People, Projects and Pastimes

I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of Operation Christmas child, an arm of Samaritan’s Purse founded by Franklin Graham, since its earliest days. Shopping for school supplies, hygiene items, toys , t-shirts and ball caps, then removing packaging and labels before filling those cheery red and green boxes has given me many hours of pure pleasure. In recent years, I’ve proudly and expectantly topped each box with a photo of my husband and me along with a letter that has included my email address.

Wouldn’t it be fun to receive email replies from people in other countries and learn about their cultures? It has been fun to receive responses from a number of families in Central America and Africa, but two cases stand out that make me realize that people aren’t projects or pastimes.

Five years ago, I received a reply from a pastor in West Africa. His son had received one of my boxes. I was ecstatic! We started to correspond regularly, and I learned about his ministry to children orphaned by the Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016. Eventually I felt a nudge to ask him if he needed financial support. He and his family were ecstatic! They had never received such an offer, and, yes, they could use some help. It has become a wonderful story of mutual encouragement that includes a little girl named after me as well as additional support from generous members of our church. More fun than I ever dreamed!

Last year I received an email from a seventeen year old boy, who has called me his “saviour,” and who very respectfully and with a promise to repay, asked me to sponsor him to come to Canada, or failing that, to help him get to France where he could study and pursue his dream of playing soccer. With a heavy heart I had to reply that I can’t possibly offer the assistance he is hoping for.

As I begin to work on my boxes for this year, I’m thinking that I won’t be so quick to include my email address. I need to think about those on the other end. Is it fun for poor people to have their hopes dashed, so I can have fun at their expense?

What about here at home? What is my motive for helping people – financially or otherwise? Am I reaching out because it’s fun? Do I treat people as though they were my project or pastime? Is it all about me? I’m believing the results will be better if I go with the Nudge . The subject of giving takes me back to a discussion in my grade 12 English class when our teacher made the statement that philanthropy can be rooted in selfishness. I couldn’t wrap my head around it at the time, but it is clear to me now. I may be slow, but I am learning!

In the Game

Our son was five years old, and it was his first year to play soccer. In his orange jersey, black shorts and knee socks, complete with shin guards, he was ready to take his place on the team and beat its opponents. I was anxious to see how he would do. Frozen in time, one memory of that season comes readily to mind: it was his turn to sit out (actually, they stood at the side of the field). What would he do? Would he remain in the game, watching his teammates and cheering them on? Not at all! His attention was taken by an airplane flying high over the field, and when it was out of view, he took a stick and began making roads in the dirt. Thankfully, I was too far away to chide or re-direct!

This scene came vividly to mind as I was reading Luke 9: 57-62, entitled “Exacting Discipleship” in the New American Standard Bible. Three examples are given: one man volunteered to follow Jesus, and Jesus replied by letting the man know how hard it would be: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus asked another man to follow him, but he answered, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father,” which probably meant that he wouldn’t be ready to follow Jesus until after his father died, and he didn’t know how long that would be. He did call Jesus “Lord,” but was He really? A third man said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first permit me to say goodbye to those at home,” to which Jesus replied, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I see my five year-old distracted soccer player in these three accounts. In the first, Jesus warns that hardship can distract us from following Him, and in the last two, we understand that we can be distracted by misplaced priorities and family attachments, as well as wanting to follow Jesus in our own time and on our own terms. Like my little son, these men weren’t really in the game: they may as well have been watching airplanes in the sky or playing in the sand!

Discipleship is indeed exacting, as are the questions that arise from reading such a text: Am I in the game God has called me to? Am I willing to pay the price? What are my priorities? Am I easily distracted? Is something distracting me now? Am I fit for the Kingdom of God?

Spider Bread

I love fresh bread. I think I’d choose it – generously buttered, of course -over any other food. Years ago, I had a dream in which I was taking a bite out of a thick piece of fresh bread, when just in front of my nose, standing on it’s eight legs, I saw a big spider. My appetite turned to aversion, and the dream abruptly ended.

