Tag Archives: God

Cracking the Case

I needed more razor blades. Being on Sabbatical and not in our home town, we went to the nearest store. There I found the brand of blades I use. They were packaged differently, with the container of blades encased in a bigger, hard plastic case. But why should that matter? They were the right blades.

All was well…

Until I needed to use them. When it came time to open the bigger, hard plastic case, the trouble began. There was no way to open it. I’m not kidding! There was what appeared to be a little switch that could serve as a lock but it wouldn’t move. So I got out my trusty little knife and pried – and pried – and pried. Nothing changed. Being in a motel, I had few other resources so I banged the case on the counter-top by the sink. Nothing but a loud noise – not even a crack in the plastic. After a few more bangs – each harder and louder but with no results – I gave up. I was mystified. Access to guns and drugs appeared to be easier than access to these blades! The old blade currently in my razor would have to work another day or two until we arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s home. There we’d find a way to ‘crack the case.’ Long story short – after chuckling with us about the crazy case, my brother-in-law took it out to his garage and cracked open the case with his hacksaw.

I’m still not sure why razor blades had to be placed in such a secure case. But I do know no one was going to get at them without tremendous effort. They were securely sealed – which brings to mind our security in Christ. We, too, are securely sealed. No switches, no knives, no banging; nothing can get to us. Suddenly I realize that being locked out had a message for me: “When the case can’t be cracked, give thanks for the seal.”

Paul preached it forcefully. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 1:21-22) “You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ.” (Eph. 1:13 CEB) “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) We are sealed, held fast, protected. No one and nothing can get to us but through the hands of Jesus. We can’t be cracked – give thanks for the seal!

The Heidelberg Catechism confesses it beautifully:

What do you believe when you say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?” That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever adversity he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.”            “What do you understand by the providence of God? The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”

Give thanks for the seal. We can’t be cracked. No one, nothing can crack His case around us. Not knives, not counter-tops, not hacksaws. As Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:27)

 

 

 

When the case can’t be c thanks for the seal.”

The Four Greatest Words

I was spending a week in a cottage of one of our congregation members. They had offered to let me stay there as I wrote and developed a discipline/discipleship Bible study.  The combination of seclusion and the beauty of the surrounding nature was the inspiration I needed to keep at the task. I still find it hard to believe all I accomplished during that week.

Yet I also longed to be home because I missed my wife and three young boys. Since Facetime and Skype were still years from being developed my only contact with them was via phone – for which I had to pay long distance charges!

So I highly valued the few phone conversations, which were largely with my wife. But one time she said one of our sons wanted to speak to me. She gave him the phone. Across the miles, beyond the separation, even when we he couldn’t see me he said, “Daddy, I love you.” Then he gave the phone back. Wow! My heart melted and the tears rolled gently down my cheeks. It took all my energy and focus to remain at my task and not immediately head back home to give him a hug.

Those are, I believe, the four greatest words we can hear: “(your name) I love you.” No matter who we hear them from, they stir our hearts and lift our spirits. I have a hunch you know what I mean. That moment in time reminded me of how important it is to say them to those we love.

Yet it also brought another thought to mind. God likes to hear those four words from us as well. I’m certain Jesus had this in mind when he taught his disciples – and us – how to pray. “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9) The word Jesus used was Abba, a term of love and intimacy; it was “Daddy’ rather than ‘Father’ or even ‘Dad.’ All that Jesus prays for in this prayer flows from a loving, trusting son to His loving, faithful Daddy. And Jesus said this is how we are to pray. In other words, let God, our Father, our Daddy, know we love Him. Imagine what it means to Him to hear those words – especially in those times when we may feel distant from Him.

How often do you tell Him? When was the last time you simply prayed “Daddy, I love you?” When was the last time you prayed “Daddy, I Love you” and said nothing else, made no requests – just let Him know you loved Him?  How often do you sing a love song to Him? John Fischer expressed beautifully when he wrote and sang (1):

“Love Him in the mornin’ when you see the sun a -ris-in,                     Love Him in the evenin’ ‘cause He took you thru the day.                     And in the in-be-tween time when you feel the pressure comin’,                  Remember that He loves you, and He promises to stay.”

