Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Throughout Jesus’ journey to and in our world, a contingent of angels helped him at his birth, after fasting, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and at his resurrection. They brought heaven’s headlines spreading the news about a wonderful Savior, who brought light into a darkened world.
Besides prophesies about Jesus, the prophets also foretold that a preacher would prepare a generation for the Lord’s teaching ministry. At the right time in the history of mankind, an angel appeared to the priest Zechariah and told him that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son to be named John, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19). Their future son known as John the baptizer would prepare the way for Jesus.
For some reason - perhaps Zechariah’s and his wife’s advanced ages - Zechariah doubted the message from God, so this sage teacher of Israel wasn’t allowed to speak until after the miracle babe John was born and named. Sign language, motioning with his hands, and written messages became his method of communication. And I imagine much contemplation began for this aged priest.
A few months after Zechariah’s astonishing news, Angel Gabriel appeared to the young virgin Mary of Nazareth in Galilee, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Mary was greatly troubled by his words and wondered what sort of message she was about to receive from the Lord.
Gabriel brought comforting words to this young woman, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God” (1:30). Gabriel announced that God had chosen her to bear the Christ Child, who would reign over a kingdom that would never end. Mary knew about child bearing, but being a virgin, she wondered how she would conceive. The angel said that the Holy Spirit and the power of God would cause this to happen and that her son would be named Jesus but be called the Son of God.
The angel then made another startling revelation that her elderly relative, the formerly barren Elizabeth was expecting a child and was already in her sixth month. Maybe Mary’s face took on a shocked expression, because Gabriel stated a truth that anyone can put faith in. “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
Mary, a novice worshiper answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). The old priest’s doubtful response and young Mary’s faithful sweet compliance were miracles apart.
The Christmas carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” issues an invitation to join in Jesus’ story. This season and in 2010, worship and adore Jesus:
Angels we have on heard high, sweetly singing ore the plains, and the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strains. Come to Bethlehem and see, Christ whose birth the angels sing.
Come adore on bended knee.
Christ the Lord the newborn King.
Friday, December 18, 2009
First, take a few hours and clear your house of clutter. Do some light cleaning, and then tell yourself that is enough. The new and improved “Good Housekeeping Magazine” often uses the phrase “good enough housekeeping.” Let that become your motto. No more rushing around to tidy-up to perfection. Enjoy your family. Enjoy the season.
Plan and prepare easy meals this next week. Buy ingredients early to avoid last minute shoppers in crowded stores. The stores are playing holiday carols and they massage my conscience making me catch grandiose ideas and plan more batches of fudge or fancier table settings. Or while in the household products’ aisle, I at least reach for the Pine-Sol to add more piney scent in my home. For a calmer week, plan easy meals and make purchases early.
Third, list the holiday traditions you practice and query your family about them when you gather for the holiday. Poll them to find out which traditions mean a lot to them. You may be surprised to find that some of your customs get shoulder shrugs. Consider dropping those next year.
Folk tend to forget that during the month of December, regular life with all its commitments continues and then we add the extra tinsel and pageantry. Give yourself permission to let go of a few traditions in exchange for more peace. What a spectacular trade off.
The combination of regular life and celebrating makes a crowded month that can get intense instead of intentional. Are you the leader, planner, and doer of your holiday gatherings and decorating? Be intentional. Choose less glitz. Choose more peace. Choose the fun and laughter of loved ones over décor and traditions that have lost their impact.
Fourth, relax, relax, relax. Trees will topple. Soufflés may cave. Internet orders may not arrive. Remember that Jesus, the true reason we celebrate, is still the Savior. Plan silent hours in your home this next week, when nothing outside is allowed in, except that shivering neighbor borrowing a cup of sugar.
In your silent hour, don’t allow TV, radio, ringing phones, or texting to interrupt. If you are the homemaker, make a refuge spot for yourself—a comfy place in a softly lighted room where you can sit for a few minutes, sip hot apple cider, pray, and refuel.
The last hint is to make time to remember. Remember past family members and the Lord. If you have lost a loved one this year, don’t ignore their passing. On a tabletop, place a photo of them and a few of their favorite things. This gives your family the OK to talk about them and remember the loving contributions they made.
To remember Jesus’ birth, some people like to set up a nativity or display some other reminder of WHY we celebrate Christmas. My mother would place a red-leather covered Bible on the large dining table in our family room. Opened to Luke 2, she laid a cross made out of large spikes, a reminder that Jesus’ sacrifice is all about reconciliation with God.
I’ve prayed that you have no scrabbling this week, and may you receive everything needed to spell out MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours.
Also, get more hints her at http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/
Monday, December 14, 2009
This week's column is about when God gave me an idea for a gift for my bedridden mother, but first, I want to tell you about.....
an opportunity to win a copy of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts visit here and leave a comment or become a follower. Also, my devo book and the Christmas book are available nationwide in Mom and Pop book stores, Madel, Parable, Family Christian Stores, etc. Christmas book is also available at LifeWay stores, at front with other Christmas selections, right as you walk in. Also available online.
THE RIGHT GIFT
When I find the perfect gift that really fits an occasion, I do a little Snoopy dance and sometimes squeal. Several times I have found just what the receiver needed. My favorite times to give gifts are on ordinary days. Not birthdays. Not Christmas. Not weddings. Not anniversaries.
I enjoy giving on plain vanilla days—of being aware of someone’s need and filling it. What a joy to show up on their doorstep with gift in hand or better yet, to find a way to give in secret. I’m on a limited budget, so my gifts are usually small purchases, handy things that make life more pleasant.
For over two years my mother has been almost immovable, confined to bed, and before that she was restricted to a wheelchair or bed for several years. Rigidity has set in and she has lost the ability to feed herself along with the ability to comprehend books. Television holds no charm since she has withdrawn into a rather private world where her mind sometimes conjures things that frighten her.
