Monday, November 28, 2011

What I knew then and what I know now.

When I was in high school, it seemed that everyone wanted to "have a steady boyfriend." I was fortunate in that my immediate friends shared with me the desire to grow into the woman we believed God wanted us to be. But, many of our classmates looked down on us as not sophisticated. Still, with our group, it was not accepted to have a steady until we were at least seniors. Even then, we had our doubts. The two girls who had a steady boyfriend had known them for several years before they went on the first date. Single dating just wasn't something we were ready for.

Although many people would laugh at this today, I can remember my first date's parents went with us. We went to their family reunion up in the mountains of Northwest Georgia. Another fellow I dated several times took either my grandmother or my first cousins with us. Every date we had except for two were to go to church. One of the non church dates was to a basketball team with another couple. The other was to the preacher's home.

Every Friday night, our parents took turns hosting a party for us at the community center. The parents whose turn it was to chaperone provided refreshments and we played board or card games or danced. The dances were very sedate and the slow dances looked nothing like what passes for slow dancing now. It was great training for the requirements of living at Shorter College just a couple of years after it went co-ed. What is there now does not even resemble our experience.

The rules at Shorter did not allow holding hands while walking. You could not sit closer than six inches. You could get a peck on the cheek at the Town House door under the watchful eye of the Dean of Women or Assistant Dean. Slacks and shorts were allowed outside the dorm under only two conditions : participation in a sport or under a full length raincoat with the top button fastened.

If the sports event was not participatory, the raincoat was required and NEVER could we wear slacks in public transportation. Slacks could be worn in the dining hall for Saturday morning breakfast or Sunday night dinner but only with the raincoat. Monday through Saturday evenings, Saturday noon and Sunday noon were seated meals with "Sunday best" and stockings and heels.

Gloves were worn to church and to formal receptions of which there were many. "Eats" (beverages or snacks) were never consumed while walking. One was seated to "take eats." Curfews were strict as were study hours. Cars were for upper classman unless (a) one had a part time job in town or (b) one's parents lived more than 200 miles away.

I do not recall finding these restrictions ornerous. It taught discipline and respect. I rather enjoyed them though we all laughed at some of the more extreme expressions.

Later, when I joined the financial community, I found that small towns expected the same respect and discipline of ladies who worked with other people's money. I recall one Saturday afternoon running to the local quick market to get eggs when I was baking a cake. (I had dropped two on the floor and lacked enough to finish.) I wore walking shorts to my knees and a sleeveless t-shirt and sandals. On Monday morning, I was reminded by my employer that such attire could cause clients not to take me seriously as a person managing their assets. I never did that again. To this day, I do not leave the house in bare arms.

So, what I knew then was that the Lord lends His Authority to the persons He permits to have authority over us. That meant that honoring the authority over us, regardless of whether we thought their rules had no meaning, was a way of showing our respect for the Lord. Those authorities included parents, other adults (teachers, policeman, neighbors and the like). What I learned later was how much easier life is when one does not rebel against the Lord's Authority. I learned that from discipline grows confidence and self-respect.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Difference in Families

I was reminded today of three generations of mothers in my family.

An ad on tv was urging people to contact their Congressmen to ask them not to reduce the amount of Medicare costs for hospital stays. The tone indicated that the government, not families, should care for aging parents.

When I was in third grade, my grandmother and great grandmother moved in with my mother and me. They lived with us until the very last months of Granny's life. She had had multiple strokes and, in her last months, wanted to move back onto her son's farm since, "I don't need doctors. There's nothing more they can do. I never lived in town before and I don't want to die here."

I missed her so much that I spent that last summer with them on the farm. Every Sunday night, we turned the lights off and turned the radio on. We propped Granny up in the bed, I took down her bun and brushed her long white hair and massaged her scalp. We both looked forward to listening to our favorite radio dramas together. It was a special time.

Another special time was breakfast. I have never liked breakfast so I spent breakfast "mushing up" her food and feeding it to her spoonful by spoonful, dabbing her chin when her lower lip drooped and spilled it out. I can still feel her chin under my fingertips.

During the day, I wandered the woods and the fields, bringing back leaves and small plants and berries to show her. I never found one she could not tell me about. She told me about home remedies and homekeeping (she never used the word housekeeping).

When she died, we rejoiced at her liberation even as we grieved our loss.

Her daughter moved in with us and, except for a couple of years when she wanted her "own place," she lived with Mother for the rest of her life.When Bebe became ill, my mother did the same thing for her that Bebe had done for Granny. When my other grandmother became ill, her daughter Katherine and husband Rueben took her into their home. Katherine was a nurse and no patient ever had better care.

As my mother's body failed her, her independence never did so we found ways to support that feeling of independence. She would allow no one to live with her and she would live with no one. So I traveled back and forth every four or five weeks to spend a week (sometimes more).

David and I had a system worked out that would allow me to be on the road to GA within a half hour of learning of the need. He was such a wonderful support for me and for her. It never occurred to him that she should go to a nursing home against her will. During our entire marriage, he did most of the maintenance on her home. He cojoled, scolded and teased her. He was the grown son she never had.

Mother and I talked everyday. I had two other people who either talked with her or went by everyday. If they questioned anything, they called me. I called Mother and headed down. One of them was available to check on her anytime I heard anything untoward in her voice or message. Everytime David and I took a trip anywhere south of the North Carolina line, we went by to see her. Some of our schedules got changed because she wanted us to do something before we left. We adapted.

We had errand runners who bought her groceries when she was not able. In the last year, they even took her to the hairdressers (one of Mother's lifelong treats for herself). Her church family "loved" her right into the gates of Heaven.

Mother kept every receipt and, if a check was written, she noted the number on the statement. Every month, I checked her receipt box, balanced her checkbook and wrote her checks for the next month, lacking only her signature and the amount. All the enveloped were addressed, stamped and ready to go.

On those trips, we sat up late at night in only the light from the streetlamp outside. And, we talked, flitting from one topic or another. We talked about the inconsequential, the essential and the important. Nothing was off limits.

She retained her independence and her spunk (sometimes more spunk than was necessary).

Then, one morning she called to inform me that she was going to hospice that afternoon. She was tired of taking "dozens of pills everyday just to push back the day." She was failing so quickly that she knew she would soon have to have twenty four hour care at home or elsewhere.

The home nurse had told her she should go to hospice for a few days to "get built back up." Mother informed me she did not intend to "bounce back." She proclaimed, "I'm no fool and I have no intention of coming back. As soon as the cleaner finishes here, we're on our way." She did not want me to have to clean the house. On all the prior trips, everytime she had caught me cleaning, she had sent me home.

She instructed me to get a good night's sleep and come the next day.

