Friday, September 29, 2006

Entertaining Angels Unaware

I left my home by the back door to go to the rural mail box and met a stranger coming up my sidewalk. She wanted directions because while trying to find her cousin’s home, she became lost. She didn’t say why she looked for her cousin until I pried a little.

Why did I meddle? A few days earlier, I’d asked God to place on my path someone who needed Him. I literally said, “Lord, you know my schedule this week, if someone needs hands-on care, you’ll need to bring them to my door.” So, I paid special attention to the stranger on my sidewalk, literally a few feet from my back door.

After a roadmap consultation, I sensed she had deeper needs. Modest and humble, she told me of her current struggles. God revealed several ways to help her, so I invited her into our home and we talked a few minutes and then she had to be on her way. I followed her down our sidewalk, knowing our paths might never cross again. Spontaneous, she whirled around and clenched me in a bear hug, saying “Thank you.” A chance meeting, I don’t think so.

Here’s another story about what I believe to be an “arranged” meeting. Reader Jan Tickner contacted me in response to an article several weeks ago about Robert Hamm, who on a missionary trip gave his pants to a poorer man, The column prompted a memory for her. She remembered a similar happening while on a trip with her husband, Russell, to Russia. Years ago, they went on a missionary trip into Russia and Jan said Russell, who was tall, and the tall preacher disappeared before church.

Jan thought they’d gone off to pray, but when they returned moments later, they had traded clothes. The Russian preacher had a fine made American suit, and Russell had on the preacher’s worn slacks. Jan said it’s one of her most vivid memories of her late husband—his broad smile after giving away his suit. A chance meeting of tall men, I don’t think so.

When I returned indoors after seeing Angie off, I wrote the date and her given and last name in my prayer journal. And I smiled all day. I’m still praying for Angie and still marveling at the similarity of her name and the scripture: “Don’t forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

St. Francis of Assisi once saw a leprous beggar beside the road, he stopped and put his arms around the shunned man and hugged him. He said two sensations overcame him, a sense of nausea, but also a sense of sweetness and well being. He gave of himself and expressed God’s love, even though it caused a bit of personal discomfort. A chance meeting, I don’t think so.

God trains his children’s eyes to pasture-watch. Jesus said fields, and that includes where you live, are ripe and ready for harvest. I know life gets busy. We all have different versions of the same old time-pinched schedules. Prayer can and will bring strangers who need Jesus into the crosshairs of life. Ask for an opportunity.

Then, watch. Be ready. Soon, an “Angie” may land on your doorsteps.

You may contact Cathy at

Friday, September 22, 2006

Mayberry Boy

Slender, tiny, about five, he could have been an extra in Andy Griffin’s Mayberry. Star quality. Dressed in light blue overalls and T-shirt, he waited in a grocery store line to purchase a package of toy cars. Eyeglasses perched atop the bridge of his nose.

When his turn came, the female teen clerk scanned the barcode and announced the amount of $6.48. Solemn faced, he reached into his overall bib pocket. Out came a child-size zippered wallet. With great care, he took out one dollar at a time, laid each bill down and counted. “One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five.”

In his depleted wallet, I caught the flash of coins. He needed at least a dollar more. Silent, I mouthed to the clerk that I’d cover it, and passed a dollar over his head. She asked him for “Forty-eight cents.” He could count dollars, but coinage counting baffled him. His pennies didn’t add up to his need.

Another dollar from me passed above his head and covered the gap. Sale closed out, her cash register spit out 52 cents change. Silver coins slid down a chute into a metal receptacle. He heard the coins hastening his way, peeked into the silver bowl, scooped up the change and zipped it in his wallet.

The clerk looked at me. I whispered. “Let him have it.” By then, I’d have paid ten dollars to watch the scene play out all over again. He was that cute. He walked toward a woman in another check out line, probably a grandma, to show her the purchase he’d made all by himself.

But nothing in life is done all by self. When Paul engaged the Athenians in conversation about their objects of worship, he zeroed in on their generic altar labeled TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. These cautious worshipers had paid homage to all gods.

