Using What We Have To Make A Difference

Today I had the great pleasure of attending a luncheon where high school juniors and seniors were awarded scholarships for essays they had written on works of literature that had most impacted them and influenced their thinking and opinions. The question they were to answer in the essay was, "What work of literature has had the greatest impact on you, your view of the world, and your understanding of what it takes to b a person who makes a positive difference in the world? Please explain." 

We heard from five of the winners. Their choices ranged from science fiction to the classics. By paying attention to what the author was trying to say, these students gained new insights that changed their lives regardless of the genre. 

The top award went to a young lady who wrote about the best selling memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Morrie had been Mitch's sociology professor at Brandeis University years before and Mitch had always found him to be inspiring. Mitch was disturbed to learn that Morrie, his favorite professor, had developed ALS or Lou Gherig's disease, a tragic diagnosis because of the devastating effect of the progressive loss of the use of the victim's muscles. 

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Mitch went to visit Morrie, hoping to cheer him up, but instead found that Morrie cheered him up and was still inspiring him as he had done so many years ago in college. As Mitch returned, time and time again, to visit (always on a Tuesday) he began to record the insights and wisdom Morrie was sharing. 

The young essay writer read her essay to the group following a buffet lunch at the country club, where the luncheon was held. She said she learned three lessons from Morrie, via Mitch Albom:

1. The way to live a meaningful life is to devote one's self to others. As we help others, we help ourselves. Our writer told us she was becoming actively involved in her home, school, and community, volunteering at the local hospital.

2. Instead of seeing the negatives in one's situation, see the positives. Although Morrie was ill and aging, he saw aging as a time to grow, to learn, and to live a better life because of it. Morrie told Mitch that as we age, we find our true purpose in life and we progress forward by doing more, experiencing more, and seeing more. Everyone, he said, has something to contribute. Never think what you have to offer is not important.

3. Morrie helped Mitch see death in a new way. "As long as we can love each other and remember this feeling of love, we can live on in the hearts of everyone we have touched and nurtured." Death, Morrie said, ends a life, not a relationship.

Indeed, Morrie found his true purpose with the help of his old student, Mitch Albom, who shared his wisdom with millions in the best seller Mitch wrote. Even as Morrie predicted, he had much to offer from his confined situation which touch the lives of those he would never personally meet.

What about you? Do you feel you have nothing to offer? Remember Morrie. Take what you have and use it in some way to help somebody. You will soon see what a difference it makes to that somebody. Your life will take on a whole new meaning.

Fire! The Importance of a Firm Foundation

It happened on January 8, 2017 at 1:15 am. My husband and I were asleep when his cell phone rang. I woke up. He did not. I could not get to his phone but I smelled something funny so I got up and went into the family room. I saw the firebox in the fireplace vibrating and tried to turn off the gas. The key would not let me. It kept turning as if it had no off position. 

The area surrounding the firebox (where the gas logs burned) was engulfed with flames. I grabbed our dinky fire extinguisher and aimed at the fire. About that time, I saw it was breaking through to the wall behind the fireplace into the dining room. I ran back to the bedroom and yelled for my husband to get up and call the fire department.

We grabbed our laptops, cell phones, and dog and headed for the garage to get the cars down to the street and await the arrival of the fire trucks. Although it was 18 degrees outside, we did not feel it. 

As we watched the flames break through the roof of our house, we prayed for the fire trucks to come quickly. It seemed to take forever, but, in reality it was about 15 minutes. Four trucks and an ambulance arrived. We learned later that the ambulance was for the firemen in case one of them was overcome with smoke. 

As soon as the wailing sirens turned on our street, the neighbors began emerging from their homes. They saw what was happening and brought us blankets, coats and socks to keep us warm. I was wearing my bathrobe. We watched together as firemen from three different fire stations worked to put out the fire. As the firemen took the hoses into the house and began spraying, it took the better part of an hour to master the raging flames. In this kind of situation, the water does more damage to the home than the fire, I later learned.

Finally, the firemen were satisfied they had extinguished every hot spot and there was no danger of a new eruption. They came and asked us if we would like to go in our home. With the firemen escorting us, we walked through what looked like a  war zone. The family room, dining room and kitchen were destroyed. The back bedrooms looked better because the fire had not gotten to that part of the house. The damage there was from smoke and water. We took a few things from the bedroom we thought we might need, thanked the firemen profusely (they are heroes) and left to go over to my sister-in-law's house for the rest of the night.