I left that afternoon and was at the hospice bright and early the next morning. We had some interesting talks. She asked me to pray for her and we prayed together.....all things we would have missed had she been consigned to a nursing home during those last months.

No government program can replace these multi-generational experiences. Someone needs to tell younger generations that old age is not contagious.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I am posting an article by our assistant pastor

"Life After Training Wheels

by Peter Weeks, Assistant Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church

The stewardship campaign for this year will be Life After Training Wheels. It compares the process of learning how to use God's Time, Talent and Treasures to learning how to ride without training wheels.

It is human nature to fear the unknown and few situations in life embody this as well as a child learning how to ride without training wheels. Int he first stage, the child totters along, both wheels firmly planted on the ground where the bike is a glorified tricycle. Then as their confidence grows they go into the next stage, where the wheels are slightly off the ground and they learn they can balance but they don't lean over far at all before the wheels touch the ground. Slowly the adult raises the training wheels until they get to the third stage when the wheels are as high up as they can go. The child is essentially riding without training wheels and has most of the balance skills required but still is holding onto the comfort of knowing they are there. Eventually time comes for the final stage--the big leap of removing the training wheels entirely.

That journey is much like our own journey of using God's time, talent and treasures. The first stage is when we are going along comfortably. We may use God's time, talent and treasure a little but in such a way that it doesn't "interfere" with any other area of life. As we find out about the Spiritual gifts, or devote time to an Advent devotion or take one step toward tithing it's like going to the second state where the training wheels are just barely off the ground. This is progress and should be celebrated but soon we learn that we really can use God's time for devotions and still have time for everything else, we can use the spiritual gifts God gave us and it actually makes life more fulfilling and we can give more but still make the budget work.

We want to grow in using God's gifts because of how much He loves us. God gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Greater love has no man than this that He lay down his life for His friends.

As God encourages us to grow, eventually we need to take that giant leap. We need to experience Life After Training Wheels. We regularly use our time to do devotions by ourselves or with our family. We regularly use our Spiritual gifts and we give a tenth of our income. This is when life really gets fun. Just like the big grin that spreads across the kids' face when they realize that they can balance their bike and it's even more fun than ever, when we experience Life After Training Wheels, we never go back. Let's follow God on this journey so we too can experience Life After Training Wheels."

I was so impressed with this article that I did not even think like an editor as I read it. I hope you are equally blessed. mla

Friday, October 21, 2011

Life After Training Wheels

Today we were discussing the upcoming stewardship "drive". The talk revolved around what Scriptures teach concerning that dreaded word, "the tithe" and our experiences with tithing. People who know us well remember that one of the first question we asked each other when we got engaged was whether the other tithed and for how long. It never occurred to us during the lean years (and there were quite a few) to "scale back our giving." We just ramped up our stewardship. Interestingly, those years taught us that we were hanging onto a lot of things we didn't need. It also taught us a lot of lessons about managing money we'd never dreamed of before.

Someone mentioned the verse that says, "Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also." It reminded me of a neighbor we once had. He was a computer guru on the night shift for some Fortune 500 company on the other side of town from our little bedroom community. One night while he was at work, his house caught fire. His wife grabbed the three boys and ran to a neighbor's home to call the fire department and her husband. When she reached her husband, "Our house is burning to the ground! Please come home!"

He asked, "Are you and the boys ok?" She assured him they were and he, in turn, assured her he was on his way.

He arrived almost an hour later as the whole neighborhood watched the last of their earthly goods smolder. After he had hugged his family and reassured them, he stood quietly hugging his boys and watched. I told him how sorry we were for his loss. He nodded mutely. I said something inane about how quickly he must have driven the distance from his work. His countenance glowed as he turned and said, "Oh, there was no need to endanger anyone. My wife had already told me all my treasures were safe." Then, he quoted the Scripture.

Within an hour, the neighborhood had put together two sets of clothes and two toys for each child plus one set of clothes for the parents. They had a place to stay and were grateful that the wife had not yet driven her car into the garage for the night. We shared together, his wife and he and David and, our common trust in the Lord to provide all our needs and got to meet a brother and sister in Christ we hadn't known before as they assured us of their confidence in the Lord Jesus to provide all our needs. He reminded us of Malachi 3:10.

After I had shared this story, the discussion then led to the fact that none of us had ever met a "reformed tither," that is someone who had once tried tithing for several months but then had quite. I compared that to putting training wheels back on a bicycle after you had mastered the art of balancing on just two wheels. The talk then shifted to people who start out "giving" two per cent with the intention of getting to a full tithe but don't quite make it there. One person likened that stage of giving to riding with training wheels....the longer you depend on them, the longer it will be before you remove them.

We talked about the Apostle Peter and how he stepped out of the boat to walk on water. He did just fine until he started to consider the circumstances his natural eyes beheld. As soon as he took his eyes off Jesus, he started to sink. The same is true of tithing. So long as we wait until our natural eyes can "see our way clear" to giving the whole tithe; the longer it will be before we give in faith. Peter gets bad rap for starting to sink, but remember the other eleven never even tried! They stayed in the boat and missed a blessing.

When I think of tithing, strangely enough I think of the Psalm which says,"Seek ye first the Lord and He will give you all the desires of your heart." What it doesn't specifically say is if we live for the Lord "without training wheels", the desires of our heart will so totally change that He will not have to violate His Holiness to give those desires to us.

Life without training wheels is sweet. Praise the Lord.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Figures don't lie but liars figure."

An old saying by mathematicians and statisticians

Scripture says we should test for truth everything we are told. Thomas Sowell makes the same argument in his book "Economic Facts and Fallacies." A large segment of the book demonstrates how the mass media manipulates statistics in ways that misstate the true situation.

The example that most caught my eye was the one in which we are told that income for "average household" has declined during the past ten years. Here's a simple description of how that "statistic" can lead us away from the true state of affairs.

We must start with the reminder that an average is an artificial mathematical construct to explain the range between high and low within a given set. For the purposes of simplification, we'll illustrate by starting with a single household. In this household are four people: two parents and two teenagers. The two parents are employed full time, the teens each have part time jobs.

Dad earns $30,000 a year

Mom earns $30,000 a year

Teen 1 earns $ 6,000 a year

Teen 2 earns $ 6,000 a year

Total $72,000 a year

The total earnings are then divided by the number of households: 1. Thus the average household earnings for this set are $72,000.00.

Ten years pass by. Now, Mom and Dad have gotten increases in pay and both teens are grown up, fully employed and are on their own. Having gotten a place of their own, each of the teens now becomes a household of their own.

In household 1: Dad earns $40,000

Mom earns $40,000

Total $80,000

In household 2: T1 earns $30,000

In household 3: T2 earns $30,000

Total earnings for all three households is $140,000.

To find the average income of the three households, we divide $140,000 by 3.

Answer: $36,666.67.

