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To Seniors and Others Missing Out

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.         Colossians 3:2

This piece, originally entitled “What Else Matters?” was posted May 3 of last year. I wanted to share it again, for all my readers who are or have seniors missing their prom, graduation, and other festivities they thought they would be enjoying now. Feel free to share this with them. I hope it encourages those who are feeling the loss.

It was the morning of the National Day of Prayer. I was sitting in the auditorium at City Hall, listening to my daughter’s school choir singing a goosebump-raising rendition of “You Are God Alone.” They were warming up for the city-wide prayer meeting that was starting in half an hour. And I was crying.

My daughter Kelly had been having a rough time in high school. The migraines that had first appeared when she was four years old had continued to plague her through grade school and middle school and had caused her record absences through high school, in spite of years of prayers and attempts to find a solution through medicine, both traditional and “alternative.”

But in spite of enduring more pain than some people suffer in a lifetime, Kelly had found a few sources of pleasure in her life. By far her greatest joy was singing, and her favorite part of school was choir. When the students performed, Kelly’s face radiated with unmistakable joy. She had looked forward to the national Day of Prayer and taking part, and as I had said goodbye to her that morning and she left for school, I had whispered a special prayer of thanks to God for this special day.

My optimism had been short-lived, however. Kelly had called me from the parking lot of a McDonald’s half a mile from school to tell me about the migraine that had assaulted her shortly after she had walked out the door. When I had suggested that she come home, take some medication, and rest until the assembly, she had sobbed that if she didn’t show up at 8:00 she wouldn’t be allowed to sing with the choir.

There are definite advantages to a small Christian school, one of them being teachers who know each student well and practice grace along with discipline. As I called the office to explain Kelly’s dilemma, the choir director, who “happened to be” right by the phone, responded with compassion. She said to let Kelly come home, take a pill and a nap, and meet the choir at City Hall at 11:30 if she was feeling better.

But the medication that knocked out the migraine had a way of knocking out the patient as well, and when I had tried to rouse Kelly for the prayer meeting, she had been hopelessly (and predictably) dead to the world. Now as the choir finished their warm-up and filed off the stage, there I sat, with nothing to do but feel sorry for Kelly, thinking of all the important high school events she had missed and would never again get a chance to do. And yes, I’ll admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, as well. (When “BabyBear” hurts, “MamaBear” hurts, too.) So in spite of my efforts to contain them, the tears flowed.

I was digging through my purse, looking for a tissue when I came across my small New Testament. Since the prayer meeting didn’t start until noon, I knew I had twenty minutes to kill, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend them wallowing in self-pity. So I pulled out the Bible and prayed.

Lord, Jesus, please encourage me. I don’t want to feel this way today!

I was not in the habit of looking for answers to problems by haphazardly opening the Bible; I hadn’t done that since college. But since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, I opened the Book at random, planning just to read until I found something helpful, or until the prayer meeting started, whichever came first.

The scripture that first caught my eye was the last chapter of Mark:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb, and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!”                    (Mark 16: 1-6)

Something told me I had seen enough, so I stopped reading.

OK, what does that have to do with Kelly’s migraines? I wondered. But then I pondered the significance of the passage.

Jesus is alive … JESUS IS ALIVE! That means that death is not the end … for Him or for us! And it certainly means this life isn’t the be-all and end-all for those who trust in the Lord. – It’s barely the beginning!

Yes, my daughter had missed the National Day of Prayer, over a hundred days of high school, and numerous weekend festivities. She had missed Homecoming, but someday she would be at the greatest Homecoming in history. She had missed singing in the choir that day, but someday she would sing in heaven’s choir forever. Kelly loved Jesus, and she would get to spend forever with Him, at the never-ending, greatest celebration of all time. When one had that to look forward to … what else mattered?

What else matters? I asked myself, and I found that in spite of my pity-party, I was smiling. I decided that I would pour myself into the Day of Prayer and keep a better perspective on life from that day on, by remembering the one thing that really matters –

Jesus is alive!

Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)                           c 2015 Ann Aschauer

Prayer: Lord, we rejoice that You are alive! Keep us mindful of what really matters. In Your name, amen

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On Being Transparent

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.     Isaiah 64:6a

I don’t do windows.

Well, every few years I try. There will be that bright sunny morning when the light was streaming in, and the need for cleaning was so obvious, I grab the window cleaner, spray bottle, rags, paper towels, and squeegee and get to work. Two or three hours later I throw in the towel (and everything on it) and once more promise myself, never again!

Every summer we go to the house in Michigan that my grandparents built it in the 1940s. It was elegant then and it is still elegant now. Forty-six years ago my husband Marty and I got married there, and two years ago our youngest daughter married the love of her life there. The house has French provincial architecture, fireplaces, a bay window, and French doors that open onto a patio overlooking the lake.

It also has windows that have had a curse put on them. Or maybe it’s just the paint on the frames that dissolves every time any liquid touches it… Each magical little pane is specially made to get dirtier the more it’s wiped. After several attempts at cleaning, the glass will go from mildly dirty to ridiculously streaked on the outside – when you’re looking out. Of course, when you’re outside looking in, all you see are the streaks that are inside. I have on occasion treated the job like an Olympic event, “the Window Sprint” – Can I run outside and get that streak off before I forget where it is? Pretty soon I’m streaked too, with sweat and dirt, and breathless with exasperation. No gold medal here.

(Now please don’t write and tell me how you clean your windows. Believe me, I’ve heard the advice, all about vinegar and newspapers and yada-yadda-yadda… I’ve tried it all.)

