even though her body had been massaged and exfoliated countless times, her nails had never been touched.  It was the perfect gift from her mother after Nina’s first daughter was born.
Hue, a young Vietnamese woman whom Nina had never met, soaked, filed and oiled her toenails while Nina talked about her healthy newborn and how excited she was.  That’s when Hue dropped a bomb - she’d recently lost a baby girl because she’d been born way too early.
Nina’s brain stuttered while her thoughts strained to catch up.  “I’m so sorry,” she hesitated, “but everything happens for a reason.”
As the callous words left her throat, all heads in the parlor turned toward her.  She instantly wanted to inhale them back in, feeling foolish at her heartlessness.  Hue looked Nina straight into her eyes and said, “It’s really hard to see a reason for something so terrible.”
Of course, it was.  Who was she - a woman with a healthy baby at home - to tell this woman who’d suffered a devastating loss that she was going through it for a reason?
We’ve probably all said stupid, robotic things in times of discomfort.  We want some magic salve to heal others’ the wounds; that’ll bring comfort so we won’t have to be vulnerable enough to offer real help or a listening ear.  It was condescending and Nina knew it too.
Years later she’d have a chance to redeem herself.  Flying from Omaha to Denver, she sat next to a woman who opened up about the death of her teenaged son from cancer.
Nina didn’t try to coax her with sugar-coated Hallmark words like before.  Nor did she gloss over its reality.  She extended the conversation by saying again, “I’m so sorry.”  Then continued with “You must think of him every day.”
What followed was a real, guttural conversation about life; how it can knock the wind out of you; that it takes strength and courage to keep from giving up.  That’s the best thing you can do when someone is suffering and feeling a pain you can’t possibly fathom.
There doesn’t have to be a clear, or logical answer for why such hardships take place.  But we know that God causes everything to work for the good of those who love Him and are called to His purpose.  Maybe a more relevant explanation is that “In everything, God is with us for a reason.
Lord, nothing brings us the comfort and peace that You alone can offer.  Through our own struggle and pain, help us to be Your vessels to comfort and strengthen others who are hurting.  Amen

Monday, June 10, 2019

Sunshine on My Shoulders

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I’ll give you rest." ~ Matthew 11:28
Sometimes watching others takes your mind off yourself.  While waiting in my car for my wife to pick up a few items, I noticed a young couple with a toddler leaving the grocery store.  They all carried bags – even the toddler.  He struggled to hold onto a rather large package of diapers.
The little guy tried his best to hold the bag up but it was nearly as big as he was.  Inevitably, both the boy and the package fell onto wet pavement.  I’m sure I saw him mouthing “help” to parents walking several steps ahead.
I vividly remember those toddler days when short legs seriously slackened the pace.  I expected one of them to take the bag from the child.  Neither was carrying much and it would certainly have sped things up.
Mom stopped and helped the child to his feet.  She didn’t scold him for lagging behind.  Then she looped the boy’s arms through the handles of the bag so he could wear it like a backpack.
Smiling triumphantly, the boy held his arms wide for a hug, his miniature hands looking sweet, almost comical.  They say you can't bottle love.  I think they're wrong as he hustled to keep up.
Scenes like that bundle of cuteness remind me that people are inherently good and caring; else the tide of doomsday press would sweep me into some fearful and biased thought pattern.
But the wisdom in it resonated in my mind.  Aren’t we a lot like this child?  Whether we asked for it or it was given to us, sometimes we wind up carrying burdens that are too heavy or awkward to handle.  Wouldn’t it be simpler if God just took them from us?
He could send a check in the mail, heal our bodies, or mend broken relationships.  There’s nothing He, who created the universe, can’t do.
But instead, God lets us carry them ourselves, walking closely beside us, adjusting the burden just enough so that it’s bearable.
But there’s something we must do to receive that promise.  We must first turn our heart to God and cast our burden(s) to Him.  He loves us, welcomes us, and promises to help us (Hebrews 4:16).  Ask Him to save your marriage, keep you employed, save your children, improve your health or lighten whatever else burdens you.
God may choose to help … but the Bible also teaches that He may not.  So the next step is crucial.  Trust that if He allows this pain to happen, it’s to bring you more joy in Him.  God promises to orchestrate everything - including every pain, sorrow, and trial.
Lord, You’re my shelter from the storm and shade from the heat.  It’s Your hand that lifts me when I fall.  Thank You for hearing my cry, for seeing my afflictions and noting my distress.  I cast my burdens upon You, rejoicing in Your steadfast love.  Amen

