Friday, December 30, 2011

Borrow the Language of God

Borrow the Language of God

“What language shall I borrow to thank you, dearest Friend, for this, your dying sorrow, your mercy without end? Lord, make me yours forever, a loyal servant true, and let me never, never outlive my love for you.” These lines come from a Medieval Latin poem, and the writer had found that language alone failed to show his love for Jesus and his grace. Today, as back then, many find difficulty in expressing their love in language alone. Lip service remains empty of love unless accompanied by caring actions.

            This year, my home congregation’s scripture theme calls us to think on excellent things, which in turn leads us to virtuous living, a language those around us understand. As we think about New Year resolutions, new church goals, and caring for those within our circle of acquaintances, let’s consider the visionary resolutions God has already outlined for his people. At the end of this article, read how one Puerto Rican woman exercised the language of love and obedience to comfort one of God’s babes in his kingdom.

            A vast difference lies in doing more for Jesus and being more like Jesus. God calls us to resolve to be his love where we live: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

            Right before the resurrected Jesus returned to the Father, he also charged and challenged the faithful: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19-20).

            Resolutions made for a lifetime and sanctioned by God are much better than weak human resolutions carried out through sheer will power for two weeks or a month. Why not try the lifetime, God-approved ones. If every reader resolved to love his neighbor, in language and actions, this year would bring the comfort and care many need.

            A true story from Charisma magazine (1996) illustrates the power of such love: A Puerto Rican woman became a Christian in the United States, and even though she didn’t speak English, she longed to express her new faith and love for the Lord. The church minister asked her to ride on one of their buses each week. Soon she only wanted to ride one bus because she’d found a tiny, neglected boy who tugged at her heart. Each week, she held him on her lap and said the only English words she knew, “Jesus loves you. I love you.”

            For weeks, the boy never spoke a word to her. Yet, Sunday after Sunday, she gathered him in her arms, held him, and in beautiful broken English said, “Jesus loves you. I love you.” One Sunday, he finally stammered back, “I . . . I love you, too.” That same Sunday evening, authorities found his body beneath a staircase at a rundown apartment building. His abusive mother had finally beaten him to death. Some of the last blessing-words he heard that day were from an obedient woman who simply gathered the child in her warm arms and assured him of God’s love and her love.

            Sometimes words fail us. We simply aren’t capable through language alone to reach others. However, when the language of love combines with the language of active kindness, God can multiply that kind of offering to feed one or a multitude.

            In 2012, borrow the language of God. Ask him to write it on your heart, and then watch for opportunities to serve. Your service may be something as innocent as taking a scarred child into your lap and whispering, “Jesus loves you. I love you.”

            Index card verse for week 52: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me” (Revelations 3:20). You may contact Cathy at   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fed with Human Kindness

A true story to warm your heart this Christmas -- I met Robert Reid, at Summit, the annual September Bible Lectureship at Abilene Christian University. In his story, I saw a faithful, determined, and humble man, reflecting the image of Jesus Christ. 

            Robert, wheelchair bound, faced challenges all his life and wrote about them in his memoir: “Bursting with Life: Cerebral Palsy.” In 1942 in a small West Texas town, he was born two months prematurely after 27 hours of labor. Not many expected him to live, but God had other plans, as Robert wrote in the opening of his book, “I am the central character of this true story, God is the author.”

            Even when released from the hospital, he couldn’t nurse, so his mother fed him with an eyedropper. By the age of two, Robert still wasn’t crawling and kept his fists clenched. Eventually, doctors gave a correct diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

            Robert explains about degrees of cerebral palsy, saying he is in the middle range: “I am able to talk (although not plainly) and use my feet, but I’m in a wheelchair and can’t use my hands.” His childhood filled with doctors’ differing advice and therapies, both good and bad. His mother and father never gave in to those who wanted Robert institutionalized. Until the age of 12, his parents carried him in their arms everywhere they went, so he could experience all they did.

            That year, he grew so fast that a wheelchair became necessary. Because of the damage to his body and his spastic movements, many wrongly assumed that Robert also had brain damage. Reading his story, I realized once more how many wrong judgments people make. One occasion at a popular barbeque restaurant in Lubbock shows this: his parents got his food first and sat him at a long bar with a row of stools. A couple came in to eat, and the woman asked him to move down one spot so they could sit down. He told her he couldn’t move, thinking his handicap obvious, but she responded by calling him a “spoiled brat.” Robert remembers that he would have loved to be able to move and run around the restaurant like a spoiled brat. Despite similar incidents, Robert knew the blessing of his parents taking him to public places and for never hiding him at home.

          Told by many professionals that he’d never get proper schooling, Robert pushed to get into public high school and enroll in college. In college, living away from his parents proved challenging since he couldn’t write, dress, or feed himself. Always dependent upon the kindness of others, fellow college students used carbon paper to make copies of their class notes for Robert.

