Thursday, October 26, 2017

I AM WHO I AM

Weekly Devotional

I AM WHO I AM
Exodus 2:23-3:15

After moving his family to Egypt during a severe famine and being reunited with his son Joseph, Jacob's large family grew even more so. In fact, over a period of 430 years, Jacob's family grew into a nation. They became a nation within a nation. However, once the life-saving deeds of Joseph were forgotten, the Israelites became slaves to the Egyptians and were severely abused. God heard their groans and remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob (vs. 2:24).

This brings us to Moses and the burning bush. Understandably, Moses struggled with his ordination ceremony on that holy ground where he was commissioned to save a nation. Moses could only see the reasons why he couldn't lead the Israelites. He couldn't see how his life experiences were beneficial to God's cause (vs. 3:11).

God's proclamation of I AM WHO I AM was a powerful declaration of His character and His attributes. Moses had to come to the realization it wasn't important who he was or what he lacked. He needed to choose to trust the I AM WHO I AM, the One who was more than capable and would be with him throughout the journey (vs. 3:12-14).

God is still the I AM WHO I AM. We call Him Jesus (see John 8:58). Are you struggling with those things He has called you to do? Do your insecurities hold you back? Good news. You too can choose to trust Him. Our Lord isn't in the business of setting you up so you can fail. If He calls you, He will equip you and will capably walk with you every step of the way.

Jesus, You truly are the I AM WHO I AM. It has nothing to do with our inabilities but it has everything to do with Your capabilities. It has everything to do with who You are. Draw us closer to You so that we can intimately know You as the I AM WHO I AM. The more we learn of Your character and attributes, the easier it will be to trust you. In Your powerful name, Amen.


Personal Application:
There were a few times in my life when God called me to do something specific where my response to Him was, "Say what?" Yeah, sort of like Moses' response of "Who, me?" When I was a single twenty-three year old young lady, He called me to teach a Sunday School class of twelve high-energy 14 year old boys. "Say what? Who, me?" After Mike and I had been married for almost two years, He called us to move away from my family and friends in beautiful San Diego, CA to landlocked Omaha, NE. "Say what? Who, me?" Right now He's called our church, Omaha Christian Center, to minister to some fairly crazy and wild children. About 90% of the children don't have a church background. On more than one Wednesday night I (along with the rest of the team) have cried out, "Say what? Who, me?" It has been one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life.

And yet, in every circumstance, God equipped me to do what I never thought I could do. Like Moses, He has never failed me. Not once. Whenever I focus on His capabilities instead of my inabilities, I find myself doing the impossible. (Right now, in this moment, I so needed to remind myself of that. My insecurities have been raising their ugly heads.) I'm thankful the I AM WHO I AM wants to be an integral part of my life and what He has called me to do. I can't do it without Him, and frankly, don't want to do it without Him.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Mike's Miraculous Journey

This is really Mike's story. A story he has lived for the past seven weeks. A story he probably can tell much better than I can but it's a story I can only tell from the only perspective I know best...mine.

-------------------------------------

At 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 5th, we received a phone call which no parent wants to receive, even if their child is a forty year old grown man. Our daughter Christy is the one who answered the phone. It was a friend of our son's, Jon Elliott, telling her that Mike had been in a motorcycle accident and was at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He had no further information which he could tell her.

We couldn't get to the hospital fast enough and, yet, it was a long ride since it seemed like time had slowed to almost a crawl. We tried not to speculate but not knowing whether Mike was dead or alive was probably the most difficult part of the night for us. I prayed most of the way to the hospital. When Mike was a baby we had dedicated him to the Lord. Forty years later the only thing I could do was to put him into God's capable hands once again. No matter what news we received when we got to the hospital, it would be what God willed for his life.

Thirty minutes after receiving the phone call Mike (hubby), Christy and I walked into the ER. As soon as we were told Mike was in surgery my legs turned to jello. I told the admissions clerk, "Okay. Surgery is good. We can deal with surgery. At least you didn't tell us to go the morgue." Relief and a lot of hope flooded me as we headed to the second floor surgical waiting room in Clarkson Tower.

We still had no idea as to the severity of his injuries. Again, we tried not to speculate as to how bad it might be. I know I was expecting them to tell us he had surgery for a broken leg or arm, maybe even both...after all, it was a motorcycle accident. But we just didn't know. Around 4:30 a.m. the surgeon came out to talk with us. She told us everything went well during surgery for some internal injuries and he was recovering nicely. I suppose our first indication that things were fairly serious was when she told us that he would be moved shortly to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

At that point she began to list his injuries. It's easier for me to do exactly what the surgeon did...start from the head and work down. His injuries included:

-A brain injury and small brain bleed
-A broken left eye socket, broken bones in his nasal cavity, broken cheek bones
-A broken neck at the #1 vertebrae - it was "hanging on by a thread"
-Broken back in several places, plus small chips broken in some of his middle vertebrae
-Several broken ribs
-Punctured right lung and bruising to both lungs
-Deeply bruised heart which put him into AFib meaning he now had a rapid irregular heartbeat
-Internal injuries where they removed his appendix and cleaned up and "repaired other organs" although I'm still not sure what that meant
-Broken pelvic bone which would require surgery
-Burns on his feet, legs and arm along with some road rash

We were dumbfounded. Overwhelmed by what we heard, we quickly realized Mike's life would be radically changed for quite some time. Our lives too for that matter. I later told our family we were going to have to find a "new normal" for awhile. My grandson Micah reassured me, "Grandma, our family's lives have never been normal." Point well taken, Micah.

We also realized it was a miracle he was alive and still with us. Immediately we gave God the praise and honor He deserved in sparing Mike's life. It didn't take long for me to see that everything wrong with Mike's body was either fixable, mendable or removable. That's what I began to share with family and friends in reassuring them that he would eventually recover from the accident. We knew he wasn't going to die.

Around 5:30 a.m. my husband and daughter went home to get some sleep. Once Mike was settled in his bed they allowed me into his SICU room. There were tubes and IVs and machines everywhere. He was also on a ventilator. As I stared at my son a few tears trickled down my face but it would be a couple more weeks before I would be able to break down and have a good cry. While watching his chest move up and down with the help of the ventilator, I made a vow that I wouldn't cry while in the room with Mike. No tears; only rejoicing in God's goodness. 

Even though Mike was in bad shape it wasn't a morbid scene. As I sat in a chair next to his bed an incredible peace settled over us. It was as if someone took a vial of Peace and began pouring it over my head. I could feel it saturate my entire being in a warm fluid sensation. God still had plans for my son and he was in God's capable hands. I began to quote out loud, "For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day."  Ephesians 3:14-21 came to mind. I wrote out the passage and left it by Mike's bed stand. God's peace indeed sustained and strengthened us during the difficult days ahead.

I want to step away from Mike's story and share about his daughter, Kira. She was in Mitchell, SD with her mother and stepfather when the accident occurred. They waited until Sunday to tell her when they were ready to head back to Omaha. Papu (her other grandfather who is a doctor) did a wonderful job of sharing with Kira about what happened to her daddy and what to expect. By Sunday night when they got back into Omaha, Mike was off the ventilator already so they decided KiKi could see her daddy. Even though it was emotional for her to see her father's broken body, she handled it amazingly well for a twelve-year-old. This was a tough time for Kira but she was strong and continues to remain strong. She visited her daddy as much as possible.

Her biggest concern was his angry combativeness due to the brain injury and the meds he was taking. We had to have family and friends with him 24 hours a day to keep in him in bed and keep tubes in his body. At one point, he even managed to pull out his chest tube which totally amazed the medical staff. Was he going to be like that for the rest of his life? We simply didn't know. Understandably she wanted her wild, crazy and loving Daddy back. It was a huge relief to her when about two weeks later she walked into his hospital room and realized her dad was indeed back. His personality and everything she loved about him was still in tact.

