Only One Name, Only One Verse

In my walk with the Lord, I’ve discovered that one verse can sustain me in times of crisis or challenge. Most of us have chosen what we call “life verses.” Mine is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” This verse has repeatedly exhorted and encouraged me when times were tough. And every verse in my favorite, Psalm 23, is a stand-alone verse. I’ve also learned that speaking out only the name of Jesus is enough to fill me with peace and assurance.

     The most vivid moment for me happened years ago in Romania when doors opened for adoptions. We were among many couples from the west searching to adopt a child. We prayed for months prior to our trip to Romania drawing her name from scripture. The Lord assured us that we would discover our baby daughter with His help and the help of our faithful Romanian translator. In Romania, following many leads, inquiries, and dead ends, we almost gave up hope in despair and frustration. Finally, in the late morning on the last week day before our scheduled departure via car and plane, we met-in the arms of her birth mother-a tiny infant wrapped like a papoose in a cigarette-smoke filled Romania courthouse. 

     I looked into her doll-like face asking myself, “Is this her Lord? What should we do?” We learned that her birth mother lived in a small house with 13 people on $25 a month. She knew her baby daughter would not thrive and wanted a better life for her. 

     My husband Paul fell instantly in love with her. Yet, my cautious nature swept in filling my mind with fear. My husband wisely suggested that I walk down the hall and pray because the decision was almost immediate to set a court date to move forward with adoption procedures. I found myself staring out of a tall second-story courthouse window with my life flashing in front of my eyes. Is this our daughter? What should we do? I couldn’t even pray or repeat a bible verse. All I could muster was saying “Jesus” over and over and over. My husband came to my side a few minutes later. “Arlene, what’s your decision? I don’t want to pressure you but time’s run out.” Looking at him, I asked, “Paul, are you convinced that this is our daughter?” 
The Lord assured me that my answer rested in Paul's joyous reminder. “Arlene, for months we’ve prayed and prepared for a newborn daughter. We chose a name from scripture. We’ve run across other children, but they weren’t newborns. And here she is on our last day to search before we have to take our return flight home.”

     We walked back to the brave, sacrificial birth mother. Through our translator, she agreed to sign the legal papers and appear before the Romanian court in a few days. She began unwrapping our precious baby’s white blanket, white clothing, and took off her tiny white crocheted cap. She only weighed four pounds, four ounces at 28 days old. Our translator explained that the clothes were borrowed! Fortunately, our almost three- year old son was with us and we covered his baby sister in his small rain jacket. Later, we excitedly dressed her in the tiny clothes we brought from the states.

     Yes, be encouraged. God’s words in His scripture are life-giving. And sometimes only saying the name of Jesus is more than enough.


The Three A's Authority, Advocate, Advisor

     The Trinity is a weighty mystery that’s generated study, discussion, and controversy for centuries.  It’s a fantastical story yet replete with truth. God the Father came to earth clothed in flesh as our Jewish Jesus. He experienced our emotions. He walked the dusty roads. He hugged children. He cooked and ate fish. He enjoyed dinner with friends. He liked wedding celebrations. He got angry. He felt sadness, grief, and exhaustion.  He exhibited mercy and gentleness. 
     Yet He cried out and prayed to another aspect of His being? The Father. And promised His disciples the Holy Spirit after He left this earth?  I’m not a theologian and don’t truly understand how all this works but I do believe that the God-head is composed of three parts of the same nature. Here’s my attempt at trying to decode this wonderful mystery. The Father exerts the role of AUTHORITY, the Son, the ADVOCATE, and the Spirit, the ADVISOR.  These roles carry out three functions originating from the God-head, the Trinity; One in the same.
     The Father, representing Authority, is the Alpha and Omega. He is Infinite and knows and created absolutely everything. God the Father is far beyond the Library of Congress, the CIA, or any other human institution of authority and information.  The data He knows far, far exceeds the vast world wide web. He is the great I AM.
    The Son, our Advocate, both divine and human, is our perfect attorney.  He talks with the Father. He pleads our cases from the context of living on earth for 33 years. When we need a defense in front of a Perfect God- a Judge Who is so Holy that He cannot look upon any evil- Jesus, our Advocate, stands in the heavenly courtroom. Jesus did not have to take the rigorous LSAT for Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious in the world. He didn’t clerk for a Supreme Court Judge. Since He is divine and human, He partakes of the vastness of the Father, the SUPREME SUPREME. The truth is that when the Supreme Judge looks upon Jesus, He doesn’t see austere black robes. He sees Jesus clothed in the blood red robes of sacrifice which cover our sins when we profess His sacrifice and Kingship. 
   The Holy Spirit- sent as an Advisor after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven- provides comfort and constant companionship for us; an Advisor Who serves as a Vessel, a conduit, from our Authority and Advocate. I liken our Advisor to a beautifully formed piece of pottery Who draws water from the fresh fountains of our Authority and Advocate, then pours sparkling droplets into our minds, hearts, and souls. 
     Growing up in a big Baptist church, we didn’t hear much about the Holy Spirit. The name of Jesus was mentioned countless times in many ways. God the Father came in second. This isn’t a criticism, since I grew up in the 1940s, 50s, and 60’s during a time when the Holy Spirit wasn’t spotlighted in all denominations.  Finally, in the early 1970’s the “renewal” movement swept through the church and introduced millions of Christians to the third part of what we call the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
     The word “trinity” isn’t mentioned in the Bible but various verses refer to the Trinity which is the Godhead, ONE God in three different forms. Matthew 28:19 quotes Jesus saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .”  Christianity IS a monotheistic faith. The prayer, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” found in Deuteronomy 6:5, makes that clear.  In Judaism, it’s called the Shema and is recited twice daily as a cornerstone of prayer among observant Jews.
     Authority. Advocate. Advisor.  I thank you, Lord, for expressing Yourself in these three ways…extravagant modes of communication to provide everything possible to help us experience Your lavish love and redemption.   The splendid bow on this unfathomable gift is Your provision of scriptures. When the Lord graciously answered my prayer to come and live in my life, He breathed vitality into the pages of the Bible.  

