Monday, December 20, 2010

All I want for Christmas is...

Now there was man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
Luke 2:35 (NIV)

In and of itself contentment is a challenging concept. Throw Christmas into the mix and you have a situation that evokes confusing, often conflicting, emotions. Writer Bill Crowder offers a thoughtful perspective on living a contented life in "The Stories of Simeon and Anna."

Simeon, a man of advanced years, had been a fixture at the temple in Jerusalem for longer than anyone could remember. He kept showing up honoring his God, waiting for the Promise. In Luke chapter two the New Testament writer captures the devotion of this faithful man in only a few insightful words.

For hundreds of years the Jewish people had comforted one another with the promise of the Messiah, the long-awaited hope of the ages. During times of national crisis they cried out for its fulfillment; during days of prosperity they rested in its assurance. We're not told when, or even how, but at some point Simeon was given a promise that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah: It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ (Luke 2:26).

Simeon's hope came from this remarkable promise and it radically affected the way he viewed life and the way he lived his life. He would not only live until Messiah arrived, he would personally see the Anointed One. We get the impression from Luke's writing that as a result of the promise, Simeon spent his days living in anticipation of the moment he would see the world's Savior face to face.

When Joseph and Mary brought the child Jesus to the temple to carry out the rituals the law required for the birth of a son, the devoted Simeon was there. Taking the infant in his arms, Simeon praises God and in essence declares, "I need nothing more! I've see the Christ! O God, let me depart this life in peace!"

The promise that had driven him for so much of his life had been fulfilled. Whatever he had imagined this moment would be like, it could not begin to measure up to what he was blessed to experience. He was actually holding the Christ in his arms! What a scene it must have been that day in the temple as Mary and Joseph watched a completely contented man do the most meaningful thing he would ever do--celebrate Jesus.

In a world where satisfaction is hard to find and harder to keep, we are driven to the Christ who said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus offers a life of fullness and abundance, and Simeon was among the very first to experience it. At the heart of this response was a depth of satisfaction that can come only in experiencing the personal presence of the Christ. May our celebration of the Christ be defined by the unique contentment of the heart that comes from knowing Him.

Dear friend, may this Christmas find you with a contented heart and a hope for all that 2011 will bring. Merry Christmas!

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Source: The Stories of Simeon and Anna

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving tension

Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away for the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:6 (NIV)

As I tucked in and squared off the corner of the bed sheet, I mentally reviewed my list of things to do: fresh bed linens, clean bath towels, stock refrigerator, vacuum family room carpet, tidy bathrooms. Our children were coming home for the Thanksgiving holiday and an inner tension was already beginning to build.

My husband and I are so thankful with where our kids are currently in their lives. At 25 years of age, our son has been working in a full-time job since graduating from college almost three years ago. He and his bride-to-be are excitedly preparing for their wedding next spring. Our daughter, who is in her fourth year of a six-year physical therapy program, has a part-time job and lives in an off-campus apartment. Whether it's to simply say "Hi, momma" or "The jeep is making a funny noise," she keeps us involved in her life by way of text messages and phone calls. I'm thrilled with the skills and abilities they are developing to live independent of their dad and me.

As I placed special "goodies" in each of their bedrooms to help welcome them home, however, I caught myself thinking about their early years: GI Joe birthday cakes, "cat-o-py" science projects, tears at having to wear eyeglasses, sibling squabbles, broken noses, high school musical tryouts, driver's license jitters, and all. Man, to be able to turn back the clock to the time they were young and we were all together living under one roof.

The Apostle Paul talked about moments of tension that confronted him. On the one hand he had the responsibility and duty to fulfill God's purpose for him in his life (Philippians 1:24-25). At the same time, he desired the glory that awaited him when his work on earth was done (Colossians 3:4). In his letter to the Philippians he wrote that he is torn between the two. While he desired to depart and be with Christ--which he said is better by far--he states that it's more necessary that he remain here on earth.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. So have our daughter, son and future daughter-in-law. For a few days we enjoyed each other's company, ate way too much food and made plans for the next time that we hope to be together. Until then, we've each returned to our homes and the responsibilities and duties of our lives.

Dear friend, as believers in Christ Jesus, we, too, can anticipate something special! God has a glorious eternal home prepared for us (Philippians 1:21-23). Like Paul, our goal can be to please the Lord. And until that time that God calls us home, we can live a life of faith; confident that the Lord is actively present in our daily lives.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving praise

Sing to the Lord of harvest,
Sing songs of love and praise;
With joyful hearts and voices
Your alleluias raise.
By Him the rolling seasons
In fruitful order move;
Sing to the Lord of harvest
A joyous song of love.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House

Monday, November 15, 2010

The enduring Word

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:9-11 (NIV)

The headline caught my eye: 8 nearly worthless collectibles. While I admire fanciful figurines, turn-of-the-century landscapes, and ornamental plates, I'm not an avid collector of any particular item. Still, I was curious as to what was included on the "nearly worthless" list.