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Prayers in the Dark

“Even darkness can’t hide from God." ~ Psalm 139:12
Annette would never forget the day her 19-year-old brother was murdered.  Once he’d been a boy that bounced, giggled and danced; so generous with his smiles and free with his hugs.  But in that instant, the fact that life would go on without him undid her completely.
She didn’t fully grieve her brother’s death until their third child was born four years later.  The Doctor handed over her infant son with an almost-imperceptible sigh of concern.  Two weeks later he confirmed his suspicion of Down’s syndrome.  For the next 6 months Annette wrestled with God like never before.
One day she stood before a mirror trying to don her new favorite sweater.  After living in a perpetual state of postpartum body changes, Annette finally summoned the courage to wear skinny jeans and boots.
The sweater didn’t fit.  Her husband Bradley had done the laundry and mistakenly put it in the dryer on high heat.  Annette came unglued - body on the ground, fists slamming the carpet.
It wasn’t about the sweater.   A minor irritation opened flood gates pouring out what’d been simmering for months.
She shouted to the Lord in pain: “Isn’t it enough that Mason has Down’s syndrome?   Wasn’t Bradley’s alcoholism enough, or David’s murder?  I can’t take any more of this!”
While screaming like a 2-year-old hurling a temper tantrum, the Lord whispered, “Am I enough?”
She stumbled into the study and grabbed her Bible searching the Book of Psalms.  They covered the entire range of human emotions, and asked important questions about God, humanity, and the purpose of life.
She randomly found Psalm 88 – one that gives us permission to scream to God (not about God) in our pain.  Prayers to God include cries of agony; expressions of our true feelings.  But they’re never directed anywhere but to the Lord.
Poured out without restraint, our suffering will reach our Savior’s heart.  Left unspoken our suffering produces bitterness and displeasure toward Him.
It’s been nine years since David’s homicide.  His case remains unsolved; an ongoing source of unanswered prayer.  There are days when she still prays in the dark, with words like:
“You have the power to get me out of this, and yet you’re only making it harder!  Prove to me Your faithful love.”
“You had the power to prevent this, and You didn’t.  Help me to believe that you are righteous and good, because it sure doesn’t feel like it right now.”
“You could give me what I’m asking for, but You’re withholding it.  Show me Your wonders in the midst of my unmet hopes.”
We have a Savior who is real and holy and well acquainted with our grief.  We can cling to Him when the darkness presses in; for as long as we’re in it.  The fact that He’s always with … is more than enough.
Holy Father, You conquered the grave and will return again.  That’s our hope when darkness closes in.  One day our grief will turn to glory and we will worship around Your throne in everlasting light.  Amen