I don’t dream often, so when I do, I ask myself if there is a particular meaning. This time, I knew that it was related to a dear friend of mine, a wonderful Christian lady with many years of experience as a missionary. She loved me and wanted God’s best for me, but when a dark-skinned young man from the Caribbean showed increasing interest in me, she had only predictions of ulterior motives and words of warning to offer about men from other cultures. In her years of ministry, she had undoubtedly witnessed many wrong doings and failed relationships, but was it fair to judge my suitor accordingly? Should she not make an effort to know him as an individual?

Young as I was at the time, and animated as I was with a highly developed sense of justice, I recognized upon awakening that my missionary friend was the bread, and racism was the spider. And young as I was at the time, I didn’t keep the dream’s interpretation to myself! I told that fine Christian lady that she was racist! To her credit, she loved me until her dying day; furthermore, when I married my tall, dark-skinned, handsome Canadian, she was more than happy to give her blessing. There was no spider on her bread that day!

A few decades older and hopefully a little wiser, I realize now that my dream has both a wider and a narrower application than the one I originally adopted: wider, because, as in nature there are over 48,000 recorded species of spiders, likewise, in the realm of the spirit, there are innumerable “spiders” that kill the appetite for fresh bread; narrower, much narrower, is the painful understanding that when I point a finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at me, and, for the pure enjoyment of fresh bread, I would do well to deal with my own spiders.

Except

“David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life – except in the case of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). What a fascinating summary of David’s life! I have my own mental scrapbook of memories gathered from Sunday School lessons, sermons and teachings I’ve heard, as well as personal study: He was the youngest of eight boys, left behind when his brothers heroically went to war, a shepherd who killed a bear and a lion with his own hands, and later killed the giant Goliath with one stone from his sling. a feat which earned him a place in the king’s court and the distinction of marrying the king’s daughter. Then life went sour: David’s military prowess earned him the adulation of the people and the blind rage of the king, who for the rest of his life pursued David and sought to kill him….Eventually David became king, reigning rty years and being known to this day as a man after God’s own heart.

Among his many attributes, David was a musician, singer and songwriter. Psalm 18 is his song of praise when God delivered him from the king. He declares that God rescued him because He delighted in him and goes on to proclaim that he is not guilty of turning from God or his decrees; he is blameless and has kept himself from sin, and the Lord has rewarded him according to his righteousness and the cleanness of his hands in God’s sight.

Have you ever read novels with more than one plot? They tend to be gripping and frustrating at the same time. Just when the reader arrives at a cliffhanger in one plot, the story abruptly changes to another. That’s what happens in David’s story: just when we are ready to sweep him up on our shoulders and glory in his triumph for doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord and not failing to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life, our pulse quickens and our breath is bated by the introduction to the second plot – “except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.”

What is this “except?” Who is Uriah? He was King David’s neighbour and one of his mighty men. One spring, the time when kings go to war, Uriah is valiantly defending David in battle, while David is enjoying leisure at home; one evening, from the roof of his palace, David sees Uriah’s wife taking a bath. The rest of the story moves quickly: David sends for her; she gets pregnant; David calls Uriah home from the battle, expecting him to sleep with his wife and think the baby is his; Uriah doesn’t fall for David’s scheme; David sends Uriah back to the battlefield with an official letter to the commander of the army, outlining instructions that would ensure Uriah’s death; Uriah is killed, and David marries Uriah’s wife. Who needs novels or movies?

How can these two plots tell the story of one man? That’s where the third and final plot comes in. With his “except” heavy on his heart, David wrote Psalm 51, in which he confesses that he has sinned against God and pleads for mercy. Broken and contrite, yet with confidence in God’s unfailing love and compassion, David begs unashamedly to be washed and cleansed and delivered from his guilt; even more astounding is the fact that David boldly expects God his Savior to create in him a pure heart, to renew his spirit and restore his joy. God’s clear and concise response to David and his “except” comes through the mouth of His prophet: “The Lord has taken away your sin; you are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12:13). All the plots come together in harmony when David opens his mouth to sing of God’s righteousness and declare His praise!

