IMITATION – the way of learning the Way

We all know that children learn by imitating their caregivers, whether it be parents, grandparents, day care workers, or anyone else who provides care and input into their lives.  Indeed, they even imitate what they see and hear on television, a sobering thought to be sure!

JDD playing keyboard

When our grandson was young, he would play the keyboard as if he was playing the piano, something he had seen me do.  Then, too, he would imitate his Papa by using the computer in the home-office, keyboarding with the abandon only a young child can muster!

At the office (C)

But, children need to be discriminating in selecting who they imitate. I recall my Mother’s admonition about imitating people “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?”  In short, we must learn who deserves the high honor of our imitation. 

This is as true in our Christian life as it is in our physical life. We are not to imitate someone who preaches something other than the Gospel of Christ as found in Scripture.  The Apostle John warns:

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.

3 John 1:11a ESV

So who are we to imitate?  First and foremost: Jesus. 

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

John 13:14-15 ESV.  Another time Jesus spoke of imitation related to loving each other:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:12 ESV

Even Jesus’ command that the disciples were to love each other was based on imitating how Jesus had loved them.

In addition to Jesus, Paul says this to the believers in Philippi:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:17 ESV. 

Just think, Paul’s life was so controlled by the Spirit of God that he could safely encourage the believers in the churches to imitate himself, further telling them that they should only follow those who live by the example that he set for them. 

In urging prayer for the leaders in the church, the writer of the book of Hebrews says:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:7 ESV

Look at the life that the leader is living; look at the witness, at their honesty, at their integrity, at their fidelity to the Word of God.  Look at the entirety of their way of life and then, and only then, imitate their faith.

G. K. Beale said:

Christians are like pilgrims passing through this world.  As such they are to commit themselves to the revelation of God in the new order so as progressively to reflect and imitate his image and increasingly live according to the values of the new world, not being conformed to the fallen system, its idolatrous images, and associated values.

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 175.

Some questions to ruminate upon:

  • Are you imitating someone who is guiding and uplifting you in your Christian pilgrimage through this world?
  • Are they deserving of your imitation, and if so, are you praying that they remain strong in their faith and witness to you and to others? Are you encouraging them in their walk with the Lord?
  • What would happen if someone were to imitate you? Would they grow in their understanding of the Christian walk?
  • Can you say, like Paul, “join in imitating me”? If you cannot say this, what do you need to do to realign your life with Scripture so that you can be the witness that deserves to be imitated by those less mature in the faith?

Father, we know that children learn and imitate us even when we are unaware that they are doing so.  I pray that I would be someone whose life would lead children and adults alike into a life with the Lord Jesus and that I would be a consistent witness for Him.

ARE YOU THE STRETCH NEEDLE?

Many decades ago, when I was in college, I became engaged to be married.  About 8 months before the wedding date, we were going to Wisconsin to see his parents when he announced that he had a present for me– a new home!

old-home-place
A beautiful new home! Ours?

I was ecstatic, but rather wondered how he would have made such a big purchase at that point in our lives, and without me having any input. 

When we arrived, he ran into the house and called to me “Come on in, it’s in here!”  Again, I was a bit confused.  How could our home be under the roof of his parents’ home?  After all, his parents lived in the downstairs flat with his grandmother on the second story of the house.  It might get a bit close!

I came into the living room and he was proudly standing in front of the coffee table where he stepped aside and, voila, there before my eyes was … a brand new NEW HOME sewing machine.

new-home-sewing-machine-close
It was a NEW HOME alright!

I had never heard of a NEW HOME sewing machine, but I was now the proud owner of one.  I had only had 1 semester of Home Economics in high school, and that included both cooking and sewing – to sum it up, I had no clue how to sew! 

So, the machine made a good door stop.  I did make curtains that were dynamite and I did attempt sewing some clothes for my daughter [when she was too young to notice that the yellow ducks on the dress were actually upside down in the back but right side up on the front.]  But for many years, the machine languished in the extra bedroom closet, without a thought of being used in this millennia!

Although the giver of the sewing machine died twenty years ago, and the marriage died earlier than that, the NEW HOME persevered.  It is heavy as lead (probably because that’s what it is made of) but it still sews straight lines great!  No embroidery or fancy stuff built into the electronics – well, electronics as we know them today did not exist when it was made almost 50 years old.  It goes straight and, if you push the fabric gently, it will stitch on the curve that you create. 

Now, in retirement, I have been sewing more often, mostly place mats or small tablecloths or decorative towels for our RV.  Recently, I wanted something to keep us warm and toasty on cold evenings so I picked up some fleece fabric from the store.  Soft and cuddly, I was sure it would be wonderful and I was anxious to get started sewing.

new-home-sewing-machine
The NEW HOME ready to go, pin cushion and all!.

I got my pin cushion (from high school) out and a new pair of scissors — ready to do some sewing!  I put the fabric on the machine and stitched about 4 stitches when the thread broke.  So, I re-threaded the needle (at a loss of about 20 minutes because I can’t see the hole in the needle and the NEW HOME predated “self-threading” machines). This scenario repeated at least 5 times until I gave up in frustration.  I was “over it”.

