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