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Because It’s the Right Thing To Do, That’s Why!

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What a long day! It seemed as though it had lasted for a week, and it felt so good to sit down, take off my shoes, wiggle my toes, and be at home. Some days–whether you want to live like that or not–are just totally out of control from the moment your feet hit the floor. Don’t be smug: if you haven’t gotten there yet, say a quick prayer of thanks, for your day will come. We all have to have days when we give and give and give.

Morning had started with a sick grandchild needing to be picked up at school and taken to the doctor. Glad for my elderberry syrup, which I swear by, I hoped I had built up an immunity to whatever might be stirring in the young one’s body. Later, sitting in the pediatrician’s office was a grandma’s nightmare. At least the room was divided by a “half wall” where well children were kept on one side and those with fevers, viruses, and all sorts of rampant germs who were just waiting for another host were on the other! That was the side we were on. The runny noses, the coughs, the red cheeks… sigh. It wasn’t long before we were taken back, the dreaded swab done, temperature taken, etc. There was no strep (they said. Turned out they were wrong). Back to the little one’s house for bed.

Leaving there, the phone rang again. Could I stop by and pick up the gifts for a friend’s Angel Tree child? Sure, no problem. I would deliver them to the church. And while I was heading in that direction, I needed to stop by a building at the University and drop off some paperwork. Actually, it was a week overdue. Oh well. Better late than never. Better to ask forgiveness, right?

That done, my husband called: could I pick him up at the shop where the work on our cars is always done, so they could keep it overnight? Sure. I’m in town. No problem. Do I want to eat out? No. He eats out three times a day, just to make up for all those years of working, I think.

The phone rings again; my daughter is in town (versus a few miles out), and wondered if we’d like to meet at the pizza restaurant with the grandkids. So much for not eating out. By then it was almost supper anyway, so we ate. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had just eaten anyway, mention pizza and my appetite goes into overdrive.

Afterwards I did the last few errands, and as I got back in the car, a friend texted. Her dad had been taken to the ER. He had ripped out a newly inserted port, not understanding why it had to be there. She could not get it through his mind that it was going to keep him alive. They were on the way to the small ER in her town. Over the next hour we texted back and forth as the ER was unable to re-insert the port, and he would have to be transported by ambulance to the bigger hospital in our town. The day was now late. She was tired, and the last thing she felt like doing was accompanying the ambulance an hour to the larger ER. But–it is what it is. You do what you have to do.

We continued to text, and it was going to be a long night. The ER was so packed that beds were lining the hall, theirs included. On one side a woman was throwing up every few minutes; on the other was a suicidal man who did not want to be there. Not a place you would be want to be, and the evening had just started. People who work ERs should have extra angel wings.

My mind started bugging me. By now I was home, settling in for the evening, praying for my friend, her father, the wait–and all the time my mind was asking questions of itself: wonder if she had supper? I bet she didn’t think to bring a book, a tablet, something to do while she waited. Our ER is notorious for eight to ten hour waits. Seriously. Did she have anything to do? Was she feeling like she had to stay right by her dad, even in dementia? Yes, I was sure she would. Was her husband there yet? No, he wouldn’t be leaving work until late. She was as tired as I was. I was home. She wasn’t. I was sitting in my chair. She was sitting in the hall at the ER.

Recently our pastor preached about a faith that is active; one that acts when it wants to be passive. I knew what I had to do. Was I going to get up and do it? I had to. Not because of guilt, of trying to earn points with God, but because I had a sister in Christ who needed to know someone loves her. I packed some food, got some books, and took out, texting as I drove (at red lights) so that she would not think I was doing anything except resting, since she would feel she had to talk me out of it.

She figured it would be two hours more than it had already been, and best case scenario, they would let her drive him back to the facility where he “lives.” Worst case scenario, they would wait for the ambulance transport, probably most of the night. Miracle of miracles, about the time I was half way there (it is a thirty minute drive for me), she texted and said they were letting her take him back to her town–and soon! I looked at the food, thought about the time, wondered if I should have tried to have gone, but I knew my answer: yes. This was my friend. She needed encouragement. She needed reinforcement that she wasn’t alone. That someone else who had been there with a dementia parent was on the way. It wasn’t the gift, it was the thought. I was glad I had made half the journey. I told her I had been halfway there, but would head back home. She knew she was loved.

Home again, it felt so sweet. Sweet to know I did what I felt I had to do. Not because of a sense of anything except the desire to say yes to the Lord to feed one of His sheep, to love my “neighbor” and to show her that her value was placed above my own.