A few years ago we put our house in Port Huron up for sale, and one of the many jobs that needed to be done was … clean the windows. [Insert scary horror movie music here.] When a perfectly gorgeous day came up and I had absolutely nothing on my schedule, there was no excuse to put off the job, however desperately I wished for one.

I was delightfully surprised to find the job was not only effective but surprisingly fun when it actually worked! I found myself singing as I got into the rhythm -squirt-squeegee-wipe, squirt-squeegee-wipe – and pretty soon I was looking around for more windows to clean. At the end of the day I was standing in the living room, gazing out at the Lake Huron, relishing the fact that the windows were virtually invisible and I may as well have been standing outside. >Eureka!<

For some reason I took this to mean I now knew how to clean windows, so when we later went to Portage Lake, one bright, sunny day I confidently grabbed my trusty squeegee and began to make the dining room gorgeous, one little pane at a time, forgetting that these windows were cursed… Two hours, one roll of paper towels, one bottle of Windex, and one tantrum later, there was not one pane that was totally clean. I threw up my hands and yelled “I GIVE UP!” followed by a few other things that were probably inappropriate for a Christian to be saying.

Have you been there? I don’t mean just with windows, but anything that you’ve tried to “fix,” that only gets worse the more you try? As I stood there that day, hot and exhausted, scowling at the streaks blocking the view of the beautiful lake, I figured the only way to get a clear view would be just to break the windows. That’s it! Just take out the pains – er, panes – completely, and the view would be great. Of course, that would have made the house a bit drafty and buggy, so Marty didn’t go for that idea.

It occurred to me that I was looking at a picture of sin. The Bible tells us that ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all of Mankind has been under the curse of sin. For many people, their lives may seem “good enough.” But then the light of God’s truth shines through, and it becomes painfully obvious that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) The more we look at our sin, the more it bothers us.

So, what do some of us do? We try to clean up our act. Somehow we think we can make it right on our own, although it should soon be apparent that if we were so capable of doing good, our lives wouldn’t be such a mess in the first place. After trying to make things right, we see that we have failed, and more often than not, our feeble attempts have made the situation worse than ever. At this point we should see that we can’t do this ourselves. But some of us refuse to believe we’re that helpless. So we try harder, thinking if we could just try hard enough, we’ll finally clean up our lives.

The bottom line is, we can’t fix the mess ourselves. We have only two choices. We can avoid the Light and hope nobody notices the dirt, or we can go to God and ask Him to help us. Fortunately, He can. In fact, He sent His Son, Jesus, to take all our dirt onto Himself. When He died for us, He was taking our sin and nailing it to the Cross, and we never have to be enslaved by it again. He can make our lives clean, and He can shine His light through us. Isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up?

I haven’t yet figured out how to get Jesus to do my windows for me, but two years ago before our daughter Kelly married the love of her life on the lawn at that house, we did hire a professional exorcist – er, window cleaning service. Now when I look out through the crystal clear glass and remember how it used to be, I know what a mess I would be without Jesus. I’m just grateful that I’m not without Him, and that He was willing to do what was necessary to make me clean, so He could shine His light through me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in ourselves we are powerless to clean up our own lives. Thank You that You have not left us on our own, but You have shed Your blood to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that we can live the lives You want us to live – the lives we truly want. We choose to trust You to shine through us today, in Your power, in Your name. Amen

Pop Quiz and Sharing the Gospel

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.”                                                                                                                                                 Matthew 6:19-21

It was a beautiful day in Florida, and I was waiting for my daughter Kelly to finish her browsing at the little strip mall. A young lady in her teens was sitting on the bench nearby, apparently waiting for someone, too. She looked bored, so I struck up a conversation with her. Recently I had created an approach to sharing the gospel that I had used at a party with my youth group back in Michigan. The theme of the party had been “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and we had talked about “treasure.”

“Did you find some good bargains today?” I asked, eyeing the shopping bags that sat at the girl’s feet.  I realized it was almost a trick question at that overpriced resort area.

She answered, “Sort of.”

“Hey, would you like to take a quiz about the value of things?” I asked.

“Sure,” she agreed.

“OK,” I said. “Which would you say is more valuable: a gallon of water, 30 feet of rope, a book, a cell phone, or fifty pounds of gold?” She guessed the gold.

“Imagine you’re out sailing on the gulf today,” I continued. “You’re sitting on the edge of the boat, and along comes a wave, and you’re thrown overboard into shark-infested waters! Would you want me to throw you fifty pounds of gold?”

She laughed. Of course not.

“How about that gallon of water? (haha.)” We agreed that in that situation 30 feet of rope would be most valuable. (Or at least one end of it, assuming I was holding onto the other end to pull her back into the boat!)

“So now, what would you say is more valuable – a gallon of water, 30 feet of rope, a book, a cell phone, or 50 pounds of gold?”

“It depends,” she said with a smirk, catching on.

I set up different scenarios, such as being stranded in a desert 20 miles from the nearest town … the gallon of water, definitely!

Buried under an avalanche in a blizzard … cell phone, please!

So far, that 50 pounds of gold that sounded so appealing at the beginning didn’t seem all that handy.

“OK, final scenario,” I concluded. “You’ve died, and you’re standing at the gates of heaven, waiting to find out whether you will be let in to live there forever, or whether you will have to spend eternity … somewhere else. Which would you rather have at that point, 50 pounds of gold? A gallon of water? 30 feet of rope? A cell phone? … OR …  a Book that will tell you how to get inside?”

We agreed, definitely the Book. I handed her a pocket-sized New Testament.

Two thousand years ago Jesus told a parable that is as relevant today as it was then.

“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”                                      Luke 12:16-21

Have you had your values changed with your experiences?

