Archive | April 2011

Amazing Grace, Unending Love

I wish instead of my usual blog this week I could simply post the cantata our church did this week for Easter.  What a blessing it was!  The music of Amazing Grace—My Chains Are Gone by Chris Tomlin, Keith Getty, Stuart Townsend and others was powerful and stirring, and our choir, along with the congregation, sang it beautifully.  I was privileged to write the narration for it, and it was an emotional experience for me to see and hear it performed as a praise to the Lord on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday. 

I was not the only one moved to tears.  Many others told me they cried, and even some of the singers got choked up as they sang.  The account of our Savior’s sacrifice on the cross was heart-breaking; His resurrection was wondrously victorious and the entire thing was tremendously personal as it emphasized that all Jesus did, He did for me.  He chose the cross in order to free me from the chains and bondage of sin.  He rose from the dead to conquer sin and death once and for all so that I might have eternal life. 

I have a terrible memory.  I do not have a lot of very clear childhood memories.  I do remember very well, however, when as a six years old I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.  It was a beautiful October Sunday in 1958.  I remember sitting on the little step of the platform in the room where we had Children’s Church with Mrs. Doris Frank while she told me how I could be saved and prayed with me.

I had not lived a life of crime, or harbored dark sins, or been a wicked heathen.  I would not say I was enslaved by the chains of sin—and yet I needed a Savior as desperately as any hardened criminal or godless pagan.  I remember vividly actually feeling the burden of sin lifted from my shoulders at the moment I asked Jesus into my heart.  It was a feeling of freedom and joy, and I have never forgotten it.  It is probably the reason I have never for a moment doubted my salvation for even as a six year old, it was very, very real. 

I do not have a miraculous testimony of conversion from a lifetime of sin and degradation.  My salvation story is a simple one of a little child coming by faith because she realized that she, too, was a sinner and needed the blood of Jesus to wash her of her sins.  I praise the Lord that being saved at an early age kept me from being held in slavery to the bonds of sin.  I thank God for a Christian mother, and later a Christian father, who made sure I was in church to hear God’s Word preached and taught.  I am grateful for all the Sunday School teachers and youth leaders who gave of themselves so that I would have a strong foundation of truth and training to take with me for the rest of my life.

But it all started with Him.  His story.  How He left the halls of Heaven to be born in a crude stable in the poor village of Bethlehem on this sinful earth.  How He walked the hill of Golgotha and chose to be nailed to a cross and shed His blood for the sins of the world.  How He rose triumphantly over death three days later.  As I wrote the narration for the Easter cantata I used a great deal of Scripture, for His story and what He has done for us cannot be better told than through His own Word.  I felt truly humbled and awed as I listened once again to the old story that I have heard throughout my life.  It is all about Him.  It is all about His amazing grace and unending love.

As we celebrate the greatest story ever told today, let us not take for granted what we have heard over and over, but truly cherish it and be thankful and live our lives for Him as a thanks offering for all He has done.  Let us share His story with others.  Let us share our own story of salvation with them, as well, even if it is as simple as a little child coming to Christ in faith.

I leave you today with the words of two songs, both written by Keith Getty—one about His crucifixion and the other about His resurrection—as well as just a small portion of the Scriptures pertaining to these most awesome events.  May you be blessed today as you celebrate and remember Him.

THE POWER OF THE CROSS

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

CHORUS:
This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev’ry bitter thought,
Ev’ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
“Finished!” the vict’ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

FINAL CHORUS:
This, the pow’r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

 

SEE, WHAT A MORNING!

See, what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes, tomb filled with light,
As the angels announce, “Christ is risen!”
See God’s salvation plan,
Wrought in love, borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

See Mary weeping, “Where is He laid?”
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It’s the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope, bringing peace to us,
Will sound till He appears,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty.
Honor and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned with pow’r and authority!
And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives: Christ is risen from the dead!

 

And he… fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)

And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.  (Matthew 27:28-30)

And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull…they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.  (Matthew 27:33-35)

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?  (Matthew 27:45-46)

…He said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.  (John 19:30b)

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph …And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.  (Matthew 27:57-60)

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.  (Matthew 28:1)

And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. (Matthew 28:2, 3)

And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.  He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.  And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead…  (Matthew 28:5-7a)

And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.  And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.  (Matthew 28:8-9)

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Hyacinth, Happiness and Hope

Bob came home from one of his business trips this week bearing gifts for Robbie and me.  He brought Robbie a big bagel.  That may seem like a funny gift to bring a boy who is tube-fed and cannot eat anything by mouth, but Robbie loves to hold a cookie or a dinner roll, a licorice stick or an empty ice cream cone in his hand and just look at it and play with it.  He has no desire to put anything in his mouth and, though it is sad to us, he does not seem to be bothered that he cannot eat those things.  Perhaps he feels more “normal” just having those good things in his possession.  Anyway, he was thrilled with his newest treat!  His eyes lit up and he got so excited when he pulled that giant bagel out of the bag!  It has been his new “favorite thing,” even replacing his faithful apple, and he is not allowing anyone to take it away from him!  It was a good choice on Bob’s part, too.  It is sturdy enough that it doesn’t crumble or break or bruise like most of Robbie’s other treats—in fact, at this point it is as hard as a rock!  It’s going to be around for a while.