In other words, I did it because I wanted to serve, to put my faith in action, and to know it’s what God wanted me to do. How much better does our Christianity get than that?

A GIFT: ARE WE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT?

As I sat down at the piano, I struggled with the notes and timing of a Fugue by Bach. My years of learning to play began with a country teacher who had a hymn book, and it was the only form of “teaching” that she knew. After a year my mom found a teacher who could teach scales and theory–not fun at all! It lasted only a few months before we moved. I was 10, and that was the total of my lessons. Still, music was my love, my passion, and my focus.

At thirteen, a little country church we attended needed a pianist, and somehow they decided I could do it well enough to accompany their singing. It never stopped from that point; every church we attended needed a pianist, and then organ was added, and later a flute, then clarinet, then any woodwind instrument. It was a fun time in my life. In early high school I liked a boy who could play extremely well. It motivated me to push myself to learn even more on my own, and yet when I entered the music store, I was embarrassed to buy what I could actually play, so I would ask for Grade 6, 7, or 8 (not as school grades, but difficulty in ability). Then I would take the piece home, and every afternoon sit down after school and learn to play the classics measure by measure.

Last night, as I watched this video from a Facebook post, I was mesmerized by the life of Derek Paravicini. If you google him on YouTube, you will find hours of videos made of his life, his ability that is beyond measure, and his disabilities. I wanted my husband to see this incredible genius (beyond genius–no computer can do what he does), and we both watched, completely absorbed in the miracle that unfolded before our eyes. When it concluded, my husband remarked, “Wouldn’t most people love to be able to play like that?” Sometimes I answer “off the top of my head,” but in this case I thought my answer through, first. (One of the few times I have thought before I answered, by the way.)

“I think most everyone would like to play like that, but I don’t think they would accept the gift with the disabilities that make that gift possible.” Derek, as you saw from the video, is blind, unable to process much connected thought, and can’t really process a trail of information; he can’t count, dress himself, fix his meals, and is completely dependent on the care given to him by others. He repeats most of what he hears in language, without understanding it. He picks random answers to questions. He is autistic, and walks with the ambling gate of a severely handicapped person. As you may have noticed, he also constantly tosses his head from side to side, probably part of the autism.

As I thought more of what I had seen, I realized the absolute analogy between Derek and my husband’s question, and my answer. If ever there has been a perfect parallel to accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and God as the Creator, it is in the life of this young man. His gift and his handicap go hand in hand–they have made each part able to function. Somehow, what he went through at birth, three months early, made him what he is today. His twin sister, by the way, died.

To put it more plainly, the gift of salvation is available to all of us: God says (John 3:16), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but has everlasting life.” We can have the gift if we’ll accept it. But with the acceptance comes other things: things that most people do not want to give up, or “handicaps” they do not want to burden themselves with. They see the glass half-empty, not half-full. They see the negatives (in their mind), and not the wonderful relationship that becomes possible.

To be a Christian, they say, you have to follow all sorts of rules! You have to give up so much! You have to do this, and do that, not do this, and not do that. Actually the rules are only two: 1) Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength, and 2) love the people around you more than you love yourself. Only two. But those are each big.

If I love God and love people, I don’t want to hurt Him or them. I don’t want to do something that will bring shame on the Savior who paid for my sin. I shared with someone Monday, my license plate reflects a large Christian University. As I drive, I’m constantly reminded that if I cut people off in traffic, ride their bumper, or drive defensively, it reflects on the university, and the fact that it is “Christian.”  So I constantly watch how I drive.

That is how we live our lives. If we love God above all things, we want to please Him. If you had a perfect parent (which God is, as He made us in our mother’s womb), would it delight you to please that parent? Of course! And it would wound you if your actions humiliated them, and brought shame to them. Reading the Bible, which is God’s book left to us directly from Him through chosen men, gives us all the knowledge we need in order to grow in faith, love and the desire to know Him better each day. In return, He adopts us as His child, and He promises never to leave us, to carry our burdens, to have a plan and purpose that is much bigger than we can ever know, and to love us unconditionally.