Sound, sensible advice. Perhaps it’s time to follow it. Today how will you say/pray/sing “Daddy, I love you?” Go ahead – do it now. And tomorrow – and the next day. Do it often. After all, they are the four greatest words that will melt even the heart of God.

(1) “All Day Song”, John Fischer, © Lexicon Music, Inc. 1973

 

 

 

The Great Memorial Panic

On this Memorial Weekend I once again have memories of one particular Memorial Day. I played the Bass Drum in our Junior High School band. The highlight of the year was marching in Kalamazoo’s Memorial Day parade.


On this particular Memorial Day I had a problem. While marching, the strap that held the drum on my shoulders was slowly slipping loose; if not corrected, the drum would fall. Complicating the problem was that, unlike all the other instruments, the percussion section never stops playing; it has to provide the cadence to keep everyone in step. So I had no opportunity to stop and try to fix the strap. And since I was standing on the edge of the row I had no one on my right side and a snare drummer on my left. So there was no help beside me.

At first I chuckled thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” But the humor didn’t last long. I kept drumming but also kept trying to adjust the strap in between beats, which was no small task. It was proving to be a losing battle. I began to have visions of the drum falling, with me tripping over it as it fell, and the whole band falling apart because the cadence stopped and everyone lost the beat and thus their synchronized steps. I had to struggle to maintain the beat while becoming lost in my thoughts. I had no idea what to do. I was close to panic.

But there was one glimmer of hope. Our director always marched with the band, and would do so from various positions – sometimes moving to the edge of each row so he could check up on everyone.; but I had no way of getting his attention. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, he came to the edge of my row, on my side of the row! There he was – right next to me! He was able to fix the strap without me missing a beat. I was so glad he let himself be found!


As I now fondly recall that day, my mind goes to Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” I once read that “…an ever-present help in trouble” could be translated “God lets himself be found in trouble.” I like that thought. “When you’re lost, He is found.” I think of when I play ‘Hide and Seek ‘ with my grandchildren – I often hide only partially so I can be found. Or I’ll be fully hidden for a short time until I sense they’re getting frustrated, and then come partially out of hiding. I’ll let myself be found.

That’s so much like God. When we’re lost, when we’re about to lose our step, when the drumbeat of our life is about to get out of sync, when the straps that hold the source of our life in place are about to come undone – God lets Himself be found. “When you’re lost, He is found.” When tragedy strikes, when life becomes overwhelmingly challenging, and we wonder where God is – when we wonder where He’s hiding, God lets Himself be found. “When you’re lost, He is found.” When we’ve totally lost our way, or suddenly realize we’ve wandered off to other pastures and wonder how we’ll ever find our way back, then it is we need to remember “When you’re lost, He is found.” God lets Himself be found.

The truth is, God is never far away. He may, at times, remain out of our sight because He wants to develop our faith and increase our trust. But before the drum falls, before we trip and fall, before everyone and everything around us falls apart, God will come out of hiding. “When you’re lost, He is found.” God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…The Lord Almighty is with us.”

“When you’re lost, He is found.”

Let’s Dance!

Each year during this season I end up thinking of the value of time. To that end, I re-share with you what I consider to be one of the best commentaries – other than Scripture – on time that I know. This was written by Ann Wells of Laguna Niguel. She penned the column a couple of years after her sister unexpectedly died. (1) .

“I’m reading more and dusting less. I’m sitting in the yard and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I’m spending more time with my family and friends and less time working. Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure.

I’m trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them. I’m not “saving” anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, or the first Amaryllis blossom. I wear my good blazer to the market. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries. I’m not saving my good perfume for special parties, but wearing it for clerks in the hardware store and tellers at the bank. Someday” and “one of these days” are losing their grip on my vocabulary; if it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.
I’m not sure what others would’ve done had they known they wouldn’t be here for the tomorrow that we all take for granted. I think they would have called family members and a few close friends. They might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles. I like to think they would have gone out for a Chinese dinner or for whatever their favorite food was. I’m guessing; I’ll never know. It’s those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours were limited. Angry because I hadn’t written certain letters that I intended to write one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn’t tell my husband and parents often enough how much I truly love them. I’m trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives. And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is a gift from God…I don’t believe in miracles. I rely on them. Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.”

