Friday, March 25, 2011

A "New Normal"

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When Hurricane Ike hit South Texas, many homes were damaged. Our daughter’s home also took a beating, and when the wind and rain ceased, our family took pictures for insurance purposes and cut and lifted out the huge pine tree from the middle of their collapsed roof. Once the blue tarp was in place, our daughter and her husband began to make plans for a New Normal. Over a lifetime, many circumstances will call one into reshaping, remaking, or rebuilding.

“New Normal” was coined by Roger McNamee, a technology investor, in January of 2003, states “Fast Company Magazine.” He shared that tagline to describe how the failing economy called for a new way to conduct the old business of investing. The term has caught on and is now used to describe a number of life-changes and the necessity of doing life in a different way.

For instance, if someone in your immediate family dies that causes a change in your family dynamics. You experience a New Normal. If you lose a high salaried position with a Fortune 500 Company, then the unemployment line may become part of your New Normal. If a devastating illness invades your body, then you will begin to live out a New Normal. This list could go on and on.

Our Index Card Scripture for week twelve comes from the book of Nehemiah, and Both Ezra and Nehemiah give details of the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Why were they broken? The Israelites had forsaken God and his laws, and he had allowed a foreign king to invade their homeland and carry them away into captivity. The temple in Jerusalem was ravaged, the city gates burned, and the stone walls broken down.

The people moved from their promised land to a land foreign in culture, language, and terrain. They moved from blessed to beat down. Instead of their lives of freedom under God’s tutelage, they became slaves to Babylonian kings. Many of the young men were made eunuchs. Men, women, and children, who survived the initial war and capture, became slaves.

Sometimes a New Normal comes about because of good things. A newly wed couple will naturally have a different life than they lived as a single person. When a phone call arrives letting you know that you landed a better job, that’s when another path opens. If you finally qualify to own a home instead of leasing, your mobile family can expect a more settled life. What about new faith in Christ? What about baptism into him? He promises to make things brand new through his divine gifts – new hearts beating in tune to God’s over-the-top love.

Nehemiah served as cupbearer to foreign King Artaxerxes, and when Nehemiah heard about the broken city of Jerusalem, his sad countenance came to the attention of the king. The king knew that Nehemiah wasn’t ill, and surmised, “This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” God moved the king to magnificent generosity to fund the rebuilding of Jerusalem and to allow his trusted servant to assist in the make-over project.

Nehemiah moved into a New Normal. Think back over your life and those times when you had no choice but to travel a different route. Perhaps you are in the middle of a New Normal. Maybe you are ready for the servant Jesus to create a new heart within you. When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he faced opposition, but let his words encourage and make you victorious.

Index Card Scripture for Week Twelve: “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding” (Nehemiah 2:20).


Friday, March 18, 2011

How Big is Your Heart?

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Over this last week, the nation of Japan and the plight of its people took up residence in our hearts. Although most of us have never been shaken and flooded to the extent of their damages, we’ve experienced enough hardships to empathize with their plight.

I’m reminded of an earlier time in Japan’s and the United State’s history when even during wartime, truth reigned for a few minutes and highlighted our sameness. During WWII, those of Japanese ancestry, who lived in our country, were perceived as threats to our national security. Some were sent to interment camps around the country while others were sent home.

The same thing happened in Japan. Americans who lived there were shipped back to the states. The Bataan Death March saw 70,000 Filipinos and GIs number dwindle to about a third, due to murder, jungle heat, and lack of food and water. Survivors were forced to Japan to work as slaves in coalmines.

The beauty of bad relationships -- they can always get better. And later, that exact thing happened between our two countries. A glimmer of that future was seen in repatriation during WWII. In a harbor, anchored side by side, a US ship held deported Japanese, and a Japanese ship had Americans on board to send home. For a full day, they floated side by side, and I wonder what ran through the minds of each as they waited?

Passengers on both vessels most likely experienced at least some blame, fear, hatred, or loathing. Kenneth W. Osbeck author of “Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions” reports that for “an entire day they lined the rails, glaring at one another.”

As the day drew to a close, someone began to sing a popular hymn of that time, “In Christ There is No East or West.” Soon someone from the opposite ship joined in, and one by one more from each transport joined the melody. Though ship hulls, water, and a declaration of war separated them, those who had embraced Christ sang of their identity in him.

