Friday, December 24, 2010

Grace in a Person, the Favor of Jesus

An Ohio man asked his aunt about a painting she had in her house. She responded, “Oh, that old thing. No one wants it.” Since none of her family wanted the art work for their homes, she had already commissioned the art to a local gallery, but hadn’t delivered it to them, yet. Her nephew said he would love to have it, so she gave it to him.

Nephew Bill took the painting to an Antique Roadshow for appraisal and was quite shocked to hear that in a New York gallery, the art could fetch $250,000. A painting deemed of little value to the aunt was re-discovered by the nephew. I once was lost but now I’m found.

The painting of Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve is by N. C. Wyeth. The appraiser at Antique Roadshow noted, “Wyeth first gained fame by illustrating some of Scribner’s Classics, including Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans and Treasure Island.” The painting, believed to be titled “When He Comes He Shall Rule the World,” was done to illustrate a story in Harper’s Monthly magazine called “The Lost Boy,” by Henry van Dyke. Wyeth’s painting was on a list of missing artwork.

For many in the world the Messiah remains undiscovered. Over 2000 years ago, the treasure of heaven arrived boxed in a manger. If I had been in charge of God arriving on earth, there would at least have been a feast in Bethlehem and a town crier announcing the birth. However, God in his wisdom chose to send splendor to the earth without a great deal of fanfare or spectators.

God revealed facts about the Anointed One through Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (42:1-2)

When Jesus began his public work, he didn’t twist arms. He didn’t coerce or force his rule upon his audiences’ hearts. His delivered no brash messages to the masses. The weakest sinner coming to him was lifted up not quashed. His core group of friends was commoners and his ministry non-pompous. When God sent Jesus he sent first-class character to renovate man’s family tree.

Melito of Sardis wrote about his personal discovery of the Messiah: He is all things: when he judges, he is Law; when he teaches, Word; when he saves, grace; when he begets, father; when he is begotten, son; when he suffers, lamb; when he is buried, man; when he rises, God.

Rediscover Jesus, Messiah, Redeemer and Friend this last week of December through re-reading Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. From the manger, to the boy rabbi, to resurrected God, he alone remains full of favor, meaning “grace in a person.”

Jesus -- worth discovery -- a treasure in plain view, the one who ably bestows “peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

(Tune in next Friday and start the “Year of the Index Card” with me. Buy a packet of 100 index cards for about a dollar and see how those simple pieces of paper, 52 Bible verses, and meditation on them can broaden your faith throughout 2011.)

Contact Cathy at

Sunday, December 19, 2010


See image above at:


I rarely have the luxury of traveling alone. You may not deem it a luxury to be alone in a car doing all the driving into five different states in a four day trip, but that’s how I viewed last December’s road trip. It was a rare time when I stepped away from everyday duties, traveled new territory, and listened to my favorite music. If you want to know how Elvis, Christmas, and Graceland, added together to bring to mind a revival scripture then keep reading.

I left a day before my husband and son to visit my aunt in Arkansas, and then later the second day I was to meet Dave and Russell in Mississippi. I reached my aunt’s home on my first day of travel, and after visiting for awhile I drove more miles and spent the night at a Comfort Inn. The next morning, I started driving toward Mississippi on I-40.

About mid-day, I learned that hubby and son were at least six hours behind me. They were in a semi, pulling a load of antique tractors to the National Antique Tractor Pull. On a whim I took a side trip into Tennessee.

I can’t ever recall doing that before. All by myself. Without directions. Head into a busy metropolis and expect to find a whim-destination. Not many opportunities to explore on my own these days. I’m not a big Elvis fan, but once Graceland got on my mind. It just wouldn’t leave. I didn’t have a map of Memphis or GPS, so I called “information” from my cell phone. The operator connected me to Graceland Insurance Company. The receptionists said, “Oh this happens all the time. What do you need to know? I give out their information a lot.”

“I’m arriving into Memphis on Interstate 40. And I need good verbal directions to get to Graceland. I’m driving . . . can’t write anything down.” She told me five simple turns and merges, and I repeated them back to her. That Tennessean was better than Map Quest. An hour later, I drove directly to Elvis Presley’s home Graceland.

But when I was just entering Memphis, my phone rang and our son Russell said, “Mom, Dad and I wanted to check on you. Where are you?”

“I’m in Tennessee….Memphis….. I decided to take a little side trip and see Graceland.”

Laughing with abandon, I heard Russell tell his Dad, “Mom’s on her way to Elvis Presley’s Graceland.” Dave groaned loud enough that I could hear him through Russell’s phone. I knew he wasn’t aggravated with me. It was one of those glad-you’re-going and happy-I’m-not-along audible grunts. Who knows, Graceland might close to the public one day, and I’d live with regrets. After all, only a year ago on December 12, 2009, the Roy Roger’s museum closed its doors.

In Tennessee, worldwide visitors spent hefty parking fees and sums to tour everything. I opted to tour “the Mansion.” The mid-sized house shimmered with holiday decorations from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, including an aluminum Christmas tree. Remember those? Christmas carols played, sung in Elvis’ own velvety voice.

At the front entrance, a paved apron allowed visitors to get a panoramic shot with cameras after the tour. A man in his early twenties by me tried to take pictures but discovered his batteries were dead. I asked what size batteries his camera used. When he checked, they were the same size as mine. So, I loaned him my batteries, and he clicked his shutter and images of the Mansion went into his memory card.

This time of year may not offer much time for solitude, but watch for everyday things which have God’s gift tags on them -- from him to you: A flock of geese flying south in V-formation, a child in a Christmas pageant, or reminders of Jesus in yards, on T-shirts and in every “Merry Christmas” greeting. Or maybe, you just get a mini day-cation all by yourself.

Jesus joined us for a time on earth, and God reminds us, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). During this busy season a revival can be yours, just watch for those times God tags a gift with your name.

Friday, December 10, 2010

God's Timing

The subject of when-God-acts has been on my mind for a couple of years. But this week, I looked out my house window and saw something that reminded me of God’s timing. And once that baby-step of understanding settled, I said to God, “There’re so many things where I trust your timing. Let me trust your timing more.” Let me tell you what led up to that prayer.

We celebrated a 90th birthday party for my father-in-law in our home mid-November. Prior to the party, my husband, David, and I groomed the yard. I weeded around sidewalks and the foundation of the house and Dave mowed. When I got to the front gate of our home, I noticed that the paperwhite narcissus bulbs had sprouted bordering the sidewalk. Small green leaves had pushed through the soil, and I thought, “Those are coming up way too early; they’ll bloom in December instead of January like they’re supposed to.”

We don’t often use our front gate and sidewalk, we’re back door people. But this week when I looked out my window toward that sidewalk, I saw taller narcissus plants. When I went outdoors and on closer inspection, I found the paperwhites biding their time, awaiting the right internal and eternal signals to start creating the buds that will eventually pop open and display delicate beauty.

Through God’s genius those plants know it is still 2010 and that 2011 hasn’t arrived. Embedded within them is God’s green-thumb-clock. They knew when it was time to push up through the ground, and they will know when it is time to bloom

The Apostle Paul wrote about God’s perfect timing of sending his Son: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, . . . that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4). Several deep truths exist in chapter four’s message other than the timing phrase.

But basically Paul tells his readers that only through Jesus we’re reborn into a new relationship with God. We become adopted sons. We have the privilege of calling our creator Father. We become heirs of his loving kindness, his forgiveness. We inherit blessings as his dear children and receive unfathomable help to cope with life on earth, even when personal timings unsettle us.

During this season, like no other throughout the year, the world’s eyes are drawn to the Christ. Most are acquainted with Christmas, but not as many are acquainted with the Christ of Christmas. I’d love to have been a sheep or a shepherd or a blade of grass on the night the timely angelic message arrived near Bethlehem.

When the host of angels appeared in the night sky, they brought both an immediate and a timeless message: Present tense for the people living at that time. The angel with a speaking part said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be [future tense] for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). At the perfect time, to the right set of shepherds, near Bethlehem, the city of bread, Jesus arrived.

