Saturday, December 25, 2010

Moving Mountains by Carolyn

"I don't feel good. " My husband spoke those infamous words the Thursday before Thanksgiving. "What do you mean?" I asked. "I don't know. I just don't feel good." That narrows it right down! That began a series of skirmishes that lasted a month. The good news is the Lord still moved the mountains!

Pneumonia clobbered him the next day. Out of the blue he fell ill and stayed that way until the Tuesday AFTER Thanksgiving when our children from San Francisco arrived to celebrate a delayed Thanksgiving and an early Christmas. The Saturday AFTER they left we both woke up with laryngitis. That cleared up almost a week later, the day we flew to Oregon for our grandson's first birthday. The day AFTER we arrived home we woke up with sore throats. It is Christmas Day now and there is a sweet repose in this house. Silence! No one is coughing!

And we spent the most incredible Christmas Eve, first at church, then as guests of my sweet sister in Christ, Judy and her family.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him." He could have chosen not to send those viruses packing. He could have chosen something far more serious than viruses to challenge us. But I choose to thank Him for providing ways for us to be together at this holiday time as a family. The Lord moves mountains for families all the time.

As I reflect on the little family that found its way through the dark of night to that manger in Bethlehem I see how much the Lord values families. He was with them throughout their travels and travails and He was with us through ours. He moves mountains. Mountains and battles belong to the Lord. All we have to do is trust Him, obey Him and get out of His way!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Joy to the World (by Judy)

Last weekend our church held its annual Christmas Concert. It is a huge effort, with choir rehearsals starting in September, and the audio and visual team working long hours in the days before the first presentation. Of course many churches have similar presentations with every bit as much work preceding the actual event.

In our case, the music was ethereal, combining a large chorus with beautiful orchestration and even a gospel group to ramp up the worship and the swaying of bodies and arms. They filled us all with special joy for they were from an area college, and though sounding like they represented the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, they actually were a blend of fair Caucasian faces and their lovely darker counterparts.

Enhancing the worshipful music was the team of media workers, my dear friends, for we labor side by side every Sunday. They had slides that arched across the ceiling of the church and down the sides, spots of various colors, video, unobtrusive smoke-generating machines, and at one point silhouettes playing jazz instruments in rhythm with the musical score. It was most impressive!

When I returned to school Monday, filled with happiness that everything went so well, that there were no major disasters, that it was over, and in hopes that through it all, the Lord was glorified and the pastor’s message heard, within five minutes of my arrival a fellow worker came to my door – someone who had never been to my church, and only attended the concert at the invitation of a church member. She spent the first moments reviewing everything I wrote about above – and then she spent the rest of our considerable time together telling me how amazed her family was by the PEOPLE. The man next to them, an elder, who welcomed them, embraced them and entertained them. The row of respectful teenagers behind them, choosing to spend their Saturday night at church rather than partying. Those around them who greeted them, chatted with them, swayed with them, and invited them to return.

That is what they took away from our concert – welcoming, loving, joyful people. The body of Christ. The music and special effects came and went. The precious aroma of God’s people lingered. The first way to understand the incredible grace, mercy and love of Jesus, is to see it reflected in those who follow Him!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Refrigerator Gospel

Sometimes in our church bulletin there are quotes that inspire me, or challenge me, provoke me or convict me. Sometimes they make me laugh, especially when they are written by children, or church secretaries who may have misplaced modifiers or typing errors. Or, I might find a thought that so intrigues me I want to remember it, so I post it on my refrigerator since I spend a lot of time there. I didn't stop to think they might be great fodder for discussion!

Twice in the recent past, guests read my refrigerator and called me to account. As I type this I am reminded of Paul's words, "Preach the Word. Be prepared in season and out..." 2Timothy 4:2. "Be prepared, that's the Boy Scout marching song." Note to self, "Be prepared. Remember that."

Both quotes are short. My brother, who is not yet a Christian, read this one and took immediate offense. "Until men know themselves better, they will care very little to know Christ at all." John Owen 1616-1683 "How come this says until "MEN" know themselves better. Why single out men for this accusation? What's the big idea?" I felt the hair go up on the back of my neck, and quickly I sent up an arrow prayer.

My brother is no slouch. He has his Ph.D and was the chancellor of a fine mid-western college for years. "You are right," I said. "Absolutely, right. It should say, 'Until huMANity knows itself better, it will care very little to know Christ at all.' Point taken." And Whoosh...the wind went right out of his sails! Gender studies must have been a big part of his college curricula.

Later, my son and his wife, who are also not yet Christians came to visit from California. This is the quote that had them laughing hysterically. "A woman's heart should be so hidden in Christ that a man should have to seek Him to find her." No author given. I love that! Maybe it helps to be a Christian to take a crack at understanding it. I'm not sure I understand it, but I sure like it! "If that were true," my son said, "it would have taken me another 6 weeks to find my wife." Laughter. "If that were true," my daughter-in-law said, "He never would have found me!" More laughter.

(Insert another arrow prayer here) "Make fun if you like," I said, "but don't forget when trials come to me, as they surely will, Christ will carry me through, so I don't have to bug the two of you!" Ooooh...that seemed to sober them up pretty fast and the conversation suddenly became a tad accusatory. "Why do you Christians refuse to hang around sinners?" my daughter-in-law asked. "What? I AM a sinner and I have to hang around with me! Christianity says we are all sinners. The Gospel says, "In Jesus, God forgives us." Sometimes with synical not yet believers you have to be quick and right to the point!

"You can't shake her." my son said. "You might as well quit trying." "Hallelujah!" I thought. "Thank you Jesus, for keeping me!"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Great Wall (by Judy)

I just returned from China, where I spent the last two weeks visiting my son and his family. While there, we traveled to Beijing and spent Thanksgiving in a small village in the shadow of the Great Wall. What an amazing construction that Wall is. All the superlatives are true!

It is over 10,000 miles long, and marches along the ridges of the huge mountain range that separates China from Mongolia – uphill and downhill, never ending, disappearing finally into the mists of the horizon – with ancillary walls that break away. Periodically along the way, watch towers interrupt the road along the top of the wall, a road wide enough for several horses to pass together. All this manmade effort was to hold back the Mongolian hordes from invading the emperor’s capital.

Interestingly, because of the dramatic twists and turns in the convoluted world of mountain ranges, it is very hard to tell which side of the wall is China and which is Mongolia. There is one clue - water drainage pipes. They always descend into China, where the water was used for irrigation – and never into Mongolia, where the pipes would have provided traction for an ascent by the enemy.

All that effort – and the strategy did not work! Why – because the guards could be bribed. The wall was often breached – not because of faulty construction, but because, as Pogo said so long ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!” As I walked the Wall last week, shivering in the cold of the Gobi desert, I couldn’t help but consider the parallels today. We build protective walls all the time – around ourselves, and to hold back those who think differently. Our walls are national, political, social, emotional and religious. They march up and down and all around and are ultimately futile, because the problem lies within.