Bill, upon hearing of my failed attempts at being the Domestic Diva, said “Why not take the failed stitch sample to the fabric shop and see if they could help?” 

So, I went to the fabric shop and, upon seeing my fabric swatch, the owner immediately said “Stretch Needle”, and then walked away.  I had never heard of a stretch needle – Did it stretch when you used it?  Did you have to stretch before using it?  It looked like a regular needle to me, but it was worth a try!  I bought a pack of them and went home.

I put one on the machine and, to quote a Christmas poem “What to my wondering eyes should appear” but stitches – straight, long and not broken.  That was the solution – that was the “tool” that I needed to do the job.  WOW.  In 3 hours I had my whole project done and a cuddly wrap was being enjoyed.

After this experience, I did some research on “stretch needles” and found that they have a medium ballpoint tip, with a special eye and scarf, and they are designed for extremely stretchy fabrics and elastic. 

In short, I was trying to do something with a regular needle when the better way was with a stretch needle for the stretchy fleece fabric.

That prompted me to think — how often do we, in our Christian ministry, do something one way simply because it is how we did it in the past, even though there might be a better, more effective way available now, if only we were willing to change. 

Let me be clear – I am NOT talking about changing what we say in our message.  The message is, and always should be:

Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father for salvation.

John 14:6 records Jesus’ words about other means of salvation: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” 

Whether our culture likes it or not, my Lord said it, and He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  His words are recorded in scripture and that ends the matter for me.

But, I am saying that in the Body of Christ, we each have a job to do, and we are ordained to fulfill that specific role in spreading His message of salvation to the world around us.  Am I doing my specific role in the Body of Christ or am I doing what I want to do even if this is not the role God created for me to fulfill?  What about you?  Paul said it this way:

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:18, 27

As a church, are we using the right tool to accomplish the job before us?  Are we using the general use needle when the stretch needle can do the job better?  Is there someone in our congregation who is active in ministry but who is having to work harder than an individual who, while gifted in that ministry, is not doing the job because no one has asked them to do so?  Are we using the right people for the right ministry, or do we simply have people do the work because they were willing to do so, without respect to whether they could be used more effectively elsewhere in the Body of Christ?

As an individual, are you satisfied with taking in the Word through the sermon and, perhaps, even a small group Bible study but not exhibiting spiritual growth through serving a need that you have been prepared to fill in the Body of Christ?  Are you the “stretch needle” that the “general use needles” are looking for? 

I pray that we each would be willing to serve as the Lord directs, not seeking the top spot or the glamour of the best position but that we would be willing servants filling the need that we were equipped to do so that the Lord’s kingdom would advance and so that our Master would be pleased.

Both the general use needle and the stretch needle are needed to accomplish what the Body of Christ is to do.  Prayerfully consider your role.  If you are a Christian, you can be sure you have one because you are part of the Body of Christ.

Blessings to you as you seek to do His will through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, enable us to do Your will so that the message of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would be heard around the world.  Give us Your wisdom, strength and love for others as we seek to do Your will in the Body of Christ.

Canine Friends and Devotion!

Let me preface this post with the note that I am an unabashed dog person.  We had a cat for 18 years and I loved him, but never felt as close to him as I have felt with our canine children.  Therefore, it is from this perspective that I write this post.  I certainly mean no disrespect to those of you who love felines!

As an only child, I had a friend that was a constant in my life for a long time – my dog named Tippy.  She was all black, shaggy and soft, except for the white tip on her chin [hence, her name!].  

tippy-at-the-piano
Tippy showing her proper posture and her white chin!

She was my constant companion, confidant and comfort.  She sat with me at the piano and endured horrible playing with gracious patience.

linda-with-tippy-at-piano
Tippy with me at the piano … long ago but not so long ago that it was a harpsichord!

Doris Day is quoted as having said:

“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”

I agree with her.  Tippy would lay next to me on the sofa when I was ill and just provide comfort without saying a word! 

linda-and-tippy
My canine friend giving comfort when illness would come.

I guess you could say that I have had a canine companion almost my entire life.  Tippy has been gone for decades, but I still smile when I think of her.  Other canine blessings have been Missy and her daughter Winnie.  Here they are with my infant son many years ago.  

jonathan-with-missie-and-winnie
Missie (left) and her daughter Winnie (right) with infant son in between.

Skippy who was the head puppy in charge, at least he thought so.

skippy-close-up
Skippy, the Lhasa Apso/Poodle mix who was love on four paws.

Glitz, Goldie and Sweetie were marvelous retired greyhounds who graced our presence with their stately tranquility and incredible speed.  Goldie loved to travel in the RV:

dog-sweet-goldie
Goldie thought riding on the sofa in the RV was appropriate since she was in her retirement as a racing athlete, after all!