I am very proud of my granddaughter. Even during the most stressful and fearful moments, she was there with her dad. What she experienced and saw was tough to face but she never backed down or stayed away from visiting in the hospital because it was too difficult for her. Now that's he's home and with a ways to go in his recovery, she continues to be the best medicine he could ever receive. I sure am proud of my sunshine, Kira.

Back to Mike's story...during the first couple days in the hospital as the numerous specialist came in, each one shared with me why Mike was a miracle. As we began to hear details of the accident we were stunned he was even alive.

A friend of his, Jerry, was with him and their bikes collided causing both riders to go down. Jerry was in the hospital with a broken back, broken ribs, shattered shoulder, broken ankle and horrible road rash. Mike doesn't remember the accident. Even seven weeks later he can't remember anything and can only go by what he's been told. Jerry says he remembers every second of it. With the exception of sharing a couple miraculous incidents, I'm not going to get into the details of how the accident happened. I will share that alcohol wasn't a factor. The toxicology report came back and showed Mike had what was equal to one beer in his system. We knew our son well enough to know that wasn't an issue even before the results were made known.

I do want to share with you the incredible miracles God gave to my son, Michael Hofer, on August 4th at approximately 11:30 p.m. It is obvious that God is not done with this man yet and God has a rich plan for his future.

Miracle #1  Location, Location, Location
I can't share this without tearing up some. After the two motorcycles collided, Mike slid under an SUV while still on his bike, slid about 60-70 feet (according to the skid marks on the road) while the motorcycle caught on fire. There were two police officers at a gas station less than a block from where the accident happened. They heard the collision, jumped into their cars and were there in a matter of seconds. They had fire extinguishers and quickly had the fire out. Mike was wearing a leather jacket and heavy pants which protected him. He has some burns on his feet, legs, hands and arms and some road rash but it would have been a different story if the police officers hadn't been at that gas station with those all important fire extinguishers.

Miracle #2  Trained Personnel
Those police officers were trained to handle this situation. They assumed Mike had serious injuries (he was unconscious for awhile) and they carefully removed him from the bike. By taking the right precautions they saved his life or kept him from being paralyzed from the neck down since his #1 vertebrae was broken One specialist said when a person breaks that vertebrae they usually just simply stop breathing. Mike didn't.

If the police officers had not been there, the outcome could have been totally different. If Jerry or a Good Samaritan would have tried to pull him off that burning bike...well, yeah, the outcome could have been radically different. The police officers knew exactly what to do to save Mike's life.

Miracle #3  No Helmet
I know, right? In Iowa there are no helmet laws for motorcyclists. Neither Mike nor Jerry were wearing helmets which, at least for Mike, was unusual. He's usually quite cautious when it comes to his Italian bike. Even though he didn't have a helmet, he came away with some minor brain damage and a small brain bleed and a few broken facial bones. At his last CT scan a couple weeks ago, it showed that the brain bleed had almost diminished. With the exception of not remembering the accident, his short-term memory loss has improved radically over the past few weeks.

The neuro doctor actually told me it was probably a good thing he wasn't wearing a helmet. They felt Mike broke his neck on first impact and with a broken neck, a helmet would have been a huge risk trying to safely remove it from his head. I am not stating a case against helmets because I'm a strong advocate for them, but in this case, not having a helmet was a blessing.

Miracle #4  Kidney
Mike did have internal injuries. They removed his appendix, repaired his spleen and cleaned up some tears, etc. His right kidney was deeply bruised and the surgeon said she almost removed it. At the last minute, she put her stethoscope up to it and heard the smallest of gurgles. She decided to wait and see what would happen. They sent him to the SICU with an open gut. Sunday afternoon he went back into surgery only for the surgeon to find a pink, functioning kidney.

Miracle #5  Bruised Heart
The impact of the accident sent him into AFib (rapid irregular heartbeat). Although his heart rate was an issue for the first two and half weeks, it began healing quickly. Originally, they were going to do further tests on his heart but it had recovered enough that they didn't see it as a long-term condition he would have to deal with. They did say that he would probably have to be on low blood-pressure medicine for the rest of his life. At about week five, he was able to stop using the low blood-pressure meds altogether. We did find out the hard way he didn't need the meds anymore. At four o'clock in the morning he passed out in the bathroom. After hours of testing, they determined it was the low blood-pressure meds that caused him to pass out.

Miracle #6  Broken Pelvic Bone
The Ortho surgeon said that if he had to break his pelvic bone he did it right. The break ran the entire length of the bone but stopped above the hip socket. The surgeon was amazed that the ball in the hip socket didn't dislocate which would have created its own serious problems. He said it was highly unusual for that to happen. Since he broke his pelvic bone "right" it went back nicely together with plates and screws. At the follow-up visit, the surgeon was shocked as to how well he was doing. He still can't put weight on that leg for a while but he is mending quickly. He will know on October 5th if he'll be able to start putting weight on that leg. There will be no long-term issues with the pelvic bone with the exception of setting off alarms at the airport when walking through scanners.

Miracle #7 Broken Neck
For me, besides having the police officers at the right place at the right time, this is probably the biggest miracle God gave to Mike. Simply put, he should be dead. He should have stopped breathing as soon as his neck broke yet he slid under an SUV and down the road for another 60-70 feet or so and still kept breathing. He could have been paralyzed. The doctors are still amazed that considering the seriousness of the break - "his neck is holding on by a thread" - he is alive and mending rapidly. He will have a CT scan on October 10th and they'll let him know then how much longer he will have to wear the neck brace.

I am sure there are other miracles that only God and heaven know about. To God be the glory! Throughout this entire ordeal I have declared, "God is good. Always." Even if the outcome had been different then the one Mike received, hopefully I would still have declared, "God is good. Always."

Not everything was smooth sailing in the hospital. First, as I already stated, due to a combination of brain injury and meds, his anger and combativeness was a challenge for a couple of weeks. Second, once they found out that Mike didn't have health insurance, the goal of the case worker seemed to be to get him out of there as quickly as possible. I had to file a complaint for early dismissal. It worked and he stayed another eight days in the hospital. Third, Mike demanded that his feeding tube be removed but the trauma team flat out refused to remove it even when he declared his patient rights in having it taken out. He gave me power of attorney over his health care and I had to fight for his rights. After me raising quite a fuss it was out within a couple of hours. Fourth, we also found out that even though he needed to go into a nursing care facility for further recovery, that wasn't going to happen since he didn't have health insurance. Nor did he qualify for any disability programs that the state had to offer.

We had to meet with financial aid and fill out forms in hopes that they would help him with some of the medical costs. We still haven't heard the results of that yet but I'm believing they will cover at least 80% of the cost. I know God has this under control along with all his other financial needs. God has faithfully met his at-home medical costs as well as his day-to-day expenses and bills. God used many, many people who blessed Mike by donating to help cover most of these expenses. There is no way we can adequately thank all the family and friends and his work who donated money. Thank you to those who faithfully prayed for him as well. Your prayers were answered miraculously time and time again.

One of the toughest lessons I've had to learn through this is not to question God's sovereignty. While Mike was in the hospital there was a young man in his early twenties who was also in a motorcycle accident. It was heartbreaking watching family and friends say their good-byes to him over a 2-3 day period of time. He had a fractured skull even though he was wearing a helmet and would not survive. At first, I felt guilty because as they were losing their beloved son, grandson, brother we were learning that our son, father, brother, uncle would survive. But God...only God knows why those two outcomes were different.