According to the article, mass production and changing tastes have cut deeply into the value of various dolls, toys, plates and other items that used to be in high demand. Figurines that were once considered special keepsakes are now barely worth the crates they're packed in. Cute beanie toys are valued at 50 percent less than their original purchase price. Paintings have been "QVC'd" to death." And, the glut of "small slices of Americana" have caused ceramic plates to be worth little.

"Collecting as a hobby can be a fun, worthwhile and potentially lucrative way to pass the time," the report states. "Amassing collectibles as investments, however, can be a disappointing endeavor yielding nothing but piles of devalued knickknacks for your next of kin to sort through."

The opening words of the Bible were most likely written during the 1400s BC, penned by Moses as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness between Egypt and the promised land. Roughly a millennium later, the Hebrew Old Testament's last prophet, Malachi, recorded his message to post-exilic Israel around 400 BC. The Greek New Testament was composed during the 1st century AD.

Down through the ages, God chose holy men, inspired them to write His message to us, and preserved His remarkable message of salvation. Through the pages of Holy Scripture, we are brought face to face with ourselves, with God, and with His grand design for our lives.

As we dive into the truth of who God is and who we are in Him, God speaks personally and powerfully to us by the power of the His Spirit. In Psalm 19 we can see the psalmist's delight and eagerness for God's teachings. His confidence is absolute. God's ways give him hope and peace. His decrees bring joy, wisdom and instruction.

Dear friend, fun may be all there is to associate with modern-day collectibles. Collecting God's Word and storing up His commands in our heart, however, is a valuable proposition. The Bible promises that His enduring truths are "more precious than gold, than much pure gold." You can bank on it!

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Source: Moneycentral Savings and Debt

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pruning butterflies

I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.
John 15:1 (NIV)

What a difference 18 months makes. Since moving into our house in central Pennsylvania a number of shrubs have experienced significant growth. As a result, and in preparation for the winter months, my husband and I considered the various landscaping needs around our property.

We took into account the Red Maple in the corner of the backyard. The recent dry, hot summer certainly took a toll on the huge tree. Of particular interest to me, however, was the Butterfly Bush located on the north side of our home. Little more then a year ago it was all but a stick-like stump. Over the months, however, it had grown into a rather gangly, unruly plant.

As a side note, for those readers familiar with my gardening prowess, or lack thereof, I must mention that I do have a bit of experience with the Butterfly Bush. The prior owner of our house in Missouri had planted a hedge of Buddleias along the property line. Consequently, I came to appreciate the beauty of the robust plant. The hardy shrubbery's arching stems had an almost hypnotic effect as they swayed in the wind. What a treat it was watching a cloud of butterflies, attracted by the plant's nectar-rich flowers, move from bush to bush.

My husband and I are by no means expert gardeners. We do know, however, that pruning will enhance the appearance of our shrubs and trees as well as fix any damaged areas; not to mention, keep the plants from growing out of control. Consequently, we made plans for the care of each plant: corrective pruning on the Redbud and Ornamental Pear trees, shearing of the Euonymous, Barberries and Spirea, and hand reduction of the Forsythia, Viburnum, Pyracantha and Butterfly Bush.

Interestingly, I learned that the Butterfly Bush has a tendency to give gardeners fits when it comes to pruning. Sharp loppers are needed to chop back the tough "weeping" side branches to just a cluster of main stems in the center of the bush. The center stems are left as tall as possible without having the tops droop down. This usually means some of the top growth is cut back, in addition to the more "beefy" side stems. I was cautioned that the end result could be a plant that resembles a plucked chicken. Nevertheless, my encouragement came from being told that these amazing beauties respond well to pruning and by next spring I could expect new growth and a display of colorful blooms.

"I am the vine," Jesus said. "You are the branches." (John 15) He said His Father, the Master Gardener, prunes His children. He cuts away whatever it is that hampers our individual growth in order that we may experience the richest, most fruitful of lives. Hardships certainly may be painful. But, what we see as tragedies may only be blessings in disguise and the very opportunities through which God chooses to reveal His love and grace.

Dear friend, are you being pruned today? Have your dreams been dashed? Has the dearest in life been torn from you? You can trust Him to do what is best in every situation. God will not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

Blessings, dear friend
Faithfully Following

Photo: Mountain Valley Growers

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Keep your head

They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:4 (NIV)

The apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head, haunts the Connecticut Dutch settlement. Said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper whose head was carried away by a cannonball in "some nameless battle" during the Revolutionary War, the Headless Horseman rides to the scene of battle in nightly pursuit of his missing noggin. Washington Irvin's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was published more than 185 years ago. And, through literature and film its legendary fictional character has become part of American folklore.