After Paul introduced these Greek philosophers to God, he explained, “For in him, we live and move and have our very being” (Acts 17:28). Every eye twitch, every flexed muscle, every breath, powered by God. No cell, DNA, soul, or goings-on exist without him. Darryl Tippens in his new book Pilgrim Heart says, “All of life is the proper arena for divine activity.”

When Mayberry boy showed his purchase to the adult he knew, his joy surfaced. Accomplishment. Job completed. Goal fulfilled. But at the moment of his rescue, he didn’t seem aware of the larger supply-hand that passed over his head.

The apostle Paul tells the Athenians that God made the entire human race from scratch and made the earth “hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.” He further says, “He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him!” (The Message)

After the insightful moment with Mayberry boy, I thought about God’s nearness. On ordinary days or those when extra energy, time, talent, money or mercy is needed to make it through until quitting time, God is near whether we consciously remember or not.

Great things can happen through this community because God is near. Be alert. Be thankful. Now, and in the coming months, watch for the hand of God, his redeeming, hospitable, creative hand, the one that even lets us gather up the spare change.

You may contact Cathy at

Friday, September 15, 2006

Miracles in Baskets

“There are no miracles, of that I am sure” Pearl S. Buck wrote in “A Bridge for Passing.” Shocked by her words, I read further to see what she based her statement upon. Near the end, I’ll share her explanation.

Baskets of miracles dot the pages of the Bible, literally. The first basket miracle rescued a baby. Born into an enslaved family, this baby would become the Hebrews’ savior. Centuries earlier, the Hebrews lived in freedom on Egyptian grazing lands, but when their population grew to staggering numbers, a domineering Pharaoh bound them into servitude.

Despite hundreds of years of harsh treatment and living conditions, the prolific Hebrews kept adding names to their family Bibles. Finally, the Pharaoh issued an edict that all the young boys were to be thrown into the Nile River. But at least one Hebrew mother kept the secret that she’d birthed a third child, a son, and, prudent, she kept him hidden.

In private, she wove a tiny bassinet of reeds and coated it with pitch. She placed her infant son inside, most likely christening the tiny boat with prayer. Then she launched the water-worthy vessel into the Nile, and guided by Divine current the baby drifted right into the path of an Egyptian princess and her entourage.

Discovered by royalty, the baby was named “Moses” because he was drawn “from the water.” Spared by God, Moses grew and was tutored to read and write. Later he would record the early history of mankind, from the beginning of the world through God’s lawgiving. One miracle in a basket.

Much later when Jesus multiplied a few fish and loaves, there was a hearty catch of leftovers. Matthew 15:29-39 relates that the disciples gathered up seven basketsful of God-grown fish and God-baked bread. More baskets of miracles.

Even later, the apostle Paul encountered hostile religious leaders, who didn’t want to hear about the Christ. Their minds closed to any discussion of religious thought other than their tradition, they thought only to kill Paul. However, ingenious friends helped Paul escape at night by lowering him outside of the Damascus city walls. Another evil plan foiled, another miracle escape aided by a basket.

The rescues of baby Moses and the adult Paul happened because God worked and kept them alive. Because of their leadership and teaching, others would also escape captivity. At God’s command, Moses led the Hebrews from Egypt. God-commissioned, Paul preached to non-Jews, leading many to believe in the Christ.

By definition, a miracle is “an event that appears to be contrary to the laws of nature and is regarded as an act of God,” according to the Encarta World English Dictionary. When Pearl S. Buck wrote “There are no miracles, of that I am sure,” she followed with this explanation.

“If one walks on water and heals the sick and raises the dead to life again, it is not a matter of magic, but of knowing how to do it.” What we observe as extraordinary, the by-passing of the natural laws of the earth are no feat for God. Miracles are simply God’s natural work.

A baby rescued in a basket, a cancer patient healed, thousands fed from a pittance of food, a prodigal returns home, an apostle survives to tell the good news—all engineered from God’s blueprint—because He is able.

