A Second Look At A Helping Hand

We all need someone to hold our hand as though we were only 14 or even 5, and walk us through  life.  None of us has so much maturity that we don’t continually need this at times in our lives.  And when we think we don’t need this — that is the very time we would do well to stop and reflect more deeply and more humbly about our own life and our own walk with God.

Leaders in particular are called to such humility, as James writes in chapters 1:19-27,  2:1-13,  3:9-18,  4:1-12,  5:9-11, 16; and as stated in many other references in scripture such as I Tim 1:3-20,  2:1-8,  3:1-3;  I Peter 5:1-11;  I John 4:1-12 and more.  You know what Paul says about that log in your neighbor’s eye.

Even in the academic world, psychologists recognize that a counselor can only be effective, if first, that counselor deals with their own struggles, not that, that is ever a finished deal, for it is when a counselor stops growing and healing themselves that they loose effectiveness.

James warns us to not become enticed by our own blind spots, our own logs in our eye.  We are all tempted by our own evil desires, dragged away and enticed by them, “Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”  (James 1:15)

There is a progression — grudges embitter us; and we need to step back many steps to better assess our own possible fault, praying for God’s wisdom, not ours, not society around, not getting others to side with us, not using social norms to play our own manipulating card in the game, but humbly seeking God’s wisdom (James 1:2-5, and James 4:11-12, as well as Mica 6:8).

Then and only then will we have peace, then and only then will the church grow and prosper.  Joshua 1:1-7 and Joshua 24:14-27.  While Christ is our Living Stone and James reminds us that “‘There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy.  But you, who are you to judge your neighbor?”

A wandering Christian

We are all wandering Christians, wandering through this world of woe, like the song says.  Pilgrims on a  journey from birth, to life, to death, and new life.

The woe of sin weighing us down —  sometimes our own, sometimes inherited within our families, sometimes from those around us, sometimes unknown, or sometimes not from any particular sin (as Jesus said of the man born blind in John 9: 1-7 and John 9: 31-39).  A pastor I know calls this “broken heartedness”.

All of creation moans and groans under the weight of sin, such as the thorns and briars in my boysenberry patch, the mice who get into my kitchen and raid the barbecue potato chips, the stray cat who catches a sparrow, the Japanese beetles devouring my red raspberry leaves.  Be thankful you are not a grub in my garden with all the robins and skunks ready to eat you.

All of creation moans and groans, as do we.  We as Christians are no better than God’s chosen people the Israelites.  We too tend to complain and remain hard hearted.  Yet, God patiently  waits for us to see His plan of saving grace to recognize there is something beyond ourselves, beyond the broken heartedness surrounding us.

God knows it’s hard, it’s why He came to die in our place, to take on the punishment each of us deserves, and to rise back to life, so that we too can live, when we accept His gift.

Jesus went ahead of us to prepare a place for us and God sent the Holy Spirit to each believer so that we can witness to others of this and can comfort each other that this is not our final resting place.

Christ, our Messiah, will return to take us home, to reunite us with God our Heavenly Father.  A Father who is good and kind and just.

A true home, a good home, not one full of sin and broken heartedness, one where He will wipe away every tear, one where there is true comfort, rest, and peace.

What parent gives his child stones when he asks for bread? How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.
What parent gives his child stones when he asks for bread? How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.

For more encouragement, read James 1: 9-18 and Matthew 6:24 -7:11


Dancing a Serabande, careful steps toward truth

In the week after Pentecost Sunday, I stepped back in awe of God’s answers to past prayers of mine, intercession prayers for others that I wondered, if help and answers to these particular prayers would even be possible.  I’ve seen God work miracles (often in long years of prayer) in my life and in the lives of others around me, and I prayed with that kind of faith, strengthened by only God’s grace.  Yet, I saw no path, amidst so many closed doors, with currents all around attempting to lead both of these people in other directions.

I did not have any comprehension that the paths of these two people unknown to each other would ever meet, in any probable way.