The narcissus plants reminded me that I’ve trusted God’s growing and production season for a long time, why not trust his timing in my personal life. In the plant world, I’ve seen his faithfulness. His replenishing. His produce. His timing. And it’s perfect. The promised seasons have never failed to live out their purpose.

For now, doubts about his timing in my life have fled. I’ve reread the old, old story and peace has replaced uncertainty. This celebratory season cues us to remember God’s perfection and God’s timetable.

With gracious planning and purpose for all on earth, the eternal clock continues to tick, and because of Jesus, it ticks to our advantage and support. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (v. 14).

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Win a Copy of Christmas Book

Visit friend Elizabeth Ludwig's Borrowed Book Blog and leave a comment to possibly win a copy of A Scrabook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday Drawing this Friday. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Pies and Table Time

If you’re like most families you had a pie for dessert sometime last week. I don’t know why I like writing about pies so much, maybe because I like to bake them and eat them. We had pumpkin, pecan, and lemon meringue pies at our Thanksgiving feast. I know that I’ve told you this story before but it’s worth sharing again. It’s about our family rolling pin. Now if you aren’t familiar with kitchen gadgetry, I’ll explain. It’s a cylindrical object used to flatten out pie dough.

In the early 1900s, Beulah Harris Messecar (my husband’s grandmother) and her fiancé traveled by wagon from Almeda to Houston to buy their household furniture. When they returned home, Beulah’s mother, Ann, looked at their selections: chairs, bedstead, pots and pans and asked, “Did you buy a rolling pin?” They hadn’t bought one.

Great-Grandma Harris said, “Never mind. I’ll get one for you.” The next time Beulah saw her mother, she handed her a crude shaped rolling pin, wooden and all one piece, obviously whittled into that shape.

All I know is that when her much younger brother Jean next wanted to play baseball, he was missing a wooden bat. The homemade rolling pin leans in my kitchen window and is still used to make pies for the family. Genuine hospitality never requires a pie, but it does require a good host to welcome the guests.

When Jesus was guest in the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, I suspect he was greeted with both good food and good company. Jesus visited in other homes too, but he also hosted meals. How did the resurrected Jesus treat his guests when hosting breakfast?

Throughout a night fishing trip, Jesus’ disciples had cast their net numerous times, and again and again they hauled up empty nets and their disappointment must have mounted. Near dawn with nothing to show for their efforts, they decided to call off the fishing. Not knowing it was Jesus on shore, they heard him advise them to throw the net out one more time. They did. On the last cast, their net teemed with 153 large fish!

When the disciples stepped onto the sandy beach, they recognized their fishing guide -- Jesus. On a bed of warm coals, he had fish and bread awaiting the weary night shift. Jesus welcomed them, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12). He then served the fatigued men, first the bread and then the fish.

All the ingredients for a meaningful gathering were in place. The fishermen needed rest from the night’s grueling work and they were very happy with the last catch at dawn. Besides that, their best friend had a fire going, and a satisfactory aroma of bread and fish must have made their mouths water. Good friends were together, and Jesus was present as servant and host.

Just like Grandma Harris changed a baseball bat into a rolling pin, God is in the remaking business too. He longs to reshape us into the same hospitable likeness of his Son. During the regular days of December and the feast times ahead, whether you are furnishing the pie or the appetite, cherish the time with family and friends.

Some of our most memorable gatherings are around tables. And this December we recognize again our impoverished state and that the Lord as gracious host still “prepares a table before us.”

Friday, November 26, 2010

Five Kernels of Corn


If you visited any grocery market this week, you knew Thanksgiving approached. Crowded aisles. Full carts. Smiles exchanged. Shoppers looked for everything from poultry and pumpkin spices to turkey trussing twine. Near me, two men dressed in work clothes had a cart full of cooking oil and told me they were frying a turkey at their shop that day. They pointed to a stack of yams and asked, “Is that a sweet potato?” I hope their turkey and trimmings turned out tasty.

The festive atmosphere in the market got me in the mood to refresh my knowledge of the first Pilgrims in our country. Their history of sharing among those-who-had and those-who-had-not helped created one of our countries favorite holidays, Thanksgiving.

On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower made its way from Plymouth, England to Cape Cod, where the first Pilgrims stepped ashore on November 11 of that year. During the two months aboard the ship, the 102 passengers experienced both hardships and hope.

Other than the usual seasickness, the first half of the voyage was smooth sailing. At the well documented site tells of one sailor who ridiculed the passengers “cursing them daily” saying he looked forward to throwing their dead bodies overboard. The first crew or passenger to fall ill was that sailor, his curse falling back on himself.

Aboard the Mayflower, three wives were pregnant, and Mrs. Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth at sea, and named her son Oceanus. The second month of the sea trip found the crew and passengers in danger as they encountered many storms. Twenty-five-year old John Howland, thrown overboard when the ship rolled, grabbed a topsail rope and hauled himself back toward the ship where the crew hoisted him aboard with a boathook. Two of the passengers perished with colds before the ship sighted land. Others died the next winter.

Early 1600 explorers found Native Americans hospitable and friendly, willing to trade and share what they had, until greedy men captured some of the natives taking them as slaves. Captain Thomas Hunt captured 24 Native Americans to take back to Spain. One of those later nicknamed “Squanto” learned English and arrived back in America just before the Pilgrims. “Squanto” negotiated trading and a sort of peace between the Europeans and the hostile natives, but he too succumbed to greed and began taking bribes.

The Native Americans while mainly hunters and gatherers grew patches of corn, beans, and squash to supplement their diets. In abundance, wild strawberries were gathered and made into cornmeal-strawberry bread. And the Pilgrims eventually learned from their adept neighbors to catch eel and use fish to fertilize their rows of corn.

At the Bi-Centennial of the Landing of the Pilgrims in 1820, a speech given by Daniel Webster told of the many hardships the Pilgrims suffered during their first two years. But he also recalled the neighborliness of natives and others who traded or sent food to the hungry Pilgrims, who sometimes got by on rations of four or five kernels of corn a day.

By the spring of 1623, after two dismal harvests, the Pilgrims had better learned how to plant their crops but in June a six week drought ensued. The Pilgrims met on a clear-skied July morning and prayed for rain for nine hours. The next day it rained. Winslow reported that the sky "distilled such softe, sweete and moderate showers…as it was hard to say whether our withered corne or drooping affections were most quickened and revived."

That fall, the Pilgrims had their best crop ever and didn’t face starvation again. Some current families adopted the tradition of placing five kernels of corn by each Thanksgiving place setting and then each diner takes turns naming five things for which they are thankful.

Milton Jones, representative of Christian Relief Fund, recently wrote after returning to the USA from poverty stricken and war torn Liberia, “If you were born in our country in history at this time, it’s like winning the cosmic lottery. No people in history have been as blessed as we are. I’m not saying that to make any of us feel guilty, but it should make us feel grateful.”

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. I’m counting my five pieces of corn and giving thanks, and you are among my five blessings.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When the Cliche Becomes Music

Because I really, really like words, I enjoy reading about what inspired a speech, a novel, a work of art, or a hymn. An overheard conversation, a sighting, a “chance” meeting, one moment in time – within all lie numerous possibilities when an artist grips them and works more volume into the inspiration.

Here’s how a beloved old hymn was borne of a casual remark, in fact it ushered from an old cliché. Joseph Philbrick Webster, an accomplished musician, enjoyed composing music for the general population. Born in 1819, he grew up in the east, where he was a member of the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, Massachusetts (a musical society founded in 1815. Sill in existence, its original creation was to perform old and new music).

As many young men in his day, he migrated until he settled in Elkhart, Wisconsin. There, he met up with a Doctor Bennett, whose hobby was writing verse. For years, they partnered in writing songs for the general public, Dr. Bennett wrote the lyrics and Mr. Webster wrote the music. Because his medical practice kept him busy, Doctor Bennett didn’t produce any much verse as Mr. Webster would have liked, and the lack of lyrics often left the composer Webster without employment and personal gratification.

