Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Who knows where the time goes?" (by Judy)

Oh my goodness – where has the time gone? Isn’t that a constant refrain, especially as we grow older - though Judy Collins asked the question in the title in the 1970s. I say this first because it has been 1 month since Carolyn posted her last blog, and our agreement is that we will rotate responsibility, trying to post once a week. Sigh. No excuses worth typing. But such a disgraceful lag on my part has given me the subject – how we spend our time.

I am part of a prayer group, and once a week we gather to honor our Lord with words of adoration. We also confess those sins we are able to speak out loud. We thank God for His bountiful blessings, which is always the easiest part of this time together. And finally we offer prayers of supplication for individuals, groups, our nation and the world. Though there are many common themes, one of the most consistent, I type with chagrin, is confession that we do not give God our first fruits. We fit Him in during chaotic days and nights where with exhaustion we fall into a deep sleep. He is not our All in All, but too often our Sometimes, When Convenient.

This disgraceful inattention to the most important matter in my life was brought home as I walked home from grocery shopping one day recently. I passed the beautiful church across the street, and saw a placard advertising a new service on Sundays. The words shocked me, and caused me to lament anew our worldly priorities. Honoring God once a week, setting aside a day of Sabbath rest, is not only a commandment, but a timetable that God modeled for us in the Book of Genesis. The first bullet point, best marketing position, says it all: the promise of a half hour service. In and out, on your way. I love you, Lord. Now time to play.

The familiar hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” sings, “Crown him the Lord of Years, the Potentate of Time….” Psalm 31 says, “My times are in your hands.” A concordance provides many other references to God’s time. This blog entry is more a rueful meditation on how I spend my time, and what my priorities are. There is one thing I know – every time I sit down, set aside the world and listen to God, I am blessed beyond words. My thanksgiving is that I still have Today!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Are you kidding me? Bible study? No way. Not going to happen. Nope. Not now, maybe never." That was my first response when a friend invited me to Bible Study Fellowship, an international Bible study organization. When I hung up the phone I thought to myself, 'Why would I want to go and listen to a bunch of women complaining about their lives, their problems, and, their (God forbid) emotions! Satisfied, I went on my merry way.

As our teaching leader said last night, I was beginning to feel nagged. Again and again my friend suggested I just try it. "Come on," she said, "What the heck are you afraid of? What's there to lose? If you don't like it, you don't have to come back." She patiently explained that this Bible study truly was the study of the Bible, not a hanging out of everyone's dirty laundry. Still, I didn't trust her. After about 4 months, she finally wore me down and I agreed to go...once. I was comforted by the fact that the study was not associated with a particular church, but was an ecumenical approach.

I walked into the church and was met with a sea of women's faces. I had no idea so many women studied the Bible. There must have been about 250 women in the sanctuary. I found my way to an inconspicuous corner and sat down.

After a couple of hymns and a prayer, the hostess behind the pulpit, invited all new attendees to stay in the sanctuary while all the others got up and left. 'Where are they going? Here it comes.' I thought to myself. There were about 5 of us left behind. The lady explained we were studying the Minor Prophets. I had no idea what she was talking about. She said there would be a lesson to be completed each week, discussion to follow in a small group with a discussion leader, a lecture in the sanctuary after that, a fellowship lunch once a month, and plenty of people to help us find our way around the Bible.

That first week I waited until the night before at 8 p.m. to begin my lesson. As I dug in I quickly realized this was not going to be a walk in the park. This really was Bible study. The questions, while pertinent to the lesson, took us all over the Bible for reinforcement of the lesson. Struggling to complete it, I thought, "Are all those other women going to finish this? I doubt it." About 2 a.m. I put my pencil down and went to bed.

When we gathered the following week, I was amazed to see that not only had every one of the women in my group completed the lesson, but they were discussing it and nothing else: no movies, no books, no politics, no friendly conversations, no getting off message, no delays, no People magazine, New York Times, or family problems came up. The only thing that came up was Nehemiah 1:6 and the Reconstruction of the Walls of Jerusalem, which was very odd to me, but rather interesting.

The next week my attitude was even worse. I started my lesson a little earlier thinking to myself, "This bunch isn't going to get the best of me." I slammed into the lesson and finished up about 2 a.m. again.

The following week, I stared at my paper about 4 days before the lesson was due. Picking it up, I took a deep breath and began.

God pursues those who are against Him. He's the hound of heaven. If you run, He gives chase. He's on a mission. He's on a combat operation against His enemy, sin. His goal is to rescue the sinner, clean him up and welcome him to eternal life with Him. BUT, there is that little mystery of human faith combining with divine appointment. Somewhere in the night during one of my late evenings, the two intermingled and I understood this Bible was written for me. This God was mine. Jesus slipped out of the shadows of my mind and walked boldly into my heart. Will you hear Him out? Will you listen to His voice? What have you got to lose?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gratitude for Music (by Judy)

In my last entry, I spoke about our trip to Tennessee, an experience that still excites me and reminds me about the amazing diversity of people, geography and history in our country. But it is the music that continues to dig deep into my heart and remind me about our great God. I know I am not alone. Even David sang, "My heart is steadfast, O God. I will sing and make music with all my soul."

Since Tennessee, we have embarked on two weekend trips - one to Virginia and one to Minnesota. Our southern journey was for fun, as we visited friends and attended a fair in a small Civil War style town. There were re-enactments, delicious food, costumes and games, and strolling musicians playing country instruments, like the banjo, fiddle, mandolin and dulcimer, which I am now studying. Best of all was a concert in a lovely chapel where a lilting tin whistle played notes that soared to the rafters - "When we've been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we've first begun."

Minnesota was different - a memorial service, celebrating the life of my son-in-law's father. We traveled 3 hours north of Minneapolis to a beautiful and somewhat wild land of lakes, pine trees, soaring birds, and people who enjoy hunting, fishing and wild rice pancakes. The evening before the service, I sat with family, talking about previous Catholic funerals I have attended. My richest memory is a hymn - "You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life, say to the Lord: 'My refuge, my rock in whom I trust." and then the chorus, always led by a beautiful baritone several rows behind, "And he will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand." Sure enough, the hymn was on yesterday's program and the baritone sang.

