“Speaking of Jesus”

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Have you ever felt defensive when someone challenges your beliefs about religion or Christianity? If that’s been true for you, Speaking of Jesus could change your perspective. Author Carl Medearis, a long-term resident and expert on the Middle East, urges us to go back to the core, to Jesus, the Center of it all.

S of JPeople react to Christianity for a variety of reasons: their own negative experience, misinformation, the influence of others. But the game changes totally when we point them away from the superstructure of religion and the catastrophes of “Christian” history to look at Jesus. The subtitle of the book, “the art of not evangelism,” gives a hint that this is not a book to provide you with a canned outline or method for a sweaty-handed conversation with the person in the next cubicle.

If we are to “live like Jesus and share His love,” we need to remember that Jesus went out of his way to spend time with non-religious people. And he generally challenged their thinking, not their behavior.

I was touched by the amazing stories Medearis relates of people from a variety of cultures responding to the good news of Jesus. The humor and insight in the book are disarming; the truths he shares are like a gut-punch.

Larry and I found this book extremely provocative. Some of Medearis’s statements are startling, some you may disagree with. But in the end, I believe you will have a renewed appreciation of the ministry of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, and a refreshed enthusiasm for introducing people in your circle of influence to the One who can transform their lives.

More Beyond

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

“Daddy,” gasped 5-year-old Emily, saltwater dripping from her blonde hair, “I didn’t know there was so much in the ocean!”

Em hawaii

 After several days of persistent badgering, she had convinced her parents to rent snorkel gear for her. Only a few months before, she had consistently refused to put her face in the water during swim lessons. But on a Hawaiian vacation, in the warm ocean, Emily put aside her fears. And once she saw the wonders beneath the surface of the blue water, there was no stopping her.

When they returned home, she tugged at my arm with a shy grin. When I bent down listen, she said with great pride and delight, “Nana, I snorkeled!”

How much of life do we miss because we don’t look below the surface, or beyond today’s horizon? What wonders have we not seen because we’re afraid to go around the next bend in the road, or believe that there might be something wonderful that we haven’t yet experienced?

Philip_V_Coin (2)Recently I became aware of the motto of Spain in the era following the discovery of the Americas. The Latin words, Plus Ultra¸ “More Beyond” were included on both the Spanish coat of arms and Spanish coins. Combined with the words is a representation of the Pillars of Hercules, gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, considered for ages as the limit of the known world.

When we see satellite photos on Google Earth, it’s hard to comprehend the geographic boundaries of past centuries. To imagine what might be “beyond,” stretched the limits of comprehension. Yet our minds have their own limiting “Pillars of Hercules,” beyond which we hare fearful to venture. Like Emily, we have no idea what awesome wonders we might encounter.

Are you willing to believe for “More Beyond?”

Perfect Conditions

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Several mornings ago, we awoke to a transformed world. Glittering white crystals coated every leaf, twig and branch. The grass was a crunchy shag carpet, and solid ice captured the feet of the bronze cupid sitting on the edge of the birdbath. I wanted to wrap a towel around her shoulders.IMG_1326

My shearling slippers and fleece jacket barely kept out the 26 degree chill as I wandered around the back yard with my camera, hoping to capture just a hint of the magical scene. The branches of the tall firs drooped with heavy white icing. Sparkling shards of frozen fog accented each thread of spider webs. Verse 38:29 from the Book of Job came to my mind: “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?”

We’d had cold nights that gradually turned into dull, overcast mornings. Some mornings frost glittered on the lawn and rimmed the rail of the deck. We’d awakened to cold, foggy mornings when we could see nothing past the top of our back fence. But that morning, the perfect combination of cold air, clear skies, and fog combined for a very different result, one that made our breath catch in wonder.

The right combination of conditions can transform our world.

Often we see only the fog, or shiver with anxiety when circumstances drain the warmth out of life. We look for good in a tough situation, try to see our way through confusion, or attempt to bring order into a situation.

birdhouse

But as the ancient author of Job implies, it’s God the Creator who knows the formulas to create wonders. He is the one who arranged the perfect combination of fog, clear skies and cold air to create a glistening wonderland. His finger pushed the mercury on the thermometer down one degree, his hand whisked the clouds away, he blew his moist breath on our hillside, and the world changed.

I have frequently seen God orchestrate perfect conditions for his children, with their knowing or unknowing cooperation. A long-unemployed man strikes up a random conversation with someone in a checkout line, and ends up getting a job offer. A missionary abruptly moves his family to another part of their island, leaving a comfortable home, and only a few weeks later the home they left is swept away by a tsunami.