Now we have our MinPins, Cuddles and Snickers, along with our granddog, Haley.

spring-lake-the-three-friends
Three friends, enjoying the sunny day at the campground lake.

Of course Tippy was not my only friend, I did have some playmates who were even called “best friends”.   

Children swinging
Children swinging at the campground playground.

Now it is BFF – Best Friends Forever!  That “Forever” may seem likely at the time we speak it, and some of those persons do remain friends for many years.  Others, however, disappear from our lives but they leave imprints on our heart and spirit just the same.

With Facebook and other social media, we can have friends all over the world and never even meet them or speak to them in person.  To my way of thinking, this takes the meaning of “friend” and stretches it so that it bears little resemblance to its meaning in decades past.  But such is the reality for millions of youth today.

Scripture talks a great deal about friends. 

Probably the best example of a real BFF is the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament.  In 1 Samuel 17, David defeats Goliath and is brought before Saul as the victor in battle.  The very next chapter introduces us to Saul’s son, Jonathan, and we read in 1 Samuel 18:1 that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”  Their friendship continued for years, even through the time that Saul was hunting David to kill him, with the two men making a covenant between them that they would care for each other’s families if harm should come to them.  1 Samuel 20:42.

David remembered his covenant with Jonathan even after both Jonathan and Saul, his father, were dead.  King David asked if any of Jonathan’s family were still alive and we read in 2 Samuel 9 of the story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, who from that day forward sat and ate at the King’s table. 

We may not recognize the significance of this but in those days, all the family members of the preceding king were killed so that there would be nobody who could contest the validity of the kingship.  Mephibosheth escaped this fate when his nurse took him and ran, hiding him far from the king. 

In other words, it would be rare, indeed, for a son of a deceased king to sit at the current king’s table and to be brought under the care and protection of that king.  But this is what happened to Mephibosheth because of the friendship King David had with his father, Jonathan.  That’s a BFF!

While he was loyal to the covenant made with Jonathan, not all of King Davids friends were loyal to him, however.  In 1 Chronicles 27 we read of Ahithophel, the king’s counselor and Hushai the king’s friend.   Ahithophel was definitely not a BFF because he sided with David’s rebellious son in an attempt to take the throne from King David.  Scripture tells of the pain David had when he turned into an adversary:

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

Psalm 41:9

Sometimes friends betray us, and that is painful.  For this reason, we tell the children that their friends are important.  We tell them that the type of person they befriend can have an influence on them beyond just the immediate friendship.  We tell them to choose their friends carefully because of the strong influence friends can have on them.

In Exodus we read of God’s relationship with Moses:

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

Exodus 33:11a 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this type relationship with God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of the Universe?  

Well, I have some news for you …  the reality is that we can have this type relationship because of the sacrificial death of Jesus for our salvation.  When the Holy Spirit is within us, we can even address the Almighty Creator God as Father.  That is even closer than a mere friend!

Friends – we need them so that we can be socially healthy and so that we can live a full life.  But, we need Jesus Christ so that we can have a relationship with God because in and of ourselves we are sinful and unable to even approach God, let alone please Him. 

Praise God for our salvation; and praise Him too for the gift of Christian friends who encourage, support and love us in our good times and through our difficult times as well. 

Cuddles and Snickers
Cuddles and Snickers, our two MinPins

And praise God for the gift of our canine friends who love us unconditionally and who give of themselves in cheering us up, in grieving with us when we are hurt, in snuggling when we are ill, and in running with glee when we are happy.  Oh that we as Christians would be as kind to others as our canine children are to us!  

 

But we err if we think that is all that is required of us as followers of Christ.  Rather, unconditional love is the initial threshold that Christian love should pass.  Jesus’ love for us, and thus our love for our fellowman/woman, is to be sacrificial, not self-centered. When we love others as Jesus did, we will tell them the good news of the gospel and of the kingdom of God.   And it all is to be to the glory of God, our Father.

 

Father, your kingdom is one of marvelous wonders and goodness.  Thank you for the gift of canine friends, of feline friends, of the friendship of so many of your creatures in this world.  Thank you also for the gift of Christian friends who show us Jesus in their love and service.  May I be Jesus to others as I live through the power of your Holy Spirit.

KNITTING — AND THE CHURCH!

Many years ago, my Grandmother taught me to crochet and my Aunt taught me to knit. Both crocheting and knitting involve creating knots in yarn when you follow the pattern so that the work will be beautiful and reflect that which you want to create.

 

Knitting - beginning of baby cap
This is the beginning of a baby cap, done on circular needles and, here, the yarn is still attached.

I have long ago forgotten how to crochet, but I remembered enough about knitting to pick it up in recent years. And, thanks to instructional videos on youTube, books that I had purchased long before youTube was a twinkle in anyone’s eye (and which were still available in the house, due to my pack-rat nature) about how to create stitches, and a recent Christmas present from our Daughter, I have made several items including:

A long scarf of light silver blue, ethereal yarn.