Dad and we children have noticed at least three blessings about her life. First, she recognizes family sporadically. Second, she also remembers sewing. At one time she could have been the poster woman for Singer Sewing Machines. Although she’s lost her original sewing skills, she pleats and folds her snowy bed sheets again. And she fingers the pleats and ribbons on blouses I wear when I sit on her bedside. The third thing she remembers is prayer—when I pray with her, she closes her eyes and reaches for my hand.
As Mom’s connection to the world has lessened, I’ve tried to think of something that would give her some pleasure. One day while visiting, an idea presented itself. Bingo! Yahtzee! Go Fish! Joy filled my heart because God had nudged my dull mind toward a good gift.
I bought a small soft basket and filled it with fabric quarters, bright pieces of cotton in a variety of colors and patterns. Enough with those boring white bed sheets pleated into imaginary garments. To my delight she fiddles with the fabrics. When her basket is placed beside her, she fashions and tucks and drapes them across her hands. I wash, starch and iron her basket supply or add new colors and prints according to the seasons.
Since she can barely move her arms and hands, this gift may not hold her attention long, and her interest in this gift will probably decline soon. But Mother has one gift that is perfect, a Person who will always be with her. “At just the right time, God sent his son, born of woman” that we might become God’s adopted children and receive the gift of his Spirit. And even though we may be crippled in mind or body, the Holy Spirit cries out for us “Abba, Father.”
My comfort is that someone is dearer to Mother than I am. Even when she cannot pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for her needs. Nothing compares to being adopted by Father God.
The ideal gift is ready to present to our friends. Nothing we can purchase, craft, or dream up equals the gift of adoption into God’s family and the inheritance of the Holy Spirit who communicates with God when we cannot.
To the ones you love be their Apostle Andrew, who on an ordinary day searched out his brother Peter to share found treasure. In essence he said, “I’ve found a wonderful gift for you.”
Are you looking for a gift to fit all seasons—his name is Jesus.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
On December 23 one year, my husband and I drove to Rudder Auditorium in College Station, TX for Rick Larsen’s presentation on the Bethlehem Star. Mr. Larsen advises, “Arrive early.” Even two days before Christmas, the 2,500 seat auditorium quickly filled to capacity, as do his lectures in Asia or wherever he presents.
Throughout centuries, skeptics, believers, and the curious have wondered about Matthew’s biblical account of the star. Lawyer and law professor Rick Larson presides over The Star Project, a non-profit organization. Through multimedia, seen by tens of thousands in the U.S., and Europe, “Larson leads you sleuthing through biblical and many other historical clues.”
Larsen pilots “a computer model of the universe across the skies of 2000 years ago.” During the display, participants “see the striking celestial events the ancients saw.”
Key players in Larsen’s conclusions are Johannes Kepler, computers, and the gospel of Matthew. Kepler, a brilliant mathematician living 1571-1630, published the Laws of Planetary Motion. The Laws are still in use today by NASA, the European Space Agency, and others.
Only after many days spent on calculations could Kepler draw a specific nighttime sky. Today, in mere heartbeats, computer software, using Kepler’s configurations, can chart the 2000-year-old sky over Judea. Pick a date, time and location and turn the computer loose.
Astrology claims that celestial bodies exert forces and influence humans. The Bible states God directs the affairs of men, but does place signs in his created heavens, messages from the Almighty.
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars,” said Jesus (Luke 21:25). Over 2000 years ago, eastern Magi scholars saw a sign-star, eventually leading them to Bethlehem and Jesus. The gospel writer Matthew outlines nine star-criteria that must match any modern conclusions.
Scripture and science shake hands in Larsen’s findings. Rudder Auditorium show this year on December 17 at 7:00 p.m. on the Texas A & M campus.
If you can’t make it, LifeWay Christian Store has a beautifully scored DVD of the presentation, or find information at http://bethlehemstar.net/
Ronald A. Schorn, Ph.D. founder of the Planetary Astronomy Department of NASA says, “About 99.9% of the Star of Bethlehem stuff is nutty, but this isn't . . . it’s well-researched and reasonable."
Friday, November 27, 2009
The local asked, “What kind of town did you come from?”
The newbie said, “Oh! The place I moved from was the friendliest place you’d ever want to live.” The local said, “Well, that’s exactly the kind of town you moved into.” The local understood that people are usually bent toward looking for good or bad. Our outlooks carry over no matter where we live.
One of the gifts from God’s Spirit to Christians is joy. To those who choose to trust God and wear his name, the Galatians’ writer penned a hearty list of blessings: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22). And then the writer said, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (vs.25).
What does “keep in step with the Spirit” mean? Could it mean that since we agreed to a life with God that our daily outlook on life should reflect the nine Spirit-blessings? What kind of daily celebrations could we enjoy and pass along if we each embraced our full quota of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
I have relied heavily upon Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline” to guide me through writing this series of columns on the spiritual disciplines. He says about celebration, “The decision to set the mind on the higher things of life is an act of the will,” then he says, “that is why celebration is a Discipline.”
Celebrations fuel life. Too many folk take themselves too seriously. Some folk need to hear the admonition to, “Lighten up.” Surely, we can always find severe problems to focus on in our own lives or somewhere in the world, but on the joyous flip side is all the blessings and the command to “be thankful always.” If every day we find something to be grateful for, folk will not see a little dark cloud hovering over us and then want to flee, hoping to not get caught in our storm.
This celebratory season is book ended by Thanksgiving Day and New Years Day. Choose to celebrate. Choose to embrace your family. Choose joy for this season and for the next 365 days.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
My list server went down and most of my contact list was lost. They recovered some of it, but in recent months due to the losses, my list fell from 3,000 to about 400. If you know of someone who would enjoy getting this weekly newsletter, could you please forward it? Thank you.
I’m behind in mailing out the columns and since we’re finishing the series on spiritual disciplines, I’ll mail three over the next week to catch up. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Loook at the following two bits of news, then read “Confession ~ Good for the Soul.”