You may contact Cathy at

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Response to Pant's Post

The following three responses I received from my widowed writing friend and mentor: She is a dear woman and has about 23 years experience beyond me--writing, life, Christian living. After her notes, I asked her to send me the e-mail she sent to her children and grandchildren. She has a beautiful habit of sharing with her children and grandchildren--having one adult, single grandson over each week, sharing study of the Word, having all adult grandsons over for a meal and a gentle where-are-you going-in-life session. Also, she frequently sends emails sharing a moment of current faith or a remembrance. Her family has a treasure in her and the Lord. Here are her three emails to me.

1st note to me-- Cathy dear, when I read this morning's column (very good - as was last week's) a long-forgotten incident came to mind. Russ did the same thing. When we were in Estonia (concluding our tour of Russia during the communist regime) we knew the pastor, Heigo Ritsbek, and Heigo had asked Russ to speak in their church.

I saw them go back somewhere (I thought they were going off to pray) but when they walked out Russ didn't have on his suit and was wearing a different pair of slacks and his white shirt. He had given the suit to Heigo, they were both large men!

This whole episode had escaped me -- even the place, so I got down my big scrapbook, looked at all the photos and, teary-eyed, re-read all my resulting Courier columns. When you come next time I would love to loan you the album so you and David could see a tad of what the Soviet Union was like at that time.

Blessings! Jan
Rooted in Love - Growing in Grace

2nd note to me-- There's more! I was in such a hurry this a.m. that I didn't realize the date -- It wasn't until I wrote my check at the beauty shop -- it's Sept 8th -- our 61st wedding anniversary (more tears) and that remembrance I related was probably the most vivid I've had of Russ except for occasional dreams. I could just see that wide grin of satisfaction on his face. And, no, I didn't write of that at the time -- unless I entered it in an old journal. I'm going to check that out. But, I think this is the first account and I'm sending it out to my family right now.

3rd note to her family and shared with me, too--My dear young writer friend and accountability partner,Cathy Messecar, wrote a neat piece in this morning's Courier column. It was about a man (Robert Graham) visiting churches in Uganda when he met Sauti, a native, wearing tattered trousers that dangled from his waist.

The elderly man couldn't stand it and to the protests of his guide (a former Ugandan missionary) insisted on giving the man his trousers. He went to the friend's pickup, slipped off the pants handed them out the window to his friend, who in turn gave them to Sauti.

As they drove away Robert saw Sauti grinning, the proud owner of Robert's breeches. And I'm certain Robert was also grinning.

When I read this I was touched but suddenly caught my breath. I had totally forgotten an incident when Russ and I toured the Soviet Union. Communism and all the respective shortages were still very much in effect.

One of the highlights for us was our last major stop before leaving the Balkans, a short stay in Tallinn, Estonia where we visited our friend, pastor Heigo Ritsbek and his darling family. On our one Sunday there we were visiting Heigo's church and he asked Russ to speak on behalf of our small travel group.

Before the service, however, I saw Russ and Heigo slip away from the platform and I thought it was probably to pray together. But when they returned there was Heigo wearing Russ's suit and Russ was wearing Heigo's trousers. Both were beaming.

This caused me to dig out my big scrapbook to revisit that trip -- looking at photos and reading my Courier columns. I both laughed and cried. It was such an intense memory.

But I didn't know until I wrote my check at the beauty shop at noon that today's date is September 8th -- Russ's and my sixty-first anniversary!

Cathy's column ended with this very appropriate, meaningful scripture: "Love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God" (1 John 4:7 The Message).

I would only add to that another passage from The Message "By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us---set us right with Him, make us fit for Him---we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that He has already thrown open His door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand - out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise."

The writer continues, "There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary---we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:1-5)

Have a great day -- I am.

Blessings! Mom
Rooted in Love - Growing in Grace

Friday, September 08, 2006

Greg Taylor's Pant-Story

What the World Needs Now

Five years ago on September 14, 2001, my first column debuted in newsprint, only three days after the attack on America. Today’s column, like that first one, revisits the theme of choosing to come alongside our fellowmen.

Greg Taylor a former missionary in Uganda, said that he often saw his boyhood preacher Robert Hamm model ways to love God and others. While Greg was in Uganda, Robert and his wife Loretta Hamm came to visit the village churches there.