 

knitting - scarf laying on shawl
Long scarf of silver blue yarn. This yarn knotted up at the center of the ball and I had to have one of my sisters in the Lord help untie the knots so that I would have enough yarn to finish the scarf.

 

A white shawl knit with yarn that has silver specks throughout. Very subtle. .

 

knitting - white shawl
White shawl that I use in the car or RV if the wind is cool on my shoulders.

A baby blanket and matching cap for a yet unborn recipient.

knitting - blanket and baby cap
Baby blanket folded in thirds with pattern revealed at the top. A matching baby cap is next to the blanket.

 

Knitting - baby cap next to blanket
Here the blanket pattern is shown “up close and personal.”  Working with multi-shaded yarn makes a pretty pattern.

 

As well as dozens of little baby caps for our missionary team to take to Cuba for use with newborn infants in the hospital in an effort to keep flies away from the infants. It is humbling to knit these caps which are supposed to be the “size of a small orange” and to contemplate the little head that will fit into the cap.

 

I am not an accomplished knitter by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy doing it but I have not attempted sweaters or vests or anything that is complex in nature. Just not there yet!

 

I do know, however, that there are two stitches in knitting and everything is based on those two stitches – knit and purl. That’s it. There are slip stitches, knit two together, and other stitches with names that I likely mispronounce, all of which create various patterns and textures for the piece, but they are all based on knit and purl. Essentially, these two stitches create knots in the yarn and, once the knot is fixed, you go on to make the next knot!

 

The yarn that I have used is not special stuff or exotic in any respect. There is, however, a wide variety of yarns, which by definition is a continuous strand of twisted fiber. Natural fibers include wool or cotton, cashmere and silk. You can also knit with bamboo, linen and synthetic fibers such as nylon and acrylic. I even saw a pattern for knitting a reusable recyclable tote using grocery store plastic bags as the “yarn”.

 

Recently, when I worked on the baby blanket and cap, I was thinking about the transformation of the single strand of yarn into a usable blanket and cap. Just knotting the yarn in knit and purl stitches row after row created a fabric that has far more uses, and is far stronger, than the single strand of yarn itself.

 

Knitting - close up of blanket
Close up of blue baby blanket shadow box pattern.

 

I suggest that the individual Christian is, in some ways, like that strand of yarn. We can do some things, but we cannot be as effective on our own as we can be when we are joined with our Christian brothers and sisters. Don’t take the analogy too far – we do not want to get so knotted up that we are not able to do our work. But, when we are knit into the fabric of the body of Christ, we are strong and we can be used by the Lord in a myriad of ways.

 

The Apostle Paul talks about believers in this way.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2:1-3 ESV

 

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Colossians 2:18-19 ESV

 

The believers in our Lord are “knit together in love” and when we hold to our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, we are knit together and are granted growth from God.

 

Knitting with yarn is fun and we can create lovely things just by twisting the yarn in knit and purl stitches. But, when we are knit together in love with one another in the body of Christ, just imagine what He can accomplish through His Spirit for His Church.

 

By the way, when you drop a stitch in knitting, you can go back and pick it up and, if done carefully, the pattern is not destroyed. Left unattended, that errant stitch can unravel and potentially ruin the entire work. In the same way, when one of the believers in the church is in trouble, has difficulties or is unable to do the work assigned, the rest of the body can, and should, step in and “pick him/her up” restoring the person to fellowship and tending to the physical, financial, emotional and spiritual needs that have arisen. In this way, the church’s work is unharmed and the Lord in honored. That is what being knit together in love is all about!

 

Praise the Lord for His mercy, grace and love and praise Him for knitting us together in His love.

 

Father, I thank you for your grace in providing the Church for support, encouragement, instruction, guidance and reproof as I go along my Christian walk. I pray that I would not be the stitch that drops off the needle so that my assigned task done for Christ would unravel. Thank you that we are knit together in love, your love!

 

 

 

 

THE FRAGILE GIFT AT CHRISTMAS

The Presidential Prayer Team devotional for December 15, 2015 is entitled “Shaking Not Necessary”. It is an excellent devotional thought that begins with the Christmas gift exchange experience of shaking the package and wondering what it contained. I would encourage you to read the devotional for yourself, at http://www.presidentialprayerteam.com/devo.

Christmas tree
Decorated Christmas Tree with Presents scattered underneath.

 

When I read the opening paragraph, my mind immediately went back to a Christmas almost 30 years ago when my daughter was trying to guess what her present was. I was wrapping gifts in the bedroom with the door closed and she was on the other side asking if she could “help”. As parents, you would understand that the help being offered was actually an attempt to see if she could identify her gifts early.

 

I declined her invitation and she wanted to know why. I told her I was wrapping her gift and she then began a barrage of questions about what it was, how big, etc.   Finally, in frustration, I told her that she should not bother me anymore because I had to be careful. When she asked why, I said it was fragile and I didn’t want it to fall off the bed while I was wrapping it. She was quiet and I finished wrapping the gift.