The morning after the service, I rose early, and went to the dining room of the rustic lodge where we were staying, thanks to the generosity of the lodge's owner, whose father bought meat from my son-in-law's father 65 years ago - for such is the steadfastness of love in the countryside. The cavernous room was empty, the huge windows looking out over Gull Lake pristine. As I sipped my steaming coffee, I watched the sunrise and listened to David's voice, the tin whistle, the baritone - and simply thanked God by singing His praises once again. "Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Is That You, Jesus? by Carolyn

I had a friend who was ill with cancer. It was orginally diagnosed almost twenty years ago, long before I knew her. She was treated and for ten years she was cancer free. Then, about nine years ago it came back.

I met her a year ago when a mutual friend asked me if I would participate in a Bible study with her, her friend, and two others. She told me about Carol. She said Carol was nearing the end of a long line of chemo treatments. There were no other types of chemo that she could take that would halt the growth of her cancer and Carol wanted to know what heaven was like. She was a very smart girl. She wasn't one to take just anyone's word on things and so she had chosen a book called, "Heaven" written by Randy Alcorn. She wanted to study that one because it included thousands of Scripture references and Carol wanted as much evidence as the Bible could provide.

The study began and Carol was inspired. The Holy Spirit found her heart open and ready. She read and studied like crazy! She was the type of person who did whatever she did, passionately and this was no exception. The rest of us did our best to keep up, but she blew out the curve!

Her time grew shorter and she studied harder. She didn't "taste" the Bible. She swallowed it whole. At some point in her life she had asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior, but it had been many years since she thought much about Him. Not so anymore! As her body withered, her spirit soared. It almost became incidental to her that she was wasting away. She was gaining on eternity with Jesus with every passing day.

The day came when she was admitted to hospice. She had been there only one day before her pastor showed up. When he came into the room Carol appeared to be sleeping, lying on her back, her hands folded neatly across her tummy. Not wanting to wake her, he pulled up a chair and sat beside her gently touching her hand with his. Her eyes fluttered open. She looked directly through him and said, "Is that you, Jesus? Is that you? Because I am so ready to go home. I want to go home with You."

The pastor was stunned. As he said at her memorial service, never had he had such an experience. He was speechless. He knew that Carol knew Jesus was on His way. He came and took her home that night.

Hours before my own mother died, she was semi conscious. She began asking no one in particular for a map. She couldn't understand why one wasn't provided, for without it, how would she get where she was going? She asked for directions. Apparently, foiled again she was absolutely puzzled and obviously chagrined. Her chagrin became relief and joy when she suddenly realized she didn't need a map. She didn't need directions. Why? Because, she said, "Oh! I see! You are coming to get me!" And He did.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

That Beautiful Tennessee Waltz (by Judy)

Recently we returned from a fabulous trip to Tennessee. We spent several days at a remote farm up in the hills near the Virginia border, and then fulfilled one of my greatest dreams – Nashville! I can’t remember when my desire to visit that storied city started – perhaps it was my love for the little appreciated movie “Nashville,” about finding light in the midst of darkness during a political campaign; no, it was the wonderful TV of the 60s with Johnny Cash, John Hartford, Glenn Campbell, the Smothers Brothers; no, it was because I just know I will be a wonderful banjo player once I start taking lessons; no, even further back, it was the harmonizing blend of bluegrass, gospel, and mountain music that sent chills down my teenage back.

Blend – the concept that defines Tennessee. It is a blend of the south and the mountains; its iconic drink is a blend of Jack Daniels and honey; its music blends different traditions into a distinct sound; and more than any place I have ever visited, it blends the secular world and faith. At a time when the phrase “separation of church and state” is in vogue, this beautiful place is a comfortable mix.

I first articulated this point in my head when I visited the Ryman Auditorium, the decades-long home of the Grand Ole Opry. People would arrive before the 7 pm start, picnics in hand. Soon the tantalizing smell of fried chicken and juicy fruit gum would fill the place, and paper fans would appear as the temperature rose. Performers spoke of being distracted by the waving to the point of nausea. Since the program in person and on the radio went for 5 hours, children would fall asleep on the pews of this former church, heads nestled in their mothers’ ample laps.

But it was the content of the program that caught my eye, caused me to think, and regret that in one more way, we have distanced ourselves from earlier times. Twanging guitars, fiddle bows flying, heart-stopping harmony, lonesome solos, the essence of country music – some in worship of a mighty God and his sacrificing Son, some lamenting the loss of a girlfriend, boyfriend, job or truck. Some about a philandering spouse, others about a great God and fallen man. Some admiring a trim waist, others in awesome wonder at God’s creation. God and man. Everyday life and approaching death. Betrayal and grace. And everywhere, love and Love. No separation - the perfect blend!

Monday, August 29, 2011

If I Could Put Time in a Bottle

...the one thing that I'd like to do, is to save every day as treasure and then, again, I would spend it with you..." Jim Croce

If you could put time in a bottle, how would you spend it? Cleaning? Learning? Playing? Working? Worshiping? Evangelizing? All of the above? What does the Bible have to say about time? Our God is the Potentate of Time. The Bible refers more than once to "time, times and half a time" to describe periods of evil that last three and a half years. Our God is the Ancient of Days. He is Coming Again. Though He is eternal and infinite, He stepped into time and became like one of us "for such a time as this."

I belong to a little prayer group. One of the prayers we pray most often is that we manage our time well. We each instinctively know we waste time. We don't spend it well. We need Divine help managing the little time we have on this earth.

Time is an elusive and challenging concept. We have a limited amount of it and should consider daily, even hourly, how we spend it. Every time we say, "Not now." to the things of God, it becomes more difficult to say "now." "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." II Corinthians 6:2. I've seen it written that "Tomorrow is the day when the idle man works, the thief becomes honest, the drunkard sober." God's call is not a call for tomorrow, but for today.

The digital clock is ticking. Time is running out. If you could put it in a bottle, how would you spend it? Psalm 95:7 says, "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Letters from the Past (by Judy)

I recently received photocopies of two letters that stirred my heart. The first is a sweet letter from my grandfather to my father, written in the summer of 1923, when my father was five years old. It changed my memory of an elderly lawyer who enjoyed his comfortable reading chair to one who was playful, and loving, one who sent hugs and kisses in all shapes and sizes to his beloved, and their children.