The Bible is an old book. Yet, in a world where age is no longer considered a virtue and where one needs a good reason to believe, is it worthy of our trust?

Painfully honest, the Bible was not written for those who want simple answers and an easy, optimistic view of life. Forty different authors wrote the 66 books of the Holy Scriptures over a period of 1,600 years; nevertheless, they tell one cohesive story. No other book has been as loved or as hated. It has made a difference in the lives of such people as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Newton, and C.S. Lewis. Even nations like the wild Vikings of Norway have been transformed by the Word of God and the unprecedented life and image of Jesus Christ.

Of all people, the Apostle Paul knew full well the life-changing power of the Word of God. In his last letter to Timothy, the apostle directs this "son in the faith" to follow in his footsteps and faithfully carry on the work that he had been given.

Confident of his young assistant, Paul issues his final charge: go on declaring God's message, press on no matter what. Don't get carried away, Paul encourages. Keep your head in all situations. The time will come when people will reject sound doctrine. Rather, they will prefer to follow their own whims, choosing fable and legend in favor of truth (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

Dear friend, the Bible is not just another book. The greatest story ever told, it's the Book! Through its passages you will come to know the Sovereign Lord of all (1 Chronicles 29:11), full of love, mercy and goodness (Psalm 145:9), who offers salvation to all not by works, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:7-9).

While we accept God's Word by faith, my hope is that as you read and study it, you find it worthy of your trust and share what you learn with others.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Photo: The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by John Quidor


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The great divide

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Galatians 4:4-5 (NIV)

The special, invitation-only open rehearsal allowed guests to get an up close, personal look at the athleticism and beauty of classical ballet as the dance troupe prepared for their upcoming performance. Ballerinas and male dancers moved across the rehearsal studio with grace and performance aplomb far beyond their years. And, as the audience was drawn into the story through the dancers' movements and expressions, the choreographer explained the intricacies behind the creation of a new ballet.

Unlike this open rehearsal, an intentional gap exists between performer and patron during an actual performance--the stage, orchestra pit, and even the lighting, create a space that separates the dancer from the theatre goer. Once the rehearsal program ended, however, it was difficult to distinguish between dancer and guest. Laughter and conversation echoed throughout the studio as young and old alike mingled with one another.

Participating in that rehearsal reminded me of the chasm that separates me from our Holy God because of my sin. When it comes to God's holiness and my sinfulness, there is absolutely no room for a pas de deux.

But thanks to be God in Christ Jesus that He doesn't leave me in my separated condition! In His mercy, God the Father sent His One and Only True Son, Jesus Christ, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem me and all who would believe in Him (v. 4-5).

Dear friend, through Jesus Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection, He made the way for each of us to share in God's gracious gift of salvation (Galatians 3:27-29). He is the cross that bridges the great divide. By the power of the Holy Spirit will you accept his invitation and trust Jesus as Savior?

Our gracious redemption was carefully planned,
The gulf between heaven and earth has been spanned,
The portals are open, the passage is free,
Oh, wondrous salvation, it's even for me!

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Completely Clean, RBC Ministries

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Divided heart

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.
Psalm 86:11 (NIV)

Things to do. People to see. Places to be.

Our days are filled with an abundance of commitments and activities. In order to respond to each task, we allocate the 1,440 minutes of each day among those things that vie for our attention--children's activities, church meetings, work, family obligations, social engagements, household chores, hobbies, sleep. And, the list goes on. Each activity in and of itself is considered good and, in most cases, needful. If we're not careful, however, we can develop the "divided-heart syndrome."

Hosea became a prophet at the end of the reign of the nation of Israel's last powerful king, Jeroboam II. The people of Israel had forgotten God's first commandment: "no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) and the country was on a downhill spiral. They had hoped to "hedge their bets" so that if the Lord failed them they would have another god to rely on. And so the Israelites turned to Baal, a Canaanite fertility god, and found Baal's worship less demanding than God's.

In the Old Testament book of Hosea, the prophet uses three colorful figures of speech to describe the people of Israel's divided hearts. First, they were like a half-baked cake--burned on one side and raw on the other they were palatable neither to God nor the pagans (Hosea 7:8). Second, unaware of their spiritual decline they were like a proud man who can't see the signs of his aging (vv. 9-10). Finally, flying from one pagan nation to another looking for help, Israel was like a senseless dove (v.11).