My books are now in many stores:
LifeWay Christian Stores, Mardel Christian Stores, Parable and Family Christian Stores. If you are in the market for one of these, I’d appreciate your shopping in a local store for them. Thank you:
• A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday
• The Stained Glass Pickup.
Cathy’s Christmas one-hour radio Interview: re-airing November 27, 8:00 a.m. Central time.
To listen click this link and http://www.wbcl.org/CoverageMap.asp and click "listen now" on the left-hand side.
Confession – Good for the Soul
Author Darryl Tippens tells the following stories about confession. He and his wife Anne were invited to a local synagogue for Yom Kippur. This is the holy Day of Atonement when Jewish worshipers seek God’s forgiveness. During the service the rabbi invited the congregants to also consider their sins against any in the community and afterwards to go and apologize to that person.
As you read the rest of these stories, keep in mind these two scriptures about confession of sin: a prayer to God, “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you” (Psalm 41:4), an entreaty, “Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
In addition to seeking God’s forgiveness on Yom Kippur, the rabbi did something Tippens was not expecting. He asked each person to turn to their neighbor and confess their wrongs, asking for forgiveness. As a Gentile visitor, Tippens thought he’d get a pass. He didn’t think he had offended anyone on their church rolls. Then his wife Anne turned to him with shimmering eyes and asked, “Will you forgive me for all the times I’ve hurt you?”
Inwardly, he knew he should have first asked her forgiveness. “Feebly,” he answered, “Yes, I forgive you. Will you forgive me, too?” Tippens said that in his decades of church services, no minister or worship leader had ever asked him to confess his wrongs “in front of God and everybody.” He found a deeper awareness of confession and had his own Day of Atonement in the synagogue.
Tippens’ story is in his book, “Pilgrim Heart – the Way of Jesus in Everyday Life.” In presentations, he sometimes tells about his experience on Yom Kippur. After one such telling, an audience member related a similar experience. “William” and his family had been invited to an Eastern Orthodox Church and the day they attended was the day the church practiced the rite of “Mutual Forgiveness.” William, his wife, and two year old daughter watched as the priest, the leader, bowed before the congregation, his face to the floor and named his sins aloud and asked for God’s and the congregation’s forgiveness.
Then the congregation of about 150 arranged themselves into a large double circle, half the group was on the outside facing in, and the other group stood inside facing outward. This allowed congregants to rotate and confess their sins and seek forgiveness from fellow worshipers. The double circle revolved and each person got on their knees and confessed asking forgiveness of the next person and the next. Occasionally, a confessor grasped the feet of the person he had wronged and sought forgiveness. William and his wife participated as their two year old daughter walked quietly beside them and watched.
William said it was humbling, exhausting, exhilarating, and cleansing. Near the very end when the congregants had gone full circle. Their two-year-old daughter, who had been very quiet, knelt down on the floor in front of her mother’s feet. Taking hold of her ankles, she placed her little face near the floor. For this young couple, it was the crowning moment of the day, to know that in the future as they confessed and sought each other’s forgiveness, that God would open a door for this tiny daughter to embrace confession and forgiveness.
Many weekly church liturgies incorporate a time when the congregation asks aloud seeking God’s forgiveness, but not all Protestant churches include such a time. More could be written about confession, but more powerful than reading about it is the doing of it. Dependant upon personal misdeeds, it may be appropriate today to seek a store clerk’s forgiveness, a car mechanic’s, the postman’s, your husband’s your wife’s or your child’s. When we confess and seek forgiveness, we foster Christian charity among our community of contacts.
Before you confess to others, the psalmist’s prayer to a loving Father is a blessed place to begin, “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.”
Friday, October 30, 2009
Years ago during cold and flu season, three in our household of four were ill. I rarely get colds, but back then I had felt heaviness in my chest for about 48 hours. One child had a bearish cough, and the other was lethargic, signaling yet another ear infection.
Sluggish, it was all I could do to get everyone ready, in the car, and drive to the doctor. While paying our doctor bill, I saw Rox, who worshiped at church with us. I must have had WEARY stamped on my forehead. I told him the doctor’s diagnosis: daughter had a ruptured ear drum, son had severe bronchitis, and I had pneumonia. His brows arched in concern.
By the time I bought prescribed meds and drove home, I literally collapsed with exhaustion. Right before my husband arrived from out of town, I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and there stood Charlotte Owens, a woman from our church. Rox had told his wife Pamela about our wilting family.
Pamela and a few other women cooked a quick supper for us. To this day, my eyes grow moist when I think of that chain-reaction of care and kind service. For the next few days Dave and family pitched in to help. On either end of giving awaits a blessing, whether the giver or the receiver.
The spiritual discipline of service is lived out in biblical examples: a cup of cold water; Jesus acknowledging tax collector Zacchaeus; Martha offering hospitality; and King Jesus, kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet.
Service is deeply rooted in the discipline of submission, of placing others’ needs before our own. If you are a parent you have served. If you have a spouse, you have served. If you are a policeman, a sanitation worker, firefighter, judge, or other public servant, you have served.
It is not difficult to find someone to render a service to, but the challenge is to serve with genuine selflessness, tender care, and joy for the opportunity. Temptations may arise to brag about a service provided, to want recognition, or a pat on the back. Also, the “poor me” attitude can be prevalent when serving. We go ahead and do the act of service, but it’s served with a decanter of whine.
The greatest services are those offered with joy, those that never receive recognition. They are “hidden.” The servers do not expect applause or desire it. That servant-person can make 100 sandwiches in the middle of the night for firefighters and not seek any thanks or mention their kindness to family or friends. “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness in front of men to be seen by them….but your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4).
Richard Foster in his book, “Celebration of Discipline,” lists these areas of service: do daily small things for folk; guard people’s reputations; allow others to serve you; extend common courtesies; be hospitable; listen well; and share the word of Life.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1153) said if we are to live the life of one who will lead others “what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.” One can offer good leadership and authority and still be a servant. Jesus is the prevalent example of such a person. Our prideful nature may want the big job that comes with fanfare and glory. But it’s the daily sacrifices, the little things that add up to humility seeping into our lives in a small stream. Humility is one of the rewards of genuine service to others.