While we have our part to seizing the best opportunities to make our lives productive and fulfilled, for those of us who trust Him, God’s in charge. He’s the One who creates the perfect combination of conditions to transform our world into beauty.

How’s your spiritual equity?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are you “upside-down”?

Current financial news frequently refers to the unfortunate situation of homeowners being “upside-down.”  When someone’s home is worth less in the current housing market than they owe to the bank, it’s a distressing situation.

Unfortunately, we can be upside-down in our spiritual lives as well. When our ability to trust God with the difficulties of life falls short of our ability to trust, we can experience insecurity and panic. Worry and fear drains our equity, and we may feel that our spiritual resources are lacking.

How do we gain spiritual equity?

In natural terms, we build equity by making regular payments on the mortgage, or by external forces raising the value of housing. The ideal scenario occurs when these forces work simultaneously.

We can build spiritual equity by affirming our trust God in the everyday circumstances of our life. Situations often arise that are beyond our strength, ability, or understanding. When we confess our trust in God, we increase the value in our spiritual account. Time spent in worry or doubt drains our account. Time spent in thanksgiving and prayer adds divine dividends and spiritual equity.

Later we look back and see that God worked in the situation. As we acknowledge his work and thank him for it, he adds supernatural dividends.  Our balance grows, sometimes in unexpected ways. When the next difficult situation comes along, we have greater resources to trust and see his hand at work.

Verifying balance sheet

Facing tough times

Over the years, life has brought us many unexpected challenges: a 9-month-old baby with pneumonia, lengthy unemployment, a daughter’s brain tumor diagnosis. As I made “trust deposits,” acknowledging God’s sovereignty and power in each situation, my spiritual equity grew over the years. When faced with my own cancer diagnosis nearly two years ago, I found I had an ample account to draw on. Doctor’s reports caused minor “withdrawals” as I dealt with bouts of worry and anxiety. But there were abundant resources to face surgery and recovery with faith, confident in the ultimate good that God would bring in my life.

What’s the bottom line?

As with our natural finances, it’s helpful to look at the statements periodically. In the daily challenges of life, is the trust account growing? Are we making the daily small deposits that gain interest and dividends for the future? When difficulties arise, is our first response panic or prayer? Do we look for advice in our favorite blog, or God’s Word?

Life is uncertain, and we never know when we’ll need resources. When we put our trust in God, the compound interest of his faithfulness will insure that we have an ample supply when we need it.

The Other Children

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

As a stunned world watched in horror, news unfolded last week of the shooting of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown , Connecticut, just days after a mall shooting near Portland, Oregon that left three dead.

“How could this happen, again?”

“What terrifying forces were at work in the mind of the shooters?”

“Are we safe anywhere?”

Our hearts break as we see photographs of primary-school victims with shiny eyes and gap-toothed grins. We try to comprehend the excruciating pain of parents who waited outside the school, only to learn that their child will not walk out to hug them. We don’t want to imagine the nightmares that will haunt the “first-responders” who were on the scene.

School children singing, Pie Town, New Mexico ...

We grieve that these lives ended too soon, that they will never know the joys of puppy love, or driving a car, or getting an A in a tough class. Our society is poorer because their contribution will be missing.

As I pondered this tragedy over the past few days, a question came to my mind.

What about the other children who were killed on December 14, 2012?

The Others…

On December 14, 2012, and on December 13, December 15, and every other day this year, more than 3,400 babies were killed in abortion clinics in the United States.

Those deaths did not make headlines, were not the topic of every newscast for days, nor did they prompt a Presidential appearance in a small town. Photos of these little ones will not appear in People magazine or be posted on YouTube.ultrasound pic (1)

These children will never learn to ride a bike, have a crush on the boy who sits beside them in Biology, or marry the girl next door. We’ll never know how they might have impacted our society. Our economy will continue to suffer because they, and the other 1,200,000 babies aborted this year in the USA, will never be in the workforce.

As we continue to grieve and pray for the families and friends of those affected by the tragedies of last week, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are children dying in every community,every day of the week.

Will we mourn them also?

What’s stored up for you?

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

The Stash

At this time of year, I often think of the special stash of gifts my mother kept ‘hidden’ on a shelf in a back closet of my childhood home. That’s where MoSTashm stored the special things she’d found on sale throughout the year and squirreled away for birthdays and Christmas. I’ve followed her example, and have always had my own special place to stockpile toys, books, and gifts I find that will bring pleasure to my children, grandchildren and friends.