If we love those with whom we come in contact more than we love ourselves, we will do what is best for them at all times, putting their needs before our own. For example, we don’t sleep with someone outside of marriage, because that is not loving God (He said do not do that), and it is not doing what is best for the other person; it is bringing shame on what Christ did for us on the Cross, and can hurt the other person in many ways. We don’t become drunk because we are told not to in the Bible, but God knows that we might say or do something that could hurt someone else, in action, or provide an excuse for them (if they can drink, and they call themselves a Christian, I can drink, too. But what if they can’t handle it?) We must love people so much that our concern is for their good.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (which almost everyone knows), a man is robbed and beaten and left for dead. A “preacher” comes by, and walks on the other side; another religious teacher comes by and also hurries past; then a derelict comes by. He gets the man out of the ditch, cleans his wounds, and takes him to a hotel, where he asks them to take care of the man until he returns. He pays for the man’s room, care, and food, and says he will absorb any other cost when he returns. That is our example of treating those with whom we come in contact. If we can help them in some way, through our words or actions, we do so because we love Jesus.

So yes, we might want to play like Derek. We might want the “fire insurance” of not going to hell when we die. But we don’t want the handicaps: we don’t want the Christian restrictions. It is only those who see that the “handicaps” are what makes the gift so perfect that are willing to accept the gift. Not easy–if anyone tells you that following Christ is easy, they are deceived and don’t know the Scripture. “In this life you will have tribulation,” “If anyone desires to follow Me, he must take up his cross daily,” and many more. But it is so worth it. No one can understand the peace you have as you go through the storms, knowing that if (IF) He wills, He can tell the storm to be still; that you can trust Him in the storms because He is watching that you don’t drown. And if you drown, it’s okay. He is going to bring good out of it, for others. That’s where trust comes in.

How would you explain the world to Derek in a manner he can understand? You can’t. He could never understand the complexities that we live with and grapple with every day. How do we explain God? We can’t. “His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.” You trust Him to take care of you, just as Derek trusts his teacher to take care of him. That’s how we view God: that He will take care of us, and we don’t worry about it. Do you think Derek worries about whether Adam will be there for him or not? No. It probably has never occurred to him.

What a beautiful picture of faith. And a sad picture of why those who want nothing to do with Jesus turn away from the gift.

Video: YouTube

God STILL sends Love Notes!

Sillhouette of a couple

The perfect wedding. They were so in love, and it was evident each time they looked into the face of the other. They had taken time to get to know each other, become fast friends, enjoy the same simple pleasures. Life was good. Both were concerned that their marriage be built on the foundation of faith in God, and that He be, not just a figuredhead, but the true Head of their union.

Over the next couple of years they added the traditional pets: two dogs, two cats. No babies yet! Gradually work seemed to be taking more and more of his time, and the paychecks began to be larger–although they really didn’t need the extra money. She, too, worked outside the home, and evenings became their only bonding time. By then she was tired. And he was getting ready to pull an all-night shift.

He was so engrossed in doing a great job at work that he didn’t notice the time passing, and the distance between them becoming wider. Their love was still deep, but her loneliness was growing. I’ve been there myself: you know your spouse is providing for you, but they just don’t “get it” that a relationship has to be continually having investments, in order to grow. Actually, it is the very same way a savings account gets larger, in order to be ready if a tough time comes! If you don’t add to the balance, soon it becomes stagnant, and then, when there’s no activity, fees set in and the balance begins to erode, slowly, month by month. You ask over and over, “can we do something together?” and then the asking slows down… and becomes quiet, rather than cause contention.

And so it has become. This beautiful couple had a love account that was starting to get depleted–not on his side, for he was working almost double normal hours each week in order that she could have everything she wanted. But what she wanted was his presence. He didn’t get that. Eventually, on an innocent shopping trip, an old friend happened to cross her path. They talked over coffee to catch up on “old times.” He showed an interest in her life, in her loneliness, and was compassionate. (Hint: don’t ever discuss your marriage with a former flame. Never. He–being a guy–wanted to “fix it.” It’s a guy thing. It’s what they do.) He, because he wasn’t solid in a relationship with Christ, did not care she was married, just that she was lonely. She, on her side, was so isolated from friends and fun, that she was vulnerable to someone seeming to care. One thing led to another, and another.

After a few short months, it became obvious that her affections were being turned from her husband toward someone else. He, on his part, was clueless. Life had become a routine of work, sleep, a couple of hours with his wife, and work, sleep. The one day he took off had become a day to fight over his schedule, so he avoided that by sleeping extra.