Join me in dancing through 2019!


(1) LA Times, Nov. 22, 1998

Exquisite Timing

When was the last time you said to someone, “Your timing was exquisite?” Or “Wow – what perfect timing?” It’s always amazing when someone shows up or does something – or something happens – at just the right time.

As we prepare for Christmas over the next weeks, I’ll be focusing on one of my favorite biblical passages which gets to the heart of Christmas and also to the heart of some exquisite timing. The passage is Galatians 4:1-7. This week focus on just the opening words of verse 4: “But when the time was right, God sent his Son…”

“But when the time was right…” Why does Paul say the timing was right? History gives us the answer. Because of the conquests of Alexander the Great Rome had reached a pinnacle of power unknown before. And Alexander was determined to spread the Greek culture throughout the world, so everything he did, including instituting a common language, set the stage for culture, for communication, for religion to have an impact. It was also a time of great, prolonged peace – 200 years with no major conflict. Never before, or since, has there been peace for so long a period. Therefore, with no pre-occupation with war, people had time to listen, discuss, and debate. Then, too, Caesar built a marvelous and extensive system of military roads so, if needed, the armies could travel quickly and efficiently. Therefore the roads were in place for Christ’s legions to travel with the message of the resurrection. And as for Israel’s history, she had been conquered and disbursed many times. Therefore, wherever Jesus or His disciples would go, there would be some Jews already there. Religiously, old religions were dying; the old philosophies were empty and powerless to change people’s lives. Strange new mystery religions were everywhere. In so many ways, the time was right.

So when the time was right, when the clock was ready to toll, Jesus was born. In Paul’s words, “God sent his Son…” The word ‘sent’ means sending with a commission to do something, with the person being sent having the right credentials. Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to save us. The purpose, the aim of His coming was our salvation, our health, our wholeness, our peace. It is my firm belief that God still sends His Son, still comes down to us, when the time is right. Though we sometimes feel  He’s not concerned or not going to help or come to our aid or answer our prayers, He always comes. And He never comes too early and never too late. In Gal. 3:11-12 Paul put it, “The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him.” (The Message)

The wonderful poet Helen Steiner Rice wrote beautifully about God’s timing:

God’s love endureth forever –
what a wonderful thing to know
When the tides of life run against you
And your spirit is downcast and low…

God’s kindness is ever around you,
Always ready to freely impart
Strength to your faltering spirit,
Cheer to your lonely heart…

God’s presence is ever beside you,
As near as the reach of your hand,
You have but to tell Him your troubles,
There is nothing He won’t understand…

And knowing God’s love is unfailing,
And His mercy unending and great,
You have but to trust in His promise –
“God comes not too soon  or too late.”

So wait with a heart that is patient
For the goodness of God to prevail –
For never do prayers go unanswered,
And His mercy and love never fail.”

So we can stop trying to make all the arrangements for our lives; stop trying to fit all the stitches together. We can stop panicking and lessen our worry and doubt. We can wait with anticipation for God to come. After all,  “… those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31 New Revised Standard Version)

Sometimes Faith Doesn’t Make Sense

Sunday I had the joy of preaching on the life of the prophet Elijah from I Kings 17:1-16. It was a joy because I so identify with how God shaped and challenged him. Even as I prepared and preached the message, I relearned some significant truths. I’ve italicized those that spoke to me. Which ones speak to you?

God told Elijah to begin his ministry by proclaiming to the evil king Ahab and the evil queen Jezebel that there would be no more rain or dew until God sent it! From that moment on there was no rain or dew. To preserve and protect Elijah God sent him away to Brook Cherith where he would be out of Ahab’s jurisdiction, would have water from the brook and be fed by ravens.

Yet after a time the brook dried up. Sometimes faith just doesn’t make sense. Now what? Elijah thought he was safe. It just demonstrates that we’re never fully ready when a crisis arrives at our doorstep. But God is always prepared. When the brook dried up, He told Elijah what to do and where to go. Isn’t that just like God? His word comes at the time of crisis, not before. Seldom does God tell us His will before we need to know it. Don’t worry or panic about some crisis that may come to your doorstep sometime in the future; when it arrives, so will God.