Have you ever yearned for something only to find that, once you had attained it, that satisfaction was short-lived? Has what you longed for fallen apart or proved to be more work than it was worth to you? Does more of your life than you’d like consist of cleaning, maintaining, repairing, insuring, protecting, and paying taxes on your stuff?

Have you ever envied someone else, only to learn that behind their impressive lifestyle was a life of emptiness, loneliness, depression, or a secret personal tragedy?

As you grow older and (sorry) closer to death each day, how is your perspective changing? What do you value most? Do you expect that to change over time?

Jesus spoke of a treasure worth more than life itself:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went back and sold everything he had and bought it.”            Matthew 13: 44-46

It struck me one day that in the first parable the kingdom of heaven is like the treasure, and in the second, it’s like the merchant.

In the first parable, we’re told that God’s kingdom is worth everything we have. But in the second parable, we are the treasure. Because of our sin, all of us owe God a debt we could never pay, but Jesus paid it by dying on the cross. God paid the ultimate price – His only begotten Son – to purchase us for Himself!

Jesus gave everything for us. It only makes sense that we should give everything to Him. This relationship – this recognition of His sacrifice and giving our lives to Him in return – is the greatest treasure of all. Do you possess this treasure? If not, let today be the day you give yourself to the One who gave it all for you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we have been chasing after all the wrong things, You’ve been quietly waiting for us to realize that the only true treasure is found in You. May we abandon ourselves at last in exchange for the eternal rewards of a life devoted to You. In Your precious name, amen.

Rampant Toxicity

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”                                                                                                                                       John 8:7

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other.                                                                                                                                                                       Galatians 5:15

Recently someone near and dear to me posted a quote on social media regarding “toxic masculinity.” Someone else near and dear to me commented that she refused to use the term unless there was also a term “toxic femininity.” Further comments from multiple parties  disagreed as to whether there was such a thing as “toxic femininity.” Since we’ve all heard “Boys will be boys,” but “Girls will be girls” wasn’t a saying, it was opined that society doesn’t dismiss bad behavior in females the way it does in males. This comment was met with “Oh no? Have you seen a movie or TV show lately?” (“Lately” being the last fifty years or so.) Females behaving badly has not only been tolerated, it has been celebrated in some circles. The fact is, men and women (in general) each have their own weaknesses, and a woman can take advantage of a man’s weakness to get what she wants just as much as a man can take advantage of a woman’s weakness to get what he wants. Admit it, abuse and manipulation happens on both sides.

Here’s the bottom line, folks: Men are sinners.

Women are sinners.

Old people, young people, and middle-aged people are sinners.

Rich people, poor people, and middle-class people are sinners.

White, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and Middle Eastern people are sinners.

Since Jesus Christ is no longer here in the flesh, it’s safe to assume that when you look at another human being, you’re looking at a sinner.

For that matter, if you look in a mirror, you’re looking at a sinner. So, what are we to do?

I’ll tell you what we don’t do – point fingers at whole groups of people in a way that is only going to escalate hostility.

Sinners have agendas, and unfortunately there are those whose agenda is to pit groups against one another, encouraging rude, mean-spirited, even outrageous (emphasis on “rage”) behavior. For some, hate gets ratings, and for others, hate gets votes.

But before we start raging against the media and politicians, we should ask ourselves, If hate pays off, whose fault is that? If hate is what motivates us to watch certain news programs or vote for certain candidates – or repost, share, and retweet certain articles, then shame on us.

As Casting Crowns has observed, “Nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against…” *

So, what are we supposed to do – ignore bad behavior? No, but Jesus gave us 2-step instructions for detoxing:

First, take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

After doing the hard work of removing my own “plank,” I tend to be more compassionate as I seek to help others with their faults. I may also have some insights into what strategies do and don’t work, which will be helpful, as well.

I may even realize that I’m the one that needs to change my position. (>Ouch!<)

“Blessed are the peacemakers …”  (Matthew 5:9a) Admitting my own shortcomings is the starting point in making peace, not only with my fellow sinners, but more importantly, with God.

“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

When I realize my sin has earned me an eternal death sentence, that I am helpless to save myself, it is only then that salvation is possible. There is only One who is sinless, who came from heaven in the form of one of us, and who died in our place to pay the price for our forgiveness. Since only a perfect sacrifice is acceptable to God, we could never have paid the debt ourselves. (No one else could, either.)

Jesus didn’t come to show us the way, He came to be the way. – the only way. (John 14:6)

So, rather than look a round at others, saying, “At least I’m not as bad as _________,” let’s look to Jesus, the perfect One, confess our own sin, and receive the cleansing – the detoxing – He offers.

Imagine if everyone did that! The nightly news might get pretty boring, but I’m willing to risk it. How about you?

Prayer: Jesus, Friend of sinners, help us to look at our own sins and shortcomings before dealing with others that we perceive as being worse than ourselves. Let us seek to lead by example, to be quick to commend the goodness in people and slow to condemn those who are stumbling. Make us part of the solution, rather than the problem. In Jesus’ name. Amen

*”Jesus, Friend of Sinners,” Songwriters: Mark Hall, Matthew West
© Warner Chappell Music, Inc., ESSENTIAL MUSIC PUBLISHING, CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-sz-001&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=sz&p=jesus+friend+of+sinners+casting#id=8&vid=fbcb432035004c165ea6f81462bb86e8&action=view

A Tale of Two Dreams

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. … The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.”                                                                                                                                                                                          Genesis 41:25, 32

I woke up with the dream still very clear in my mind. I pray daily that I will remember the dreams that I need to remember and forget the rest, so I lay there for a while, pondering what this dream might mean. Remembering a certain Facebook chat, I thought, Ibra.