It came as a huge shock when she let him know she was involved with someone else. It was, perhaps not a wake-up moment, but at least the alarm was going off. Could they seek counseling? She agreed. After all, she thought she still loved him, but she wanted her husband back, and was willing to see if they could change. It didn’t work out well. Counseling brought out feelings and resentments that put him on the defensive. What was he doing wrong? Working so she could have so much!! Where was the fault in that? He didn’t consider that women are extremely different from men. For women, it’s usually about the relationship: the harmony, the listening with true attention, the conversations below the surface, the quality time (and watching a movie together is NOT quality time–either can do that alone!), the affirmation that she is attractive and smart. She gets her strokes, usually, from him. For men, it’s about providing. And sex. Not necessarily in that order. Theirs is a life revolving around their profession first, and family second. Or further down (that’s a generalization, not always true, I understand that, so don’t email me.) He generally gets plenty of recognition from the boss, co-workers and clients.

He was torn totally out of his world, which was her! Depression, rejection, his love, his “investment” into a profession to give her everything, all of it was now like a boulder on his shoulders. They tried to work together but the fight was becoming too much. Finally, in desperation, after a few months he decided if she wanted a divorce, he would give it to her. At the next counseling session, he would tell her. He would let the other guy have what he himself prized most in life.

They met in the counselor’s office, and sat down. He had brought a list of what he was going to say, so that he didn’t forget anything important. He was ready.

The strange thing was, the night before, while he was tossing and turning, he felt God saying to his heart, “I DARE you to love her! I DARE you to love her!!” He had no idea what it meant. It did not make any sense.

Me: At the same time, I went to bed, hundreds of miles away. Usually a very-early-to-bed person, this particular night I stayed up hours beyond normal. I was agitated, and this couple was heavy on my mind. When I finally went to bed, I felt God saying “Court her! Court her!” It rang a bell, but at midnight my brain is on flat-line. I just knew the couple was heavy on my heart. I figured perhaps God was telling me to tell him that he should try to woo her the way he had done when they first met, and fell in love. Okay, I could do that. Still, something “niggled” at the back of my mind. I didn’t have many hours before I had to get up. Finally I fell asleep. My first thought on waking was “OH! That was from FIREPROOF, the movie!” Okay, I could tell him that, as well.

During church that Sunday morning I was having a tough “pity party.” I felt as though I was doing nothing for God; yes, I write, and yes, sometimes get “likes,” but was I reaching anyone to tell them God loves them? Would anyone be in heaven because I have lived? Worse, would anyone be in hell because I have lived? I could think of a couple, and prayed God would save them, but the depression had me down. I felt so useless!

The afternoon came, and I remembered the message I needed to give him. Searching for a name on Facebook, I found it, and sent a private IM. All I could do was tell what had happened the night before, add where I remembered hearing it, and beg forgiveness for interfering. I pressed enter, and it was gone. Then I noticed there had been no activity on the account for ages, and figured, “Oh, no! He won’t see this perhaps until it’s too late!” I figured perhaps there was someone I could call to get his cell number, and then I could send a text to say, Look at your FB message.

The Husband: I had my cell in my pocket when it made a funny, several note, beeping. I had never heard that before! What on earth was happening to my phone? I hit the screen light up, and saw there was a message from Facebook! Wow! I had NEVER had that happen before! The whole message that had been sent to my Facebook account–which I hadn’t been on in weeks–appeared, and I read it, astounded!

Me: Before I could even think of who to call for a phone number, probably within 15 seconds, a message popped up on Facebook: CALL ME! and the number. I did.

The Husband: As I read the message and called, I had the incredible bathing of the Holy Spirit washing over me, literally, as Romans says, “being poured out within my heart,” as I realized anew how much God loved me! Here was the confirmation of what HE wanted me to do, and here is what had taken place the week I had just lived through:

The morning of the counseling session, I had gotten to the counselor’s office, ready to offer my wife her divorce. Upon being seated, we began. When a question was asked me, I tried to answer, but my tongue seemed like concrete, and I could not think clearly. It got so bad that, at one point, both the counselor and my wife asked, “Are you okay?” I was worse than a mute–I literally could do hardly anything except grunt and LISTEN. During that session God really opened my ears, AND my understanding, and I learned more about my wife’s feelings for the previous months than I had had any clue about. I saw things from her perspective, not mine. Toward the end, when I should have said what I had come to say, I still couldn’t. And then the counselor ended the session: “I do not want either of you to TALK to each other for the next 30 days!” My wife hesitated, then said, “I don’t think that’s long enough; could we make it 40?” Yes, it was changed to 40 days!