So God told Elijah He had made a way. And what a way it was! He said, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. There is a widow there who will feed you. I have given her my instructions.” God’s way does not always appear logical. Zarephath literally means, “A smelting furnace, a place of refining; a crucible.” It was the center of the area where the worship of Baal started. The people of Zarephath and the surrounding area were the ones responsible for God’s judgment in the drought. And now they had no water or food. And what was worse, a King lived there, named Ethbaal, who was the father of wicked Queen Jezebel. So God was telling Elijah to go from the security of a place where he at least had food and was safe from Ahab to a place of extreme drought and famine right into the jurisdiction of Ahab again. And that’s not all! God said He had talked to a widow to help him. A widow – someone with no social or economic standing, no husband, no relationship with her father’s family, no job, no means of support. Sometimes faith doesn’t make sense. This was really a challenge to trust God!

But Elijah headed off to Zarephath. He realized that God was calling him to more than just a place – He was calling him to an attitude of persistent obedience. Not only was Zarephath a tough place but just getting there took persistence! It meant a journey of about 90-100 miles – on foot – through drought-stricken land. Obedience can be painful and confusing. There are no five or ten-year plans in the Bible. God simply asks His people to follow Him, and then He points out the next step. I have learned, along with Elijah, that obedience comes one step at a time, one day at a time. Not once, when answering a call to a new location, did I know the next step. I only knew I was to go. But I also discovered, as did Elijah, that as our day is – as our steps are – so shall our strength be. We can never know the future significance of our current obedience to God. If God is asking, right now, for obedience in some area of your life, just do it. God knows why He needs it; God knows the influence of it. So just do it.

In that spirit and with that attitude, Elijah made the long journey to Zarephath. There, just as he arrived at the gate of the city, was the widow gathering up sticks. This wasn’t a coincidence; it was a God thing! Who else but God could have arranged this? As he was told to do Elijah asked her for a cup of water. And as she left to get it, he added, “Bring me a bite of bread too!” She turned to him and said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” Elijah knew he was asking her for what she did not have. What could she possibly offer him? Faith sometimes doesn’t make sense. But, then, isn’t that just like God? He often demands from us what we think we do not have. But God never asks from us what He will not also give to us in the first place. He had told Elijah the widow could provide. God knew she could provide; Elijah knew she could provide; she just needed to know she could provide. It makes me wonder: What is God asking from you right now?

Whatever it is, remember the rest of the story. Elijah told her: “Don’t be afraid. Go ahead and cook that ‘last meal,’ but bake me a little loaf of bread first. Afterward there will still be enough food for you and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘There will always be plenty of flour and oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” There’s the key – God is bigger than our need. God is bigger than our desires, our plans, our lack of knowledge, our lack of time or money; bigger than our circumstances or our limitations. So don’t be afraid. Work with God. Elijah challenged the widow to first give away – for in giving there is blessing!

Think about it. Elijah told her that God would provide oil and flour. Well, if God would provide oil and flour, couldn’t He also have simply provided the bread? But that’s just like God, isn’t it? He’s always partnering with us, to grow us. He wanted to flood the earth, but He first had Noah build the ark. God was going to part the Red Sea, but He first had Moses hold out his rod. God was prepared to destroy Jericho, but first the Jews had to march around it. Similarly God wanted the widow to be part of His miracle. God can use anyone and anything at any time. He can use any one – even you. He can use anything – even your circumstances and situation. He can do it at any time – even right now! God is bigger than any of your needs. So whatever your situation, work with Him – even if faith doesn’t make sense.***

***This is a portion of an adaptation of one sermon from a series  entitled “Getting Into Shape.” The series was composed of 1st person portrayals of  some of God’s key leaders. If interested in an ebook format of the series – or a hard copy – pleaser contact me.

God’s Extras

As I mentioned last week, having been  called out of town unexpectedly I will not be writing any new blogs for a couple more weeks. So I am using this opportunity to share with you a few of the inspirational poems that have impacted me over the years. I pray they will impact you as well.

God’s Extras

God could have made the sun to rise
Without such splendor in                                                                 the skies;                                                                                                                               He could have made the sun to set                                                                                 Without a glory greater yet.