            Two driving forces kept Robert going: he knew an education would benefit his future, and he knew without a doubt that God had a plan and a purpose in all “my struggles” Robert recognized a calling to Portugal as a missionary. He mastered Portuguese, and with the invention of Velcro, replacing buttons and zippers on his clothing, he could dress himself but it still took a long time to dress.

            While in Portugal, Robert continued studying the Portuguese language in classes and through private tutoring. Another dedicated young man, Clay, was his roommate, and fed Robert his meals. Later, his roommate, Clay, returned to the United States, but Robert wanted to remain in Portugal. His first time to live alone gave him great freedom even though he had to crawl to the bathroom. Each morning, a kind man helped him down the flights of stairs to the street.   

            One of the things Robert most enjoyed about the culture in Portugal was their relaxed way of living and their compassion for his disability. In restaurants after ordering food, a waiter would see his struggle to pick up a fork and would offer to feed him. Because many servers knew him, he summoned the courage to ask if they could feed him. They treated his requests with the “greatest respect and dignity.” They only asked that he arrive before or after the lunch rush. “I don’t think I could have managed without such compassion,” Robert said. Eventually, he married Rosa, and they have an adult married daughter.  

            From the nurturing family who fed Robert with an eyedropper to the waiters who fed him in restaurants, I found an echo of the story of Jesus Christ – the bread of life. When we are fed by Jesus, his compassion becomes ours, enabling us to love and care for others. Robert’s story reminds us that we all have disabilities – overcome best when the spirit of Christmas rules our hearts all year long. Merry Christmas, dear readers.

            Index card verse for week 51: “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21).  


Friday, December 16, 2011

A Better Recipe for Hope

A few weeks ago, I wanted to bake a cake my mother used to make, but I didn’t know the name of the cake. I only knew it contained pecans, coconut, and crushed pineapple, and Mother always baked it in a Bundt pan. Since mother passed, I asked my dad if I could look through her recipes. He happily handed over her cookbooks and handwritten recipes. My sister, Sherry, and I hurriedly copied and assembled our families’ favorites into a recipe booklet for the holidays. Even though I recalled some of the ingredients in the cake, I had to reach back to the original recipe to find measurements, correct ingredients, and directions.

               When I reread Isaiah 9, it refreshed my memory of all the good things that would accompany the birth of the Messiah. Listed in verses one through seven, are delectable, detailed blessings under the chapter heading, “To Us a Child is Born.”

               God foretold through Isaiah that he would someday honor Zebulun and Naphtali, “Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan” (v 1). They would become privileged to live during the time when Jesus walked the earth, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (v 2). That beam of light continues to shine through the ages.

               Isaiah also foretold the reaction of joy in those who would participate in and see the miraculous works of God done through his servant-son, Jesus, “They rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest” (v 3).  We know that an abundance of rejoicing did take place – from the birth of Christ to his resurrection from the dead, and between those lavish happenings, joy occurred because many were cured of illnesses, evil spirits, and dull faith.

               Isaiah also revealed that in the day of Christ a new rule would be set up, a kingdom not of this world, governed by a loving Godhead, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. This government could happen right alongside any man-concocted form of rule, and those who would choose to be under the personal governing of Jesus would have as their constant help, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v 6).  Those are only a sprinkling of the identifying characteristics of Jesus. The Bible text attributes over 200 names and titles to him: Lord of Hosts, God with Us, Morning Star, the Way, Light, Rock, King, Wisdom of God, Bread of Life, Alpha and Omega (Beginning and End), and more. Want reminders of more: Bridegroom, Word of Life, Servant of Rulers, Root of David, Rock of Offense, Only Begotten, Redeemer, High Priest, Judge, Lion of Judah, and Good Master. See Nave’s Topical Bible for a full listing.

               The part that most thrilled my heart in Isaiah 9 was this, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end . . . . establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (v 7). Revealed within that verse are so many full and time-honored promises of an ever-increasing reign of Jesus in hearts. This reign would happen from the time of Christ until now and on to an appointed time when this old world shudders and shuts down.

               That means, even with the dreary newscasts of doom and financial gloom, that something good will continue in 2012. Jesus’ government and peace will increase in the hearts of humankind, founded on justice and righteousness, and going on forever.

               If you long for a better recipe for 2012, reflect on and believe in the ingredients of Isaiah 9:1-7. Filled with promise, they offer hope because “To Us a Child is Born.”

               Index card verse for week 50: “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).


Friday, December 09, 2011

Hold the Door Open for Hope

A few years ago at Thanksgiving, we hosted the family meal at our home. All our guests chipped in by bringing tantalizing dishes of food. We had the usual turkey, southern cornbread stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes. In addition, we had all those other good things that most adults enjoy, fresh cranberry relish, a garden salad full of crisp veggies, candied yams, the traditional green bean casserole, and other favorites such as deviled eggs, sweet yellow corn, and yeast rolls. All of that and we haven’t even strolled by the dessert table laden with pies in flavors of pecan, lemon meringue, pumpkin, cherry, and chocolate.

