OF BILLBOARDS AND BANNERS!

Every fall, college football reigns supreme in Knoxville where the University of Tennessee football team, the Tennessee Volunteers, face off with the visiting team while over 100,000 people fill the stadium for a home game and they cheer, scream and watch every move made.  This does not only apply at the home game – such dedicated watching includes all televised away games as well, but then we don’t have the stadium cheerleaders, so we have to find our own!

Our own private cheerleader for U.T.
Our own private cheerleader for U.T.

In an earlier post, “I will give my all …”, I talked about seeing the billboard for the football program that challenges the players to give their “all” to the program.  The billboard has the shape of our state in the background and, in the University’s colors of orange and white, the words on the billboard say that we will give our “all for Tennessee today”.  The billboard not only has that slogan in print, it also has a giant hand coming up from the foliage under the sign as if to touch the sign as an imaginary player passes beneath, a subtle reference (for those who know the history) to the sign on the player’s locker room wall that says the same thing and which, according to tradition, each player touches as they run through the T into the football stadium.

Scripture tells us that God demands wholehearted devotion.  Deuteronomy 6:5 contains the following commandment from our Holy God:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

That pretty much sums up “our all” doesn’t it … heart, soul and might.

But in case we missed the message there, Deuteronomy 10:12-13 follows up on it and says:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?

Talk about our “all” … God is saying that we are to serve Him with our whole being, not to serve Him half-heartedly.   Of course, Jesus also reiterated this command as being the first and greatest commandment that we are to follow.

Even for us in 2015, this commandment clearly extends to us as believers of our Lord subsequent to his crucifixion and resurrection.  He gave His life for us; how can we even think of giving anything less than our “all” to Him?

Going back to the billboard about the team giving their “all” to Tennessee football, in the prior post I pondered if I would be willing to have a sign in the front yard saying that I would give my “all” for Jesus, and if that sign would make a difference in my life.

As I came down the stairs thinking about that post and the billboard, I looked up and … low and behold … we do have such a sign in our house.   Actually, it is a banner placed over the primary exit door of our home which reads:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Banner of Joshua 24:15
Banner of Joshua 24:15

That, of course, is taken from Joshua 24:15.   I remember when we bought this banner many years ago; I have always loved that verse in Joshua and this was a beautiful representation of it.  And, it encapsulates the commandment in Deuteronomy and the thoughts about obedience and allegiance to God that runs throughout Scripture.

I mention this because our banner has been hanging there quite a while, and I am afraid that it has become part of the room décor – sort of a statement of “ambiance” rather than a statement of intent for any of us when we exit the residence.  I am not certain that we notice it at any time other than when we have to dust it before company comes over (okay, maybe not even then).

In fact, if I were to ask our grandchildren about what the banner across the door said, they probably would have to go to the living room to read it, even though it has been there for years and they pass under it each time they exit the house.

This realization raised some questions in my mind and heart:

    • I wonder if each of the Tennessee players think of what that sign says every time they touch it as they go through the passageway into the stadium, or if it is a gesture that gets lost in the excitement of the moment?
      • I wonder if our children and grandchildren think of the lessons learned in our home when they are outside of our reach?
    • I wonder if the coaches remind the team of the sign’s significant message before they run into the field for the sports conflict of the day?
      • I wonder what would happen if we reminded the children and grandchildren to remember our Lord as they face the world and its challenges when they left the security of our home each day?
    • I wonder if I reflect the message that banner has been expressing so eloquently all these years?
      • Do I serve the Lord?  Every day?  In all my activities? Whenever I leave the house?
      • Does my family serve Him?  Is Jesus Lord and Master of all those in my family?
    • I wonder if my cheerleading for the Lord is as driving and exuberant as the cheerleading for the football team?
      • Do my children and grandchildren know that I am on the Lord’s team?
      • Do the neighbors see an excited exuberance for my Lord or do they see someone who goes about “serving in the church” with a grumble and frown?

Father, forgive me when the cares of this world flood my mind and heart so that I am unable to even think about You or my Lord.  Forgive me when I am “too busy” to spend time with You in reading your Word.  Forgive me when I am so committed to my family, friends, work, entertainment, and even activities at the church, that I don’t take the time to pray or to listen to your Spirit.  Help me, today and for all the future todays that You give to me, to give You my “all”.  I pray this through the mighty name of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ.

SCHOOL IS IN!