What was I going to do for forty days?? How was I going to make it? I decided to go to a Christian bookstore and look for a devotional to get me through the weeks. As I looked at the shelves, my eyes went to the top row. There, staring back at me, was a book “THE LOVE DARE!” Remember, this was the next day after I had felt God tell me, “I DARE you to love her!” I picked the book off the shelf and thumbed through it. Only if you’ve been there can you imagine the astonishment I felt when I saw this was a workbook for a FORTY DAY assignment on loving your wife and winning her back! God was DARING me to love her! He was providing a book to work through for the 40 DAYS we were not to communicate! I walked out after buying the book, and started reading as soon as I got home.

As soon as I began, I saw the book was based on a movie I had never heard of: Fireproof! I had no idea what it was about, who made it, or what the theme was–I just knew I had to get it! I went out and rented the movie, and sat down and watched it. And wept, and wept. God’s love for me washed over me, and I could feel a tiny twinge of hope begin being fanned into life deep in my spirit. And so I began my forty day journey.

Day seven was finished, and I was working on day 8 when the message came through my phone. As I read it, I could now connect all the dots! Was I losing my mind, or had God really spoken to someone else, saying “Court her,” mentioning Fireproof, and confirming that what I was doing was His perfect will for me? The joy, the peace that passes all understanding, the incredible feeling–no, KNOWING–that God loves me personally was so overwhelming that the subsequent telephone call was a time of worship, praise and rejoicing that somehow, in His time, God would heal my heart, and hopefully heal my marriage.

(Me, now:) No, I haven’t heard yet what the outcome is, and am still praying that God does a miracle with this beautiful couple–as well as the others who are going through similar troubles. But don’t ever think that you are too insignificant that your Heavenly Father has no time to think of you. He is on your side, and if you are committing your life to Him, He will fight your battles. He is working to restore, to give you more than you could ask or think. And in doing so, He may even use someone else who is sinking in their own mud puddle, thinking they are useless to Him! His love notes to us, His messages of life and hope are never ending. Seek for Him, and you will find Him! Knock at the door, and He will open it, and come in! Don’t ever give up on God because someone has hurt you, or life hasn’t gone your way. Perhaps the consequences can’t be fixed, but the peace that will come in the new relationship with Him will last forever. If you’ve made choices that are not able to be fixed, let Him meet you right where you are. You say you have NOTHING to offer Him?

Remember, He made the world out of NOTHING.

An additional post script: I held back on publishing this, hoping to hear that things were turning around. A visit recently coincided with a Sunday, and this faithful husband came to the church. As I listened, across the room, I had chills as, over and over, the pastor exhorted those who were locked in a battle to not give up! It was the theme of the message, and another confirmation that God was still fighting for the marriage. The strength, the pastor said, was not going to be from the husband, but from God. The victory would be from God, and all would know that it was He who had brought it about. I pray He does.

Father, the battle is still raging for this precious couple, as well as thousands of couples within the reach of this blog. Please restore to them the joy of their marriage, the joy of their salvation, and find, in You, fullness of joy. In the priceless, matchless Name of Jesus Christ, the redeemer and kinsman of our souls, Amen!

 

© Ice | Dreamstime Stock Photos

POURED OUT AND OVERFLOWING–The Aftermath!

The pick-up truck pulled in beside the bins, just another vehicle in a long line. An elderly gentleman and his wife got out of the truck, walked to the back and started taking boxes out. There were sheets, dinnerware, comforter sets, crib sets, canned goods and health products. They filled one of the bins completely full, got back into the truck and pulled off. They had smiled and nodded at the workers, but made no show of their generosity.

The large group of college students jumped out of the bus, tools in hand or tool kit, gloves and boots on, ready to work in one of the more damaged areas. They started cleaning, hammering, fixing–anything that needed to be done. At lunch they stopped for a short break, ate their packed lunches, and went back to work. Some of the students circulated among the householders, trying to find out if there were immediate needs that required priority. They weren’t pushy, obnoxious or arrogant; they were just a large group of students helping out in a neighborhood full of needs, to the best of their ability.

A group of teenage girls came from a local youth group, cases of crayons, books, puzzles and more, ready to entertain children, calming them while their parents needed to get their lives re-arranged after a tornado. The girls were sweet, caring, and helpful with the children. They had come to do a job in loving their neighbors, and were doing it the best way they knew how.