This week, join the “secret service.” Do for others and don’t mention it to a soul—ever. You might choose to sit quietly and listen to your spouse’s critique when your usual response is to offer a verbal defense. Or you could choose to halt gossip and save a reputation from a beating. Or make it your goal to extend common courtesies the entire week, on the phone, in the auto, and in your home.
Our loving Father is watching for the mothers who hold fevered children, for the dads who build character by their example, and for that secret service for a neighbor. He’s lining up the rewards, for here and hereafter.
Friday, October 23, 2009
The CD player in the car is pumping out favorite music, and careless you forget to watch the speedometer. Flashing lights in the rearview mirror, signal time to pull to the shoulder of the road, submitting to a governing authority.
I’ve experienced several of these submissions. Long ago on the first day I drove with my new driver’s license, the standard Fairlane and I hopped and jerked across a road in front of a Conroe Police officer. The concerned officer wanted to know if anything was wrong. “Nothing’s wrong, officer—just not used to this clutch.”
We are called to submit every day to familiar faces and strangers. I witnessed an altercation in a parking lot the other day when one man on his cell phone walked behind a moving car. The driver gave a friendly honk and the walker exploded into expletives, which brought about words of challenge from the driver. After verbal sparring, the driver simply drove away and parked in a different area and went into the store. I later encountered him whistling. He gave up the fight, submitted, and seemed happier for it.
Submission is the topic this week. Our goals when practicing the spiritual disciplines is not to gain the discipline itself, but rather learn from the practice. If the discipline of silence is practiced just to be silent. It serves no purpose. If the discipline of submission is practiced to be more “religious” than others, then no one benefits.
Submission is simply a readiness to yield to another person, and it is probably one of the most difficult of all disciplines. People want to have the last word. Defend their actions. Make sure their way is promoted and practiced. The prevailing attitude is if you don’t agree with me, then I will not tolerate or consider any ideas from you. Arguments ensue.
Submission is based in self-denial. But self-denial is not rooted in hatred of self, rather it is deeply rooted in humility, giving others the benefit of the doubt, having an unassuming attitude, and dishing out understanding and grace in huge portions. A great lesson on submission was set forth when Jesus gave up his place with God, to become human and take on the task of imaging servant-God on earth. (Philippians 2).
The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus gave us an exact representation of God (1:3). It may seem strange to think of God as submissive servant, but serving is God’s most exact representation. His rain falls on the just and unjust. His power allows both the wicked and righteous to breathe in and breathe out, every second.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). When we become a servant like Jesus, willing to take last place, then we too are portraying God to our fellow travelers. Eugene Peterson says although Jesus spoke of a kingdom and a reign, he lived a life of service to others.
Submitting to just governing authorities may be the easiest area of submission because we can face fines or jail time for failures. Punishment is motivational. But submitting to those around us is often more difficult because pride has to sit down, selfishness has to back off, and egos, well, they need to go on vacation.
Off course there are limits to submission when lives are endangered or a God-trained conscience will be violated. Other areas of injustices should be prayerfully considered and confronted. Richard Foster says, “There is no such thing as a law of submission that will cover every situation.”
Something my husband, David, said helps us both to love and submit to each other. He says, “We’re both bright in spots.” We see the value in each other’s opinion and knowledge. And after 40 years of living together, we have just about learned to love each other unconditionally.
Practicing the kind of love God has for mankind will support submission to others: “But you, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and you never, never quit” (Psalm 86:15, MSG).
Lord, like you, help us to never give up on each other, but to hold each other in the highest regard because of your unfailing love to us.
Monday, October 19, 2009
I sought out the Quiet Place on Abilene Christian University’s campus after weeks of hustle and bustle. In the foyer, a statue of a kneeling pray-er, with hands lifted high greets visitors, and the sound of trickling water gently soothes tired minds.
The small rooms are designed for those seeking a few moments of solitude and prayer. Soft lighting and simple furnishings invite busy people to a place of stillness, prayer, and listening. The memory of my hour of solitude lingers.
This week we’ll explore the spiritual discipline of solitude, derived from Latin and Old French meaning “alone.” Even in a crowd, one can be alone with their thoughts. Away from a crowd, distractions fade so that one can experience deepening awareness.
Many people fear being alone. They sabotage personal solitude through incoming sounds, news, and people. When was the last time you set aside a few hours to be alone and think about your life, your goals?
“Be still and know that I am God” is a directive from God to seek his presence (Psalm 46:10). Another settling scripture: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2). No longer a helpless infant, a weaned child learned to trust that his needs will be met.
To withdraw in solitude may mean that you plan to talk to God for a few hours or a few days. The voluntary absence of words should never be seen as ritual, but as a sacrifice to better listen in your spirit to God. Richard Foster calls this an “inward attentiveness” to God.
Often when we speak, we only hear our own words, blocking out other speakers and what is going on around us. An old proverb says, “All those who open their mouths, close their eyes!” Rather than a lengthy vow of silence a better discipline might be to speak in moderation, not overusing words, and thereby cutting out some of the noise for the people you break bread with, your companions.
Quaker Richard Foster suggests retreating in solitude four times a year for four hours. In silence, contemplate your life. Start the time with worship and prayer and then be silent. Take along a piece of paper and write down any thoughts that come to you. God may adjust the lens with which you view your life.
Some aspects of our daily lives lend themselves to solitude. Foster calls these “little solitudes.” Contemplate your day when you first awaken in the morning. Drink that first cup of coffee in silence without incoming news. Take a ten minute break in the afternoon before gathering with your family for the evening. Before you retire for the night, go outdoors, look skyward, and offer your evening prayers.