Drive down neighborhood roads early in the morning and you are well aware that school has begun.  The school zone speed limit signs are blinking and, on many streets, the police cars are waiting to pull speeders over when they disregard the sign and blast past the school while children are present.

The backpacks have been purchased and innumerable school supplies have been obtained to fill them as the children march toward their destiny in their new classrooms.   The younger children are, by and large, excited about the new grade level and the excitement that awaits.  [First day of kindergarten with backpack and smiles – a strong face concealing a bit of trepidation!]

The First Day of Kindergarten.
The First Day of Kindergarten.

The older youths are a bit more jaded and it is not quite as “cool” to be excited about the change as are their younger siblings.

Parents also go through a “school transition” of sorts … just watch a mother standing at the bus stop with her kindergarten child.  As the bus pulls up, the child ascends the steps and, if you look closely, often the mother is daubing her eyes.  Her little chick has left the nest for, possibly, the first time and it is a transition because there is the awesome awareness that a new chapter in the child’s life is about to begin.  [First born getting on the bus for first day at kindergarten, while Mom is holding back the tears of pride and fear all at the same time!]

Boarding The Bus On The First Day Of Kindergarten.
Boarding the bus on the first day of Kindergarten.

There are times that we tend to think that all education is to be handled by the school … or perhaps by the church.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The primary teacher for the child is the parent then grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members.

While this seems to run counter to our culture, Scripture is clear that teaching the children is the paramount role of the parents.  Solomon, who was known as the wisest man on earth, penned the book of Proverbs as a record of his teaching to his son.  The book begins:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:  To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – … The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.  Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.  (Emphasis not found in text of Scripture)

Proverbs 1:1-9.

Long before Solomon wrote the proverbs contained in the Scripture, God directed the Israelites to instruct their children in the commands of God.  In Deuteronomy 6:1-7, the children or Israel were commanded to keep the commandments that the Lord gave to them, and further they were to “teach them diligently to your children…”

In Exodus chapter 13, God instituted the annual feast of unleavened bread to commemorate the people’s leaving Egypt by the mighty hand of God.  At verse 8, the people are instructed to tell the children that the reason for the feast was “because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

After the Israelites went through the Jordan on dry land, Joshua took 12 stones, one for each tribe, and set up a pillar.  Then he told the people:

“When your children ask their fathers in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’, then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’”

Joshua 4:21-22.

Clearly, teaching occur during a wide multitude of activities.

Grandfather and grandson flying a kite on a sunny day.
Grandfather and grandson flying a kite on a sunny day.

Time spent with children can teach various skills, but mostly will teach about relationships, enjoying being with each other, and the value of sharing time together in God’s marvelous creation.

The first fish!
The first fish!

Sometimes our “teaching” will result in the discovery of a new hobby that could last a lifetime.  Or, it might confirm the fact that “I don’t want to touch that!”  But no matter what, learning will come through the experience.

Swimming pool fun!
Swimming pool fun!

Sometimes teaching a skill, such as swimming, will result in nothing more than having fun … but that is all too important in a world full of strife, pressure and challenges.  Knowing how to have fun while parents, grandparents or other adults are watching is, in itself, something worth learning.

Most importantly, however, through prayer and attention, we teach them to love the Lord, to live a life that is full in Christ, to pray when facing difficulty or just to commune with the Living God, to learn and develop their own personalities while, at the same time, becoming responsible for their own actions and understanding that God is Sovereign.  This kind of teaching occurs during the act of living.  Just watch the preschooler mimic you.

One example that stands out in my mind was the child we were babysitting for who stood in our porch, holding a Golden Book with the pages facing us, as if she were the teacher reading us the story.  However, she was too young to read; rather, she was saying, and I quote: “Blah, blah, blah, … [slight pause] I don’t wanna hear about it!”  Then she would turn the page, look at it as if reading the words, turn the book around so the new page faced us, and then repeat the same statement with the same cadence, rhythm and sing-song form each time she said it.  It was clear that she had heard this phrase often in her home.  She may not have known what it meant, but she knew how to say it!

Or consider the parent who was shocked when the 3 year old let out an expletive only to hear himself say the same thing when he hit his finger with a hammer.  If we say it, they will, in all probability, say it as well.  The phrase “your actions speak louder than words” is much more than a catchy phrase!