Jesus cooking supper on the 
shores of the Galilee
     Note: The photo of Jesus cooking for His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee appears in my family Bible published in 1944. My grandmother gave it to my mother. It’s called The Inspirational Bible ©1944 published by John A. Dickson Publishing Company

Life's Broken Pieces

     Our small Anglican church hosts a tent each Saturday morning at our local farmer’s market where we offer a free cup of delicious Rwandan coffee to shoppers. It’s a way for us to introduce our ministry work with Rwandan coffee farmers. Each week located next to us is a beautiful collection of pottery for sale. Not only is the pottery for sale but a potter actually makes pottery right there in the tent. 

One recent Saturday our pastor was serving coffee from our tent when he heard a crash. Looking to his right, he saw that one of their display tables had crashed. The artisan pottery lay scattered on the ground in hundreds of broken pieces of all sizes and colors. Imagine what the potter felt as she looked at the scene. 

Our pastor and other vendors rushed to help. They carefully picked up each piece doing their best to match pieces and pile the broken shards together. Yet, it would be impossible to make each bowl or cup or plate whole again. As our pastor related the story he went on to say that he asked the potter for some of the broken pieces. I like the idea he suggested that our small church might symbolically create something out of the brokenness.  To create something new.  It reminded me that fresh beauty can come from brokenness.

Life is sometimes like what the potter experienced. A crash, an unexpected collapse, a broken relationship, broken dreams. Breakage of all kinds. It’s in these times that help and friendship are so necessary from a stranger or a friend. The help and concern of others is a gift from God that I have gratefully experienced in the shattering events of my own life. 

While the potter's crashing table and broken pieces were public, sometimes we hide life’s brokenness hoping no one will notice. Hiding our hurts though creates a recipe for isolation. Sometimes we must press through and find a trusted friend to help us, if possible, put the pieces together again.  The potter was so grateful for the help and concern expressed last weekend.  After she rebuilds, she will set up her tent again and use her hands to create beautiful objects. 
And that’s what we must do in brokenness. Use the brokenness in our own lives to help others. And draw from God’s comfort accepting the help from others in our own times of need.  We must spin the potter’s wheel of life once again to live another day in the reality of God’s mercy and grace. 

When Sorrows like Sea Billows Roll

     Life happens. Like Charles Dickens wrote in his book A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.” Most people identify with both. I certainly can.  The worst of times takes many forms worldwide. Death of a loved one. A wayward child. Fires in northern California. A betrayal. Flooding in India. A serious illness. Terrorist arson in southern Israel. Hurricane in Hawaii. 
     For prominent Chicago attorney and hymnist Horatio Spafford the worst of times came in an 1873 telegram from his wife, Anna. Mr. Spafford had sent his family ahead and planned to join them after he finished last minute business.On November 22 tragedy struck when an iron sailing vessel plowed into their ship, the Ville du Havre in the dark of night. Two hundred and twenty-six passengers died in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean including his four daughters ranging in ages 11 to 2 years old. His wife desperately tried clinging to them until the waves tore them away. Anna survived, almost dead ,on a plank until rescuers discovered her. When she arrived in France her telegram had 6 dreadful words, “Saved alone, what shall I do?” 
     As soon as possible, he crossed over the Atlantic on another ship to meet his wife where he penned my favorite hymn, “It is Well with my Soul.” The ship’s captain pointed out the sea lane where his daughters lost their lives. Spafford wrote this beloved hymn on the sail. His first verse contains a phrase so descriptive of life’s tragedies: when sorrows like sea billows roll. He acknowledges the terrible pain of grief and loss yet makes his way to a glorious truth: “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul."
     When sorrowful billows roll, Isaiah 53:3 is a source of comfort found in our Lord Jesus. “He is a Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief.” He understands our emotions! Yet, He always offers hope and help. Psalm 55:22 tells us to “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you.” The wonderful promise is repeated in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”                                      
     The Spafford’s story did not end with tragedy. He and Anna were blessed with three more children. Anna's telegram “Saved alone, what shall I do?” is a testament to their later steps of hope. In 1881 they moved to Jerusalem where they established a history-making humanitarian work naming themselves The American Colony. Other Christians joined them to help Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. Their love and service won the admiration of all. In later years Spafford contracted malaria and is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in Jerusalem.
     The American Colony is now a gorgeous five-star hotel in Jerusalem’s Old City.  One of the most meaningful experiences of my life took place in the American Colony Hotel in their upstairs Pasha meeting room. I was staffing a trip for Christian leaders from the US. While awaiting a briefing from our speaker, we sang “It is Well with my Soul” in the very place Spafford and his Christian community established their humanitarian work.
     The acoustics lent themselves to a beautiful rendition from our group of 18 people. The moment was unforgettable. I felt as if I was walking in history and wondered, “Are we surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as described in Hebrews 12:1?” (Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us). A good piece of advice too!
    I hope that if you are facing a challenge or tragedy of some sort, that you will draw comfort from this timeless hymn.