I find that the best way to understand the Bible is to personalize what it is saying. What, then, does this story of David’s “except” mean to us? Is David so different from us? Would a list of our godly traits and good deeds similarly end with an “except?” Is there a sin that plagues us and threatens our reputation or, much worse, hinders our relationship with God? David’s God and Savior is our God and Savior; from a bloodstained cross and a tomb that held only His grave clothes, Jesus openly displayed His unfailing love and His power to forgive, renew and restore. Our “except” will give way to praise as we follow David’s example of sincere confession and expectant faith built on God’s righteousness, not our own.

Timeout

I’ve been mulling it over for the past two weeks – a four-sentence exchange between my four year-old grandson and me.

We were camping, and I was babysitting him while the rest of the family went golfing. Hoping for some quiet time for the both of us, I told him we could go to his motor home and watch TV after a nap, but if he didn’t nap we would stay at my trailer… No nap! Not even the blink of an eye!

So, we were playing outside my trailer when I needed to go inside very briefly. When I came out, there was no little grandson in sight. Calling his name and trying to ignore the knot forming in my stomach, as well as the still vivid memory of losing him in Walmart two years ago, I checked the site carefully – under the table, behind the tree, by the water and sewage hookups. No little grandson anywhere!

I didn’t think he had time to get that far, but I headed for his motor home, which was two sites up from ours. What a relief to see that the door was open, and then to find him inside, a man in the making, watching TV, remote in hand! I wasn’t pleased. Off went the TV, and off we went to Nanny’s trailer – with a few words of correction thrown in on the way! That’s when the exchange took place – an unforgettable mini-clip I’ve played over and over. Picture it, if you will…

A four year-old boy, seating himself on the step of our trailer, head in his hands, elbows on his knees…

Grandson: I’m going to sit here and think about all the bad things I’ve done (He wasn’t crying or visibly upset. He simply made a decision).

Nanny: Then what? (I thought he might apologize).

Grandson: Jesus wants me to have a timeout (which, because I couldn’t believe my ears, I asked him to repeat).

A few seconds of self-imposed reflection and he was up and playing , all thoughts of the interlude apparently forgotten.

Where did he come up with that kind of thinking? When I asked his mother about it, she had no idea. I wondered if he’d learned about time out in Sunday School or Children’s Church, but then I had the shocking realization that he may have learned it from me! I’ve had the privilege of babysitting him and his brother several times for a week or so, and I have a feeling that at some point I may have put them on a chair to think about what they had done, though I really don’t think I would have told them that Jesus wants them to have a timeout; I may be an old schoolmarm, but “timeout” has never been part of my usual vocabulary. Whatever, all this leads to some reflection on my part…

Children really are like sponges, absorbing much, much more than we think or imagine. I haven’t had extended time alone with my grandsons for many months, and yet this little guy remembers something he learned from me. As a teacher, I usually had lesson plans; maybe it would be wise for Nanny to be more intentional about what and how she wants to teach her grandsons.

I’ve also been asking myself if Jesus wants believers to have a timeout to think about all the bad things we’ve done. Is that theologically sound? Is it scriptural? Is it a good thing to teach children? I think it is. Isaiah 1:18 extends an invitation, “Come now, and let us reason together, Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow….” Jesus taught that we must forgive those who trespass against us so that the Father will forgive our trespasses. And 1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is good to bow our head and heart and own our sins (trespasses), and then, like my precious little grandson, to rise up and enjoy life in the knowledge that Jesus has completely forgiven and cleansed us.

Does Jesus want you to have a timeout?

Huckleberry Heaven

“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” So quotes Michele Cushatt in her stunning memoir, Undone. Personally, I would take it even further and say that a happy friendship – in fact, any happy relationship – is the byproduct of two good forgivers. I have a friend who, over the years has forgiven me much and many times; so, should she read this post and find herself misrepresented, I trust she will forgive me once again and know that no misrepresentation is intended.

This friend lives on a mountainous acreage, where plants and wildlife flourish. It so happens that this year there has been a bumper crop of tart and juicy purple huckleberries, the coveted and crown jewels of the northwest.