  • If you don’t want them to curse – you should not curse.
  • If church is important to you – you should go with your child to church, not just drop the child off at the door.
  • If prayer is important to you – you should pray in front of and with  your child, not just direct the child to pray at bedtime.
  • If God’s Word (the Holy Bible) is important to you – you should read it in front of, and also along with, your child.

It behooves us to be sure that our actions are consistent with the words that we speak, especially when children are listening or observing what we are doing.

In Proverbs 22:6 we read: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  See also Proverbs 22:15.

Teaching or training our children means much more than just providing a computer or iPad and letting them look around, play games or watch movies.  Teaching our children includes information from school, certainly; but the more important lessons relate to our teaching of Jesus Christ, teaching of God’s sovereignty and majesty, teaching of sin and salvation, teaching of God’s love and mercy combined with His holiness and justice.  And, teaching our children includes teaching that actions have consequences and that discipline is an important part of growth, training and living.

God disciplines each of those He loves and we should discipline our children.  The writer of Hebrews says the following about discipline in chapter 12:6-10:

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.  … Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.  Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

I am surely not advocating for child abuse, or even for spanking or other form of physical punishment, necessarily; but I am advocating for loving discipline that trains the child and brings wisdom.  Ephesians 6:4.  Discipline includes development of self-discipline which affects virtually the entire life, including things like diet, alcohol use, actions while partying, sexual purity, fidelity in marriage, money usage and savings, etc.

Leaving the yard vegetation without pruning or guidelines results in weeds growing wild and choking out the good plants and shrubs growing spindly and weak.  Likewise, leaving children to raise themselves results in children who do not know God or follow His commands, who do not understand boundaries, who do not respect authority, who do not have the discipline to live productive lives.

We must not waste our opportunity to teach, discipline, and train our children.  Our time with children is important, and it is limited!

Father, forgive me when I have focused on the mundane and have ignored the weightier matters when speaking with my own children and grandchildren.  Holy Spirit, please guide me as I teach by example and let my words be consistent with my actions.  May the children I come in contact with see Jesus and His love put into action as I interact with them.  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your guidance and presence.

 

 

“COLORFUL LEAVES, YEAH!” “DRIED LEAVES, UGH!”

This week, we had some beautiful weather and, on one such evening, we were eating dinner on the porch. I gazed over the backyard and noticed that some of the trees in the woods already have the characteristic red hue that precedes the brilliant color of autumn. I pointed out these harbingers to my husband and received the traditional “Ugh!” and I was reminded of our differing perspective.

We each have our own perspective whether it be on monumental topics such as our spiritual life or whether the topic is insignificant such as leaf color.  

White Bradford pear trees in Spring.
White Bradford pear trees in Spring.

I see the beautiful pallet of color that the Lord provides in the wide variety of trees in our yard and down the street. The spring blooms excite me with joy like a child seeing a Christmas tree.

Yellow spring blooms.
Yellow spring blooms.

When it comes to fall colors, I am just as excited about the forthcoming color bonanza that highlights our street; however, my beloved husband will usually respond with “Ugh!”  Rest assured, he is not anti-color and he is not diminishing the glory of God’s creation.

Beautiful colors of fall.
Beautiful colors of fall.

Indeed, he loves the color in the trees, if only the leaves would stay on the trees! What he [fore]sees is the pile of dried leaves that translates into work when he has to rake or somehow remove them from the yard so the grass beneath the pile does not die through the winter.

One of many piles of leaves raked up from the yard in the fall.
One of many piles of leaves raked up from the yard in the fall.

You see, it is all our perspective. Often we speak with people and the response we get is not what we expect. We say something that is fairly mild and, to our surprise, we get an animated fervent response opposing our comment. We may be inclined to respond with equal fervor, but before we do, we should stop and think of the perspective of the other person. There may be something of which we are totally unaware and which, if it had been known, would explain the reaction.  For example, another approach to the fall leaves on the ground would be the fun that a child has in being buried under the leaves!

Child in a pile of leaves!
Child in a pile of leaves!

People much more trained than I will have to answer how to change the perspective of another, or even if that is possible; but I can say that Scripture tells us about how we should respond in that situation.

Solomon says

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” Proverbs 15:1-2

Again, in Proverbs 29:11 we read:

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”

Paul said:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3.

And James, the half-brother of our Lord, said:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20.

When my husband responds “Ugh” to my glee at the colorful leaves, I need to remember the difference in perspective. I remind him of the glory of God’s creation and, while I physically can’t do much in the yard, at least I offer to help him.

