The Rear View Mirror- A Blessing List for 2021

I'm taking a deep breath and thanking God that 2020 is making its exit into history.  I'm sure I have lots of company! At the precipice of another new year, many Americans make resolutions and set goals.  This year instead of New Year's resolutions, I'm glancing into my rear-view mirror of the year I just lived. I'm making a Blessing List to carry into 2021. I invite you to join me. 

When creating my list, I also found great blessings in what DID NOT happen! And in small blessings too. I’m tucking my list in my bible and when I feel overwhelmed in 2021, I’m pulling out my Blessing List.

A few verses have held special meaning for me this year. Even in the agony of sorrows, Jesus understands. He Himself experienced loss and grief. So many in this world are grieving; the passing or illness of loved ones, loss of jobs, businesses, homes, friends-Find comfort in Isaiah 53:3 "He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief." 

I read Psalm 103:1-5 out loud as a praise to chase away doubt, depression, or anxiety:  Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 The political dramas of 2020 have created chaos. Here’s a verse I have often read to remind me of God’s sovereignty:  Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the GOVERNMENT shall be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Here's a blessing on my list that DID NOT happen. I'll begin with profusely thanking the Lord for delivering my husband and me from Covid-19 without going to the hospital. We are 74 and 76! We specifically prayed-and thank those who prayed with us and sent food and other gifts-that a hospital decision would not even have to be made. We were miserable with moments of fear, depression, and anxiety. But we did not face that hospital decision. We call that a miracle. Honestly, I have no idea why some recover and some don’t. All I can do is thank God, pray for others, and help where I can.

 I’m thankful for the fellowship, support, and love from my husband. I'm thankful that our adult children have navigated 2020 and have come out better on this side of it. Thankful for new friends and old friends. I’m thankful for the USA.  I’m thankful for my calico cat. And my list goes on. With each challenge Paul and I faced this year-and that list is pretty big-the Lord intervened. We don’t deserve it.

I also like to read about Joseph, Job, and Jeremiah, and other biblical figures to reflect on how the Lord redeemed each situation in their life stories; how God re-fashioned each challenge or heartache for valuable purposes that they-and we-could never have imagined. You may not be far down the road yet trying to make sense of a hardship or disappointment. But let’s walk together in 2021.

Keep your Blessing List handy and let’s rely on Philippians 4:8. “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things. And as Hebrews 12:2 teaches us, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

Jesus, THE LIGHT, in a World Looking to the Heavens

On December 21, 2020, the longest day each year, Saturn and Jupiter converged in the skies in a celestial phenomenon not observed with the naked eye since 1226.

My husband Paul and I drove over to our church’s baseball field to look at Saturn and Jupiter which presented the earth with their socially distanced hundreds-of-millions-miles apart meeting yet seeming like one planet to the naked eye.  

We saw it with and without our binoculars.  Our binoculars are not fancy ones but when we looked at the planets through them, they looked like an intricately woven, round planetary snowflake.  

We stood in the cold early-night air looking up in “awesome wonder” part of the lyrics in the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” We lifted a short worshipful prayer to the Creator of the Universe.  Tears surprisingly sprang to my eyes which became unexpected emotional moments.  I felt awestruck, not only with the skies but with the realization that we stood in the same wonderment of gazers eight hundred years ago.

The year 1226 was the last time this planetary convergence could be seen with the naked eye because it too happened as the skies sank into night.

In 1226, the telescope had not been invented.  Nor the Gutenberg printing press.  Galileo discovered these planets around four hundred years later.

 The ancient scrolls though were already penned by Jewish scribes whom God chose as His vessels to transcribe world history and His love to the world He created.

Mongolian warring ruler Genghis Kahn was alive in 1226.  The beloved Saint Frances of Assisi died October 3, 1226 after the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn on March 4, 1226.  European nations already existed and since the United States of America did not, we are the first Americans to view this awesome celestial event with the naked eye.  I find this astonishing.

The land of Israel and God’s chosen people, the Jews living in the Holy Land must have seen a convergence too. The three wise men from the east following their astronomical abilities looked into the skies for the bright Bethlehem star. 

We know from Jewish sages, writings, and prophetic bible passages that Jesus' Bethlehem birth took place in the “Tower of the Flock” (Micah 4:8). 