At these times, Webster tended to get melancholic with short bouts of quiet and sadness until he paired his tunes to more of the doctor’s lyrics. Many such days found him arriving at the doctor’s office, hanging his violin and hat on a peg and warming self by the potbellied stove in hopes that the doctor had produced more verse.

On an autumn day in 1867, Webster walked into Bennett’s office. Out of habit he hung his hat and violin on the peg. Seating himself, he said nothing. The doctor immediately recognized from his friend’s gloomy disposition that he was depressed again, “What’s the trouble now?”

“Oh nothing,” Webster answered dismally, “Everything will be all right by and by.”

Dr. Bennett went to his desk where he wrote prescriptions and said aloud, “By and by. That sweet by and by.”

The two friends looked at each other with that knowing look that says we may have something here. Dr. Bennett picked up his pencil and paper and began to write. While he wrote, two other men from the town dropped in to chat and joined Webster around the potbellied stove. Within half an hour, Dr. Bennett had written three stanzas and the chorus of a hymn.

Webster plucked his violin from the peg and in less time than it took the good doctor to write the inspired words, Webster had his tune. The four men formed a quartet and sang the new hymn, and within an hour of Webster uttering the casual cliché “by and by,” a hymn was born. Webster’s melancholy fled as the lyrics fed his soul and his composer-work restored his purpose in life.

Here’s a stanza, “There’s a land that is fairer than day, and by faith we can see it afar; For the Father waits over the way to prepare us a dwelling place there.” I wonder how many times Webster’s casual remark has been sung over the years? How many times has it brought comfort (strength)? “In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore; In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.”

Working with likable people. When music lifts up your soul. The comfort of a friend. As we approach the Thanksgiving Holiday, watch for those times when acts of charity come your way in singles, duet, trio, or even quartet. The apostle Paul encouraged his readers to give “thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Especially take the time to give thanks when conditions arrange something better than you expected -- when the cliché becomes music.

Contact Cathy at

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cling, Commander in Chief, and "nearly out"

Two of my favorite stories hale from past Commanders in Chief of our country and in honor of veterans I share them with you.

Ulysses S. Grant served as our 18th president from 1869-1877. A single man, he arrived at the home of the woman he was courting, Julia Dent. Her family, soon departing to attend a wedding, asked him to join them. In a buggy with Julia, they came to an overflowing creek and a “rickety” bridge. Mr. Grant assured her that all would be well saying, “Now, now. Don’t be frightened.”

“I’m terribly afraid. I’m going to cling to you no matter what happens,” Julia said. And she grasped his arm and wouldn’t let go until they were safely across the bridge. After they crossed, Julia said, “Well, I clung to you didn’t I, Ulysses?”

“You certainly did.” After a moment of silence, he turned to her and said, “How would you like to cling to me for the rest of your life?” Apparently Julia was keen on the idea for they married in 1848. (quotes from Paul F. Boller’s “Presidential Anecdotes”).

The second story is one supposedly told by Abraham Lincoln, and I read it in Carl Sandburg’s “The War Years.” Of course many tales are attributed to Lincoln that probably didn’t originate with him. But he did find comfort in storytelling, especially ones that involved humor. With the burden of the presidency, the Civil War, and his heavy involvement in military strategy, he said one evening that he imagined himself to be “the most tired man in the world.” Humor helped him take a mini-escape from the load he carried.

He told of a “backwoods housewife” with a whole passel of ragtag children playing in her front yard. A wandering preacher came by and tried to sell her a Bible. She took offense at his questions: Shouldn’t every home have a Bible? Did they even own a Bible?

She replied in a sharp tone that of course they owned a Bible. But the overbearing preacher expected her to prove her claim. She hunted in her strewn house and found no Bible. She called in her army of children and they too searched. At last, one of the urchins found a few tattered pages of “Holy Writ” in a cluttered corner and held them up in triumph to the preacher.

The man harrumphed at the wrinkled and bent pages. How could they even think those few pages to be a Bible? The stubborn woman remained firm, and fortified her claim saying, “But I had no idea we were so nearly out!”

The two stories from men behind the rank of President of the United States captured my mind with several phrases and words this week – cling, commander in chief, and the woman who didn’t know she was “nearly out” of the Bible.

I recently read about a northern church in the United States, a congregation of people from Ghana, who relish this new found freedom of worship. This church hopes to bring about a revival of Christianity in their community and across this land. Our forebears saw the wisdom of freedom in worship and speech. They recognized and fought so that we could be assured natural human rights, and Jesus declared that real freedom begins in him, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). The creator of our bodies, minds, and souls will always be our best govern for private and public behavior.

In everyday circumstances and when we are in trouble, our Father, remains bigger than our lives. He “clings” to us! When we cross rising creeks, God shores up rickety bridges and sees us safely to sound shores here or beyond. He remains our Commander in Chief throughout life, and, praise God, he isn’t subject to elections and four-year-terms.

Want to find out more about this best-of-all Commander in Chief? Rummage around in God’s Word and discover comfort in his forever presence. And a Bible at hand – that means you will not be caught “so nearly out.”

Friday, November 05, 2010

Acting in a Name

The first man Adam had a tough job description when God asked him to name the animals. Some of us had trouble naming two kids, much less a herd of mammals, a flock of birds, and all the little fishes in the deep blue sea.

Have you ever wondered why your parents named you what they did? One time I asked and my mother said that she and Dad liked the name “Catherine.” My mother commented before I was born, “We could name her Catherine and call her Cathy.”

My dad answered, “Just name her Cathy.” So, I received that name at birth and later found that it means “pure one.” Where did your name come from? Does a bit of family history accompany it? We named our son after his great grandfather and his middle name is carried by at least three ancestors. Our daughter also received a variation of a family name.

Through the ages, babies received names connected to events which happened around the time of their birth or conception. More than a few infants were named after hurricanes, presidents, or pop stars. Sometime around the fourteenth century, people began to populate the earth to the extent that additional last names were needed. In medieval England, three out of five men had the name, William, Henry, Robert, John, or Richard. That’s about the time surnames became helpful.

Most people received their family names in one of four ways. A last name could come about by adding the word “son” to their father’s name (called patronymics), such as Peterson, Adamson, or Hanson. Second, people were identified by the landscape where they lived such as Hill, Woods, Glen, or Wells. Third, an occupation could help identify people such as Cartwright, Shoemaker, Baker, Boatwright, or Carpenter. Finally, last names derived from a distinguishing characteristic, personality, nickname, or nationality, Lightfoot, White, Brown, Christian, Whistler, Smiley, French or Norway.

To me, a few parents showed a flight of imagination or fleeing of their senses when they named their daughters: Crystal Chanda Leir, Hedda Lettuce, and Paige Turner. Perhaps parents wanted to toughen up their sons by naming them Rufus Leaking, Pete Moss, Terry Dactyl, and Stu Pid.

Statisticians say that children with weird names often learn to cope better than others. I don’t know if that’s true, but I remember Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue,” suggested that a girl name would build brawny character. But I think the more reliable people in a family should choose a baby’s name rather than anchor a child with a name like “Tulula Does The Hula From Hawaii.” True story. The girl was made a ward of the court, so they could find a proper name for her.

Every day, we act in our own name and sometimes in the name of others. I have a POA (power of attorney) on file with the IRS, so that I can inquire and pay taxes in my husband’s name. Bible hero David sent servants on a mission to Nabal asking for food in payment for their security services during sheep sheering, and the messengers announced their arrival in “David’s name.” (1 Sam. 25:9).

As the bride of Christ, the church received Christ’s name, and each disciple of Jesus is linked through his name and receives authority to act in his name. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

At the moment of this writing, Earth’s population calculates at 6,856,688, 805 (according to Even though we are most often identified by our name, may you distinguish and be distinguished by the name of Jesus. With his help, may we do our best to live up to his name, at which one day “every knee shall bow” (Philippians 2:10).