The second letter was farther back in time – from my great-uncle to his sister, my great-grandmother, written from Cape Fear, NC in the waning months of the American Civil War. He paints a picture of the war that is familiar through historical accounts, photos and records. However, this one is very personal, for it is my family. He offers an explanation for his lack of communication, and then speaks of his shipmates, of an Austrian rifle that he captured from a “Reb,” and his longing for a proper Christmas mince pie, or even the usual salt pork, instead of the fare issued when they couldn’t even build a fire.

Through these precious letters I gained an insight into people from the mists of time, men and women who took on personality, with longings, passions, humor, justifications for actions, and wry observations – people who shared what they were seeing and feeling, both with the recipients of their letters, and with me today.

And that, dear readers, is what the Bible offers. Of course it is built around theology, but above all, it is about people – some who, through reading their stories, become more familiar than neighbors and acquaintances. I never knew until I starting reading, sometimes systematically, sometimes randomly. For decades the Bible gathered dust on my shelf, and now it is my favorite collection of letters and historical commentary, wry observations, justifications, humor, and love – 64 books on one subject- God and His personal relationship with us. As the school year starts, so do Bible studies in churches and communities around the world. I will be joining my BSF comrades in the book of Acts. I pray you may dwell somewhere with those beloved saints in the mist too!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Summer Evening 2011 (by Judy)

The following is inspired in part by today’s sermon at my church. My pastor, Alistair Begg, has a wonderful way of incorporating daily events into the Gospel message. If you don’t know his preaching, you can google Truth for Life, for he is on the radio around the country – or if you are ever in northeast Ohio, come visit us at Parkside Church.

Last night we went to a Cleveland Indians game at the invitation of friends. Though my husband was very excited, I was more looking forward to a lovely summer evening outside, the good company, and even a taste of hot dog and peanuts in the shell. Though I thought I knew baseball, it was very clear that I was an outsider. I had no idea who the players were, I didn’t understand the scoreboard graphics, and I even was confused by the language – especially the phrase “a walk-off home run” referring to a hit by a player on the home team in the bottom of the ninth which puts the team ahead, and the game is over – everyone walks off.

As I kept asking questions, I began to feel distinctly like an outsider – “you are not part of the group; if you were, you would know what is going on; you don’t speak our language and you don’t understand what we are excited about.” I am exaggerating a bit, for my husband is very kind – but my mind wandered to the nasty situation in Washington, and our tendency to generalize about people and draw unkind and stereotypical conclusions. Surely you know what I mean, dear readers. May guess is that you have fallen into that trap recently, just as I have.

I am not going to refer to the Bible in this blog entry, but rather to a recent column by a New York Times columnist. His name is Nicholas Kristof, and he is well known as a humanitarian, not a church-goer. It is an excellent read – a tribute to one of the sweetest and brightest theologians of our generation – and also a reminder that evangelicals, and everyone else with thought-out opinions, deserves respect, not a dismissal. Here goes – I hope the link works from this blog. And I am going to mention a Bible story after all – the parable of the Good Samaritan. Also worth a read - it is about a man who crosses the road (aisle) to offer a hand of compassion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Seek and Ye Shall Find by Carolyn

Tis not too late to seek a newer world
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho;
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Tennyson wrote these words long ago. My favorite line is probaby the most oft quoted line, "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield." It reminds me of another oft quoted line of Scripture, Jeremiah 29:13. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 'I will be found by you.' declares the Lord."

As Judy, my boon companion and I are about to dock at the shores of retirment; she from a career that lasted over 40 years and my husband from his, we are wondering what directions await. Where will the Lord lead us? Will He lead us down separate paths or the same path? Or, will He lead us down both? We don't know but we are sure of the Lord's promise in nearby Jeremiah 29:11. "'I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" We eagerly and faithfully embrace the future!

But there is more on my mind today than just this. Perhaps some of you are like I am, and from time to time find yourselves fretting about family, friends, associates and people of all kinds who haven't yet "sought" the Lord. There is still time to seek Him while He may be found. Even the hardest of hearts can be softened by Him because "Nothing is too hard for the Lord." He stands at the door of every heart and knocks. To find Him all we need to do open the door. For those who have already done so there is much to learn! For those who have not yet opened the door, a new world awaits! There is another way that leads to the same conclusion. We can knock on His door until He is found by us!

We should not "yield" but rather "push off", sailing "beyond the sunset", remembering, "tho' much is taken, much abides" and "tho made weak by time and fate but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield" until He is found by us!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

All Roads Lead to Rome (by Judy)

I have just returned from the most wonderful trip I have ever taken, to Italy - quite a statement coming from a 66 year old who has been a consistent voyager since my 10th birthday when my present was a flight from Philadelphia to Washington, DC for lunch! My main reason for saying this is not the comfort of our accommodations, though they were exceptional; not the views and surroundings, though breathtaking; not the local foods and wines, though my waistline reveals the abundance and quality again; not the people, fun as they were. It was something different – the feeling of the presence of Jesus every step of the way.

Our first stop in Italy was in the hills of Umbria, where our house was surrounded by vineyards. It was there that I truly connected with the analogy that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, often in need of pruning. Jack and I watched the farmer traverse the rows and rows in his vineyard day after day from sun-up to mid-afternoon, cutting recalcitrant branches, insuring that all the plant's energy and effort goes into the grapes and not in the wayward tendrils. We also noticed that though his vineyard paths were clear, weeded, trimmed and neat, a neighboring vineyard was a tangle along the ground, with weeds choking the vines, sapping their strength and vitality. The lessons that I can apply to my with my Christian walk are clear and I felt very close to the One making the analogy.

Then we traveled to Rome, a city filled to overflowing with activity, vibrance, art, architecture, and humanity. No wonder Paul was so committed to getting there, surviving a shipwreck, rebellious followers, illness and snakes. This is a city of cobblestone streets, convoluted rabbit-warren neighborhoods, piazzas with churches every block, frescoes and statues by famous Italian artists blurring the senses - smells, sounds and sights so close to when Paul sat in his small garret, housebound, writing letters to the struggling churches across the Mediterranean lands. I could close my eyes and feel that I was actually there - a concept not so obscure as we admit our limited human attempts to force a linear view of time - when we know that only God is the Potentate of Time, yesterday, today and forever.