Shepherds were familiar with The Tower of the Lambs which could be considered  an ancient animal hospital. In Hebrew, it's called Migdal Eder.  The religious leaders chose them since they were experts in animal husbandry.  They appointed them as Shepherd Priests.  The thousands of lambs they tended on the birthing floor of Migdal Eder each year were special too.  At birth, the shepherds wrapped them in swaddling cloths and put them in mangers.   

When the lambs reached a year old, the shepherds herded thousands of them to Jerusalem on what the ancient Jews called The Day of Lambs to present them to The Temple Priests. They were the chosen Passover sacrificial lambs without spot or blemish; a description of our Savior also sacrificed at Passover for us.  Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God, born in Bethlehem’s Tower of the Flock with the lambs, entered Jerusalem for the last time, again with the lambs.  In John 1:29, John the Baptist described Jesus perfectly, exclaiming at the Jordan River, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”

In our modern world we are experiencing another kind of convergence, a convergence of despair and darkness.  Yet, the hope, light, and strength that God the Father imparts to us shines the way to peace in the middle of chaos. 

With deep and inadequate thankfulness, I’m also awestruck that God gifted us with an adoption process into His royal family through His Son Jesus, the Perfect Lamb, and our King of Kings!

May a “Thankful Christmas” be our theme in 2020 because Jesus endures as the everlasting Light of the World!

Thanksgiving's Roller Coaster

Many of you may have my perspective. Facebook is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing of connection, shared memories, and exciting new ones. It’s also a curse. If you are in the middle of a crisis or a sorrow, the happy faces, and great adventures of others can feel like salt in a wound. And while affirmations, bible verses and meaningful quotes fill the news feed, the rampant ugliness and incivility are jarring and burdensome. With already nine months of Covid, the chaos increases. 

Hopefully, most Americans will enjoy a wonderful celebration. I daresay though many of us may sit around a table where sorrows and challenges won't take a vacation during Thanksgiving. We may not be able to be with family. Or someone has the virus.  Or a family member or friend is struggling with a serious issue. Giving thanks is sometimes challenging anyway especially AT Thanksgiving. The heartwarming ads on TV and  smiling Facebook posts can escalate any personal challenges we face whether in our families, our workplace, or ministry. Most of us don’t choose to splatter very many personal issues all over Facebook.

How can we navigate any kind of chaos in our personal lives during the upcoming holiday? First, let’s not assume that every smile we see comes from deep down and that every wonderful post reflects a 100% positive existence. I’ve often smiled with a broken heart. And I know I’m not alone. We must recognize that problems and sorrows accompany almost everyone in different seasons throughout life. I'm an optimist yet a realist. Life is a roller coaster. 

C.S. Lewis offers an eloquent observation: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” 

We need each other on life’s roller coaster. Thank God, another reality is far greater. The reality of God is beautifully encapsulated in Psalm 23, my all-time favorite. It highlights not only life’s sorrows-His companionship in the shadow of death-but life’s joys when we sit at a table God Himself prepares for us. Growing up, I taught my children that if all they memorized was The Lord’s Prayer and The 23rd Psalm, God’s words in those scriptures would be enough to sustain them. I still prefer the King James Version of Psalm 23.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths
of righteousness for His name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I will fear no evil. for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of
mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the
house of the LORD forever.

Most of us don't know every detail,  depth of sorrow, or challenges faced by others, sometimes even our close friends and family. Many sadnesses are unspoken.  THAT IS WHY KINDNESS IS NEEDED AND LIFE-GIVING. We are in this thing called “life” and in it together, both strangers and friends. Let’s make the best of it with God’s help. We sure can’t do it alone.

Thanksgiving may not be the same this year...or that happy. Yet we can express thanks for the food we eat, a roof over our heads, a blanket in the cold weather, a bible verse to cling to, family and friends, and above all, our Lord Who loves us unconditionally.  

Zephaniah: Minor Prophet, Major Name


View of the Dead Sea from Masada

A name can influence a destiny and a calling. 
In HebrewZephaniah’s name means “the Lord has protected; treasured by God.” 

While Zephaniah’s book was full of warnings and judgements for Judah-and for surrounding nations- it’s significant that his name symbolized God’s protection and the  coming restoration of Judah’s fortunes. 