I saw her on Thursday last week ,and asked her about her harvest. “Eighty-seven cups,” she proudly announced. She honoured me with an invitation to go picking with her on Friday, which I accepted without any arm-twisting on her part. So, donning my best scarecrow uniform, and in her words, “slathering” myself with bug spray, I met her for a bonus Suzuki ride to a huckleberry patch. An hour and a half later my 1.5-litre container was full, and as we made our way back to the vehicle, she gave me her 2 litres as well . I hadn’t expected such liberality, but she’s not only forgiving, she’s also very generous.

What made me chuckle was her phone call later, wanting to know how many cups I got and telling me that she and her granddaughter had just picked another seventeen cups! She was actually keeping track, and the total was well over a hundred cups!

Saturday, I thought of my friend when I read Psalm 4: 7…

You have put gladness in my heart,

More than when their grain and new wine abound.

These lines speak of two kinds of gladness, one greater than the other, but both desirable and delightful. There’s the exultation of harvesting an abundant crop; then there’s the indescribably surpassing joy that God Himself, for no other reason than love, lavishly deposits directly in our hearts.

I don’t think I’ll ever read Psalm 4: 7 the same way again. For me it will say:

You have put gladness in my heart,

More than when their huckleberries abound.

I don’t think God will mind, and I sure hope my friend won’t either; her gladness gave birth to these thoughts, and may these thoughts open our hearts and minds to more of God’s gladness than we have ever known.

Blessings Uncounted

Before we even started dating, my husband and I were sparring partners:  I enjoyed picking on him, one upping him in an ongoing duel of words. It was one of the things that attracted him to me, and needless to say, one of the things that I am now a little careful of.  That being said, the following lines, I assure you, are not meant to make my husband look bad; it just so happened that as I observed him one day, his out-of-character behaviour caught my attention.

My husband is a pastor and a paramedic.  On the days that he works as a paramedic, I pack his lunch and prepare breakfast, which we eat together. We hadn’t sparred the night before, and I long ago learned not to spar with him first thing in the morning, so I don’t know what was going on in his mind that particular day, but as we sat across the table in our usual places, he ate his breakfast in silence, without once lifting his head to acknowledge my presence or culinary effort.  When he finished, he left the table without saying a word or looking my way – totally out of character!  Straight out of Hollywood! But, no, as the three-line summary in my journal suggests, this scene was both otherworldly and awakening.

“Are we so busy eating God’s blessings that

  we don’t look at Him or talk with Him

or acknowledge Him?”

,

Love The One You’re With

It’s amazing what sticks in our minds! With good reason, we should be careful what we allow ourselves to see and listen to! I have no idea when or where I heard “Love the One You’re With,” a 1970 release by rock musician Stephen Stills, but somehow recently it made its way from the hidden recesses of my memory bank to the forefront of my conscious thoughts. The message of the song is an affront to everything I believe about marriage or any male-female relationship. In keeping with the sexual revolution of the 70’s, it blatantly promotes infidelity and promiscuity, so why in the world was I singing the only two lines I knew?

And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey

Love the one you’re with

Incredibly, as I silently sang these lines and mulled them over, I found myself pulled in a very different and infinitely more positive direction, (which can easily happen when we take something out of context), but it was well worth the turnabout.

I thought about dating and the early days, months , maybe even years of marriage. The one we love is perfect in every way, and should we notice some flaw, we immediately minimize it or look the other way. Years go by…. The one we love changes – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – and so do we. Perfection is hard to see, and flaws are only too obvious, but there’s no going back. Suddenly, we realize we can no longer be with the one we love; they’re gone, never to return as we knew them. What do we do? Run away? Get a divorce? Live miserable for the rest of our days? No, on all three accounts! That’s where the second line caught my attention: Love the one who is still with you! Love the one who has changed with time and who has watched you change. Take your place in the marriage revolution, and “Love the one you’re with!”

Attitude

Charles Swindoll, well-known Bible scholar, pastor and teacher is famous for making this statement: “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitude.”

One thing I enjoy about long-distance car rides is that my husband and I usually have some very interesting discussions. I don’t remember how the present subject came up on a recent road trip, but we were wondering about how to keep a good attitude when life – and ministry, in particular – doesn’t go our way, when we don’t get to do or are limited in what God has gifted or called us to do. Some Bible characters came to mind.