Even though all four members of the original household are each earning more than they did ten years prior, the average household earnings are smaller because there are more households and thus a larger divisor when the average is calculated.

The more accurate and honest comparison would have been the average income for each of the individuals rather than comparing by households. BUT, to compare individual incomes would have revealed the fact that incomes within households have increased during the past ten years.

The same media that brought you this odious fraudulent comparison also told you that the "average worker" has not had a pay increase in ten years. That, too, is a fallacious statement. There is no single "average worker." Remember that an "average worker" is a mathematical construct. It's not a person.

Dr. Sowell also points out that when elitists talk about the differences between the poor and the rich, they use some subtlety there as well. Usually, they will compare the "income" of the poor to the "wealth" of the rich: like comparing eggs and onions and calling them eggions. The income of the poor does not take into account any government subsidies like food stamps, WICK programs, subsidized housing or Medicaid, all of which provide value to their daily lives. Certainly, there are differences between the incomes of each but if one group's cash income is being compared to the other's assets, we have eggions.

All this is to say we need to guard our minds against deceptions whether they deceiver intends to mislead or is simply too ignorant of basic mathematics to make mathematically correct comparisons.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Catching Up

This summer and fall have been very interesting.

Last summer we began an experiment in couponing. Our church offered a class in strategic couponing as part of our stewardship program. We originally enrolled because we wanted to encourage the teachers. The framework is to change the scheduling of purchase planning. Instead of buying what you need as you run out of something, we buy what we will need for the stores' six week merchandising schedules. Doing that allows us to combine buy-one-get-one-free offers with manufacturers' coupons and store coupons.

Neither of us was convinced we would really save money doing this so we saved all our tapes from the four stores we used during the three months' trial period. The first five weeks, we found we spent a little more than usual but we hung on for the full three months we had promised ourselves we would. Now, we are entering our seventeenth week. The first time I brought home $48.00 worth of merchandise for less than $5.00 made us think it might just work for us.

Taking all the tapes and entering the totals each of spent and savings, I entered them on a spreadsheet at the end of four months. Then, I averaged each column for the four months' period. We have actually reduced our household spending (groceries, cleaning, paper, grooming, dietary supplements and non-VA prescription drugs) by one-third. During that time, we actually had one week during which we spent zero, one we bought milk, yogurt and bananas, and one in which we spent $.68.

The hardest part was learning the rules each of the stores uses and the schedules. The next challenge was to organize the coupons an weekly ads. Figuring out how much we need to get us to the next sales' offers on that item was also interesting. David and I are agreed that it is worth the hour and a half a week it takes. We already had a system for making grocery lists (whoever uses the next to the last of any item writes it on the white board in the kitchen) so all we have to do is match the list to the best offer. If that week's best offer is not THE best, we simply work around that item until it's available at THE best price. It's actually quite a challenge....and fun.

The second interesting thing was the thirteen week Financial Peace University class. It's a money management/stewardship series by Dave Ramsey. Tomorrow is our last class. It, too, has been interesting. More than learning new "tricks", we learned why what we have been doing for years works so well. We did pick up some tips on investment strategies and learned the investment instruments we used in the past were quite well chosen. The small groups have given us the opportunity to get to know some people really well.

The third interesting thing is the series of things we've gotten involved in at our church (aside from the two stewardship activities). David has gotten involved in delivering flowers to and visiting with shut-ins (like he did previously when I had a cutting garden). He also takes people to doctors' appointments. His first time, he took a man "to a doctor's appointment" only to have it turn into a 7 hour experience.

The man got there and his doctor told him he needed chemotherapy. They (while David sat in the waiting room) called the son in St. Louis and got approval. No one thought to tell David. Finally, he asked the receptionist who told him he had plenty of time to get something to eat. The man was quite incoherent when they started home so David still didn't know the son had approved it.

David was worried that he had somehow taken him to the wrong doctor and obligated the man's family to an expense they weren't prepared for. The lady in charge of the program called him later and told him the so had approved. David, with his caring spirit, was still concerned so I started teasing him.

"Well, Sugie, just be glad he didn't have an ingrown toenail. You might have treated him to an amputation." We laughed until we had tears rolling down our cheeks and were choking. It got worse from there.

I'm still working at the church office one day a week though I've had a couple of projects which took much more time than that. In addition, I'm on the school board for our church's pre-school and the scholarship committee there. That, too, has allowed me to get to know some people a lot better.

The last interesting thing that happened this fall was a visit with Akira's oldest son and his family. When we went to Japan the last time, Chris and Aya scheduled their religious ceremony for the time during our visit. It meant having a much smaller ceremony (Aya's dad's family is very large so it was to e expected that they might have a very large wedding). The custom is for a couple to marry at City Hall in a civic ceremony like a business contract. Then, they live with parents until they can save enough money to have a religious ceremony. It's not unusual for them to have children by the time they have the religious ceremony.

Chris and Aya were in The States for two weeks. They brought their two babies (2 yrs and 5 months, respectively). They met us in Orlando where we spent two nights and three days or parts thereof. The babies were amazing! They had only seen or heard us on SKYPE and yet they were totally at home with us from the very first! Despite traveling for four or five days, they were relaxed and joyous. We kept the baby with us while they took the older one to Disney World. It was wonderful!!

So, we've had an interesting summer and fall and a busy one! We don't mind. We have the time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I recently had an epiphany about God's Plan for our lives. I won't tell you every detail but it compared it to the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. At first glance to the men in the crows nest that night the giant iceberg looked like three small detached icebergs (because they had only their natural vision and no binoculars). By the time the ship got close enough for them to realize it was one mammoth iceberg, it was too late to change course.

Now, icebergs are about 7/8 under water...with only 1/8 showing above the water. That smaller part which is showing is like the part of God's Plan we can see with our natural eyes. The larger part of His Plan is all the arrangements He had to make beyond our natural vision so we could see that part which is visible "above the water of our unknowing."

I am also reminded that all the extraordinary people we have met and all the fascinating places we have visited and all the incredible experiences we have had began after we stepped out of our comfort zone. None of these events in our lives would have happened had we remained in Rome as we wanted to. But, God intervened. He first "invited" us to leave and then He "nudged" us to leave. Soon after that, we had no recourse but to leave and that's when it got exciting!

As we were discussing these sorts of things in our weekly Bible study, I used the analogy of the ferry. At first, it's just a wee little speck on the distant horizon. Then, as it draws nearer to port, it looms larger and larger. It comes up to the docking area and it's just fascinating to watch the pilot turn that huge thing around in what, compared to the Sound, is a bathtub.

One of our Bible study members is a lifelong sailor (as in real sailboats). He pointed out that most of the stability of a sailing vessel is under water. The ballast is there. The keel is there. The rudder is there. The sails which are above the water provide speed and direction but what keeps the boat afloat is below the surface of the water.