At every piazza, both in Rome and in the hilltop villages of Umbria, there are faucets springing from the ground - not the beautiful fountains we see on post cards, but rather humble pipes, bringing cold, fresh water to passersby. I do not understand how they work, for there are no spigots, turning them off and on. They run continuously, simply offering water from a faraway spring, living water, for sustenance and to wash off dirt. Jesus made the same offer to the woman at the well - the offer of Himself - "whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Isaiah said, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." In Rome, I began to understand and even more, to want to share this trip with others.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When Things are Not as They Appear to Be

There are two references in the New Testament, maybe more, where God indicates things are not what they appear to be. In referring to Abraham, Paul says in Romans 4:19-23, "He is our father in the sight of God, in whom He believed-the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' Withhout weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead - since he was 100 years old - and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.

Again, Paul in 1Corinthians 1:26-28, says this. "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are..."

The point is that sometimes in the absence of obvious, external support, or when that support points in the completely opposite direction, we are called to belief anyway. When in our eyes and for all intents and purposes the situation looks bad, it may not be what it appears to be. On the contrary, it may be the exact oppposite.

This does not mean faith is irrational or that we shouldn't trust our abilities to discern what is but it does mean that faith stands with God and His word, even when doing so appears silly from our own human perspective.

"God has the power to do what He had promised." Faith can have this assurance because it is directed neither to ourselves or to the circumstances, but to God. So, when circumstances look bleak and grim remember it could be that God is "... calling things that are not to nullify the things that are," or " ...calling things that are not as though they were."

I need to think about that!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Traffic Jam Thoughts (by Judy)

As I was stuck in traffic last week, I began to pay attention to the car in front of me. It was from Texas, and it proclaimed the faith of the owner, loud and clear. As you can see from the photo, lettering on the back door invites people to “Come just as you are,” and the license plate said “PRAYZM.” I had to think about that one for a minute, but since the lights changed and the traffic didn’t move, I had time to figure out the owner likes to “Praise Him.” Clearly the owner talks the talk. Only God knows whether he also walks the walk.

I began to think about the Bible, and Peter in particular. I LOVE that man who talked the talk sort of; and walked the walk, sort of! He is so human. Let me ask you – what is he best known for? Aside from his being a fisherman, one of the first called by Jesus to leave the Sea of Galilee and become a fisher of man, what comes to mind? One reader may answer – I know, he is the one who denied Jesus three times before the rooster completed his daily crowing. Another reader may answer that he was the first one to declare that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. A third reader may say that his name Peter (Petros, meaning Rock, or actually Rocky) was given by Jesus for he was a solid no-nonsense man who could be counted on to further the Church. A fourth reader may say that Jesus likened his behavior to Satan’s and had to ask him three times to please, please feed His sheep.

Clearly, here was a man who had “talk the talk” ambiguities, but did he “walk the walk”? Well, his most famous walk was on water, but when worries slipped in, despite this miraculous feat and the fact that Jesus was with him, he began to sink. He took a hike up a mountain with Jesus and watched with his own eyes as Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah; and then wildly suggested that three buildings be constructed to commemorate the occasion, not realizing that Jesus stood alone. He allowed Jesus to wash his feet as a sign of humility, and then eagerly suggested that Jesus wash his hands and head!

What a comfort it was to consider this man of contradictions while the traffic slowly began to move. He talked the talk out of both sides of his mouth, as I so often do. He walked to the heights and sank to the depths, as I so often do. He is a case study in falling down and picking himself up again, sure of the love and forgiveness that belongs to his Lord, Savior and close personal friend. And remember - he was chastised by Jesus for having little faith, but he got out of the boat when the other 11 cowered. What a perfect example of trust - and grace!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bible Study by Carolyn

As a hospice volunteer one of the questions people often ask is what is heaven like. Have you ever considered it seriously? What would you say? How would you answer the question? In the past my answer was vague. Folks asking that question don't need vague answers. There is an excellent book on the subject called Heaven by Randy Alcorn. He uses an amazing amount of Scripture to paint a comprehensive, accurate, authentic picture of heaven, where it is, what it is, what goes on there, and who will be there. It lifts the spirit high reading about it!

I have a concordance in the back of my Bible with 48 references to heaven. If you were to put those all together in a study for the summer, you would no doubt emerge with a much better understanding. It is often an excellent idea to conduct your own study, but barring that, this book offers a delightful alternative.

For eight months four women and I have been getting together once every two weeks to discuss chapters in the book. There is a study guide to accompany it which keeps everyone accountable, but beyond that, searching for, thinking about, and answering the questions in writing helps cement in your mind what you have learned. It also stimulates questions of your own that you might share with your group. Be warned: after eight months we are barely half way through the book!

But it is summer and summer is an excellent time to read. If you decide to do any sort of Bible study on your own, or with a small group during the summer there are valuable principles on interpretation that may interest you.

The Bible was written by many men over a period of about 1,500 years; and last author has been dead 1,900 years, but the Bible is the inffallible, inerrant, and inspired Word of God. The Bible is history. Understanding the culture of the times and people may help you understand Scripture better. Be sure to study the verses in context. Knowing what comes before and after a verse adds understanding to each verse. Keep a dictionary handy and a thesaurus. Use Scripture to interpret Scripture. In other words, look up other related Scripture references to help you.

One way or the other it's vitally important for us to stay in God's Word. It's the one area in life from which we should never take a vacation!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Planting Season (by Judy)

Planting is much on my mind these days. Because we hardy residents of northeast Ohio live in Zone 5, we are just now approaching the time that we can think putting small seedlings into the ground. It has been a tough winter, and one of the wettest springs on record, so we are eager, but cautious. I have students lined up this very day to clean out the raised beds, turn over the soil, and distribute bales of straw on mounds where native grasses are just beginning to sprout.

At the same time, my church is wrestling with decisions related to growth. The basic question is, in an effort to reach those who have yet to hear the Good News of God’s love and grace, should the church build a new, larger sanctuary on its existing campus; or would the money be better spent by planting new, smaller churches in areas of the region where no one is preaching the Bible with clarity and conviction.

And then, last week we spent a wonderful time in Seattle with my family from China as they considered whether that beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest would be a safe landing when they decide to return “home" - and if they do, are there implications for my husband and me, as we consider where we want to spend our retirement years. The idea of a move from what is familiar and agreeable is daunting – but at one point, I asked myself whether I have lost my sense of adventure, or am I still someone who can “bloom wherever I am planted”?