Bob’s gift for me was a potted hyacinth.  He brings me flowers every now and then just to say I love you.  It is so pretty and the fragrance is just out of this world!  The scent has wafted throughout the house the last few days, and even I, who have a notoriously poor sense of smell, have been surprised and delighted with whiffs of its perfume at unexpected moments.  The hyacinth smells so fresh and spring-like and it just fills my heart with happiness and hope that spring is actually sputtering into reality!   

Many years ago I taught a ladies’ Bible study called The Fragrance of Beauty.  It was based on a book by Joyce Landorf and dealt with the topic of a woman’s inner and outer beauty and her influence on all those around her.  As I enjoyed my pretty hyacinth plant this week and was amazed at the strength of its sweet aroma, I couldn’t help but think of my own “fragrance”—my influence and effect on the lives of others.  As a mother and grandmother I would hope my life has had a profound and worthy impact on the lives of my children and grandchildren.  As a wife, daughter, sister, friend I would like to think I have been, most of the time anyway, a blessing to my loved ones.  As a writer, teacher, counselor and mentor, I pray my words have helped and encouraged others.

Those are lofty aspirations for a life well-lived, but I have asked myself this week as well, how does my life measure up simply on a day-to-day level?  When I enter a room does the fragrance of my being fill others with happy anticipation and pleasure, or do they dread a “downer?”  Do they see someone who is filled with the sweet savor of faith and peace and love and joy, or is there the sour smell of worry or discontentment, bitterness or anger surrounding me?  Do they enjoy my presence, or are they “allergic?”

And what kind of fragrance am I to the Lord?  II Corinthians 2:15 says, For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:”  My life ought to be a sweet-smelling sacrifice unto Him, well-pleasing and faithfully obedient.  And not only that, according to this verse, it should be an aromatic, beautifully fragrant testimony to both the saved and unsaved of my relationship with Him.  That is what is a good and acceptable sacrifice to Him.  In Old Testament times, under the Law, believers were required to offer a burnt sacrifice which was a sweet savor unto the Lord.  Now He asks us to give our lives as living sacrifices for Him.  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  (Romans 12:1)  Is my life a sweet savor to Him?

I hope to enjoy my hyacinth for some time to come.  Bob will replant it outside later.  I do not have a green thumb by any stretch of the imagination, but maybe by some miracle it will survive a while.  And while it does, it will be a reminder to me to be a sweet fragrance to others and to the Lord.

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart!

And it’s bubbling over today!  I woke up this morning to the doors and windows all thrown wide open and sunshine and breezes flowing in—for the first time this year!  The birds were singing, and as I poured my coffee, I picked out a cardinal’s voice, right outside my kitchen window.  It has been a long, hard winter around here, starting around the first of November and just dragging on and on, so I am more than ready for springtime!  The trees are still bare and drab, our lawn looks the worse for wear, there aren’t any flowers in sight yet (except the artificial ones our neighbors across the street poked into the ground in a row in front of their house), and the temperature is supposed to drop again to the forties, fifties and sixties the rest of this week but hallelujah—spring is here at last!  “For lo, the winter is past, the rain [in our case, snow] is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”  (Song of Solomon 2:12, 13)

 I am sitting out on my sun porch as I write this, soaking it all in, and praising the Lord!  Spring always seems to bring a feeling of new hope and expectancy, doesn’t it—like, the worst is over and better times are ahead.  This year it coincides with the hopefulness and joy I’ve been feeling all week as I have seen the Lord answering prayers for various loved ones in my life who have been going through very difficult times.  There is a long road still ahead for some of them, but with that new hope comes strength and purpose and renewed faith in the Lord that He will work all things out in His time.

 We saw God work a true miracle this week in answer to one of our prayers!  Laurie and Fernando are supposed to come home this summer for a six month furlough and to raise more support.  We’ve been praying they would find good airfares, but with oil prices climbing and a family of eight, we knew it would be a very expensive trip home.  It was worse than we even imagined.  We checked with 3 airlines — American, Continental and Taca (a Chilean airline) the only ones we knew of that flew in and out of Ecuador to Chicago. We checked into flying to Miami and taking a different domestic carrier to Chicago and that wasn’t any cheaper. It was going to cost them over $6500 one way or $7500 round trip at the time we were checking—and the price is still climbing.