Jesus often went to a solitary place to pray, and one of my favorite prophecies about Jesus speaks about his being in tune with God’s work for him, “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” (Isaiah 50:4-5).
This week, may God grant each of you solitude, awakened ears, and words to sustain the weary.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
This week, we’ll look at the outward Christian discipline of simplicity (based on an inward standard). A friend said, “I wish manufacturers would stop making all the stuff we don’t need.” But owning fewer things does not mean we are living simply.
The Bible neither endorses drastic denial of self or a self-absorbed pampered life. Somewhere in the middle is a good place to live.
Following are Bible precepts which direct a life of simplicity. First, God created and owns the earth: “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). The earth and all we have is on loan from God, for our use but not abuse.
Second, God made the earth to bless us with food, beauty and enjoyment—lands of “milk and honey” to be enjoyed. Thanksgiving to God for the earth and its provisions is the proper mindset rather than look at my green thumb garden that I grew all by myself.
Third, Cyndy Salzmann, known as America’s Clutter Coach, says, “You are not your stuff.” Whatever is on loan to you from God does not define you. What if you lost all monies and your home today? What sort of person would you be without your props and stuff?
If lives are defined by the gracious acceptance that God made, God loans, and we are not our stuff, then we have a platform to live simply. Not self-imposed poverty. Not hoarding. We enjoy God’s gifts as loans and share with others.
All of that said, we live in a culture of indulgence, and our overstuffed homes, schedules, and bodies give witness to cluttered lives, the opposite of simplicity. Richard Foster says, “We are trapped in a maze of competing attachments.” We are bombarded with ads to buy more, eat more, do more, so many things latching on to us that we could resemble the tinker man with all his pots and pans piled on his shoulders.
Parent coach Leslie Wilson says a child of five is only able to keep up with two-five toys per year of age. A five year old can be responsible for 10 to 25 items (puzzles, crayons, books, and toys), but not 125. We train them early toward a cluttered life and an attachment to things.
This week, meditate on Richard Foster’s guidelines for simple living, and celebrate the discipline of simplicity: buy according to need not status; reject anything producing addiction; develop giving-away habit; avoid gadgets, enjoy without owning (use libraries and public parks); appreciate creation; be skeptical of incurring debt; use honest speech; do not oppress others; and seek God’s kingdom.
May God bless you as you seek to live simply this week.
Friday, September 25, 2009
“God probably doesn’t exist. Don’t worry about it.” This arrogant statement was observed on a banner on the side of a bus in London this past summer. Author Darryl Tippens saw this while in the United Kingdom a few months ago.
The sign disrespects many world religions—not only Christianity. The eight words are in-your-face paid “advertising” that makes “choice” a god. The banner shouts: live your life as you wish. Do what you like. Hurt others if you will. There is no absolute love. Satisfy yourself. God is a myth.
Years ago, just north of Montgomery, Texas on Highway 49 North, resident “Rock” Jones declared with boldness his belief in God. Signs and placards hung along his fence that fronted the highway. And on that fence, he had signs that proclaimed “Jesus is Lord” and God as “Rock of Ages.”
My soul sighed when I heard Tippens tell of the bus banner. However, I also celebrated last week, when an accident victim on a news story gave praise to God for his rescue. Anti-God talk is nothing new. It happened in the Garden of Eden when Satan first tempted Eve, and it will keep happening until the end of time. God only grows distant when we distance ourselves from God.
This week, in our look at the inner disciplines, let’s consider the act of study. Author Richard Foster suggests four areas of study that are closely related to understanding God: the Bible, God’s creation, other works about God, and the human race.
Foster says as we study these and practice other inner disciplines of prayer, fasting, and meditation of scripture we come to know God and his work. The Bible is not just a compilation of hero, heroines and stories of wickedness, too. The Bible is an autobiography of God how he loves and deals justly with deep seated sin.
In the book of Jonah, Jonah is not the main character, God is. In the gospel according to Mark, we get Mark’s inspired perspective about God, but the story is about God. In Acts of the Apostles (these titles are man-given), it could more accurately be called Acts of the Holy Spirit. As we repeat our readings and studying this history of God, who has long been wooing humanity to himself, a deeper understanding of God is unveiled.
As our age grows chronologically, we also observe and comprehend more of God’s extravagant power in the natural world. By the sheer power of his words, Genesis one says he spoke this world into reality. Daily, amazing facts and intricacies are discovered about our habitat—intricacies of a buffalo gnat, newly discovered galaxies, unseen viruses, and genetic makeup. As we study nature, we come to grips with Paul’s statement that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
As we read the story of Jesus’ walk on earth we witness in him an exact likeness of God. Jesus is co-creator, who showed us the full extent of God’s love (John 13). When we study and observe human kind, in some we see God’s love lived out again and again. And when we consider those humans who choose the dark side, we have learned through study of their character that they are capable of vile acts against other males and females created in the image of God.
When study of scripture, truth in print, is embraced it is like taking a bath in cleansing water. The grime and dirt we pick up from rubbing shoulders with bad influences can be showered away. We can assist in washing negative God-graffiti from hearts and off bus banners.
A psalmist wrote, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). God’s story, found in the Bible, is a classroom and liberating, freeing us to love instead of hate, stimulating us to grow instead of stagnate.
newspaper column from Sept 11--Fasting
Fasting is one of the inner disciplines, allowing the body to go hungry and even thirsty so that the mind and heart can fill up with better things from God’s table. While food and drink are necessary to sustain the body, it is beneficial to the inner person to step away from the fast foods and over-stuffings to focus on God.
Fasting brings about physical benefits such as body cleansing and weight loss, but these should not be our motives. John Wesley said about fasting, “Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.” Richard J. Foster agrees with Wesley, saying that worshiping God during a fast should be the all-in-all goal—the only way “we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.”