Backyard beauty in the fall.
Backyard beauty in the fall.
Leaves in the yard waiting to be raked up and taken down to the street.
Leaves in the yard waiting to be raked up and taken down to the street.

When it is clear that differing perspectives are at issue, how can you defuse the situation and respond with a soft answer, thinking about the perspective of both you and your fellow Christian? Pray for guidance, and He will give you wisdom.

Praise Him for the difference in perspective. Sometimes, a different perspective enables us to see more of the whole picture!

Grandchildren help Grandfather rake leaves!

I SEE YOU!

Did you ever play “peep-eye” with a young child? You know the game – the adult puts their hands over their eyes or perhaps covers the baby’s eyes and then says “Where are you?” After an appropriate pause, the adult quickly allows the child to see again and says “Peep-eye, I see you!” Almost always the young child laughs in glee and sometimes they laugh so hard they get hiccups!

Baby sitting with bib after playing I see you with grandparent
Baby sitting with bib after playing I see you with grandparent.

Actually, watching the adults playing this with the children raises the question about who is having more fun!

The childhood game is fun and grandparents love to play it with their infant grandchildren and it is a harmless way to bond together. (Usually the parents are too busy to do it, but that’s why God created grandparents!)

I was reminded of the “I see you” game when we were on our camping trip recently when we were joined by some dear friends and their two German Shepherd dogs, Quincy and Dixie.   I was trying to get a picture of Dixie whose canine face is beautiful, and I was using my Kindle camera rather than my little red electronic camera. All this to say, I could “snap” multiple pictures rapidly in an attempt to catch her face just right.

Dixie, the German Shepherd Dog
Dixie, the German Shepherd Dog

Ultimately, I believe that I did get a good representation of her face, when we were at the campfire later in the evening.  It was not until I was looking at the pictures to see if any of them “caught” the character of Dixie that I saw the following series of pictures.

Doggie I see you #1
Doggie I see you #1
Doggie I see you #2
Doggie I see you #2
Doggie I see you number 3
Doggie I see you number 3

It was as if Dixie was playing “I see you” with the camera while it actually was my inability to get her face inside the lens parameters.

But, I wondered if the Lord was speaking through this series of pictures.

We often act as if no one is watching when the reality is that the world is, indeed, watching how we live our life if we proclaim Christ as our Savior. What difference does He make in how we conduct our business, how we interact with our neighbors? Does Christ make any difference in how we train our children? Is our marriage a testament to the vow that we took, to love and honor our spouse?

Does Jesus have any connection to our day to day life or is He relegated to Sunday morning services?

I see you! Children see their parents talk about how important church is while they lay in bed and let the church bus pick the kids up. Children see us as we ignore the stop sign, ignore the extra change mistakenly provided by the fast food server, and ignore the call to help in our community or church while at the same time telling the children that they should always be helpful on the school playground. They see when we lie about something or when we say something cutting about our spouse, only to tell the children that we were just kidding!

Inconsistencies between actions and words – guess which the children will remember!

I see you! Even for those who have no children, the world is watching. Our co-workers see when extra pens and paper are taken from the office, under guise that “I do work from home sometimes!” Or they see when the hours on the clock indicate 8.5 but we forget to deduct for the extra time we took at lunch. Our neighbors will resent our preaching that they should go to church when they see us doing yard work when the worship service is beginning. A visitor at church will wonder about our loving fellowship if we start to belittle a fellow worshipper in our post-service visit with them.

Inconsistencies between actions and words – guess which the children/ neighbor/ world will remember!

The Psalmist in Psalm 139 recites the numerous ways in which God knows each of us. In verses 2 and 4 David says that God even knows our thoughts and words:

“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. … Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether”

I see you!   It is more than a game to play with a baby – it is something to remember every day of our life. Even if no one is around to see what we are doing, the omnipotent, omnipresent God sees us.

Let Psalm 139 be in our minds and hearts as we go through the week … let us remember that God sees what we are doing, He knows our path, and He desires that we live for Him.

THE HORRIBLE/WONDERFUL CAMPING TRIP!

We are getting ready to go on a short camping trip and in considering the things to take, I remembered a camping experience in March 2014 where I thought I had covered all the bases, but, the Horrible/Wonderful Camping Trip was the result!

One month earlier we had adopted Cuddles, the first of our two miniature pinchers.

Cuddles is showing her
Cuddles is showing her “I’m so small, but so cute” expression!