This community is like thousands of others around the nation. People who have had their lives completely blindsided, being helped by other people whose only motive is to make things easier for those suffering during a time of disaster.

The humanitarian organization was there, handing out water, blankets, food, and other essentials. They, too, were serving. They, too, were motivated by concern and love.

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You look around at the lives interacting, and see the services offered in love, see those who need love at the moment, need comfort, encouragement and physical needs met, and you have to ask–where did these people come from, the ones who are helping? They’re not military, nor paid workers–just ordinary folks like you and me, alert to a time of tragedy and how they can help. It’s love in action.

At a time in America when Christians are taking the flack for everything from reading their Bible in public to having their social media censored, these people aren’t letting it bother them. One looks at them, not trained, but helping without being asked. You look beyond where the vehicles are parked and see van after van, a bus here or there, all with church logos on them. All putting their faith into action.

Did they stop and ask those who need help if they are worthy? Certainly not! Did they bring up anyone’s lifestyle, their hobbies, their language, their race, their looks? Certainly not. These people did nothing to deserve the help, material items or love brought to them: they received it because they are made in God’s image, and the church is to love them. To show love such as Jesus would show. To perhaps cause one of them to question, “I thought Christians were hypocrites, were judgmental, and arrogant because they say their sins are forgiven! But you aren’t acting like that. Can you tell me why?”

If they, as ordinary human beings, can serve and love their fellow neighbors like that, without asking “are you worthy for us to help you,” how much more does the God in heaven love them. He doesn’t judge them by their past or their present, either. If they decide they want to believe that He is the Son of God, turn from their sins, and follow Him, every sin they have ever committed is instantly forgiven! A debtor whose debts are paid, and a bill marked “Paid In Full” hand-delivered by Christ to them.

For those of us who have loved Him for years, we have found Him faithful. He has never left us, never moved away–through the hurts from the world, through the evils that have occurred because the world truly is full of evil, through the bad times and good. He has carried us, held our hands, snuggled us closely while we wept, and carried our burdens. Is life always easy? Absolutely not. But the advantages of being a follower of Jesus Christ–and having a relationship with Him–is so overwhelmingly in our favor that it’s hard to understand someone rejecting Him. He is good, He is faithful, even when we are not. How much more can you ask?

Don’t get your eyes on people who fail you, for there will always be those, both inside and outside of a church building. Get your eyes on Jesus, knowing He will love you through it all. But He’s not a Genie to be used only when you need a favor–He’s the holy creator of the universe, the One Who spoke the world into existence. He has plans and a purpose for you, if you’ll trust Him enough to take His hand. Just do it.

 

© Angela Farley | Dreamstime Stock Photos

TUNNEL VISION OR DREAMING DREAMS?

CLOUDS

He sat down at the dining room table, feeling carefully to the left for his fork, and to the right for his knife. Gently he reached forward and touched the glass of Coke. Our granddaughter was describing the food on the table, and we were all a little unsure how to make this unseeing guest feel welcome. Within seconds, however, our granddaughter had kidded him about something that referred to his lack of sight and when he responded immediately in kind, we knew it was going to be a great time of fellowship. His sense of humor carried him through any difficulty, and if it lagged at all, she was there to make him laugh. Eventually we learned he did not mind questions, so we asked many. “What comes into your mind when someone says the sky is blue?” I asked. He said he had no frame of reference, except to conjure up an image and try to make it the “picture” that stood for “blue.” After dinner, this amazing person went to the piano and gave us a spontaneous delivery of praise and worship music. God had not given him eye-sight, but He definitely has given Brian talents that many would covet.

This past Sunday our pastor preached on vision. Perhaps not vision as a physical attribute, but the far-seeing vision that all Christians should have to see that their church fulfills the Scripture where Christ told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, telling the story of the good news that our sins have been paid for, and we can have eternal life. (John 3:16). As he talked, I realized how there is no separating the vision one has for their church, and the vision that must be internalized into the heart for daily life.

It was many years ago, or perhaps yesterday, that someone I knew lost all hope that life would ever change. Their “vision” for a future became blind. The tunnel telescoped to a point at the end, and they could see no further than the dot, so they took the “easy way” out. Young people are especially vulnerable to losing hope that a bright future awaits them when they wake up–and go to bed–with the sounds of angry parents cursing and screaming at each other. Because they have no control over their parents, and are bright enough to realize they could not exist on the streets, the next best thing seems to be death. It is quickly over, and there will be no more screaming. Not having had someone tell them there are many places or people who will help, they end their life. It is becoming more and more common.