            About thirty minutes after the meal, when we adults cleaned the kitchen, sipping on our final cup of coffee to top off our very full stomachs, my grandson, 6-year-old Adam, came into the kitchen. His appetite more matched to McDonald’s menu than Grandma’s Thanksgiving feast, he opened the refrigerator door, and took his time looking over the bounty of leftovers.

            He stood there long enough for the cold air to seep across the pine floor to where I stood. He looked but saw nothing to satisfy his appetite. He finally shut the door, and said in a voice full of resignation, “Grandma, do you have anything to eat in here?” Adam had bypassed a feast that day and thought that my home held nothing tasty within it.

I’ve told you that story before, but I wanted to mention it again because many who have suffered this year may relate to Adam’s statement. A death in your family, job loss, a devastating personal relationship – if you’ve suffered greatly, you may feel that life doesn’t hold as many good things. Perhaps you, like Adam, hold the door open and long for something better, but you most often see only leftovers. 

A Bible proverb states: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (13:12), or I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrasing of that proverb: “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.”

Some refer to life as having mountain moments and valleys, but life is really more like a railroad track. Right alongside, parallel of sad things are such good things as your next breath, friendships, a pasteled sunset, a family dinner, or the giggle of a child. We’ve all experienced twofold moments of sunshine and rain.

A mother of six, a pig farmer’s wife, she learned that written thanksgivings brought happiness and restored hope into her chaotic life. Ann says the discipline of writing down her gifts opened her eyes to things unseen before. She worked on her list “one-by-one, up to a thousand gifts. Not of gifts I want,” she said, “But of gifts I have.” Healing begins, when we practice thanksgiving. Start your list. Perhaps you, too, will be surprised by how quickly it can grow to hundreds of written blessings.

Second, Remembrance Services or Blue Christmas Services allow people to gather with others who are suffering. This past Tuesday, Sam Houston Memorial Funeral Home hosted their annual Remembrance Service and “Doc” Hiram Jones, Father Ed Kucera, Jr., and I spoke. Doc and Father Ed shared some very helpful ways for coping with loss during the holidays. Several area churches will host Blue Christmas Services, including Montgomery Methodist Church on December 18, Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

I pray that the God of all comfort gift what you need during this Christmas season.

Index card verse for week 49: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Friday, December 02, 2011

Mercy in a Manger

While teaching the scroll-thumping Pharisees, Jesus called them to live out God’s merciful ways. Declining, the judgmental Pharisees charged him with eating with ‘sinners’ and tax collectors. However, knowing their hearts, Jesus challenged them, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13).

To the always-making-rules Pharisees, this was not a new concept. Through the prophet Micah, God had accused Israel of doing rituals while ignoring the compassion of God: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

In February, Naomi and Ruth were the focus of one of my columns. Ruth remains a good example of justice, love, mercy, and walking humbly with God. In four chapters of the book of Ruth, their stories unfold when a famine caused Naomi, her husband, and two sons to move among pagans in Moab. While there, Naomi’s husband died, leaving her the daunting task of finding wives for her sons. Poor. Without social standing. Doing a husband’s job. She searched out two women to marry her sons.

Calm reigned for a few years, and then double tragedy struck -- both of Naomi’s sons died leaving three widows to fend for themselves. Without any resources, Naomi decided to return to her hometown of Bethlehem.

Daughter-in-law, Orpah, returned to her Moabite family while Ruth chose to accompany her mother-in-law and travel to a culture foreign to her. Even in Naomi’s homeland, Ruth would have four strikes against her: she was female, a widow, a foreigner, and barren. She made a crucial decision to cling to her mother-in-law because she’d experienced enough of Naomi’s faith and God to choose him. Ruth made a vow to Naomi to love her God and her people until death should part them.

When Naomi and Ruth returned to the town of Bethlehem, the “city of bread,” their prospects were bleak. They may have felt abandoned and, most likely, had many “why” questions. There’s every indication that these emotions fit their harsh circumstances.

Compared to the story of Job, Naomi’s is the female version of almost complete loss. Left in poverty and deep sadness, she returned to her hometown after hearing how God had blessed the area with good harvests. From a pagan culture, the two marginalized women, Naomi and Ruth, moved back to Bethlehem -- the future scene of a manger.

Carolyn Custis James writes in The Gospel According to Ruth. “When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, she may have felt like a useless piece of driftwood….In God’s eyes, she was still on active duty and the treasure of his heart.” Mrs. James continues, “Her story has purpose written all over it although the signals she receives from her own heart and culture say otherwise.” Naomi “is unaware of the fact that, instead of setting her aside, God is readying her for a strategic kingdom mission” because Ruth will be listed in the genealogy of the Messiah.