Eugene Field wrote a ditty about names, “Father calls me William / Sister calls me Will / Mother calls me Willie / But the fellers call me Bill.” People may tag us with many names and nicknames, but when our fellow companions think of us, may they at that moment, note and know that we are intricately connected and interwoven in The Christ.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I spotted a typo while working on a chapter in a WIP, a work in progress, that’s what writers call a project that goes from rough draft to finished product. I had typed a portion of Psalm 132 where the writer tells about a prayer experience saying, “I lift up my voice to the Lord.” However when I revisited the chapter to edit and look for typos, I saw that I had written, “I lift up my vice to the Lord.”

The word “vice,” meaning an immoral habit, could actually fit in that sentence of the psalm. Our vices often wrong others and God remains the best place to take them.

The context of the original verse indicates that when our human will power grows weak, we become desperate to find strength in someone stronger than ourselves to get us on track again. When my vices send me down a dangerous path and God calls my attention to them, they are an ugly presentation to God, but he alone can turn the mangiest of sins into a healing process.

The process of lifting vices to the Lord is known as confession. Confession is one of the spiritual disciplines which can easily be overlooked. Why, because humans tend to justify naughty behavior. I find confession difficult. I find making excuses for behavior the easier road to travel because admitting sins involves humility.

Blatant sins are difficult to ignore in people we love and in our communities—murder, adultery, or theft. However, it’s the subtle sins in our everyday lives that we may tend to overlook. We may excuse ourselves for responding with out-of-control anger or claim a right to be snooty to another because they mistreated us. Alexander Pope says, “An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie; for an excuse is a lie guarded.”

In “Overcoming Subtle Sins: the Key to Dynamic Discipleship,” Jim Dyet and Jim Russell say, “Like spots on the inside of car windows, subtle sins smudge the soul.” The Amy Foundation, in one of their writing lessons, lists about 50 subtle sins such as jealousy, lack of affection, laziness, anxiety, critical nature, self-righteousness, rudeness, gluttony, or immoral fantasies, to name a few. When a family member or friend has the courage and kindness to point out a subtle sin in your life, how do you respond? Do you see them as a messenger from God or do you hear their advice and view them as attacking you personally? (A rebuke can arrive in both ways).

Here’s an example of a bad habit and how a remark I made about it was taken in a God-honoring spirit. A friend and I were talking one day, when my friend said, “Don’t you just hate this hot weather?” One of my personal goals has been to eliminate the word “hate” from my vocabulary on the occasions when I’ve casually applied that word to a blessing.

Here’s a sample, “I just hate it when I get a pull in my stocking and I’m running late anyway.” Clothing, a car, a place to go -- all blessings. Why fuss because something went wrong with one of those luxuries. I could be barefoot in a third world country and placing my furniture on tables because the river threatens to flood and run through my home again.

Knowing my friend well, I mentioned my efforts to eliminate the word “hate” from my vocabulary when referring to blessings. With credit to Martha H’s malleable heart, she heard me out and agreed that she too often uses the word “hate” in connection with blessings. And she even thanked me for my “mini-sermon.” Who wouldn’t love a tenderhearted friend like her?

That’s just one example of “little” vices, subtle sins, which creep into our everyday lives. God’s forgiveness and grace covers a multitude of sins. And a multitude minus a few seems to be the norm for me.

From my typo, I was reminded to lift both my voice and vices to the Lord. And to also confess to friends, who can help me with accountability. “Hey, I’m working on not gossiping, can you help me watch our phone conversations to avoid that?”

“Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you” (Psalm 41:4), is an entreaty to God. “Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16) is the act of releasing a burden, committing to better behavior and of allowing fellow believers to help you toward a better way of living.

We are WIPs, works in progress, really rough drafts of what God can make of us. This week, lift your voice and vice to the Lord, who remains the Captain of mercy and help.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mark Twain, Esther, and Fiona

An autobiography of Mark Twain releases on November 15. Have you heard about it? The first of three volumes will stock store shelves on that day. Unfortunately, there will be no book signing. Samuel Clemens writing under the pseudonym of Mark Twain penned his autobiography before his death. However, in his will he said that it could not be released until 100 years after death date.

Mr. Twain self published some early chapters from his proclaimed autobiography in the years 1906-1907. Since his death some editors have assembled those chapters or portions presenting them as part of Twain’s story, but the first edition of the entire manuscript releases this November, published by the University of California Press. Rather than following a true autobiography format, the three volumes contain more anecdotes, ruminations, and personal family stories.

Whether the first volume contains his preface, “From the Grave” is yet to be seen. He is said to have requested that the autobiography not be published for 100 years because it gave him the freedom to speak his “whole frank mind.” In his last few years, what must it have been like for Samuel Clemens to think that his witticisms, stories, and life might still impact people in another century?

I’m not sure that a hundred year old document would be my choosing. Too many last minute thoughts or happenings on this earth might affect my views. But in a few weeks, the acclaimed Mark Twain will speak not from the grave, but from a delayed release of thoughts while he was alive.

Today’s column is the last installment concerning Queen Esther. I’m impressed by the stories that God wanted to keep intact to impact generations not only 100 years later but thousands of years later. In 2006, Esther’s story made its way from the Bible pages to film. “One Night with the King,” the story of Hadassah (Esther’s Jewish name), released in 2006 starring Tiffany Dupont, Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.

While the screenplay is romanticized, the history and setting are close to the biblical account. When I watched the movie, the Citadel of Susa intrigued, with its 60 foot walls and huge mote. Esther’s character and devotion to God are well depicted. If you rent it, be aware that there are a few artistic intrusions on the biblical account, especially the appearance of the Star of David in a piece of jewelry (Historians tell us that the Star of David came into use in the Middle Ages).

But, I highly recommend the movie. This is what I suggest: read the book of Esther then watch the movie. You will be entertained but also taken back to the drama that unfolded in the Persian Empire.

A later impact of Esther’s story is seen in the Feast of Purim, celebrated near the end of February or first of March by Jews worldwide when they gather to remember the defeat of a plot to exterminate Jews. Some celebrations abroad rival Mardi Gras, while others focus more on the public reading of the entire book of Esther. They celebrate with noisemakers and “blot out the name” of the evil Haman when his name is read.

Jewish folklore says that Esther had become so ill and scared from being removed from her home that she had turned a ghastly, ugly green color and God worked a miracle and King Xerxes thought her beautiful anyway. When I discovered that legend, all that came to mind was Shrek and Princess Fiona.

The story of Esther and her God-instilled courage begs to be shared with children. Her story reflects the psalmist’s words, “When I called you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted” (Psalm 138:3). Parents, share Esther’s story and bake the triangular fruit filled cookies called “hamentaschen,” literally Haman’s pockets representing a three cornered hat (recipe found online). Read a short portion of the book of Esther that repeats the name Mordecai and Haman, and allow children cheering and booing for good Mordecai and evil Haman respectively. Chapter five, verses 9-14 work well and explains God’s principle of reaping what we sow.

Aside from Mark Twain’s soon to be released last words and the story of Esther, which still reaches millions each year, what sort of shelf life and legacy do each of us have? Will your story impact in 50, 75, or 100 years? My prayer is God’s story will reverberate in future generations to a greater degree because we remain faithful in the here and now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rain or Drought

As I began this article the Chilean miners are above ground, they have left their temporary rock-encased home. Prayers went up around the world for their successful rescue, and by the time, I pushed the button sending this to The Courier all of the six rescuers also returned to the epidermis of our planet. Selfless acts of kindness were among the reasons rescue came to so few?

Through television, radio, and live streaming on computers, the world was informed as to the progress of the miners’ rescues. Because decent people respect life and work together, rescues such as the one in Chile can happen. They also happened because God gifted men with many talents to keep up with our expanding horizons. Finally, their rescues were in God’s will, and many turned to him and simply prayed in faith for the men’s safety.

Here’s what’s on my mind this week: brave Esther the Bible heroine, the Chilean miners and their rescuers, and the creosote plant. Read on and you’ll see why.