This past week God has showed me opened doors that seemed impossibly locked closed.  Not merely in the change of our hearts, aliening our own wills with God, but also in circumstances and in ways that I could not have possibly directed.

And once again I step back waiting for the Holy Spirit to direct each one of my steps, like the slow stately dance of a Seribande  played on an organ.  The pipes representing the varied instruments of an ensemble — slow and purposefully directed by God’s Holy Spirit, knowing full well, it is all in God’s doing, not mine or any of ours.

Still, I know it is with some trepidation, as the opening of these doors to truth, can have a long and difficult path toward healing.  God never promises this world to be easy to walk through; while He does promise to carry us when we can not take another step.


Poppies — God’s beauty among the weeds

These poppies have taken over a section of my yard, where I had, in past years, had a vegetable garden.  With Memorial Day approaching, how can I not be reminded of accounts of World War II and the field of Flanders? along with my recently attending a panel discussion involving the first generation decedents and author of Born Survivors .

Poppies in my garden
Poppies in my garden

With such incomprehensible hardship, there are no real words fitting to describe it.  And for those still sensitive enough to view their fellow human beings as God’s creation, how can we not open our hearts and risk helping where and when we are lead by God’s Spirit to do so.  This is not even a question.

Why some are compelled to help, while others turn away in fear . . .  there is no answer.  Yet, God knows the depth of our being, and we are who we are, no other human can make us into anything else.  Neither can man make man, nor can man totally control another human being — and to attempt to do so, is to slap God in the face as if to become God, Himself in the attempt.  Those who recognize God and care about His creation have a heart that leads them to become heroes in such horrendous circumstances, not for the honor of being a hero, but simply because of the great need.

And just as words come up short of describing such hardship (likely because it takes experience to relate, and it’s easy to fall short of having a point of reference to relate to), a simple thank you to such heroes also seems insignificant; yet, what can one say.

Thank  You

Memorial Day 2016
Memorial Day 2016


Bumps in the Road — Continuing Education

I’ve been dealing with aging parents and winter vacations, along with some other not so minor bumps in the road.  And it’s hard to find oneself at a point of out growing one’s mentors.

Old wagon along the roadside
Old wagon along the roadside

When I was younger and graduating from college, I expected to leave those professors who were mentors, who had encouraged me to grow under their wings and then expected me to go out into the rest of the world and continue on — ready or not, a bit uncertain, taking their wisdom and encouragement with me; while they continued to work with new students, which kept them learning as well.  And it was a joy when I’d recognize the things they taught, finding them occurring out in the world.

One of my professors taught a “fictions” class with the philosophy that fiction (stories and really all arts) are a way of expressing our human understanding in a world which we can not control and a way of coming to an understanding of the order and meaning of life (perhaps a step closer to seeing God more clearly).  I’d found a news paper article about a man who created and published a Monopoly game based on the city I was (at the time) living in.  The recession, (due to many factories closing and people out of work so long that they were no longer counted in the unemployment charts) was shutting down the city.  The expression, will the last one out please turn out the lights, was common.   In the midst of this, this man discovered a way to earn a little income while encouraging others to honor their sense of place.  I thought my English professor would enjoy this example of a “fiction”, so I sent it to him.

This professor had his own unique style of teaching, more fitting of graduate studies, but important for any age — because a good teacher hopes that learning will continue on into their student’s lives.

As Titus instructs the older women to teach the younger women (Titus 2:1-8), and to be led by those older than us (men or women) and encourage those who are younger.  This seems a natural transition, although not always so smooth nor easy.

As the author of “And First We Have Coffee” says of following God — it’s simple, but not always so easy.

As one grows older, those teachers and spiritual mentors in our life also grow older, and some are no longer living, or we’ve gone our separate ways and are no longer in touch.  Along the way, we may find fewer and fewer spiritual mentors to turn to.  Age alone does not insure strong maturity nor continued growth.  We are all human, with no one perfect.  We all fall at times, in fear and weekness, and we can become stunted by not wanting to grow anymore, because growth means facing hard things in one’s own life.