The other day I was reminded that God also has a stash of good things for his children. Here are two versions of Psalm 31:19:

You are wonderful,  
and while everyone watches,
you store up blessings for all
who honor and trust you.
  Contemporary English Version

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
to escape an unkind world.
   The Message

We may have read this in the past and had a “That’s nice” response. But I believe God wants us to access those blessings, regularly! It would be silly for me to keep adding to the gifts on my shelf and never give them out. My joy is in the giving, not the stockpiling. In the same way, God intends for us to receive, open and enjoy his blessings. The clear message of Psalm 31:19 is that the blessings God has stored up are to delight us, and to show others that he’s a loving and bountiful Father.

The Key to the Storehouse

So how do we access the stash God has for us? I believe thanksgiving is the key. When a small grandchild wraps their arms around my neck and says, “Thank you, Nana!” I’m ready to head out shopping again.

It’s no accident that we’re encouraged to give thanks more than one hundred times in scripture. Giving thanks acknowledges God’s work in our lives, and shifts the focus from our needs to His supply. The more we acknowledge that all good things come from my Father’s hand, the easier the key turns.

At this season, when we acknowledge the Greatest Gift given to mankind, it’s my hope that you’ll access the unique storehouse of blessings that your Heavenly Father has been piling up for you. It will bring delight to you, to Him, and let everyone know his goodness.

nativity

The Cookbook

Tags

, , , , , , ,

“Go ahead, buy it!” said my husband.

I stood with Larry at the book table in a local warehouse store, a popular new cookbook in my hands. The cheerful red and white cover design appealed to me. I had read some rave reviews, and a quick glance through the pages confirmed my interest.

“But it’s so heavy, and it’s expensive, even here. I’m just not sure,” I replied, hesitating.

“It’s up to you,” he said, “but I think you should put it in the cart.”

The Shopping Trip

We were filling two carts with supplies intended to last a family of five for two years on the mission field. Uganda was now relatively peaceful, but shop shelves were still bare, and we needed to ship everything we might need for our assignment there. A special offering at our church had provided the funds; our shopping expedition was both exciting and overwhelming.

We piled the carts with life’s miscellany: shampoo, toothpaste, underwear, razors, towels, pens, pencils and markers for our school-age children. For the joy of living, we added a ten-pound bag of chocolate chips. With the basics selected, we browsed at the book table, wistfully eying the many tempting choices for a reading family. My practical side won out, and I put the cookbook back on the stack.

Mysterious Encounter

A week after our shopping trip, Larry was walking to a local cafe with David, a neighbor. A man approached them, carrying a cardboard box. Without introducing himself, he looked directly at Larry.  Handed him the box, he said “Take this home to your wife.” As he walked away, Larry and David looked at each other in bewilderment.

When Larry came home, he handed me the unopened package. While he related the bizarre encounter, I opened the box to find the red and white cookbook. We looked at each other in awe and amazement; tears prickling in my eyes. I had told no one else, but my Heavenly Father knew of my interest in that particular cookbook.

In the following days cardboard cartons crowded our dining room. We removed every tube of toothpaste, razor and pen from its packaging and sealed them in zippered plastic bags. The cookbook went in a box with a giant Tupperware® bowl nearly filled to the brim with chocolate chips. A few days later, the boxes were on their way to an Africa-bound freighter.

Life in Uganda was challenging, with frequent threats to our health and safety. When I battled discouragement and homesickness, the cookbook was a reminder of God’s personal involvement in our lives. When I took it off my brick-and-board shelf, its message was, “God knows me!”

Twenty years later, the red and white cookbook occupies a prominent place in my kitchen. The pages are discolored and fly-specked, the dust jacket worn. A favorite recipe still shows penciled adjustments for Ugandan ingredients.

It’s an enduring reminder that God cares about the details of our life.

A Treasure from Grampa

Tags

, , , , , ,

In a storage bin in a back closet, I recently found a thin beige box illustrated with vintage designs of bunnies, sailboats and other toys. Inside was my baby book from 1946.

I leafed through the pages, smiling as I read the sparse comments in my mother’s handwriting. “First began to sit up, 4 mos. Walk around furniture, week of Sept. 1. First word, ‘Ouch’, August 25.”

