Thursday, November 8, 2012

Seeking Him

 “Early in the morning will I seek Thee, dear Lord,
Yes, early in the morning I will bend at Thy Word;
I feast on the riches of all Thy great promises;
I feed on sweet manna from Thy holy Word.”

When I was just a third grader, my mother wrote these words.  Ever since I can remember, she has lived them.  Before my brothers and sisters and I would leave for school each morning or before we would go out to the barn for farm chores in the summer time, we would see Mom at the kitchen table, her Bible and devotional notebooks spread before her, gaining sustenance from God’s Word.  By the sink, Mom would often post verses, written out from her morning devotions, clothes-pinned to a picture frame or dowel, with some of God’s Word there to meditate upon.  The Bible frequently entered her conversation with us.  “I was reading…” she would begin and then explain some truth the Holy Spirit had illuminated for her that day.  
My mother continues her morning journey with God each day.  In fact, one elderly woman in our church, 86 to be exact, recently said of my mother, “I’ve never met a sweeter person in all my life.”  Could it be that some of the sweetness from the Savior has seeped into her life as she has spent time seeking Him each day?
Where does your Bible reading take you today?  Labor to learn all God has for you, considering the Lord's command to Joshua in the first chapter of that book:  “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”  
What special promises are connected to embracing this command!  While none of us is leading a nation, as was Joshua, we do have others looking to us for direction, whether they be the sweet, upturned faces of little children, the crying screams of a baby in a crib, the eager faces of students we are seeking to teach, or just that young girl who looks up to us—we have our followers.  Let us, therefore, seek God in His Word, meditate upon His book, and watch those words transform our lives!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Life in the Dash

The summer days rolled by, one after another, in almost monotonous sequence.  Grass no longer glistened with the morning dew but rather crunched underfoot, baking into a golden crisp that stretched across landscapes for acres.  Only the very fastidious, who watered their lawns religiously, enjoyed the verdant carpet of green earth that was usually so typical to a Midwestern summer. 

Hot air, bursting with humidity, greeted every morning and lasted the day through, raking rivulets of perspiration down the faces of any who dared leave their air conditioned houses to engage in more strenuous outdoor activity.

But on one such morning in mid-July, the humdrum regularity stopped.  The entire world seemed to stand still.  Moments froze in time as I heard words that would resound through my ears the rest of that day:  Austen was dead.  Austen’s soul had met eternity.  Austen was gone from this earth forever. 

I first learned of this teenager from my sister, who had knocked on his door and given Austen the Gospel about four years ago.  At fourteen, he didn’t quite understand everything but was interested. I met this quiet, shy boy when he visited church a few weeks later.  Would he like to study the Bible? My husband asked him that day.  “Sure,” he said, cocking his head to one side as he brushed his light brown bangs away from his eyes.  And so it was that after church each week Austen would meet to study the things of God and eternity from the pages of Scripture.

One blustery day in mid-September, he learned of his need to repent of his sins and turn to Christ.  Austen told us that, while out on the picnic table at church, he had looked to Christ in faith to save him from his sin.  For months, Austen sat with us at church, bringing his Bible, and learning the ways of God.  He began reading it, attended a teen campout with our church youth group, and made some significant spiritual decisions.  When he turned 16, we invited him and several of the young men from church to our house for a birthday party.  I remember that day well…

Austen was famished when we arrived at our small apartment.  As soon as the appetizer of apples and dip appeared, he hungrily ate, almost as if he hadn’t touched food in days.  When our spaghetti dinner was ready, he enjoyed that, too—several helpings of it.  Later, Austen sat at the end of the blue couch in our living room opening the gifts we had selected for him.  He smiled, characteristically quiet, but satisfied.  We entered the kitchen to enjoy the chocolate caramel bars for dessert and then, as suddenly as they arrived, the boys left.  Quiet. 

We didn’t see much of Austen during his junior and senior years of high school, but after being visited just two weeks ago by my dad and the intern from our church, he promised to be in church with his mom.  Then, Tuesday, a dreadful thing happened.  Austen was in an accident.

I saw Austen’s body for the last time today.  His sister was mourning; his father, stunned; his mother carrying with her a sense of peace, as if her soul rested in faith. I met Austen’s cousin today, who said Austen had “talked a lot” about the things of God. 