Three different scenarios - all related to today’s reality and the future’s possibilities. I wondered what the Bible has to say and found God’s Word abundant on the issue. Jeremiah laid his message out in a letter from Jerusalem to his people who were in exile in Babylon: "Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food you produce." Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says: "So please don't, out of old habit, slip back into being or doing what everyone else tells you. Friends, be what you are called to be. God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side." And a favorite, back to Jeremiah: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Iris DeMent sings in an old gospel hymn:
I'm pressing on the upward way
New heights I'm gaining every day
Still praying as I onward bound,
"Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."

There we are – PRAY ON. No worry. No fear. Why? Because God has said over and over in His Word, the same five words, “I will be with you.” This doesn’t assure me that there is no more frost in the spring of 2011. It doesn’t say clearly whether my church should build. I am not positive that my bones will be buried in Seattle. But one thing I know for sure. When I stay grounded (literally and spiritually), Psalms 16:5 is true - "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Does God Have a Sense of Humor?

My neighbor invited my husband and I over for Easter dinner with her family. There were nine adults eating dessert as evening drew near and daytime was beginning to slink off into the sunset. Filled with the energy several chocolate Easter bunnies provide, most of the younger children were screaming and chasing each other around the house.

Somehow, the conversation turned to Viet Nam, the War Between the States, and war in general. Very somberly, we talked about the horrible unintended consequences of war on civilians. I happened to glance at the two older girls, 11 and 13, who were hovering around their mother, listening to the conversation and looking equally somber, bordering on sad and filled with empathy for those hurt in such horrendous circumstances. From my perspective I could see this was not a good thing for them to be hearing, nor a good thing for us to be discussing on such a happy day.

Suddenly, the Spirit Himself filled my mouth with words He tossed out like the dice in Yatzee. I unexpectedly shouted, "Hey! It's EASTER! We're forgetting it's Easter! This is the day the Lord triumphed over all of this! Over sin and sadness, war and violence, jealousy, envy, disease, hatred and evil itself! Why are we sad today of all days? We should be rejoicing for death is dead and love has won!" Shocked, I sat back and watched the girls faces light up with relief and gratitude at the very idea Christ has the victory. Silently then, I praised the Lord for His perfect timing.

Earlier, I was visiting my own children in Portland, Oregon. It's a long way there from Ohio, so I was staying for the week thoroughly enjoying my 16 month old grandson who is delighted just to be! Anywhere! My children are not Christians. I know God has perfect timing so one day they will be when He is ready and they are too. From their point of view Easter is simply not celebrated in Portland. It's just not done. Restaurants do not close, malls and stores are open and except for family celebrations the day is pretty much like any other day. Easter is no longer a big deal.

My time with them came to an end on the Thursday before Easter. On Easter night they called to wish their dad and me a Happy Easter. Asking them about their day, my daughter-in-law told me she prepared dinner for her parents and they had a great time. More than that, her parents shooed them out the door right after dinner so they could do some shopping while Grandma and Grandpa watched the baby. This was their Easter treat! Key word: was. The stores were closed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Good News (by Judy)

There are two verses from the Bible that make me smile when I hear them, and they are almost identical in their wording. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" They take me back to the many hiking trips with my friends when we ascended the heights and paused to rest, taking a moment of contemplation. With the sweat drying on my face due to gentle breezes, and a rock behind my back, I looked around. The birds soaring, the hills in front, and the valleys below – all caused me to thank God for His bounty in creation.

But I knew that I could not stay on the mountaintop. My feet had to carry me back down. My job was not to rest in the blessings, but rather to share the good news, the peace, the good tidings of salvation, to proclaim the truth that My God reigns!

The second verse was penned by Paul to the Romans. "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" There it is again, the beautiful feet of those who preach the good news, and those of us who speak, preach.

What is the good news? The Good News? How can something good get distorted and create bad feelings in the hearts of listeners? How can good be accused of being judgmental, self-righteous and arrogant? It should be a message of perfect love offered to an imperfect world. Of mercy, service and the most beautiful word in the world – grace. A message of freedom, of thirst assuaged, of rest. It should bring a smile and a hug.

Where do we with the beautiful feet fail? I don’t know, but I do have a prayer in my heart tonight – Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. As I descend the mountain and re-enter this world, may people see You in me. May I speak these words, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” with joy and in love. If I can, I’ll never need a pedicure again!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Thy Will be Done by Carolyn

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

This Easter season has caused me to reflect on what was important to Jesus. Upon whom did He fix his eyes? How did He know what to do? If Hebrews 11 is the Christian's Hall of Faith, and examples of how our forefathers lived by faith, then Hebrews 12:1-2 shows us Jesus as the supreme model for faith in His Father.

In John 6:38, Jesus says, "I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent Me." Was the most important thing in the life of Christ to discern the will of God and do it? In John 4:34, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work." It is safe to say the most important thing in the life of Christ was to discern the will of God and do it.

A most poignant scene in Jesus' life in which we see Him accepting God's will is in the Garden at Gethsemane. It was more important to Him to do the will of God than to have the cup of the Cross taken from Him. How could He accept this? Choice. He chose, He willed, He determined that nothing should take precedence over God's will for Him. He is our most significant example of doing God's will. And how hard it was. But we must remember, "...Who for the JOY set before Him... " What joy? The joy of the prospect of future glory with God the Father. The joy of knowing present suffering for the sake of the Gospel is far outweighed by seeing unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ.

"Yet, not My will, but Yours be done."

Oswald Chambers in "My Utmost for His Highest" says we need spiritual grit. Jesus had spiritual grit. Do we? We had better be prepared for one day God may ask us to do a very hard thing. We may move into suffering we could never have imagined, but if it's God will for us, then we also know, according to Romans 8:28, it will work out for the good. We all know people, who having been through unimaginable suffering, emerge with a much deeper experience of God and are triumphant by grace through faith. And, we all know, others are watching.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lessons from Big Momma (by Judy)

Last week was filled with joy and sorrow in the barn by our school. It started out with the daily excitement of another baby lamb being born. Each visit brought delight at watching the transition from still-damp little bodies wobbling on legs for the first time, to cavorting with step-siblings through the straw, stopping only to seek a handy mother’s milk. Those mothers were amazing – welcoming their own, while gently but firmly pushing aside a greedy lamb without the right smell. With the addition of five babies, the runt pig now has 60 legs to scurry between, a mischievous Puck among her fellow sprites and their doting parents.