Then I unfolded the treasure I had never seen before, a note from my 81-year-old grandfather, written in his shaky hand when I was five months old. My throat tightened with emotion as I stared at the small piece of yellowed notepaper.  What was he like? Why would an old man write a message to a five-month-old baby? I wish I could have known him.

The Note

Portland, Mar 20 / 47

My Dear Carolyn

Now that you are growing to be such a big girl and are taking sitting-up exercises, I am sure you will find these pillows useful. They are part of your Gramma Waldron’s treasured possessions (and perhaps of your Great-Gramma’s). So I am sure they will surround you with lots of loving comfort, and I know that she will look down on you as you use them and rejoice that you have them.

With love from your

Grampa Waldron

Memories

I have vague impressions of sitting on Grampa’s lap, feeling safe and loved, as I searched his pockets for the small treat he always brought me, his youngest grandchild. I did not have the privilege of knowing Gramma Waldron, as she died during my mother’s pregnancy, and was unaware of my impending arrival. Sadly, I have no memory of the pink pillows.

Grampa with my mother and siblings, shortly after Gramma passed away.

Just days after my second birthday, he joined Gramma in heaven. He had caught pneumonia while camping alone near the Rogue River in southern Oregon. He ended his life doing what he loved best, panning for gold.

How Can We Connect?

Reading this treasured note, the question comes to mind: What simple things can we do to connect to those we love, now and after we are gone?

Peace with God

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

New understanding bloomed in my mind like an unfurling bud as I read and reread the timeless words in Romans 5. “…we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Peace, with God?

The holy, majestic Creator of the Universe? The Giver of all Life? The One Who holds the universe together with a thought? The Ultimate Ruler of all mankind?

Peace?

Considering a peace-able relationship, concepts float into my mind. Comfortable. Accepting. Stress-free. No guilt or shame. No competition or restlessness. No weight of unmet expectations.

We know ourselves. We may be aware of selfish thoughts, impure motives. Un-considered deeds, unkind words and resentful attitudes can haunt our memories. While we may not have committed murder, sin is sin–it all separates us from God.

Because of Jesus, we can step out of the fraying cloak of our attempts at goodness, our misdirected efforts to please. We can walk through the purifying shower of Jesus’ atonement, and approach the Father without uncertainty or fear.

As we come near, we see the love in his eyes, and the welcoming body language as he leans toward us. Like a beloved toddler, we can clamber up into his lap and rest our head against his shoulder. His loving embrace settles us, we can relax.

Peace.

With God.

 

Breakage

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

It really wasn’t a surprise when Larry showed me the broken branch lying across the sidewalk one morning this week. The east wind had howled down the Columbia Gorge and the wind chimes on our deck clanged all night.

Of all the trees in our yard, I knew this “October Glory” maple was most vulnerable. When we chose that variety to replace the Russian olive trees in our parking strip, we anticipated graceful shape and vibrant fall color. We had spent extra time at a local nursery finding two young trees with similar size, shape and branch structure.

The nursery helper was sure he could get them in our sedan easily with the back seat folded down. Unfortunately, when he put the second tree in, top-first, he broke off six or eight inches of the growth tip.

“You broke it!” I said. “Now it’s damaged.”

“Don’t worry, it will grow other branches. It will be fine,” he replied.

I should have paid attention to my instincts, and refused to take the broken tree. But we had already paid, and didn’t want to take more time to look for another tree to match the undamaged one.

Within two years, it was obvious that the broken tree was never going to match its companion. Instead of the rounded shape, with one central “leader” branch, the broken tree grew several trunks, and developed a more linear shape.

Now, in the strong fall wind, one of the large vertical branches had snapped, and was hanging down to the ground. At first, looking up at the break, it appeared to be a healthy branch. But when Larry sawed it off and we dragged it into the back yard, I noticed that there was a significant discoloration at the branch junction, indicating unnatural separation. That slight separation made it susceptible to disease, and vulnerable to the windstorm.

Since we first planted these trees six years ago, they have been a metaphor of life for me. Even with significant brokenness in early growth, the tree was still healthy, strong and beautiful, especially in its brilliant fall color. No one else would notice the difference in the two trees; only we knew they should have had matching shape. The breakage had not kept it from being beautiful.

Jesus said, “But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted… This brings great glory to my Father.” John 15:7-8

All of us have broken areas in our lives; we live in a fallen world. God can redeem the brokenness, if we give it to Him.  Breakage becomes a threat only if we allow separation from our Source. If we stay connected, we can have healthy, strong lives, and produce a beautiful display of His glory.

“October Glory” maples, Fall 2011