The minor prophet Zephaniah was a walking, talking example of competing paradoxes. Think of this: each time someone addressed him by name, the judgement and then joy grew in truth.

Zephaniah’ lived in 7th century BC Jerusalem-located in Judah-Israel’s southern kingdom. Somewhat of a pause existed under honorable King Josiah in between two eras; the occupation of Assyria and the Babylonian exile.

Despite most of Zephaniah’s frightening, vivid descriptions of God’s judgement against the Israelites and the nations of his day, Zephaniah also mentions “the day of the Lord” 23 times regarding both his era and the end times. The last verses of the 3-chapter book are awe-inspiring. It reinforces God’s promises to His treasured chosen people and reminds us that God has saved a remnant of His people to this very day.

A Prayer for Israel
Zachariah 3:20 serves as our platform. “At that time, I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame.  At that time, I will gather you; at that time, I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.”

Jesus and Facebook

I will admit it.  Despite all the concerns about Facebook, I like its positive aspects. I enjoy keeping up with friends, family, and making new friends too.  It’s also fun to check in to my Facebook and see how many are “following” me. Since I am a writer, it is especially affirming! And I very much enjoy “following” others, their ministries, and organizations. I learn so much about so many topics.

 Facebook does not have anything on Jesus though. “Following” originated in the New Testament with two of the most significant life-changing, world-changing words in the bible, “FOLLOW ME.”

 In Matthew 4:19 as Jesus walked along the beautiful Sea of Galilee, He approached Peter and Andrew, fishermen busy at their hard work. They were unaware that their ordinary lives would change into the most extraordinary work in world history, ambassadors of the Good News. Jesus said, “Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.”

Then in Luke 5:7 he met up with Levi (Matthew) the tax collector sitting in his ancient “IRS” booth where most others in the Jewish community despised him. Jesus invited Matthew saying, “Follow Me.”  Matthew was not the only one shocked at the invitation. He was also shocked that Jesus wanted to eat supper with him and other sinners. Matthew who once owed his allegiance to the Roman's oppressive tax system, shifted his allegiance to Jesus, also becoming an Ambassador of the Good News.

 Long before Facebook was even a thought-when I was a child, teenager, and into adulthood-I often sang an old favorite praise song, “I have Decided to Follow Jesus.”  The songwriter is often thought to be anonymous, but its title is a statement of joy for all of us who have met the Lord Jesus in a personal encounter. When I “decided to follow Jesus” at 17 years old, it was the best decision of my life. Like everyone I know, life’s challenges and sorrows didn’t disappear. Yet, because the Lord Jesus is magnificently worthy of following, His unwavering, unconditional faithfulness has repeatedly rescued me, making my life worthwhile and fulfilling. 

One of  the song’s verses reads, “The world behind me, the cross before me, The world behind me, the cross before me; The world behind me, the cross before me; No turning back, no turning back.

Watching our nation and world spinning around now in upheaval, I am often reminding myself to keep my eyes on the cross, on Jesus, with no turning back.  I hope my reminder to myself will encourage you too with Jesus’ simple, yet extraordinary words filled with promise, “FOLLOW ME.”  

Our Citizenship

 Citizenship is a hot topic today.  Our world           population is around 8 billion people   and composed of 193 nations. Everyone wants to   belong somewhere…to a nation, a family, a church, a choir, a team, or a school.  
I’m grateful to be an American citizen “in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  Citizenship, “the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen” provides part of our sense of belonging. Sadly, many nations in the world, governed by despots and dictators, offer their citizens little, if any, rights and privileges. When it comes to citizenship-and world travel-passports are ever more important! Our passports are one way to show we belong somewhere. Our passport opens doors all over the world. We have yet another passport and citizenship. It is eternal and permanently stamped 2,000 years ago with the sacrificial blood of Jesus on the tree. 

Philippians 3:20 phrases it this way, But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we encounter and embrace Jesus' salvation as our Substitute Who paid the debt of our sin, we are adopted into His family. He bestows rights and privileges on us. In turn, by His spirit within us, we carry out the “duties of citizenship” to love Him and serve others. 

Revelation 7: 15-17 describes our eternal country. “And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” 
Billy Graham put it as only he could. "My home is in heaven. I'm just traveling through this world."