The 12th chapter of Corinthians reminds us that as Christians who accept the Bible as holy Scripture, there is one body, the Church, with one Head, Jesus. Though we have different gifts divinely given by God, we are baptized with one Spirit, for one purpose, common good. “And the walls came tumbling down!!”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pray On by Carolyn

On my way home from church on Sunday I began thinking about my husband, two sons and their wives who are not yet believers in Jesus. I wondered how long it would take. I wondered if it would be soon, or even if I would live to see any of them bow the knee in recognition of their sin, and their Savior and Lord.

How long have I prayed for their salvation? I have prayed for them since my own conversion thirteen years ago. And yet, nothing changes. Nothing happens. It can be very discouraging. I thought of a story I heard about a missionary whose ministry, years ago, had taken him to an island in the Pacific. For twenty-five years he preached and after all that time he had not one convert. I don't know the details, but I do know God didn't ask him to convert anyone. He just asked him to preach.

Jesus says in Mark 16:15-16, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whover believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned...then the disciples went out and preached everywhere." Again in Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

From these verses of Scripture I see two things: Christians are to preach the gospel and we are to baptize those who are made disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But we cannot convert them. This inward experience is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can publicly baptize which is an OUTWARD experience of the INWARD work of God.

1Corinthians 12:13 and Acts 2:38 describe the inward experience of baptism by the Holy Spirit. This is often referred to as being "born again" by the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the heart of a new believer. This is how the believer is "sealed" forever with God's own name as Paul explains in Ephesians 1:13.

What am I to do? "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husband so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives....Do what is right and do not give way to fear." 1 Peter 3-1, 6b. Live the gospel. Be obedient to it. Teach it and preach it when I can. Trust that He will strengthen me to do the work He has given me to do. And pray.

Just before I reached home a song by Babby Mason came on the radio. It was such an encouragment; divine encouragement! Here is part of it.

"When your questions go unanswered and your prayers may seem in vain,
They don't seem to make a difference, they don't seem to make a change,
Just rest assured God knows your needs, And He hears each time you pray
Your prayers are reaching Heaven and the answer's on its way.
Pray on, for you are who the Lord is looking for;

Pray on, tear the mighty strongholds down,
Stay on your knees for this is where the battle is won,
There's no better place for you to be,
Than seeking the Father prayerfully,
Very soon you'll win the victory, pray on."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Love in Unexpected Places (by Judy)

Today our middle school Farmhands prepared a nearby barn for the arrival of our sheep, some piglets and a small puppy who will grow up to be a sheepherder. It was a beautiful day, but the outside warmth and sun did not reach far into the 19th century building. Except for a few diffused rays, it was dark, dank and chilly. To add to the inner chill, the carcass of a raccoon was leaning against one of the many musty bales of hay that a long-ago farmer left behind.

As we used a crow bar to pry open doors with rusted hinges, the November sunshine began to penetrate a space darkened for the last 40 years. Millions of bits of dust, straw and webby powder filtered through the air as the students, released from the prison of classroom walls, romped around, acting like the preschoolers they once were.

I stood by quietly, watching, smiling at the ruckus, imagining what livestock filled the barn over its history. Suddenly a flash of red caught my eye. I leaned over, and saw an amazing sight hidden down low, partially obscured by mounds of bird droppings – an old Coke can, with an unabashedly flaming crimson heart. Immediately an old Barbra Streisand song went through my mind - “Love Comes from Unexpected Places.”

How true that is – whether it is human love, or the agape love of God. God finds us in the most unlikely places and offers His unconditional love, wrapped in forgiveness, mercy, compassion and grace. It is rarely happens when we are looking our best, dressed in finery and success. Most often He stoops to woo us, a "friend in low places" - dusty, bleak, chilled, and obscured by waste. In the glow of our own self-glory, we miss His Light. In the shadows, His radiant love seeps into the emptiness of our souls.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Agora - Then and Now (by Judy)

I have always loved the concept of the “agora” in ancient times. Long before I started reading the Bible, I learned that people met in the agora of their town - that it was a place where the community gathered, where commodities were bought and sold in arcades and shops, where children played, housewives shared gossip, politicians gave speeches, ideas were exchanged, and life ebbed and flowed.

Then when I began studying the New Testament, I learned that people first heard in the agoras about a man who performed miracles of healing, who taught wisdom through parables, who cleansed them of their sins, and spoke about his Father in heaven. Later his followers made their way to the agora where they talked about their resurrected Christ and debated matters of their faith with skeptics. One of my favorite stories about Paul takes place at the agora in Athens were he reasoned with the Stoics and Epicurians, acknowledged their statue to an unknown God, and then spoke with passion and compassion about his God.

These thoughts are with me today because last week I was in New York. One day I met my sister-in-law at a favorite restaurant from childhood, the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. As I entered that magnificent building, built in 1913 in the Beaux Arts style, I looked around and wondered. There is a huge marble staircase, long glass windows letting in amazing light, and an azure ceiling adorned with constellations. But the building paled in comparison with the people – some rushing to catch trains, some waiting to meet friends, some dining in fabulous eateries or shopping in a wondrous food market, others, many others standing around and talking – a modern day agora for sure.

How I pray that we always have our agoras – that we refuse to let the media dictate what we believe from afar. May we always exchange ideas in public, sharing, proclaiming, exclaiming, reclaiming logic, reason, freedom of speech and thought. May we stand tall against the talking heads of radio, TV, print news and the internet with their own agendas. May we remember that even our God in Isaiah said, "Come now, let us reason together."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vanity Plates by Carolyn

"Who am I? Why am I here?" Penetrating questions, especially when asked in an appropriate setting. James Stockdale, a test pilot, a highly decorated war hero, and prisoner of war for two years, began his 1992 debate for Vice President against Al Gore and Dan Quayle with these questions. Later, writing about his comments, he said he asked those questions to show that he was a philosopher. It did not come off that way. He was ridiculed and immediately became fodder for late night t.v.

Eventually most of us will ponder these questions. What amazes me is how many people answer them on a license plate. RU12XL? Or how about IRIGHTI? These are expressions of individual personalities.

Last Sunday we heard a message from 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong." Romans 8:26 says, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." We are weak but He is strong, and when we depend on God and trust Him, His strength is manifested in our weakness.

Our culture tells us the opposite. We should be strong. We should learn how to "get over it." We should not fail, but go from success to success and teach our children the same.

When my children were small there was an all out effort to boost childhood self esteem. A popular song began this way, "The most important person in the whole wide world is YOU and you really ought to know it. The most important person in the whole wide world is YOU and you really ought to show it." In Isaiah 9:10 out of their arrogance and pride God's people say, "We will rebuild." "We will replace." But God says, "What will you do on the day of reckoning?"

Exiting church, talking about these things, we saw a license plate that said "Numbr 1 Mom." "Probably," we said, laughing lightly, "the children insisted on that as a Mother's Day gift!" But it was an apt summary of all we'd just heard. Yet, God wasn't done putting a ribbon on that sermon. Minutes later we saw another, "Glorify God."