It is easier to see the greater need of growth and healing in the lives of those who have clearly had to face so much more, making it easy to overlook what appears to be so much lessor troubles in one’s own life, but by doing so miss the “log” in our own eye.

Never be afraid to examine such a “log”.  A teacher’s greatest learning comes through reexamining things when students get stuck, by humbly reexamining one’s own life.

This does not always happen and it is hard and painful to out grow such mentors (once respected).  Yet, it is a choice for all of us, a personal choice that one can only make for oneself, to continue on learning and growing or to coast along on what is already known and thought to be understood.

With the consolation, that we can rest in God as our perfect teacher who knows past and present and future, and only with our willingness will He continue to lead us into deeper and deeper truth with the Holy Spirit as our ultimate spiritual mentor.

I think of a wise woman, I knew in that same city, I lived in when I was newly married.  She gave me rides to church when we had only one car, and my husband had to work.  And I would walk to her house to visit her.  In spite of her years, retired and old enough to my mother, she would share ways in which she too, struggled to grow closer to God.

When her husband died, the end of last summer, my husband commented that she is one of the most beautiful women he has ever known.  While we missed and grieved the loss of her husband, I remembered some of his last and most encouraging words to me, how it encouraged him to see such great growth in my life.  He also shared some of his own person growth, and said that he no longer worried about me making it in this world, no matter what bumps I might encounter in the road.

Is this not what teachers and students, and friends do? encourage each other, seeing and appreciating both similarities and differences in each other and in our lives, encouraging all that is good and true of the other, growing closer to God (continuing education in all aspects of life until God brings us home).

Coals of Fire

“The Mad Snow Shoveler” continues to be the most read essay of this site — an example of the grace mentioned in the bible as “heaping coals of fire upon their head.”

Our first thought might be to consider this a revengeful statement.  But instead, picture the Israelites wondering through the desert, traveling to the land of milk and honey that God promised to give them.  While they traveled through the wilderness for several nights and days (40 years) each family and each person had basic needs, such as fire for cooking and warmth.  Thus the job of carrying the family’s fire pot on one’s head on their day’s journey was important.

It might be hard to see if the fire continued to burn in your own pot on your head, with only the smell of smoldering embers to let you know the fire had not died out.  A sojourner might be more likely to notice if your fire had gone out and add some of the coals from his family’s fire pot to yours.  (Thus heaping coals of fire on their head.)  God has designed us to care for each other in this way.  Not to feel above another when we help someone, because we too at times need help.

If you have ever tired to start a fire without matches, you can more fully appreciate the difficulty and value of having glowing embers to fan into a larger camp fire when you stop to rest.

Thanks to the tin smith and blacksmith at the living history museum I once worked for, I was given some flint and a steel striker (a small piece of hardened iron curved to fit around the back of the hand).  I had bought a kindling kit from the tin smith — a candle stick holder on the tightly fitted lid.  Inside you can keep matches or kindling supplies safe and dry.

Fire Starter Tin
Fire Starter Tin

I had always wanted to try to start a fire without matches, a basic need that we’ve lost sight of in this modern age.  How hard was it?  And could I, myself actually do it?

The flint (not just any stone would work) did create sparks when rubbed hard and fast in a downward motion against the iron striker (which needs to be of hardened not annealed –the difference being how it is cooled after being worked by the blacksmith cooled in a bucket of water to make it brittle not cooled in a bucket of sand to make it softer).  In addition, without the tin smith’s gift of a few sheets of char cloth, I would never have been successful in my attempt.

Char cloth is layers of cotton cloth approximately 2 to 3 inches or so square, bundled together tightly with string and crammed into a tin with a lid to create a vacuum with as little extra air as possible, then placed in a fire to slowly burn and smolder,  turning into charcoal.  Much like vine charcoal is created for drawing with.  As you can imagine, char cloth is rather fragile and like matches needs to be kept dry to work well.