I remember studying the topic of fasting when a teen. Jesus’ instructions to his disciples were challenging, “When you fast…” An imperative is implied by the word choice of “when.” Jesus did not say “if” you fast, but “when.” I didn’t try to fast until I was in my thirties, and I found it both difficult and enlightening—it really showed me what a slave I was to my cravings.
We’re familiar with the act of doing without food for eight hours or more. Our word “breakfast,” is from the two words “break” and “fast.” We sometimes fast before medical tests or procedures. My mother said that my Dad, a minister, often went without food because he was so intent on caring for a needy family that his focus was on them and not mealtimes.
While the idea of fasting is familiar to us, the practice is foreign. Fasting from food is not the only type of fasting. The apostle Paul said that married couples will sometimes fast from sexual intimacy in order to devote themselves to prayer. Others recognize disturbances in their lives and choose to fast from them, such as dating, from the media, from noise, or they fast from speaking words.
The first recorded teaching of Jesus about fasting is in the book of Matthew, and he cautioned about the motives behind fasting. “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:17).
During Bible times fasting, folk often let their bodies go unkempt, put on scratchy “sackcloth,” and smeared ashes on their bodies. But Jesus said for the best reward, avoid tell-tale behavior. God is not looking for an outward display of piety. He is looking for humble hearts, sanctuaries where he can abide. And when God takes up residence in hearts, he becomes the janitor—cleaning like no one else.
The Bible also tells about times of corporate fasting, when groups of people agree to fast and pray. When an evil edict gave permission for citizens in Persia to slaughter Jews, young Jewish Queen Esther asked for three days of agreed fasting from food and water from the Jews in the citadel of Susa before she approached King Xerxes seeking a solution.
I you choose to fast for a first time try a lunch to lunch fast. You will miss dinner and breakfast. Drink fruit juices, pray throughout the hours, but especially at the time you would normally have your meal spend that time in devoted prayer.
One time when Jesus disciples talked about regular food, Jesus said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). He spoke about a feast between God the Father and Jesus, who chose to stay in God’s will and was empowered to finish the work of salvation for mankind.
Despite the wondrous variety of good things God gave us to eat, the best food isn’t calorie laden. The superior food is to do the will of God and often that path is revealed through the discipline of fasting.
Friday, September 11, 2009
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My husband and I sometimes go around and around in circles in our house. We have a floor pattern that lends itself to this. He will be in one room when I seek to talk to him. I’ll go to the room where I think he is but he’s already moving on our circular path to another room. After a lap and a half, one of usually says, “Just stand still. I’ll find you.” That’s when we catch up to each other and talk about the intricacies of our days.
This week in our series on the spiritual disciplines we’ll consider Christian meditation. Meditation is reflection on God’s work and words. I believe meditation of this sort is both intentional and unintentional. Sometimes we set a time to read, meditate and study God’s word and work. At other times, to my surprise, a scripture or thought about God will replay in my mind much like a tune gets stuck there and “plays” repeatedly.
In my Bible reading this summer, I read through the Psalms and for most of the time, I stayed on a self-prescribed agenda. I moved forward at a leisurely pace, one that allowed me to “digest” the scriptures and absorb them. But one entire week, I only read a few verses. Each time I opened to the Psalms and started reading where I left off, I sensed that I was not getting the meaning of the verses.
I read about those few verses in commentaries, prayed to know the meaning, looked up what other writers had documented about them online. Finally, after about eight days of mulling and thinking about the essence of the thirty or so words, I moved on, satisfied that I had wrung out all I could for the moment. We can stay in the shallow end of the pool of God’s word or we can meditate and God will build up spiritual muscles and put meat on skinny souls.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” the Lord proclaimed to Israel, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
I’m certainly not an expert on Eastern meditation but I know that it calls for the emptying of the mind. Christian meditation calls for the mind to be filled. That’s put too simply to be of much help, but God’s words call us to a better place, from selfish ways of doing things to looking out for the needs of others.
Meditation is similar to a cow chewing her cud—you know that digestive process, right? Contemplation is chewing on holy words to get all the benefits that come from re-digesting scripture. The Lord God explained to Joshua the profit of having the words of God swirl around in our minds rather than meaningless thoughts: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success (Joshua 1:8).
Meditation on God, his work and words can lead to recognizing and yielding to his gift of peace. Richard Foster says the church Fathers often spoke of “Otium Sanctum,” holy leisure. Those words refer to balance in life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, the ability to rest, the ability to pace ourselves.
Meditation best takes place in a quiet atmosphere—that alone should help with the balance of life. This week, choose one scripture to meditate on, chew on it and think about it in arranged quiet times. Most likely, the scripture will even pop into your mind during activities, too. That’s great. Your heart is calling up God’s word to nourish you.
Want to draw closer to God’s intent for your life? Then meditate and follow him around this week. Like my husband and I trail each other trying to catch up to have a more intimate talk, God is looking for us, too. Fix your thoughts on him this week, and you might just hear God whisper.
“Just stand still. I’ll find you.”
Friday, September 04, 2009
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My granddaughter Jolie started to kindergarten. Her first visit to the school was at an open house tea a few days before the school term. Her mother took her and she met her teacher Ms. Robbins. Jolie still has a problem pronouncing “r.” Wouldn’t you know, she got a super teacher, but when she pronounced her teacher’s name to us she said, “It’s Mrs. Wobbins.”
Beginning school for the first time is full of adventures. Jolie thought she could spend all day at school after the tea. She was eager and ready to go, so no tears fell when she finally walked into the classroom for the first day of school. She trotted to her desk and began filling in a coloring sheet. But that evening, Jolie said to her mother, “School is nice, but I don’t think I’ll go back tomorrow.” Of course she did and now the transition is almost made. It’s always an adjustment from days at home to mandatory school.
Since kiddos through college age are back in school, I thought we adults could revisit the classroom of spiritual disciplines. For the next few weeks we will consider the disciplines and the gracious side effects of deepening our conversations with God. Joy and peace are a gift at our salvation, but expect God assist you to more fully take notice of this joy and peace if you accept this mission of training in the spiritual disciplines.