 

When the wrapping was completed, I opened the door to find her sitting on the floor, leaning against the door, waiting to carry her fragile gift to the tree. The irony was that this was not her only gift, nor was it the most expensive. But because it was the one that I told her was fragile, it was the paramount gift under the tree as far as she was concerned.

 

She scooped it up, v-e-r-y slowly and with great care. Holding it out in front of her as if it were nitroglycerin and walking with “baby steps” so it would not be jostled. She went down the stairs and arrived at the tree.   After putting the precious gift on a chair, she knelt down and made a space under the tree so that her fragile gift would not touch anything else. Then she placed the gift under the tree.

 

Each day before Christmas she would look at the tree, check to be sure that nothing encroached on the space she had cleared, and her fragile gift was intact.  Her brother would move packages around so they would almost hide THE gift, and she would patiently move everything away so that nothing would harm the fragile gift being given to her.

 

Seeing her concern made me sick at heart. I was proud of her care for the gift, but the reality was that her gift was a just plastic bottle of bubble bath, obtained from Walgreen’s, and it now had the cherished place under the tree. I even asked my husband if we should switch packages and get something that actually was fragile. Holding the course, the package remained.

 

On Christmas morning, it was the first to be opened. And the family had an incredible experience watching her realization that she had been tricked – it was not a fragile gift at all. Even today, if someone mentions a fragile present, my daughter’s cheeks flush and she gets her ire up and the whole story is retold.

 

Clearly, I did not intend to hurt her feelings and I apologized profusely after she opened the package. The statement was made when I was tired, frustrated about wrapping presents, and as attempt to stop her incessant demand to come into the room.  [She did, by the way, get several very nice presents that year, but the only one that is remembered is the giant bottle of bubble bath.]

 

Christmas nativity scene
The Nativity Scene on a cloth that my daughter and I made as well as represented by figurines above, Mary is holding the Babe.

 

My daughter’s gift was not fragile. The gift that God has given us is not fragile either – it is as strong as the Almighty God’s love and mercy.

 

Her gift was cheap bubble bath.  In contrast, God’s gift was not cheap, it was His priceless Son, born as a Babe who ultimately died as our Sacrifice.  God’s gift ultimately provided salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior whose birth as a babe is celebrated at Christmas.

 

The gift at Christmas from God is not a joke. It is not something that looks good on Christmas day but breaks or shuts down the next day.

 

The gift of God is Salvation – eternal life with God Himself.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Praise the Lord for His grace, mercy and love that was extended to us when Christ was born, and which was completed when Christ was crucified and raised again from the dead. His death atoned for my sin; so the salvation granted by the Lord is, indeed, a gift for which i am eternally grateful.

 

Praise Him, this holiday season. Remember the babe in the manger, but remember too that the babe is our Savior and Lord.

 

Father, thank you for your saving work through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you that you have given us salvation through faith in Christ. Thank you that you have sent the Holy Spirit to seal our salvation and to bring us into right relationship with you. Thank you for your love, mercy and grace. May you be honored this Christmas Season.

THANKSGIVING DAY IS FOR MORE THAN TURKEY!

In his Thanksgiving Day address to the country in 1963, President John F. Kennedy said:

Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings–let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.”

Indeed, Thanksgiving Day is a time for us to remember the many ways that we have been blessed during the past year.

In years gone by, the traditional day was celebrated with the best china, glassware, linens and, of course, the best food that the family could afford.

Family holiday table from years past.
Family holiday table from years past.

It was also a time for the family to gather, from various parts of the city, state, or country, to celebrate together.

When I was a child, we went to my Great Aunt and Uncle’s home for the dinner.  It was a special time when relatives from another state would come and the cousins would sit at the “children’s table” in another room.  Now that I am a parent and grandparent, I realize this is what you did so the adults could have a grand conversation which was uninterrupted and without hassle, usually about those who sat at the “children’s table”.  The children liked it because we did not have to sit and be quiet!

Even in our home today, the Thanksgiving Day meal is more formal and “dressy” than the normal fare that we consume the other 364 days of the year.

The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.
The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.

Of course, in school we learned that the Thanksgiving meal was in celebration of the harvest and of the bounty that the country afforded the Pilgrims.  So, in keeping with the “bounty” part of the holiday, we have food that is a traditional part of the celebration as well as a few new things to try.  One year I tried a recipe of acorn squash with raisins, brown sugar and a number of spices cooked in the slow cooker.  To quote my Beloved, “This is a keeper!”

New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.
New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.

In our home, although there are other foods prepared, the centerpiece of the meal is the turkey, all bronzed and tender.  I recognize that it is not too good from the turkey’s point of view, but I know that it is exceptional for the family’s enjoyment.

The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!
The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!

Before eating, we “say grace”, a time when we thank the Lord for the manifold blessings that he has provided for us, focusing primarily on the food we are about to eat!