Through it all, dear Big Momma watched, the heaviest of the pregnant sheep, stolid but benign, as always was her nature, the friendliest, and clearly the respected head of the harem. Bets were even placed on when she would give birth, and how many babies would be delivered, with the promise of a dozen freshly laid eggs as the reward. Alas, with the use of the word “was” above, you may have discerned such a future was not to be.

Big Momma never delivered those little twin boys. Instead she joined them in the place where God’s beloved critters go after no longer being able to sustain life here on earth. The Bible is unclear about the place of animals in God’s eternal kingdom. After all, it was written for us, for our edification, pleasure, and reward. It would not do any good to speak to the animals, for they can’t read! But those of us who have loved an animal beyond all logic rest in the confidence that God loves all that He creates.

The promises in Isaiah 55 make it one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” If the mountains, hills and trees will rejoice when a thirsty seeker accepts God’s free invitation, surely Big Momma and her twin boys will be there too. In the meantime, spring is almost here, the wildflowers are pushing through the chilly soil, and more sweet babies will soon be born. I love you, Big Momma.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In Christ Alone by Carolyn

I belong to a little prayer group consisting of my two sisters in Christ. We pray once a week at each other's homes. We follow a prayer pattern called A.C.T.S. or Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. We've been meeting for seven years and over those seven years we've seen many changes in our lives, in our nation and in our world.

Health issues have come and gone, grandchildren have been born, retirements commenced, responsibilities at work have increased, businesses have started and failed and yet God is faithful. Our nation has suffered through a deep recession, two wars, debt that threatens to undo us, and bitter partisanship, but God is faithful. Today found us praying for the Japanese who have endured one of the most devastating, catasrophic events ever to have occurred when both natural and man-made calamities crashed together against them, and still, God is faithful. He calls to them over the tumult.

What inspires the human spirit? Is it "fukutsu no seishin" which in Japanese means, "never give up, or in, or out? Is it resilliance and resolve? Is it fierce independence, innovation, character, or a strong sense of shared purpose and pain? For my prayer group it is Christ and Christ alone. There is no other Solid Rock as sure as this One. If we fall into the deepest pit, Christ is already there. No matter what befalls us, He goes before us, comes behind us, lifts us up, and covers us with His wings. Paul says in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Our deepest prayer is that all people everywhere would come to know Jesus Christ so that they are filled to overflowing with the love, holiness, comfort, peace, forgiveness and sense of oneness that only the Good Shepherd can provide. Then, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, good,bad,or ugly, we can share the joy and divide the pain with Jesus.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Piggy Tale (by Judy)

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have one of the most wonderful jobs in the world - farm coordinator for the school where I work. A portion of my work is connected with the soil, with herbs, vegetables and and flowers, with bees, and with critters - specifically sheep and pigs. Though they are cared for by a local farmer, he graciously allows me to be a part of their lives, and to introduce them to children. I have grown to love everything about our farm located in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and my soul is very close to all the living things on its land.

Therefore my heart tightened with fear when I heard news that at first sounds amusing. A mom called the front desk to report a piggie wandering around the parking lot, a little guy who took off up the hill after being sighted by legions of dismissed schoolchildren. The receptionist called an administrator who quickly found me. We immediately called our farmer friend and headed outside, where we roamed the property, searching for the little porky runt, the only one small enough to wiggle under the fence and out into the world.

As dusk descended, it was all I could do to keep from tears. Not only is it still a harsh midwest winter, but the Park is filled with coyotes, hawks and the occasional wild dog. My sure knowledge of God's plan, where animals serve a noble purpose by providing food for other animals did nothing to lighten my concern. This is MY piggy, and he should be safe under his straw in the barn. To my immense relief, Farmer Jeff with his trusty sheepdog Riley appeared, ready to head out and search the hills.

The next day I heard the welcome news. After a long search, our little runt had been found. I ran to the barn the next day and saw him cheerfully wandering among the 40 legs of 9 pregnant ewes and their proud male consort, not even aware of his brush with death. I sank to my knees in the straw and remembered the parable of the lost lamb in Matthew and Luke. In this beautiful story of loss, searching and rejoicing, Jesus tells of the faithful shepherd who, aware of impending danger, leaves his flock of 99 safely in the fold, while he roams the hills in search of the one who is lost. When he finds the wee beast, he hoists him on his shoulders and takes him safely home to a time of rejoicing. What comfort for us. There is hope for all who stray, and thanks be to our Good Shepherd, there is great joy in heaven when the lost one is restored!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

By Faith Not By Sight by Carolyn

Sometimes when God asks us to step out of the boat, or into a boat we hesitate to get in, we are reluctant to go. Sometimes, we have no choice for God has presented us with circumstances from which there is no escape. Has this happened to you? I remember one of the evidences of my new found faith in God was agreeing to perform Bible stories with my boon companion, Judy, before many church audiences. I had never done such a thing before and I was scared to death I would forget my lines, trip and fall, get a coughing fit, or otherwise flub the event and make a huge spectacle out of myself! Before each performance I prayed mightily in anticipation. After each performance I prayed mightily in gratitude!

There are a myriad of circumstances we all face that are hard to face. Life is like that, but they can be vehicles that drive us to our knees and bring us into the very presence of God. Because we belong to Him, and if we know His promises, we can depend on Him to be with us in the deepest, darkest pit. And sometimes when we're down there with Him, He shows us unexpected, unanticipated treasures in the darkest places. This may take time, but if we allow worry to diminish His authority then worry enslaves us and causes us to lie in a lifeless condition not reflecting God's goodness and the power of His word. Our testimony, our witness can be such a huge light for others, especially "not yet" believers who are watching us cope with trials.

Since I became a volunteer for hospice and a volunteer at a nursing home I've faced rejection. My very first patient asked me to leave her room and not come back. That was hard to take. I thought I was a failure, but God wouldn't let me use that as an excuse for not returning. Back I went. That was five years ago and the blessings I've found hidden in the hearts of so many people nearing the end of their lives have been too numerous to count.

Still, a couple of weeks ago, I was dismissed again by another patient. He is a hospice patient and I introduced myself to him. After only about five minutes, he kindly told to please go away and not darken his doorway anymore. I was sad. But at the prompting of the Spirit, a week later, I went back again. This time we discovered a treasure. We have the same Father! We are brother and sister in the faith and our joy in finding this out opened a floodgate of grace for us both! We have had very different lives; he is black and I am white and our lives' stories are vastly different, but our joy in the Lord binds us together inextricably. We are family and I look forward to many more delightful conversations with him about his life and his faith, and our Father.