In the days that followed, we talked to insurance adjustors, cleaners, engineers, and contractors. Whether the house could be repaired or not (if not, we'd have to tear it down and start over) depended on the foundation. If the foundation had remained firm after all the fire and water, we could rebuild. If not, we'd have to start over. A structural engineer came out to inspect. He donned a hazmat suit and crawled back under the house to look at just how firm the foundation remained. I prayed for the workers who built the house and their diligence in making sure the foundation was solid. Isaiah tells us God answers before we ask. (Is. 65:24). I did not want to start over because I loved the house the way it was and wanted to restore it to its pre-fire condition.

The significance of the foundation was not lost on us. The roof could be toast; the interior black as a rainy night; the kitchen unrecognizable. What counted was the foundation. If it was solid, we could rebuild. 

Jesus taught us this. He told the story of the man who built his house on sand. When the storm came, it washed away. But for the man who built his house on the solid rock, his house was safe through the storm. We may not see the foundation and we may even forget it is there, but when the storms of life hit us, the foundation makes the difference. We are thankful that our foundation was solid and we can rebuild the house, but we are even more grateful for our firm foundation in God and his Word which has allowed us to move through these difficult days with peace and an attitude of gratitude.

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When God Answers Prayer

The answer finally arrived. My husband, daughter, and I had been praying for the job she wanted -- a dream job that combined her skills, was located one mile from her home, and provided many opportunities for advancement. We asked (Matt. 7:7), we agreed (Matt. 18:19), we reminded God that his word does not return to him void (Jer.1:12). It seemed to take forever (in reality just a few weeks) but yesterday our daughter called to tell us the company had offered her THE JOB!

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Of course, we said a silent prayer of thanks but I wanted to thank God properly, with special prayers and an offering of thanksgiving. There were examples in the Old Testament where offerings were brought when God answered prayers that were important to the people.

Building altars of remembrance seemed to be a popular way to commemorate answered prayers, but I couldn't get a handle on how that practice would translate into 21st Century America. Mary Magdalene poured out costly perfume on the feet of Jesus to show her love for what he had done for her, but Jesus is not physically present for me to do that today.

What would be appropriate, I asked myself and God. Certainly a gift of money to a ministry beyond our normal giving - a love offering - would show my gratitude. Yes, I decided. I would do that.  And then the prayers of thanksgiving. What would they look like? How many times can you say "thanks" and in how many different ways? 

I thought about the direction in scripture to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. This is close to God's heart, so if I honor God by praying for what he commands us to pray  -- for the peace of his holy city -- would not that show my appreciation? 

I did a little research online to find good resources with prayers for Jerusalem and the peace of Jerusalem. Mike Evans has a ministry devoted to helping and instructing people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I downloaded a free ebook. It began with this lovely prayer written by Israel's Chief Rabbi in 1948, which is prayed in synagogues the world over:

“Our Heavenly Father, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, Bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving kindness And spread over it the Tabernacle of Your peace. Send Your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and officials, And direct them with good counsel before You. Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy land; Grant them deliverance, our God, And crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants....Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name And observe all the words of Your Torah....Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, And let all who breathe declare: The Lord God of Israel is King And His kingship has dominion over all. Amen, Selah.”

Praying this prayer and others in the downloaded ebook filled me with joy. I came to bring prayers of thanksgiving to God for hearing and answering our prayer for our daughter, but left my prayer time with a sense of peace and well-being myself. But isn't that always the way God works? We come to bless him and he blesses us. Praise be to Him who gives us more that we could ever ask or think.

Another Shooting - Where is Our Protection?

It seemed impossible that another mass murder shooting could occur on the heels of the Baton Rouge shootings last week. As I was running errands in the car today, the radio broadcast details of the shootings in Munich, Germany. Officials were telling people to stay out of public places. Will it ever be safe again to go to the mall, the ball game, church? 