Then, after gorging ourselves with the meal, we visit and talk about what we are thankful for.  Often the list includes friends, family, health and frequently the children will add thanks for their toys, pets, good grades at school, etc.

Often, while the ladies are cleaning up the kitchen, the children and gentlemen will go in the backyard for the holiday football game.  For the grandparent, there is no tackle, but for the elementary school child the adult will not be penalized when he is picked up off the field, as long as a hug follows and the descent to the ground is not a drop.

Family playing football after holiday meal.
Family playing football after holiday meal.

Holiday traditions and stories are important to keep us together and to define who we are.  Traditions and stories play a critical role in our life before God as He states in His Word.

For example, the Passover Meal is a time when the story of the Exodus is retold each year, even today, thousands of years after the event.  Scripture admonishes us to teach our children about God’s acts in our life.

The act of thanksgiving is described and discussed often in the Scriptures.  The Old Testament described the peace offering that was made to God in thanksgiving in Leviticus 7.

In 1 Chronicles 16:7 we read that David appointed that songs be sung in thanksgiving to God.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” – [Psalm 69:30]

Psalm 50:4 tells us to:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,” [ESV]

Scripture tells us that “grace” is more than just saying a quick prayer before the meal, although grace and thanksgiving are frequently paired.  In 1 Corinthians 1:4, Paul states:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you.”

Paul is giving thanks to God for the grace given to the Church in Corinth, a church that he established, counseled, and nurtured.

I remember learning the term G-R-A-C-E by the phrase “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”   But, grace is so very much more than this trite phrase defines.

  • Grace provides us with God’s love.  Paul says: “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:14
  • Grace enables us to do the will of God.  1 Corinthians 12:4-6 tells us: “”Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
  • Grace provides forgiveness of sin.  “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,…”  Romans 5:20
  • Grace enables Christians to love others.  “We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:19.
  • Grace provides us with the opportunity to fellowship with God.  “”Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power…. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”  Ephesians 3:7, 10-12.

I pray that we are thankful daily not just for the material blessings we have from our Father but also for the grace given to us by the Lord. We should think about this marvelous gift of grace from God and include it with humble gratitude in our prayers of thanks to God our Father.

Father, we thank you for your love that you extended to us while we were yet sinners, before we could even think of loving you. Thank you for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, and thank you for the Holy Spirit who indwells us and is transforming us into the image of your Son. Thank you for our country and the freedom to worship that is provided. We pray that our leaders and those in authority over us would look to you, Father, for wisdom, guidance and discernment as they lead us in these difficult times. Thank you, Father, for your presence and for your mighty hand.

ARE YOU IN THERE?

Have you ever watched a sculptor at work … creating a beautiful figure out of a chunk of marble or wood? How do they do that? How do they know what figure will come out of the material they are using?

Although I have not seen sculptors working in marble, I have seen people sculpting wood – with chain saws!

Sculptor of wood with chain saw working on large piece.
Sculptor of wood with chain saw working on large piece.

These artisans were chainsaw sculptors who were taking part in an international chainsaw carving competition in Reedsport, Oregon in 2009. This competition was subject of a post entitled “Creative Talents on Display” posted on May 2, 2015.

They created wood carvings of birds and bears, fish and wildlife on both a mammoth and a small-scale, all done with chain saws, some large for the first cuts and others very fine for the detailed work, but chain saws nonetheless.

Chain saw carved hawk.
Chain saw carved hawk.

No matter the size, the concept is the same. Something is inside the wood, and the artist must work to release it.

Looking at wood and seeing the statue encased in it.
Looking at wood and seeing the statue encased in it.

Michelangelo said that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” The same great sculptor was asked how he knew when to stop sculpting on a piece and he responded: “Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.”

 

Checking the sculpture and confirming what the craftsman sees for his piece.
Checking the sculpture and confirming what the craftsman sees for his piece.

This is a picture of one of the sculptors in Reedsport who has placed some rough-hewn details which begin to show the subject of his sculpture.

Eagle grasping at salmon, carved by chain saw sculptor.
Eagle grasping at salmon, carved by chain saw sculptor.

Here the artist has completed the work and has released the object from its imprisonment! This is one of the finished products at the Reedsport, Oregon competition in 2009 – an eagle swooping down to catch the fish below. Incredible detail, all done with a chain saw!

I readily admit that I have no such talent – if I were to hold a block of wood in my hand, it would stay there until I put it on the wood pile for the next winter fire. But, I certainly can appreciate the effort, talent and creativity that goes into developing one of these pieces.

I believe that God has called each of us to be, in essence, a sculptor of persons through His power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, Luke 4:18-19 Jesus said:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Emphasis added)

Jesus told those in the synagogue that day so long ago that He was sent to proclaim freedom to the prisoners … He was not talking about those in jail for their misdeeds but to the broader citizenry who are held captive in sin.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” 1 Corinthians 15: 56.

What does that have to do with blocks of wood? Nothing. But it has everything to do with our involvement with others in our church, family, neighborhood or world.