How about you? What would your license plate say? I'm guessing it would not say, IRIGHTI "Right between the eyes."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Salsa for the Soul (by Judy)

When you think of salsa, what adjectives come to mind? Hot, spicy, fiery, zesty, piquant (from the Spanish “picar” meaning “to sting”). Salsa is currently the condiment of choice for a majority of Americans. It has a tomato or tomatillo base, with onions, garlic, lime juice and peppers to fill in the spaces. Then a creative cook can add whatever ingredients are handy – black beans, corn, avocado, cilantro, cumin. Yum!

However, there are variations on the basic ingredients, which cause a completely different dish to emerge. Heretics have been known to chop up mango, pineapple, papaya, melon, strawberries ginger, mint and other options, creating a delicious mixture, which simply can’t be called salsa.

You may be wondering where this ode to legitimate salsa is going, and what it has to do with two mid-sixties friends who delight in sharing the gospel. It has to do with a class that I am teaching at my school called Farmhands. As well as caring for lambs, bees, herbs and veggies, our students occasionally prepare fresh foods for students to enjoy – most recently, salsa. Against my better judgment, I bought the standard ingredients, and also the deviant ones. As they chopped and tossed, weeping openly over the onions, they filled two bowls to the brim.

As one student passed by, she commented, “Oh look – one bowl is so vibrant; and the other is so muted.” My first response was pleasure that a 7th grader would use such adjectives; my second to unravel the applications for a Christian. What do our congregations, prayer groups and Bible studies look like? Vibrant, or muted? Are we fiery and zesty as we make much of Jesus, or sweet, flowery and delicate? Though I recognize that there is a place for both, at the table and in the pew, it is the sharp pungency that most often encourages our spirits, catches the attention of others, and strengthens our bodies, minds and souls!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

She Hath Done What She Could by Carolyn

My neighbor has four beautiful daughters. Over the years, as the family grew, one by one each joined her older sisters for our Friday afternoon Bible study. We established a routine. The first thing we do is eat! Children are pretty hungry when they get home from school and the girls love to eat and talk about what happened during the day. There is nothing like the chatter of four girls just arrived home from school!

After a while, we head for the living room where we sit on the floor, get quiet, say a prayer and listen to a story from the Bible. Quickly, they are captivated for the Bible is full of exciting, memorable, odd and unusual stories that can apply to any life; even the lives of children ages 4-12! When they hear about Noah, or Daniel in the lion's den, or Mary, as the angel tells her she will give birth to the Son of God, they are fascinated. Adam and Eve in the garden trying to defend themselves before a Holy God, grip their minds as they picture the details of snake luring Eve into eating the apple, and Eve tempting Adam into eating the apple too.

Satan is not happy with this arrangement. Lately, he's been up to some dirty tricks.

My neighbor and I find ourselves on opposing sides of political issue. We do not see eye to eye and we are both passionate about our beliefs. It has led to some very challenging and heartfelt discussions between the two of us and has put a little barrier between us for now. It is perplexing and disconserting. We both know that Jesus would have us put aside our differences and come together in Him.

What do we do about this? Agree to disagree? We do, but neither of us is satisfied with the result and I wonder where this will lead.

Knowing how hard and passionately my friend has tried to persuade others to her point of view, a story comes to mind. She reminds me of Mary, Matha's sister, who risked it all when she took her alabaster bottle of perfume to anoint Jesus before His crucifixion. Judas was fit to be tied. He said she wasted that bottle of perfume. It could have been sold and the money used to help the poor. "Leave her alone," Jesus said. "She hath done what she could."

My friend "hath done what she could" and I tell her that. No matter what the outcome, we can give thanks that our Lord has provided each of us a heart that cares for our community, for our children, and for our faith. We pick our battles, but we rest in the knowledge of Romans 8:28, that whatever happens, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." We can rest in peace!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Transitions (by Judy)

A number of blog entries ago, I wrote about the color yellow. I was reminded of that entry as I drove through my beautiful Valley a few days ago. The eye-catching yellow corn, so vibrant in the summer sun, has faded. All that remain are husks, and a few dried kernels that the birds have missed. I felt wistful and a bit melancholy. So many people say they love fall; but for me, that pleasure is always tinged with dread, for I know what follows fall in northeast Ohio, and I experience an anticipatory shiver.

These reflections took me to my youngest granddaughter, Matilda. A couple of weeks ago, she started her two-year-old program at school. The ensuing days have been a challenge – to Matilda, her parents, her big brother and her grandparents – everyone who wants her to settle in and be happy. The teacher reports that she “has trouble with transitions.”

That’s it, I thought! We have trouble with transitions!! Transitions take us out of our comfort zone; they are wilderness times, when we long for the familiar, and don’t look forward to what is coming next. Forgetting that God is in control, that he has spoken promises, and that there are blessings even in the wilderness, we become confused. I understand, sweet Tilda – your Grammie has the same ambivalent feelings about retirement!

But (a pivotal word in the Bible, and in life), I turned the corner on my Valley drive, and I saw such a sight that I braked, got out of the car, and nearly fell to my knees among the pumpkins in gratitude – for I have a new favorite color – orange! Gingery, carroty, persimmony, peachy orange. A color filled with the happiness of yellow, coupled with the passion of red. The Bible is filled with people who looked ahead and saw desiccated stalks of corn. I pray to be like Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 14 who looked ahead and saw God's land of milk and honey!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Who Is This King? by Carolyn

A couple of days ago our pastor gave a message on Jesus in the temple with the moneychangers. He talked about all the commercial exploitation and financial skullduggery going on in a house of worship. The temple had become a den of robbers and hypocrites. People were fleeced in the name of religion. This was nothing new. It had been going on for a long time

In retelling the story of Jesus' righteous anger at the wordly commerce in the temple and His outrage at how the chief priests and scribes were taking advantage of the people, the pastor helped us visualize each in our own minds, the face of Jesus. His face, which often must have had a calm and gentle look, changed. It became stern and firm. How His jaw must have been set against the sin in His Father's house. This was the temple He'd visited as a boy. No doubt, even then, Jesus had been disturbed by what He saw.

As I listened I could almost see that this was not the pale, thin skinned, somewhat effeminate, blue-eyed Jesus often portrayed in art. This was power and authority under control. I imagined dark eyes flashing with anger. A brow furrowed with passion. His mouth pursed with determination to rid the temple of such things as He tipped over the tables, coin boxes and fearlessly drove everybody out.

I remembered a book by J. I. Packer called "Knowing God." It contains a warning. "We should not look to pictures of God to show us His glory and move us to worship; for His glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us. His glory is jeopardized when images are used in worship." Pictures are unworthy for what they fail to display.

When God talks to us through His Word He talks to each of us individually. It is a personal conversation, an intimate one. When we rely on other people's images and pictures we allow a buffer or an obstacle to come between us and our Lord.