Jesus IS our Passport. He’s our Passport to a more fulfilling life here on earth and the Passport to our eternal destination as a citizen of Heaven. Heaven is a country containing beauty and glories, rights and privileges that we cannot imagine!

In 1949, hymnist Ira F. Stanphill wrote “Mansion Over the Hilltop.” It describes the land we'll live in forever when our Passport, Jesus, opens the gate. Here’s the chorus:
"I've got a mansion just over the hilltop,
In that bright land where we'll never grow old.
And some day yonder, we will nevermore wander,
But walk the streets that are purest gold."

 Image Credit: Cytis

Lessons from a Beach Walk

When on a beach walk, shelling is one of my favorite pastimes. With waves as background music, I alternate between looking up at blue skies or looking down at the sand to collect shells to take home.  Usually, I am visiting a beach in South Carolina, the state where I grew up.  

The shells on South Carolina beaches offer 700 delightful varieties awaiting discovery. I've also enjoyed collecting shells in other states and countries. The impressive Triton shell I found in the Dominican Republic is one of my favorites. In Florida, I gathered some big conch shells with the glowing pink color inside. In Israel, I collected tiny shells in the Sea of Galilee.  I enjoyed finding whelk with their lovely shapes in the Bahamas Each kind of shell on any seashore has their own shape, color, and story. 

A Lettered Olive
On my most recent beach walk near Myrtle Beach, I found all sizes and shapes of cockle shells littering the sand in profusion. The Lettered Olive is the official South Carolina state shell and I found one today! As a writer I especially enjoyed the find. I also found a Shark Eye Moon Shell in perfect condition. 

In tidal pools, I also discovered miniature sea stars/starfish, a first for me in beach walking over the years. Some of the tiny starfish created quite a picture with the loss of one of their four arms. Locals say that the tiny starfish have been a phenomenon all summer.     

Some shells are so beautiful, they are a feast for the eyes. Others, like oysters, are not pretty but they sure are delicious. They remind me of the fun of an outdoor oyster roast. South Carolinians love to shovel oysters off steel-topped fires and dump them onto plywood tables. Oyster lovers like me are ready with an oyster knife. Some shells, like the ones in the Sea of Galilee hold a spiritual meaning because Jesus strolled the shores and walked on the water!  Other shells like the cockles make for clever craft projects. 

Looking at the varieties of shells my thoughts turned to God’s design for human beings. No two are alike. God endows each of us with personality, purpose, ideas, appearance, skin colors, smiles, hair, ability, etc. combined into a DNA all our own.

Our uniqueness does not shelter us from life’s ups and downs though. Like many of the useful or lovely shells, we experience brokenness marred and battered by reefs of problems, hurricanes of confusion, or unrelenting high tides of loss.  

Everyone I know has experienced some sort of brokenness, loss, or trauma. That includes me. Battered like broken beach shells, it is easy to wonder, “Will I make it?” King David experienced all emotions, questions, successes, and failures. 

Crying out in the Psalms, he wondered if God had abandoned him. He seesawed between passionate praises to the Lord and deep sorrows while hiding in a cave. In Psalm 34:1 David proclaimed, “Lord, I’m bursting with joy over what you’ve done for me!” Then in Psalm 77:4 he laments, “I can’t get a wink of sleep until you come and comfort me. Now I’m too burdened to even pray!” (The Passion Translation)

Shark Eye Moon Shell
I have felt the same emotions. King David weathered all of it with God’s help. And we will too if we lock down scriptures in our minds and hearts, pray, fellowship, and hang on to Jesus with all we've got. My life verse, Philippians 4:13, assures me that “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”  The photo on the left shows the whole moon shell I found and on the right, one that is broken. To me, it's a picture of hope that the Lord can heal our brokenness and restore us again.  

An angel wing
I left my beach walk with a bag of shells along with an infusion of hope. The Lord reminded me that whether in life’s brokenness or beauty-sometimes existing simultaneously-He walks with us along the shores of our lives! And the special Angel Wing I found reminded me that Lord's angels watch over me. I pray the same for you! 



Avoiding the Old Testament? Reconsider!

Photo Credit: Yad Vashem
It’s been more years than I like to admit that I’ve not read the Old Testament line by line. I finally made a New Year’s resolution to reconnect in a systematic way with the Old Testament, along with the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs through the Daily Audio Bible. 