As reality sinks in, I realize we are living in a new, scary world. Safety cannot be guaranteed by our government. Terrorists willing to risk their own lives to do random strangers harm are on the loose, armed and dangerous. Some of them seem to have an agenda; others seem to just want to take other people with them as they commit suicide. It's hard to understand the thinking of these people. They must hate the human race for wrongs or perceived wrongs done to them.

This is how they will get revenge.

What are we to do? What I am doing is looking to the oldest and most trusted psalm, Psalm 91, to protect my family and friends. This psalm has a long and storied history of protecting those who stand on its promises from every conceivable form of danger. Service men and women have used it for centuries to protect from harm on the field of battle. In one little town in Texas during WW II, the mothers, wives, other relatives and friends of the 52 men from their town who were serving our country met daily to pray this Psalm over them. The men were serving in Europe and the Pacific theatre. When the war ended, all 52 came home unharmed. This is no coincidence. Many of these men had been in the heat of battle, but were miraculously protected. While other towns across the United States grieved their young men and women killed in action, this town celebrated its returning heroes, well and whole.

The psalm protects from disease and pestilence as well. One 13th Century doctor reported that the 91st psalm was the best protection against bubonic plague that he knew. And, when our church took a medical mission team to Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, during the Ebola crisis, we prayed the Psalm every day over the team, and our church back home prayed it every day over us as well. No one got sick.    

Confessing and standing on God's promises provides great protection. The 91st Psalm brings all of the protective promises of the Bible together in one place. As I pray it each morning over our family, I remember the old American Express commercial --- and, while I may forget my American Express card,  I certainly won't leave home without praying the 91st Psalm.   

Before We Ask, He Answers

The promise given to us by the prophet, Isaiah, has always fascinated me: "And I will answer them before they even call to me." (Is. 65:24). To me it always meant that God is above time, so he knows in advance of our prayer what we are going to pray. Therefore, he doesn't have to wait until we actually pray it to answer.

I once read about a missionary in Africa who had a premie to keep alive. She needed a hot water bottle to place next to the baby, but there was nowhere to purchase one. As she shared this need with the children of the village, one little girl prayed, "God we need a hot water bottle and we need it today." That afternoon a package arrived from America. Someone in a congregation supporting the missionary had sent a box of supplies, and there in the bottom of the box was a hot water bottle. The missionary had never mentioned to the congregation that she needed one, there was no reason for anyone to suspect such a need for a country close to the equator, but God knew, and before that little child prayed the prayer, he was busy answering through a servant back home. 

This past weekend, when I was at a writer's conference near Pittsburgh, PA, I discovered another meaning to Isaiah's promise. On the way to the airport my eyes were driving me crazy. They were watering like a leaky garden hose, and they hurt. Of course, they were red and irritated. I had to take an unintended exit off of I 285 just to tend to them, put in some drops, and try to get some relief.

When I arrived at the conference, I met some wonderful new friends. One of the ladies there was a missionary from Mexico. She shared some of the miraculous hearings she had experienced with the people in the villages she served. She had even seen sight restored as she prayed for those with severe vision problems. We became conference friends and enjoyed some meals together. On about the third day of the conference, she looked at me and said, "I want to pray for your eyes." They were still red and watering.

Strangely, I had never thought to pray for healing for my eyes, even though they often hurt. I guess I just considered my eye problem too minor to ask God to heal me. But my new friend had no such reservations. She put one thumb on each eye and asked God to heal them, reminding him (as if he needed to be reminded) that I needed my eyes to do this work of writing he has called me to do. 

I then prayed for a couple of health issues she was experiencing, and we went on to dinner.

The next morning when I got up, I noticed my eyes were not watering (they usually water a lot in the morning). Furthermore, they were not red as they usually are in the morning. And, since she prayed I have had none of my nuisance eye problems. In short, my eyes have been healed. Praise God!

But, to get back to the point, God was at work through a friend to pray for me before I asked. Before I asked, he truly did answer. I wonder how bad the problem would have had to become  before I asked God to heal me. Our gracious God came to my assistance before it got any worse. 

God knows all things. He is above time. And he loves us. How comforting that he answers before we ask.

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Being Strange

I have a little rule of thumb - if I receive the same message through three different sources, God is trying to say something to me. That happened recently.

I agreed to teach an adult SS Class. The class uses Cokesbury’s uniform adult Bible study series, and the lesson I was asked to teach was the first lesson of the summer quarter. The summer theme: Toward a New Creation; the first lesson: The Day of the Lord.