While it's true that we were made in His image, and He came to us in human form, "We must not think of Him existing in ours. To think of God in such terms is to be ignorant of Him, not to know Him." Our pastor's message, and Packer together help us remember that we should not limit our Lord. His glory knows no bounds! Who is this King? "See" for yourself!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Love New York, More Than Ever (by Judy)

Last week I was in New York celebrating the birthday of my grandson, born Sept. 9th. On this trip I experienced the inescapable presence of 9/11 at my daughter’s apartment in Lower Manhattan. I never considered it when I made the reservations. I simply put in the Saturday return. Sept. 11th in the evening, after the birthday party.

When we arrived, I was aware of American flags everywhere; especially on the fire engines that seem to sweep through the streets regularly. The fire station down the street was draped in bunting. So were the trash trucks. I was oblivious. Friday evening we went out for dinner – a foursome headed in the twilight to a chic restaurant in Tribeca, the last neighborhood before the financial district. When we emerged after dinner, my heart turned over.

In front of us were two beams of light, so close that I felt I could touch them, two magnificent, soul-stirring columns reaching so high that it was hard to say whether they went from the earth to the sky, or from heaven to earth. It was a stunning reminder and we stopped in silent tribute.

The next day was anything except silent. The apartment was filled with five year olds delighting in a magician’s sleight of hand. But one boy’s shirt said it all – “I love New York, more than ever.” After the party we descended into the chaos of a New York street fair, filled with resilient humanity, stands with food from around the world, trinkets for sale on blankets, music floating smoothly through the air - jazz, salsa, pan pipes, a sitar, reggae, rap. Above us, the sky was cobalt blue, reminding everyone old enough to remember about that cobalt blue sky nine years earlier.

As our plane took off in the 9/11 evening, my eyes searched the sky. There they were, the beams again, cutting through the low clouds, and again I was confused – were they from man, memorializing a tragic moment? Or were they from God, saying, Here I am. In your sorrow, as in your joy.

Ah, you finally got to God, a reader of coffeepotgospel may say. But God is everywhere in this blog. God has made promises to his people – promises about his grace being sufficient, that all things work together for good for those who love and serve him, that he will supply our needs, that there is sure victory over death to those who believe, and that he is with us in the pit, in the fire, in the storm – in the faces of diversity on city streets, in the courage of a city that refuses to cringe, in love – more than ever.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gloria by Carolyn

That's what we dubbed her, Judy and I. She is the Samaritan woman at the well who fell under God's huge blessing. By going to the well later in the day, when the other women would not be there, she bumped headlong into Jesus who was alone at the well. Imagine! What will you do, what will you say when you come face to face with Jesus?

This woman had no clue. Her response to Jesus when He asked her for a drink was typical. "Hey, you Jews don't associate with Samaritans. Why then, would you be asking me for a drink?" "If you knew who I am you would ask ME for a drink," He responded, "And I would give you living water. Again, typically, and perhaps characteristically, she combined cynicism with a history lesson. "...where will you get this 'living water?' According to her faith Jacob gave her and her people the well, so who does this man think he is anyway?

How kind Jesus is! He expands His explanation. He says the water in the well will leave her thirsty later, but the water He can provide will live forever "welling" up inside of her to a spring of eternal life.

She calls His bluff. "Sir," she says, "Give me this water so I won't get thirsty anymore and keep having to come back here for more."

Jesus changes the conversation. "Go, call your husband." Huh? She tersely replies, "I have no husband." "You are have had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband."

Now she is shocked. "Sir, she says, "I can see you are a prophet." She argues about where to worship perhaps hiding behind the unimportant to buy time to think. Dodge...counterdodge. Jesus lets loose and says, "...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

She weakens somewhat, but is still strong in her reply, in her faith. "I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us. Pulling out all the stops, Jesus says, "I, who speak to you, am He." Wow.

Here is why we call her Gloria. She totally forgets her water jug, and runs on winged feet back to town where she is a woman of highly questionable character, and tells everyone, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" she asks. The next thing we know in John 4:39, "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony." 'He told me everything I ever did.'"

Oh, to have her zeal! Her joy! Her influence! Her effectiveness! Her power! What did the Samaritans see? Were people different then? Many conversions followed. Like our Gloria, they understood, God is the fountain of life. Spiritual renewal for a carnal woman from a God who chose to teach her "God is Spirit." How ironic!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hello God, It's Me, Judy (not Blume)

Today is my 66th birthday! I have to admit that even now, when September 6th rolls around, I still get a shiver of excitement. I have friends who give a little shudder when the subject comes up, and they wish the event were not happening; but for me, even at this advanced age when I qualify both for Medicare and Social Security, I am a little girl anticipating her special day.

As I lay in bed this morning, smiling for the walls of the room to see, I tried to analyze why it continues to be a sweet day. Though presents are fun (see, still a little girl!), the best part is the greetings, and best wishes – this year, telephone calls from Shanghai and Manhattan; cards from New Jersey, New York state, and locally; emails from Brussels, Canada, from my media team from church and the school where I work, and again, dear friends and family around here, and the latest – e-cards!

Today is even more special, for the entire nation is pausing! Well, not exactly for me, though I can pretend. It is Labor Day, a funny name, for it is a time where labor ceases, and everyone plays – reflecting on the summer about to end, and looking forward to autumn smells, colorful leaves, fires, football games and cozy sweaters.

However, like the icing on a birthday cake, I am saving the best for last. When I got out of bed, praising God for the day and thanking Him for abundant blessings, I raised the shades. Though I first saw clouds on the horizon, sunlight broke through the eastern sky and illuminated the steeple outside my window with such a glow that I swore it had been transformed into pure gold. I felt the presence of God as surely as Jacob did at the River Jabbok. I remembered his promises to his children – that as high as the heavens are above, so great is his love; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed my transgressions; that he knows how I am formed – in fact, he knit me together in my mother’s womb; and he is with me from everlasting to everlasting.

In the presence of such amazing grace, how could I ever flinch on September 6th, or any other day! Instead I went downstairs to fresh coffee brewing, a smile on my slightly wrinkled face, a dance in my step, and joy in my heart!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

His Eye is On the Sparrow by Carolyn

I have an elderly friend who lives in a nursing home. When we visit she tells me about her beloved Nikki. Nikki was the beautiful black cat who shared his life with her for twenty years. She tells me what a skinny, little, frisky kitten he was tearing all over her house, running away from imaginary evil beasts, stalking moths inadvertently caught in her shag rug, and in his sights, and how he tossed his toys high up in the air and jumped up even higher to catch them before they hit the ground. His zest for life knew no bounds!

Critters outside beware! Nikki is there! He knows where you live. He knows your habits. He is on high alert! Instinct tells him if you aren't very careful, your life is in his paws!

Together they lived in companionship and love. She was never lonely with her Nikki. When she retired for the night, he did too. He slept in her bed beside her head. When she awoke, he did too. When she left for the day, he was at the door when she came home greeting her with enthusiastic meows and wrappping himself around her legs waiting to be picked up and loved. When he developed diabetes and kidney ailments, she gave him his medicine and shots extending his life beyond his veterinarian's ken.

When he died he had a bum leg.