There is a young man in Uganda who friended me on Facebook. (It was his Christmas card I described in “What Color Is Jesus?” https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2020/07/31/what-color-is-jesus/ ) This friend had told me about his two younger brothers in an orphanage who needed sponsors. I had decided to sponsor these little boys with food and tuition for school.

It turns out these “little boys” were about seventeen and fifteen, and although they were lacking much of what we would consider the basics, they each had a cell phone. (This is not unusual in Uganda.) They began to message me frequently on Facebook, calling me “mummy” and expressing their affection for me. The younger one especially seemed downright giddy to finally have a mother! One day in the middle of a chat, his account just vanished. His brother Ibra told me later that he had been hacked.

A week or two later Ibra sent me a message saying his phone had been dropped in the water and was no longer working. (He’d had logged on from a friend’s phone.) He wanted to know, “mummy, would u get us phones please, mummy?” I thought, Man! Teenagers in Uganda aren’t that different from American kids!

Cringing a bit (“Tough love” never came naturally to me.), I answered with the following message: “Boys, I am amazed that teenagers in Uganda are just like teenagers in the U.S. The money I am sending to [orphanage] is for your food and tuition, and some extra for the teachers, who are having an especially hard time right now [and] don’t have enough food to eat! I think for now you will have to log in from a friend’s phone and cut down on the texting time. (I Timothy 6:8) I didn’t have a phone at all when I was your age, and somehow I did just fine.(I guess PARENTS are the same everywhere, too. 😉 ) I know you boys are strong and resourceful, and you will do well, too. Maybe there’s some way you can help [director] and the other adults with the little ones. Invent some new games to play with them.”

(I know, I can’t believe I resorted to “when I was your age … !”)

I fully expected the typical teenager’s response. So, when I looked at my phone just after awakening the next morning and saw two messages from Ibra, I opened them reluctantly…

“Wow thats nice mummy i wrlcome it too maybe it is the best.”  All spelling aside, I was impressed with his mature response!

The second message left me breathless:

And by the way mummy i had a dream   I saw a big man in the sky and he was with two small buddies behind him and the big one was wearing a crown and other small ones also having theirs and when i was coming i saw him and at that moment i called him like Jesus and at that moment i fall down coz the man was too powerful i think Jesus is with me in whatever stape i make i was like wow

I responded:

WOW! As I am reading this, I just woke up from a dream, too! I think it was about you. I had a new baby that I had adopted. He was black. I was teaching him things, like how to obey the grownups, telling him, ‘This is what big boys do in school.’ And even though he was a tiny baby (I would never have tried to teach a real baby those things yet) he was learning like a much older child! We were in the middle of a lot of people, and noise, and it was chaotic, but this child was doing an amazing job of focusing and growing, way beyond his years! When I woke up, even before I read your message, I was thinking that’s you! You are growing spiritually way beyond other boys your age. I was feeling bad about telling you “No” about new phones, and expecting you to pout like most boys your age  would when they can’t have what they want (That’s how most kids in America would respond.) But you didn’t! That’s huge! I think the other boy in your dream was probably [your brother], don’t you? You are sons of the King, and he is getting you ready to rule with Him. The rest of the world is so chaotic and distracting, especially with social media. Maybe God is telling you He has better things for you and [your brother]. I am excited for you!

And I understand if you aren’t able to message me very often. That’s OK. I always pray for you and [your brother] every day, no matter what. I love my boys (I guess I will have to call you my young men now. 😉 ) and I am so proud of you!

So, here’s another story just beginning to unfold. Life with Jesus – still not boring!

Prayer: Lord, thank You for taking away our idols and distractions when necessary, even when we don’t like it! You know what’s best, and You have great plans for us that we can’t even imagine right now. Keep us focused on You, in Jesus’ name. Amen

When God Says “No” (A Short Story)

There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”                                                                                                            II Corinthians 12: 7-9

The hazy glow of the rising sun was enough to awaken Paul, but not enough to give him a clear view of the words that had been written on the scroll the day before. He knew that even with the brighter light it was doubtful he would see clearly enough to finish the letter himself. He was going to have to wait for his scribe and friend to come and continue writing from where they had left off. Until then, he was alone, except for two Roman soldiers, silhouettes silently standing guard.

Paul had so much to say, no means to say it, and no control over how long he would have to wait until the scribe arrived. The words flew about his mind like trapped birds frantic to escape. Frustration threatened to rob him of the joy of the night before, as he had dictated the final words of the day: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Taking his own advice, he deliberately rejoiced.

Oh Lord, thank You for another day to serve you!

It was not the ideal setting, this house arrest, although thankfully he was no longer in the Roman dungeon where he had spent time in the past. Still, Paul longed to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes the hunger for their fellowship was an almost palpable ache.

He fought the pain by considering the advantages of confinement.

Thank You, Jesus, that here I can have the solitude I need to hear Your voice clearly and make sure I am saying exactly what You would have me say. Here Your words will be written down for others to read – no arguing within the congregations over what I’ve said, no twisting of my words by divisive troublemakers. Thank You for this!

As he intentionally thanked God for where he was, Paul felt the restlessness loosen its grip on his heart. He could see how his situation illustrated what he had written years before to the Roman church: “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) When traveling, speaking to the churches, and arguing the case for the gospel with the Jews and even the Gentiles, there had been little time for writing. But this was apparently his ministry now, and there was ample time.

But if he was called to write, why was he plagued by this recurring trouble with his eyes?! It was especially bewildering considering that the Lord had once done a miraculous work in his eyes, both blinding and then healing them.

Lord, thank You for that day – for blinding me so I could see the Truth! He smiled at the irony.