Today, we as Christians are often afflicted with the same condition. We trust Jesus but are reluctant to commit every area of our lives to Him. We go to church but don't want to live out our faith each day if it means giving up worldly success or pleasure. A divided heart does not please God; nor does it attract nonbelievers to Christ. Unfortunately, it may take a crisis to show us our true spiritual decline. Not to mention, we live unfulfilled lives even as we flit from one activity to another.

My friend, just as the psalmist calls out to God to protect him from a divided heart, let's pray each day, "Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name."

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Out for bear

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18 (NIV)

My frustration intensified as I studied our daughter's college tuition statement. I was puzzled by what appeared to be the university's retraction of a somewhat sizable refund that we'd been given.

Quite a bit of my irritation stemmed from the fact that I'd spent a lot of time and phone calls the previous month to gain understanding of the original reimbursement. Receiving assurance from the cashier's office that we were, indeed, entitled to the refund, we gave our daughter the go-ahead to cash the school's check. Now it seemed we should never have received the refund.

I was confused, angered and short on patience. Adding to my edginess was the fact that I was pressed for time to complete several overdue work-related projects and had just been handed two unplanned tasks. Learning that my daughter wasn't the only student affected by the accounting error only added fuel to my already unpleasant attitude. Consequently, I was "out for bear" when the cashier's office staff member answered the telephone and ready to tell her what I thought.

It's been said that the tongue is the most deadly weapon in the world. With razor sharp words we cut through the thickest of skins. We strike at the core of a person's being with damaging speech that divides friendships and wounds even the strongest of relationships. The writer of Proverbs describes reckless words as piercing like a sword (Proverbs 12:18). It's not surprising that the infamous list of seven things detestable to the Lord includes "a man who stirs up dissension among brothers" (Proverbs 6:16-19).

The writer of Proverbs also reminds us that if we hold our tongue we will not say the wrong thing. In fact, we're thought to be wise when we keep silent (10:19). Dear friend, let's put the "blade" away and use our words to help and heal.

Keep me from saying words
That later need recalling;
Guard me lest idle speech
May from my lips be falling;
But when within my place
I must and ought to speak,
Then to my words give grace
Lest I offend the weak.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

O God, My Faithful God
Johann Heermann 1585-1647

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Frantically Fluttering

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

The hummingbird darted into our garage through the open doorway, and it quickly became obvious that the little bird was totally disoriented amidst a sea of freshly painted white walls and ceiling. As fast as it zoomed in one direction, it frantically turned and zipped in another looking for an escape. The bird's long, straight and very slender bill made it appear as if a quiver of arrows was being shot throughout the room. The hum made by its rapidly beating wings echoed all through the otherwise quiet, empty garage as it hovered in mid-air.

Backwards, forwards, up, down. My husband kept his eye on each movement the bird made matching its rapid, frenzied flight pattern with his characteristically steady, deliberate pace. With straw broom in hand, he gently worked at guiding the little hummer in the direction of the open doorway. At times the space between bird and man was all but nothing that my husband could see its tiny chest throbbing from its rapid heartbeat.

After what seemed an eternity, the bird finally caught sight of the way out and it whizzed out the door's opening as swiftly as it had entered. We cheered as we watched our freed captive soar into the open air. And then we stared in horror as we followed its tiny body plummet from the sky.

Concluding that the strain of its release had simply been too much for the little guy, my husband slowly walked across our neighbor's yard to where it lay on the ground. Kneeling down next to the bird, he reached out his hand to touch the white tips of its rounded tail feathers. Suddenly, the bird perked up and flew off once more.

Too many times I'm like that little hummingbird--anxious, frazzled and afraid of what might happen next. Caught up in a sea of emotion, I flit in one direction and flutter in another. I bump my head against the proverbial brick wall, even to the point of exhaustion, before dropping to my knees and asking for help. Still God is faithful.

"The eyes of the Lord are everywhere" (Proverbs 15:3) and nothing escapes His attention. That includes you and me, dear friend. Jesus said, "Even the very hairs of your head are numbered" (Matthew 10:30). When we ask Him for help, God's response is always based on His perfect knowledge of us and our situation.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7). My friend, let's trust Him with our anxious concerns.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Monday, September 6, 2010

Don't be a Beverly Hillbilly

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
Ephesians 4:17 (NIV)

The 1960s good-natured American sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies follows the rags-to-riches journey of the Clampetts. After striking "black gold" on their swamp land, the poor backwoods family is transplanted to the swanky, wealthy city of Beverly Hills where they can now live in relative ease and take advantage of all that their newfound riches have to offer. The family is challenged, however, to let go of their old way of doing things. Constantly looking back, they go so far as to move their meager mountain cabin into the backyard of their lavish mansion home.