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Him Alone

“We plan our way but the Lord directs our steps." ~ Proverbs 16:9
The old beater struggled up the dusty path.  They were hauling cement and blocks to a Honduran mountain village where local coffee farmers were building a church.  The sun’s imposing presence was causing havoc on the timeworn vehicle; the higher they climbed, the more labored it became.
Near the crest of a hill, they heard something ‘snap’ from under the truck.  Steve hit the brakes - no response.  The old clunker slowed under the load’s weight.  Steve glanced nervously at his friend.   “Jump out Alonso.” he said. “Put some rocks behind the tires.  Fast!”
Alonso kicked open the passenger door and shot out as the truck began rolling backward.  It gained momentum so quickly that he ran to keep up, his feet slipping on the dirt road.  Screaming at Steve to get out, Alonso watched helplessly as his friend continued backward down the steep incline.
The road made a sharp right turn, but the truck continued straight and disappeared.
When Alonso reached the edge, he watched in disbelief as the truck tumbled down the mountain before settling 200 meters below.  Covered in blood from his jump, Alonso stared out in horror.
Miraculously, Steve emerged from behind some sagebrush, white as chalk.  His eyes and mouth were frozen wide open in an expression of stunned surprise.
“How’d you get out?” Alonso asked.
“I don’t know,” Steve said.  “God must’ve pulled me out of the truck.”  They two hugged and wept before starting the long walk back downhill to find help.
A van slowed and picked them up.  The stranger seemed suspicious of Steve’s harrowing escape.  “Probably the adrenaline rush,” he theorized, “gave you the strength to exit the truck.  Once it wears off, you’ll feel pretty sore.”
The friends knew better.  Alonso saw Steve in the truck as it launched over the cliff; door closed.
The next day, Steve suffered no pain whatsoever.  As he and Alonso hiked back down to the truck to make plans to retrieve it, they noticed a broken driveshaft and mangled brake clamp.  And even though the driver’s window was smashed, it remained in a rolled-up position with the door locked and the seatbelt fully latched.
He knew right then, as he still knows today, that God took him out of that truck.  God chose to spare his life because He wasn’t done with him on earth yet.  How He did it was immaterial.  But he knew for certain that it was God and Him alone.
When great things happen in our lives, we call them ‘God Things.’  But there’s also a flip side to that coin.  Things that don’t go our way are still God Things.  True faith is being able to say “It’s a God Thing” even in the midst of suffering, difficulty and heartache.
Almighty Father, sometimes it’s hard to see Your intentions during the hard times.  Help me to know, trust and believe that You are working out all things for Your glory and my good.  Amen

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Proud Americans

"Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends." ~ John 15:13
Jeremy arrived early to pick up his friend; actually his former Lieutenant of E Company, 1st Cavalry Division while serving in Vietnam.  Lt. Franklin had been larger than life: 6 feet 5 inches tall, 220 pounds, fearless, intelligent, college educated, athletic - a warrior who’d earned 2 Silver Stars.
On any other day Franklin sat in the nursing home playing checkers, moving only when necessary.  His joints ached and his muscles burned; he no longer made too many trips outdoor.  But today he dressed sharply; a poppy pinned to his chest.
While he waited, Jeremy thought about the friends with whom he’d served and offered a silent tribute to those who sacrificed their lives in combat and who still battle in life.
As Franklin ambled languidly toward his friend, Jeremy hurried forward with a wheel chair.  Seeing the look of reproach and hurt in his Lieutenant’s formerly sparkling eyes, Jeremy pretended he was just parking it.  Franklin gave him a stiff nod and continued his door-bound marathon.  He’ll stand to honor them, the ones who died so brutally in the service of others until his legs cannot bear his weight.
He always offered to pay for Jeremy’s flight to come visit but Jeremy never took him up on it.  He never missed a Memorial Day with his friend.  LT had been there for his command back in Vietnam; Jeremy would be there for him now.
One time during a stand-down, the Lieutenant wanted to visit the Officers Club - but not without some of his men.  He dug into his footlocker and retrieved five “Lieutenant Franklin” shirt fatigues for them to wear.  They were instantly promoted.
By the time they got to the parade route, it was raining so hard that the crowd had largely vanished.  Franklin, however, stood stoically throughout the event.  He didn’t relish the pain but endured it without complaint.
As the parade wound down, Franklin looked up at Jeremy. “You know, we’re prisoners of war,” he confided.
“What do you mean, LT?” Jeremy responded.
Franklin whispered, “Emotionally, we’re all prisoners of war.  It’s the price we pay for serving our country.  If I could again, I’d pay double the price,” he said before stiffening his gaze.
Jeremy realized that under this once-exuberant personality now lived someone more vulnerable than he could’ve guessed.  As a soldier - he understood!
They each knew how fortunate they’d been to serve our great nation.  And he’d personally been privileged to serve with Lt. Franklin.
On this Memorial Day, be blessed and remember.  They’ve all suffered the hell of PTSD in some form before it even had a name.  This is a day to say "thank you, we’re in your eternal debt."
Hear our prayer Lord, for those who gave their lives in the service of others, and accept the gift of their sacrifice.  And comfort those who grieve the loss of their loved ones and let Your healing bring hope to our hearts.  Amen