Perhaps that's true of God's Plan for our lives. We see just the part that contributes speed and direction but the stability, the safety factor if you will, is provided beyond our immediate sight. So, when things get tough and the seas get choppy, it's helpful to remember where our ballast is.

These two parallel understandings have kept down the angst over the years as doors have opened before us as others closed behind us. Someday, we will see the whole pattern but, for now, we're quite content with what has been revealed. As our former pastor says, "Truth is like throwing fruit at a barn door. You can't miss it but the splat you make will never cover the entire subject."

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Slavery of Debt

Proverbs 22:7 "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."

To be enslaved is to lose control over one's life, to lose the freedom to make choices. Unfortunately, during the past three decades, endebtedness has gained a respectability it does not deserve. It began back in the days when business schools taught, "Greed is good." And, greed became the standard of success. It was "smart" to laugh and say, "He who dies with the most toys wins."

The truth is he who dies with the most toys is still dead and the legacy he leaves behind will surely not honor God if acquisition has become his god.

Think of all the advertisements you have ever seen which promoted credit cards. Did even a single one promote thrift? Self-discipline? Selflessness. Of course not! Why not? Thrift and self-discipline, and selflessness honor God, not man. These attributes are a product of stewardship over selfishness.

Did even a single one of those advertisements show the user/abuser's sleepless nights or family arguments which arise from being head-over-heels in debt, the day to day uncertainty? No, not one.

Did any of those billboards or promotional mailers show the cardholder's loss of credibility when he or she had to declare bankruptcy when they couldn't repay what they had borrowed? No.

Have you noticed that borrowers were called "card holders," "clients," or "buyers?" They weren't called debtors or borrowers much less slaves. One financier said recently, "The borrower is king." Ask yourself what slave is a king.

The two real estate bubbles I have been aware of during my adult years have been characterized by an insatiable materialism. As prices rose on homes, so did the "creative lending practices." Things like balloon notes, adjustable rate mortgages, second and even third mortgages on brand new homes purchased by first time homeowners. Prospective "buyers" got into bidding wars in which prices rose far above the actual value or even replacement cost of the property. Once the buyers moved in, there were a hundred more "things we need to buy to complete the dream:" furniture, draperies, appliances, a new car to reflect properly on the new home. Many forgot to provide for insurance or taxes or maintenance and were foreclosed on because they did not fulfill these basic requirements of the lender. Satan does not disguise himself as the Prince of Darkness. He is the Prince of Darkness and the "things we need to buy" are just additional chains with which to enslave us.

When David and I married, we set a goal to be debtfree within fifteen years. By the Grace of God and His Provision, we were debtfree in seven. It changed the way we looked at the world. We have literally saved tens of thousands of dollars in interest which we have been able to invest in the lives of others. We've been able to sleep at night. We're not reluctant to answer the door or the phone. We don't dread opening the mail.

In Jeremiah 29:11, we find, "For I know the plans I have for you"--this is the Lord's declaration--"plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."

That future, that hope do not include voluntary slavery to anything or anyone but the Lord.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tests, Trials and Tribulations

I have come to an understanding that there is a difference between tests, trials, and tribulations. (ref James 1:1-18). I would like to share that understanding and would appreciate your response. Perhaps I'm mistaken. Maybe you have had experiences that illustrate some of this understanding or even refute it.

First, a test is a temporary assessment of knowledge base (both mental and spiritual). For almost twenty years with students from preschool through doctoral programs, I started each new class with an explanation of the purpose and value of testing. Tests are not punishments. Tests are mini-revelations of what the student has learned so far and what they still need to learn.

In my undergraduate program, I had a class on Piagetian theory of child development which made so much sense in light of what I had experienced with young children that I became like a sponge. I wanted to learn all I could. I entered the final exam with a class average of 100. The final exam had 200 items on it. When the grades were posted, I realized I had missed two items so I called the prof to ask for an appointment. She was amazed but she generously made the appointment. She invested 45 minutes of her time to explain to me how I had missed the items and how better to recognize the two elements when I saw them in a child's behavior. Five years after my graduation, I saw her again and stopped to remind her of our conversation. I reported to her that one of those items I missed on the test I had seen in a child I taught. Had she not spent that time with me, I would have been less equipped to meet that one child's needs.

I share this to relate its relevance to our spiritual life. If we "miss" some item in our spiritual testing and do not recognize the error, we are subject to repeat it. Sometimes, we think we have learned a spiritual truth only to find ourselves facing a trial which requires a firmer grasp of the miss we had in our testing.

Secondly, James assures us in verse two that we will experience "various trials" that will include testing. He says "Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (vv2-3). As we look at this verse, we can understand that trials are a prolonged testing (I think of this as practice and retesting) intended to produce endurance.

In secular terms, these would confirm that the original testing (temporary assessment of knowledge base) challenges whether we have a head knowledge of the concept. Trials, then, would logically test whether we have an application base. Can we use the facts we know? I may know all the basic facts of mathematics but be unable to make a practical application. For example, is I don't realize that percentages and decimals and fractions all are expressions of division of the whole of something; I will be able to calculate problems someone else provides me but will not be able to apply those to real life situations.

Lastly, endurance through the trials prepares us to face the temptations which God allows us to experience. That does not mean that God tempts us. Look at vv 12-15. God knows our nature and He knows the nature of Satan. James says (v 14) that each of us is tempted when all of three things happens:
(a) we are drawn away
(b) we are enticed by our own evil desires
(c) our desires conceive sin.

The most incredible example of this is King David. He first was "drawn away" from the battles his army was fighting to seek comfort in his palace instead of staying with his armies. Then, he "happened" to see Bethsheba as she bathed. Instead of avoiding the sight, he sought it out and his voyeurism matured into not one but two evil plans. The first was to deceive the husband about the king's child which she was carrying. The second was to kill the husband. David later repented of his sin and bore the consequences in a way that honored God. How much easier it would have been to resist the temptation in the first place.

Jesus, in the wilderness, provided us with the perfect example of how to deal with temptation. By focusing His Attention on His Father's Word and Will; Jesus resisted both the tools Satan uses to tempt us.

All the way back to Adam and Eve, Satan used the same two tools he uses today: Satan's deceit and our desire. In Eve's case, Satan led her to doubt God's Word to them (Gen 3). He began with, "Did God really say?" He started with making her doubt her memory of what God had said. Then, he led her to doubt God's Motives. "God knows when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." There's just enough truth in that statement to make her doubt God's Motives. So she succumbed to her own doubt of God's Faithfulness.

The second tool Satan uses is the persuasion of our own desires. "Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom." As I read that verse and the next, the three desires the woman would use with Adam were very clear (good to look at, good to taste and source of wisdom). Scripture just said "she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it." This is the same husband who had also been instructed not to eat it so it's possible to believe that the persuasion of desire was an adequate tool to get him to eat.