And then You restored my sight! What a glorious miracle! All glory to You, Lord Jesus! 

And yet, he sighed, why have my eyes become dim again? 

The problem had plagued him for years, like a thorn in his flesh. Paul knew that God could restore his vision again. He knew God loved him. God did not do things halfway!  And yet God had said “No.

Three times He had said “No.

By the third time Paul had asked, God’s answer was clear:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9)

Paul remembered how he had shared that revelation with the church at Corinth, but at times, like this morning, the question would return to nag him. And as he had done so many times before, he resolved that he didn’t need the answer. If the Lord wanted to be glorified in this weakness, then so be it.

As once again he let go of the matter and placed it back into God’s hands, a wave of peace swept over him that surpassed his understanding.

“The peace of God, which passes understanding” … he liked those words! He would have to remember them and share them with the Philippians.

*                                      *                                    *                                     *

That evening Paul was looking back on a day well spent. The scribe had returned, written down the final passages of the letter to the Philippians, and read the letter back to him in its entirety. Paul had been pleased with the way the Lord had directed his words. Now the house was still, and he knew that soon there would be a changing of the guards, followed by a long, lonely night.

“Sir?” The unexpected voice startled Paul. It came from the direction of one of the shadows by the door – the shadows that had been standing silently all day as Paul had been dictating the letter.

“Yes?” Paul responded cautiously.

The soldiers looked around furtively. Then one of them asked, “Who is He? This God you were talking about when you dictated that letter?”

“We want to know more,” said the other soldier. The two exchanged glances.

“Much more,” the first one added.

Paul’s heart leapt, but just then he heard the rhythmic footsteps of two more soldiers approaching.

“We have to go now,” whispered one soldier hastily, “but we will be on duty again tomorrow.”

Paul smiled. “I look forward to it,” he replied softly.

Suddenly there it was – the answer to his nagging question! These were not the first Roman soldiers to ask about his Jesus. There had been many whose duty it had been to guard the apostle. In doing so, they had grown spiritually hungry –

because they had heard him dictating his letters!

Of course! His eyes were the reason the gospel had become known “throughout the whole palace guard” (Philippians 1:13)! How could he have missed it?

Filled with an inexpressible satisfaction, Paul settled for the night, silently giving thanks for two more souls who would know the living God by the end of the next day.

Prayer: Lord, Your plans for us are good. Thank You that we can trust You, even with the things that don’t make sense to us now. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Murphy Takes a Break

“[D]o not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”                                                                                                                                               Mark 13:11

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.         II Timothy 4:2a

It was “That Sunday,” the one which occurs once a year, usually in mid-August, vacation time for the entire worship team, except yours truly and one or two other exceptions. This year the exception was Garry, the bass player, who was in the sound booth filling in for the missing sound person. So, that left me up front with my guitar and a couple of mics.

I’ve written before about the chaos that resulted when I was in semi-panic mode, stressing out over what songs to sing, what key, and whether or not my arthritic hands will be functioning efficiently the morning of the service.

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2019/11/01/when-i-am-weak/

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2020/08/14/a-visit-from-murphy/

I have shared the passing notion that Murphy – as in “Murphy’s Law” (Anything that can go wrong, will.”) – is the name of an angel whose assignment is to keep us all humble. There’s nothing quite so humbling as trying your hardest to “do something for God” only to have it all fall apart in any and all conceivable ways, as well as some ways no one would have thought of. Then, to have it all come together through no effort of your own, showing that God was in control all along, and it wasn’t about you, anyway … well, that is indeed humbling. Bravo, Murphy.

So, as “That Sunday” approached again, I drove from Kentucky back to Michigan the Friday before, not really thinking about Sunday, but praying my usual prayers in the car and singing worship songs along with the radio and CDs, as I usually did while traveling. Saturday I went to the church office, pulled some songs I knew out of the file, went home, sung and played them on the guitar, chose four I thought would work, and started cooking dinner.

Sunday morning I headed to church, where I met Garry and his wife Debbie. Garry worked the sound while Debbie made copies of a song I had fallen in love with during the pandemic and decided to sing, even though that congregation hadn’t sung it before. We went through the songs once, and that was it. No point in wearing out my fingers before church started. We prayed, acknowledging to the Lord that this was not about us but about Him, and asking Him to use our humble gifts to glorify Himself. Just before the service started, I asked the pastor’s son if he would play tambourine for the last song, and he happily agreed to. It was a small tambourine – a toe tambourine, to be exact, but I had found that my ankle didn’t have the endurance to keep tapping it for the duration of the entire song. So, I gave it to this delightfully agreeable child, and all systems were “go.”

I can imagine that by now some reading this might be appalled at what seems like a lackadaisical approach to leading worship. Does she not love the Lord?!? Does she not care enough to take the time necessary to be prepared???

To answer that – YES, I love the Lord with all my heart. And yes, I care enough to be prepared. But over the years and at least two of “Those Sundays,” I have found that a lot of “preparing as if it depends on you,” past a certain point, can be wasted energy, because it doesn’t depend on me.

As I later considered the notion of “preparation,” I realized that I had spent time preparing – hour and hours and hours. – hours I have spent in God’s presence daily – praying, meditating on His Word, and worshiping Him with song when He was the only One who heard me singing. That Sunday I was just worshiping Him as I always did. The difference was, I was doing it in front of the church and inviting them to join me. This was not “The Annie Aschauer Show.”  The focus was on Jesus, and we were all worshiping Him together.