She misses him. She looks out the window in her little room constantly. Then one day, there he was! He was dragging his bum leg, coming through the grass right toward her window! He jumped in and sat on her bed just like he used to. He was there! He was real! And then...he was gone. She is woebegone. She looks high and lo throughout the nursing home and gardens convinced he will come back again.

What can I do? How can I help? Distract her with a message from Scripture that might somehow fit. "The Lord looks high and lo too," I say, " for the lost and for His own." "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." 2Chronicles 16:9 "The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good." Proverbs 15:3 "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayers." 1Peter 3:12

How sweet is the Word of God! She draws a conclusion from all of this and reaches back. She makes a slight change. "His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches us."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shades of Yellow (by Judy)

As I was driving to school last week, I began to think about the color yellow. Earlier this summer my granddaughter had gone around a room filled with family, asking people about their favorite color. Everyone jumped in either with the basics (blue, green, purple), with the exotics from those with Crayola crayon familiarity (magenta, indigo, burnt umber), and with the predictable (from 2 year old granddaughter, pink). I was the last one, and I said yellow. It always has been my favorite choice, though basically ignored by the population at large. So before I go on, dear reader, what about you?

As I drove, thinking about yellow, I marveled at the golden beauty of my daily drive through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park - slanting rays of the early morning sun, wildflowers in the fields, birch trees among the pines, the flitting of finches, a sports car passing me with its top down. But I also saw all sorts of yellow warnings - not to cross the center line, to watch for bikers, walkers, horseback riders, crazy turns ahead, railroad crossing. As I reflected on the delights and warnings that yellow offered during my drive, my road ended. Right in front of me was a sign - an arrow to the left, and arrow to the right. Black arrow on a yellow background. My choice.

Joshua was a mighty Old Testament leader, probably best known for the battle of Jericho when the walls came tumbling down. But as he was about to die, he spoke words to his assembled people that came to my mind as I sat in front of the yellow sign. "If you decide that it's a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you'd rather serve—and do it today. As for me and my family, we'll worship God."

Isn't that like life, and isn't that like God. We are not marionettes on a string. God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, but He is not a master puppeteer. We have choice - but whatever we choose, do it today. I traveled on to school, where my first project was to work in the garden. As I ascended the hill, I saw a sunflower against the sky. On the way home that afternoon, I bought the best-in-the-world Ohio corn, which we had for dinner. That night I sank to my knees in gratitude for the yellow world I live in, and that I have made my choice!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tea for Two (or Three, or Four, or More!) by Carolyn

I live next door to four precious young girls ages 4 - 12. Over the years we have enjoyed many tea parties. Some fancier than others. Some put together at the last minute, some planned for elaborately, some simple, some elegant, but all fascinating to me!

What is it about tea parties that little girls enjoy so much? Is it the planning? Is it the preparation? Is it the act of putting the tea in the pot, putting the cups on the table, getting the napkins and the sugar bowl, filling the vases with flowers and putting the candles in the candlesticks? Is it pouring the cream? Setting the table? Is it the actual partaking of the little cups of tea and the crumpets? Is it sharing in all of these things together? What is it? Is it serving the tea? Is it all pomp and circumstance, or tradition? Is it because we're girls? What is it?

I do not know. But women and girls love tea parties.

Years ago, Judy and I put together our own tea party for women's groups. We prepared a presentation where she and I assumed the roles of women inviting women from the Bible to come to a tea party for Jesus. We invited Lydia, Priscilla, Tabitha, Esther, Hannah, Abigail and others. We introduced each of them to the audience and sang songs in between the arrival of each lady. Then we invited all to come to the table we carefully prepared in advance while we awaited the arrival of the guest of honor; Jesus. The women in the audience supplied all the imagination we needed to make the tea party a total success!

Just imagine the party the Lord is preparing for the wedding supper of the Lamb! It will be a tea party PLUS! The Lord has invited us all to come, taste and see that the Lord is good. He has already filled our cups to overflow with blessings and thanksgivings. Our cups "runneth over" with goodness, love and joy. In our hearts we love parties! We are thankful we've been invited! And our Host will not disappoint us. We will be thrilled and astonished with the banquet He has prepared! He will be our All in All and I can hardly wait!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

An Outer Banks Beacon (by Judy)

The Outer Banks of North Carolina, August 2010. Sun, sand and surf with son, daughter, spouses and 5 grandchildren. What a wonderful, happy time together. Oldest granddaughter Lia always arose first, crawled into our bed and snuggled, offering and accepting kisses, warm and sweet smelling. Youngest granddaughter Matilda was indomitable, not at all intimidated by her cousinly and brotherly elders. When challenged, she roared like a lion, literally. Towering above us, visible from almost every window was the Currituck Lighthouse. Whenever I looked it, I heard music - the mariner's hymn, sung at the funerals of so many of our fathers, both literal and figurative. Jack Kennedy. Ronald Reagan. John Wolcott.

Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep, Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!

What is there about a lighthouse that challenges sons. Why did older grandson Max daily beg to climb the 212 steps, and when he finally achieved his goal, what thrill kept him at the upper railing, circling and circling, a tiny figure triumphantly waving at the world below; while his 5 year old counterpart Arial, like the Disney mermaid, delighted in jumping waves, and tripled the length of the walk from house to beach and back because she stopped to pick up so many glittering, multicolored shells. Did Max recognize that lighthouses stand in the gap, filling the darkness with bold beams of light, 3 seconds on and 17 seconds off, so that ships with precious cargo and brave deckhands can make their journeys in safety.

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard, And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walked'st on the foaming deep, And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!

I love that lighthouse, just as I love the lighthouse of my childhood, Barnegat, on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. Each night I lay in bed while familiar voices intermingled in the living room. I opened my Bible on the night table and read from Isaiah, Psalms, Job while the steady rhythm of the light passed by my vision. I smiled as I thought about younger grandson Ian praying at the dinner table, eyes squeezed together, drawing the words and sentences out as we all held hands. Raised in China by Christian parents, he symbolizes for me the passing of the mantle, a new generation filled with the Spirit, God's beacons in the darkness.

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease, And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An Airstream Dream by Carolyn

Ever since she was a little girl my daughter-in-law has dreamed of having an Airstream trailer. She saved paper dolls who inhabit an Airstream of their own, the way other girls might save Barbies or Cabbage Patch dolls. Her home is loaded with pictures and books about Airstreams their history, their glory days, their future. She painted ceramic plates and wooden trays with idyllic scenes of happy families camping in an Airstream and gave them away as gifts.

When she married my son, he caught the fever. A couple of years ago, they even vacationed at a campground in Oregon, where they live, in a rented Airstream. What a thrill that was! For the last 9 years they saved every extra penny they had to make that dream come true.

The phone rang. The call came. The dream came true! They bought a perfectly perfect 2003 Airstream International and were walking on "airstreams" all week planning for and awaiting its delivery on Friday.

We were all there. My son and his wife from California and my husband and I from Ohio had planned ages ago to meet in Oregon that weekend. We got to be a part of the welcoming committee! The delivery man came. They signed papers. He left. We all oohed and awed in rapt bemusement and wonder that this dream came true!