I would like to think that our worship and praise of God would have been just as passionate if Mike had not survived the accident. I really don't know what I would have done because it would have been the greatest trial my family would have ever faced. But God...obviously he isn't quite done with Mike yet.

Before signing off, I would like to share with you the scriptures kept by Mike's bedside during his 20 days hospital stay.

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen Mike Hofer with power through His Spirit in Mike's inner being, so that Christ may dwell in his heart through faith. And I pray that Mike, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, TO GRASP HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that Mike may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all Mike asks or imagines, according to His power that is at work within Mike, to Him be glory in the church (and Mike's body) in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."     Ephesians 3:14-21 (emphasis mine)

God is Good. Always.























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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Chase Finds Friends

(Renamed from "Chase's Request.")  I would like to publish this as a children's picture book.



Chase Find Friends
A Far-Fetched Tale about Furry Friends

    
     Chase laid on the ground looking up at the sky. With one leg crossed over the other and chewing a blade of grass he longed, for about the hundredth time that day, to have a friend.

     "Momma?" Chased asked. "Why don't I have any friends? More than anything in the whole wide world, I would like to have a friend."

     "Tis true," Momma mumbled with a clothespin in her mouth. She shook out a blue bed sheet. "We don't have any close neighbors and that's a fact. Why don't you pray and ask Jesus for a friend? I'm sure He'll help you. Nothing is impossible with God."

     Chase loved their small cottage with its thatched straw roof but Momma worked hard to keep the house clean, the laundry washed and the garden freed from weeds. She made the best meals from the garden produce. As he chewed on the blade of grass, he imagined eating Momma's delicious vegetable soup. Even the clouds were shaped like some of the veggies. He knew that as much as she would have liked to, she simply didn't have that much time for playing.

     Right before he climbed into bed, Chase knelt at his window. He looked toward heaven. "Jesus, I sure could use a friend or two. It's mighty lonesome-like around here with no one to play with. Thanks, Jesus!" With a heart full of hope, Chase crawled into bed.

     Huntley, the hound dog who lived a couple miles down the road, always ran through the forest at night. He liked to howl at whatever moved. On this particular night, Huntley took off for the forest at top speed. There was a full moon to brightly light his way. He ran through the clover patch, waded the creek with a splash, jumped over a dead log, and ran around the bend. Finally, he sat on straight front legs, pointed his nose toward the moon and...

     "Ow, ooooooooooooooo.  Ow, ooooooooooooooo," Huntley howled.

     "Huh?" said a startled brown bear who was busy licking honey from his paws. "Now cut that out, would ya!" he demanded.  "I don't like loud noises." The bear ran away but Huntley howled as he followed him.


     The bear fled through the thick trees as fast as his big ol' body would let him. He lumbered over the bridge, down through the hollow and over a steep hill with Huntley right behind him and...

     The bear ran right into a buck eating tender leaves from a tree. "Huh?" said the surprised deer.

     "Ow," said the bear, "that hurts! Get your antler away from my nose."

     "Well, get your nose away from my antlers," growled the buck.

     The buck began to lope through the forest with an angry bear behind him and Huntley close to the bear's heels. They all ran out of the dark forest. The buck sprinted around the lake, through the meadow, across a cornfield, and down to a barn with the crazy bear right behind him. Huntley was still howling just for the joy of the chase and...

     The buck tripped over a big ol' fat pig who was quite comfortable in the cool, mucky mud. Down into the mud went the buck. Down into the mud went the bear. Down into the mud went Huntley.

     "Huh?" snorted the pig. "What do you think you're doing? How rude! You made a mess of my mud and, besides, I was here first." He bonked the buck upside the head with his curly tail. That's when the pig looked behind him and noticed antlers aimed right at his curly tail.

     "Yikes!" yelled the pig as he crawled out of the mud. "I'm outta here."

     The pig waddled through the barn door and out the other side. He ran far down the road as fast as his pudgy little legs would take him. He ran right into Chase's yard and into Momma's garden. He stopped just long enough to scarf down a carrot. He ran under the clean sheets on the clothes line. One of the sheets tangled with the pig. He couldn't see because the sheet covered his head nor he could see the line of animals fast on his trail and...

     He ran into the outside wall of the cottage. The buck, which was blinded by pajamas on his antlers, bumped into the pig. Up went the pig on the buck's head. The bear with underwear on his head bumped into the buck. Up went the buck on the bear's head. Huntley, who was too busy howling and didn't pay any attention to where he was going, bumped into the bear. Up went the bear on top of Huntley's heard. For sure, Huntley was one strong hound dog.

     Chase woke from the noise outside his window. "Huh? What the?" he asked.

     Chase peeked out his window. He saw a dog, a bear, a buck and a pig piled high. They stared at him. He stared at them. Huntley howled. A big grin spread across his face. "Thank you, Jesus, for sending me some new friends."

     Chase waved at the pile of animals. "Hey guys, can't wait 'til we play tomorrow." He crawled back into bed with a grateful heart. His dreams were filled with sweet thoughts of good times with his newly found friends. Suddenly, his eyes flew open.  "Huh?" he said. "How DO you play with a big brown bear?"


     Reflection Page:  Truth be told, Chase really couldn't play with some of his new-found friends but it was a fun story to read and pretend that he could. Huntley the hound dog and even the pig would have made fun friends. Truth be told, God really does care about us and He does answer our prayers. Sometimes God answers quickly. Sometimes He says we must wait. Sometimes He even says, "No, not this time." But He always answers our prayers. Always. However, if Chase hadn't taken the time to ask God for friends, he may not have gotten any friends.

     The Bible says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."  Matthew 7:7-8 NKJ



Monday, May 8, 2017

God, Can You Hear Me?

(Renamed from "Lost, The Photographer and His Camera)


Intro to Poem


At FaithWriters, (faithwriters.com) they give you an opportunity to hone your writing skills through The Writing Challenge. They give you a topic and you may use any genre, within 150-750 words, to write a story. After participating in the Writing Challenge for quite some time, it was getting difficult to come up with original, creative stories. I decided to make a Creativity Box. I divided it into various sections:  main character, point of view, plot, prop, location, audience, and genre. I wrote out index cards for each section. For example, under main character, I might have monster on one card, teacher on the next, sea captain on the next, missionary on the next...well, you get my point.


On this particular assignment, the topic was the word "Hear." I then randomly pulled out the following cards:


main character - photographer
point of view - 1st person
plot - fear
prop - camera (seriously and with great relief, randomly pulled it out)
location - sea
audience - adult
genre - haiku


I was stunned when I pulled out the word "haiku." Yikes. At first I decided to sit out the Writing Challenge for the week but then changed my mind. I wasn't for sure if an epic haiku was really a genre but decided to give it a try anyway. I knew that haikus gave reference to nature in some way. After some research I found out that originally Japanese haikus focused mainly on the weather and seasons. I decided to make an attempt, not only to be faithful to such things as using the correct syllables per line and correct lines per stanza, but to the weather theme too. I wanted to somehow reference the weather or season in each stanza, if at all possible although I wasn't successful every time. The following "epic haiku" is the result of the ideas generated above. Whew! It was no easy task but I believe God guided and anointed my creativity.




God, Can You Hear Me?



Lost on the breezes...
cruel waves toss my boat around
winter on the sea.


My ears are attuned...
to the sounds of frozen howls
blowing through the mast.


"God, can you hear me?"
I cry to mounds of icy
foam lashing the boat.


"God, where are you now?"
I scream at the forlorn depth
where darkness prevails.


The strength of the storm...
building to a wild frenzy
engulfs all my fears.


Nature at its worst...
reveals God as powerful
and mighty in strength.