Laurie got a call from her doctor this week tipping her off that Delta had a good price one way to Chicago from Guayaquil of $386/ticket. We didn’t even know Delta flew to Ecuador (apparently it does on a limited basis.) Laurie didn’t have time to check it out so I got on their website and discovered that on the day they were thinking about coming back they could actually get one way tickets for $208 including all taxes and fees! They got their tickets the other day for all 8 of them for $1669 — a saving of almost $5000!!! That is truly a miracle of the Lord!

 There are other changes coming up in their ministry, as well, and we have been praying for wisdom for them and that the Lord would guide them in the direction He would have them take.  One by one we have seen this week the Lord supplying needs and opening doors for the next step in their ministry in Ecuador.  What a blessing when we see His hand at work confirming His call and saying, “See!  Just trust me to work out all these details and lead you step by step!”  

The joy of answered prayer…  His answers are not always yes.  They are not always what we in our humanness would hope for.  They are not always in the form of a miracle.  This week I have rejoiced in the answers to some of my most burdensome prayers.  I am waiting still to see answers to others.  However He chooses to work, though, we can trust that it is out of love and knowing what is best for our lives.  However He answers, we can rejoice in the fact that He cares about our burdens and takes a personal, real interest in each of us as individuals.  However He answers, we can rest assured that our prayers do not go unheard but that, unlike false gods and idols, our God has ears that hear and a mouth that speaks, hands that work and a heart that loves.  

We can have confidence that He will answer!  1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.”  We can expect to be awed and amazed at His answers!  Jeremiah 33:3 tells us, Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”  We can expect to rejoice in His answers.  Jesus actually encourages us to bring our requests to Him so that we will have the joy of answered prayer!  He said in John 16:24, “…ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

So today I am rejoicing in the sunshine and in the glow of answered prayer!  Praise the Lord for both!  I am going to leave you with a list of just a few of the Scripture references that speak to the promises of God concerning answers to prayer.  As you read them, may they bring you joy, joy, joy, joy down in your heart!

Jeremiah 1:12…….. “I am ready to perform My Word.”

John 16:24……. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Matthew  21:22………“…whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Jeremiah 33:3……… “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things…”

John 14:14…….. “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

John 16:23…….. “…whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”

James 5:16…….. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

Job 22:27…… “You will make your prayer to Him, He will hear you…”

1 John 5:14…….. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”

1 John 5:15…….. “And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

John 14:13…….. “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

Isaiah 55:11……. “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

John 15:7………. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Matthew 18:19…….. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”

John 15:16…….. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”

Jeremiah 29:12…….. “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.”

Isaiah 65:24…….. “It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer, and while they are speaking I will hear.”

Psalm 91:15…….. “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”

Thank You, Lord!

A Little Potpourri – “T” Time!

TAXES—As always, I’m looking for some inspiration for this week’s blog.  *Sigh.*  It seems the main topic of conversation around the house this week has been taxes.  Bob’s been dealing with receipts, spreadsheets, Turbo Tax, the tax laws and headaches all week as he’s worked on our taxes.  This is the first year in a long time where he is considered “self-employed” since he works as an independent agent of a Canadian firm.  It makes paying our taxes complicated—and ouch!  It hurts!  We have to come up with quite a hefty sum in the next couple weeks.

We’ve all heard Ben Franklin’s quote “But in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.  Will Rogers went on to say, “The difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”  And Mark Twain put his own spin on it when he said, “The only difference between a taxman and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.” 

Ugh!  So, writing about taxes was not exactly inspiring to me this week!  No one wants to think about taxes, let alone read about them as part of a devotional!  And what can I say, anyway?  “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s?” (Matthew 22:21)  We pay our taxes because Jesus says to pay them.  Period.  It hurts.  We dread tax time (unless we’re getting a refund!) but we pay our taxes because it is the right thing to do.

And then it occurred to me—Thank the Lord, we have an income on which to pay taxes!  The people of Japan have been on my heart and mind for the last few weeks,  and the thought of hundreds of thousands of people who have lost not only their homes and all their earthly possessions, but also their livelihoods, burdens me.  Many thousands more will lose their jobs and incomes in the coming weeks and months as the result of the ongoing calamities with the nuclear devastation.  Millions—no, billions more around the world deal daily with extreme poverty making only a pittance, if anything, and suffering the lack of decent food, water, shelter, medical care…  And I have the audacity to complain about the income taxes we pay?