The Old Testament's descriptive accounts of wars, murders, beheadings, child-killing, idol-worship and all manner of awfulness, led me to write the word “horrific” in the margins of my Bible next to the accounts. I want to fast- forward the audio… and fast!

 I’ve been troubled and yes, self-righteous thinking about these “terrible” people and events both Jewish and non-Jewish. It’s easier to excuse my own shortcomings when reading about theirs. Yet, wading through the Old Testament’s rivers of conflict and wars, I’ve finally realized once again that it’s me in those stories. Not with wars and murder, but owning the fact that we are all born into a sinful state; it's uncomfortable to accept. We are vulnerable to all kinds of failings, including Christians, of which I’m a part.

The Old Testament pulls no punches describing sin, often in detail. It graphically sets the stage for an encounter with our Redeemer. The Old Testament is raw. In your face. Yet, each book is woven with inspiration. 

For example, reading about a disobedient Moses, an adulterous David who ordered a “hit” on a husband, a cowardly Gideon, and a runaway Jonah, I'm reminded that God used each one to accomplish great tasks. 

Am I downplaying the sinful mistakes of our beloved Biblical leaders? Absolutely not. I am them! In my mind, I’ve killed. In my mind and words,  I’ve given in to anger. I’ve hurt others. I’ve settled for lukewarm. I’ve made wrong choices. Many of them. And maybe this is one reason why I, and others, tend to avoid the Old Testament … it's a way of avoiding the realities of our own imperfections.
“Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” -Mark Twain
I’m reminded once again that I must fully welcome the indwelling, incarnational Jesus so that I can have any semblance of an overcoming life. The easy way is to avoid confession and repentance. The easy way is to blame others. The easy way is to live in the grace of the New Testament while ignoring the ugliness of the Old Testament and deny my  own desperate state.

The Old and New Testaments are a whole, entwined book. They cannot and should not be separated. Old Testament is a stark record of humankind’s sinful nature side by side with profiles of God's transformation of novices into leaders. Its stories take us by the hand and lead us to our Redeemer in the New. 

There, we discover our Savior in His fullness Who makes it "well with our souls." Biblical festivals and teachings in the Old Testament vividly describe the culture Jesus lived in and the scripture scrolls He unrolled and read in synagogue. The prophecies of His coming scattered throughout the Old Testament are proven in the New Testament. 

 The Old Testament brings us to our knees recognizing ourselves in the lives of its characters. It readies us to meet our Lord Who triumphs on our behalf with unconditional love and sacrifice. Father God’s tough, sometimes harsh reactions are recounted in the Old Testament yet with stunning acts of undeserved mercy and second chances.   

When God clothed Himself in a human body and lived among us on earth, He transformed the lives of everyone who encountered Him. He was “Walking Redemptive Love.” When we embrace Him in His fullness our relationship with Him is enriched. 

If Trees Could Talk

Crape Myrtle
 Poet Khalil Gibran once wrote, “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” Sixty thousand species of  these  “poems” grow on our planet.

 The trees have messages that can build us up in our   walk with the Lord and how He designed us. In 1   Corinthians 12:12-27, the Apostle Paul gives us a   roadmap that describes the body of believers, one in   Christ yet with many parts. His roadmap reminds us   that just like our human body, we all need each other.

In this important passage Paul lists clear examples. In verses 21-23 he writes, “ The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without.” 

The passage goes on to say, “God has placed each part in the body just as He wanted it to be.  If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body?  As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.”   The point is that God has created each one of us uniquely. Each with a different fingerprint. Distinct yet essential giftings. He values us and has designed a place in His family. A place to belong. A place to reach out to others. A purpose in life. A special role.
If trees could talk, what would they tell us about themselves?

Date Trees in Israel
A crape myrtle shows off its flowers providing beauty for our eyes. In the autumn, gingko trees burst out in brilliant golden beauty. Consider date trees with their delicious bounty. Or a walnut tree producing edible nuts. Weeping willows shade us from the sun.  For recreation, children climb sturdy oaks and swing from their branches. Pine tree wood builds homes and the wood of poplar trees is used for musical instruments and surf boards. 
Israeli Olive Trees
Many trees are also symbolic. The dogwood tree with its springtime cross-shaped flowers reminds us of Jesus' sacrificial love.  The olive tree not only produces olives but is a profound symbol of unity where gentiles are grafted into the ancient faith of the Jews.  Each tree has something special to offer.