We're no different today.

Several years ago, there was a comedian whose most famous line was "The Devil made me do it." I cannot read his heart so I don't know his purpose in using that line. I do know that the Devil has no power to "make us do" anything that we do not want to do. We were given free will. Sometimes we use it. Sometimes we abuse it. But, my understanding is that tests of our faith are the first step after conversion to prepare us for the temptations which God's enemy will deliver to us. The second step in preparing us to overcome temptations is trials which produce endurance to resist Satan's deceits and our own willful desires.

God allowed Satan to tempt His Only Son. Matt 4:1 "Then, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

But, God provided His Son with His Word to rebuke Satan and we are assured that He still provides us with the means to overcome deceit and desire.

I Cor 10:13 "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it."

Although we will experience testing, trials, and temptation, God is there every step of the way and He has good reason for providing us with the testing and trials and allowing us to be tempted. Every athlete knows that to win the marathon (life), it's not enough to know how to run. We must build endurance as well so; when the race continues to challenge us, we are prepared.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Old Dogs and New Tricks

“Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older
When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday
When they were small?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days…”

These lyrics from Fiddler on the Roof explain the whole phenomena of old dogs and new tricks.

This is really a kudo to David who taught me a thing or two this week. He, who is computer phobic, got excited about our cable company’s latest gizmo. He dutifully ordered the boxes for the new Xfinity and, when they arrived, he was anxious to get them installed. I wanted to wait until the beginning of the next week, thinking it might take some time to get the cable company to do their part. Ok! So, maybe I was just engaging in avoidance behavior but I had my excuse ready!

He sat down with the instructions (something most of us do not do) and began methodically to study them. He went into the guest room to apply what he had learned. A surprisingly short while later he returned to announce that he had “installed” the box and now I need only to program the remote. While I’m hardly computer phobic, programming a new remote is the quickest way to strike fear in my heart. We came to an agreement which filled me with dread for the entire weekend.

Monday morning, we proceeded through installing the boxes on the other two tvs and the dread deadline arrived: programming the remotes. We called the cable company and wallowed through the process with the help of an incredibly gracious young woman. And, voila, it was accomplished without either of us pulling any hair from ourselves or others. So, what was all the fuss about?

Old dogs and new tricks. That’s what.

We are created to derive comfort from routines and established habits. As long as those are not interrupted, we don’t notice small changes. The hair turns white one gray hair at a time. The wrinkles evolve from "laugh lines." We don't notice the small changes until one day, we look in the mirror and our facade has changed. We're still the same inside. Only the outward appearance has changed. Or, so we think.

Major changes we resist without recognizing that they are really just an accumulation of minor changes. David is a lover of major change. I resist. I am a lover of minor changes. He seldom notices. We’re a ying and yang of change. Together, as our friends in Mississippi loved to say, we “get ‘er done.” One longterm friend used to tease me and say that between us, David and I could make a complete sentence. As we grow older, I find we don’t always need to complete the sentence with each other. It’s almost like a code

I’ve noticed among our older friends that the ones who are still young at heart are the ones who embrace change. They do not fear it. As John Grayson likes to say, “The majority of what we fear never even happens.” I pray he is right! As we approach another “ought” year (60 and 70 respectively), I find myself wondering how we will handle this problem or that crisis if it should occur. As I pray about these imagined difficulties, I return to the same place: God is still in control and He is still God.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tithes and offerings: What is our obligation?

"Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings." - Mal.3:8

Many, today, question whether today’s Christians are obligated to tithe. What settled that question for me (in my teens) was the fact that Jesus honored the tithe and the temple tax. If He felt He should be obedient in these things, so should I. Each of us has to settle that between us and the Lord.

So, first, I would want to share what I know and what I believe about tithing and making offerings. They are not the same. John Clark, Sr starts his pamphlet Tithes & Offerings thusly: “There is a distinct difference between tithes and offerings. They are mentioned separately throughout the Bible, even though the Lord required both to be brought to Him.”…

“Offerings are gifts brought to God beyond the tithes. The tithe was always ten percent of one’s increase, but with certain offerings, God gave His people some discretion as to the amount or number of offerings to bring. Their financial situation in life and the depth of their zeal for God was shown by their choices concerning offerings. Here are some of the offerings that God instituted in Israel for the people to bring to His servants.”…

Several years ago, a neighbor and I were discussing a church service which he had not attended. This particular neighbor had been our pastor until his retirement and we thoroughly enjoyed the company of him and his wife. I made the mistake of relating something that had happened during the offering. I used the term collection rather than the traditional Anglican term of offering. He chided me saying offering was the proper term. I responded that, according to what I knew of offerings and tithes, no offering was possible until all tithes were “collected.” He challenged me to “go home and find the Bible support for that.” I did. A few months later, he was rejoicing in a sermon he had preached as an interim pastor on the difference between tithes and offerings. He had passed the teaching on as I would like to do with you.

The tithe or “first fruits of your labors would refer to today’s income. Many ask, “Should I tithe on the gross or the net?” My understanding of that question is a reluctance to restrict the tenth as much as possible. Many will ask, “Do you want to be blessed on the net or the gross?” I’m not comfortable with that either. The “first fruits” says to me, before anything else is taken out.

A major difference between tithes and offerings is this. The tithe is a minimum obligation which must be paid regardless of any other circumstance. Only two of the offerings have the same sense of mandatory participation: the sin offering and the guilt offering. The three voluntary offerings are for surrender and thanksgiving.

The offerings in Leviticus (starting with Chapter 1) were for different purposes. The burnt offering represents giving the best of our best, complete surrender of our best. The unblemished livestock may be comparable today with an unblemished lifestyle which will give testimony to our children of our commitment to God. (That’s just my idea of how to translate this offering into today’s lifestyle.)

The second is the grain offering which, again, is voluntary but testifies to our thanksgiving for the fruits of our labors. It is an announcement of our gratitude that God has done exactly what He said He would. He has blessed us “pressed down and overflowing” (Mal 3:10).
Next is the Fellowship offering (also called peace offering). This offering is a symbol of our fellowship with Almighty God, maybe comparable to wearing a wedding ring to remind us and others of our vow. It signifies gratitude for a specific blessing or symbolizes a vow we have made to God.

Then, there is the mandatory sin offering (also called the purification offering though the offering itself does not purify us). This offering was made when someone had sinned unintentionally against another and is the representation that that sin has been atoned for, that relationship restored insofar as the sinner was able to do.