I wish Austen’s end could have been different.  I wish he had made consistent choices to live for God.  I wish he had completely surrendered to God’s will.  But I am thankful that God allowed my family to be vessels through which He could touch Austen’s life with the most important truth of all:  the Gospel.

Truly the good news is the “power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.”  How very precious is this Gospel message:  although I am a sinner, I can be made clean by the blood of Christ who died for my sins and rose again!  May I never cease to wonder at its precious truth!  May I never stop declaring its power!

We’re living in the dash:  that tiny hyphen between the day of our birth and that of our death.  Who knew that Austen would die just a few short years after hearing the message of salvation?  Only God.  Who knew that Austen would need to be prepared for eternity?  Only God.  The appointed time is real.  Eternity is forever.  May I willingly be the vehicle through which God can spread the Gospel, His powerful message of eternal truth!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lessons from a Star

Esther.  Estrella.  Estella.  They have the same origin—a star.  A magnificent star shines throughout Hebrew history, a bold star, bright and beautiful in its contrast with the wide expanse of midnight in the Persian Empire.  Such was Esther.  Undeterred by the inky blackness of the wicked Haman, Esther displayed scintillating courage.  Unhesitatingly, she approached the throne of her husband, knowing that his refusal could mean her death.

Some Bible scholars have wondered what excellent character qualities could exist in a woman who joined a beauty contest that would bring her into the king’s harem; they argue that she wrongfully appeared before the king.  While her participation in such a pageant may not be able to be supported biblically, one glowing aspect of her character clearly shines forth:  her submission.

Like other beautiful young women, Esther no doubt had plans for her life, plans that probably did not include being married to an old, angry king who had so recently divorced his queen for her refusal to obey him amidst his drunkenness.  But Esther’s humble acquiescence illustrates the very opposite trait of the divorced Vashti.  In the exact way that Vashti had exited the king’s graces, Esther entered.  Whereas the former queen scorned her husband’s command to display her beauty, Esther heeded her uncle’s leadership to do just that before the king.

Such obedience graced her life, characterized her very existence.  When Haman plotted the Jews’ destruction, Mordecai wept.  But one ray of hope glimmered yet upon the forlorn palace grounds:  Esther was queen!  And as she had submitted to her uncle’s leadership in gaining that position, even now she yielded to his authority as she approached the throne.  Would Ahasuerus extend the golden scepter?  Would she be granted entrance into his throne room?

And when she does appear before the king, note Esther’s characteristic carefulness.  Imagine, beautiful Esther, lovely as the morning star, entering the king’s presence.  Her silk gowns whisper as she walks, rustling with a quiet echo through the palace hall.  And then she arrives, standing before the throne room door.  A guard opens it, surprised to see the queen.  Her soft satin scarf tied about her neck glows amidst the deeper, darker hues of the royal room.  And then she speaks, so quiet that the king does not hear.  But he sees.  And then the deciding moment comes.  The golden scepter he holds in his right hand—ah, there!  It acknowledges her, greets her, welcomes her warmly.  But all Esther requests is the king’s presence at a banquet. 

And the next day such a scene is similarly repeated.  Like the stars night after night so patiently illuminate the world, so Esther too demonstrates patience.  She will wait out the king, bring him to a banquet, repeat the process, and then—at a banquet—will explain her heart.  It was at another banquet where the king had been wroth and now again, his characteristic temper is displayed.  Haman would be destroyed; the Jews would be allowed their liberty.  And even today her book is read, this feast is continued in Hebrew tradition.  For one bright star dared illuminate the blackness.

What other night exists for us, her sisters of the future?  Politically, is there a cause worth defending, a darkness worth illuminating?  Christ beckons us to be lights in the world.  Paul exhorts us to do all without murmuring and disputing, that we may be blameless…in the midst of a crooked …nation, among whom we shine as lights in the world”!  Is there not a cause?  Then although we may not boast Esther’s beauty or position, let us imitate her submission, her boldness of character.  Let us engage ourselves in battle, doing “all the good we can,” in the words of John Wesley, “to all the people we can” every day that we can.

What other nights might be dispelled if Christian women would sense the call to become, like Esther, bright lights amidst the darkness?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Defy Your Dreams

As a child, you thought long and hard about the sort of life you would have. You envisioned a near paradise on earth, with you as the hero, and life passing in series of months and years of joy and jubilation. Now, as you continue through your adult life, you remember those ideals and that spry imagination that contributed to the other you, which never actually existed. It is time to defy your dreams.

