Friday, December 28, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Newspaper Readers

As the end of 2012 nears, I close by sharing Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) nineteenth tip for humble living. I am also saying goodbye to all dear readers of this column. First, let’s consider Taylor’s final guideline for seeking humility.
            Taylor says, “Humility teaches us to submit ourselves and all our faculties to God.” He asks followers to recall the previous eighteen rules for humble living, and he encourages seekers of humility to adore God, submit to superiors “in all things, according to godliness, and to be meek and gentle in conversations toward others.”
            Because I’ve written fifty-two columns on humble living, I now have more knowledge about humility. Attaining humility is difficult, so God and I continue to move my stubborn will into better habits of humble living. The thing that most stood out in my study this year was author Randy Harris’ suggestion that whenever we walk into any rooms to consider ourselves the least in the room. Then to ask a mental question, “Who may I serve?” That’s powerful.
           Two special scriptures about humility took up residence in my heart. They contain both directives and a promise from our gracious Father: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3), and “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). I know without doubt that as we honor God and others, God meets our needs.
            This will be my last column. After eleven years plus a few months, I find that the time has come to close out this phase of writing. Several family needs brought me to this decision, as well as offers to write for other venues. I can’t do it all. Even though I would love to write day and night, home duties call, and my dishes have not learned to wash themselves.
            First, thank you to “The Courier,” to Jim Fredricks, Andy Dubois, Bob Borders, Nancy Flake, Mike Jones, and Sondra Hernandez, who have guided, edited, and headlined. Some of you are no longer with “The Courier,” sort of ghosts of columns past. However, each of you shined your skills on my writing making it better. Any grammar mistakes were mine. I seem to be the queen of split infinitives. I’m indebted to Jim Fredricks for taking a chance on a very green writer in the summer of 2001 when I phoned and asked if I could write a column. I especially thank “Houston Community Newspapers” affiliate editors for publishing some of the columns.  
            Thank you, readers. Many of you have let me know through phone calls, emails, or in person when a certain column encouraged you at just the right moment. You have gently let me know when I made a scripture stumble, by misusing or misapplying. Sometimes, I had general information wrong, such as the time I mistakenly said morning glories have tendrils. A kindhearted horticulturist from Huntsville sent an email. We are friends to this day. I’ve grown because of the knowledge many of you shared with me.
           I also treasure those of you who introduced yourselves in aisles of stores or in restaurants. A few of you, when I pushed my cart by, got that I-know-her look on your faces. When you braved asking who I was, you gave me hugs, handshakes, and personal thank yous for the columns. You were wonderful, and your enthusiasm and appreciation kept me writing.
            I apologize for any preachiness, poor writing, and hurried writing of columns. I’ve done all three at times. When I began this column, my mission was to help readers love God because he first loved us. By faith, I knew that God could multiply any seeds of information about him. I trusted God to take the messages and use them any way he wanted. Readers, you have mailed them to prisoners, relatives, and even government officials. You told me you have them on your refrigerators and tucked in your Bibles. Aren’t you wonderful to receive and to pass on messages about God?
            “Goodbye” comes from the 1570’s word “godbwye,” a contraction of “God be with ye.” Today, I reach back several hundred years and borrow that sentiment: May God bless your journey. May God carry out the plans he has for you. May God be with you.
                  Hunger for Humility (Week 52): “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas and Tragedy: Poor Bedfellows