I sat there, realizing that I, too, have lost my vision of hope. Not perhaps for the American Dream, but hope that I am making a difference in someone’s life. Hope in the form of passion–to care about something so passionately that a sacrifice is worth the risk. Recently I read of Kimberly Smith (Make Way Partners, “Passport to Darkness”) who has gone to the people of Sudan to rescue orphans and women who are at the mercy of men with no sense of moral values. These victims take whatever comes because they have no hope of anyone rescuing them. She is a brave woman. I have to ask myself, do I care so much about comfort, security, and ease that I would not do what she is doing? I have to hang my head in shame for I’m not sure I could do it.

The sermon became a double-edged sword. Yes! I want my church to move forward, planting churches in countries where the people have never heard that there is a God who created them, watches over them, and has sent His Son to make a way for salvation. But do I want the planter to be me? I believe so. Then I think of the grandchildren. Suddenly I understand what Jesus meant when He said, He who is willing to give up family or land [or things we think we can’t do without] to follow Him, is worthy to be called His disciple.

What will I have when I stand before Him? I pray for renewed vision to see as God sees, and not as those about whom Jesus  said,  “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” I pray that is not me.

 

© Cristian Nitu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

THE WORTH OF A SMILE

worthofasmile2

Chaotic frenzy: that is the best definition that fit the situation we were in! San Francisco, California, the seventh largest airport in the U.S., teemed with people representing nearly every nationality on the face of the globe. In the large passages that led to the hundreds of gates, very few were in a state of calm. It seemed nearly everyone was running for a gate, trying to make a mad dash to board the next flight. Some were running, some merely walking at a fast pace, others were getting on the moving walkway (and still walking fast!). Some were shouting at each other as they expressed impatience, fear of missing a flight, or enduring the final straw caused by a child who saw no need to be in a rush. All were making their way to or from the entrances or exits of their chosen airlines, hurrying to another destination. Only a small percentage were moving at a normal pace.

The yelling, the “trying to be heard” scenario brought a cacophony of voices with so many languages it was overwhelming. Never have I seen so many diverse people in my life! To hear English spoken was to hear a bit of “home” in an area where one felt as though English–not Latin–might be the forgotten language! Few people looked at anyone as they scurried their way: their gazes were locked straight ahead, with a single-minded focus that in itself held many lessons.

We had arrived from our flight across America, from a comfortable size town where friendliness is taken for granted. As we passed the myriad of people, overwhelming is the best word that comes to mind. Not because of the tremendous crowds, but because of the lack of connection between those hurrying to and fro. Eventually I noticed a small, elderly woman of Asian descent sitting on a bench in the passageway. For some reason our eyes connected and I gave her a smile. She smiled back, shy but willing to communicate through language barriers to the heart. It was a good two seconds out of the day. And so I began my trek of seeing how many would meet my eyes, and share a smile. Perhaps the number wasn’t huge, but it was still that thread of crossing lines that divided socially, economically, racially, and nationalities. It was satisfying to know that underneath all the unknowns of someone else’s culture there was a thread that can bind us all together if we let it: a smile.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but there was a lesson here that struck at my heart. We are not a bunch of haphazard, unfeeling “homo sapiens” placed on a planet to endure until the day of our death. We all have common things that matter to each of us, whether it’s a family, children, money worries, food or whatever, but sharing a smile is a moment out of time that brings our lives together. It can create unplanned but gratifying moments in our day of otherwise staying within ourselves.

Perhaps it’s the reason people are willing to go to other countries to serve those whom they don’t know, whether it’s through the churches, government organizations, the Peace Corp, or as individuals. The slight connection of a smile becomes a desire to make the lives of others better–not better as in money, but quality. Quality where they don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from as we teach them to fish, or as we dig water wells so they don’t have to walk miles for a bucket of water, and so much more. When you see how much the elderly women ache in their shoulders and backs from the years of carrying heavy water pots, grain, or food on their heads, you hurt in your own body, as they do in theirs. The small five or six-year old’s who have to carry their little brothers and sisters are not building strength alone–they are creating the beginning of lives who know the burden of work from the time they are little.

So maybe a smile is not something that really matters to you. But you have one deep inside you, and it might–just might–bless some stranger  today if you give it away. It costs you nothing but a second of your time, and may be the only smile they get today. Pass it on!