The mandatory guilt offering was made when a person had deprived another of his rights, that is had taken advantage of him knowingly, willingly or had desecrated something that was holy. Examples might include using false claims to knowingly sell someone something which was other than you claimed it to be. Another example might be the violation of marriage vows.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Six Steps to Purity

Back in 1988, I read a book called Discipline and Discovery by Albert E. Day. He offered six steps to purity which he discussed in some detail. I summarized his ideas and wrote them on one of the blank pages in the front of my Bible. They were such good reminders that I transferred them to the next four Bibles I owned. Here they are.

First: Avoid anything which lowers your inhibitions. It doesn't matter whether that is a substance, a place, a situation, or a person. Avoid anything which entices you to act in a manner you should not.

Second: Set a watch on the door of your eyes. One of the examples I remember tied to this one was King David as he watched Bathsheba. The first time he saw her was an accident (wrong place, wrong time) but he continued to return to watch her bathe.

Third: Guard your imagination. Thinking about how situations might develop to put you into a particular situation opens a floodgate of thoughts over which your inhibitions have little control.

Fourth: Do not run toward temptation. Scripture tells us to avoid temptation, to "resist the Devil". Instead we sometimes head toward temptation instead of turning away. It's what mothers used to call the "bad boy syndrome" when Christian girls were attracted to boys who were obviously not engaged in living for the Lord.

Fifth: Restrain your indulgent curiousity. No sin can ever gain control if we do not "try it just once." I can remember, as a young person, being told that there were untold thousands of potential alchoholics who had never drank even once. But, I was told, had they ever "tried it just once," they would have had difficulty resisting further use.

Lastly: Let your thoughts dwell on what TO DO, not what you should not do. For many years (despite Philippians 4:8), I did not understand this. Then, as I trained to be a teacher, we learned that making rules in the positive (that is: the expected behavior) made it much more likely they would not be broken.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable--if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise--dwell on these things."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Star Parker: Another of my Heroes

Star Parker has gone from drug user on welfare to successful independent columnist. She describes welfare not as compassion but as a "lie that poor people are poor because rich people are rich." She calls Uncle Sam "cruel to the poor" and calls welfare an "addiction." She accuses the War on Poverty as the root to the disintegration of the black family. Hear her story. Read her book "Uncle Sam's Plantation."

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Internet

It's obvious I enjoy the web! I Facebook, email, and blog.

Recently, I read a book called Overconnected: The promise and the threat of the Internet by William H. Davidow. I highly recommend it.

It's not just about the web. Instead, the premise is that the web is just the latest of "connecters" starting with railroads (newspapers, television, interstate highways, airlines). All have reduced the isolation of our daily interactions: social, financial and political.

Check it out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Watchmaker

This is so beautiful.

Lessons from Extreme Couponing

Last night, I watched Extreme Couponing for the third or fourth time. You may have, too.

The premise of the show is that there are people (so far I've only seen women) who spend 20-40 hours a week clipping and collecting coupons. They develop elaborate filing systems which culminate in shopping trips where the the grocery in the hundreds of dollars. By the time the store deducts all their coupons for the products they've bought, their "purchases" are either free or negligible in cost. Last night, one example had a $1,200 total but the woman paid less than $50 and almost crashed the checkout computer.

These same women also have pantries the size of an average bedroom with shelves to the ceiling around the parameter of the room and in rows in the center. One of last night's ladies bragged of 60 boxes of cake mix...enough to bake birthday cakes for her six immediate family members for years...long past the expiration dates on the packages.

The first time I watched the show, I felt almost lazy that I, too, was not couponing to this degree. After all, frugality is a virtue but is it frugality to buy 40 bottles of hot sauce because the coupon is $1.00 off plus the store doubling that amount? The next couple of times, I felt a vague unease. Last night, I realized why and these are the lessons I took away from this experience.

FIRST, this is a form of hoarding. Maybe, at the level these ladies are collecting all these products, it is not yet to the level of illness but it definitely shares some characteristics. Their couponing has changed their lifestyle to accommodate the "rush" they admit to experiencing. Some reported feeling "uncomfortable" if they are unable to use a coupon they have collected in their file. Another described a warm secure feeling she got knowing she could provide for her family and friends from her "stash".

SECOND lesson: their buying patterns are dictated, directly or indirectly, by advertising. I noticed they use several different brands of toothpaste, cleaning products, etc. They have bought into the notion that everyone in the household needs a different brand of grooming products and every cleaning task requires a different cleaning product. We see the same influence when someone says, "Oh, you have to see this movie!" or "You can't miss this t.v. show!" or "I only wear X brand of shoes!" They have allowed someone whom they've never seen face to face dictate their choices.

THIRD: the food products they are buying are usually processed foods: mixes, carbonated drinks, etc. The food products are seldom milk, meat, or fresh fruits and vegetables. I have not seen one yet who showed you a filled freezer. I have yet, in fact, seen a single one stop in the produce department of the store or the butchered meat department. The next biggest group they are buying are cleaning products, one for each task. One lady admitted to buying a certain cleaning product she gives away because the coupon when doubled pays for something she really wants. And, I haven't even discussed the snacks and candies, what we in our family call "junk food."

FOURTH: the rush they feel is always about how they got "something for nothing". That's very different from reducing the price of a purchase you would have made from need by using a coupon or even waiting for double coupon day. Yes, they have spent many hours collecting and collating their coupons and planning their shopping and that's work. But, the end goal was how to get something for nothing. One lady was very proud of having bought so many sports drinks (400 for a family of six) that she had to call the store ahead to be sure they had them on hand. The store had double coupon day. The drinks were $1.49; her coupon was for a $1.00 so for every drink she bought, the store was "paying" her $.51.

LASTLY: I was reminded of a sermon preached by Jim Speed in the early 1980s. He was preaching on the topic of the first Commandment. "The Lord God is one God and thou shall have no other gods before Him." He defined worship of other gods as allowing anything or anyone else to have first priority in our lives. He told the story of the man who bought a very expensive piece of art to celebrate his success. Because the art work was worth tens of thousands of dollars, he then had to insure it. The insurance company required he install a house safe and an alarm system and rent a safe deposit box for when he was going out of town. Then, he found himself being very uncomfortable when people beyond the family members were in the house.

Finally, when he found himself being uncomfortable when the meter reader or the pool cleaner were on the grounds; he sold the art piece. It had become his god. Jim's point was that anything which requires a massive lifestyle change to sustain that article or activity, we are verging on idol worship. I'm not accusing these ladies of idol worship but their behaviors reminded me of a sermon I heard thirty years ago.

My final conclusion was that I am one of those persons for whom extreme couponing could easily become a serious personality problem if not a sin.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Another of My Heroes

Tonight I had a phone call from the daughter of a long time friend who is one of my heroes. My friend died six months ago so this was one of those sad/happy moments. Raquel and I shared memories of her mom and it was a good time together.