Christmas and tragedy are poor bedfellows.
           In this season of Advent, when we remember the coming of Christ, we long for surrounding events to reflect the joyous mood. Then an unthinkable act of inhumanity happens and we shudder to remember that all is not well in the world.
            At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, a slaughter took place. Adults died.  They expected to return home that evening. Children’s souls lifted from this earth and passed into the hands of God. Without a doubt, we know the Evil One instigated this catastrophe.
            As I’ve read the Bible over the years, I’ve learned that God reigns supreme over all happenings on earth. He alone has the power to allow or forestall any happening, good or bad.  Questions occupy our thoughts and conversations. Why didn’t God step in and prevent this?    God alone understands all the intricacies of this devastation. Opinions about how to prevent evil are as numerous as grains of sand. We strive for solutions, for reasonable answers, to fix things.
            We want to draw boundaries around evil. We long to be in control of our lives, to make sure that our loved ones stay safe. We want good to penetrate hearts, as we long to expel evil out of every corner. That day is coming, however it’s not here, yet.
            Where are we capable of banning evil? Where do we have dominion over powers of darkness? We have power over our own heart and soul. We cannot force other humans to turn to God, to seek his will, to welcome a holy invasion of God into their hearts. We have willpower to invite God to saturate us with his goodness, to lead us not “into temptation” but to “deliver us from evil.”
           God, the origin of life set up a perfect plan: love him and love your neighbor and your enemy.
            When people lose sight of God, the creator of life, they begin to lose their way. In addition, as they stray from God, they lose respect for life. When power hungry dictators seek control through invasion and bloodshed—evil gains momentum. When selfish parents prefer mind-altering drugs to parenting children—evil laughs at their folly and tallies its rewards. When we cheat in the smallest way, have lustful thoughts, slay unborn children—evil wins victories. Life becomes cheap. When polls show that seventy-five per cent of married people cheat on their spouses, the Evil One sneers at God’s call for fidelity in marriage.   
            It’s Christmas. We want to gather with family, hug our children. We want to hear bells ringing, choirs singing, we want to be merry and happy. We want dark valleys to go away. We want shadows of death to disappear. We long for streams of living water to purify peoples and societies.
             Wholesome streams of water always have a fountainhead, a beginning place. Christians know that fountainhead as Jesus Christ. He spoke to his followers and said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
            Every moment we make choices. We either live in God’s camp or take up with the thief, whom God also calls a roaring lion, his purpose to steal, kill, and destroy. In God’s camp, he first purposes to give love, restore life, and make whole.
            Someday, all tears will cease. God will triumph over evil, sickness (mind and body), and death. In the end, God wins. Even now, a victory occurs each time we make a conscious decision to obey the Good Shepherd, who can lead us into paths of right thinking and living.
            This Christmas, may you receive the blessing of peace that comes from the hand of God. Only he can gift what we really need.          
            Hunger for Humility (Week 51): “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 5:24-27





Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Story with a Good Ending

A homeless man pictured on the cover of a book looks skyward as snow drifts down. He looks as if he’s hoping for a better day. The title of the book is “Unexpected Christmas Hero” by Kathi Macias. I downloaded the book onto my Kindle reader, and since the book contained a fictional work, I assumed that the cover featured a model for the photo, but that’s when I heard more about the cover.

            A photographer, who currently works with Christian publisher New Hope’s cover design team, found a homeless man in Ashville, North Carolina and asked if he would allow him to take pictures of him for possible use on a book cover. The homeless man Willard Parker agreed. As the photographer Michael Lê and his wife Christine took pictures, Mr. Parker told some of his story.

            He has acute leukemia and is not in good health. He lost his home and eventually ended up homeless. On the streets, his constant search is for a place to pillow his head at night and looking for food to eat. He lost touch with his two daughters and grandchildren, and later told someone, "When I had my picture taken for the book cover, all I wanted was for it to help me get back with my family. It worked, and I'm really grateful." He signed a release for the company to use his photo, and when the author heard the story, she wanted to assist him in reuniting with his family and set up a financial fund to help with travel expenses.

            “Unexpected Christmas Hero” released in mid-October, and a copy eventually fell into the hands of someone who knew one of Willard Parker’s daughters, 26-year-old Amber. Looking online, she found the book cover and wept. It was her daddy.

            However, she didn’t know how to contact him or where to find him. Mr. Parker’s ex-wife was driving near Ashville one day, spotted Willard Parker, and picked him up. Since then he has spoken to both his daughters by phone, Amber and Rebecca, but they haven’t had the miracle of a reunion. Mr. Parker is presently in Toledo, Ohio, according to Christian News Service.