The Essential Bible Companion describes the apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians as "quintessential Paul," a concise summary of the essence of the apostle's faith and theology. In the first three chapters, Paul speaks about God's divine purpose in Christ and the believers' position in Christ. In the last three chapters, he is quite specific in his "dos" and "don'ts" of how believers ought to live practically as a result of this position. He writes, "...you must no longer live as Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking."

Salvation is God's free gift, but it carries with it the responsibility to live and behave from that point on as God wants (Ephesians 1:1, 17). This means deliberately discarding the old, selfish way of life, shedding former habits, and letting the new life change our thinking and remold our pattern of behavior.

All too often, I find that this new life and new way of thinking and behaving eludes me. As I begin each morning on my knees dedicating the day and my life to the Triune God, it seems that with an "amen" barely out of my mouth and not yet standing on my feet, I'm already returning to my selfish, fretful, whining, and unkind ways. Ah, how true--the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn't leave me hopeless. I can't by my own reason or strength live as Jesus calls me to live. Through the Holy Spirit, God called me with a holy calling, not according to my works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9). At the same time, the Holy Spirit by faith sanctifies me--that is, He renews my heart so that I can overcome sin and do good works (Ephesians 2:10).

By His work on the cross, Jesus completed everything for my salvation and sanctification so that I can enjoy a new life. No wonder Paul said with such confidence that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

Who is sweeter than Christ Jesus?
No good thing in Him I lack!
Hand to plow, at peace I follow
Where He leads me...why look back? -Starke

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The mark that distinguishes

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:35 (NIV)

During a recent dinner party, I had the opportunity to socialize with quite a few people I'd not previously met. Conversations flowed, social etiquette was practiced, and for the most part guests shied away from the more delicate topics of politics and religion. Overhearing various conversations that took place around me, however, I realized that the belief systems in the room were almost as varied as the number of people in attendance.

The next morning as I mulled over the evening's event during my quiet time, I wondered if any of the people I met knew about my love for Jesus. For that matter, was it important that they knew. After all, it was a business engagement and not a faith-based affair.

Opening my Bible to the morning's devotional reading, I had a personal sense of some insight into my questions. "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35 NIV).

While I'm inclined to dig into God's Word to gain greater understanding, I'm pretty sensitive that I not tear apart every single word or phrase in a passage looking for meaning that doesn't belong. With that said, the "By this all men will know that you are my disciples" portion of the Scripture verse touched my heart.

The Greek word used in this passage is agape--unconditional love. C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves) describes agape, or charity, as love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstances or personal flaws. It describes God's love. The apostle Paul describes what true Christian love is like in his first letter to the Corinthians. He points out that the true measure of spiritual worth lies in self-giving love, no matter what great knowledge or gifts a Christian possesses.

The command is clear. God Himself is love and is the source and measure of all love. I do care that others know about that love. Consequently, if all men are to know that I am Jesus' disciple and if they are to come to this realization through my expression of charity, inherent in the command is that I am concerned for how I show that love.

God's Word provides wonderful illustrations of how Jesus expressed this love during His daily walk on earth. He was generous with His time and accepted what we would perceive to be interruptions in His day (Luke 9:11). Jesus took a keen interest in the people around Him, gave them His full attention, and actively listened to their needs (John 5:6, Luke 21:1-4). He always spoke truth (John 3:1-21,Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 6:9-15). He demonstrated compassion (Matthew 14:13-14, Mark 10:17-23), provided comfort (John 11:17-37), and extended forgiveness (John 21:15-19).

Dear friend, the mark that distinguishes is love. What if each person we meet could actually recognize that we are followers of Jesus by the way we "love one another"?

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Life goes on

Best friends
Bonnie Schulte and Joanne Sampl

Dear friend, I hope you will indulge me as this post is a bit of a departure from my typical blog. This week marks the first year anniversary of my dearest girlfriend's death.

One of the blessings of the friendship that Joanne Sampl and I shared is that we fully recognized it was a gift from God. With that said, I don't know that either of us ever intentionally planned "I want to be Bonnie's/Joanne's friend." Yet, as the years progressed and our camaraderie grew, we took steps to actively nurture our relationship.

Our conversations ranged from business issues--What in the world is a brand's essence, and more importantly, why do I care? To spiritual matters--How do you think Abraham handled that long three-day walk to the mountains of Moriah (Genesis 22). To family life--Aaarrgghh. We're moving again. Joanne knew how to be a friend. She always made time for me. She incited me to seek truth, encouraged me to laugh out loud, and taught me how to back off and listen.