After a few strikes, I managed to catch a spark on the char cloth.  It glowed red in a spot as large as the head of a pin then went out.  I blew on the next spark and it glowed red, until it grew the size of the end of my pencil before going out.

I soon realized my need of better kindling in varying sizes, all ready at hand to not waste the char cloth.  As so far I did not even have enough fire to light a match stick without the sulfur at the end.  It took a few more tries and more gathering of smaller kindling before I finally had enough fire to light a crumbled newspaper page.

After the effort and excitement of finally having a large enough fire to actually cook on, I much more appreciate the convenience of matches, and understood accounts I’d read about pioneer neighbors borrowing fire from each other, even if it meant walking a couple of miles there and back again.

There are varying methods of starting a fire without matches, and likely the Israelites did not use flint with an iron striker (considering the Philistines advantage and monopoly on iron).  They likely used a dimpled wood piece with a stick twisted and spun fast with a bow.  I have not tried this method, but I suspect it was not much easier.

There is much to ponder in this experience, with Jesus as the light of the world and our connection to God.  That light, like the fire, provides life.  And how do we reflect that light?  How do we pass on the glowing embers to others protecting and providing them with life as well?  And visa versa, with their looking over our own fire pots in turn.

Can we humble ourselves and put aside blame, to manage what we can, both helping and accepting help?


Some of God’s Promises

While visiting a church, a couple of weeks ago, the ladies’ Bible class I attended, encouraged everyone to consider 5 of God’s promises during the week (one for each day).  These were the first two that came to mind that week

Considering two of God's promises
Considering two of God’s promises

We love Him because He first loved us.

Some may not consider this a promise, but in my mind, it seemed one of the most important promises.  When I showed these journal pages to my husband, he said, that’s interesting because at his church they also talked about promises that week.  The leader had asked what  was the first promise God gave?  He was thinking of God’s covenant with Abraham.  Although, my husband thought of God’s promise to Eve as the first covenant, when God promised Eve that there would be a descendant of hers who the serpent would bruise his heal, but he would bruise the serpent’s head.

The second promise I thought of (that was important to me that week) was, “He will wipe away every tear.”

The third day, I considered was God’s promise to Noah, and every living thing.

God's Promise to all living things
God’s Promise to all living things

Most of the words are taken directly from Geneses (and not my own).  I included a condensed version from the Bible, of what was most meaningful to me.  This promise important enough to remind us of, by placing a rainbow in the sky when ever it rains and the sun comes out be hind it.  Consider how exciting and special it is when we spot a real rainbow in the sky?

What promises are important to you?  I challenge you to try this exercise, to consider one promise a day for this next week for 5 days (or 5 promises).  Find and read that promise in the Bible.  How does it make you feel?  How is it special to you?  Maybe even draw an abstract or real or stylized picture of it.   Then share your thoughts about it with someone.  And thank God for that promise.

Maybe even memorize those words from the Bible to help you remember, like God giving us the rainbow to remember.  Write it out on an index card to carry with you, so you can better memorize it.

When I taught 2 and 3 year old Sunday school, I would whisper these Bible promises to them through out the time we had together.  “Guess what?  ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ ”  or “Did you know? ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ ” By repeating this in conversation through out the time, I didn’t have to “drill” their memory verses into them, they naturally picked it up, and were glad for it.


Honoring the Sabbath

I continue to struggle to understand the Sabbath.  And while it’s easy to fall into society’s pattern of generally glossing over this one of the ten commandments, I can not help but wonder about it, because it is given the importance of being included in the ten commandments which are recorded twice in the Bible (in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5).  If is wasn’t important, why is it mentioned so much?  God rested after creation (Genesis 1:31, 2:1-2) as an example for us, from the very beginning.

I grew up in a church that held firmly to keeping the Sabbath day Holy (set apart), most Christians shifted that from Saturday to Sunday, because that was when Christ arose from the grave.  Giving use three reasons to celebrate the Sabbath: Creation (Exodus 20:8-11), Redemption (God buying us out of sin and slavery, Deuteronomy 5:12-15), and the Resurrection.