And the Lord threw a curve ball.

As my son opened a large window on the side of the trailer it exploded out with such force, sound and fury that thousands of teeny tiny, little pieces of glass were literally blown up and out scattering over a wide area. We were all struck silent, stunned by what had just happened. Shocked, no one moved. No one. Until my daughter-in-law came running out from the house to see what happened. She threw her hand over her mouth and ran back inside. And no one moved.

There is a happy ending! No one was hurt! None of us, including the baby was hit by flying glass. Praise God! Praise God! The dealer will replace the glass and the Airstream will be fixed. But it reminded me that like glass, life is fragile. It can change in an instant. And like glass, sometimes our dreams shatter, or are changed in significant ways. That is why the Lord tells us over and over and over again some 350 times in a variety of ways and circumstances, "Do NOT FEAR."

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned." Isaiah 43:1-2

Glass breaks. Dreams shatter. Life is fragile. But "I will be with you." is a promise. And the Lord keeps His promises.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Solid Rock and Sinking Sand (by Judy)

Last week I had such joy, for my family from Shanghai was here in Ohio. Almost 40-year-old son, his beloved wife, and three grandchildren, ages 8, 5 and 3. We spent the day at a beautiful nearby lake and played and picnicked in the sun-dappled grass. Then we went to a sandy beach where everyone swam until the lifeguard called all swimmers out for a break. In the ensuing calm, the children did what all children do when a sandy beach is at hand – buried a friend.

I love the photo – and the reminder of the parable about those who build their houses on sand, rather than rock (in Matthew 7 and Luke 6). When Jesus told it, he was speaking to his followers. Some were sick and sought healing; some were fascinated by the miracles he performed; most heard his words day after day – but how many truly embraced his important lessons?

The answer to that question depended on their actions – their hearts. Jesus spoke about two men, but they represent all of us who profess to believe. The first man in the parable built his house quickly, with little attention to foundation. He simply threw it up on the nearest piece of sandy soil. The second man took his time. He applied what he knew about foundational matters. He built on solid rock. Then the storm came. The battered house on solid rock stood firm; the house built on shaky sand crumbled.

This lesson has little to do with the laughter and sweet fellowship of that sunny day with dear grandchildren and their friends. Truthfully I just wanted to share the picture! But as I watched, I remembered that wonderful gospel song from summer camp – “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness… in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil… on Christ the Solid Rock I stand! All other ground is sinking sand!!”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blog With Substance Award

We would like to thank fellow Christian blogger Carnival ( for offering us the Blog With Substance Award. We are humbled and encouraged. It is such a blessing to join with other bloggers as we do Kingdom work.
We now pass the honor on to a blog that offers both substance and sustenance! The wonderful name is Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Hope our readers delight in their hospitality!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sewing Life by Carolyn

Occasionally, I take sewing to a little shop near my home. When I enter the shop the first thing I notice is a young woman lying on a hospital bed in a doorway to the work room, directly opposite the front door. It's easy to see her. I say a cheery, "Hello!" but she doesn't respond. I wait in a room stuffed with all kinds of clothing. Formal dresses and wedding dresses hang overhead on tracts. Obviously, lots of people come here, but I rarely see other customers. I wait for someone to come in response to the wind chimes that rang as soon as I entered. Suddenly, I hear laughter. Looking toward the sound, I see the young woman in the hospital bed is laughing outloud!

Before long a middle-aged, dark-haired woman appears. She looks at the work I have and in broken English she carefully says, "I must talk to my boss before we can accept this." She disappears and soon a tall, sturdy, gray-haired woman appears. She looks at my sewing and wonders why someone would slash the waist band on both sides of a pair of pants. I tell her that I volunteer at a nursing home and sometimes, in order to be comfortable, a resident will occasionally take things into their own hands. She becomes indignant. She nods to the woman in the hospital bed and says, "When she needs me I am there. Right now. Immediately. It burns me up to think there is not enough time to help people who need help immediately." I say nothing because I am fascinated by a picture of a young woman on the counter and the poem accompanies it.

My Name is Anna

Jesus came to me in disguise
With crippled legs and big brown eyes
The simplest things will make her laugh
All, that is , expcept her bath.

I don't know why Anna is in that chair
I don't know and I don't care
All I know is I love her for a million reasons
Cause kissing her is kissing Jesus.

Love, Your Sister, 1985"

I ask the tall gray-haired lady if I may copy the poem and share it with friends. She grins from ear to ear and says, "Oh! Please do!"

Psalm 139: 13-16 "For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Mark 9: 36,37 "He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in His arms, He said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the one who sent Me.'" Deuteronomy 11:26 "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse." Proverbs 21 "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."

AMEN to God's purposes and plans! And AMEN to those who heed them!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Straw in Your Hair (by Judy)

Two weeks ago I had a wonderful experience, for I returned to the beautiful northern California of Jack’s and my early married years. Though I stayed in San Francisco, I spent most of each day at a conference in Berkeley, land of creative architecture, whimsical gardens, affordable restaurants, and free-spirited people.

The conference had a high-minded focus on ecology and sustainability, which if you have read previous blogs, you know directly relates to my new job at my school as resident beekeeper and gardener. But I try always to have an additional focus, which is how I connect everything I learn with my faith, and then use that insight to connect with others.

There was ample opportunity to find authentic links, for the conference focused on clarity of purpose, building relationships among those who are like-minded and even more among those who are not and, especially, on our place in God’s world, and the transitions in nature from life to death to life again. But something even better happened. The best lesson that I learned during my 5-day sojourn did not take place in the classroom. It was in the garden, in the sunshine, among bales of straw. (See the attached photo, including the stretched out legs of my traveling companion)

We are designed to rest after work. Our bodies require it, but even more, our spirits long for it, and we are called to enjoy it. God rested after six days of creation. Not because he was exhausted and burned out (of course not – He is God!), but because He was setting forth a model for us, and He called it GOOD! At the beginning of the Bible: “…on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” and at the end: “… for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”

I am writing this early in July, dear readers. It is summer! Take time to rest. Delight in the wonders of the natural world. Smell the scents, taste the treats, find a figurative bale of straw, and above all – listen!

This is my Father's world: he shines in all that's fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Left, Right, Right, Left Out of My Heart" by Carolyn

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend an evening with friends. I looked forward to it with eager anticipation. The evening came and before long I was completely immersed in friendly delights; laughs, stories, memories, conversations about serious things, frivolity and friendship. It was a wonderful night! When the evening ended, suddenly, I was caught up short. Convicted. Ashamed. Where was Jesus? I left Him out. Completely. Relegated Him to my "other" life apparently. He had been out of my heart, mind, actions, and conversations. Why?

Shocked, disappointed, sad, and sorry, I had sidelined Christ. Sat Him on the bench. How can I forget who I am? Whose I am? 2Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! ...We are therefore Christ's ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us." Where was the new? What kind of an ambassador leaves his new clothes hanging in the closet and forgets his purpose?