If you have one of those days where you feel useless or wonder about your purpose in life or feel insignificant, and even comparing yourself to others, re-read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 asking the Lord to inform your thoughts. Think of the trees and the vast and varying purposes of their existence.  

Most of all, remember....each of us are "poems that God writes." 

Friendship-A Visit with the Greats

A friend loaned me a book recently that I truly enjoyed; 
A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War. 

It’s beautifully written by its author Joseph Laconte who explores the writing and faith of two legendary, brilliant Christian writers of the 20th century; C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien. 

Laconte wraps his book-and theirs-into the context of World War I, called by many The Great War which literally and horrifically changed the course of human history. Both Lewis and Tolkien served as British soldiers. On and off, they lived and taught at Oxford and enjoyed a close friendship for years. 
Most well-known are Lewis’s books for children, The Chronicles of Narnia and his profound,engaging theological books like Mere Christianity & The Screwtape Letters. Tolkien is best known for The Hobbit & Fellowship of the Ring.

Leconte’s book is full of excellent quotes not only from the books I mentioned but from historians, philosophers, and theologians.  I was struck by a few of the quotes which are descriptions of true friendships. 

As you read these quotes, I hope your thoughts, like mine, will verify the ultimate friendship of our Savior Jesus Who gave Himself for us. He is our Way Maker offering us new life and irreplaceable,treasured friendship with Him and others. 

**”Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” (Gimli, an honorable Dwarf Warrior in Tolkien’s Hobbit.) And surely Jesus is faithful and is always by our side in the darkness. 

 **Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it.“ (Cicero, Roman Philosopher) And this is a fine description of Jesus our Burden-Bearer. 

**”The bible contains divine thoughts about men, not human thoughts about God.”(Karl Barth, Swiss Theologian)

Barth’s perspective is a reminder about God’s vast love for us repeatedly expressed in the Older and New Testaments.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the quotes. Maybe you’ll revisit Lewis and Tolkien and offer a prayer of thanks to our Lord for His unconditional love and the blessing of having friends.

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” 
Walter Winchell, Columnist and radio news commentator (1897-1972)

Nooks, Crannies, and Waterfalls

Hiking a mountain trail beside a river is a feast for our senses. 

The melody of ripples or rushing water,  breathing the fresh air, and gazing at God’s artistry in nature lifts us up.

I recently hiked a mountain trail in western North Carolina.  Along the way, rocks of all sizes filled the river. In some formations, the water moved gently around the rocks allowing a smooth flow. In others, waterfalls fell over rocks at dizzying speeds. 

In opposite fashion, the openings between rocks were so close together that the flow grew into a trickle. Water was trapped in some holes in the rock tops with no way of escape until thunder clouds dropped heavy rains. 

Looking at all the rock formations and the water flow reminded me of our lives. The ebbs and flows change life's scenery. In some seasons, life is smooth.  Our job is secure. We successfully finished college or technical school. Our family is healthy. Our relationship with the Lord is invigorating. Maybe we are looking forward to that bucket list vacation. Life is flowing nicely.  The music of peace and calm surrounds us.

At other times, life rushes at us like a waterfall. It moves too fast; we feel out of control.  We are too busy. Too stressed.  Another season finds life turned upside down. A loved one dies. A child gets sick. A romance flourishes then dies.  The Lord seems far, far away. A friend is mentally ill. Our church is falling apart. The list is endless. We are like the water trapped in a rock hole with no way out.   

Most of us experience the nooks, crannies, holes, trickles, and flows of the Christian life. 

Whatever rocks we encounter in life's rivers, we can count on the Rock of our Salvation by drawing from King David’s words in Psalm 18:2,  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Sometimes we must repeat this verse over and over and over until we regain our spiritual balance. 

The highly educated Roman citizen Saul who once operated like a hit man, experienced many challenging seasons after his Damascus Road encounter with his Jewish Messiah. Stoned, imprisoned, put on trial, shipwrecked, Paul's  relationship with Jesus sustained him in the best and worst of circumstances. Here is how he put it in Philippians 4:11-13 

“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

Whether you are “between a rock and a hard place” or grateful for a season of favor and joy flowing into your life, embracing biblical truths and the Rock of our Salvation offers a way to navigate the ebbs and flows of life.  