Personal spiritual training has been shelved by many. We train throughout life—good manners, riding a bicycle, driving a car, and work related instructions—the spiritual disciplines cause us to look into our hearts and that is difficult for many. It’s so much easier to drift through life. But it is not more rewarding.
Richard Foster, a Friend and Quaker, is one of America’s primary writers on the spiritual disciplines. His book “Celebration of Discipline” has sold over a million copies, and although it has been in print for 30 years, it continues to sell well.
Eugene Peterson says that the modern world has for the most part stored away the spiritual disciplines, but that Mr. Foster has rummaged around brought them out of hiding and shows through his writing that they are the way to the abundant life in Christ.
Any tool that brings us closer to the Christ is a call to celebrate. Mr. Foster divides the disciplines into three groups: the inner, the outer, and the corporate. The inward are the ones we practice in a more private setting giving our hearts over to God’s regulation, and they include meditation, fasting, prayer, and study. The outer disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission and service, and the corporate ones are confession, worship, guidance and celebration.
This week, we will concentrate on the more familiar inner discipline of prayer. Prayer is communication between the created and the Creator. To start our journey, answer these questions about prayer habits: When do you pray? Early morning, at meals, at bedtime, or throughout the day? Maybe your prayer life is a combination of all. Or perhaps prayer is your 9-1-1, an emergency only connection.
Several things can happen during prayer: praise, thanksgiving, praying for others (family, friends, government leaders, etc), confession, asking for forgiveness, and seeking guidance. To further understand personal prayer, think about what you most often say in your prayers. Are they mostly expressions of thanksgiving? Are they most often focused on personal needs?
One of the most familiar prayers in the Bible is the one Jesus taught his disciples to pray, often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. One of my favorite lines in that prayer is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The request is a desire for the perfection, holiness, and goodness of God to be lived out through personal lives in sync with God.
Whether you are in kindergarten prayer or headed toward your doctorate in prayer, pay attention this week to how often you talk to God and the intent of your words. And why not customize that phrase from Jesus’ prayer-teaching: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and Lord, begin with me.”
Friday, August 28, 2009
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With strong convictions, an infected township decided to reside in the confines of their village for more than a year so their citizens would not spread the bubonic plague. This Sunday, pilgrims will gather near the English village of Eyam for a service of remembrance. During 1665-1666, Eyam’s population of 500 plus suffered the loss of half their friends and family.
In the 1300s, bubonic plague’s first recorded victims were in China’s Gobi dessert. Bubonic plague, contracted from rats and fleas, traveled from that region aboard trading ships. A PBS special “Secrets of the Dead” said “In October of 1347, a Genoese ship fleet returning from the Black Sea -- a key trade link with China -- landed in Messina, Sicily.” To the horror of dock workers “most of those on board were already dead, and the ships were ordered out of harbor. But it was too late.” From there, the killer disease spread to Europe and before it subsided an estimated 25 million died.
Again, in the 1660s the bubonic plague raged and killed 100,000 in London, a sixth of the population. In September of 1665 a batch of fabric was sent from London to the village of Eyam in Derbyshire. Local tailor George Viccars took the damp fabric infested with fleas into his home and hung it by the fireplace. Within four days he died and soon other villagers caught the disease. A few families panicked and fled north, but the town turned to Rector William Mompesson, who urged a self-imposed quarantine to prevent the disease from spreading to nearby villages. The noble villagers agreed.
For 14 months no one went beyond the town boundaries. Neighboring villagers left food at Mompesson’s well and coins of payment were left in the water. Church services were held outdoors to avoid clusters of people meeting together. Families buried their deceased in garden plots and back yards. Ironically the local grave digger, even though he buried many, survived. Mrs. Hancock of Riley buried her husband and six children within eight days.
Bubonic plague can turn into pneumonic plague, affecting the lungs and then the disease spreads from human contact. The plague oppressed the villagers for over a year and on November 1, 1666, the last victim died.
The rector’s wife Catherine Mompesson nursed the ill and dying for nearly a year and then she was among some of the last to contract the disease and die on August 25, 1666. Plague Sunday is celebrated the last Sunday in August and this year, as in the past, a red rose entwined wreath will be laid upon her gravestone.
Some believe a children’s nursery rhyme commemorates the plague and describes the disease and the fatalities: “A ring-a-ring of rosies / A pocket full of posies / A tishoo! A tishoo! / We all fall down.”
After the scourge was over the first outsiders ventured into Eyam where they expected to find a ghost town, yet miraculously half the population had survived. The abovementioned PBS special details how researchers traced and located direct descendents of Eyam plague survivors. Researchers hoped to find these folk to be carriers of a protective gene. They did find such a gene and for more information check out the PBS site.
Now, the medical community is preparing to protect the earth’s population from the less deadly h1n1 virus, and many ordinary citizens will also have opportunities to serve those who get this flu. If the flu is contracted, we can follow the good people of Eyam’s unselfishness and avoid exposing others.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He described a premier love, a love superior to self; a love lived out in a hamlet some 350 years ago.
Friday, August 21, 2009
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I washed, dried and folded my guestroom bed sheets. After that, I ironed and starched and lavender scented the pillow cases. We had overnight guests and we’re expecting more, and I like to have a fresh set of sheets in case we have pop-in family who need a place to rest for a night. With just a little tidying, putting away clutter, and shaking out the welcome mat we’re ready for company.
Ironing pillowcases is one of those household tasks that don’t seem like a chore to me. When I mentioned that among a group of women, one other woman agreed that plunging her arms into sudsy water to hand wash dishes is her oasis of calm. Several of the housework skeptics said, “You’re both crazy.”
When linens need pressing, I’m eager to fold down my hide-away ironing board and with a hot iron push wrinkles aside. Maybe that lets you in on my personality. I like to fix things for people, make it better, or kiss away the hurt. I want to smooth out the rough spots, but we all know that’s not always possible.