These little lessons prepare us for the big ones. Funny. Sometimes Jesus commands us to get in the boat as He did with His disciples in Matthew 14:22. And sometimes He commands us to get out of the boat as He did with Peter in Matthew 14:29, but in BOTH cases, He's right there with us in the boat, or on the water!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Moody Women (by Judy)

Have you ever driven up LaSalle Avenue in Chicago? I have numerous times, because my son graduated from Northwestern University. LaSalle was the street to take from downtown. Not much of note – nothing to get my attention. That was because I simply did not know the startling fact that on that nondescript strip of urban life lies holy ground. The Moody Bible Institute.

Dwight Lyman Moody was an American evangelist of the 1800s, preaching both in rural fields and villages and the great city of Chicago. He visited Union soldiers on the battlefield during the Civil War and filled tents across Europe. My favorite quote, as you can imagine if you read my summer entry about lighthouses is, We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won't need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don't fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine.

An unfortunate fact about D.L. is that he was born on February 5th. I say “unfortunate” because the institution he founded, The Moody Bible Institute, celebrates his birth each year with Founders Week. All attendees to this fabulous annual event wish his birth had been April, June, September – any time except the season when blizzards prevail in the Windy City. However, the legions of supporters are undaunted and are rewarded with inspirational teaching, sublime concerts, and union in worship that is surely a foretaste of heaven.

However, the greatest blessing, the reason for saying this institution sits on holy ground, is the students – generations of committed followers of Jesus, waves of young people, who arrive as freshmen planning on some kind of fulltime ministry after graduation. Their tuition is funded from outside, an amazing generosity from faithful supporters. There are numerous D.L. quotes to guide these students today - I know the Bible is inspired because it inspires me. Faith makes all things possible... love makes all things easy. A good example is far better than a good precept. Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me.

If you can make it even once to Founders Week, you will be mightily blessed – by the city of Chicago itself; by those sitting around you warmed by anoraks, wooly hats and scarves, and the Spirit; by the words and the Word, by soaring instrumentals and hand-clapping Fanny Crosby gospel music – and above all, by the inescapable conclusion that you are watching God at work among the next generation of His saints.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ending Well (by Judy)

I thought I knew what to write about today. Jack and I joined Carolyn and her husband at a Sunday buffet at a restaurant on the lake, before attending the theater together. I knew that the display of food would be amazing, and it was. So much fresh seafood, egg dishes, a carvery station, salads, chafing containers, and above all, the desserts, anchored on one end by a chocolate fountain and on the other, hot bread pudding with warm rum custard. I sipped my misosa, listened to the pianist, smiled at the dear ones surrounding me, and basked in the warmth.

I got up from the table to take pictures for the blog, and was drawn to the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Across the frozen expanse of Lake Erie was the skyline of Cleveland. Windswept streets, rust belt economy, foreclosed houses, even a basketball team hurtling toward the ignominious record of most straight losses. I know my role at the buffet table, but what is my role in the world?

I have been reveling in the delights of being a grandmother, with five beautiful grandchildren. They are funny, endearing, loving, bright and make my heart sing. Three are traveling in New Zealand for Chinese New Year. Two are eagerly anticipating a spring break trip to Morocco. I am excited for them and can’t wait to hear their reports of every adventure. Then today my daughter sent a blog about a sweet little boy battling life-threatening cancer. He is the son of her childhood friend, - a sweet little boy himself, now in a daddy’s body with an anguished spirit. I know my role as a grandmother, but what is my role when hearts are breaking?

A retired friend is wintering in Florida with her husband. She writes of blue skies, balmy weather, long bike rides along the water and cool beers on the beach. Jack and I dream of similar interludes – not in Florida, but somewhere away from forecasts of blizzards, ice storms and wind chill factors. I speak in a liberal democratic way of being willing to share with those less fortunate, of championing government safety nets, and sacrificing now for a stronger future. But today, my snowbird friend’s blog spoke of a shooting several blocks from her condo, and her reflections about what is going wrong. I know my role as a wife accompanying my hard-working husband on adventures, but what is my role the other 11 months of the year as a Christian woman who is almost retired?

Instead of a blog about a happy Sunday, I am caught up in the biggest conundrum of my life – how to end well. Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He challenged his followers to, “Run with endurance the race that God has set before you.” The Bible is filled with people of God who lived good lives, until the end, when they faltered. How I long to hear, “Well done” at the end of my race. But how do I find the patience, the endurance and the commitment? My only answer this afternoon is to remember where Paul looked, that he fixed his eyes on Jesus and lived as Jesus lived.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

God's Holy Word by Carolyn

God's Word takes my breath away. I am in awe of how the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals through this Holy Book.
I attended four Bible studies this week. That astounds me!

One of them is quite large, very diverse and primarily for ladies who work during the day. Another is with three of my friends, one of whom is seriously ill. My boon companion, Judy and I often study together, and the fourth is with the three young girls who live next door to me.

Bible Study Fellowship is an international organization for women who study the Bible together. This year we are studying Isaiah. There are 13 women in my group and we are one of 15 groups meeting in the church on Tuesday evenings. Each week we are given Scripture to read, notes on Scripture we've already read and questions. When we are together we discuss them. "Where do you think justice has not prevailed in your life, and what ways have you witnessed God bringing justice into your life?" the leader asked. The response? "Justice has not prevailed in my life because I haven't received the punishment I deserve for my sin. God brought justice into my life when His Son died on the cross for my sin so that I may go free to live eternally with God." Wow.

Four friends learning about heaven came next. "How do we know we are going to heaven?" my ill friend asked. "We have been assured through the Scriptures" another replied. "If we confess our sin, recognize we are unable to save ourselves, and invite Jesus into our lives as our Savior and Lord, we are assured we will be 'sealed' with God's Holy Spirit. Then one of those rooms Jesus is preparing in His Father's house in heaven is reserved for us!"

Then came the "boon companions" Judy and I talking about our Tuesday night Scriptures from Isaiah 40:10. "See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and His arm rules for Him. See, his reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him." We look at this alone. We think separately about what it could mean. We define reward and recompense from the dictionary. As we are doing that, we realize that the wages of our sin are satisfied by the death of Christ. We have been redeemed! We are God's reward! Our sinful natures have been ammended! We, who were lost have been found. Amazing GRACE!