"Where is God in this?"
I agonize as frigid
waters attack me.



"Use your camera,"
is all I hear from the Lord
upon heightened swells.


I can't fight the deep...
it's too powerful to win
against such a force.


I resign the fact...
God wants me to record death
in this icy sea.


"God, did I hear right?"
I ask Him while giant waves
mount a cruel attack.


The camera's poised...
documenting my final
day on the ocean.


A noise interrupts...
the cold death toll of my soul
as a ship appears.


"How did you find me?
A needle indeed in the
proverbial hay."


Many knowing smiles...
on faces of my heroes
warm my frozen heart.


The strobe of the light...
from the camera flashed bright
through the wintry storm.






Thursday, May 4, 2017

When Did That Happen?

Every time my husband, Mike, looks at a picture of himself the first question that comes out of his mouth usually is, "Do I really look that old?" And my response usually is, "Yes. We both really look that old." Maybe you can relate to the following poem. I hope it's not too much of a downer because I really don't mind getting older. It beats seeing my name in the obits.



When Did That Happen?

"Who is that person in the picture?" I ask.
"No way can that be me. I know it can't
be me because that person in the picture is old.
She looks like my mother and my memory of her is old.
As for me, I am eternally young. Right?"
Then I see the hands holding the picture.
Shockingly, I realize those are old people hands.
Shaking my head I ponder, "When did that happen?"





Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Town of Whiney-Oaks

Let's face it..those of us who live in the Midwestern section of the United States of America are probably complaining about the cold right now. And it IS cold. Tonight's temperature will be somewhere around -8 degrees F here in Omaha, NE. Burr. And some of my Australian/New Zealand friends are probably complaining about the heat. Go figure. Isn't it human nature to complain about the weather?


The Town of Whiney-Oaks

 
In the town of Whiney-Oaks,
Lives a passel of whiney folks,
They gripe, complain all day long,
Singing their silly, whiney-day song.

“When it’s cold, we want it hot.
When it’s rainy, we want it not.
When it’s sunny, it shouldn’t be.
We love to live in our misery.”

In the midst of these whiney blokes,
Lives a wee boy of different strokes.
Perry-boy likes all sorts of weather:
The rain, the sleet, it doesn’t matter.

When others gripe about the snow,
This dear, young lad will gladly go
Outside to skate and to play,
Having fun on a wintry day.

Not once will Perry-boy ever sing,
That song of woe in the spring,
While others whine about pollen from flowers,
He will sniff them for hours and hours.

On a hot, summery noon,
When other Whinies begin to swoon,
Perry-boy laughs with utter glee,
Swimming and biking joyfully.

Colorful leaves falling from the tree,
Makes his heart sing quite merrily,
While others gripe about the work,
Which most Whinies would rather shirk.

“Perry-boy,” others like to say,
“How can you enjoy this lousy day?
Come join us in our poor misery,
For this is the way it ought to be.”

“No, dear Whinies, I cannot be,
This thing you are asking of me,
I can’t sing your sad, silly song,
Not now nor my whole-life long.”

“Boy, what makes you not want to sing,
The song that means most everything,
To all the other Whiney blokes,
Who live in the town of Whiney-Oaks?”

“Folks, I’m glad you truly want to know,
The secret I found some time ago,
In the holy Book of books indeed,
There is a truth that has set me free.

You see, today I choose to rejoice,
It is truly a much finer choice,
To know that this is a special day,
God has given me to enjoy and play.

For today, I choose what is true,
What is noble for me and for you.
I choose on this day to gladly see,
What is pure and ever-so lovely.

My life isn’t always so grand,
Some days don’t go the way that I plan.
Yet, when I dwell on my Lord’s grace,
He gives me strength for the trials I face.

When I choose to thank the Lord,
To rejoice in His faithful Word,
It helps me to open my heart and see
That each day is a blessing to me.”

All the Whinies began shaking their heads,
Not quite understanding all he had said,
Each one went his whiney-filled way,
Ready to face another whiney-filled day.

Perry-boy felt a tug on his shirt,
Turning he smiled at Peggy and Burt,
Two little Whinies from Perry-boy’s school,
They thought what he said was ever-so cool.

“Can we play?” they hopefully asked,
“We don’t want to whine like in the past,
We want to rejoice in the Lord above,
We want to feel His grace and His love.”

Perry-boy was grinning from ear to ear,
Thankful for his new friends standing there,
“The three of us is a good start!”
He sang with an ever-grateful heart.

Over the years as the word was spread,
Others chose to live by what he had said,
Enjoying the season whether cold or hot,
Praising the Lord in good times and not.

The truth of God’s Word is plain to see,
Rejoice in Him always, and always you’ll be
Content no matter what life brings your way,
Enjoying the best in each blessed day.

 
Reflection Page:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.”  Philippians 4:4-8 (NIV)

 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Finding the Perfect Home

I would like to publish this as a children's picture book using water colors for the illustrations. I wish I had the talent to illustrate the book but, alas, it wasn't a skill that the Lord blessed me with. I pray the story will encourage you. Enjoy.

The Adventures of Mr. & Mrs. Elf Owl
Finding the Perfect Home
 
 
       "Oh dear," sighed Mrs. Elf Owl. "I don't think I'm going to make it. The eggs aren't going to wait too much longer. And I'm so tired."
 
       Being nocturnal, daytime was usually for sleeping. Her wings moved slowly up and down and her tired eyes struggled to stay open. She barely had enough strength left in them to lift herself off the branch where she was perched. Mr. & Mrs. Elf Owl had flown south to Mexico for the winter where the insects they ate were more available. They had just returned from their migration. Now it was time for her to lay eggs.
 
       "By the way, where is my husband?" she asked as she looked around for him.
 
       At that moment, Mr. Elf was quite busy. He knew they must find a home soon before the eggs came into the world. He peeked into the hole of an oak tree.
 
     "Sorry ma'am, didn't mean to disturb you," Mr. Elf Owl said to a startled woodpecker. "The missus and I are desperate to find ourselves a home before our eggs are laid."
 
     "Well, this tree is taken," snapped Mrs. Woodpecker. "Next time be careful where you stick that beak of yours." Ruffling her feathers she settled deeper on her nest of eggs.
 
     Mrs. Elf Owl had hoped her husband would be able to find a home in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. The summer temperatures were cooler and the Riparian Forest would provide needed shelter and water. Unfortunately, many other birds and animals had the same idea. There wasn't an empty oak tree to be found.
 
       When her belly tightened, Mrs. Elf Owl moaned. "You know, we wouldn't be in this mess, if you hadn't decided to try a new route home. At the border all you had to do was ask for directions but you said you knew exactly where we were the whole time."

       "Yes, dear," answered Mr. Elf Owl. He knew his sweet wife wasn't too happy with him because he really did get lost. He couldn't really blame her for being upset.

       "She may only be 4 1/2 inches tall and may only weigh a little over an ounce," he chuckled, "yet I believe in her desperation, she's quite capable of taking care of herself."

       Mr. Elf Owl thought about what to do next. "I know where there are some sycamore trees. The tall trees will provide protection from snakes, coyotes and bobcats. Hopefully, we can find a deserted one that's been pecked out by a woodpecker."

       Mrs. Elf Owl looked down at her big belly. How much longer do I have? she thought. I'm sure it won't be much longer now.

       They would have to find a place with an old nest because they didn't have time to make one of their own. After an hour's flight, they spied the grove of sycamore trees on the slopes of a large hill. The air was more arid and there wasn't as much foliage and brush.

       "Excuse me, is anyone home?" asked Mr. Elf Owl at a tree on the back edge of the grove. All the other trees seemed to be occupied already. This was their only hope.