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Daddy's Care

“Trust in Me and you will be unshakeable, assure and deeply at peace." ~ John 16:33
Gunshots cracked into the cool air as loud as thunder; like the raw power of a raging storm.  In the distance, Joynisha (Joy for short) heard the squeal of sirens; a calm to the violence that interrupted her sleep.  In her neighborhood, fear was as common as sunlight on those fractured sidewalks.  But while her body trembled sometimes at the lawless commotion, she wasn’t terrified.  Her daddy was protecting her.
Now that Joy was 9, she could walk to school by herself.  This morning a dog hastened toward her.  Dark gray in color with a pointed muzzle, he roamed the streets unleashed.  The mere sight of him wasn’t so scary, but he was big enough to be threatening if he got angry.  As Joy walked peacefully past him, she closed her eyes as if willing herself to another place and thanked her Daddy for keeping her safe.
On the playground this afternoon, someone said something very mean to Joy.  The words stung like an angry hornet.  She wondered why some girls her age used others as tools to vent their frustrations; to ridicule and feel superior to them.  But then she smiled.  Her Daddy continually wrapped his loving arms around her and filled her with kind words of reassurance.
At home while helping set the table, Joy dropped an antique glass.  It shattered into dozens of glittering fragments.  She felt like such a klutz.  Joy was seldom without scrapes or bruises; always finding a new way to trip, stumble, or spill.  But her heart relaxed when she remembered that even so, her daddy always forgave her.
Tucked under the warmth of her blanket tonight, sleep pooled in Joy’s chocolate brown eyelids.  Falling asleep was like a carousel of the day’s thoughts.  Every idea, notion and event from her day would replay in her mind before being released from the worries of the world.  She had no cause to fear.  Her daddy was still awake and He couldn't love this girl more if He tried.
Have no fear … God’s always near!  No matter what you’re going to face this week, you’re not going to face it alone.  God is with you, He is in you, and He is for you.
He doesn’t promise everything will go our way or we won’t suffer.  In fact, He warns that we’ll have troubles and tribulations (John 16:33), but He does promise to watch over us night and day, working all things for good (Romans 8:28).  And despite how confident we are sometimes that we know what’s best, only God knows.  He sees with infinite clarity your life’s eternity’s storyline and He’s in charge of everything.  We can be at peace in Him.
Father God, thank You for Your amazing power and work in our lives.  Thank You for bringing hope through even the toughest of times, strengthening us for Your purposes. Thank you for always being with us and will never leaving us.  Amen