Since her death on August 19, 2009, the world has continued on, in general, and I have moved on, in specific. I've been having the time of my life in my new job at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. My husband marked two years with his job and he has a list of "rip-it-up/fix-it-up" projects that could last him two lifetimes, much less one. Our son's girlfriend recently accepted his proposal of marriage and our daughter was granted acceptance into her university's doctor of physical therapy program.

The world has experienced approximately 129 million births, a gunman opening fire on and destroying innocent lives at Ft. Hood, Texas, and a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thousands of gallons of crude oil have flowed into the Gulf of Mexico changing the area's landscape forever and the world's economy is all but turned on its head. Ah, yes. Life goes on.

In complete faith, I know that I know that Joanne's soul rests with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The pain surrounding her premature death, however, is still extremely raw. I can't say her name without stopping to collect my emotions before continuing to speak. If I dwell too long on a memory, tears inevitably pool in the corners of my eyes and unavoidably pour down my cheeks.

I firmly believe the last words I said to her. Days before she died, her loving husband, Michael, placed a telephone next to her ear allowing me to call out across the 775 miles separating us, "I love you, Joanne. Thanks for being my best-est friend. I'll see you again one day on the other side."

Whoever said death is a natural part of life was wrong! When God created the world, all was good. In fact, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Death was not part of the plan. Because man chose to take matters into his own hands, however, sin entered the world. With it came the pain and suffering of death. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that the story doesn't end there. Through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of His One and Only Son, we have eternal life through Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-58). Amen and amen!

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wilson

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
James 1:13-15 (NKJV)

Wilson! Come back! Adrift at sea, Wilson is carried father and father out into the cerulean waters by the relentless rocking waves. Eventually, he is lost in the wide expanse where briny deep and spacious sky appear to blend as one.

The emotional scene from the 2000 adventure film Cast Away is an interesting illustration of the caution the New Testament writer James issues in the book by the same name.

After his plane crashes on a flight over the South Pacific, fictional FedEx employee Chuck Noland is stranded on an uninhabited island. In his first attempt to make fire, he receives a deep wound to his hand. In agonizing pain, Chuck throws several objects, including a Wilson Sporting Goods volleyball from one of the packages that had washed up on shore. A short time later, Noland draws a face in the bloody hand print left on the ball and names it "Wilson."

Fast forward four years. With Wilson in tow, Chuck is able to construct a life raft and sail over the powerful surf, enabling the now companions to finally escape the island. Soon, however, an intense ocean storm all but destroys the raft. The tethers binding Wilson to the craft loosen and the ball falls into the water. As Chuck cries out "W-I-L-S-O-N!" in gut-wrenching agony, the ball is drawn farther and farther out of his reach and is lost at sea.

In his practical letter that encourages living a vibrant faith, James addresses outward trials and inward temptations. The former must be endured, the latter resisted. He writes that each of us is tempted when we are drawn away by our own desires and enticed. Drawn away from what?

The Old Testament book of Psalm 1 helps answer that question. As you consider this piece of Godly wisdom, take special note of the progression: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

As a child of God each of us is marked with the blood of the Lamb. His nail-pierced hand is imprinted on our hearts. By the power of the Holy Spirit, dear friend, bind yourself securely to the Truth of God's Word. As we resolutely turn our backs on evil and set our hearts and minds on doing what He wants, we please God (Colossians 1:9-12).

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Cast Away, directed by Robert Zemeckis, 2000

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It is what it is

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6 (NIV)

After seven houses, you would think I'd have a pretty good grasp on what it takes to buy a new property. Not so. With each house in a different state, I've had the opportunity to learn something new about the world of real estate with each purchase. One theme seems to runs consistently through what I've learned, however--what is claimed isn't always what is real.

While a "rebuilt" grinder pump implies "like new," it may, in fact, indicate the septic unit will need replacement six months after moving into the house. A "refaced" fireplace hearth most certainly provides an up-to-date look to a living room. Unfortunately, the rusty, neglected 50-year-old firebox behind the facade may require that the fireplace, remodeled hearth and all, be gutted and replaced before it can be used. A property claiming "homestead" status could result in an additional $3,600 in annual taxes if it is identified inaccurately on state tax rolls.

Thank goodness this isn't so with the claims of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament book of John, the Gospel writer gives a portrait of Jesus as the Son of God who came to earth to reveal the Father and to bring eternal life to all who believe in Him. John 14:6 records one of seven self-revelations Jesus made: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Jesus emphatically states that presently and eternally He alone is
the way to God the Father. He is not a way among others from which to choose or a possible option to consider. Nor does He say "I show the way..." Jesus is the exclusive path to God open to all who believe in Him.

How can Jesus make such a claim? He is God. He is the image of the invisible God...by Him all things were created...He is before all things...in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-20). He and the Father are one (John 14:9).