He could have made the corn to grow
Without the sunny, golden glow;
The fruits without those colors bright,                So pleasant to the taste and sight.

And caused the apple trees to bloom
Without the scent that doth perfume
Those dainty blossoms, pink and white.
That fill our hearts with sheer delight.

  He could have made the ocean roll
Without such music for the soul—
The mighty anthem,                                                       loud and strong—                                                                                          And birds  without their clear, sweet song.

The charm of kittens’ dainty grace,
The dimples in a baby’s face-    All these are ‘extras’ from His hand,                                                                                                                           Whose love  we cannot understand.

The God who fashioned flow’rs and trees,
Delights to give us things that please,
And all his handiwork so fair
His glory and His love declare.

Yes, He Who made the earth and skies
Gave “extras” for our ears and eyes,
And while my heart with rapture sings,
I thank Him for the “extra things.”

Poem by Margaret Fraser – From… Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (pp. 495–496). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Break Ins

 

Have you ever been the victim of a robbery? Over the years I have had an office, a church and a home broken into. It’s upsetting to have someone forcibly enter into our private space. It arouses, among other emotions fear, anger, distrust and suspicion. We feel threatened. Our private space is meant to be just that – private. The space belongs to us. It’s a place of security and safety. It is, we believe, ours by right. So it’s shattering when it is invaded.

I wonder if that’s why some people resist God. He is, after all, the Master at breaking in. He breaks into our personal, private spaces. He invades our time, talents and treasures. He wants to plant our steps, direct our decisions, plan our plans, provide our thoughts and manage our circumstances. He wants exclusive rights to our hearts. He arouses, among other emotions fear, anger, distrust and suspicion. He can be threatening.

Yet at this Advent time of year we celebrate God’s breaking into our lives in the most personal of ways. It was personal for Him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” It was personal for us: “…that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And it was an answer to the prayers of His people. Consider the payer of Isaiah (64:1-12):

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
10 Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
12 After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?

This was a prayer on behalf of Israel for God to ‘come down’, to break in, to invade their private spaces, to rescue their lives and souls. Eventually God broke in. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

It is my hope and prayer that during this advent season you will be expectant and aware of how often God breaks into your life. Mother Frances Dominica wrote of this poignantly:

“He leads through all the events, all the circumstances of your life. Nothing in your life is so insignificant, so small, that God cannot be found at its centre. We think of God in the dramatic things the glorious sunsets, the majestic mountains, the tempestuous seas; but he is the little things too, in the smile of a passer-by or the gnarled hands of an old man, in a daisy, a tiny insect, falling leaves. God is in the music, in laughter and in sorrow too. And the grey times, when monotony stretches out ahead, these can be the times of steady, solid growth into God.

God may make himself known to you through the life of someone who, for you, is an ambassador for God, in whom you can see the beauty and truth and the love of God…It may be that there is someone who loves you so deeply that you dare to believe that you are worth loving and so you can believe that God’s love for you could be possible after all. Sometimes it is through tragedy or serious illness that God speaks to our hearts and we know him for the first time. There is no limit to the ways in which God may make himself known. At every turn in our lives there can be a meeting place with God…God makes his home in you (John 14:23).Isn’t this the answer to all our yearning, our searching, our anguish, to all the longing, the incompleteness of our lives and loving? (1)

May you recognize and celebrate God’s break-ins into your life in this season of His coming.

(1) From Prayer, by Mother Frances Dominica, as quoted in A Guide to Prayer, Rueben P. Job, Norman Shawchuck, The Upper Room, Nashville TN, © 1983

 

Fifty Years

Last week I wrote that this week’s blog would focus on identifying and uprooting the weeds in our lives. But I ran into some interference. This past weekend I had the pure joy of participating in the 50th reunion of my high school graduating class. What a fabulous time. And it has led to many reflections.

The first is that life has changed. Things are different now than they were in 1967. For example the 1967 year end Dow Jones Industrial Average was 905. The average cost of new house was $14,250.00, average income was $7,300.00, gas cost 28-33 cents per gallon, a new car $2,750.00 and the Federal Minimum Wage increased to $1.40 an hour. And check out the average professional athlete salaries: NFL – 25,000, NBA – 20,000, and the MLB – 19, 000. Life has changed.