She was just getting used to us at home when we took her on a camping trip with our then 7-year old grandson who wanted to go camping for “Spring Break” which happened to be toward the end of a very cold winter.

The snowy terrace and backyard
The snowy terrace and backyard

While our grandson had been in the RV before, Cuddles had not. (Picture of us on the way to the RV … excitement and anticipation oozing out of every pore!)

On the way!
On the way!

The response of our canine daughter was much less than enthusiastic when the sounds of travel in the RV began, and when she was harnessed into a seat which she did not particularly appreciate.

When we arrived at the huge campground we found only one other RV and it was being stored, not used. (This shows a big campground that is not filled with campers … picture this with rain and mud, then you get the idea!)

Empty campground
Empty campground

Another clue that this was going to be a memorable (?) trip was the weather – not only was it cold, we drove through heavy rain all the way to the campground. But Grammy and Papa persevered because they had promised a camping trip and, by golly, we were going to produce on our promise!

Cuddles, on the other hand, was not as excited since she was a bit more realistic … going to the bathroom in freezing cold rain, on wind-swept frozen grass is just not her cup of tea. (Here she is shown shortly before this trip in our backyard with her coat on, standing at the window while looking at the snow … “do I really have to get in that? I am, after all, a member of the family!”)

Snowy Cuddles by window
Snowy Cuddles by window

And the 7-year-old grandson anticipated, correctly, that it was likely going to be his job to walk Cuddles at the campground, with his jacket on and hood up, until she went to the bathroom since Grammy and Papa were old, or rather “seniors”!

We, however, dismissed the bad weather outside because we were ready for inside recreation. We came armed with games, DVDs and video games to play since the rain would prevent us from doing much outside – but within minutes the [new] DVD player developed a thumping sound that permeated the heart and mind of all of us. It was a pitiful sight to see us viewing Wallace and Grommit when we missed every 4th word or more because of the persistent pounding.

When the movie failed, we decided to run some water in the sink for hot chocolate — and the frozen hose burst. Same held true with the shower hose, so our entertainment became a trip to a delightful RV supply store with Papa and the grandson installing replacement hoses and faucets.

Thinking, perhaps, that a rest might have helped the DVD, we tried the movie again but Wallace and Grommit still thumped their way through missing words.

We noticed a “dog park” when we pulled into the campground, so we promptly took off for that once the rain had ended. When we got there, we saw all the elements of a doggy playground … teeter/totter, tunnel, low fence to jump, ramp up to a trestle and a ramp down on the other side, with a lot of room to run and all of it was fenced so no leash was needed. Just what the doctor ordered after confinement in the RV. But, it was MUDDY after all the rain … no grass, just mud. When our grandson started to run to entice Cuddles to run, both the dog and the boy rained mud and neither of them liked it!

We marched back to the RV with one very dejected young man. But then he cheered up when he remembered that we always had a campfire to make s’mores. (Note, this is the campfire our grandson was dreaming of!)

Campfire of your dreams!
Campfire of your dreams!

But, Papa correctly said no campfire that night because the wind was blowing far too hard: a campfire would not burn as it was too windy and too wet, not to mention cold!   Dejection reigned supreme!

But Dejection had met its match when it encountered Grammy!

I had seen a “portable s’more maker” advertised in a catalog. It looked interesting so I purchased it. When it came, I described it to a coworker and she said: “A portable s’more maker? That’s a pile of wood and a match!”

Well, no one really took me seriously, but my time to shine had come … I looked at my grandson and said “We don’t need a campfire because we can make s’mores inside where it’s warm with Grammy’s portable s’more maker!”

While he was a bit of a doubter at first, when I brought out the box, the potential promise of s’mores was too strong — he was willing to open it, just in case I was right. The ceramic pot with sterno fuel provides the heat to cook, or burn, the marshmallow, as your discriminating taste may prefer. He loved it and we had fun making s’mores that evening, even if it was blustery outside in the frozen, virtually empty campground. Papa even joined in the fun although it was a bit crowded around the small “campfire” in the RV.

S'more on fire!
S’more on fire!

We left the campground early the next day and returned to the warmth of the fireplace at home and talked about our camping trip … laughing about the broken hoses, the dog park mud, the empty campground, and the inside s’mores.

I had planned for a camping trip because it was something that our grandson said he wanted – what he really wanted was time with us and memories that were unique to our experience. Those he got in abundance.