       "I say there, you startled me," answered Mr. Sparrow. He stuck his head out of the hole to get a better look at his visitors. "How may I help you?"

       After they had shared their troubles with him, Mr. Sparrow shook his head. "Sorry, but this grove is full. Fairly close to the water supply, you know. There is still one more place you could try. On the Sonora desert floor, the saguaros would make a nice home."

       "Oh Elfie, not the desert," Mrs. Elf Owl cried. "It's horribly hot there. Please, not the desert." Mrs. Elf Owl shuddered at the thought of living in such a place.

       "My dear, I don't think we have a choice," Mr. Elf Owl said kindly as he stroked his wife's feathers. "I do believe, though, if the good Lord can take care of that sparrow family, He will provide for us too."

       Two exhausted elf owls flew to the desert right before darkness settled over the area. They found a deserted saguaro cactus with an old nest and settled in for a long, busy night. It was indeed time.

       Mr. and Mrs. Elf Owls' hearts were full of thanksgiving as the sun rose over the desert floor. "Oh, Elfie, it's lovely. I had no idea how beautiful it was here," Mrs. Elf Owl declared.

       Beautiful white flowers, with large centers as bright as the sun, had blossomed overnight on the hundreds of cacti which surrounded them. The arms of the cacti stretched upward toward the sky as if in praise to their Creator. As they enjoyed the beauty of the desert, they rejoiced in God's goodness.

     "You did good Momma. Real good," bragged Mr. Elf Owl.

       Safely tucked away in the nest of the saguaro cactus was a tiny egg with the promise of more to come in the next couple of days. With weary, but thankful hearts, they closed their eyes for a well-deserved sleep.



       Reflection Page:  Even though this is a pretend story, there really are birds called elf owls and they really do live in the saguaro cacti in the Sonora Desert. Look on a map and find the Sonora Desert in the state of Arizona. And there really is a God who cares about sparrows and woodpeckers and tiny little elf owls. Just think, if He cares about the birds how much more He cares about you... someone who is created in His image. God has a perfect plan for your life, including where you should live, who your parents and siblings are, and where you should go to school. You can't always see what's best for yourself but God knows. Always.

       "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"  Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

       "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)

       Can you think of a husband and wife (the wife was going to have a baby) in the Bible who had trouble finding a place to spend the night? God had it all under control and that baby was born right where God wanted Him to be born. (Hint:  The baby's name is Jesus.)
 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Recalibrating My Motives...Never Mind...You Caught Me Thinking Out Loud Instead

It's time to get back to writing again. It's time to get back to writing again simply because I love to write. I love to express in words what God is doing in my life. I love to express in words what God is saying to me through His Word and through prayer and through the prophetic. And I especially like to connect with children through storytelling. Somewhere along the way I lost the focus of the "why" of it all...simply doing something for the love of it. Getting published, winning contests and challenges (in which I won none of them), and looking for other writers' approval became my focus. As a result, since I didn't receive the high accolades I desperately sought, I began to questions my abilities and doubt my dreams of being a writer. That doesn't mean I won't pursue some of those endeavors again but I want to do it for the right reasons. I do plan on finishing the three book proposals I've been working on for the past few weeks. However, God reminded me that all I need is His approval...focusing on Him and bringing Him glory is more than enough. He's recalibrating my motives right now. That's a good thing. Maybe one of these days I'll be a published author, maybe I won't. Either way it's okay as long as my Lord and Savior is glorified through the stories I write.


You know, I may just toss those book proposals in the trash and share with you right here on my blog some of the stories I've written...lay aside the book of James for now (haven't thought about it in months anyway) and have some fun. How can these stories bring God glory if I don't share them? Okay, I've just talked myself into doing something crazy...I'm going to forget about being published...forget about being a world famous author...forget about the millions I would have made from my children picture books. I'm going to share my stories with all fifteen of you (that's how many followers I have...fairly pathetic in the world's view of things but, hey, as long as it glorifies the Lord...I'm totally cool with it...although more of you can sign up as followers...hint, hint. ) You'll need to get in your "kid" groove since most of what I'm going to share for awhile is written for children. I want to have fun again.


This blog was going to be about recalibrating my motives as a writer. Instead, you caught me thinking out loud. It sure didn't go the direction I expected although it most certainly went the direction the Lord willed it to go. Let's have some fun. Will you join me?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What I Learned at the Wordsowers Writing Conference

Workshop #1:
I leaned over so that I could hide behind the lady sitting in front of me. The speaker, Pam Morgan, had direct line of vision to my chair and I didn't want her to see my wet face. Her topic at the Wordsowers Writing Conference was on public speaking. But here she was, talking about seeing two crosses in a window...one was Jesus' cross and one was hers. Her powerful words brought encouragement to my spirit but also unwanted tears to my eyes.

Workshop #2:
I looked down at the crack in the tabletop not wanting to connect with Lee Warren's eyes. His tender story of how his father passed the patriarchal mantle to him caused more tears to flow. I desperately needed a Kleenex. How did Lee's workshop go from learning how to write nonfiction in a fiction style to another meltdown?

I thought this was a writing conference for crying out loud. A place for writers to learn the tricks of the trade. Why all the emotions? What does emotion have to do with any of this?

Evidently, quite a bit.



 



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hey, Teach! Yeah, You! (Part Two)

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.     James 3:1,2



Just a quick, short blog today.

Before we get into the "why" and "what" of James 3:1-12, I've been asked to defend my supposition that these scriptures are directed toward spiritual teachers.  Fair enough request, for sure!  (Love it...it means someone ACTUALLY read the post.  Whoo-hoo.)

I do believe these scriptures are addressed to spiritual teachers.  There's nothing theologically deep for my reasoning; it's more practical than anything else.  Notice that the first two scriptures are addressed toward the teacher.  In verse one, James reminds his readers of the teacher's responsibility and accountability to God.  In verse two, James reminds teachers they, like everyone else, are fallible human beings.  They're not perfect and, in the flesh, can't control their whole body.  If they could control their whole body, then yeah, they'd be perfect.  He then goes on to write an exhortation on the one body part they aren't able to control - the tongue.

Let's be honest, without the inward work of the Holy Spirit, we all struggle in this area.  EVERYONE can apply the truths of these scriptures to their lives whether they're teachers or not (see "Hey, Teach!  Yeah, You! (Part One).  But again, based on the above reasoning, I'm going to address it from the spiritual teacher's perspective.



Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hey, Teach! Yeah, You! (Part One)

     1Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  2We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
     3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  4Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder where the pilot wants to go.  5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body-it corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
     7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
     9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.  10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.  11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?  12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives?  or a grapevine bear figs?  Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. 
      James 3:1-12 (NIV)


While studying James 3:1-12 in preparation to write this blog, I quickly realized this portion of scripture would probably go in a different direction than I originally anticipated.  If I were to write about these scriptures without studying them, I'd share about the dangers of the tongue...that we need to be careful with what we say and how we say it because it could (and does) destroy people.  Let's face it, that's an absolute truth I can't argue with because we must be careful with what we say and how we treat people.  We ARE indeed accountable.

However, I do think the emphasis in these scriptures is on those who teach.  As my friend Rick (see blog "Whoa or Woe") wrote to me, "It seems particularly aimed at teachers though that would never let others off the hook."  Teachers or not, we cannot abdicate our responsibility and accountability for the words we say.

Since I too believe these scriptures are aimed at teachers, that is the approach I'm going to take.  Today's study is simply an introduction into the topic.  We'll take a look at the "why" and the "what" in the next couple blogs.  To be brutally honest, it is something that needs to be addressed personally in my own life; for me, this could hurt a little.  I do want to be held accountable to the Lord and you...in how I treat others and in how I react to a tense situation.  Controlling my tongue is only a small part of what God wants to address here since my attitude towards others plays a major role in how I treat them.