As a kid, Sundays were the most boring days ever, with nothing to do.  You couldn’t do any thing that was considered “work”, except for home work for school.   Stores were closed.  The drive-in wasn’t open.  My parents weren’t so strict as some, and certainly, not as strict as previous generations.  My dad would tell about, in his day, they couldn’t even . . .

I enjoyed sewing and didn’t think of it as work.  It was fun, and I wasn’t earning any money for hire from it.  Although, it was considered a savings to sew something vs. buying it already made up.  So, I spent the afternoon in the basement running the sewing machine until my mom came down to tell me that my dad did not approve.  My mom didn’t mind, because she knew I enjoyed sewing — it was a relaxing activity for me, but my dad didn’t see it that way.  To him, it was up there with mowing the lawn.

I was a new Christian, and it was confusing to me.   For me, it was not about the letter of the law and following a rule for the sake of a rule, but about wanting to honor God.  Clearly, one man’s work is another man’s pleasurable hobby, but it struck me that the Sabbath was about something much more than this.  My mom said it was my choice.  She wasn’t going to insist.  I chose to stop sewing, so not to upset my dad, at least using the sewing machine (as it made more noise).

Over the years, this question of how to honor God by observing the Sabbath has continued to stick with me.  As stores and restaurants have opened in many places, I’ve fallen in with society and have bought things on Sunday; although, I try not to make a habit of shopping on Sunday.

I’ve noticed when stores are closed, it clearly makes a statement to the world around, and that statement is noticed – this is the Lord’s Day.  Even those who aren’t Christian, recognize this statement being made by a business’s actions.

When I took “educational psychology” in college the teacher made a point of not neglecting times of celebration.  Learning is hard work, and a good teacher understands this, she instructed us.  When that learning has been accomplished, it’s important and valuable to stop and take a break, taking time out to reflect on what has been learned and what changes and growth has been accomplished.  It helps set those things more firmly in the student’s minds (and bodies — as many skills require both thinking and movement).  I believe, the teacher pointed out studies have had been done to prove this; although, I do not remember the exact studies (the who, where, nor what).

It hit me that this was something I was not so good at –taking time to celebrate often seemed unessential to me, not a bad thing, just unessential.  I love learning, but parties are not my thing.  Yet,this started to make sense, when I considered the celebration, as a way to take time out, to reflect on what’s been learned or accomplished.   I could see my tendency to rush on to the next interesting thing to learn about, and my tendency to consider parties as superfluous.

It made me stop and think more about what God meant the Sabbath to be.  A day that is meant for celebration, to stop and remember what God has done for us.


The Family of God — Like Cousins

This is from a recent water color workshop, I attended — an exercise in creating flesh tones.  The teacher let us choose from her stash of photo references.  And as an artist who is respectful of copyrights, most were her own photographs.

This photo drew me in because of the expressions of these cousins’ faces.  They seemed glad to be in each other’s arms, happy to see one another, with support and care for each other — the way God intended families to be.


There was a jubilance and a sadness at the same time as I painted a water line around the flesh areas dropping Payne’s gray and phthalo  blue into the areas near shadows, and cadmium yellow into the areas near highlights, with alizarin crimson into the areas between (as Christ is our mediator).  Then I allowed these colors to mix together on the paper almost magically blending into flesh tones on their own, as I drew the water into the center.

If life could always be as good, as the lives reflected in the faces of these children — their innocence and their joy.  Happy  to give each other a hug, and to be in each other’s company.  Isn’t this what the family of God is meant to be?  Supporting each other, and lifting each other up with the joy of existence reflected in each other’s lives (as we are all God’s creation), joining together in worship, peaceful and content in God’s forgiveness.

Life is not always this happy, there is much broken heartedness, and though the years, I’ve seen many of God’s tears.  Yet, as the song reminds us (imagine Jesus standing near by saying), “For Those Tears I Died”  (the alizarin crimson).