Who says your fairy tale was the best of all possible worlds? Why embrace a reality that clearly does not exist? Why bow an internal head in shame when others surpass the accomplishments you only dreamed would be attained by you? Are you actually the master of your dreams, the manipulator of your circumstances, the maintainer of each of your personal desires? It is time to defy your dreams.

As a boy of seventeen, the biblical Joseph walked for miles in obedience to his father but was kidnapped and sold to the Ishmaelites by his own family members. Away from his home, absent from his dad and brother whom he loved, he worked as a slave in Egypt. Above reproach, he was falsely accused of indecent conduct and imprisoned for two years. And yet, he had dreamed of twelve sheaths falling down before him, bowing in obeisance to him. Had those dreams stimulated his imagination with thoughts of ruling sometime in the future? At the end of his life, Joseph was able to say, “God meant it for good.”

One girl of fifteen pictured herself as a mother of five, home schooling the eager minds of her skillful children, taking walks in the woods with them to examine nature, grateful for their musical accomplishments by the age of twelve, and thankful with their mastery of three languages upon their high school graduation. Now in her mid-thirties, she was still barren. When news of yet another young woman’s pregnancy reached her ears, she would need to learn to defy her dreams.

Another seventeen-year-old envisioned herself translating the Bible from her African hut, where she would work as a single missionary. Now, gazing at the upturned faces of her two beautiful children, who made her days of struggling with cancer worth every effort, she thanked God for the reality He had given her. Every day was a priceless treasure, a gift from the Giver of all good things. She was learning to defy her dreams.

If God desired us to know every next step, He would have planned a life that saw from beginning to end, as He does. But then, what need would we have to trust Him for the future? The fact that God is Master of tomorrow forces us, His children, to look to Him for guidance and wisdom each step of the way. We are required, not to look back a decade or two at the pathway of life we traveled compared to the one we imagined we’d travel, but rather to walk each day in His ways.

Deuteronomy 5:33 states, “Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.” Daily, we must focus upon our task to follow God’s pathway rather than mulling over what “might have been” or dreaming about what could be.

By what means can we walk in God’s ways? Deuteronomy 8:6 makes it clear: by obeying God's commands: “Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him.” Following—not fretting about the past or future nor fumbling with the present—is a major responsibility of life and one that God requires.

And Deuteronomy 10:12 beautifully summarizes it this way: “. . . What doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul [?]” Promises galore are guaranteed to those who embrace God’s requirements.

Note at last the amazing promises connected to such obedience: “For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him, Then the Lord..” (Deut. 11:22-23a)Ah, yes! What a precious phrase—“Then the Lord!” How God will drop fatness upon the way of His saints! How He will bless--eternally--those who yield in submission to His perfect way.

So the time is now. To defy your dreams and trade your plans for God's perfect, masterful design.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Animal Rights Activists Concerned about Treatment of Swine Wednesday—Gadara Gazette, A. D. 31.

Last Wednesday, a group of animal activists approached the Gadara Town Council concerning the mass murder of 2000 swine off the coast of their town. The leader of the group, one James, son of Theodulphus of Gadara, who has raised pigs since his father’s death a decade ago, suffered severe damages, for these animals have provided sustenance for his family’s income and have been their mainstay in times of political unrest.

“The swine have provided us a link between our Jewish heritage and the surrounding Roman society,” the son of Theodolphus reports.

Protestors are reacting against the humanitarian efforts of the famed Rabbi, Jesus, who visited the coast of the Gadarenes in the past week. According to reports by Gadara natives, Petrobas Adolfas, who has for decades masqueraded as a spirit, found therapy in self-mutilation, and struggled with an addiction to alcohol, was found sitting, clothed, and calm just after dusk last week.

“My family and I were hoping to hear some ghost stories and observe an obsessed man, but all we saw was a normal guy, quietly talking to this teacher, Jesus”—so reports Marcus Onerius, one of the many pleasure seekers who visit the island for what they call “ghost stories and creepy thrillers.”

Such tourists have brought to Gadara’s shops and restaurants a lucrative business within the last several years, a charge the animal rights’ activists also maintain.