Jesus told a parable of ten virgins, or bridesmaids, who were waiting for the bridegroom to show up. They all had lamps, but five of them had enough oil in their lamps, five didn’t. When the bridegroom showed up, the bridesmaids without oil were scrambling at the last minute to borrow from the others, but the ones who were prepared only had oil for their own lamps. The unprepared bridesmaids heard those dreaded words from the bridegroom, “I don’t know you,” and they were locked out of the wedding feast. (Matthew 25:1-12)

Now is the time for us to build intimacy with God, to fill ourselves daily with God’s presence, as we offer our lives to Him. When the Bridegroom (Jesus) shows up there won’t be time to race around trying to get a last-minute relationship with Him. Salvation may come in a moment, but intimacy only develops over years of consistent fellowship with Him.

If you don’t yet know Jesus, I want you to know that He loves you, and wants a relationship with you! Come to Him today. Confess your sin and need for Him, and you will receive new life from Him. Then begin the exciting adventure of drawing closer to Him every day.

Prayer: Lord, You have made it known what you want from us, and it’s not a performance! We offer You ourselves, our love, our very lives. Make us the people You want us to be. In Jesus’ name, amen.

P.S. Murphy did show up later that day at the grocery store. The cashier’s machine rejected my debit card twice. After various other glitches, I finally was given a receipt and got in another line at customer service to pay for my groceries.

So, Murph’,” I asked on the way out. “Didja sleep in?

(He didn’t answer.)

Red Letter Day!!! … yesterday.

CELEBRATING! 😃💥🤸🎶 Yesterday I hit a milestone and didn’t even realize it until today. Yesterday I gained my 500th “follower.” How many of these “followers” actually read my blog regularly is no doubt considerably fewer, but “500 followers” sounds respectable… until you see that some bloggers have followers numbering in the tens of thousands… 🙄

No matter! What REALLY matters isn’t the numbers. It’s the times when what I write impacts a life, and I have to trust that whoever is meant to be reading a given post will either stumble on it or purposefully go there and read the message of the week. When I read “I needed this today!” or “I never thought of it that way,” I know God is at work. So whether that’s 500 people, 100, or just one person, it’s worth the time I spent writing – which is what I love to do, anyway.

A Visit from Murphy

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”                                                                                                                                                                       James 4: 13-15

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             “Man plans, God laughs.”     – Yiddish proverb

                                                                                                                            “Anything that can go wrong, will.” – “Murphy’s Law.”

 

So, this Sunday our worship leader will be camping. The drummer will be gone as well. The piano player is unavailable, as is the teacher who sang with me a year ago in a pinch. ( https://seekingdivineperspective.com/2019/11/01/when-i-am-weak/ ) The bass player will be there, but he’s needed in the sound booth to fill in for the drummer’s kids.

So, three guesses who’s left to lead worship this Sunday.

This must be “That Week,” because we have been in similar situations on more than one mid-August Sunday. The reason I know is because Facebook sent me a reminder of what I posted a few years back:

    “You’ve probably heard of Murphy’s Law. Well, I think Murphy was on our worship team this morning.

       We started with the worship leader on vacation, then the young man who was to lead worship this week got called in to work. Kelly was supposed to sing with me, but she was home with a migraine.

       When what was left of the worship team got to the church to practice, we were locked out and had to call for a key; consequently, we were 1/2 hour late getting started.

The song sheets were there (Murphy missed that detail.) but the songs were in keys we couldn’t sing – too high or too low. About the time I was finished transposing them to a key we could sing, it was decided that guitar would be better than keyboard. So during the Sunday school hour I made a run home to get my guitar.

       On the way back, I thought, “I am SO glad this isn’t about US!”

       I shared that little reminder with everyone, and we (worship team and congregation) had a good laugh at the thought that “Murphy” must be the name of an angel God sends occasionally to keep us humble. When the congregation began to worship with us, suddenly there was music – better than it sounded at any point in our fragmented practice.

           Later the visiting pastor commented that Murphy must have visited his study that morning, because his flash drive suddenly didn’t have the Power Point for his message. (He didn’t need it.)

            All that to say, we can take ourselves so seriously that sometimes we need a visit from Murphy to remind us that church is not about us, it’s about Jesus. And if it’s about Him, it’s all good.

                                                                (Thank you, Murphy.)”

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Will Murphy be there this Sunday? We’ll see …

                                                                                                                                                      Prayer: Lord, thank You for the privilege of worshiping You, and thank You for humbling us when we need humbling. Keep our focus on You, and keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Reblog and Refocus

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Luke 16:10

I have recently been trying to get news from multiple sources, thinking I could get a balanced picture of the “whole story” that way. I have made several observations:

There seems to be very little “discussion” or “dialogue,” only arguing, accusations, and name-calling. Not the most mature way to get a point across. It seems the only thing we call all agree on is that our society is more polarized than ever.

No one seems to be listening to any opposing views. If a dissenting view  is recognized at all, it is mischaracterized, either deliberately or without thinking. (Is anyone thinking? Or are we merely emoting?)

The most significant and frustrating observation is that people are trying to fight a spiritual battle with the weapons of this world, and that is a huge mistake!

Racism, hate, rage, violence, murder, theft, destruction of other people’s property – these are all symptoms of Man’s universal disease of the heart – sin. We all recognize this disease (more easily in others than in ourselves), but our approach to fixing it has been like sending all our troops to Utah when we’re under attack on the East Coast.

The hard truth is, hardened hearts cannot be forced to change. Some leaders may cave under pressure and make superficial changes. But is anyone’s heart any different? And if hearts are not changed, will we ever see the peaceful solution we want – or say we want?

Sinful people can only be changed by acknowledging their sin and receiving the forgiveness made possible by Jesus’ death on the Cross. Only then can sinners truly be transformed and used to bring about the greater spiritual change this country needs.