Think about the young people who come to church for youth group. Perhaps a smile or an arm around a shoulder would encourage some barriers to be dropped so that the story of God’s love through Jesus Christ could make inroads into a young person’s heart, replacing “attitude” with love.   Are you in there?

The attitude bear cub.
The “attitude” bear cub.

Think about the elderly who have no one to care about them? A warm meal served with a smile, or a coat provided with a hug, might be something that would chip away the callous exterior to reveal the heart that Jesus can touch.   Are you in there?

Mountain Man carved with chain saw.
Mountain Man carved with chain saw.

Why do this? Because God said we should, see Matthew 28:19‐20. Praise His Name that He should want me to work on His behalf! What a privilege. What a responsibility. What a joy.

Are you in there?

Father, help me to see others as you see them … through the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to look past the exterior and to see the hurt, the need, the worries, the anxiety, and the fear. Help me to be the hands of our Lord as I seek to minister to others, and help me to point other always, and only, to you my Lord, for the glory of God the Father.

 

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?

It certainly is no secret that a new baby in the house upsets the applecart for parents as well as for older siblings.

Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital
Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital

It sometimes is a stressful time with the older siblings wondering if Mom or Dad have enough love to go around.  This is especially true given the emphasis (rightfully so) on the newborn baby which has now taken the place of priority over that of the older children.  “Mom, do you still love me with all your heart?  You love me more than the baby, right?”  Of course Mom would respond that she loves both the children with all her heart. Then she is asked: “How can you love both of us with all your heart – you have 2 hearts?”  Math and biology have now become real issues!

Child looking at infant sibling
Child looking at infant sibling

We smile at the question, but as adults, don’t we sometimes wonder how much we are loved, whether it is by our spouse or our children or our friends?  Sometimes, during hard times, we even wonder if God still loves us … if He did, surely He would have prevented “X” from happening.  [You fill in the blank.]

When it comes to God, I think the answer to how much God loves us is encapsulated in the saying:

“There is nothing that I can do to make God love me more than He does; and there is nothing that I can do to make God love me less than he does.”

I believe that this saying captures the definition of divine security.  Human love is strong, but it is sometimes fairly conditional.  Not so with God.  Scripture teaches that His love for me began even before I was born and it will continue throughout eternity. I did not earn it, I did not merit it, and I cannot lose it.

In Psalm 139, the Psalmist describes God’s creation of his being and the intimacy of God’s knowledge of him personally.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.

Psalm 139:2-4 [NIV]  (Emphasis mine)

The Creator of all things knows me so intimately that He knew the number of my days even before I was born, before I “came to be”.  Further, He knows what I am going to say, even before I say it!  [That thought is difficult for me to even put into a post – praise Him for forgiveness!]

The scope of God’s knowledge of us and of His love for us is beyond my comprehension; I can only bow in thankful praise and abject submission to this God of love who sent His Son to be my Savior.

Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The depth of His love is shown by Calvary and the tomb; and, His power over death is shown by the Resurrection!

Philippians 2:8-11 describes Jesus’ sacrifice like this:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  [ESV]

Praise the Lord that He has reached out and has adopted us into His family, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  We are children of the Sovereign Almighty God.  We are members of God’s family, and we are sisters (and brothers) of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  See Romans 8:15-17.

There is no question that God loves His children.  His love is more than sufficient for His children; it is perfect and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.  We read in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 that:

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. [ESV]

Thus, the real question is “Do you love Jesus?”

Jesus asked this very question of Simon Peter, the disciple who often seemed to put his foot in his mouth before thinking.  The impetuous Peter had affirmed his devotion to Jesus in the Garden before Judas and the guards came … then, during Jesus’ “trial”, he denied that he knew Jesus, not just once but three times.

After the resurrection, Jesus was with Peter and he asked “Do you love me?” three times – paralleling Peter’s three denials.   The story is told in detail in John 21:15-19.

Peter said that he did love the Lord and Jesus’ response was to direct Peter to “feed my lambs”, to “take care of my sheep”, and to “feed my sheep”. [NIV]  In other words, saying you love Jesus is not the end of the inquiry … you have a job to do.  In Peter’s case, it was to be a missionary feeding, caring and tending for the Lord’s sheep, and ultimately dying a martyr’s death.

That may not be what Jesus calls us to do … but He does call us to do something for which He will equip and provide direction and strength.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 [ESV]

So, how much do you love Jesus?  Enough to obey Him?  Enough to be a witness for Him wherever you go?

Father, help me to be a witness for my Lord.  Give me strength when I think I cannot go on, and give me wisdom to know when I should simply express love.  Help me to let Jesus shine through me in all things for your glory and praise.

COMMUNICATION AND HOW OLD IS GRANDMA?

I received an email from a friend that told the story of a grandson talking to his grandmother about current events. The grandson asked his grandmother what she thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general. In reply, the grandmother thought about what was different when she was a girl of about the same age as her grandson.