Naomi and Ruth chose God and walked justly and humbly with him, unaware of his unfolding plan. They had learned merciful living, shown in their love and care for each other. God, in loving kindness, doesn’t exile these widows to the margins of the Bible. In his mysterious ways, he places them in the middle of the redemption story in Bethlehem, where the truest expression of mercy on earth will have its start in a manger.

Index card for week 48: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).

You may contact Cathy at    

Friday, November 25, 2011

Narrow Escapes and Rescues

Narrow escapes, ever had one? On October 17, a pleasant Monday, Dave and I traveled toward New Mexico in the Peterbilt tractor, pulling a load of pipe. The fresh plowed fields near I-20 in West Texas and blustery wind had already gritted the air, but that dust was minimum, compared to what we experienced after dark.

            A cold front had moved into North Texas, a 75 mph dust storm, called a “haboob,” tossing tons of dirt into the air. “Haboob” is an Arabic word for a massive sand storm, usually occurring only in North African deserts. The storm hit Lubbock during daylight hours, however, by the time it reached our location on I-20, between Abilene and Big Springs, it was after nine o’clock and very dark.     

            Dave said, “It looks like black smoke ahead,” just as a Cadillac in front of us braked suddenly. Dave pulled into the fast lane to avoid hitting them, and that’s when we ran into the wall of black swirling dirt. It obliterated the road. We could barely see a faint glow of the headlights, but no visible road. The high winds sandblasted the truck, and all Dave could do was steer, step on brakes, and start gearing down.

            Then we felt the truck leave the interstate, our direction unknown. We sensed going down an embankment and up again and crossing different levels of ground. We felt as if we hit 50 things before our 80,000-pound rig and load finally stopped. I was on the phone with our daughter, Sheryle, during our entire wild ride.

            Right before all this happened I told her, “We’re hitting some fierce wind.” She went on the scary ride with us via her cell phone. I'm sure it was very frightening for her as I said, "Oh God, we've left the road. We're having a wreck."

            "Mom, what's happening? Are you okay?"

            "I don't know. We’re still having the wreck...Okay we’ve stopped. We’re okay. I’ll call you back.” I asked Dave, "Where are we?”        "I don't know. I think we hit a bridge."

            He grabbed a flashlight and jumped out to check the truck, having no idea where we were. He later told me he thought we were in the median, partially in oncoming traffic. We actually had missed any surrounding vehicles, crossed in front of the Cadillac and traveled down and off the roadway. We then went up another embankment, crossed the feeder road and ended up in the ditch next to a plowed field. I couldn't even open the door of the truck the wind was pushing so hard. Dirt blew perpendicular to the ground.

            The husband and wife in the Cadillac stopped high above us on the shoulder of the interstate, and the wife braved stinging dirt to check on us. Dave still couldn’t tell where we were, but she told us we were to the right of the feeder going west. By then Dave had inspected his load. No pipe had shifted. We had not blown any tires. Not one scratch on the truck or us, and we were especially relieved that the folk in the Cadillac were okay.

            We counted our blessings, and Dave eased the truck back onto the feeder where we drove several miles until the initial brunt of the swirling darkness died down. Sheryle later texted: “The minute you said you were getting into high wind, I said a quick prayer, “Lord, protect them.”

            Emily, a young mother, related her harrowing close call to me: Her husband and children were meeting family at their farm. Five-month-old daughter, Kaitlyn, had a cough, so Emily took a hot bath, and sat Kaitlyn in her car seat beside the tub, hoping the steam would ease her breathing.

            Emily heard a loud bang and saw pieces of the wall in her bath water. After looking around, the family found a small hole in the wall behind Emily’s back and a hole in an opposite cabinet -- lodged inside a bullet, possibly from illegal hog hunters in the area. The bullet holes were just inches from where little Kaitlin sat and where Emily had bathed. Emily said, “I am so thankful that Kaitlyn and I weren't hurt. God was watching over us.” When rescues happen, we take comfort in knowing God has his eyes on sparrows, paths of big trucks, windstorms, paths of bullets, and us.

            Close calls can leave one trembling. God’s miraculous sparings, through his power and his angels, remind us of at least two things: First, God keeps track of where we are and what’s happening in our lives. Second, if we’re still on Earth, he designated that we have more days. Have you had any narrow escapes this year or in the past?

             On this Thanksgiving in the year of our Lord 2011, knowing that God will protect us until it’s time for him to welcome us home – now that’s delicious food for thought!

            Index card verse for week 47: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Linger, Remain, Stay, Delay and Dawdle--November 18

I’m in love with the word “linger.” Actually, I’m in love with the essence of that word. I’m not talking about forgetful lingering such as when you’re sitting at a red light and you forget to drive when the light turns green. That’s simply not paying attention. I have in mind, a purposed time of taking longer than usual with things of importance, things that sometimes are rushed.