God called Moses to lead the children of Israel and to declare to them that He was going to bring them out of Egypt to Canaan. Early in their desert wanderings, Moses lost his temper with the people and disobeyed God’s instructions. For that misdeed he lost the privilege of entering the Promised Land. Did he get angry at God? Did he say, “I quit! I’m out of here?” Did he sulk or get bitter? The end of his life tells the tale: years later, before climbing the mountain where God Himself would bury him, Moses blessed the Israelites, tribe by tribe, declaring, “There is none like God.” His epitaph remains to this day: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”

It has been widely acknowledged that David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. In his last words he was not ashamed to call himself “the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs.” His life had many ups and downs, through which he experienced the power of repentance and forgiveness. Both sensitive and passionate, he expressed his desire to build a temple for the Lord: his heart was in it, but God replied, “You shall not build me a house to dwell in.” David got to plan and gather materials for the temple, but construction wasn’t started until after his death. What was David’s attitude? “With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God… Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God.” And then he led the assembly in praise to the Lord.

In at least one particular personal situation the apostle Paul didn’t get what he wanted either. The language he uses reveals his pain: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was give a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” Have you ever had a thorn in some part of your body? How often do you use the word torment? When was the last time you pleaded with God for something? Either Paul was a wimp, or he had a real problem! When God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” Paul determined to “boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me… For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Finally, When Jesus was transfigured before three of the disciples, his face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming white as light, in a burst of overwhelming awe Peter offered to build three shelters – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah, who had appeared and talked with Jesus. Peter needed no further reply when “a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” God wasn’t interested in shelters! Peter went down the mountain with Jesus and the others, and despite his sometimes misplaced enthusiasm, he followed Jesus to the cross and to martyrdom.

So I ask myself, ” If life is 10% what happens to me, what does my other 90% look like? Specifically, what is my attitude when God says no to me? Am I faithful when I don’t get to do what I want? What will my last words be? How will I be remembered?” Food for thought… And even for change…

Happy Mother’s Day with Honor

red roses close up photography

Some mothers look forward each year to gifts, cards, phone calls or other expressions of appreciation, while others, though they may not say so, are disappointed year after year as their sacrificial love and efforts go seemingly unnoticed.  With the threat of covid-19 still imposing isolation and social distancing, who knows what Mother’s Day celebrations will look like this year?  Whether yours is over the top or not so great, I’d  like to share with you a few thoughts on the subject.

First of all, God honors mothers.   How happy our Mother’s Day would be if we could grasp the meaning of those three words: “God honors mothers.”   He made it plain when He gave the first commandment with a promise, “Honor your father and your mother, so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”   Jesus made the message plainer still when He soundly rebuked as hypocrites those who broke the command,  so they could ignore the needs of their parents.   Plainest of all is the honor Jesus bestowed on Mary when He was hanging on the cross and at the point of death: “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19: 26-27).  God doesn’t require anything of us that He Himself doesn’t do: God honors mothers.  And just so we know what that means, here are some biblical definitions of the word “honor”:  to glorify or make glorious; to prize, revere, value or esteem.  Go ahead, choose the one you like, and celebrate what God thinks of you!

Another thought comes from  Isaiah 49: 15-16…

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

What a beautiful picture of motherhood and  the mother heart of God!  Nurturing and compassionate, attentive to the point of being unable to forget her baby: that is how God sees mothers, and that is how He wants us to see Him.  In fact, just like God is the best father,  in this vivid metaphor He reveals that He is also the best mother.  He invented motherhood, and all the good and godly qualities of a mother come from Him .  We portray His image as His heart beats with ours in love and concern for our children.

My final thought for Mother’s Day is a word of caution to us all:  Looking to motherhood to gain significance, value, or fulfillment in life is a sure way to find disappointment and disillusionment, not to mention unhappy family relationships.  Children, regardless of age,  can’t bear the burden of expectations that only Jesus can fill.

So, dear mother, I pass these thoughts on to you with an invitation to join me in celebrating (alone, if need be) the gift of motherhood.  From God’s heart to mine to yours, Happy Mother’s Day with Honor!