            Author Kathi Macias and I have corresponded about Mr. Parker. From her, I found that Michael Lê and his wife Christine treated Mr. Parker with respect and as an equal during and after the photo session. Their respect helps introduce the eighteenth rule of humble living written by Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667). In the language of his day, Taylor wrote, “Upbraid no man’s weakness to him to discomfort him, neither report it to disparage him, neither delight to remember it to lessen him or to set thyself above him.”

            The respect involved in reuniting Mr. Parker with his family warms me all the way down to my tiptoes. I found out from the photographer that he was about to give up hunting for an appropriate subject for the book cover when his wife felt strongly that they should drive to a specific part of town. That’s where they discovered Mr. Parker.

            All involved felt that God put them on a specific path, so he could reunite a father with his children and grandchildren. God remains faithful in his work today as he breaches gaps in families and capably reunites sons and daughters to himself. After all, isn’t that what Wonderful, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace came to do.

            In the next two weeks, we’ll wrap up this series on humble living. I continue to pray that the words of God and suggestions of Jeremy Taylor have caused you to consider how you might further embrace humility in the context of your life.

            May God continue to bless the Parker family as they find their way back to each other.

            Hunger for Humility (Week 50): “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" I Corinthians 10:24”

            Cathy Messecar welcomes comments at

Friday, December 07, 2012

            During the 1989 winter, Louise Gore and I drove our two high school seniors to Searcy, Arkansas to Harding Christian University’s campus. I phoned Arkansas relatives for a weather report, and my 90-year-old grandmother, who hadn’t been outdoors in weeks, answered, “Hon, the weather’s fine.”

By the time we reached Searcy, thick ice had formed everywhere. On a very steep decline, we inched into town taking a suggested shortcut. We later heard from the locals that we had come into town on the worst choice road. We made our icy descent into town from a steep road that had a winter name of “Suicide Hill.” One day later, travel was still treacherous, the highways glazed like a doughnut. As we traveled homeward on “black ice,” we passed numerous cars in ditches. With all of us having tense shoulders, we didn’t even make it to the Arkansas state line. We stopped our trip, and a clerk rented us her last motel room in Prescott, Ark.

Every two hours, night and day, I started my vehicle to keep the weak battery charged. We’d already had to jump it off one morning of the trip. No. It wasn’t a Die Hard brand. 

Meanwhile, back at our South Texas home, outdoor temperatures hovered around six degrees. Weighted by ice, tree limbs broke. Electric power ceased. Warm houses grew cold. With no electricity, my husband and teen daughter had the fireplace roaring and camped out nearby.

Our fireplace had a swing arm to hold a cooking pot. After many cold PB & J sandwiches, they wanted to eat something hot, so they combined culinary skills and cooked dried beans. They couldn’t find my all-metal cooking pot, so they used a teakettle that didn’t have any plastic parts. Never having cooked pintos before, they washed a two-pound-bag of beans, added water and salt, and shoved the lid onto the medium sized kettle.

As the blazing fireplace heated the metal bottom, the beans began to absorb water and swell. For about four hours, the growing beans pulsed out the spout of the teakettle. They formed a sort of cooking brigade. Add water. Catch beans. Add water. Catch beans. 

When the weather began to warm and folk began to stir, neighbors Myra and Elton invited hubby and daughter to dinner. They didn’t go empty handed. They had plenty of fresh mesquite-smoked beans. We still laugh about the miracle multiplying beans.

During another South Texas ice storm, temperatures skidded beneath the 32 mark. I was at home for that freeze, and the view out my kitchen window fascinated me. Six-inch icicles hung from the roofline, but pressed against the window panes were three red roses, the climbing kind.

The disparity of the icicles and red roses prompted thoughts about a Bible passage. God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  

During Advent, we once again enact awaiting a Savior. One, who can scrub the darkness from a soul and turn it white as snow. We await the arrival of one who delivers on all his promises.

God’s reaches through any kind of inclement weather or stained life to provide care and healing. He sometimes sends fresh reminders in icicles and roses.

Hunger for Humility (Week 49): “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18).

            Cathy Messecar welcomes comments at