     In the last few decades change seems to dominate everything every minute! Today’s speed of change is sometimes dizzying.
     When I grew up in the 50s and 60s, change didn’t seem as “changeable.”  Most of our parents remained married. They remained at the same job. School began after Labor Day. Grocery stores closed on Sundays. We attended the same church year after year. We watched only three TV channels that shut down at midnight playing the National Anthem. Continuity reigned and with it, created a sense of security.
     Those days have slipped into the history books of our lives if we are old enough to remember. Changes reflect both the happy and the sad. Having an encounter with our Lord that transforms and gives us hope. Meeting the love of our life, changing from single to married. Children coming along changing us into parents. Accepting a dream job that changes our lifestyle. Conversely, change brings sadness like divorce, accidents, ill health, addictions, or the passing of a loved one.
     In 2018 with news changing hour by hour, with instability invading areas of our lives accompanied by anxiety about the future, we can count on two  “unchangeables.”  
     First, relying on the words of the most profound and popular book in history assures us of security and stability. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Hebrews 13:8 carries the same theme, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  And Isaiah 40:8 offers us this truth, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
     Secondly, while we learn about our Lord in scripture and His eternal Presence, we also prove and embrace biblical truths in a deeper, personal way when we choose to walk in the ways of Jesus with the necessary and enabling help of His Holy Spirit. 
     Our Father of lights doesn’t change. The word of God is forever. Jesus is the same every day.

Call on our “Divine Firefighter” to Tame the Tongue

     I enjoy collecting quotes. Here’s a good one from George Eliot, a popular Victorian novelist in England: “Blessed is the man who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.” I smiled then traveled a road into my thoughts where I did not abstain, and I was not amused! I recalled many times I’ve talked too much, or gossiped, or said something I wish I could take back. We cannot lasso our words and put them back into the corral as if they had never been spoken. Oh, that it might be that simple! 
     We cannot tame the tongue alone. We must commit our words to the Lord asking Him to be our “Divine Firefighter,” asking for His transforming power.  Our social media culture offers endless opportunities for communication but too often we find ourselves in a morass of ill-spoken or written words. 
     In the south where I grew up, our parents trained us in manners and civility. “Yes sir, yes ma’am, thank you, and you’re welcome” flooded our everyday interactions. We were expected to speak kindly sometimes to the point of complete dishonesty, while holding in our ill-thoughts and opinions. Now, our culture has made a steady U-turn where lots of folks say anything that comes to mind. Yes, the comments might be honest, but they are wrapped in ugly tones or lack of consideration or consequences. 
     The bible is filled with verses that I and most of us can benefit from; a sobering reality check on thoughtless words: •Proverbs 18:21 "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." • James 3:5-8 "No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God."
     Other verses open a world of benefits when choosing wise words: • Proverbs 25:11 "Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances." • Proverbs 15:4  "A gentle tongue is a tree of life." • Colossians 4:6  "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." 
     Scrolling through the verses of consequences and benefits is eye-opening. But, how do we go in the right direction?  First,  let love be our guide: Ephesians 4:15 exhorts us…"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." Matthew 5:37 is handy: "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' …" 
     Here are 2 ideas which help asking the Holy Spirit to transform our tongues. Psalm 141:3 "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!"  Secondly, memorize favorite verses, emblazon them into your mind. Ask the Lord to build up a big deposit to draw from when you are about to lie, speak harshly, or inconsiderately. Psalm 119:11, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You." 
     Taming the tongue is NOT an easy task. James 3:6 describes it this way: "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." #DivineFirefighterCanTameTheTongue

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