After hearing one intriguing fact about the creosote plant, I further researched this desert dweller. It takes extraordinary moisture to bring a plant to maturity. The problem? Most plants grow in drier desert regions. Plants from seeds may spring up, but they die before maturing due to lack of water.

If a plant reaches maturity, it becomes selfish about water consumption. Even its own seeds dropped near it will not sprout because the parent plant uses all water for self. However, if a plant becomes established, its root crown will send off new shoots between the ages of 30-90 years. Named the King Clone, a circled colony of creosote plants survive in the Mojave Desert. This clonal colony is listed among the oldest living organisms, believed to be 11, 700 years old. Ironically, the picture I saw of a creosote plant was taken in Death Valley, California.

Watering or drought happens to our children too. When children are taught respect, God-origination of human life, and nourished toward selfless behavior, they can readily give of themselves to promote life. When they lack the belief that mankind was created in the image of God, they can become selfish. To the extreme, they often harm, rob, and kill from their narcissisms. “Numero uno” is on each such mind.

Young Esther, chosen to compete for the position of queen of Persia eventually inherited the royal crown. Haman, one of the king’s advisers, plotted the demise of the Jewish exiles in Persia. Advised to keep her Jewish heritage secret, when King Xerxes’ top aid, Haman, devised a wicked plot to destroy all Jews, Mordecai asked Esther to intercede for her Jewish compatriots. Even her regal title couldn’t change her heritage.

The king had not summoned her into his presence for a month, and the youthful Queen Esther knew that if she entered his court without permission that she faced possible death. Selfless, she called a three day fast and prayers by all Jews in the citadel of Susa. Mordecai further challenged the young Esther by saying that her political position could have come about “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). The well trained Esther, for the good of all, accepted her mission and said, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16).

After three days, Esther went into the king’s throne room, and he extended his scepter to her. She requested dinner two nights in a row with King Xerxes and the evil advisor Haman. After the second dinner, she revealed Haman’s plan. The evil he had planned for others eventually fell upon his own head.

A few weeks ago, I met and spoke to a group of Christian teenagers at College Park High School in The Woodlands. It’s obvious that they have been watered from above and by adults around them such as their sponsor Mrs. Danielle Rapp. Youth like them are my Camp Hope.

The world watched and participated in selfless behavior this week while the efforts of over 1,000 engineers, completed the rescue of the Chilean miners. We witnessed via media the hugs, pats, tears, and prayers of those who hoped for a good outcome. The hungry world longed for the happy ending that God granted.

Guardians of children, the best and good outcome of the next generation depends upon you and your partnership of God. Hand in hand with him you have a deep well of reserves to nourish faith filled children.

(photo of King Clone credit to Wikipedia)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Wanted: Child for Leading Role

If you heard her story for the first time, it would bend your heart toward her favor. At a young age, she lost both parents and was cared for by her male cousin, Mordecai, who loved her as his own daughter. But even that situation wasn’t ideal, because the cousin -- like his fellow countrymen -- was being held captive. They longed to return to their homeland, but the exiles didn’t know when or if that would ever happen.

That introduces the story of Esther in the Bible, the young girl, who through God’s providence became the Queen of Persia. Her story of developing faith can encourage men and women who pour their hearts into rearing their children. Her story can guide us to accept our own paths with joy, to remain teachable no matter the outward troubles.

If God had advertised for a child star, he couldn’t have found a better one. Esther had stellar qualities for one so young. Her cousin had a hand in training her to behold God with awe instead of focusing on negatives in her life. She had many excuses to grow up bitter and resentful: her parents died; Esther, Cousin Mordecai, and fellow Jews were exiled; she lived in restriction not freedom.

Holy text says that God gifted Esther with rare beauty that she was “lovely in form and feature.” And she also grew to have a selfless spirit. These types of children continually exhibit traits that could be real assets to adults. When our grandson Adam was four-years-old, this easy going and adaptable child gave back a second Christmas present from his grandparent one holiday. “Here. You can have this back. I got plenty of presents this year.”

Even in captivity, Esther’s eyes focused on her blessings instead of turning toward bitterness at have-nots. Her eyes were trained to look for the wonder in life instead of focusing on the chains of confinement. When a generous adult can live out God’s generous love, even in unwanted circumstances, children do notice. What they experience may not really grab at their hearts until they’re a bit older. But genuine gratitude is one of the easier things to teach children by example.

If Esther’s story took place in 2010, the civilized world would rage against the atrocities. Her story would shock us. Stir up our sympathy. We’d mourn the passing of her youth in captivity and a second captivity when by God’s design the palace guard rounded up many of the young Persian virgins, also taking the young Jew Esther.

After banishing his former Queen Vashti (we’re not told if she left with or without her head), King Xerxes became moody and his advisors seemed to think a beauty contest to seek a new queen would pacify the king. From heads of state on down to peasants, an attitude of entitlement describes some of the people of which we come in contact. Pride filled people cross our paths and their pompous weather rains on our parades. We met one this week. I’ll spare you the details.

Even though held against her will in a foreign land, the child Esther lived in her less-than-perfect circumstances adapting to God’s nature. Many of our daily grumbles are about luxuries not really bad circumstances. Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governor (and ordained minister), said that the complaint that he hears most often from congregants is about the temperature in the church sanctuary. One congregation finally put up a fake thermostat so each cold or hot Christian could come along and move the thermostat up or down to suit their personal needs.

Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That means that people – 9 to 90 – are more content when they remain teachable. When Jesus began his ministry he welcomed small ones around him and called his adult disciples to become like malleable children.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll let the captive child Esther lead us. Her gracious accepting attitude will teach us trust, faithfulness, and reliance on a guiding light – for she learned an overall secret of focusing not on the gloom but upon the Light.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Satellites, Ticks, and Scripture from Thin Air

Technology outran my imagination a long time ago, and yet the USA put a man on the moon forty years ago. Does that timeframe swamp your brain with disbelief? It does mine.

I recently read an article by Dauna Coulter about how ticks are now tracked by satellite. Since ticks like “moist, heavily vegetated” areas, college students learned to use infrared images from the Terra satellite to find those areas most likely to have a heavy infestation of ticks.

The students followed up with a ground search by dragging white sheets through the detected dense foliage. They then counted and identified ticks. They found plenty. Because ticks can cause very serious Lyme Disease, this tracking information helps global health organizations, Boy and Girl Scouts campers, and other outdoorsmen.

Another mind boggling thing I’m seeing on magazines and such are codes that look similar to bar codes, but they aren’t price markers. On a recent visit to a church, I saw a barcode on the back of their Sunday a.m. worship guide. The instructions said to take a picture of the code with a smart phone (which requires a specific application for code reading). This particular code would lead the user to the scriptures used in the morning sermon.

On the back page of the current issue of “Christianity Today” an advertisement for Carol Kent’s new book, “Between a Rock and a Grace Place,” uses the same type code which leads to a download of her video about “Grace Place.”

Some churches now have electronic giving options for congregants, who can have funds withdrawn on a regular basis. This helps the church meet its budget during summer vacations and the flu season when their members are more likely to miss several Sundays in a row.

All of this technology reminiscing brings me to tell you about a tiny Bible our friend Eddie brought to us a few weeks ago. The Bible was attached to a key chain. It’s not a fake Bible; it’s the real thing in miniature. It’s less than an inch thick and a little over an inch tall. And while my aging eyes cannot read a word of the minuscule print, my trusty magnifying glass verifies its content. What technology did it take to complete placing 66 books in that compact form? A whole Bible much smaller than a teabag!

These thoughts bring me to the different modes of reading or hearing the Bible these days. I received a gift of the New Testament for my iPod and the program allows me to listen for 20 minutes each day and hear the entire New Testament in 40 days. The younger crowd “reads” the Bible through different means. Many do have versions of the Bible on their phones (Youversion), but at home they still have a favorite Bible where they actually turn paper pages. They, however, do like always having an electronic version with them all the time, even if it is in their iphone. Now that’s encouraging!