Finally, three girls, ages 7 - 12 are reading about the death of Lararus. They see in John 11 that both Mary and Martha individually ask Jesus why He didn't come earlier and save their brother's life. "Why? Why?" They begin to understand that Jesus has bigger plans than that. But not before He sees the tears the sisters shed and He too weeps at their suffering, at their heartache, at their inability to see what He sees. And the girls see that Jesus understands their own sadness and sorrow, and that sometimes miracles are preceeded by great pain. We need to trust Him. We must wait upon Him. We need to believe that He has bigger plans.

John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." The Word became Jesus and Jesus is the Word. That astounds me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Boon Companions (by Judy)

Twelve years ago this month, I was baptized. Of course since I was raised Episcopalian, I was baptized as an infant. At that time, my family and members of the church agreed to take responsibility for my spiritual growth. I grew up loving the church that I attended - the building, the church calendar and accompanying rituals, the music, and especially the youth fellowship, which was a lot of fun for a teenager.

Then as a young adult I drifted away – a familiar story. When we had a family, I knew it was my responsibility to raise our children the way I had been raised, so they were baptized and confirmed, and we attended church on a sporadic basis, for it was so nice to stay snuggled under the covers on Sunday mornings, listening to Charles Kuralt on CBS and solving Will Short’s puzzles on NPR. There was always guilt, but not enough. There was also a hole, an inexplicable emptiness.

One day, something changed. Again, something inexplicable – but rather than emptiness, warmth and a closeness. "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." I discovered that the Bible was filled with wonder, beauty, conviction, illumination, and clear, direct words for me. It no longer gathered dust on the shelf. A church in a neighboring town became such an special place that Sunday morning was the pinnacle of my week. Words to hymns that I had repeated over and over for decades took on the nature of sermons, revealing towering theology and personal relationships with Jesus. The saints in the mists of the past felt closer than casual friends in the workplace.

And finally, someone else joined me as I walked this new path – a boon companion. We discovered that pouring ourselves cups of coffee and opening the Bible together, planning and producing a monthly TV program called “I Love to Tell the Story,” going on the road with presentations to women’s groups in small rural churches, facilitating summer Bible studies, and simply talking about our faith in odd locations like local bars strengthened us way beyond what we could have done alone. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”

Twelve years ago, we were both baptized again in front of our church, friends and family – this time in full knowledge of what such a public acknowledgement means. Though we don’t know what the future holds, and our service may go in different directions, the horizontal bar of the Cross of Jesus holds us together, while the vertical bar points our gaze always upward. Proof of such a bond is that this boon companion, dear Carolyn, has agreed at our age to begin a study of GREEK, and she gave me the salt and pepper shakers in the photo above, so that my Jack will know that he is #1, at least here on earth!
Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. Psalm 34:3

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Give us a watchword for the hour,
A thrilling word, a word of power
A battle cry, a flaming breath,
A call to conquest or to death:
A word to rouse the church from rest,
To heed the Master's high behest.
The call is given, ye hosts arise,
The Watchword is EVANGELIZE!
To fallen men, a dying race,
Make known the gift of gospel grace.
The world that now in darkness lies,
O Church of Christ, EVANGELIZE!

The call of Christ is unmistakeable. It is all over the Bible. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" Matthew 28:18-20.

"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Acts 1:8

"O, son of man, I have set thee a watchman...therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me...if thou dost NOT speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand." Ezekiel 33:7-8

"Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matthew 5:13-16

We have our marching orders. The price for an immortal soul cannot be fixed. Think about it. Is there any trouble too great, any humiliation so deep, any suffering too severe, any love too strong, any labor too hard, any expense too great, to spend on an effort to win a soul?

God loves His people more than anything He has created. He created us in His image. God has bought every soul back. We are "twice bought." Once at creation and once again from the "desires of the flesh." Satan uses the flesh to snare the people God created in His image. He will stop at nothing. He uses all his energy, his utmost cuning, he will employ any means for the single purpose of ruining a soul.

As God's people, we must recommit ourselves in 2011 to this mission. We must dedicate our lives to lost souls. We must commit ourselves to seeing unbelievers become committed followers of Jesus Christ. We have no choice. It is Christ's call.

"O where is that mysterious line
That may by men be crossed,
Beyond which God Himself hath sworn,
That he who goes is lost?
An answer from the skies repeats,
'Ye who from God depart,'
TODAY, O hear His voice,
TODAY repent and harden not your heart.'
Joseph Addison Alexander

Saturday, January 1, 2011

True Grit (by Judy)

As I sit at the computer on January 1st, 2011, there are so many things to write about that I hardly know where to begin. My plate has been full, literally and figuratively as we have entertained friends and family, enjoying the blessings of each one. In the end though, I am turning away from the end-of-year events, and toward a movie we recently saw – True Grit.

This film moved me in ways that were completely unexpected, from the sometimes lilting, sometimes chilling thread of music – “Leaning on His Everlasting Arms” -often sung in church, but never with such haunting intensity, to the clarity of purpose modeled by a slender 14 year old girl from Arkansas. I should have known from the opening screen with a verse from Proverbs, but it was only as the film progressed that I understood the deep reflection of Christian values – a reliance on God’s providence, remorse and confession from a condemned man about to hang, a sense of justice and redemption, and a beautiful line spoken by the heroine - “You pay for everything in this world. There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”

Since I saw the movie, I have been reflecting on the word “grit.” It is doubly on my mind, for I received a yearlong subscription to magazine called GRIT from a co-worker – a reflection of my final job at school of farm manager. I have seen grit a lot recently – not the granules of sand that is the first definition, but rather the more heroic meaning, an indomitable spirit, or pluck.

I have seen it in the 24 piglets who share a cold, dark, snow-covered century-old barn with 11 sheep; in the brave, and stoic acceptance of chronic pain in a family member; in a sister-in-law who finds humor while living among the infirm and hard of hearing; and in the Bible, especially in my hero Joshua – he who saw mere men instead of giants, who led a raggle-taggle band to make walls come tumbling down; and who at the end of his life declared, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Where does grit come from? For awhile, it may come from within. But ultimately, when we humans realize that we can’t manage a situation on our own, it must come from reliance on One Stronger. In the movie, for awhile young Mattie could rely on Rooster, but her true grit came from Leaning on His Everlasting Arms!