            You’re familiar with the fourteen “time” passages in Ecclesiastes 3, presented as opposites. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

            Let’s focus on “there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” What I’m suggesting for this next week of rushed schedules, family gatherings, and baking and eating is to spend some time lingering. Lingering will boost your joy quotient in ways that busyness will not.

            Lingering involves calming and quieting. Quieting means disconnecting from whatever worries assault you at present, giving the mind an okay signal to vacation from your worries for a few minutes.  First, quiet your body. Be still. Halt the noise of your surroundings. Don’t shoot the cheery mockingbird outside your window, but do turn off the television, telephone, and the sound on the internet. Don’t let any pings, rings, or knocks disturb your settling down to relax.

            That’s the easy part. Now try to quiet the noise behind your eyebrows. Turn off the list of stuff that you want to do. Turn off doubts. Turn off questions. Turn off negative thoughts, and practice Paul’s recipe for cleansing the inner person: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). A few minutes of quiet lingering can restore your focus, energy, and enthusiasm for life.

            Having practiced stopping and quieting yourself, then carry that spirit of lingering into your noisy, always-on-the-move world. What will “lingering” look like there? It will be time to hold a granddaughter an extra five minutes as you read her favorite book. It will mean taking a deep breath and sitting longer with your hands wrapped around a mug of hot coffee. It means making time to sit by your spouse, hold hands, and simply be, even lingering over a kiss between you.

            It will mean not entertaining regrets about spending extra time with people instead of trimming the hedges, dusting, cooking, making out a job bid, or cleaning out the gutters. On autumn days when David and I were newlyweds, he would ask me to go for a walk on our wooded acreage. Sometimes his invitation would come just as we finished supper and before I’d cleaned the kitchen. After declining his invitation a few times, he eventually said, “I don’t mind that the kitchen sink has a few dirty dishes in it. I’d rather have you with me, holding hands, and walking along the creek.” I learned to grab my flannel shirt and his warm hand and go for walks with my beloved.

            Along these thoughts of lingering, I also have in mind a purposeful waiting on the Lord in silence. Again, prepare that sound barrier so you can linger over a psalm, pray, and wait for an answer. A peace beyond comprehension comes from such a meeting between the Lord and you. The Lord counseled hasty, out-of-sorts, and sinning Israel, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15).

            Want to have the best Thanksgiving ever?  Quiet your body. Be still. Halt the noise. Linger with a friend over lunch. Take a refreshing nap. Look long into the eyes of the person you love. Postpone an activity in favor of quietness and rest. Remain, delay, stay behind, dawdle, postpone, or reschedule. Take the time to linger. I imagine that you too may fall in love with the essence of the word linger.

            Index card words for week 46: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:3).


Friday, November 11, 2011

Soldiers and the Arm that Guides the Starrry Host

In the winter of 1777-1778, the Continental Army suffered months of hardship from lack of food, clothing, and proper shoes to keep their feet from freezing. The encampment at times housed as many as 12,000 soldiers. "An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, and sick and discouraged," wrote New York's Gouverneur Morris of the Continental Congress.

            The army’s wintering took place near Valley Forge, so named by a forge owned by the brother of Isaac Potts, a Quaker.  Even though Isaac Potts opposed the war, as most Quakers did, Potts’ family history claims that 26-year-old Isaac lived at the Forge during the winter with his wife to oversee the grinding of the grain that George Washington commissioned from the surrounding farmers to feed his starving army.

            Several who lived during that time wrote accounts of Isaac Potts traveling on foot through a wooded area near the encampment when he heard the voice of one in devotion.  As he drew closer, he heard and saw the commander-in-chief of the armies of the United Colonies, George Washington, kneeling in prayer. Although several men claim to have written what Potts told them about Washington’s prayer, the most accurate account seems to come from a signed, handwritten document by Isaac Potts’ daughter, Ruth-Anna, written later in life at her father’s direction.  

            These excerpts are from what she recorded from her father:  After returning home, he sat beside his wife, and she asked with tenderness, “Heigh! Isaac, thee seems agitated; what’s the matter?”

            “Indeed, my dear, if I appear agitated ‘tis no more than what I am. I have seen this day what I shall never forget.” Her father said that Washington was “interceding for his beloved country . . . With tones of gratitude that labored for adequate expression.” He expressed adoration to God for lifting him to lead a great nation, who fought at “fearful odds for all the world holds dear.” Isaac Potts said Washington “disclaimed all ability of his own for this arduous conflict; he wept at the thought of that irretrievable ruin which his mistakes might bring on his country.”  He pleaded a patriot’s despair mentioning “the interest of unborn millions before the eye of Eternal Mercy.” He then implored the “aid of that arm which guides the starry host.”

            Isaac Potts continued, “Till now I have thought that a Christian and a soldier were characters incompatible; but if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken.” Potts concluded: “And still more shall I be disappointed if God do not through him perform some great thing for this country.”