Over the years, I’ve listened to the Bible from cassette tapes, CDs, and watched DVDs, but now I have the whole Bible on a keychain and the New Testament on my iPod, both of those weighing less than a snack size candy bar. I don’t think God’s happy that his word is so at hand these days.

As I thought back over Bible stories, I saw how those could illuminate this topic. I asked myself, is it the method of receiving direction from God that’s important or the message?

Bible characters were guided and heard the word of God through many venues: God spoke to a wicked world through Noah and the ship he built on dry land. He enlisted a fire in a green bush to get Moses’ attention. God stopped the prophet Balamm when his donkey spoke to him. A huge fish supplied needed solitary confinement for Jonah. God’s voice in the night called little boy Samuel and he answered, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Earth’s splendor shouted intelligent design to the psalmist David.

Whether you hold a Bible in your hands or receive it through seemingly thin air, your life can still take in ancient words from God, still relevant, still able to guide you today. Now, that’s amazing!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

God's Shopping List

The dark, cobwebbed barn looked like a great place to find treasures. With permission from my husband’s grandmother I poked around in abandoned calf pens, behind crates, and opened a squeaky door to an old feed room.

Cautious in the darkened passageways, I watched for unfriendly spiders, and I heard scurrying things and wished for a flashlight to shine into the shadowed corners.

But curiosity had the best of me, and as my eyes adjusted to the barn’s dusky interior, I spotted a butter churn with dasher sitting near a slatted wall. When homogenized milk and butter wrapped in paper became the easier way to bring dairy products home, those conveniences had put the old churn out of work. I brought it out into the light of day. All it needed was a cleaning and it would shine.

Excited, I explored other dark corners and found a few chipped enamel basins, a galvanized wash tub, and a paint splattered wash bench and added them to the churn sitting outdoors. Back into the treasure den I went. Eyes once again adjusted, I spied a child’s trunk and two paint encrusted chairs. I hauled them out and stacked them next to my stash. They only needed to be brought out into the light, cleaned up, and made useful again.

I’d rummaged in every nook when a shaft of sunshine highlighted something leaning against a wall, covered with an old burlap bag. When I lifted the cloth, thousands of dust motes took wing. I found a beautifully framed large mirror, the last treasure I found in the barn that day and the only one still in use in my home.

The pottery churn sits on my back porch reminding me of my easier life. The trunk vacations in my daughter’s home. The two chairs, masquerading under multi-layers and multi-colors, were later dipped in a vat of stripping solvent. Two lovely oak chairs emerged. Their golden sheen restored, they now sit in our family room near our barley twist breakfast table awaiting coffee for two – useful once again. The wash tub filled with Miracle-Gro potting soil holds three patio tomato plants in a small garden area just off our kitchen.

But the mirror is the most used item from my barn snooping. The age-flecked mirror was discarded, the frame sanded and refurbished, and a new mirror installed. Because of its age, Victorian women with frilled collars up to their chins must have preened in front of it. Where it hangs in my home, I’ve seen grandmothers and granddaughters glance at themselves as they pass by.

Mirrors may be ones’ best friend and worst enemy. They don’t lie. So, if we walk by one smugly saying to ourselves, “Lookin’ good!” then we probably spiffed up quite nicely -- at least on that day. How many mirrors do most people own? Count yours. I just took a walk through my house and garage (auto too) and counted mirrors. Are you ready? I have an even dozen. Something about that number sets off an alarm.

Men and women often pretty up the outside. We groom our hair, select complementary clothes, and do our best to stay healthy. But today, I’m particularly thinking about what’s on the inside. Apostle Paul said “we have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). That’s how he described the light of Jesus in human bodies.

In the ancient world, gold or other precious metals were melted and poured in a simple clay pot and then the vessel could be broken and the expensive metal retrieved when needed. Or a clay jar could hold oil and fire and offer light.

Any of us, whether beautiful or high mileage, looks a whole lot better when Jesus shines through us. Sometimes God presented his message through the humble and poor -- a young virgin, a carpenter, or a fisherman. But he also chose people of influence such as Paul and Nicodemus because they were willing to repent of selfish desires and inherit a healing light – for themselves and to shine out to others.

God has a treasure and he’s looking for a place to put it. What’s on his shopping list? He’s looking for jars of clay that he can remake into lamps.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gray Dead Ends

This past week, I went on a road trip with my husband, David, and then I reflected on the sights that impressed me. We first saw an older church building painted white but it had a new roof. And – TA DA – the roof was bright red tin. I don’t know who got to pick the color but it was impressive and symbolic.

Soon after that sighting, we waited to meet a Monday-morning work crew at the crossroads of “nowhere” and “nothing” high in the Texas Panhandle. The crew turned out to be one man, three hours late to the job. We spent the pleasant breezy morning sitting outside our truck watching lyrics come to life “where the deer and the antelope play.”

After unloading our truck, we left for Roswell, New Mexico and crossed several mountainous plateaus where we saw giant windmills generating power to the valleys below. When we reached prairie lands again, an abandoned stone church, stone dormitory, and stone well drew our attention.

Down the road a few miles, we drove by a 20 square foot neglected cemetery. What used to be a picket fence had weathered gray, any original paint wind blasted from the uprights. Totally filling the tiny area, grayish headstones hosted moss encrusted epitaphs. A NO VACANCY sign would have fit.

When any of us travel new roads, unfamiliar sights draw our interest. For those of us who have read the Bible and heard sermons for years, sometimes a familiar scripture may lose its punch. But it only seems that way. With a bit more exploration and a fresh motive, familiar scriptures can change colors – from dull gray, they can become vibrant again.

For a few days, I considered these words, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Originally these words were spoken by God and delivered in a letter to exiles living in Babylon, people carried away to a foreign country against their will.

But God’s instruction to the exiles is often overlooked: Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat the produce. Find wives and husbands for your sons and daughters. Increase in number. Do not decrease. God also said for them to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it because when it prospers you prosper” (29:7).

A message does resound to us from God’s letter to those exiles. When we’re banished to a place in life and it looks like we’ll be there awhile, we’re still to put our days to good use. Whining about wanting to be in better place does not change our literal or figurative addresses. Longing for the good old days or longing for better days ahead only makes us miserable in today.

I love that God encouraged those long ago exiles to pray for the actual place they resided even though captivity wasn’t their first choice of residence. If we can learn to pray where we land, then life becomes much more bearable. Of late, I’ve corresponded with a prison inmate introduced to me through my brother who works with Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA, taught in some of the Texas Prison System).

“Brandon” said in a recent letter that he spends his days “addressing breaking the cycle, changing my life through the power of the Holy Spirit yielding daily to him. ‘Not my will but thy will be done.’”

Inmate “Brandon” gets it. He’s confessed that his actions have landed him where he is, but he wants to spend his days productively. His church is prison, but he’s covered by the red blood of the Lamb. Not even iron bars can withstand the wind beneath his wings -- the Holy Spirit.

At some time, life will generally land us somewhere unfavorable. But God reminded those long ago captives that no place has to be a dead end neglected cemetery. Wherever you are, honor God. Pray on the spot for the spot you’re in, and then leave the prospering up to God.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tomorrow, Tomorrow

Most people take care of day-to-day chores through household members. “Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday.” While many of us procrastinate about household chores, business, and relationships, I can find no reference to God as a procrastinator, one who shuns the work at hand. The psalmist says, “As for God, his way is perfect” (18:10).

One habit that hinders personal progress is procrastination, defined as putting off a task until tomorrow, usually something that is dreaded. But living life on the last minute hand of the clock contributes to frazzled moments. It seems like about once a year, I find the need to write about procrastination, reminding myself of its pitfalls.

What if God grew too lazy to send rain? Has God ever been too distracted by earth’s occupants and forgot to power the sunrise? As occupants, we’re the best and worst reality show ever. But even our shenanigans don’t divert God from his daily work. He has proved himself dependable—not a procrastinator.

People who wait until tomorrow tend to break promises to themselves and others. How many times have I said, “Tomorrow I’ll eat less, wash the car, or balance the checkbook.” But when dawn arrived, excuses marched in with the dust motes.