Lord, I know I often go about my business with a single-minded focus, my mind of the list of tasks that need doing, and I miss the opportunities to share a smile. Please forgive me, for I know You did not lose any of those moments of connection, and looked with compassion on all You saw while You walked the earth. Help me to be mindful that my second greatest responsibility is to love my neighbor, and it can start with one smile. Thank You for Your love, Lord. Amen

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

HUNTING

The woods were so frightening! Was that a giant black widow in the web above my head? Maybe a bear was behind the tree, or even a skunk. The loaded gun felt weird tucked under my right arm and balanced with my left hand, and knowing it was ready to shoot caused me fear also. I had always heard that Indians could walk so softly that no one could tell they were in the woods, so I tried my best to make no sound. Behind me, in single file, my grandpa and grandma were also walking quietly. My grandpa must love me a lot, I reasoned, to take me hunting for the first time in my life, and let me lead the way! If I got off the trail at all, he would whisper a quiet encouragement to guide me left or right, back to the trail. I didn’t have to look back to know he was there; for one thing, he was my Grandpa and would never leave me alone in this fearsome place! For another, his quiet words of command to stay on the path, though like a gentle whisper, were evidence that he was there. I didn’t know which was greater, my fear, my excitement, or my pride.

That happened more years ago that most anyone who reads this can conceive, yet I can still feel that experience as though it happened yesterday. I was maybe eight years old, but he gave me such a gift that day as he did what no one else had ever done: he showed he trusted me to handle a gun, lead our way, and listen for his voice.

Now, so many decades later, it is the end of another year and a time to look back at this past twelve months. Did you walk an unknown path, knowing your heavenly Father was behind you, never leaving you, or did you doubt His faithfulness? His still, small voice is a command to our heart if we are about to get off the path; did you listen for it? Sometimes it is a red flag of warning if you don’t want to listen–it probably means you want to do you own thing! Did you act in a manner that He found faithful to His wishes? If so, you have done well.

Some days I feel like that eight-year-old, ready to take on the world. Other days, I feel a hundred and twenty, dreading to put one foot in front of the other! But one thing I know, every day has something to teach me. There is not a day that goes by that I do not discover something new. And because of that, I can look forward to 2015 knowing that I still have so much to learn: so much about Jesus, so much about  myself, and so much about what my purpose is in living. He has plans and a purpose for me, Jeremiah wrote, and I find it only by being in the center of His will.

You may be thinking, not me. Nope, not after the mistakes I’ve made. Not after the way I messed up last year. Not after the sins I committed, when I flagrantly yelled at Him, “Let me do this on my own!” Yet Isaiah 57:15 tells us, “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.'” There is such hope for the backslider! All you need is a humble spirit of sorrow for what you did when you got off the right path, confess it to Him (1 John 1:9), and you are forgiven! You can start 2015 out with a clean record! How much better can it get?

Do  you have goals for 2015? It seems only once in a great while that a “New Year’s Resolution” is actually kept for the year. But a goal, ah–that’s different. That’s a commitment to stay on the path that God has for you, so that you can be more like Him. What does that look like, to be like Him? Do you actually hunger and thirst to be righteous? Do you want to let others go before you? Do you mind if someone gets credit for  what you’ve done? Do you let someone else have the last word? Do you love others more than you love yourself? Yikes. That stabs. Do you keep the church’s sticker off your back windshield so that if you cut someone off in traffic, they won’t know which church you attend? My license plate says “EL EWE.” LU. I know that no matter how I drive, someone is going to recognize that I am associated in some manner with a certain university and church, and that God’s reality in my life shows in my driving. Ouch. It causes me to drive better, I will say that!

So what about 2015? Can we make some commitments that we will handle this year better than 2014? That we won’t waste as much money, perhaps eat healthier to keep our temple in better condition, that we’ll treat our family as we treat our boss, etc? We could fill up a dozen pages. But let’s go back to a few posts to the “Do Not Fear” and pull out the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord with all that we are, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. We can reduce our huge list to two things. And we can trust Him to be behind us every step of the way, whispering if we start to get off track, and loving us. What a God to walk with in the next year!

Holy Father, how we fail You, but how faithful You remain! Your word tells us that even when we are unfaithful, You stay faithful to us. You are willing to save anyone who calls on You, but how can they call unless they hear? And how will they hear unless we tell them? Give us boldness and courage to know You have our back, have ordained our path, and are accompanying us ever step. We love You, Lord. Thank You for the cross. Amen