After we hung up, as I was telling David of our conversation, he and I began reminiscing about Mardi. After he went to bed (I being the nightowl), I began to think of all the things she taught me. These are just five.

First, she taught me acceptance. When things were going badly, she would smile broadly and say, "Well, it is what it is." No matter how frustrating the situation, "It is what it is" seemed to soften the blow. We each suffered quite a few blows that needed softening. One of the worst of those was when she called to tell me she had terminal cancer. "It is what it is" was not nearly enough to soften that blow. In usual Mardi fashion she admonished me, "Don't start throwing dirt on me til I quit breathing. We're all dying from the moment we're born. I intend to enjoy every breath I have left." And she did.

Secondly, she taught me perseverance. We worked together for a number of years. At one point, we had a manager who was exemplary in his talent for proclaiming the worst oxymorons as though they were divine truth. This unusual talent made for some very uncomfortable moments during staff meetings. That is, until Mardi adjusted my perspective.
As we walked out of one such meeting (I fuming with eyes rolling), Mardi waved her arms up and down like a bird trying to catch an updraft. "Like a flock of eagles, we shall rise above it."
From that moment on, all it took to calm us was for the other one to flap our hands ever so briefly. Then, the problem became keeping a straight face. Thanks to Mardi, I have risen far more miles than I have flown.

A third thing she taught me was the value of maintaining presence. She had a rare gift for entering a room (regardless of whether she had left just moments before, months or even years before) and resuming conversation as naturally as though she had never left. She moved away from Rome before I did but, for several years, returned each year for Christmas. The third year she did so, we promised never to buy a Christmas present for each other again. Why? That was the third year in a row that she in Miami and I in Rome had bought each other the identical present. Instead, ever after that, we bought ourselves a present from the other. Then, a day or so before Christmas, I would call her (or she me) and tell her (or she me) what she "had gotten me" for Christmas (or I her). It was our own private joke. We saved a lot of postage over the years!

Another thing she taught me was sharing. We shared griefs and joys and even the times of "still water". When we had a windfall, however small, we would share it with the other. I still remember an instance a few months after David and I moved to Atlanta. Finances were strained to say the least. Mardi had a windfall and she sent me a check with instructions that every penny must be spent on myself. It took a couple of weeks for me to decide what to buy for myself. One thing was a Hershey with almonds. Another: a bag of tropical trail mix. I think I also bought a skirt. But, the real prize was a clock I still have although I've had to replace the mechanism twice. It is in the shape of a teapot. That brown teapot shaped clock is in my group of things for Josh to have when I am gone. It reminds me of the kind of sharing that only love between friends can offer.

The fifth thing she taught me that I will share in this posting was how big a hole is left in one's life when a good friend dies. The heart remains enlarged by that friend but there is a friend-sized hole left in one's life.

It is what it is.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Terrorist Dies

As we listened and watched the news last night that Osama (I refuse to use the new politically correct spelling of Usama) bin Laden had died, we were stunned. As great a shock was the sight of people rejoicing at the death of another human being.

Even though OBL was a terrorist, he was still a human being. Although he was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people and, perhaps, indirectly responsible for tens of thousands of others; he was still a man. He was a man created in God's Image, granted free will by his Creator to choose how to fill the "God-sized hole" that is a part of us all. We are told in Scripture that God prefers that "no man perish" but that all would have fellowship eternally with God the Father, Jesus Christ His Only Son, and with The Holy Spirit...the Triune God.

OBL chose poorly. He surrendered his chance for eternal life (not my judgment but God's) by living for a cleverly counterfeited religion which used the names of genuine Biblical characters. He used his fortune to bring death to many and terror to even more.

In his last moments, it is possible that his heart changed and he asked for forgiveness. His actions do not indicate that. It saddens me that he died without Christ. It does not sadden me that he personally will no longer be able to take the lives of others or to influence others to do so.

A terrorist has died.

Our military performed its duty meticulously, honorably, and bravely, even offering to this terrorist one last opportunity to surrender and live. It is to their honor that the offer was made to one responsible for the deaths of comrades of theirs. The contrast is stark. Even more stark is their giving a proper burial at sea to a man whose followers, on more than one occasion, have violated the corpses of their victims. Again, the contrast is incredible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Peter gets a bad rap

Matthew 14:22-33 (New International Version, ©2011)

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peter is usually criticized for his moments of doubt but I think he gets a bad rap.

First, notice that the disciples first thought Jesus was a ghost when they saw Him walking on the water. Peter, on the other hand, immediately credited the Jesus he knew for having the power to walk on water. He wants to join Jesus and, in effect, asks Jesus for permission. Jesus says, "Come."

Peter does just fine as long as he trusts his spiritual eyes. It's only when his natural eyes notice the wind that he began to fear.

Jesus nails the problem! "Why did you doubt?" In other words, "Why did you start to trust your natural vision more than you trusted My Power?"

But, what about the other disciples? They never trusted Jesus enough even to stand up in the boat, let alone step out to meet Jesus!

That's why I think Peter gets a bad rap. But, maybe, the real reason is I see so much of Peter in myself. We've all been there. We've started out doing something we really believe the Lord has laid out for us to do. As long as we trust Jesus for our strength and direction, we do great. Things go well. Then, we start to think we're in charge and things start to unravel!

Even so, there is no shame in failing if you have given it your best shot as Peter did. The shame is failing for lack of trying.

Notice what happens after Jesus rebukes Peter's lack of faith. The Scripture says "...when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped Him saying, Truly you are the Son of God." Jesus used Peter's sagging faith to draw the other disciples to worship Jesus and to confess His True Identity! So, He can use the rest of us Peters! There's hope for me in all my Peter moments.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


As I pondered last night, I remembered a Sunday School teacher I had in high school more than fifty years ago. Rayford Hall and his wife had taught teenagers in that church for decades. They each had a gift for bringing The Word into our everyday lives.

Once we studied the nature of God. Rayford taught us that God is lawful, orderly, and rational.

He is lawful in that there is a pattern to His Law. To every action, there is a consequence. Those consequences form a pattern that is concise even when the timing of the consequence to the action is not immediate. A ball tossed into the air will return to the ground as gravity impacts it. A sin will blot the fellowship we have with God. We can change the time it takes the ball to hit the ground by how high and hard we throw it. By the blood of Christ and His Sacrifice for us, we can change the length of time a sin inhibits our fellowship with God by how long it takes us to recognize, confess and repent of it. Nevertheless, the consequence is there and He paid the price. That's true in nature as well as in our fellowship with God.

The orderliness of God can be seen in His Creation. The basic pattern of every part of His Creation remains unchanged across the centuries unless man imposes his will on the creation. The patterns allow us to identify what "family" (species) a plant, animal, or mineral belongs to. The pattern of daisy flowers, for example, is different from the pattern of tulips. Even their leaves, stems, bulbs or roots form a pattern that is distinguishable from others.