Life Coaches say the number one reason for avoiding a chore is that the task remains dreaded. Cleaning out the garage, mowing the yard, restoring a friendship—all are more beneficial if done timely. But delays of weeks can bring on avoidable disasters. An admitted procrastinator said, “If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done.”

Sometimes because of other essential work, we delay things that can wait. I just finished another manuscript and sent it on to my publisher, so I’ve spent the last week, going through stacks of paper and filing those away. I’m re-shelving reference books that I needed at hand. I’m now ready to pull out my Weed Eater and chew away tall grasses near sidewalks.

But I identified several chores that I habitually put off. I don’t mind hard work, but there are some tasks I like better than others. I like baking cookies better than scrubbing the showers. What chores do you tend to put off until the twelfth of never? What’s to be done about them? What can motivate us to accomplish in a timely manner what needs to be done? The wise man of scripture said, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done” (Ecclesiastes 11:4). I think that’s what I’ve been doing – waiting for a better time—when I have more energy, more time, more money.

The most helpful suggestions I’ve found is to break tasks into small manageable segments. Then spend 15 minutes (not last minutes) to work heartily on that project. Through seven days of 15 minute segments, bit by bit, stacks of paper dwindle. Unkempt corners are de-cluttered. Those snippets of time spent on put-off projects equals a job well done. When a long delayed chore is finished, give yourself a pat on the back. The completion of one task can energize you to tackle another overdue job.

Laziness underwrites procrastination. “Tomorrow is the only day that appeals to a lazy man,” said Jimmy Lyons. One of the seven deadly sins, slothfulness becomes fatal to spiritual progress too. We become distracted and worn down by so many things in the world that prayer, solitude, and Bible reading get shoved to the end of our lists. When we move them there, then they have become unessential in our minds.

Attentiveness to daily tasks and spiritual feedings acknowledges God, our constant caregiver. Industry honors the Creator and keeps one in tune with the fine ways he provides for us. The God who changes seasons on time, who regulates the tides, who keeps his creation in place through gravity can assist anyone with the problem of procrastination.

“Warning: dates on calendar are closer than you think.” Don’t hesitate. Today ask your timely Father for help.

(Click here for royalty free clip art)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Not Just a Number

Before I ever reached the IRS office, a clerk met me outside in the hall and handed me a slip of paper numbered 59, and I was told, “Go farther down the hall and wait in that room.” When I first walked into “that” room containing only chairs and people seated in them, the dry erase board note stated that number 35 was the last person waited upon. Good. This shouldn’t take too long.

Every quarter hour another clerk or the officer on duty came into the room, calling out sequential numbers, about five of them. People holding slips of paper with corresponding numbers were told to form a line. When my turn finally came, I felt like a kindergarten IRS detainee.

Our instructions were, “Line up by number.” They led us into another hall. “Now stand here until I call you to proceed to another door.” I didn’t actually go to kindergarten (didn’t have it in Arkansas), but I learned to follow elementary rules anyway. Obedient, I stood alongside the wall. I did fidget. Twist. Turn. Shuffle my feet. Slump against the wall. But I also smiled a lot at the man with the star shaped badge and pistol lashed to his belt. It seems making a payment at the IRS office these days is serious business. He was on the side of law-abiding folk—wanted him to know I was one.

When I was at the head of the line, the officer said, “Next,” so I stepped to the door he pointed toward. Once there, I assumed I’d be taking care of business and leaving. I assumed a clerk would take my timely payment, stamp my receipt “PAID,” and I’d be free for one more year.


When I stepped into the next room, I quickly learned that I was only in line to get another number. My new number: 485. Yep. I was sliding backward, not inching forward. They were serving number 511 and number 463. After no more than 30 minutes the red digital sign flashed 485 and assigned me to cubicle number 4. I trotted, (I didn’t run in the hall) toward the clerk in the number four cubbyhole. Within ten minutes, I made my payment to a friendly woman named Jewell, and she stamped my receipt and I skipped out of the IRS office.

I don’t know about you, but being reduced to a number even for two hours undermines the ego. I understand the logic of identification by number instead of by name. Numbers can vary enough to give us singular identity, while 30 other people might possess your same given name, especially if it is a more common moniker. In government tracking, I understand why all John Smiths need numbers.

But I like being a person with a real name best. And I love knowing that God knows his followers by name. In the Old Testament, when God wanted to send a message through the child Samuel, God called him in the night saying, “Samuel! Samuel!” (1 Samuel 3:10). God didn’t say “Number 2,003! Number 2003!” When God wanted to speak with the virgin who would carry and bear the Christ child, the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30).

We can rest assured that we are more than numbers to God. In fact the psalmist David asked God to favor him as “the apple of your eye.” Jesus said he is our good shepherd and he knows us by name. He said our relationship is so intimate that we know him by the sound of his voice (John 10:1-18). When our shepherd calls, he doesn’t whistle or yell “Hey, you!”

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3), and we follow him because we “know his voice” (4).

But shepherds do have an accounting system. And Jesus referred to that when he told a story about a shepherd who had a flock numbering 100. When he tallied up his precious flock, he found one missing. He left the ninety-nine and went to search “in the open country” for the one sheep. And when he found that one, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders” and goes home. Then the shepherd had a party. He called his friends and neighbors together and said, “Rejoice with me. I have found my lost sheep” (Luke 15 6).

We can be happy too, because individually we are the apple of his eye. And he’ll always leave the safe flock to go in search of you if you ever wander off. In God’s flock you have a name and a number. You are always number one!

(photo from Free

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Shrews. The small mammal variety deserves its reputation. I first learned of the word “shrew” from Shakespeare. In the film adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the tigress Katharina brought the full fury of woman to the screen.

Webster’s definition limits the disposition to females: “a woman of violent temper and speech.” In the small mammal world, both genders of the shrew are highly active and violent.

The shrew is a tiny mammal and was thought to be the smallest on earth until the recent discovery of the bumblebee bat. A large shrew weighs about three-quarters of an ounce. In the 2004 issue of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the species is described as having a “supercharged, hyperactive way of life fueled by one of the most extravagant metabolisms in nature.”

One researcher sedated a shrew and measured its heart- rate. The small heart averaged 760 beats per minute! Hibernating is not in their vocabulary, and they sleep little. Voracious appetites drives them to hunt, kill, and consume.

Humans have sighted the tiny shrews killing small rabbits and snakes, and the Blarina brevicauda has a poisonous bite that paralyzes its prey. Constantly searching for food, they will eat any kind of meat they can kill.

Shrews are also known to fight, bite, and devour each other. The shrew’s life is one of constant frenzy, and battle. If a shrew receives a dinner invitation from a neighboring shrew, surely he has to wonder if the motive is hospitality or need of a main course. One other characteristic of the shrew is their ability to fuss and make a scene.

Gerald Durell told of watching a shrew have a temper tantrum when a giant African snail didn’t succumb to the mammal’s first assault. “Screaming with frustration” the shrew attacked the second time and the snail doused the tiny mammal with a frothy substance. The shrew became “almost incoherent with rage.”

Researchers cage shrews and have reported their shrieking and constant chattering. Rage is anger on a rampage, and unleashed anger is not so cute when exhibited in our companions.

Paul said, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Shrewish behavior belongs to a lower class animal.

Compassion and forgiveness should rule the hearts of the human species.

(Photo from , where description says this particular shrew is so tiny its weight is about that of a dime.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

God's Eraser

In the 1880’s, educators predicted dire consequences from an innovative gadget. Leaded pencils were already standard classroom equipment. But the newest addition, an eraser attached to one end, had teachers clicking their tongues.

Some believed an eraser encouraged children to make mistakes. The schoolmarms and masters of the nineteenth century would surely gasp if they knew how quickly a computer keyboard delete button can scrap paragraphs and whole pages of text.