Christ is Himself the vital link between heaven and earth. Apart from His teaching (the truth) and His work (the life) there is no salvation. What Jesus
is cannot be separated from what He does; consequently, believing or not believing His claim makes the revelation no less true. It is what it is.

If you're questioning His claim, dear friend, take some time to get to know Jesus in the pages of His Word. As the writer James instructs us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God" (James 1:5). Our heavenly Father is ready and willing to show us the way through Jesus.

Blessings, dear friend.

Faithfully Following

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Imminent departure

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
2 Timothy 4:6 (NIV)

Tombstones speak volumes. The words carved into the hard rock markers say a great deal about the life that a person lived. Take for example the headstone of Gussie. "Here lies the body of a girl who died. Nobody mourned and nobody cried. Nobody knew and nobody cared." Quite a sad commentary on the life of a young, unloved orphan girl.

Then we have the more amusing inscription that commemorates the life of inquisitive Harry Edsel Smith. "Looked up the elevator shaft to see if the car was on the way down. It was." Harry's curiosity was short lived.

Arrested again, after ministering freely for several years, the Apostle Paul's second letter to his young assistant Timothy indicates that his life here on earth was nearly over. In one of the three letters called the Pastoral Epistles, Paul writes to his disciple in order to support and encourage him in his ministry. Tradition has it that soon after writing what has been called his swan song, or his last will and testament, Paul was beheaded on the Ostian Way, west of Rome.

Referred to as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13), Paul's moving letter provides a glimpse into the heart of the man and missionary. After a lifetime of service and suffering, with no self-pity and no regrets, he faces death without fear and without doubt.

It stands to reason that a person is remembered at life's end by how they lived the years since their birth. Modern day author and speaker Linda Ellis describes it as "living our dash"--ensuring that we live to the fullest the years between the beginning of life and the end. In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul gives us insight into what drove his dash--his life's mission. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

How do you think Paul's tombstone would read? Would the inscription call out "In Christ Alone" (2 Timothy 1:9-10) or perhaps "Never Ashamed" (Philippians 1:19-21). Maybe the solid granite would shout, "Free at Last" (Ephesians 6:19-21) or possibly "Finally, Home." (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

I've thought about the words that will, by the grace of God, one day sum up my life. I'm working toward, "She loved Jesus. They knew." Or possibly the epitaph will be a bit on the lighter side, "Construction complete. Thanks for your patience."

How's your dash, dear friend. Are you preparing for your departure by living each of your todays to its fullest?

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

PS My mission - To give God the glory as I become worthy of His trust and come to know and make known His Son Jesus, The Christ, in the world that I serve. (Philippians 1:19-21)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shore up the low points

Therefore, I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows."
Nehemiah 4:13 (NIV)

Throughout its history, ancient Israel's obedience to God led to blessing and disobedience led to trouble. When the kings of Israel and Judah failed to live up to the kingship covenant that was made with David, God declared through His prophets that He would judge His people's faithlessness.

Consequently, after centuries of repeated disobedience, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians (722 B.C.), and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians and the southern kingdom of Judah taken into exile in Babylon (587 B.C.). In His mercy, however, God declared that after He judged His people, He would bring them back.

And so it went. The Babylonian Empire was eventually overthrown by Cyrus, king of Persia in 539 B.C. Through the Persian rulers, God brought favor to His people and the exiles not only were allowed to return home but encouraged to practice their own religion. The Jews could at last restore their temple at Jerusalem; work that was completed in 516 B.C.

Fast forward circa 445 B.C. Despite several abortive attempts to construct Jerusalem's city walls, they remained in ruins. (Ezra 4:7-23) Without protective walls the city was vulnerable to numerous enemies. When word reached Nehemiah, who was living away in Babylonia, about the sorry plight of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, the royal cupbearer to king Artaxerxes was distressed at the news. He prayed to God about the situation. Convicted that God wanted him to ask the king if he might be released from his post and be given authority to go to Jerusalem and organize the rebuilding of the city walls, Nehemiah prayed that Artaxerxes' heart might be favorably disposed toward him. God answered his prayer, the king consented, and Nehemiah set out on the 1,100 mile journey home.

Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah made a personal inspection of the city and organized the project. He found the people willing to work; and with his dynamic leadership, people of all sorts--priests, perfumers, goldsmiths and merchants--joined together in the rebuilding. Nonetheless, they faced first ridicule and then blackmail, intimidation and threats from powerful opponents.

Nehemiah's reply to the opposition was prayer and faith, plus practical action: "we prayed...and set a guard...Remember the Lord...and fight." (Nehemiah 4:1-20) His unshakable confidence came from the certainty that "our God will fight for us." A practical man, an organizer and leader, a man of courage, determination and deep spiritual resources to draw on, it took just 52 days, despite all opposition, to build 1.5 miles of wall.