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Jesus Loves Me

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." ~ John 15-9
After a warm introduction and as the applause quieted down, the old Pastor rose from his high back chair and walked slowly to the podium as if it were his last sermon.  Frankly, it probably was.  After decades of preaching, time had come for him to retire, at least from the pulpit.
His real age was on the older side of utterly-unspecified.  If you picked a number at random, he was probably a little older than that.  He struggled at times for the right words, yet his voice always projected carried an uplifting and inspiring message.
When he spoke, congregants were instantly transported to another place and time.    Sometimes he was overtaken by emotions that had been buried for decades and he’d have to pause.  He radiated all that was good and holy about the love of Jesus.
Without a single note or paper of any kind, he placed both hands on the pulpit to steady himself and then quietly and slowly he began to speak.
"Your Senior Pastor asked me to talk with you this morning about the greatest lesson I’ve learned in my pastoral career.  At my age, I’ve had a lot of time to think about that (polite chuckles).
The thing that made the most difference in my life” he began, “and comforted me when tears and heartbreak and pain and fear paralyzed me was this simple verse: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong, we are weak but He is strong.”
The hymn was first written by Anna Warner as a poem.  Anna's sister Susan had asked her to write a song for a Sunday School teacher who wanted to cheer a dying boy.
Their uncle, the Rev. Thomas Warner, had been the US Military Academy at West Point’s Chaplain, and the sisters had taught Sunday school classes for cadets for a number of years.  It’s believed that General Eisenhower was one of the last cadets to attend their classes.  When the sisters died, the Academy honored them by allowing them to be buried at the Academy cemetery — an unusual exception to the rules.
The song became popular among both intellectuals and children for its humble message of Jesus.  But it was always the adults who chose the song 'Jesus Loves Me' during a Hymn Sing.  And the adults sang the loudest because I could see they knew it the best.
So, for all of you white or no-hairs out there, this verse if for you:
‘Jesus loves me, this I know, though my hair is white as snow.  Though my sight is growing dim, still He bids me trust in Him.  YES, JESUS LOVES ME.  YES, JESUS LOVES ME.’
Silence embraced the church like a cool summer breeze, smoothing souls and delivering hope, as the old man shuffled back to his chair.
Almighty Father, “When my work on earth is done, and life's victories have been won.  Take me home with You above, then I'll understand Your love.”  ~ Bob Wilson

Friday, May 10, 2019

All Moms are Working Moms

“A mother can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take." ~ Cardinal Mermillod
My mother was a “Working Mom.”  But her work never resulted in a paycheck or any extra income.  Her payment came in the form of tantrums, runny noses, occasional hugs, errands to run, meals to prepare, and activities to plan.  Her “bonus” was a few moments of privacy in the bathroom.
Mom was a skilled arbiter, driver, nurse, seamstress, tutor and so much more.  She had an amazing ability to erase bad dream, find lost items, and clean up stuff that "nobody else saw" (like boogers on walls, skid-marked undies, or unflushed toilets).
My parents were watching TV one night when Mom said, "It's getting late.  I think I'll go to bed."  I listened in awe as Mom took a long detour.
After straightening the magazines on the coffee table, she went to the kitchen to make sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunches.
She rinsed out the ice cream bowls, took meat out of the freezer for supper the following evening, checked the cereal box levels, prepared the coffee pot for brewing and set the table for breakfast the next morning.
Then Mom put some wet clothes in the dryer, a load of dirty clothes into the washer, ironed a shirt and fastened a loose button.  She picked up the game-pieces left on the table, watered the plants, and emptied a waste basket.
Yawning, she stretched before stopping by the desk and wrote a note to the teacher, counted out some cash for the field trip, and located an overdue library book.
Dad called out, "I thought you were going to bed."  Mom replied "I’m on my way."  She filled the dog’s water dish and made sure the doors were locked.  Then she had a brief chat with my brother who was still doing homework.
In her own room, she set the alarm and laid out clothing for the next day.  Mom then said her prayers and replayed the day’s accomplishments.
Only then did she crawl into bed noting that Dad was already sleeping like a log.  Somewhere in the early hours her thoughts became disorganized enough to release her mind into sleep.
Before long, her alarm would sound and for a few glorious minutes, she enjoyed a respite of time before her family burst to the forefront of her mind.
Whether your office is in a professional building or in the comfort of your own home, I've been thinking about you.  Whether you're a married mom or a single mom, whether you dress up in a suit to go into the city or slide on your yoga pants in the morning to take care of your kids for the day, you’re all working moms. That’s just one of the things that make you special.
Thank God for all working Moms – those whose office is outside or in the comfort of their own homes.  Whether you're a married mom or a single mom, God bless you for all you do, especially that which goes unnoticed and underappreciated.  Amen