With all the current effort to change the world! I would like to reintroduce the idea of an individual yielded to God and used by Him to bring about true change, one day at a time, one life at a time.

This is not a popular approach, probably because it isn’t very dramatic, doesn’t attract a lot of attention, and doesn’t yield the instant results our impatient hearts desire. But the only person I have any control over is myself, and even there I am limited. I can choose to ask God to transform me, as only He can, and He usually starts small.

Today I’m reposting a story that illustrates how we can get so distracted trying to change the whole world that we miss opportunities right in front of us.

June 12, 2020 My Life in Our Father’s World
Unexpected Loss
Reblogged from Sacred Cynicism by Pastor Doug Ward
I met someone for the first time 2 weeks ago. He came to church, and then was here again last week. He was a nice man, and he greeted me warmly. We had a nice conversation, and I was hoping to see him again this Sunday. I wanted to get to know him a little better. From the limited conversation we had, it seemed that life had been a little rough. That was just a perception. I found out this morning that this man took his own life this morning.
This news is crushing to me. I had no idea he was in any danger. I wish that something I said last week would have steered him away from this decision, but I do not know if that was even possible. I wish there had been more time. There is a sense of loss this morning. It is not a loss based upon a past relationship, I had only just met him. The loss is the removal of what could have been. Conversations that could have happened. The news once again reminded me of a simple truth – we have no idea which people are holding on to their very last bit of rope. I think this is a good thing for each of us to remember. It would be a great thing if our culture remembered it as well. We are probably too busy yelling at each other to listen to any wisdom right now.

This gentleman told me he had been watching us online. He told me he was hearing things that helped him. I wish I had the chance to follow up with him. I wish I knew more about his story than I do. Here are some things I do know. I know that I have no idea of the pain that this man was experiencing. I have no idea what things he was battling. I also know that Jesus died for everyone, including this gentleman, and I know that grace is far more pervasive that I realize. I do not know how grace, this gentleman, and the resurrection all interacted these past few weeks. I will simply say I hope.
In this current climate when we once again have retreated to our positions to lob verbal grenades at those people over there, a host of people just like this gentleman walk past us. They are probably unconcerned with all of the shouting – they just know that they hurt. This gentleman, and countless others – need someone to notice, if only we would stop shouting, and posting to social media. I just know that I am diminished today by this news. His name was Don.

From Barb: The man he is talking about has been my friend & neighbor for 18 years. I am still in shock but I have hope that when Don breathed his last breathe, Jesus was waiting for him with open arms.

(Ann again) In closing I want to share a song by Josh Wilson that has touched me. Enjoy, and be encouraged to do great things, even if they’re little things.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=dream+small+lyrics&&view=detail&mid=3F6648AF107A445333783F6648AF107A44533378&rvsmid=13587DF5D4EA5061AEEC13587DF5D4EA5061AEEC&FORM=VDRVRV

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for having such a high opinion of myself that I think I can make a difference without You. Fill me again with Your spirit, and use me in whatever way pleases You, even if it’s in something only You and I will know about. In Jesus name, amen.

What Color Is Jesus?

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            Isaiah 53:2

On my kitchen windowsill is a Christmas card I received a couple of years ago. It is a simple but colorful drawing of the Christ Child in the manger, with several shepherds kneeling in adoration. All the people in the picture are jet black.

Am I offended by the lack of historical accuracy? Not at all. Nor have I written back to the sender, saying “By the way, Jesus was Jewish, and the shepherds were Jewish, and that picture makes no sense.”

Nope. I love that card, because of who sent it and where it came from. The greeting inside is a hand-written note from one of my friends in Uganda – “To my favorite author.” Elsewhere in the note is written in big letters, “UGANDA LOVES YOU!”

Lately there has been some heated discussions regarding the question of “what color was Jesus?” This question was the basis for accusing whole cultures of racism, western European types in particular. It seems that some European paintings of Jesus show Him looking, well, like a European.

But then, why not?  I would expect pictures of Him in, say, a Mexican church to look more Hispanic. In Asia you can find pictures of Jesus looking Chinese or Indian.

There’s a reason for this, and I’m guessing those reasons were more theological than historical.

These artists were probably aware of where Jesus lived and died, and yet they decided to paint Him in a way that made Him more relatable to the people of their own culture. These artists weren’t ignorant. On the contrary, I would respectfully suggest that their critics are the ones who might be missing the point.

And what is the point? What is the message of the Incarnation?

The point is, the Son of God – God Himself – left His home in heaven to become one of us (“us” being Humanity).

As a Man, Jesus went through the same experiences we go through. He was hungry. He got thirsty. He experienced weariness and pain and loneliness. He knew fear and stress and the sting of other people’s hatred. He empathized, He grieved, He knew anger and frustration. These are things experienced by every person that ever lived, every color, in every era, and in every corner of the earth. He came for all of us – for black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American. And for every race, every nationality, every ethnic group, He took our sins upon Himself and took them to the Cross, where He died for the forgiveness of all of us.

One of my favorite outreaches, the Jesus Film Project has been showing the gospel in video form for decades. Their movie, “JESUS,” the dramatization of the gospel according to Luke, has been translated into more than 1800 languages! Until the pandemic shut down the world, small teams of technicians and evangelists would trek into the remotest places, set up their equipment, and show the film to whole villages at a time. The people would gather to watch and be mesmerized to see the gospel story played out in their language! Now of course when Jesus was on earth He didn’t speak in the tribal languages of these obscure groups, but that doesn’t matter to them. They watch, they listen, they understand – and they believe! 