The words to the old hymn convey these thoughts: God-followers enjoy a great fellowship of love throughout the earth; hearts find communion in Christ; and servants of God Most High are bound together. One of the last lines states, “Join hands then, brothers of the faith, whate’re your race may be; who serves my Father as a son, is surely kin to me.”

In recent days, I’ve heard several news anchors mention that people have many things in common -- love for family, homes, and work. Those things that separate us are most times less important -- country borders, oceans, different cultures, ideas, and customs. When our response to others takes into account our commonalities, we fare better through our differences.

People who join hands to aid others can accomplish much. Our scripture for this week comes from 1 Chronicles, and it’s from the setting when King Solomon collects funds for building the Temple in Jerusalem. His father, the former King David, had collected building materials and given much of his personal fortune to that cause. As a leader he set the precedent for giving. We give in many ways -- service, money, time, prayers, and forgiveness -- are just a few of the categories in which we help others.

As the tragedy in Japan has reminded us, possessions can be stripped from us in a moment. King Solomon challenged those who gave monetary gifts to build the temple to also devote their hearts to God. Marjorie Holmes says, “Hospitality doesn’t depend on size or supply. If the heart is big enough, so is the table and so is the house.”

Index Card Scripture for Week Eleven: “Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?” (1 Chronicles 29:5).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hair Shirts--Do you Own One?


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Drawing March 31, 2011

How do you reach contentment when troubles gimps your day? In the 12 chapters of A Still and Quiet Soul: Embracing Contentment, you'll learn the process for remaining content or re-learning contentment during feast or famine. You'll also read 12 true stories from people who struggled through different hardships and how God led them to a better place of contentment. Eight questions at the end of each chapter makes this a useful tool for an individual, Bible study group, Bible Study Book Club to dig deeper into Word of God. Contact me if you have questions, or read a description and early endorsements at

Sometimes we wear a hair shirt, but we do not pair it with repentance. What do I mean? In the Bible, repentant people who grieved over their sins turned away from those sins. They renounced their offenses, and in their mournful state they sometimes chose to wear sackcloth and ashes. The outside messiness and discomfort of their bodies reflected the inward sorrow of their souls.

We can compare the biblical sackcloth to what we know as burlap bags. If you’ve ever toted a burlap bag filled with raw peanuts on your bare sweaty shoulder then you know the conflict between rough fibers and tender skin. They can rub raw spots on the point of contact in 10 minutes. You know it’s true. A single scratchy tag at the back of your shirt causes irritation within seconds. Imagine the depths of sorrow over a sin that would cause someone to put on a whole outfit of sackcloth.

Quite a few references in the rest of the Old Testament refer to repentance and the wearing of sackcloth. But as I referred to in the beginning of this column, sometimes we wear a hair shirt, but it’s not connected to repentance. When we whine about annoyances, that’s when we pull our hair shirts over our heads and let them stir us up to complaint rather than repentance.

Really? Do we need to tell others about what annoys us? Whatever happened to the idea of blessing someone’s day instead of adding to their burdens? Constant complainers soon find themselves alone at the coffee shop because most folks have their own list of stresses. I don’t know who first said this, but I suspect there’s a bit of truth to it: “Don't tell your troubles to other people—95% don't care and the other 5% are glad you have them.”

I watched a video clip from the Texas Reporter television show about a blind quilter in Waco, Texas. Middle aged Diane Rose lost her sight to glaucoma, so naturally she lost her abilities to do many previous things. One day she questioned God about what her new talents would be? She lifted her arms in sincere prayer and asked what she could do now that she was sightless. She said warmth filled her upraised arms, and she felt God leading her to know that her talent lay in her hands.

The next day, a woman asked if she knew how to quilt? She replied no and the woman offered to teach her. She’s now made over 500 quilts. A friend helps her with color selections, but she does all the work from start to finish through her hands and sense of feel.

Diane Rose does not own a hair shirt. She quotes Ronnie Millsap and says that her blindness is just an “inconvenience.” Her attitude is stellar. She refuses to accept her liability as disability. Need a good dose of encouragement? You may Google her name and watch her interview on YouTube.

When King Solomon completed building the temple in Jerusalem, he dedicated it in a passionate prayer. During which, he knelt and stretched his hands toward heaven. And in that prayer he mentions repentance many times and asked God to forgive the Israelites in the future when they did wrong, confessed, and turned back to God (Solomon’s prayer:1 Kings 8:22-66).