Application of God's Word:

"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."  Hebrews 4:12

Teachers do have a strong influence in the lives of their students whether they are children, teens or adults.  I pray you will bravely go on this journey with me as we allow the Holy Spirit to use the Word to penetrate to the core of our spirits.  I pray this journey will renew our commitment to teach and guide those in our sphere of influence, and that together we will be able to acknowledge this is a privilege none of us should ever take lightly.  I pray this journey will renew within us a passion for those God has led our way and that we will recognize it is an honor to serve them.  Let's allow the Holy Spirit to work from within and challenge us, making us more like the Greatest Teacher who ever walked the face of the earth.


Personal Matters:

Unfortunately, I'm one of those teachers who sometimes engages their mouth without asking their brain or spirit, if it's appropriate.  I then find myself cleaning up a big mess or, worse yet, someone else having to clean it up.  Another friend, JD, used to say, "Repentance is my friend."  We (repentance and I, along with a strong dose of conviction) may be walking hand-in-hand for awhile.  This is a very good thing because, as a teacher, I do want to be challenged and held accountable.  God is loving and kind, eager to forgive, and able to lead me down the path of righteousness so I don't spew all over folks causing irreparable damage to them with my insensitive words.  I do want to honor and respect those I'm called to serve.  Want to come along?  Are you up to the challenge?



 




Monday, March 16, 2015

Disclaimer Against, Well, Me

It's not every day someone puts out a disclaimer against themselves but today is one of those days.  When I first started the study on the book of James, I was meticulous in my research.  I would take a portion of scripture and dissect it word by word.  Not anymore (although that doesn't mean I won't occasionally define a word in the Hebrew or Greek to bring greater understanding).  I've discovered something important along the way.  When you take a scripture out of its context it's easy to miss the whole meaning of what the author is trying to say.  I've done my best to stay contextually accurate but I now think it's best to look at the scriptures in context to the other verses around it.

I don't plan on going back and redoing what I've done.  I'm okay with what I've written but do feel it's been a learning curve where I have actually learned a few things along the way.  And one of the biggies is to look at a scripture within the context to those scriptures around it (and another is to understand the culture in which it was written...but that discussion is for another time).  Thanks goodness learning curves aren't graded.  'Nuf said. 


(P.S.  I'm still working on James 3:1-12 but it will still be at least a couple weeks before being completed.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Whoa or Woe!

James 3:1-12

The whoa:  I love it when God messes with my theology.

I began studying James 3:1-12 for my next blog and then quickly discovered that this portion of scripture may go in a different direction than I anticipated.  If I were to write about these scriptures without studying them, I'd share about the dangers of the tongue.  That we need to be careful with what we say and how we say it because it could destroy someone.  Let's face it, that's a truth I can't argue with because we absolutely must be careful with what we say and how we treat people.

The whoa part has to do with the "we" part.  I never saw it before but there may not be a "we" part unless "we" are teachers.  I never thought to  connect verse one and two with the other 10 verses.  Hmmmm.

The woe:  Right now my presumption (perhaps, temporarily) is that James 3:1-12 is written for spiritual teachers.  The big woe is that in my Bible's footnotes they give Matthew 23 as a reference.  Yikes and woe!

Right now my presumption is that James 3:1-12 is specifically for teachers who need to be aware of the fact that they're responsible for others and that the power of their words can build up or completely destroy.  Verse two reminds them they are fallible beings.

I may throw this theory completely out the window once I begin a more detailed study.  One thing is for sure...I'm going to check out the theory with my friend, Rick.  Rick is like 800% (I almost put 801% but that would have been a hyperbole) smarter in his right big toe than I am in my whole body.  If he says I'm way off base, I'll delete this blog and start over again.  (Hint:  If you don't see this blog in a couple of days, I was way off base.)

Hmmmm.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Faith and Works Walk Hand-in-Hand

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works."  Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God.  You do well.  Even the demons believe-and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  And he was called the friend of God.  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.            James 2:14-26 (NKJ)



Don and Maxine Simpson met when they were teenagers in Bakersfield, CA and had been married for 62 years.  They were both in poor health and knew they were dying.  Wanting to be together, they set up hospital beds side by side in their home where they could be close to each other and hold hands.  In July, 2014, while they were holding hands Maxine died.  Four hours later Don passed away as well.  His grief and loss were too much to bear.

It's that way with faith and works.  I understand completely that works can't save me.  Ephesians 2:8,9 makes that quite clear.  However, once I am saved there is a joining of faith and works that takes place in my spirit.  Even Abraham's faith centuries ago resulted in works, which according to the Word, "was accounted to him for righteousness."

Just like the husband died four hours after his wife, faith will quickly die without works.  Faith and works walk hand-in-hand together.  Works is the evidence of the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  It doesn't boast, brag or want to be recognized.  It does flow from a heart of love and compassion and accomplishes the purposes and plan of God.

I like what my NKJ Bible's footnote for James 2:22 says about faith and works abiding together.  "This is a practical harmony or synergism between vertical faith in God and horizontal works to a needy world.  Faith is both spiritual and practical."  Even Moses acknowledged the power of synergism in Deuteronomy 32:30 when he stated, "How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight..."  When faith and works are united they become a powerful force which can move mountains.  And feed the hungry.  And give water to the thirsty.  And clothe the naked.  And visit the sick.  And visit the one in prison.  (See Matthew 25:31-46)


Application of God's Word:

Okay, the truth is I can't visit every criminal in prison or feed every person who is hungry or give
water to every person who is thirsty; well, you get the picture.  I may not be able to have an affect on the world but how about the guy rummaging through the trash bin behind the grocery store?  How about the little girl who has holes in her shoes that is in my Sunday School class?  How about the neighbor who just found out the devastating news that he has an incurable cancer?  Here's the bottom line...faith tells me I can trust God to direct my steps.  Works tells me He has directed my steps to give my neighbor a hug and a prayer.  Works tells me He has directed my steps to the shoe store.  Works tells me I can take the guy into the grocery store and buy him a drink and sandwich.

I remember when my son was about 14 years old he wanted me to take him to the store to buy some snacks with money he earned mowing lawns.  As we were leaving the store's parking lot there was a man pan-handling.  He was in bad shape and we could tell he had been on the streets for a long time.  Mike started yelling at me to stop.  He rolled down his window and handed the man his bag of goodies.  I don't know what the man thought about getting Gatorade, beef jerky, chips, candy, and whatever else Mike had in the bag but I do know his eyes were filled with tears when my son gave it to him.  My son warned him that it wasn't much but to that man it was everything.  Yeh, that's faith and works walking hand-in-hand. 


Personal Matters:

I hate to admit it, but I'd be more likely to turn away than to give that man my bag of goodies.  In fact, I wrote a poem several years ago about a family I saw on the corner by one of the local malls and my reaction to their plight.  I'm not much of a poet but hope this helps bring the point home.

 
Those Were My Children
 
Yesterday on the corner by the mall
I saw a sight that ought not to be.
A father, mother, and two children
Raggedly dressed were begging pitifully.
A little child held up a cardboard sign:
"Homeless - Children hungry today
Can you help me, I'm willing to work
And we have another little one on the way."
No one stopped to help those folks
Instead they stared in utter disgust.
I looked away so that I couldn't see
Pleading eyes searching for someone to trust.
 