Call me modern, but I like erasers. I especially like the way God scrubs clean my past. All of us need forgiveness, and that’s probably one reason Bible hero King David’s story of sin, repentance, and forgiveness are included in the Bible. He gave in to lust and adultery which led to the murder of a trusted officer and soldier.

Here’s the timeline of his temptations and sin: At a time of war (kings usually accompanied their armies into battle), David sent his army and its commander Joab into battle, but he remained at his palace where he became restless. Sleepless, pacing the palace roof, the king saw a woman bathing on her rooftop, and he didn’t look away.

He allowed his lust to rule and summoned her to his palace, where he slept with her and she became pregnant. That’s when he schemed to get her husband Uriah, one of David’s 30 Mighty Men, to return from battle so he would be back in the arms of his wife. David hoped to deceive the husband and others through this ruse.

However, Uriah -- the more honorable soldier and man -- refused to go to his house and enjoy the comforts of home saying, “My master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife?” (2 Samuel 11:11).

That’s when David’s sin branched and turned another wicked corner. He ordered Joab to place Uriah in the fiercest battle. Within range of enemy archers, Uriah died. Later, a prophet told David a tale about man who only had one lamb and someone stole that lamb. Almost immediately David realized the parallel, saying, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

At once, the prophet replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). Erased. Gone. Forgotten. Forgiven. David marveled at God’s lavish forgiveness and responded by writing the tender words of repentance and gratitude “create in me a pure heart” and “restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:10,12).

Although forgiven, David’s sin caused extreme consequences. God wipes slates clean, but residue remains. Old felt erasers scattered chalk dust. Rubber erasers leave dregs, and sin leaves scum in the life of the perpetrator and far too often the innocent.

No one escapes sinning, but thank God that cartoon-depicted-lightening isn’t zapping our lives each time we sin. Jeremiah said, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Just as God pushes the dark of night into the folds of the horizon and allows the brightness of dawn, he is ready to brighten days with forgiveness through Jesus.

I’m not fond of the consequences of sin that sometimes remain long after the forgiveness -- but I surely do love God’s erasures.

(A special Thank You to the McKinleys of Willis, TX, who greeted me in Sam’s Club, and introduced themselves. You blessed my day.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fake Turf Away from Home

They left early on Sunday, due to arrive home in one week. My son, Russell, didn’t stay the entire six days of church camp.

On the first full day at camp, the director C. D. Davis phoned to say my strapping 11-year-old son suffered homesickness. The director also phoned on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’d read an article in a parent magazine, "Convert Your Kid into a Happy Camper." I’d followed nearly all the guidelines to assure a genuine, happy experience. His best friend went with him. Every volunteer knew Russell—bus driver, nurse, cooks. They were his Sunday school teachers, youth director, and friends' parents.

I’d resisted only one thing: sending his favorite stuffed animal. I didn’t put his beloved stuffed Snoopy into his duffel bag since boys can taunt mercilessly. But did he miss his Snoopy? Was that the reason he wanted to come home?

I didn’t realize the depth of his missing home until the camp letter arrived on Thursday. My cheerful kid had written on the envelope “Daddy and Momma,” scratched it out and then written “Mr. and Mrs. Messecar.” What did that mean? Detachment? I let out a mother-worry-sigh.

I unsealed the camp letter. Our big-for-his-age son, mannish in appearance—massive shoulders, near-five-o’clock shadow, had written “Dear Mommy.” He never called me mommy.

I’d only read three sentences when I discovered he’d written the sad little letter on his first night at camp instead of playing softball! What? At home, this kid slept in his mitt and cap. My worry galloped.

The letter continued in lament fashion with a few watery stains on the paper. “I wish I hadn’t come to camp. I want to see you. I wish I was dead.” To his credit, he later made the High School drama team.

The same day the letter arrived, the camp director Mr. Davis phoned again telling me he was always the first person awake at camp -- until this year. Each morning, when the director walked onto his porch, there sat my baby, waiting on his doorsteps, asking to go home.

Most kids love camp, swimming, crafts, devotional time, marshmallows and badminton. Not my son. Russell apparently was dining on misery instead of S’mores and mac and cheese. My husband said, “Russell must miss our home a lot if he wants to come home that bad.” His dad’s final word, “If he’s homesick, let him come home.” Russell rode home later that night with an adult counselor, who needed to return early to go to work.

Russell’s camp adventure reminds me of those who take greener-pasture-romps. Jesus told a story about a son who couldn’t wait to leave home. Once gone, he found the outfield to be fake turf. Money gone and at his lowest, the hungry prodigal ended up at pig troughs yearning to eat their slop. That’s when thoughts of home made a heart-call.

The errant son knew his father’s front porch had a light on, and the son backtracked. He remembered the home of his youth, and he longed to return. He remembered his forgiving, patient father who loved him. The boy who left home on a lark now wanted to return. He may have found his way home because of his father’s prayers. He may just have found his way back because a loving father had prayed day after day and night after night, “If he’s homesick, let him come home.”

May we find strength to pray the following ancient prayer for others and ourselves, when the world offers illusions of better housing than our faithful God, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life” (Psalm 27:4).

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Sword and Wisdom

King Solomon sits down on his throne as loyal servants hover around, but the busy hum of a royal court shatters as the frantic voices of women are overheard from the outside halls. Their voices loud—Solomon hears them plead for an audience with him.

The king chuckles to himself; he doesn’t like to get involved in women’s quarrels. After all, he’s earning a reputation as a wise king. However, his heart is drawn into the unfolding drama because of another sound. The cries of an infant are mixed in the fray.

He motions and two disheveled women rush in. In a sling in front of one woman, a tiny babe seems further irritated by the hasty entrance, but she makes no effort to comfort the child. He signals for a burly guard to console the infant until he makes a ruling. The massive soldier Hiram reaches for the baby, but a frown creases his brow as he awkwardly lifts the curled infant to his shoulder.

Solomon listens intently as the women argue their plights, each claiming to be the birth mother. They live in the same house and both delivered infant sons the previous week. However, one of the sons died in the night, and now both women swear the child—the obviously hungry baby held by Hiram—is theirs.

Solomon honestly cannot tell which woman speaks the truth, but he knows two facts: last night, one woman had a son die and one had a son stolen. He reasoned that even fools knew that added up to two inconsolable women. But who is the real mother? With a quick flick of his wrist, he signals for their bickering to stop.

Like a deep refreshing breath, a solution descends upon him. He looks toward Hiram, who cradles the infant, only whimpering by now, and Solomon wonders how the giant guard has managed to calm the babe. He calls out, “Hiram, unsheathe your sword!” Horror registers on the guard’s face, but he obeys. With his huge protective left hand, he cuddles the newborn securely against his shoulder. With his right hand, he holds the gleaming, keen-edged sword at ready. A collective gasps echoes, and then a hush falls over the room.

Solomon levels his gaze on each woman, searching for the least flicker of deceit, and then he shouts the command. “Half the child! Give half to each mother!”

Solomon’s gaze never flickers as he watches the mothers. He sees horror and indescribable pain register on one face, while the other woman slightly lifts her chin, signaling she’s won.

The pained woman cries out, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” Solomon has his answer. Only the real mother would be willing to give her son up to another to spare his life. At the king’s nod, Hiram sheathes his sword and hands over the infant to the grateful mother.

When Solomon began his reign, God told him to ask for whatever he wanted. Instead of asking for wealth, fame, or power, the new king literally asked God for a “listening ear” to make right judgments.

This past year, I’ve especially been aware of the truth of James’ observation, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

That’s a simple thing to do—just ask. How can we remember to do that more? This is what I did: I printed James’ words on an index card to circulate around my house to remind me to ask for wisdom. I’m a big fan of these small cards with scriptures printed on them to remind me of privileges (like asking for wisdom), of blessings (like receiving unmerited wisdom), and using God’s gifts (like the “listening ear”).

Our answers to achieving better relationships, solutions to life dilemmas, and making better choices can be summed up in this phrase—godly wisdom. James says to place your order with generous God. Need some? Then ask, seek, and knock and those efforts will open up a world of wisdom.