            Today is Veteran’s Day, when we honor those who place themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedoms. On my Facebook page a few weeks ago, my friend posted photos in her album titled, “My Son’s Military Funeral.” God forbid that any mother should have to remember her son through photos. Her highly decorated son (who helped to recue Jessica Lynch), Army Ranger Kristoffer B. Domeij (Doe-May) lost his life October 21 on his 14th deployment to a combat zone. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his life ending in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb detonated. He left behind a wife and two young daughters, his mother, and brother, and many other family and friends. He had enlisted shortly after September 11. 2001.

            His mother shared a post from her son’s Facebook page, written on September 24: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" - Isaiah 6:8; Thank you for all the love. If I don't get back to you anytime soon....sorry.”

            Whenever you see military personnel, but don’t quite know how to express your thanks, you might adopt the hand signal from : Place your hand over your heart and move it away from you, palm up, toward the man or woman in uniform. Many also mouth the words, “Thank you,” during the gesture.

            In the Hallmark movie, “Winter’s End” (“Sarah Plain and Tall” series), a doctor who awaited his son’s return from WWI, made a statement appropriate for days when all is well, and for those days when a knock on the door changes your life, “We’re in God’s hand on every side.”

            Index card for week 45: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:1-2).


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Billow Toss

            Okay, who really knows what “billows” are? For many years, Christians have sung words from the count-your-many-blessings hymn: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged thinking all is lost.” We may not understand the meaning of that phrase if a wicked wave has never thrown us overboard.  

            The word “billows” isn’t an everyday word. These examples should make the meaning clearer: Billows shoved the cruise ship around, or the salty sailor said, “The frothy billows prove this is a bad day for fishing.” The billows splashed into the leaky Johnboat causing the anglers to bail with vigor.

            “Billows” means waves, usually roiling and rolling ones. Life-billows must mean huge happenings that could cause drowning of the human spirit. We know that seawater can cause harm or good. The sea supports its world and inhabitants, but humans, alien to life in the water, have been lost at sea. Humans can float on the sea, gather food from it, or drown in it.

            What can we do if we are tempest tossed? I’ve heard folks say that when bad times assault them, they can’t seem to pray. I’ve experienced that.  

            Others have told me, whenever pain, loss or devastation comes along, they find reading their Bible difficult. I’ve experienced that fogging of the brain, when I turned Bible pages, and read passages, but my despairing mind blocked out the words of God. They remained holed up, bound in leather, not penetrating my heart or consciousness.  

            What do you do when the presence of God seems far away? For Jesus and his disciples, when life got crowded, dangerous, or overwhelming that was when they fled to be alone for a day or night -- alone with God. Jesus sought a quiet place with God when he heard about the beheading of John the Baptist. He “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13).

            Oswald Chambers said when “God gets us alone,” that’s when his most effective teaching occurs. When Jesus walked this earth, he and his disciples were surrounded by the problems of others, what Robert J. Wicks calls, secondary stress in his book “Crossing the Desert.”

            After a few intense days of serving and seeing so much suffering,  Jesus would call his learners to him and say, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). When the disciples were finally alone with Jesus, they asked many questions. Isn’t that what we do when something distressful happens? We give voice to many whys, whats, and what-ifs.

            Next time billows toss you around, the lesson from Jesus and the disciples is to make time to be alone with God. Ask God your questions -- that’s praying, just look at the questions within the psalms. After inquiring of God, then it’s time to discipline ourselves to listen and wait for understanding or the strength to go on even though we don’t have answers. When we present ourselves to listen, that’s where rescue and survival from billows take place.  

            Index card verse for week 44: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).


Friday, October 28, 2011

In my home, I preferred to go bare foot until my arches gave way, and now I wear what my grandchildren call “granny shoes.” Hey, it’s better to wear “granny shoes” during the day than to have granny aches at night. My ancestry roots run back to the red dirt of Arkansas, so barefoot is simply what I prefer.

     In a women’s Bible class, the subject of bare feet came up. We were studying the life of Moses who was called at age 80 to lead the Israelites out of slavery. When the call came and at God’s command, Moses took off his shoes near a bush that had an internal fire set alight by God. Moses was at first hesitant to follow God’s calling, however his eventual following caused a deepening devotion to God and the Israelites.

The Bible also includes other barefoot moments. In innocence and purity, the first humans Adam and Eve were barefoot in the Garden of Eden (meaning delight). Much later, during the tabernacle and temple eras, the High Priests entered the Holy of Holies shoeless, anointed on their right ears, right thumbs, and right big toes, declaring that the whole man was set apart to serve God.

On the outskirts of Jericho, Joshua removed his shoes, instructed by an angel of the Lord to do so (Joshua 5:13-15). Hebrew mourning traditions included taking off shoes (Ezekiel 24:15-17). On the cross and barefoot, God rescued our High Priest Jesus from a world that spurned his purity. Jesus then re-entered holy heaven, the court of God, to plead our cases.