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Mother's Day for Real

“(Mothers are) clothed with strength and dignity." ~ Proverbs 31:25
Mother’s Day - a time for flowers, fancy brunches, and thanking your Mom for putting up with all your crap.  But its earliest form took roots in the early 20th century, thanks to Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis and her daughter Anna.
The daughter of Methodist Minister, Jarvis became a social activist whose goal was to lower infant mortality rates by teaching women how to properly care for their children, improve sanitary conditions, and fight disease.  Her Mother's Work Clubs raised money for medicine and helped moms suffering from tuberculosis.
The Work Clubs evolved further when the Civil War erupted, providing food, clothing, and medical care to both armies.  Jarvis lost 4 of her 12 children to the diseases that had spread rapidly during the War.  Despite her personal tragedies, she never stopped her community service.  After the War, she transformed the Clubs into groups promoting peace and reconciliation in their war-torn communities.
Jarvis justified her activism in the name of ‘motherhood.’  It was never about honoring mothers for all they did.
But after her mother’s death in 1905, her daughter Anna made it her mission to make Mother's Day a holiday - not only to honor her mother, but all mothers.   She quit her job and started a national letter-writing campaign aimed at government officials.  Supporters wore white carnations representing the purity of a mother's heart.
It worked!  Towns and churches in several states soon adopted Mother’s Day as a local holiday.  By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.
Soon, however, Anna began to loath its exploitation.  She couldn't stand the idea of people spending so much money on extravagant flower arrangements, sappy greeting cards and overly priced chocolates.
She spent the rest of her life promoting her founding vision for the day while fighting the floral, confectionary, and greeting card industries (“schemers, profiteers, and  charlatans” as she called them) who were "ripping people off" from her holiday.  To combat the commodification of carnations, Anna handed out free buttons so people wouldn't have to buy such high-priced flowers.
She didn't stop there.
She even went after first lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother's Day in fundraising material for charities combating high maternal and infant mortality rates (the very type of work her own mother did during her lifetime).  She called those charities "Christian Pirates."  

Despite her best efforts, Mother's Day lives on.  Spending will top $23 billion this year.
Mother’s Day may be over-commercialized, much to Anna’s chagrin, but it’s still thoughtful to send your Mother a loving message of appreciation on her special day.  Spend time with her if you can, if even only in prayer.  Gifts are fine, but don’t forget to show her some real love with your sentiments.
Loving God, thank You for all the women who’ve brought forth new life.  Grant them the courage needed to face the uncertainties that life with children brings.  Give them the strength to live and to be loved in return, not perfectly, but humanly.  Amen