Our bodies are often referred to in the Bible as a tabernacle (tent) or temple in which God dwells. Most of us know which temptations we give in to the most. Think about repentance today, and ask for God’s will power, to withstand temptation, whether it’s whining, coveting, or hurting someone. In Solomon’s prayer he asked God to remember all his requests at all times. I like that. God hasn’t forgotten the prayers of our youth, or any prayer asking forgiveness, or any praises offered. This week, take off your hair shirt and replace it with a spring garment of praising God.

Index Card Scripture for Week Ten: “[M]ay these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night” (1 Kings 8:59).

Friday, March 04, 2011

Two Hannahs Set the Bar for Sacrificial-Love

One mother in the Bible and one mother in modern times gave birth to her first child, weaned him, and then gave him over to another to rear. Today, we’ll consider both.

The story of Hannah’s sacrificial love and her firstborn son unfolds in the book of 1 and 2 Samuel. Hannah is introduced in another one of those Old Testament stories where a man has two wives. It may have been the norm in that culture, but from a woman’s perspective I can’t think of anything more devastating to a wife’s heart.

I don’t know if Hannah was wife number one or wife number two. In that culture, the first wife often held the most clout. Sometimes, spouses received the “wife” title, and sometimes they received the title of “concubine,” which can mean “second wife.” If this proverb, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” holds any merit, can you imagine the competition-cooking in that marriage? Elkanah was probably one weighty dude.

Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had children by him, but Hannah remained barren. A woman’s infertility was sometimes judged by a community as a punishment sent from God. Hannah ached to have a child. Besides the emptiness of her arms, the other wife, Peninnah, irritated Hannah on purpose so we’re told. Peninnah “provoked [Hannah] till she wept and would not eat” (1 Samuel 1:5-8).

On an annual trek to worship God at Shiloh, Hannah’s grief had multiplied and she poured out her heart to God in silent prayer and vows. She told God that if he would give her a son, she would consecrate him to the Lord’s service. She eventually had a son and named him Samuel “because I asked the Lord for him” (2:20).

When he was weaned and still very young, Hannah made good on her vow, and her little boy began living in Shiloh and helped the priest Eli. Each year, Hannah made a new coat and took it to her son, and since Elkanah and Hannah lived a short distance away, it’s possible they visited Samuel more than once a year.

Hannah’s story takes place during the time of the Judges of Israel, and when Samuel became an adult, he was the last judge before the Israelites clamored to have a king like the nations around them. Hannah’s faithful prayers, sacrificial love, and keeping of her vows brought a large group of people their last godly judge.

In more recent times Rees Howells (1879-1950) and his wife, Hannah, gave up their son. Back in the days before modern medicine, missionary couples knew that they risked their children’s health and lives by living in malaria ridden lands. The Howells had vowed to serve in Africa before they had children. When Hannah became pregnant, they felt God leading them to also name their unborn child, Samuel. They both had premonitions, knowing that they might have to give him up to fulfill their vows as missionaries. An aunt and uncle with the last name of Rees met the child and adored him, offering to rear him as their own. Howells’ sister came into that family as a nursemaid, and all the pieces fell into place, similar to Miriam’s and Moses’ story.

Even though this modern Hannah’s heart shattered into tiny fragments at giving up her child, she didn’t want to break her vow to God to serve as a missionary. Howells recalls the morning his sister came to fetch their son: “I think in eternity, we shall look back on what we went through then, giving our best back to the Lord.” Howells continues, “We knew what it was to give money, health, and many other things, but this was the hardest test.”

If you think either of these women named Hannah hardhearted, then please read chapter 22 in “Rees Howells Intercessor: The Story of A Life Lived for God,” by Norman Grubb. Hannah Howells remembrance of that day, her lived-out-faith gives me courage to keep my lesser vows to God. Years later after their son’s formal education, he went to work alongside his birth father in the mission field. The son returned -- a gift from God’s own hand.

God notices when we sacrifice. He notices the causes for which we sacrifice. The biblical boy Samuel once heard God calling to him in the night. He finally figured out with the help and guidance of the priest, that God was calling him by name. May we each learn the value of awaking and greeting our days with little boy Samuel’s reply on our lips.

Index Card Scripture for Week Nine: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).