When my grandson Jack was eight-years-old and I talked about these barefoot moments in scripture, Jack said, “And we’re barefoot when we’re baptized” (our fellowship practices immersion). Why are these moments so significant in the lives of Bible heroes and us?

Intimate meetings, the baring of our souls to God (not just our feet)includes opportunities for God to ignite fires within – to ignite passions causing us to become his hands of help to the oppressed. Rick Warren spoke to 20,000 young people and asked them to hold up three fingers to form a “W”.  This sign signified “whatever, whenever, wherever” for the cause of Christ. Another speaker at the same event echoed the call of Jesus to learn the ways of mercy and justice. 

Even though Moses showed plenty of fear, he soon knew he was on the precipice of something startling and moving. When Moses allowed God to direct his life, that’s when God built a fire within.

Whatever. Whenever. Wherever. Take off your shoes, bare your soul in quiet moments this week, and watch for holy ground where God can inspire you to extend grace and mercy to others.

Index card verse for week 43: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jesus Longs to Befriend You

            After teaching that prayer is “talking to God about what is on your heart,” she took prayer requests from the four to six year olds. She let them know they could bare their hearts, and she would pray every day for their concerns.

            First, pets were on their minds. Ashes the cat made the list. The dogs -- Sam, Happy, Bubba, Buddy and Bandit -- were covered in prayer that week, too. One other pet was AWOL. Each prayer request was accepted and treated with dignity. 

            Other boys and girls had noticed the suffering of people. A grandpa was in the hospital. A lonely neighbor had moved. Someone had a broken spine. One daughter said her daddy needed rest. Two children remembered recent deaths of grandmothers and a cousin. Still, other little ones requested prayers for moms and dads.

During the teaching segment, the teacher had explained different prayer postures. She told them about lying prostrate before God during especially trying or humbling times. One outgoing young man immediately threw himself on the carpeted floor and demonstrated for the more reserved students. She talked about kneeling to pray, and when the time came to pray, the teacher invited any children who wanted to kneel to do so. Each sweet child chose to join others in a circle and kneel in prayer.

We adults know that prayer is not a magic wand that we wave to get God to do things our way. We have embraced it as a humility-talk from a grown up child to Father, expressing thanksgivings, fears, needs, doubts, and praises. I’m reading and putting into practice the praying of the psalms and my teacher is Lynn Anderson, who recently wrote “Talking Back to God: Speaking your heart to God through the Psalms.” He says of that type of praying, “The Psalms are a place where contemporaries meet the ancients as we all try to account for the chaos, suffering, celebration, and lament we feel in our lives.”

For example, how often would this portion of a psalm speak about a place in life: “Listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping” (39:12)? If you experience a time of exuberant happiness, perhaps this would be appropriate praise: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (40:3). Sometimes, even a single line from the psalms can become our prayer for months: “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless” (108:12).

In the children’s prayer time, their requests and praises reached beyond themselves. Not one child asked a prayer for himself. I find that remarkable. When we pray, God helps us untangle from selfishness: “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package” (God’s Little Devotional Book).  Because of the nature of prayer, any time we pray we admit that we’re not good enough, bright enough, or bold enough to meet all the needs of life.

One of the wonderful things about prayer is its immediacy. We don’t have to be at a special place or it doesn’t have to occur at a special time of day. Prayer can occur anywhere and anytime—from a whale’s belly, from a cross, beside the Nile, in school, in the Temple, in a shopping line, on a battlefield, on a mountain, in a valley, or behind the wheel of a car.  

One of the surprising results of prayer is a growing knowledge of the holiness of God, the littleness of man, and a glorious friendship between the two. Need a best friend, one you can call on for help, simply sit with in silence, or tell them about your day? Try talking to Jesus. He longs to befriend you, and carry on a conversation for a long time.

 Index card verse for week 42: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Show, Don't Just Tell

The Montessori instructor placed her left hand on an open door and her right on the doorknob; she gently twisted it quietly closing the door. She had just told her adult audience that often parents “yell” at a child, “Don’t slam the door!” However, the parent often fails to show the child how to shut a door properly. I sat in that audience over 20 years ago and the gist of her message remains strong in my memory. Showing a child how to accomplish a task produces better results than simply telling a child. The lesson stuck: Show, don’t just tell.

                I participated in a teacher’s workshop, and one teacher wanted her students to “see” the Bible story of Zacchaeus and Jesus acted out. You remember the story, the short in stature and hands-deep-in other’s pockets Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was walking his way, and he quickly climbed a tree so he could see over the crowd and spot Jesus. Jesus knew the location of this wealthy, chief tax collector’s heart and that he was spiritually out-on-a-limb—a limb that would eventually snap unless he changed his cheating ways. Jesus looked up in the branches and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:1-10).