How like our relationship with God. In Deuteronomy 11:13 we are commanded

“to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul”.

This commandment did not end when Jesus arrived because He reiterates this as the greatest commandment for us in Matthew 22:37.

In fact, Jesus promised that His Spirit would be with us, enabling us to do that which He commanded. See John 14:16-17:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

How do we show our love? Think about your first love, your spouse, children, or parents. The ways love can be expressed are as many and myriad as there are people.

Papa and grandson playing hotwheels
Papa and grandson playing with Hotwheels
Multigenerational family playing football
Multigenerational family playing football

But one of the prime characteristics of love in action is that you spend time with the object of your affection. This love does not ignore the many obligations that we have on a day-to-day basis; nor does this mean that all the time together must be at play. But spending time with the one you love is paramount, just as is your desire to do so.

Grandfather and grandson working together to fix yard equipment
Grandfather and grandson working together to fix yard equipment

So, we say we love the Lord. Do we desire to be with Him? How do we show our love for God?

Psalm 106:1 says:

“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

In Psalm 77:12, David says:

“I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

So:

  • Do you meditate on Jesus?
  • Do you contemplate His worthiness for praise and glory?
  • Do you read His Word and feed upon it?
  • Do you worship Him privately as well as in corporate worship with other believers?
  • Do you praise Him for all His marvelous works?
  • Do you joy in your relationship with Him?

The camping trip certainly could have been better from a camping perspective … but the time we spent with our grandson was wonderful as well as memorable.

Now, remember that the Lover of your soul, the omnipotent, creator God, the One who has loved you since the foundation of the world.. it is this God Who desires to spend time with you!

Make yourself available and see what He will do!

BIRTHDAYS – THE CELEBRATION OF … US!

The Birthday Princess
The Birthday Princess

I was thinking about birthdays the other day. Children long for the day that is theirs, they can be the Princess or King for the day. Often the family lets the “birthday boy/girl” pick what the family will eat for dinner, what movie or television show the whole family will watch, etc.

Of course, there are also the decorations, streamers, balloons, and banners …

 

Birthday decorations
Birthday decorations
Birthday Banner
Birthday Banner

… and the birthday cake (or pie or cookies or whatever special treat the birthday child orders) …

Dinosaur Birthday Cake
Dinosaur Birthday Cake

.. or enjoys!

Yummy Birthday Cake
Yummy Birthday Cake

We celebrate birthdays when the child is growing into a youth.

Youth Birthday Boy
Youth Birthday Boy

We celebrate when the youth is racing toward adulthood.

Skateboard Birthday Cake for Youth
Skateboard Birthday Cake for Youth

And adults enjoy birthday recognition, even while recognizing that age waits for no person!

Adult Birthday Party
Adult Birthday Party

Additionally, for some of us who are animal/pet lovers, we may even celebrate the birthday of our domesticated children.   Here is Goldie, one of our greyhounds, whose birthday happened to fall on a “Meet and Greet” Saturday – so she put her Birthday Princess hat on and provided all the other hounds with treats for her “party”.

Doggie Birthday Party
Doggie Birthday Party

We celebrate birthdays in our culture because we believe that recognizing the day of our birth is important. For one day in the year, we are important just because we exist. We celebrate that we were born to do whatever destiny lies ahead of us. No matter where on the chronological chart we may fall, young or not so young, we all have a job to do for all of our days. (Even Goldie who was a therapy dog at a nursing home.)

Birthday celebrations are not limited to our culture or to this century, or even this millennia!   In the Old Testament of the Bible, in Genesis 40:20, we read that on “Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants.”

In the New Testament, we read of Herod’s birthday celebration which, unfortunately, turned into a drunken mess that ended up with the beheading of John the Baptist.  Matthew 14 and Mark 6.

Interestingly, there is no indication from Scripture that Jesus ever spoke of birthdays … rather, when He speaks of birth, it is our spiritual birth that is important.

In John chapter 3, Jesus talks about entering the kingdom of God and expressly states that:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.   So not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.’”

So, when was your spiritual birthday? Do you remember when you were born again; when the Spirit touched your heart and entered your life? When Jesus Christ became your Lord and Savior?

Celebrate! Jesus said “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7.  Even the heavenly beings celebrate when one becomes a new person in Christ, when he/she is born again.

Celebrate!  You are God’s and He has you in the palm of His hand. While there may not be a physical present you can open, rest assured that you have been given the gift of spiritual blessings in Christ including eternal life. Ephesians 1:3. And, that, my beloved, is a gift that will not be returned and will never wear out!