SIDE NOTE: If you are a linguistics expert and want to get nitpicky about the language Jesus really spoke, you might want to rent “The Passion of the Christ,” where the dialogue is in the original Aramaic. (You might also want to make sure the subtitles are turned on.)

The Apostle John’s description of Heaven in Revelation describes a multitude of people that could not be counted, people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” (Revelation 7:9) I’m guessing none of those people got hung up what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth as one of us. Who knows? When we enter into eternity, He may show Himself to us in a glorious new color we have never seen before in this life! (Yes, my imagination can go wild when I think of entering eternity after leaving this finite world.)

The Incarnation is a profound reality, one well worth reflecting on.  John 1:14 says,     “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In these days of arguing about anything and everything, let’s focus less on the flesh and more on the Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leaving the throne room of Heaven to live in this fallen world as one of us. Thank You for offering Your life for all of us as the perfect sacrifice. You paid the debt we could not afford, so our sins might be cancelled out and we might live with You forever. And now, as we place our faith in You, we can look forward to eternal life in Your glorious kingdom, along with Your children from every nation, tribe, people and tongue! What a glorious day that will be!  Lord, help us to focus less on the superficial and more on what’s truly important – how much You love us, how much we love You, and how much we should love one another in Your name. Amen.

Armed

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…                                                                                                                                                                    I Peter 5:8-9a

Michigan in summer is a beautiful place to walk and pray, and most mornings my little dog, “Mr. Hollywood,” and I walk through the woods and out to the end if the pier on Lake Michigan. While I talk to God and give Him my day, Hollywood lunges after squirrels and chipmunks and obediently sits at my feet when a car, jogger, or another walker passes. If the other walker also has a dog, obedience can be a bit of a challenge, but we try.

But all bets were off the morning a dog three times Hollywood’s size moved steadily toward us from one of the driveways. I could see its short hair sticking straight up along its back; it was clearly ready for a fight. Most alarming to me was the lack of a leash or any owner in sight.

Hollywood, ever the protector, braced his little body and snarled at the big dog, only enraging it more. I yelled at it to go home, but it lunged for Hollywood, grabbing him by the back of the neck. I’m embarrassed to say, I screamed like a little girl. Just then our neighbor came out and grabbed the assailant by the collar and dragged it back into the yard.

Thankfully, Hollywood was OK, due to the collar, harness, and plenty of fur where he had been grabbed. I voiced my concerns to the neighbor (What if the dog had attacked a child?) and asked him to tell the owner, who was visiting for a few days, to please tether her dog.

A day or two later, not certain the message got passed on, I wanted to avoid a repeat of the scene. I am not a fan of bullies, and I wasn’t going to let a bigger dog chew up my little buddy just because it can. In the woods I picked up a stick big enough to defend us with, and as we walked on, I held the stick in one hand and the leash in the other. We were not bothered again.

This was not the first time I had been assaulted on my prayer walk and probably won’t be the last. However, the attacks usually come in more of a spiritual form, such as a wandering mind. After the briefest conversations with the occasional neighbor we encounter, I have to intentionally refocus. Even with no one else around, my ADD mind has to fight distractions continuously.

For years the distractions came in the form of pain. If it wasn’t bad knees, it was a bad hip, or plantar fasciitis, or even corns that felt like bees stinging my feet.

I intentionally make most of my prayers ones of thanks. So whenever I set out walking and I’m not in pain, I start with thanking God for that.

One morning I was happily walking and praising the Lord out loud for His healing when my prayer was interrupted by a sudden, jabbing pain in one knee.

I sensed this was more than an assault on my body. I had gone from pain-free to scarcely able to walk in a matter of seconds – and just as I was thanking God that I had no pain! The first thought that came to mind was that the enemy of my soul was mocking my faith! The second thought was,

Fight back!

Those of you who know about spiritual warfare know that with all the defensive pieces of armor we have, we have one offensive weapon – our “sword,” the Word of God.

When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He fought back with Scripture. Every time Satan presented Him with a temptation, Jesus responded by quoting from the Old Testament until the devil left Him. (The account is found in Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4.)

So, as my prayer of thanks for my healing was interrupted mid-sentence by a shooting pain in my knee, I quickly searched my arsenal for a verse to wield against my enemy. I immediately thought of one that would reeeally bother him, and I couldn’t help smirking.

“… and Lord,” I continued out loud, “thank You for this pain in my knee! It reminds me of Your word that says, ‘at the name of Jesus, EVERY knee will bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father! * That means everyone, including the devil and his angels, will be bowing to YOU, declaring that You are Lord! HALLELUIA!

Instantly, the pain was gone.

I chuckled. Knew he’d hate that one.

It may seem today that the enemy is unleashed and winning. But believers in Jesus have the weapon to fight back – the Word of God, which says, among other things, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4.) The more we hide that Word in our hearts, the better we’re prepared for the major battles, as well as minor skirmishes.

But what if you aren’t a believer in Jesus Christ, or not sure that you are?

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”                                                                                                                                    (II Corinthians 6:2)

This world is in self-destruct mode. We see it all round us – hatred, war, disease, natural disasters – a lost Humanity. But it’s not too late to turn to God, repent of your sins, and ask Him to forgive you, save you, and make you a new creation. Do it today. No one is promised tomorrow.

A new world is coming, where Jesus will reign. All will bow down to Him; the only choice is whether we will do it willingly or unwillingly. As my daughter used to say, “You can bend your knees now, or you can get your knees broken later.”

The choice is yours. 

Prayer: Lord, thank You for making Your Word available to us. Help us take hold of it, hide it in our hearts, and live by it every day. In Jesus name, amen.

*Philippians 2:10-11