The following day was Sunday. The pastor preached on Mark 9:14-29, the healing of a boy with an evil spirit. A man had brought his son to Jesus to be healed of seizures that threw his son to the ground, made him foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth and become rigid. The disciples tried to heal the boy but could not, and the father was desperate. While there are an abundance of lessons here, the lesson for me that day was when the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn't drive the demon out Jesus responded, "This kind can come out only by prayer."

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about conversations with God. I failed to practice what I preached. I had not prayed. I left the Lord entirely out of the evening long before the evening began. "This kind can come out only by prayer" "...only by prayer." By grace, faith and prayer we are healed. By prayer we can help others. By prayer we are reminded who we are, whose we are. By prayer we remain close to God. By prayer we are forgiven, encouraged, lifted, inspired, corrected, comforted and loved. By prayer we comfort and love as we are comforted and loved.

It is a lesson I learned once long ago. It is a lesson I need learn again. And again.

"Jesus, kneel beside me
In the dawn of day;
Thine is prayer eternal
Teach me how to pray!"

Master, work beside me
In the shining sun;
Gently guide Thy servant
Till the work be done.

Saviour, watch beside me
In the closing light;
Lo, the evening cometh
Watch with me this night!


Saturday, June 19, 2010

I've been working on the railroad (by Judy)

When I was a little girl, I loved to tell jokes and ask people to solve riddles. I thought it was the height of wit to say something like, “Railroad crossing – look out for the cars. Can you spell that without any Rs?” Of course my compliant audience would ponder, hem, haw, and say that my question was impossible, because obviously there were lots of Rs in my sentence. At which point I would point out with great gusto that the answer to my question was “T-H-A-T!”

The truth was that most of the time, I actually really pulled one over on the grown ups – they were thinking quickly, thinking of many things, not listening carefully, and offered the quick and incorrect response. I discovered this week that the adult behavior of long ago is me today!

For the last week I spent just about every waking hour with a 5 year old and a 2 year old - grandchildren Max and Matilda. Every moment was filled with revelation, contemplation, and exuberance. Max paid rapt attention to the daily newspaper, a decomposing snapping turtle, train whistles, fleur de sel cupcakes, attaching a lid to a wooden box using hinges, whispered adult conversation and my bees. Matilda never missed an ant walking across the sidewalk or our kitchen floor, yellow flowers, anything pink, wearing her sunglasses, lounging in her Adirondack chair, putting on her own shoes and all creatures great and small.

When did I exchange the holy now for the hurried next? How have I so often lost the sense of wonder? Why have I condemned myself to missing quiet time with God, dwelling in His Word, and delighting in His people as I exchange such precious selfless moments for hurrying, scurrying, and my self focused agenda?

One of my favorite verses comes from Psalm 46. The first two words are, “Be still…” That is enough to get my attention every time I read it, but it is the next six words that really send me to my knees – “…and know that I am God.” They go together. I can’t be still until I remember who I am and who my Lord is. Then I can relax, shrug off worry, set aside personal agendas, appreciate all He has created, and glorify Him. He is in control. I can relax and enjoy the ants!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conversations with God (by Carolyn)

How do we talk to God? I opened the secular dictionary to find out the definitions of prayer. Here are the first three.
1) a reverent petition made to a deity or other object of worship.
2) The act of making such a petition
3) any act of communion with God, such as a confession, praise or thanksgiving.

Then I went to my Bible Dictionary published by Zondervan. "In the Bible prayer is the spiritual response (spoken and unspoken) to God, who is known not merely to exist but to have revealed Himself and to have invited His creatures into communion with Himself. Thus prayer covers a wide spectrum of addressing and hearing God, interceding with and waiting for the Lord, and contemplating and petitioning our Father in heaven. What prayer is may best be seen in the examples and teachings of Jesus. This information can then be supplemented by the apostolic practice of, and teaching on prayer as well as examples of prayer from the OT."

I will leave you to do your own research into Jesus and the apostles both praying and teaching about prayer. The Bible is replete with rich and wonderful Scripture on prayer!

Prayer is a mystery to me. How does it work? Why and when does it work? It's not hard to do. It's simple really and Paul says we are to pray about everything knowing God will hear us, cares about us, and is able to act on our behalf.

I volunteer at a nursing home and one of the ladies always looks a little sheepish whenever I mention prayer. She says, "I don't pray. I talk to God." I tell her, "That's praying!" She doesn't believe me. She thinks it must be much more formal to be a prayer. To me, to pray is to share intimately with Jesus knowing that He is my Lord, my Savior and my Friend. He already knows what is in my heart. I cannot hide anything from Him. But He wants me to come to Him in prayer.

Praying can be extremely humbling. My Lord, Savior and Friend is also Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, who could conceivably cast me away from His presence forever. But He doesn't precisely because He is who He says He is in my life. We come to the Father through Jesus the Son by the guidance of the Spirit. Wow.

Prayer is conversation with God. Paul says in Ephesians 6:18-20, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert, and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

James 4:2 says, "You want something but don't get it....You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives..."

1John 5:14-15 says, "This is the confidence that we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything according to His will, He will hear us, and if we know He hears us, whatever we ask we already have what we asked Him for!"

Pray on dear Christians, pray on!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Real Relay for Life (by Judy)

Very early yesterday morning, I participated on a Relay for Life team. This is an organization that raises money for cancer research by encouraging people to put together teams who obtain pledges, and then walk, think, pray and laugh together over a 24 hour period. As I fitfully slept the night before, waiting for the alarm to go off, listening to the thunder and rain, selfishly being grateful that I was under dry covers while my darkest-of-night teammates were walking (doubly selfishly justifying my thought by saying they are half my age), I had no idea what a moving experience awaited me.

When I arrived, the skies were just opening up to the rose and lavender of a beautiful sunrise. Coffee was waiting, and as I started my loops around the track, some of the faithful were holding a sunrise service. A lone woman sang Morning Has Broken. As her voice rose above the walkers, the words grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Cat Stevens couldn’t have done any better.

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven, Like the first dewfall, on the first grass; Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden; Sprung in completeness where his feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning; Born of the one light, Eden saw play; Praise with elation, praise every morning; God's recreation of the new day.

I passed hundreds of luminaries with names on them, some those who have passed, and some who are survivors. Every name spoke of heart-wrenching challenge, but also of love. There were walkers and their supporters all around me, some looking bleary-eyed, some goofy in attire guaranteed to promote laughter, some chatting, some solitary – but all united in brave purpose.

It made me weep with sorrow and joy. I was so proud to be a small part of this collective good – but I also thought about the other great needs in our world. Secular ones, like the tragedy along the Gulf Coast; political, like the anger that spews from the airwaves and from regular conversation; and above all spiritual, like the deep loneliness experienced by those not anchored in faith. Two verses kept running through my mind from Hebrews, verses which are part of every Christian’s Relay for Life - “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” and “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Paul's Passion (by Carolyn)

Judy told me to read a novel by Walter Wangerin Jr. entitled simply Paul. Last week I had the opportunity. I was stunned to the extent that I am compelled to write about it so you might read it too. It hammers home the immense struggles of the founders of the early church as they hammer out church doctrine and tell the world about Jesus Christ and His saving grace. Paul, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla, Barnabus, Luke, James, Lydia, and many others leap off its pages. Though a novel, if you keep your Bible close at hand you will see the author rarely strays from its pages.