We have been without an income from time to time—temporarily—but never have we been without food or shelter.  And we do get something for our tax dollars after all.  Sure, there is a lot of waste going on by an enormous government that is out of control.  We are forced to pay for things sometimes that we cannot in good conscience support.  Welfare rolls are inflated with people that ought to be working rather than cheating the system; money goes into corrupt pockets; big corporations get away with paying no taxes, while we struggle to pay what we owe.  Still, we have highways and schools and hospitals; help for the elderly, the truly poor and sick and for people like Robbie; military security, and so on.  So today I will thank the Lord for taxes—and a country and life that has me living in comfort, if not wealth.  Thank You, Father, from Whom all blessings flow.

TANZANIA—I’ve been corresponding by e-mail this week with one of our missionaries who ministers in Tanzania, Africa.  His name is BJ Schultz and, along with his wife Cathy and five children, he is church planting in the little village of Kingereka.  I was working on a Powerpoint presentation for our church called “Spotlight on Missions” featuring their family and I wanted to include a map of Tanzania showing where Kingereka is located.  I could not find Kingereka on any map, or even on Google Earth, so I e-mailed BJ and asked “Where exactly are you?”  I knew it was near the town of Moshi, which is on the map, but I did not know in which direction to put the little dot for Kingereka. 

BJ answered with a link to Google Earth that had me locating Kingereka not by its own name, but by the name of the church he is planting, International Baptist Church!  How cool is that! (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Google Earth, it is a map of the entire earth that is put together by photographs from satellites in outer space.  I can type in my address and actually zoom in and look down on my own rooftop, yard, garage, etc. and then type another address (like my mom’s condo, or my daughter’s house in Alabama) and “fly” to that place.  The other day I flew via my couch in my own living room to Tanzania and looked down on the spot where that tiny church in that tiny village in the country of Tanzania is located and could see exactly where it was!  Amazing!

Even more amazing is the fact that our Heavenly Father looks down on us always without benefit of satellites; in real time, not little snapshots; undeterred by cloud cover or a canopy of trees or roofs; seeing not just my physical body but right into my heart and my thoughts and my soul.  He not only sees us, but He watches over us, interacting and caring for us and meeting our needs.  I am not one-dimensional to Him, a microscopic blip on this planet, but someone whom He loves with an everlasting love.  It is a little freaky, maybe, to think of satellites looking down on us from outer space, but it is comforting, exhilarating, wonderful to know that God Himself never slumbers, never sleeps but is always watching over me!  Psalm 121:3, 4 says, He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.  Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”  He tells us in Matthew 10:29-31, “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (NLT)

Modern technology boggles the mind, sometimes, but it is NOTHING compared to the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of our great Creator, or the relationship I can have with Him!

A TABLE—I’ve been looking for a new table for our sun porch for some time.  I love the one that is out there now.  It is a nice octagon shape, glass-topped with oak trim, and goes well with the other furniture out there.  Unfortunately, Bob dropped something on it last year and put a big crack right across the top.  I could not replace it right away so I threw a pretty tablecloth over it, but I was afraid to set anything heavy on top of it.  Now with the Naranjos coming in a couple months and probably staying with us for some time, I decided I’d better step up my efforts to find a new table.  I don’t want to take the chance that one of the kids will lean on it and go crashing through and possibly get cut.

I finally found one this week for an excellent price.  Now that Bob is through with the taxes, maybe he will put it together for me.  I am looking forward to using it now that spring weather is just around the corner.  What a sweet place to have lunch, with the sun shining in and breezes blowing through!  I can hardly wait!  And even better will be when I have my grandchildren gathered around that table for lunch or to play a game or to do home school out there!  It will get a great deal of good use this year, I am sure!

Gathered ‘round the table—those are precious words to a parent or grandparent.  How we look forward to having our family all under our roof again!  When both daughters are home with all their children and their spouses, we are actually too many to get around one table at the same time.  There are sixteen of us now!  Usually we will have the adults at the dining room table, and depending on the weather, let the kids sit in the kitchen or out on the sun porch.  It would be nice to have one really big table where we could all sit together, but actually we love hearing the laughter and fun coming from the kids’ table as the cousins enjoy one another and Grandma’s good cookin’!  It’s fun to hear the children’s conversation when they think the grown-ups aren’t listening!

Psalm 128:1-4 actually speaks to the blessing of having family gathered around the table. “Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways.  For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.  Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.  Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD.”  Joy and blessings to the man (and woman) that live for, and honor, and glorify the Lord!  It is but a miniscule foretaste of the joy we will experience when we gather with the family of God around the table at the marriage supper of the Lamb someday in Heaven! “And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.” (Revelation 19:9)