Some days, exhausted and anxious because I've been pushed to my limits, I feel weary clear down to the marrow of my bones. My nerves are shot, my emotions vulnerable; I wonder whether I will ever accomplish anything of value.

It's at those moments that I station my Help at my exposed places. Taking up the Sword, which is the Word of God, I remember the Lord who is great and awesome. And, determined to fight, I dig deep into the spiritual resources of His Truth and declare my longing to remain faithful to what He has called me to.

What trouble do you face today, dear friend? Are you challenged with a difficult decision, hurting from a broken relationship, or drained by a rebellious child? Are you burdened with financial matters, concerned about a health issue, or fretting at the days ahead?

My friend, God answers prayer. He protects those who trust Him. His means of deliverance are never exhausted.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Joy in His presence

I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord."
Psalm 122:1 (NIV)

I chuckled as I opened the bathroom door that led into my bedroom. There lay Sarah Marie Otis at the door's threshold. Greeting me with a soft "meow," she stood up and brushed tenderly against my leg as she sauntered through the open doorway. The tabby-tortoise cat then leaped to her spot on the bathroom ledge for what had become a daily habit and settled in to watch me as I finished dressing.

In that brief encounter, I was transported back 22 years to a time when my husband and I both held full-time jobs outside the home. Each morning as we dressed for work, our then two-year-old son would climb out of his bed, grab his favorite pillow and blanket, and strategically position himself on the hallway floor outside his daddy's bathroom.

"Well, hello, son," his father would say with a smile as he opened the lavatory door. Then for the next few minutes as he watched his dad complete a morning routine of shaving, brushing teeth, and styling hair, our young son rested in his daddy's presence.

Psalm 122 is part of the Psalms of Ascent, songs ancient Israelites sang as they traveled to the Jewish festivals in Jerusalem. On his arrival, the pilgrim is overwhelmed by the scene and occasion. With a full heart, he thinks back to the anticipation he had for the event and the excitement he feels being in the holy city.

Like that ancient traveler, I love church. I've never attended a perfect one; and no, something monumental doesn't happen every time I go. Still I am blessed. There is delight when I gather with others who love to praise God for His greatness. (Psalm 122:1) The encouragement, care and unity that occurs when believers meet together is motivating. (1 Corinthians 12:25) The instruction, edification and challenge that comes from the teaching of God's Word builds me up in spirit to tackle another tough Monday morning. (2 Timothy 4:2)

I wonder, however, at our Heavenly Father's delight when we simply choose to spend time with Him in the quietness of each new day. "Good morning, my child," I hear Him say in my heart. "I watched over you during the night. Not one thing will happen to you this day that I don't already know; for as I promised, I am with you always." And, then, I rest in His presence.

I pray you also find joy in His presence, dear friend.

Blessings,
Faithfully Following

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Does that answer the question

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.
1 Timothy 1:13 (NIV)

They were five students with nothing in common, faced with spending a Saturday detention together in their high school library.

The 1985 movie "The Breakfast Club" follows five teenagers at a fictional suburban Chicago high school. While not complete strangers, the five are from different social groups. Criticized and ordered not to speak or move from their seats by their antagonistic principal, the students pass the detention hours telling stories, harassing each other, fighting, dancing, and speaking on a variety of subjects. Gradually, they open up to each other and reveal their inner secrets.

In response to an essay that Mr. Vernon had assigned--Who do you think you are?--the students leave a single letter that illustrates how their attitudes and perspectives changed during the course of the day. In one brief paragraph, they challenge their fault-finding principal's preconceived judgments about each of them as well:

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us--in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain..and an athlete...and a basket case...a princess...and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

The apostle Paul had been a Christian for more than 30 years. He had been on the road with the gospel message for 20. Yet in deep humility, he never forgot his bitter opposition to Christ and that he had once gone all out to destroy His church.

Paul never ceased to be amazed that God took a man like him into His service. In verse 15 of the first chapter of First Timothy, he writes, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst."

At 7 a.m. on a brisk Saturday in March, five "breakfast club" misfits had nothing to say. By four o'clock the same afternoon, their judgments of one another had changed. They bared their souls to each other, realized they had much more in common than they realized, and became good friends.

Because of our sin, we are separated from the Lord and considered His enemies. But thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that when we confess our sin and acknowledge our need for His forgiveness, He shows us mercy and changes who we are.

Dear friend, Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection answered the question once and for all--who do you think you are?

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

PS For all you classic movie fans, I hope I didn't give too much of The Breakfast Club story line away...