On that visit they met a Ungandan man named Sauti, who had on tattered trousers. Away from shops and stores, this village church was two hours back in the bush, reached by dirt roads. Greg tells of Robert’s compassion:

“When Robert saw Sauti’s shredded pants dangling from his waist, he decided to give the man a pair of pants right then and there.” Greg shrugged off his offer, “I’ll bring him a pair another day.” But Robert Hamm insisted, and Sauti’s need overrode propriety.

Greg said, “Robert is a compassionate and kind man. Robert would give you the shirt off his back . . . or his pants.” At first Greg thought Robert Hamm was kidding. But “he suggested going to the pickup, slipping off his trousers, and giving them to Sauti.”

Greg finishes the story: “He went to the truck and took off his trousers and handed them out the window to me. He stayed in the truck until we left a few minutes later, and as we drove off, Sauti was grinning, a proud owner of Robert’s breeches.”

Thirty amazed onlookers saw a “respected elder American man . . . serve a poor village man by giving him his pants on the spot.”

Bruce Marchiano tells a similar story about hospitality, but this time the gift passed from poverty to a rich man. In a poor region of a foreign country, Marchiano’s Jeep had a flat tire. He replaced it at roadside where a local man noticed his dirty hands and invited him to wash up in his home.

In his hut were few possessions, but he had a bar of pristine white soap, his only luxury. The man insisted that Bruce wash his hands and use the soap, and then he made a gift of the soap.

Today, the change agent to terrorism, hatred, envy, and strife is love. The apostle John wrote: “[L]ove each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God” (1 John 4:7 The Message).

Come alongside your fellowman; it’s what the world needs now, love, sweet love.

You may contact Cathy at

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hollow Hallelujahs

Reaching the Brokenhearted

What if Isaiah reappeared and stood on the steps of the courthouse in your home town? What if he preached his prophecies again? His messages were earmarked for a people who had strayed from serving. Oh, those long ago hearers did perfunctory worship-rituals but void of meaning because of their daily lives.

Isaiah cautioned about offering habitual sacrifices on holy days and then living like they wanted to the rest of the time. My Sunday school teacher Bill Owens says that kind of burnt sacrifice disturbs God, gives him “heavenly heartburn.”

Isaiah, God’s messenger for that long-ago age, told Israel: “Stop doing wrong and learn to do right!” Not ever vague, God then gave examples of “right”: seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Today, when non-church-goers look at church work, what do they see? Do they see us housekeeping? Do they see us tending a building, grooming a lawn? Or is the church known for seeking justice and encouraging the exploited? The churches in every community are called to assist those who have hard lives?

A Christian lecture I attended had a shocking title: “Can You Preach a Prostitute into Heaven?” The teacher told a true story from his congregation: a known prostitute, who had several children started attending church. We’ll call her Susan. The congregation welcomed her, and she came to know the grace of God, repented, and was baptized. For over a year she attended every service, helped fellow strugglers and volunteered when she had time off from her now honest work.

But her honest odd-jobs only paid minimum wage, and she and her babies continued to live far below poverty level. While the congregation rejoiced that she had turned her life around, they didn’t assist her with enough help to feed and cloth her children. She had the heart to belong to God and a young inexperienced faith. When her children became hungry, she returned to her former life to put bread on the table. Her life ended that night at the hands of a drunken man.

What if that church had attached themselves to Susan and her kids like an umbilical cord? Perhaps her outcome would have been different if a sponsor-family watched for needs, helped out, sheltered, fed her family, and trained her for better paying legitimate work?

Christian churches are like an Army unit. Some members prefer clean, orderly command post work, but there is a battlefield of casualties outside the safety zone. In What Jesus Did / 365 Devotionals from the Gospel of John, Phil Ware asks if the community sees “us doing predictable ‘church stuff’?”

Phil Ware then reminds his readers that Jesus said the church would do greater things than he did! Profound! Are we asking that God to do a greater work in 2006 than Jesus did while on earth?

If churches are to represent Jesus, if we are to be Jesus to the needy in our community, we can’t hide in our sterile church kitchens or on our padded pews. The brokenhearted and the Susans need more than a hollow “hallelujah.” They need the embrace of a church, of a church that has the heart of Jesus.

You may contact Cathy at