The list was extensive, but here are some of the things she listed for him …

I was born before:

  • television
  • polio shots
  • Xerox
  • contact lenses
  • Frisbees
  • credit cards
  • laser beams
  • ball-point pens
  • dishwashers
  • clothes dryers
  • space walk or space station
  • computer dating
  • day-care centers
  • group therapy
  • FM radios or tape decks
  • Videos, CDs or DVDs
  • electric typewriters
  • Pizza Hut
  • McDonald’s

The email story went on with many more examples of the differences and then she asked her grandson – “How old do you think I am?”

From my perspective, she was not very old!   She was born in 1952 … I would have been 4 years old when she was born!

House in Shrivenham, England
House in Shrivenham, England

The email was humorous when reading it but profound in its message … changes have come to us so rapidly that we have not been able to really adjust to one set of conditions before new situations are presented to us.   Take the iPhone for example; phones are hardly used for phoning someone anymore; they are computers, cameras, calculators, internet browsers, maps, and games and new generations of them are issued before we know how to use the one we have!  

Or consider the family.  Rarely do you find entire families in the same city or state. There are many families with children and grandchildren hundreds or even thousands of miles away from grandparents, a situation that was rare 60 years ago.  Each of the pictures in this post reflect just some of the locations where our children and family members have lived.

Coastline at Myrtle Beach, South Carollina
Coastline at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

As I was thinking about this email and the changes that have developed in such a short time, I looked through a box that my husband brought to the house after he cleaned out a storage room. When I opened it, there were a number of things that had been retained for no specific (or good) reason. But then I saw a large envelope and, when I peered inside, I saw numerous letters and cards that had been to me sent as an encouragement during a spiritual retreat 20 years ago.

I opened and read several but had to stop when tears made it too hard to read the handwriting. Reading words of encouragement written so long ago by loved ones and dear friends, many of whom are now with our Lord, blessed my heart and soul more than I had anticipated, and surely more than they could ever have expected. A loving gesture of writing and sending a note, that was discovered anew 20 years later, still had the power to evoke strong emotion and thankfulness to our Lord for the blessing of the friendship and thankfulness to them for taking the time to send the note in the first place.

Welcome sign at the Texas state line
Welcome sign at the Texas state line

Then I thought about how I communicate with others, today. The family is spread out over hundreds of miles. We send an e-card for birthdays, anniversaries, and general greetings. It is a reminder that we are thinking about them on their special day, and we may even type in a personal note, but that’s it. What about notes to family members, encouraging them and letting them know that, even from a distance, we love them and are thinking of and praying for them. That too is most likely an email.

Communication is easier today than it has ever been. But it is temporal and evaporates at the end of the day.

In Bible days, there was no email or e-card to alert people that David had instructions for the troops.  No, he sent a letter.  See 2 Samuel 11.   The King of Syria sent a letter to the King of Israel along with gold, silver and clothing when he wanted the man of God to heal his servant Naaman.  See 2 Kings 5.  When Nehemiah was rebuilding Jerusalem, he received numerous letters from his adversary, Sanballat.  Nehemiah 6.  Handwritten letters allowed communicating with those who were not with you physically.

Jefferson Monument in Washington, D.C.
Jefferson Monument in Washington, D.C.

This was true, also, in the New Testament. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Antioch with a letter from the church leaders admonishing the people to listen to those being sent to them.

Paul often wrote a letter to one church and then directed that it be read by the other churches in the area also. The letter to the Colossians is an example of this:

And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

Colossians 4:16.

Letters were read and cherished by the people in the church and then sent on to the next church so that all were instructed, admonished, encouraged and strengthened by the Apostle’s words.

Moses commanded the people, when they left Egypt and the feast of unleavened bread was instituted:

You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

Exodus 13:8.

Coming into Albuquerque, New Mexico
Coming into Albuquerque, New Mexico

We are commanded, numerous times in Scripture, to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord and to tell them of how the Lord has guided and strengthened us during our lives.

Given this migration away from family togetherness, how do we communicate our faith to the children and grandchildren?

One way that we, in the 21st century, can communicate our faith with our children is by letters. It is easy to send texts and emails, and we can even Skype and see them, but perhaps, at times, we should return to the communication of Scripture and send some letters. Letters can be read, and reread, years or decades from now, after we are no longer able to communicate with anyone.  Perhaps we should send

  • Letters that tell of the Lord’s wondrous love for us.
  • Letters that describe the Lord’s guidance and strength during a hard time.
  • Letters of instruction and encouragement in the Lord, that say “It is because of what the LORD did for me when ….”.
  • Letters that witness to our love for Him and of our love for the recipient of the note.

May my life be an open letter of love for my Savior, and may I communicate that love to those within my sphere of influence in a way that is beautiful and pleasing to my Savior and in a way that will last, perhaps even beyond my own self!

Lord, give me wisdom as I try to communicate my love for You and my love for my children, parents, grandchildren, friends … help me to create a witness that will last and encourage those reading it to renew their focus on You, as You alone are to be glorified.