                Melody, a Bible schoolteacher asked her husband to dress up as Zacchaeus to help her act out the story. She played the part of Jesus with her Bible times robe and wig and beard. Knowing that her husband, Monty, was resourceful, she didn’t dictate how he dressed for the part. When Zacchaeus entered the room, Melody had difficulty keeping the story from turning into a comedy. Her husband fully carried out the characterization -- long robe, wig, and beard -- and he entered walking on his knees with large soft shoes penned to his jeaned-knees beneath his robe. Zacchaeus was indeed low down to the ground.

                Melody’s class listened to the text of Luke and saw why Zacchaeus needed to climb a tree to see Jesus. Melody demonstrated the message that Jesus’ love can change tall or short thieves. Show and tell worked well.

                  In writing courses, one of the main elements in writing fiction or non-fiction is to “Show, don’t tell.” A story written with action and dialog is more understandable and readable than one where a writer uses only narration and a passive voice. Today’s popular novelist write in this style:  Show, don’t tell.

                If you are a parent, you especially have learned the value of showing a child how to do something instead of simply giving a verbal command. People learn best when there are demonstrations and then opportunities to practice. My husband could tell me to change the oil in my vehicle, but believe me I’d need several lessons before that would even come close to happening correctly.

                God did that for us. He didn’t simply tell us what to do, but he sent a live demonstration in the person of Jesus Christ. He clothed God in flesh, and through divine help, Jesus showed us how to live a just, compassionate, and forgiving life. As I think back over the life of Jesus, I am encouraged to know he constantly patterned perfect behavior for those around him. He touched the sickest among the crowds. He forgave the vilest offenders. He accepted into his presence both the prostitute and political official. He rubbed shoulders with outcasts. In addition, he contributed no slander, no gossip – only truth.

                Many have found the right combination of showing Jesus to others as they gently teach and demonstrate his love through their active involvement in others’ lives. Know-it-all preaching rarely results in the softening of hearts. Recently, I spoke with a young Christian woman, part of a group who has moved into a troubled neighborhood on the East Coast, and she said to me, “We’re not preaching on the street corners. We’re just living among them and showing people a better way of life by loving and helping others like Jesus did.” 

                 Index card verse for week 41: “Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near”                                (Philippians 4:4-5).

Friday, October 07, 2011

Soul Droughts

Soul Droughts

        A glossy picture in a Christian magazine shows a young girl from a poorer nation, who splashes water onto her face from a trickling faucet. Her turban-wrapped hair, closed eyes, and lips parted in a smile show her joy as she takes a drink of life-giving water.

     A look of intense delight radiates from her countenance. The caption reads, "She's tasting pure water for the first time. Imagine her excitement when it reaches her soul."

    The photo reminded me of the Israelites’ water-needs when they traveled from Egypt through desert lands. Bible scholars number those exiting Egypt between 1.2 million and 2 million, plus sheep, chickens, dogs, and other animals needing water to survive.

     Later, when they grumbled about their thirsts, a rock became a fountain. I had imagined at one time a garage-size rock, Moses striking it with his staff, and then a small stream of water emerging. However, trickles don't assuage the thirst of thousands upon thousands.

     The story of the Israelites parched throats is in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20, but the measurable details about the fresh water God supplied are in the Psalms: "Water as abundant as the seas" and water flowing down "like rivers" (78:15-16). When Moses struck the rock, "water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly" (20).

     Another psalm tells about the "God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water" (Psalm 114:8). The additional information in the psalms deepened my small puddle thinking.

     God is not a trickle fountain, nor is he tight fisted with water supplies. Those desert travelers needed sufficient water. God’s moisture-starved pilgrims needed an extravagance of water, and that's just what God gave.

     The Israelites also "drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:3). God kept their bodies alive with water, while their spirits feasted on his presence.

     Years ago on a country road, my vehicle broke down in 100-degree weather. I only had a tiny bit of Sprite with me. I didn’t have a hat to protect my head from the heat and didn’t have appropriate shoes for walking. After two miles of hiking, my thirst was extreme. Several cars passed but none offered a lift. Disheartened and dehydrated, I needed relief. The eventual savior-truck-driver dropped me off at a convenience store where I immediately bought a drink.

     Physical thirst is not the worst I've suffered. In our water-pampered nation, thirsts are easy to quench, but there are worse ways to dry up. In the October 2011 issue of “Christianity Today,” the article “Saving China’s Daughters” says that 500 women in China commit suicide every day traumatized by “gendercide and China’s one-child policy.” Tap water doesn't solve every thirst. Each person on earth needs living water whether they acknowledge the need or not.

      Every day people give up on living and sink further into depression, some choosing to take their own lives. Words from an old hymn state a truth. "There’s a fountain free tis for you and me. Let us haste, oh haste, to its brink. Tis the fount of love from the source above And He bids us all, freely drink.”

     We’re all in need of refreshment. Is anyone thirsty? An oasis waits. In the name of Jesus, share a cup of "living water" with the thirsty – and imagine their excitement when it reaches their souls.

     Index card verse for Week 40: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).