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Unity ≠ Uniformity

“In Christ, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman." ~ Galatians 3:28
Hollywood loves a great story, no matter its exaggeration.  If movies weren’t inflated far beyond real life, many people wouldn’t understand or catch on.  Embellishment incites emotion, conveys certain narratives, and seduces patrons.
So what if I told you that the myth of the slaves building pyramids is the stuff of tabloids; that the world simply couldn’t believe they were built without oppression?
The pyramids of the Giza Plateau are possibly the most famous structures in the world.  Much more than just royal tombs, research shows they had a socially-unifying meaning as well.
The image that Hollywood portrayed was one of slaves, working under the cruelty of Pharaoh’s whip, building the pyramids.  But recent archaeological findings suggest that their construction may have involved the entire country; every Egyptian household sent workers, grain, and food to contribute to this national project.
Though not slaves, laborers led hard lives and were paid and rewarded for their work.  Those who died during project, for example, were given the honor of being buried in tombs near the sacred pyramids.  That proximity and the manner of burial preparation supports this theory.
Once completed, a capstone encased in gold was placed atop the pyramid.  Then it was time for dancing and singing as the entire nation celebrated completion of their enormous achievement.
The mission of building the Pyramids served to unify the Egyptian state.  One might say that the people rallied round the Pharaoh to help bring to fruition his dream of eternal life.
Modern Christians can learn from that experience.
Like the early Egyptians, unity derives from a shared vision and common purpose.  Just as there were great differences among all those Egyptian workers; so there may be great differences among us.  But when we focus on a common task, the successes can be monumental.
It’s possible to have unity within the church … only if we give up on uniformity.  Unity is a Godly goal achieved when we are of one mind, purpose, mission, and goal.
Generally, we Christians have one Spirit, the Spirit of God.  We have a single purpose, to glorify God.  We have one mission, to spread the good news about Jesus Christ.  Our earthly goal is to live like Jesus - whose love is inclusive.
It’s our quest for uniformity that tends to divide us.
Uniformity requires belief in the same things practiced the same way.  Despite this unity, there’s no uniformity whatsoever on how to do these things, what it looks like, or where and when to do them.  There should be room among us for all kinds of Christians.  This sort of inclusive, loving unity goes a long way in glorifying God.
God of love, whose grace sustains us, help others feel that same love, even if it’s been revealed to them in different ways.  Give all those of faith a special place in your heart, demonstrated by the compassion of Your Son as an example for us.  Amen

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Payment in 'Kind"

“Don’t do good only to those who treat you well." ~ Luke 6:33
The Thrift Shoppe was a treasure trove to Hannah.  Her eyes lit up as she entered it, greeting the volunteers like old friends.  After exchanging news with each of them her quest began.  She’d search every rack and shelf, not for herself, but with her entire extended family in mind.  She believed that clothes didn’t necessarily lose their value just because they were pre-loved.
Today she spotted a nearly-new dress that she knew her granddaughter would love.  She giggled with anticipation as she added it to her basket.  Five minutes with her sewing machine and you'd never recognize it.
Shopping for others gave her great joy.  But money was tight, so Hannah asked the store owner if he’d hold it for her until the beginning of next month.
“May I buy that dress for you?” asked the customer waiting in line directly behind her.
“Thank you, but I can’t accept such a gracious gift,” Hannah replied.
Then the total stranger explained why it was so important for her to help.
“I found myself homeless and vulnerable at 15,” she began, “when my mother died from a heroin overdose.  I slept in shelters when possible, but mostly on park benches, under bridges, and even on church steps.
One day as I sat on the frozen ground, thinking and dreaming, a group of teenagers walked by.  I watched as their eyes avoided mine.  They all walked on, chatting and laughing … all, except for one of the girls.
Bending down, she removed her jacket and handed it to me, saying “Here, you must be cold.”  Then she pulled out a twenty dollar bill from her wallet and a chocolate chip cookie from her pocket.  Handing both to me, she smiled; not a patronizing smile, but a warm, engaging one.  After she left, her warmth remained with me to this day.
“I’m no longer homeless; my situation has improved,” she continued.  “But I promised myself that I’d repay the kindness she’d shown me – as often as possible, in as many ways as possible, to as many people as possible, for the rest of my life.”
She paid for the dress.  The only payment she accepted in return was a heartfelt hug.
‘Paying it forward’ is an expression for repaying a good deed forward to others instead of back to the original benefactor.  It encourages us to reflect on the good that God has done in our lives and to pass it on to others.  Encouraging those we help to ‘pay it forward’ multiplies its goodness.
We never know what somebody‘s going through.  Sometimes all it takes to change their life’s trajectory is a kind gesture - taking one extra second to do something positive without expectancy.
Lord, help me “do all the good I can, by all the means I can, in all the ways I can, in all the places I can, at all the times I can, to all the people I can, as long as ever I can.” ~ John Wesley