Then, too, when we herd the word ‘text’ we thought of a schoolbook. A Facebook meant mug shots of potential criminals. Twitter was most likely the name of a bird. A laptop was the place where kids sat to get love from grandma & grandma. And if you had a blue tooth it meant a trip to the dentist. Life has changed.

Second, as we dedicated some time to memorializing those of our classmates who have passed from this life I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for life itself.

A third reflection has to do with our shared history. The preacher, in Ecclesiastes 3 said there is a time to be born and a time to die and neither is of our own choosing. So we classmates were brought together by our date of birth and place of residence, neither of our own choosing, and yet were bound together forever. We were peers, friends, sometimes competitors. We learned together, worked together, played together, laughed together, cried together, and grew together. Friendships were forged, memories made, and bonds built. Our lives were deeply intertwined – all because the Lord of history many years ago merged our lives and histories into one. So for two nights we came together – not to complain about where or when we were born or gripe about how life has treated us, but to get reacquainted and to celebrate and share how, though apart, we have lived out our common history throughout the years and to rejoice in how far we’ve come and where we are.

The Psalmist expresses my feelings well: “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6) Much has changed in my life over the years. Much has happened over the years – much wonderful much painful. But I am still given the gift of life. And I have a a long history not only with great family, friends and untold numbers of acquaintances, but with God. I can complain about things that have happened or about how life has treated me, or I can rejoice in how far I’ve come and where I am. I choose the latter. No matter what has happened or will happen, I have a delightful inheritance. I know who and whose I am. “I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has also set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” (Heidelberg Catechism #1) Now that’s worth celebrating and sharing every day.

What I’ve Learned from a Cactus

cactusA Christmas Cactus is a unique, mysterious yet glorious plant. We’ve had one for over 40 years. For most of the year it’s not much to look at. But as Christmas and Easter approach it springs into full bloom. I don’t understand how it is so regular (especially since Easter varies form year to year); I just know it is. I can count on it blooming. And every time it does I am reminded of several truths.

I am, for example, reminded that our cactus is very much like many people – they show up for worship only at Christmas and Easter. Their faith blossoms twice a year. But that’s a subject, perhaps, for another time.

I am, more significantly, reminded that life is only in full bloom through Jesus. Life blossomed fully (Christmas) when Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly, to the full. Life blossomed fully (Easter) when Jesus rose form the dead so we could dwell with Him. Jesus came down not only to be with us but to lift us up. The blooming of our cactus is, for me a stark reminder that only Jesus can provide fullness of life.

Then, too, I remember that the cactus blooms every year, on time, no matter what. Trust me – it has survived most everything. Our plant came from my parents who got it from my grandparents. Grandma used to keep it upstairs, in the dark and in cooler temperatures, where it seldom got watered. Still it bloomed. The original plant has been spliced and divided among children and grandchildren. All the shoots bloom. Our original spliced plant has been divided often – even knocked over and broken by boys, being boys, playing soccer in the house. Still it blooms. We’ve had other cactus and plants, which we’ve treated and cared for more carefully – they’ve died. But not the Christmas Cactus. So every time it blooms – on time – I’m reminded that God is likewise faithful. He always comes on time – never too soon or too late. No matter how tough the day or how difficult life might be at the moment, God comes right on time.

The apostle Paul grasped this well. “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7 NLT) “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:6-8 NLT) Could it be God created the Christmas Cactus to remind us of His faithfulness?

Helen Steiner Rice poignantly captures the spirit of our Christmas Cactus in what has become one of my favorite poems. May it give you encouragement and hope.

“What More Can You Ask”

God’s love endureth forever –
What a wonderful thing to know
When the tides of life run against you
And your spirit is downcast and low…

God’s kindness is ever around you,
Always ready to freely impart
Strength to your faltering spirit,
Cheer to your lonely heart…

God’s presence is ever beside you,
As near as the reach of your hand,
You have but to tell Him your troubles,
There is nothing He won’t understand…

And knowing God’s love is unfailing,
His mercy unending and great,
You have but to trust in His promise –
“God comes not too soon or too late”.
So wait with a heart that is patient
For the goodness of God to prevail –
For never do prayers go unanswered,
And his mercy and love never fail.