As I pulled out the teacher’s manual and read the lesson, I realized what a challenging project this was going to be. The Day of the Lord was God’s day of judgment against a dysfunctional society which had gotten far away from God and his plan. The prophet, Zephaniah, railed against ancient Judah for its many sins, including idolatry, cheating, not treating fellow human beings fairly, mixing worship of God with worship of other gods, or, just ignoring God altogether. God’s judgment day was coming, Zephaniah said, and it would not be pleasant. I decided to read the text from The Message Bible to help us grasp the meaning in present day terms. 

Through Zephaniah, God says,  “I’ll make things so bad, they won’t know what hit them. they’ll grope around like blind men; Their blood will be poured out like old dishwater, their guts shoveled into slop buckets. This is the Day of God’s Judgment” (Zeph. 1:17).

But even in ancient Judah, God had his people, and after the doom and gloom words to the society as a whole, he had a special message for them.  “Seek God, all you quietly disciplined people who live by God’s justice. Seek God’s right ways. Seek a quiet and disciplined life. Perhaps you’ll be hidden on the Day of God’s anger.” (Zeph. 2:3)

At the same time I was preparing this lesson, a CD I had ordered from Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist, came. The title: “If the Foundations are Being Destroyed, What Can the Righteous Do?”

Dr. Zacharias argues in the lecture that the foundations on which our nation were built and on which God intended society to be built are crumbling in four areas:

1. Eternity - he says many people in America no longer believe in life after death. I checked this out on the internet and found that a poll taken in 2012 of 1500 people in the US showed 55% believed in life after death, meaning 45% did not. If people no longer believe in life after death, then this life is all there is, and they will live accordingly. They will do what is pragmatic — what works.

2. Morality -  He pointed out that there is no sense of absolute right and wrong anymore. Everything is relative. As an illustration, he shares an interview between Larry King and Robert Shapiro, one of the lawyers in the OJ Simpson trial. The interview went something like this:

Larry: Bob, what really happened there. What is the truth?

Bob: Larry, we don’t deal with the truth.

Larry: OK, Bob, then what do you think happened?

Bob: I don’t make moral judgments, Larry, only professional judgments.

Dr. Zacharias says by only making professional judgments, Mr. Shapiro has, in fact, made a moral judgment.

3. Accountability - People are not held accountable.   There is a feeling it is not sin if you can get away with it.

4. Charity - Beneficence has been lost, he says.  People are no longer universally kind to each other. Dr. Zacharias speaks all over the world and he says he receives threatening letters and emails regularly. And this week we hear the news oftragedy in Orlando with an act of violence that is incomprehensible.

As Zephaniah did in days of old, Dr. Zacharias warns that our society is moving away from what God intends. A cultural shift is under way.

So what can the righteous do? 

Dr. Zacharias says, “Worship God. It’s what gives our lives purpose. Loose our lives in service to others to find true meaning.” Is not this a modern version of “Seek God, seek God’s right ways?

The third message came the night before I was to teach the SS lesson. I happened to be cleaning out some old magazines and found the 2016 Jan/Feb issue of Christianity Today, which announced its best book awards of 2015. The overall best book award for2015 wentto "Onward" by Russell Moore.  I only had time to read a few reviews before class the next morning, but I subsequently bought and read it. Moore says we Christians have lost the culture. We are no longer a Christian nation, with a culture based on biblical principles. On our best days, he says, we are a prophetic minority.

So, what are Christians to do? He commends us toward strangeness, toward living in joyful distinction from mainstream society. “Embrace the full gospel as pilgrims in a secularizing society,” he says. 

As we in our churches deal with collapsing morals in our society, and even acts of violence,  let us go forward doing what God told the remnant in ancient Judah through Zephaniah and what both Ravi Zachaias and Russell Moore, modern day prophets, tell us now. Seek God; seek his right ways; live as lights in a dark world; lose our lives in service to others; be strange — show the culture what God’s plan for society looks like.

As Moore writes, “ We recognize that from Golgotha to Armageddon, there will be tumult — in our cultures, in our communities and in our own psyches.…But we do not despair, as those who are the losers in history might. We are the future kings and queens of the universe.”