The back cover says, "Sweeping you back through the centuries, Wangerin sets you amid bustling market-places filled with the smell of animals and the cry of merchants...faces, cultures, and traditions as diverse as the varied landscape..." but that isn't the half of it. This is a book that puts you squarely in the middle of the searing emotional battles inside and among the believers of the early church.

Paul is unwavering as he faces down his own Jewish brothers, some of whom want to maintain certain requirements of the law for themselves and new believers. This meant circumsion in order to be in compliance. Paul argues passionately it is unnecessary. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law perfectly for all and conquered death so that all may have life. But tradition, power and the human need be in control of our own destiny and the destiny of others make this hard to accept. Pride and power get in the way.

Then the pendulum swings back the other way from adhering strictly to the law, to flaunting it knowing we are forgiven. Paul writes in Christ's love to the Corinthians who are reveling in what they assume is their new freedom from the law. They engage in all kinds of immoral behavior. An example from his letter, "We are ambassadors for Christ. God is making His appeal through us. We beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Please! Corinthians, please: do not accept the grace of God in vain!"

Paul is only human. On his website, Wangerin says, "Paul is our size." He paints that picture so well. Paul overcomes great odds by the Spirit that is in him, and by that same Spirit he is on his knees, tearfully begging Barnabus to forgive him for their quarrel in an unforgettable scene of humility, humanity, divinity, and reconcilliation.

If you want an historically accurate, yet beautifully dramatized scoop into the personal, strenuous, enormous struggle these men and women undertook, you will find it in the pages of this book. Thank you, Judy!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

While the cat is away... (by Judy)

... I will blog again! (can you find the subject of this blog in the photo?)

In my growing role at school as the manager of our farmstead, I have become the repository of articles, jokes, and books. If it has to do with growing things, both animal and vegetable, people think, Oh, I’ll bet Judy would like this – and it appears on my desk. So it was no surprise when someone sent me a butterfly joke by email. But as I read it, I thought – this is a perfect blog entry!

Two caterpillars are sitting happily on a log. They look up and see a butterfly float by overhead. One turns to the other and says, “No way you’ll ever catch me up on one of those things.” I can imagine them grinning at each other, and continuing to chew a leaf, ignorant of the process of metamorphosis and the fact that soon they themselves will be soaring.

I was once that caterpillar. I was happy in my grounded life. I watched people head off to worship each Sunday, as I drank my second cup of coffee and dug deeper into the New York Times. I had a collection of Bibles gathering dust on my shelf, though I delighted in the heritage of strong Christian ancestors which they represented. I took pride in my Episcopal background, and deeply loved allowing the familiar cadences of the Book of Common Prayer roll over me. Churches and cathedrals represented the highest of architectural design, stained glass beauty, and acoustical harmony.

Then, when I was fifty years old, something happened. I can’t explain it. I changed. I couldn’t get enough Bible study. Sunday mornings (and evenings) at church were the highlight of my week. I listened to Christian music as I commuted to work. It was not a result of my good works, holy attitude or deep study. Trying to explain it was like trying to explain where the wind would next blow. Jesus says to the seeker Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Go figure. Try and explain that one!

There is one thing for sure. I would never want to go back. And I have to think that soaring butterfly feels the same way when she looks down and sees two earthbound caterpillars watching her from their low point on the log. I am eternally grateful for that inexplicable wind, called the Spirit. The apostle Paul used to drive me crazy when I was a caterpillar. I didn’t understand his passion. Now when I read, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” I know he was speaking from personal experience, as I am today.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beauty from Ashes (by Judy)

At the school where I work, I have worn many hats over 30 years, but one of my current jobs is the most fun – gardener and beekeeper. Any readers of this blog will see many entries on these subjects over time, for there is so much of God in nature, as there should be, since He is Creator as well as Lord.

This week, Carolyn and I traveled up to the Botanical Gardens in Cleveland, which was an inspirational experience. One of my favorite places there was the Children’s Garden, where they have taken old, undesirable throw-aways and recycled them as planters for lovely flowers. This model of reversing construction, taking materials that in the past were destined for landfills and creating something beautiful makes good sense, for it is socially responsible and sustainable – and it makes God sense, for it reminds me of some of my favorite verses in the Bible – verses that I have asked to have read at my funeral.

The verses appear in two places, and their location has offered ministers volumes of sermon material over time. The first place is in the Old Testament, in the magnificent book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."

The second place is in the New Testament gospel of Luke, where after being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus quotes these words at his home synagogue in Nazareth. He opened the holy scroll, read the words, sat down, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Beauty from ashes – prophecy and fulfillment. Darkness and sin exchanged for hope, joy, grace, mercy, love. Do you see, gentle readers, why these words are funeral-worthy?!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Achoo! (by Carolyn)

Bless you!

Huh? Why?

There are some common beliefs about the orgin of "Bless you!" after a sneeze although none are definitive. One is familiar to most. Legend says people once believed the heart stopped beating during a sneeze and a hearty bless you encouraged it to start again.

One reaches back to the bubonic plague. According to Wikipedia, Pope Gregory I was installed about the time the plague was reaching Rome. To fight off the illness he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets of Rome because sneezing was thought to be the first symptom . People prayed for God's blessing and favor to keep them safe.

Another says people believed the soul was thrown from the body during a sneeze leaving the body open to invasion by Satan or his minions, or conversely that the evil spirits already possessed the body and this was its way of expelling them. Either way, to be blessed was to be protected from evil.

When our pastor mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking. As a Christian is that all the witnessing I do? Is all I can muster a hearty "Bless you!" as a way of communicating to others that I believe in God and they should too? What about Jesus? I have left Him out entirely. How pathetic is that? It occurred to me, I am the one in desperate need of courage and conviction.

Recently, a guest pastor from India preached passionately about Christians in his country and many countries who are so hated for their beliefs they are killed. Others are subject to brutal beatings, family members might be killed, or their livelihoods destroyed and their churches burned. How are they known for their faith? They say so. Publicly. In the square.

What am I afraid of? Offending someone? That IS pathetic. The Bible says in Galatians 5:11 that people don't want to be told they cannot manage their own salvation. Some don't acknowledge they need salvation, or that there is salvation at all. Our pride and arrogance don't want to admit we cannot save ourselves, or that there is something to be saved from. The cross is offensive. So is its exclusivity.

Christians believe only the Holy Spirit working through the heart of man, can save. Revelation 3:20 says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me." But we have responsibility too. Jesus laid it out in Mark 16:15. "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation!" Message to self, "Say so!" Oh, and by the way, may God bless you heartily, whether you sneeze...........or not!