Celebrate! May my life/your life be a celebration of my love for my Savior, Redeemer and King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

THE CHALLENGE OF ROADSIDE SIGNS!

Driving down the highway can, at times, provide thought-provoking images.   Going along the interstate, we passed a one‐story building, concrete block, with doors and a few windows. It apparently was the “backside” of the building that was along the interstate because there was no identification of the business or type of activity that went on in the building other than two signs, one on each side of one window.

The sign on the left of the window read “JESUS LOVES YOU” and the sign on the right read “WE BUY GUNS”. At first it tickled me and I laughed out loud  … then I began thinking about the signs and what they were saying.

We live in the so‐called “Bible Belt” of our country, and sometimes the expression of Christianity is more cultural than faithful. Of course the use of the phrase “Jesus Loves You” could well be an attempt to witness to those driving down the highway and to perhaps cause the observer to think about his/her response to Jesus’ love.

Burma Shave sign of yesteryear
Burma Shave sign of yesteryear

After all, God is sovereign and He can use even the static, silent sign along the highway for His purposes. Remember the Burma Shave signs along the highway  and their jingles and thoughts spread across a mile or more?  (I found this picture of the Burma Shave sign on eBay, June 15, 2015)  Certainly, if advertisers could use the power of roadway signs, the Sovereign God certainly could also!

But, there are many other possible reasons that the signs were in such place. Was the business in the building using the camouflage of Christianity to bring in customers for their firearm business? Or, conversely, was the use of Jesus’ name in connection with the purchase of guns a laudable attempt to rid firearms from the community and thereby secure peace?   Or were two businesses sharing the same building with the single entrance at the back along the interstate?

While we cannot, and must not, judge the motive of the owner of those signs, we can use them to consider our own behavior. How do WE use the name of Jesus?

The free, almost flippant and mindless, use of Jesus’ name in conversation in our society has trivialized it so that it seldom actually refers to the God/Man who is the Son of the Sovereign Living God. When it is said in our modern world, it is almost never in homage to the name of the King of Kings.

In contrast, consider how the Scripture refers to Jesus’ name.   The Apostle John says:

“But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31 (ESV)

Paul, when writing to the Philippians said:

 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 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. Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Clearly, the Biblical writers did not think Jesus’ name was something to be treated casually or in angry outbursts or cursing.

It is the name at which every knee will ultimately bow.  Indeed, Jesus is the Name of our Savior! As one who claims His name as our own, as a Christian, we should be cut to the core when others misuse His name. This is the Person who died for us, who took our place on the cross, who redeemed us from our own sin. This is the Person who voluntarily came from Heaven to live in this sinful world and bear the hatred of those He had created, all for the sole purpose of saving His people from their sins.

Perhaps the signs we saw along the highway:

  • Are a reminder that we should be careful when we use Jesus’ name.
  • Are a reminder that we should use His Name in such a way that our speech would bring honor and glory to Him.
  • Are a reminder that we should use the Name of our Lord in a manner that shows our love for our Savior.
  • Are a reminder that we should use His Name in a way that identifies us as Christians to those who who hear our conversation.

If someone were to follow me down life’s highway, would my conversation and life signs point them to Jesus?

May it be so, my Lord!

OCEANS – WHETHER FEARFUL OR PEACEFUL, ALWAYS UNDER GOD’S CONTROL

What exactly is the ocean? Merriam Webster defines it as “the whole body of salt water that covers nearly three fourths of the surface of the earth, or any of the large bodies of water (as the Atlantic Ocean) into which the great ocean is divided.” [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ocean]  But, somehow this definition does not even come close to capturing the essence of the ocean, does it.  It does not account for the pounding waves that keep coming ashore with their relentless hammering of the coastline, dissolving the rocks into grains of sand, and destroying even the most well-intentioned child’s sand castle!

Standing in waves on Oregon coast
Standing in waves on Oregon coast

We drove along the Oregon coastline and saw the waves pounding against the side of the mountains, receding back into the ocean body as if it had accomplished nothing. But then we would look at the sand along the beach and we could see the result of the wave’s incessant pounding.

Oregon 2009 251 Coos Bay beach

The sand dunes at Coos Bay, Oregon are mind-numbing in magnitude and sheer volume.   The dunes are literally mountains of sand.