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

NEHEMIAH: A Role Model for Today

With our US economy opening again, Nehemiah’s story provides a mother-lode of prayer and skill. This ancient builder would be a Fortune 500 CEO today.
A cup bearer for King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah was born in Babylon during the Jews’ Exile. The cup bearer held one of the highest palace positions since he made sure the King was not poisoned with food or drink.
When reports penetrated the palace grapevine that Jerusalem’s walls lay in ruins, Nehemiah was devastated. He asked Artaxerxes for permission to return to his homeland to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. The King granted his request, making him the governor of the Judean province. He also supplied Nehemiah with building materials and royal transit letters for the 800-mile journey.
When he arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the damage then used his expert management skills to rebuild the walls of his beloved city. Violence and opposition broke out from Arabs, detractors, and other enemies. Along with damage to our economy, we also face the enemies of socialism, division, and those who don’t hold fast to our American way of life.
Nehemiah met his challenges by devising more strategies to simultaneously build and protect. He equipped some workers with spears, shields, and bows. Other workers strapped their swords at their sides and continued construction. He set up an alarm system using musicians to blow trumpets/shofars when danger was afoot and devised a security plan encouraging them that God would help. The book of Nehemiah records fourteen prayers.
Our focus is Nehemiah 4: 4-15.
“O my God, … the wall was completed on the twenty fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”
The prayers in the book of Nehemiah can serve us well today while we rebuild our economy, recover from Covid-19, strengthen law and order, and quell civil unrest and violence.
Prayer Points:
· Pray for the Trump Administration and US states to create strategies with Nehemiah’s expertise to maintain the strength of our nation and our American way of life.
· Pray Nehemiah 6:4 regarding those seeking to destroy our Judeo-Christian culture. “Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads…”
· Pray for wisdom, hope and hard work to emerge in a context of unity to rebuild our nation for all citizens.

Shaking Your Salt

Ancient Salt Bowl
      We Christians must be intentional in expressing our opinions and do it without slander and ugliness. The Apostle Paul's words in Colossians 4:6 are important. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”  Choosing to season our speech with salt doesn't mean passivity; it means state your views firmly and respectfully. It's difficult to do,  so asking the Lord's help to discipline our speech is essential. Remember, relationships matter. Even in Social Media. We are to shake our salt and season the atmosphere with light.

     The Bible contains plentiful references to salt and knowing how important salt was in ancient cultures helps us understand why it’s mentioned so often. The English language too is filled with mentions of salt in these idioms: “Back to the salt mines, salt of the earth, worth one’s salt, take it with a grain of salt.” Salt has an interesting history where it served important purposes.  

      Before nations were industrialized, salt was part of many economies.  In the Roman Empire salt was part of a soldier’s pay.  Here’s an interesting linguistic fact: The soldier’s pay was called “solarium argentum” and originated the word “salary.” Salt also offered health benefits such as disinfecting wounds and used as a food preservative. 

     Ancient Jews used salt in some sacrifices as one example of covenants. Leviticus 2:13 instructs: "And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt." While the Dead Sea is a “must-see” destination for tourists, in ancient times it was a necessary source skillfully mined by the Jews and used in many contexts. Ezekiel 47:11 puts it this way: “But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt."  

     Examples of salt's value abound and here are a few more examples. In the 6th century, Moorish businessmen considered salt and gold equal in value for trading.  Even into the 1930’s salt taxes levied by Great Britain on India became so burdensome that Mahatma Gandhi led his followers to the sea where they made their own salt. 

     Salt is sprinkled throughout the Bible from the Older Testament to the New.  Jesus picks up on the importance of salt in Israel, His earthly ancestral homeland in the culture of His day. He transitions it into a valuable teaching about salt in relationship to others. 

Jesus taught in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” He speaks of the value of His followers in “salt” terms and admonishes them to make sure their “salt” spreads out and seasons kingdom relationships with others.  

    Let's make sure our salt remains fresh and seasons our culture in productive Kingdom ways.  It was significant in Jesus’ time and significant for us today to season our speech, season the atmosphere with love and light, and sprinkle the Good News in our daily lives.  #SprinkleSaltInTheSpirit


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