“Two thousand swine equals several thousand denari—a profitable and necessary contribution to our community,” James Theodolphus reminded reporters in an interview last Thursday.

But his concerns go beyond business, he assured us, to the very lives of thousands of innocent animals. While Jewish law forbids the possession of hogs, calling them unclean, James and other of his animal rights’ activist friends states, “The same Eternal Creator who fashioned and gives breath to clean animals also fashioned and gives breath to the unclean. To prohibit one from owning a particular type of animal based on a notion of religious conduct is clearly intolerant.”

James’ case will stand before the Gadara tribunal next week. In the meantime, the famed maniac has returned home, and Jesus—at the unrelenting request of locals—has departed.

“Hopefully never to return again,” Adolphus states.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stopping the Clock

The wind is whirling last fall’s leaves about as I approach the house. Observing the darkened rooms in the blackness of this January evening, I make out the lovely colonial-style house which was home to our dear friends William and Wilma for nearly forty years--until William's death some months ago. Hoping that my car’s approach does not produce any sort of phobia for Wilma, who is home alone this Friday night as she is almost every evening now that her husband has passed away, I consider calling her on my cell phone to warn her of my visit. What must it be like to live alone in complete silence, with only family and close friends stopping by on occasion? I wonder.

I decide against the call and instead knock at the door, in time to see the elderly woman escape from the TV-lighted living room into the cozy kitchen. I rap again, confident that she will return momentarily. Ah, there she is in her purple turtleneck sweater, coming to greet me.

“I’m not one for being frightened,” she says, welcoming me at the door, “but I did wonder who could be coming to the house at this time of night.”

I glance at my watch. It is just past 6:30 p.m., but the inky darkness on this moonless night undoubtedly accounts for her surprise.

“How about a ham sandwich?” she suggests.

Not having eaten dinner, I readily agree, and we enter the kitchen.

Reaching for a chair, I pause. Do I want to sit in this special place at the head of the table? It’s where we could always find William in his final days. After a moment’s hesitation, I pull out what used to be William's chair. In an instant, thoughts of his last day on earth flood my mind. But not before I’m suddenly jolted into the present.

“You can pray,” Wilma says.

After offering thanks for the meal, we enjoy a pleasant exchange. And all sorts of people—most of them now dead—enter our conversation. At one point, Wilma gets up, goes to the desk, and brings back a stack of papers.

“Bob found these on the Internet,” she tells me, handing me the pile of papers from her son. I find them all very similar: little biographical sketches of people’s lives, with a very important date at the top: the day they left this earth. Once not too long ago, Wilma didn’t have time to read the obituaries; now it’s become a daily routine.

Later we move to the family room, decorated by various gifts and paintings from friends. We talk of the people who’d given the presents, the artists who’d originated the paintings, and the benefactors who’d bequeathed the antique furniture. All these people are now gone.

“Have you seen a picture of my William’s eighth grade class?” she wants to know when her high school days enter our conversation. And before me she sets a picture of one of the cutest blonde-haired kids I’ve ever seen. Then come the even older photos, of great-grandparents and her relations from many years past. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh”—the words of Ecclesiastes 1:4 echo through my mind.

As the clock strikes, Wilma tells me a story about a neighbor who came to wind her clocks while she and William were on vacation. The story makes me laugh, but I remember her stack of papers: that man’s obituary was there.

With each of the Westminster chimes, I think:
“If only time could stand still!”
“If only the seconds would cease!”
“If only the minutes could stop!”

And then it hits me. As I sit in this room, covered with artifacts from those now dead, built by a man now in the grave, talking to this dear woman whose own time is running out, I am reliving life. While the clock moves forward, ticking new seconds, erasing the past and painting the future, I suddenly perceive that in some small way, I can defy Time’s forward march.

Whenever I make a phone call to an elderly person or visit those in a nursing home, I am partaking of others’ lives, reliving their history, and getting as close as I ever will to stopping Time that keeps marching on. Though I can’t predict what my own future will hold, I wonder if someday I will be the one whose newspaper reads include obituaries each day, whose house is filled with relics of the past, and whose friends are monthly departing for eternity.

While none of us know the specifics of God’s will, we can rest assured that one day we will leave this earth; therefore, let us “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16), utilizing carefully the moments God has granted us to live for Him.