That knowledge reigned again this week—not being able to fix some of the broken places in life. We lost a dear friend, Lee Roy, of 25 years. Within five minutes he was gone. After we heard the news, we drove several hours to see his wife, Paula. Lee Roy was her best friend and the love of her life. Those who knew them saw a couple devoted to each other. In times past, we met Lee Roy and Paula every few months for dinner, usually halfway between our homes in the Bay Area and
Because we are in the same business, our husbands spoke almost every day by cell phone. The four of us have a lot in common. We know the names of each other’s grandchildren and pets, and we’ve shared our families’ worries and needs. And now I want to fix things for Paula but I cannot.
At times like these, most of us have experienced the inadequacy of words. I like words and sometimes even get to trade them in for a paycheck. But I’ve found that spoken words or even purchased words in sympathy cards cannot properly convey the weight and density of sorrow.
The real desire of our friend’s heart cannot be fixed. Death is what it is and now she travels a road not by choice but one delivered to her doorsteps way too early. Her gut-wrenching loss made me cherish the daily handholding with my husband. Our goodbye kisses became sweeter just because we had the privilege. The solemn morning after our friend’s death, there was an extra long hug between David and me as we parted for the day.
After David left that morning, I went into my utility room, I needed to iron. I needed to press the wrinkles out of something. One of the things I like about ironing is that it’s routine work that allows my mind to stay or travel a long distance from the ironing board. Also, it’s a great time to pray. For my friend this has been my plea, “I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way” (Psalm 132:1-3).
Off and on throughout this week, I’ve done laundry and I’ve had more of my husband’s shirts to iron than in a long time. I steamed the collars, smoothed the yokes, and pressed the wrinkles out of sleeves, treasuring the work.
My main prayer request for our friend is for comfort and deep strength. I know she loves to mow her yard and I hope when she gets to trimming the hedges again that she can find solace in the task and the quiet time.
And she’ll be in my thoughts as I iron, smooth out what I can, and pray.
Friday, August 14, 2009
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PASS THE BREAD
She kept coming into her own kitchen offering to help. The women who were working at her sink and serving up the homemade food kept saying, “We don’t need your help . . . Go . . . Sit down . . . Get some rest.” She needed rest. Between work and keeping her household running, her family had additionally kept an hourly vigil at the hospital with a terminally ill parent.
Now because of the parent’s death and funeral, her household ran over with out-of-town extended family. By the day of the funeral, she and her husband had little energy to expend and the family still needed to eat.
When food is shared the givers join Christ in ministry. In the Bible on one occasion in an isolated area, a hungry crowd numbering in the thousands needed food. Aware of the crowd’s hunger, Jesus said to his followers, “You give them something to eat” (Mark ).
On that day, Jesus’ mission was at least threefold – teaching the crowd and disciples about God’s caretaking, providing an actual meal, and cloaking his disciples with servant robes.
That evening when God multiplied small loaves and tiny fish, the disciples became food pantry trainees. The Lord of Harvest provided the bounty and asked the manly disciples to don aprons. From heaven, a chain of blessings began. From his storehouse, God scattered provisions to the needy. And with Jesus beside them the disciples willingly became the middlemen. Stepping in the gap, they passed out what God had multiplied.
Due to the generosity of a group of cooks at my home church, weekly meals are taken to those in need. We’ve taken meals on Christmas Eve, other holidays and ordinary days. I especially remember one such family who traveled to
Many churches provide this same ministry when a family’s primary cook is too tired to wield a spatula and a skillet. With chicken and dumplings, pecan pies and homemade rolls, cooks build bridges between God’s hand and the hurting.
Eating a meal you didn’t prepare or buy is a relaxing agent for the suffering. Watch for those times when you can ease a burden just by showing up with a chilled salad, fresh fruit, or batches of sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies.
From God’s hand, to yours, to the hurting -- “Pass the bread” takes on a whole new meaning.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
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Caleb, an age 4 character in Hallmark movie “Sarah, Plain and Tall” hears a farmer playing a song. Later Caleb says, “Maybe I could get a harmonica. I could carry it with me wherever I go. It would be like a little music in my pocket.”
While re-reading through the Psalm lyrics, the songs of the Bible, a few of the phrases reverberated in my mind. Just as favorite melodies of a song make laps in the mind, these psalm phrases latched onto my heart — like words backed with Velcro.
One is “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8). Because of David’s wording in his prayer-song, my personal requests became more specific. Because I’ve seen mother hens shelter vulnerable chicks, I could visualize being sheltered beneath God’s wingspan.
However, on those occasions when the faith gauge is low, different words from the psalms cycle around in my thoughts, “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).
This question from David comforts me. God doesn’t mind when my doubt is verbalized to him. Honesty with God is not a bad thing. He already knows if I’m feeling out of touch, needy, and my questioning words don’t shock God. Like a chick, I may not be able to see his face, but I still know where I am—under his protective wing.
Another psalm meditates on God’s “works” and “mighty deeds,” recalling times when God helped the Hebrews. Their walk on dry ground through the
The Hebrews knew God cut that swath through volumes of water, and although God’s footprints were not seen, he opened a path of escape from enemies and opened a trail to strengthening the Hebrews’ faith.
On a rainy day, my young son slipped out of my sight and left our country yard traveling into farm dangers -- ponds, cattle, and woods. Scanning damp ground outside our fence, I prayed to see small footprints, and, thank God, tiny mud-depressions led the way to my child. Much like that, I recently tracked God through the Psalms.
After this recent read-through of the 150 Psalms, I again heard an orchestra in my heart—ancient lyrics spinning round and round. The many “sightings” of God’s footprints within the psalms remind me of his care.
Today, remember that you are the apple of his eye. If doubts and fears arise ask God your questions, whatever their subject. Read a few psalms each day until the imprints of his good care are stamped on your heart. Then you can have many lyrics resonating too, music that goes with you, much like music in pockets.