"How do I know they're for real?
This might be a gimmick, a trick.
They won't get a cent of my money
Unless I can research to see if they're legit."
I drove on past to the renewal service
That was being held at church that day.
But I could not feel God's presence
Or find comfort when I worshiped and prayed.
I heard my Lord's saddened voice
As He disciplined me from above.
"Those were My children on that corner
Who needed someone to show them My great love."
 
Then He took me back in the past
To a difficult time when I was about ten.
 Our Thanksgiving came from a giving church
And our Christmas depended on the generosity of men.
I had forgotten how unfair things could be
And how disaster can change your life.
I had forgotten the kindness of others
Which helped us through the hardship and strife.
And then my Lord gently reminded me
That faith without works is dead.
Faith and works walk together
Hand-in-hand when by the Spirit I'm led.   
 
 
 
 




Monday, February 17, 2014

When the Needy Leave Still Needy

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.  For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thought?  Listen, my beloved brethren:  Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man.  Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?  Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors...For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.     James 2:1-13


I thought I understood what these scriptures meant.  It's quite simple, really:  In our churches we shouldn't make such a fuss over wealthy Christians.  Right?  Uh-no.  Thank goodness I decided to do a little research first before writing the blog.

One of my go-to-books is Hard Sayings of the Bible with several biblical scholars as the authors.  The book states that the rich folks referenced in James, chapters two and five, actually refer to wealthy Jews who were not believers.  The evidence that they weren't believers had to do with their wealth.  At that time, the Christians had "all things in common" meaning they pooled all their resources together while also concerning themselves with the poor.  These were "fruits" of their conversion.

Rich, Jewish non-believers were showing up in the assembly place.  "Assembly" here means synagogue so more than likely in the early life of the church they were still meeting in synagogues while also upholding some of the traditions such as having honor seats for special guests.  It isn't clear why the rich were going to the meetings - possibly out of curiosity or because they vainly enjoyed the attention perhaps.

The problem was those rich folks being fawned over had no intention of converting to Christianity.  Some even took the poor Christians to court exploiting them in taking what little money they did have.  As a result, the rich became richer.  Not only that James specifically said they blasphemed Jesus' name.  They took the precious name of Jesus and trampled on it not even caring that the name they spoke was higher than any other.


Application of God's Word:

1.  By giving the rich unbelievers the places of honor the church leadership was condoning their behavior toward the poor believers.  James said that by doing this they dishonored the poor.  The manner in which they treated the poor was contrary to Jesus' teachings.  One of Jesus' greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself.  Who is your neighbor?  According to the parable of the Good Samaritan it is anyone who has a need.  By not following Jesus' command they were guilty of disobedience.

2.  The saddest part in all of this is no one took notice of the poor or their sad state of existence, except maybe to judge them for their poverty and filthiness.  Neither God's grace nor love were extended.  No hope or encouragement were given.  The poor came into these meetings needy but left just as needy because they were being ignored.


Personal Matters:

Since I don't know too many rich folks - believers or nonbelievers - then it's probably true I don't make a fool of myself tripping over the poor to get to the ridiculously rich.  And yet, I have been guilty of making a big fuss over an "it" couple or person who were quite charismatic.  They seemed to have it all together, outgoing, personality plus, dressed nicely, attractive...you get it...all those surface things we clump together to measure "success."  At the same time, how often have those "less desirables" come into the assembly and I've not reached out to them even though they are needy because it's none of my business or I'm too busy right now or I don't know how to help them or they're those kind of people or well, you get the picture.  I've tripped over them all right...trying to get as far away from them as possible.

Sure wish I could breathe a deep sigh of relief declaring myself not guilty on this one but I'd only be deceiving myself.  There have been times over the years when those whom I would deem "less desirable" have crossed my path at church and I've not reached out to them.  In fact, I've probably recoiled and went the other way a few times.  Lord, have mercy on my soul!  If I want Him to show me mercy then according to verse 13 I need to show mercy.  "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment."  Every time.

The best thing I can do right now is be honest with the Lord, confess where I've refused to reach out to someone in need because I've judged them wrongly, ask the Lord to forgive me and ask the Holy Spirit to do an inward work in my spirit (how many times have I used THAT phrase since beginning this study?) giving me a heart of compassion like Jesus'.

A song we used to sing probably 30-40 years ago comes to mind but seems quite appropriate:

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus
All I ask is to be like Him.
All through life's journey
From earth to glory
All I ask is to be like Him.

Jesus never once showed partiality.  He never welcomed some while ignoring others.  He loved His neighbors and expressed compassion without recoiling or withholding mercy from them.  When the needy came to Jesus, they didn't leave still needy.  They left changed and whole and healed and delivered and encouraged and filled with hope.  May those who come into our assembly needy not leave in the same condition they entered.  May Jesus in us be the hope of glory they so desperately need.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pure and Undefiled Religion

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James 1:27 (NKJ)
 

 
There's a connection with the above verse and what Jesus commanded in Mark 12:29-31.  In the book of Mark the scriptures state:  Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is:  Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these."
 
There's a Veggie Tales movie based on the life of the real St. Nicholas.  (Of course, we have to understand that most Veggie Tale movies are "fractured fairy tales" and stray somewhat from the actual historical events.)  In one scene a young Nicholas leaves home after his parents died.  He finds a nun in another country faithfully providing food to the poor.  Nicholas tries to understand why she would dedicate her life to such a hard task, thinking maybe she did it because it made her happy to help the less fortunate.  She tells him, "I don't give to the poor to make me happy; because I am happy I give to the poor."  To be honest, since this was a parody I don't know if it actually happened to the real St. Nicholas or not but it's still a powerful statement.

We don't give to the needy to impress God so that He might love us more or save us more.  Our works can't save us nor do our works impress Him.  Nor do we give to the needy so that it deepens our relationship with Him.  We don't reach out to others to grow closer to the Lord; because we are closer to the Lord we reach out to others. 
 
In James' time the orphans and widows represented those within the body of Christ who had the greatest needs.  He wasn't saying to reach out to only the orphans and widows but to those who had legitimate needs which were beyond their control to meet in any way.  Jesus used the story of the Good Samaritan to express that anyone in need was worthy of care and concern.
 
Visiting the orphans and widows was intentional.  The Greek word for "visit" comes from a word meaning "to inspect, to select, to go to see to, relieve; look out, visit."  They didn't visit them to be nosy neighbors or to be judgmental but to inspect to see what their needs might be and to bring relief to them.
 
Pure religion cares and puts feet to its caring.  Pure religion also flows out of a love relationship with the Lord.  As we draw closer in an intimate friendship with Him, out of that will flow a love and compassion for others.  Love responds to other people's needs.  Always.
 
 
Application of God's Word:
 
1.  Do you know of any widows or orphans you can minister to within the body of Christ?  How about single moms who might be single for other reasons than just widowhood?  How about those needy neighbors?
 
2.  Do you even notice when someone outside your own safe circle of family and friends is suffering?  Do you even care?
 
3.  Before rushing to form another committee to visit "the orphans and widows" or anyone else with a great need, first run to Jesus.  Draw close to Him in an intimate love relationship for out of that intimacy with Him will flow His compassion and concern for others.  Compassion will result in action, if you will allow yourself to be intentional in walking it out.  Put feet to your care and concern once God shows you the need.  This, my friend, is pure and undefiled religion.
 
4.  Did you notice pure and undefiled religion isn't about what you can get out of it.  Its motive isn't selfish or me-focused.  Pure and undefiled religion is about Jesus and others.  Always.  That's what Jesus was talking about in Mark 12:29-31.