Oregon Sand Dunes - mountains of sand
Oregon Sand Dunes – mountains of sand

The Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area website notes that there are “40 miles of wind-sculpted, shifting sand dunes!” Some of these mountains of sand tower 500 feet above sea level. They are like no other dunes in the world and comprise the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. “The strong elemental forces of tides, waves and winds have been constantly moving the sand for centuries – up to two and a half miles inland in places!” [See http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recarea/?recid=42465 ]

Coos Bay Sand Dune
Coos Bay Sand Dune

Webster’s antiseptic definition doesn’t account for the majesty of the ocean, the pure scope of it; the power of the water as it becomes a hurricane, or the tranquility of the water’s surface at sundown with clouds showing vibrant colors as the sun descends from view.   Here we were watching the sun set from a ship off the New England coastline.

Ocean sunset from ship with distant lighthouse
Ocean sunset from ship with distant lighthouse

Scripture tells us that God created the heavens and the earth, including the ocean or sea.

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.   God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:9-10 [ESV]

In Psalms 24:1-2, David says:

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths.[NLT]

When I look at the ocean, I am reminded that my Savior is Lord over all. The ocean and seas of this world, with their incredible expanse and surpassing power, came into being at the power of His voice and they obey His voice, even today. If the oceans of my life are turbulent, and fear engulfs my heart and mind, I must remember that all of creation came into existence at the power of His voice.

That same Creator God is with us in every circumstance. God is in control and we can be confident that whatever flood overwhelms us, whether it be water, problems, illness, finances, relationships, employment, or some other circumstance, our Lord is in control.

Rainbow across the ocean
Rainbow across the ocean

Trust Him, even when you feel that the ocean of despair has flooded your heart. Pray, ask Him for help. His voice is still powerful! The power that created the seas of the world can create peace within you.

Look to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Sovereign of this world and the Prince of Peace who also happens to be the Lover of your Soul. Let Him calm the storm of doubt and fear when He provides His rainbow of love, peace, assurance and security.

Praise His holy name!

WHO IS MY MOTHER?

My mother died when I was 21. There was no extended illness to herald her departure – one day she was with us and the next she was with the Lord. I was not able to learn from her as I bore my own children, or to seek comfort from her after a failed marriage, or to share the blessing and joy of my marriage with my soulmate, Bill. She would never know my children or hear them call her Grammy. Decades have slipped through my fingers since her death, and I miss her still, but praise the Lord, He has provided other women who stepped into the role as mother to me and as grandmother to my children, even though there is no biological connection.

Paul had this feeling about a lady in Rome when he said in Romans 16:13: “Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me.” [New Living Translation]

Who is my mother?

I suggest that it is any woman who shares my spiritual DNA, a DNA that cuts across all races, nationalities, tongues and locations and which evidences our relationship with the Lord and, thus, with each other.

“Gramma” Ford and her “grandson”.

My own children were fortunate to have been a part of congregations where older Christians acted as grandparents to the children when relatives were hundreds of miles away. There was abundant love showered on my children by these saints.

Surrogate grandparents who are members of Christ’s Church can give children hugs and smiles when they see them, whether at church or in the store; they can babysit and care for the children of single mothers who need a break; in short, they share in children’s lives by being the hands and feet of Christ and the Church can be the “safe home” for so many children who have less than ideal home situations otherwise. Biology has nothing to do with it.

My Titus 2 mother and the children.

Then, too, there are the older women who can be a surrogate mother by being a mentor, counselor, or prayer partner! Those of us who are older can mentor the younger women who are motherless or whose mothers are not readily available to help or counsel. Titus 2:3-5 gives an incredible description of the relationship that is characteristic of Christian women.

Paul states the mystery of our relationship with other Christians like this:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:16-17 [NIV]

Thus, Christians are related to each other through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, how do you identify your mother who has the same spiritual DNA? Look for any woman God provides who:

  • Is of assistance, encouragement, and of spiritual blessing to you.
  • Loves the covenant children of the church by teaching, working in the youth programs, even tutoring, and being a counselor to the young.
  • Is willing to be a spiritual mentor as she counsels you.
  • Is a role model for you as she meets the needs of the children, youth and elderly who are within her circle of influence.

Praise the Lord for His marvelous gift of deep spiritual relationships in the Church that are possible through the love of God and the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, who is your mother?

Or, perhaps the question is better phrased: “To whom can you be a ‘mother’ today?”