Consider this picture, titled “Cousins” the next time you meet with your church family (mid week or on Sunday) and think of their joy at being in each  other’s company.

Read Hebrews 12: 1-3.



Because you should or Because you want to?

The “should ‘s” and “ought to ‘s” of life are a collection of rules that we absorb over a life time, often without thinking about it, from very young, when it seemed everyone had more authority over us to tell us what to do, how to act, how to think, who to be.  Yet, God created us to be our own person, and only God truly has this rightful authority, and at the same time, He has bestowed on each human being the birth right to choose.

It’s good to have a moral standard to live by, and yet when these “should ‘s” are thrown at people, it’s often done in a controlling way –with a “just do it or else” attitude.  Is there righteousness in that?  I’m not so sure, as only God is just and right.  Consider, how it did not go so well, even for God, when He gave His special chosen people a set of rules to live their life by (Exodus 20 and Deut. 5) — and He had every right to do so.  Yes, rules guide us toward good, yet doing them, merely because we should, or need to, or ought to, or must seems to pervert them into something we either rebel from or try to force onto others no matter what — “Don’t think, just do it.”  It’s this forceful control that perverts the rules, not the rules themselves.  The rules are good things to do.

Jesus said of himself, that he did not come to destroy the law, but to full fill the law (read Mathew 5: 17-20).  Think about this . . . How can the law be more full?  by adding more laws (to make sure we are doing them just right)?  This is not what Jesus meant, as he reminded the Pharisees when they tried to tempt him in this direction with their questions (read Mathew. 22: 15-22 and vs. 34-40, and Luke 20:20-26).

It is by God’s grace and His willingness to take the punishment for our sin, through Jesus’s death and resurrection.  With this covering of our sin and washing it away, we can be free to choose to follow God, because we want to not because we should.

Consider this the next time you hear yourself use the words “should” or “ought to”, “need to” or “must” and ask your self, is this something you want to do or not?  and do it because it’s what you want to do.  Claim it for yourself as something you truly want, rather than out of obligation.  And watch how it changes things.

Then in turn, give this same consideration to others, gently reminding them of their own right to choose.  This can be one of the toughest jobs of both leadership and parenting — what if bad choices are made?  Can we be brave enough to follow God’s example in leadership?  Not overlooking wrong, but willing to pay the cost?  In the end, this can lead to growth, better leadership, and more fulfilling relationships.


In Our Over Exuberance of Celebrating

In our over exuberance of celebrating Christmas, we can loose sight of the message we want to convey.  A neighbor set up a lighted manger scene in their yard that included more than one set.  I’m not sure if they acquired them used or on clearance or merely wanted extra angles or shepherds or wise men, in any case each set included a baby Jesus, and both were set up side by side.  It hadn’t quite entered my conscious until a passer by on a bike stopped to look, and turned to me, as I happened to be waling along, and commented, “It looks like Mary had twins.”  I laughed as the logic was clearly off.

“Yes, it does.” I relied.

I’m sure the family who put up the display did not intend to suggest that there might be more than one baby Jesus, nor imply that there may be more than one incarnation of God.  I think it was merely, they had the lighted figures, so they used them.  The more the merrier, using what decorations and lights one has, as this was not a wealthy home.

It’s easy to follow along traditions and celebrations merely for the fun of the celebration, and forget to stop for a moment reflect on the meaning.


Group and Individual Effects

A church is about personal worship as much as it is about corporate worship.  How can we be a worshiping community, without individuals who each on their own grow in their relationship and worship of God?  Individuals make up a group, and the group encourages individuals to keep to this path.  But when an individual pulls a group in their own way, or too many individuals become stagnant, the group also suffers.

Let us instead, suffer with Christ in showing His Love (a sacrificial love).

There is a time to stay with a church, and there is a time to leave a church, but man’s timing is not always God’s timing — so pray about such matters (not with one prayer but with many prayers) and follow the Holy Spirit, rather than man’s wisdom, in readiness to watch unexpected answers to prayers, standing back in awe of God’s workings.