Personal Matters:

Mike Hofer is one of those people who walks out this scripture.  It flows from a heart which really cares about others and on a daily basis he quietly and faithfully reaches out.  He can't help everyone who has great needs but, because He hears and recognizes God's voice, he is guided by the Lord as to who he can help.  His motives are selfless.  He doesn't do it for honor and glory.  Most of you don't even know how he ministers to others and it's not my place to say.  He just does it.  Generosity is a deep well within him which flows out of his love relationship with Jesus.  And I'm not just talking about financial needs here.  He is a faithful friend to a couple guys who drive me crazy because they put such a demand on his time.  It's doesn't bother Mike.  He simply sees another opportunity to be Jesus to someone who is needy where he can do something or say something to make their day a little brighter.  Yeah, that's the pure and undefiled religion James was talking about.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Useless Religion: Warning - This May Hurt a Little

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.         James 1:26 (NKJ)

 
Warning:  This one may hurt a little but I'll try to be gentle.
 
 
There are two things listed in the above scripture which would deem my religion empty and, therefore, useless:  an uncontrolled tongue and a deceived heart.  The words "religious" and "religion" comes from a Greek word referring to an outward expression of worship towards God. 
 
The outward expression of my faith and worship towards God should flow from an intimate relationship with God and an inward work of the Holy Spirit.  It should.  Truthfully, my religiosity can look good on the outside but be more work-driven than relationally-driven causing great harm to myself and those around me.
 
It's like rotten apples.  The grocer knows the crop of apples is rotten but he needs to make a profit so he cleans and shine the apples until they gleam.  Good consumers won't purchase those apples by their appearance only.  They will pick up an apple and check for bruising and probably notice its mushiness.  If they do purchase them, after one bite they won't be buying apples from that grocer anymore.  The grocer is only fooling himself if he thinks his actions won't hurt his profits and drive away business.
 
Externally, I can make my religion look good for a while.  However, external religion has a way of exposing itself.  I'm only deceiving myself when I can't see the harm my uncontrollable tongue is causing others.  They see it for what it is - an empty, useless going-through-the-motions kind of religion.  It has the potential to do great harm causing people to turn away from God instead of running toward Him.
 
And it's not that folks would be judging me either.  Matthew 7:20 states, "Therefore by their fruits you will know them."  I can polish my religion to look good all I want but rotten-to-the-core is just that.  A bad apple.
 
  

Application of God's Word:

Is your religion useless and empty or pure and undefiled?  There's a simple test to know the answer to this question.  Is your tongue wagging?  Do you gossip?  Do you mumble unflattering things about others under your breath?  Do you lash out at your family and others who are close to you?  Do you betray confidences?  Do you lie?  Instead of trying to polish yourself outwardly thinking that's all you need, maybe what you should be doing is drawing closer to the Lord in intimate relationship with Him.  Anything less than a genuine relationship with the Lord will make you and everyone around you miserable anyway.

You might want to take Pastor Chris Wadle's advice.  This morning at church he shared, "You may need to be brutally honest...Authentic judgment does not mean condemning yourself...However, spiritually successful people are never afraid of truth...even when the truth hurts...Always remember, though, that God's plan calls for progression, not perfection."

Please don't walk in condemnation but do ask yourself the hard questions.  Ask for forgiveness if it is needed.  Let go of your failures and don't beat yourself up.  Allow the Holy Spirit to do an inward work as you draw closer to the One Who can radically change you to the core of your being.


Personal Matters:

My tongue is a good barometer for how well I'm doing in my relationship with God and with others.  I can always tell when I'm insecure because two things happen:  1) I strive harder in an attempt to look good, radically focusing on what others think of me; and 2) my tongue is uncontrollable.  Majorly uncontrollable.  And I'm only deceiving myself if I think my actions don't effect others.

I don't want an empty, useless religion.  The best thing I can do is realize that "spiritually successful people are never afraid of truth...even when the truth hurts."  I need to be willing to ask myself the hard questions (like those above) even when I don't like the answers and trust God to help me while I'm in the process of allowing the Holy Spirit to do an inward work.  What I really need is less religion and more relationship in drawing closer to the One who can cleanse me, forgive me and change me from a bad apple into productive fruit for His glory.  



Monday, October 28, 2013

Mirror, Mirror

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continue in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word, this one will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:23-25
 
 
In the fabled tale of "Snow White," the wicked stepmother owned a magic mirror.  Every day she would look into the mirror and ask, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"  An eerie looking spirit shrouded in smoke would appear in the mirror.  He would then show her the fairest damsel in the land which was always herself.  Every single day she would do this.  Every single day she had to be reassured of her beauty.  Every single day she needed to know no other maiden in the land was as beautiful as she.  Every single day she needed to be reminded of what she looked like.
 
That's what someone does who is insecure in themselves.  That's what someone does who can't trust what they saw yesterday.  That's what someone does who can't remember from day to day who they truly are.  They have an identity crisis.  Finally, the fateful day came when the stepmother asked her redundant question.  To her horror, instead of the eerie dude in the mirror showing her a reflection of herself, he showed her a reflection of Snow White.  Of course, that's when the wicked stepmother began to plot her stepdaughter's demise.
 
In James 1:23-35, the brother of Jesus tells us of someone who is having an identity crisis.  The person can't remember from day to day what he look like so he's having to remind himself by constantly looking in the mirror.  James tells us that a person who hears the Word of God but does nothing about it is like that man.  Forgetful.  Maybe on purpose because they don't like what they see.  Maybe because to remember would mean putting feet to what they hear.  Maybe they don't obey because they're reluctant to trust God.  Perhaps fear or indifference plays a part.
 
The day came when the stepmother didn't see her reflection in the mirror any longer.  Instead of seeing herself she saw a reflection of Snow White.  What she feared came to past...there was indeed someone fairer.  To be honest, when we look into the perfect law of liberty we shouldn't see our reflection either but for us that is a good thing.  We should see someone much fairer than we are...we should to see Jesus.
 
In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 Paul stated, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."

Here are some tough questions.  When you look into the mirror, who do you honestly see?  Do you see a person who is obedient to the purposes and plans of God?  Do you see someone who wants to completely forget what God is asking of them?  Do you see Jesus?


Application of God's Word:

1.  Go ahead and ask yourself those tough questions.  When you look into the mirror, who do you honestly see?  Do you see a person who is obedient to the purposes and plans of God?  Or are you running away (think Jonah) because you don't want to obey what it is God is calling you to do?

2.  When you look in the mirror, who do you honestly see?  Do you see Jesus?  Who does your family and friends see?

3.  If you aren't real crazy about your answers to the above questions, please don't walk in condemnation and despair.  Admit the errors of your ways and ask for forgiveness.  Ask the Lord to be your strength in helping you to obey one step at a time.

4.  What DOES the Word of God say about your situation?  God's Word can be a guide to help you walk through difficult days.  You will indeed find the liberty and freedom to do what God is asking you to do.

5.  Maybe you can start with your "want-to."  Lord, help me to want to trust and obey You.  Help me to want to be more than just a hearer.  Help me to trust You completely when it comes to the doing.


Personal Matters:

My day didn't start out too good this morning due to a minor misunderstanding (thankfully, not with my husband).  It truly was a minor misunderstanding but I have chosen to let it dictate my day and I've been grumpy.  Unfortunately, I'm babysitting which means my grumpiness is spewing out over onto my grandchildren.  If I were to reflect on my mood and attitude, I probably would rather forget what I've looked like in the eyes of others.  However, God's Word makes it clear what I need to do.  Now I have a choice.  Be a hearer only or apply God's Word to my attitude.  The crazy thing is if I will look into the perfect law of liberty and allow God to do an inward work, the moodiness will leave and I (and those around me) will be blessed.  Uhm, excuse me...I need to go into my prayer closet for a few minutes.  I'm feeling a little insecure right now and seem to be having an identity crisis.  Later.