God is rational in that He is logical, not capricious. For example, look at the Ten Commandments. They start with "Thou shalt have no other gods before me". God created us with a "God-sized hole" in each of us that only fellowship with Him can fill. The Commandments then progress to the prohibition against worshipping graven images. Interestingly, even pagans who have never heard of Christ have a "God-sized hole" which they try to fill....with images they produce. God then progresses to telling us ways in which we can worship Him, starting with setting aside a particular day (the Sabbath).
From there, He went on to behaviors that affect our relationships with each other.

It is important to recognize the difference between patterns and habits. Patterns are the distinguishing features within habits. Even good habits can have poorly designed patterns. For example, offering the traditional "Good Morning" greeting to someone can become a poor habit if the distinguishing feature is not real concern for them. Attending church regularly without the distinguishing feature of fellowship with God during the week can become corrupted. Obedience to parents to escape punishment does not have the distinguishing feature of respect for authority.

Patterns in our schedules and the activities in those schedules reflect our priorities. They mark us as either belonging to Christ or not. They also reduce our uncertainty in perilous times. I appreciate the time and effort that Rayford and his wife invested in teaching us to examine the patterns of our lives.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Daily Consolation

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

There is tremendous consolation during every frustration (from burning supper to losing a job) in knowing God has lovingly made a Divine Plan for my life and that Plan is meant for "good and not for evil" (as one translation phrases it). From the loss of a "best friend" in elementary school to the death of a sweetheart in high school to loss of a child in early adulthood to the massive heart attack of a husband; one thing was certain. God was still in charge and He still had a Plan which would benefit me, drawing me into ever closer fellowship. How incredible!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To God Be the Glory

"To God be the Glory" is one of my favorite songs.

I especially like Andrea Crouch's version (click on below).

Sometimes when we give Glory to God, it's for the things He's done for us in answer to prayer. As I listened tonight to these words, it occurred to me that there are equally as many things I asked for that He chose not to do or chose to do much later in life.

One of the things He chose to delay, for example, was providing me with the opportunity to own a classic Porsche. Most likely, if I had had one when I was young, I would have had a monstrous wreck. I did not have the maturity to handle that much horsepower. By the time I had the opportunity, I was mature enough to realize I didn't need that much horsepower. And, I could walk away from it with gratitude that the Lord had delayed me that opportunity.

He also delayed my opportunity to teach for 17 years. Those years were filled with opportunities to learn humility and the true value of life. He taught me prudence and frugality and stewardship and how to trust His Plan. He delayed motherhood as well and showed me a variety of versions. Then, He held me accountable for my choices of motherhood.

I thought, too, of the prayers He said, "No," to as well. As the psalmist wrote God knew me from my mother's womb and, as Jeremiah wrote, He had a Plan for me and it was for good and not for evil. So, He refused me a number of requests because they did not fit with His Plan for my life, as I currently understand it. I am so grateful that He saved me from myself. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

And, then, there are all the "yeses"....some without my uttering the prayer! He provides food, clothing, shelter, transportation, beauty in so many forms, health and healing, joy and laughter and ever so much more. So, "To God be the Glory. Great things He has done." Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


(as taught in a 1700's poem)

Yesterday, a friend sent me an article from the London Daily Telegraph which presented the English view of our country currently. It was an eye opener. Later in the day, I saw Attorney General Eric Holder's news conference where he announced that the 9/11 defendents will be tried at Gitmo after almost two years of his proclaiming loudly they would be tried in federal court in mainland U.S.A. Later, I heard a variety of opinions on the meaning of his protestations. I was struck anew about how easy it is for us to begin to think (using a young people's phrase) that "It's all about them!" That reminded me of a poem we learned in high school. The last verse says it all!

To a Louse On seeing a louse on a lady's bonnet at church!

by Robert Burns

O Jenny, dinna toss your head,

An' set your beauties a' abread!

Ye little ken what cursed speed

The blastie's makin!

Thae winks and finger-ends, I dread,

Are notice takin!

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us

An' foolish notion:

What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,

And ev'n Devotion!


Yesterday was our 36th wedding anniversary. The entire day we kept reminding each other of all the things we had done since we married, the good and the hard to see as good at the time. It was fun. We were fortunate to have two family members recall that fateful day as well but, what was overwhelming was the outpouring of congratulations from friends (many of whom are not on FB and, so, had not seen my comment). Anniversaries are important. They mark milestones but they also shine a brighter light on relationships.

Morality Stories

In earlier centuries, troups of thespians traveled Europe presenting morality plays teaching life lessons. The Pilgrims and early Americans taught reading using the Bible, both in the home and at school. The McGuffey reader (the earliest reading textbook) also taught morals and manners at school.

As a child, I learned many lessons from simple children's stories. Jesus used stories like The Prodigal Son to teach important Biblical truths. When Josh was young, the Arch book series was a great presentation of these stories as well as character stories presented in rhyme. In my childhood, personal experiences of the older generations were used to teach important life lessons, always with the admonition, "I've already made this mistake so you don't have to."

I still remember the Goops books (Goops and How to Be One and More Goops) which taught manners and courtesy using both humor and rhyme. These were called morality stories and were part of our reading instruction. Unfortunately, many of these stories (such as Stone Soup) are missing from current elementary reading series. I used several of these in my classroom when I taught elementary students. One of my favorite morality stories is from Grimm's Fairy Tales.

The Old Man and His Grandson

by Brothers Grimm from Grimm's Fairy Tales

There was once a very old man, whose eyes had become dim, his ears dull of hearing, his knees trembled, and when he sat at table he could hardly hold the spoon, and spilt the broth upon the table-cloth or let it run out of his mouth. His son and his son's wife were disgusted at this, so the old grandfather at last had to sit in the corner behind the stove, and they gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and not even enough of it. And he used to look towards the table with his eyes full of tears.

Once, too, his trembling hands could not hold the bowl, and it fell to the ground and broke. The young wife scolded him, but he said nothing and only sighed. Then they brought him a wooden bowl for a few half-pence, out of which he had to eat.

They were once sitting thus when the little grandson of four years old began to gather together some bits of wood upon the ground. 'What are you doing there?' asked the father. 'I am making a little trough,' answered the child, 'for father and mother to eat out of when I am big.'

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, and presently began to cry. Then they took the old grandfather to the table, and henceforth always let him eat with them, and likewise said nothing if he did spill a little of anything.

Maybe the reason I like this one so much is the fact that it has a lesson for every generation. The grandpa learns how poorly he taught respect for age to his son. The parents learn that everyone grows old and the foundation for how they are treated in old age is built during childhood years. The grandson learns, eventually, how to treat his elders. What does it say to you?