The act of writing, of sharing the circumstances, the gifts and the graces planned and carried out by my Savior and God brings joy, peace, and contentment to know that He has my life in His hands. My prayer for those who read, who share in what I continue to learn each day, many times through my weakness, is that you will be encouraged to look for God's presence and grace in your life also.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The mercy of brokenness in Genesis 42

[The following is rewritten from a lecture I prepared to give on Genesis 42 at our Women's Bible Study. Because of snow that day's Bible Study had to be cancelled. I pray you will find what I learned helpful to you in understanding how the story of Jacob, Joseph and his 10 older brothers gives us hope.  The pictures are some I took at the Denver Botanical Gardens last year.Pictures give a nice break from all the words.]

I'm a caregiver... I have been a caregiver of my husband for 38 years and it is not getting easier. Larry's abilities to do certain things seem to be fading plus I'm getting older also.  Last week we had an appointment with his neurologist who told me some things that are disconcerting to say the least.  We will see if he is right.

This particular neurologist is extremely compassionate and caring.  I can better handle doctors who don't show compassion...because when they say to me directly things like, "How are you? Four decades is a long time to care for someone." it suddenly dawns on me, "Yes, it is."

Then if I'm not careful, I begin to feel sorry for myself and that can end in disaster, but God has taught me through the years that it is then, I need to ask Him to give me direct opportunities to help others with "truth", His truth that He has made so clear in Scripture. Helping others with His truth helps me too.

God's timing is so perfect.  His Perfect Provision so real, there are days I can taste it. That doctor ordered an ultra sound on Larry's carotid arteries to make sure blood is getting to his brain in adequate amounts. So this last Tuesday we went to have that done and BINGO the very opportunity I had been praying for came.

While we were waiting for the valet to retrieve our car, we were in front of Penrose Hospital enjoying the first warm sunshine we had felt in days. I left Larry sitting in his wheelchair in the sun while I walked out further on the crowded sidewalk so I could see when the car arrived.

"Beautiful day, isn't it?" I said to a younger woman standing there.

"Oh yes.  The sun shining on this beautiful snow is breathtaking," she answered.

Our conversation led to her telling me about her youngest, a 6-year-old girl who keeps her going in spite of the fact she (the mom) has MS.  She has three other children up to age 15.

"That must be really hard," I said.

She nodded adding, "But everyone has something hard they deal with."

"You are right. My hard is in the wheelchair by the door. We had a car accident 38 years ago and he has a closed head injury. Without God I couldn't have done it."

I could tell that she couldn't imagine what my life must have been like all those years.  She seemed overwhelmed by the thought of it.  And then to encourage me I'm sure, she said, "But you know God never gives us more than we can handle."

Immediately I looked deep into her eyes and said, "That is not true.  He always gives us more than we can handle because He wants us to depend on Him. To trust Him. Because without Him we can't do anything."

Tears filled her eyes as she grabbed both my hands and said, "I've never heard that before but it is true. God put you here today for me.  I so needed to hear that because I've been thinking that I really can't do this anymore."

Her name is Amy and suffering is both her friend and mine because the brokenness born of suffering drives us to Jesus.

Pastor Bates sermon last Sunday, the one most of us didn't hear because we stayed home due to the snow and bad roads, definitely had an impact on my thoughts concerning this lecture.  I hope that you will go listen to Hearing Grace From God's Word. One of the things he talked about was that we can read or study the Bible for the wrong purpose.

He said the Bible was written to give us hope not to discourage us.  Studying the Bible  in order to check off a box on a list of things to do to be a good Christian is not good.  Reading the Bible to learn how to behave better, sin less,  help others or even love Jesus more should also not be our primary motive because when we fail, we will be discouraged. Remember HOPE is the key.

Our reason for reading and studying the Bible is to see Jesus who is our HOPE because Jesus is what
the Bible is all about. The Hope in the Bible is Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead. Jesus Christ who came to be the sacrifice for our sins because we were totally dead and could nothing to help ourselves.

As we study the life of Joseph, we cannot, we must not think it is written to teach us what to do better and what not to do.  Using the story of Joseph to teach young people about how to resist sexual temptation is missing out on the big picture of the Bible...

These verses in Chapter 42 are there to give us hope, to encourage us. We need to look at this story as one where we can see how God redeems a family who were doomed to failure because of their selfishness, their lusts, their murderous hearts, their sin and even the circumstances over which they had no control. The story should encourage us because God in his perfect providence redeems His chosen people for himself.  He loves them with his steadfast love and faithfulness that never fails in spite of their failures.  Through discipline, trials horrendous sin, he brings them to Himself so he can use them gloriously according to His promises to their grandfathers Abraham and Isaac to make a people for Himself... a nation through whom God would send His only Son to become the Savior of the world... to bring blessing to all the nations of the world.

AND if He can use this family for his glory, he can certainly use us for his glory too as He redeems us from the sin and death we were born into.

Where is the hope in Chapter 42 of Genesis?  Just one chapter in this story of Joseph where we can see the beginning of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers. In this story there are so many things that could have gone differently.  So many things that could have prevented and changed the ultimate outcome of Joseph not only forgiving his brothers, but the brothers never being forced to come face-to-face with their sin.  If God had not orchestrated each of the events through his perfect providence, Jacob would not have been the Father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In order to get to this place where God could begin to grow a strong nation, a nation with 12 tribes who would be a unified nation that feared God, what did God need to have?

He needed people who were broken.  Individuals who realized they were helpless failure in themselves because of their sinfulness and powerlessness to change themselves.

In the story of Joseph, we see a story of brokenness, a brokenness that drives each one in the family toward God and isn't that what brokenness is for?.

First let's look at Jacob, the father of the 12 sons-- a man flawed from the beginning, actually from his birth when he tried to get out of the womb first.  Later he actually deceived his father Isaac into giving him the birthright that belonged to Essau as the first born.  The name Jacob actually means deceiver. Jacob was even deceived by Laban, his father-in-law when he gave Jacob Leah instead of Rachel as his first wife.  We see Jacob in his lust and selfishness fathering sons from his wive's servants.  His favorite wife, Rachel is barren for years and then after much anger and bitterness gives birth to two sons by God's grace but dies giving birth to the second.  Jacob is devastated beyond consolation at her death. We also see him playing favorites among his sons, causing huge problems in the family and actually led to Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt..

Here in chapter 42, Benjamin has obviously become Jacob's favorite son.  Jacob knows that sending
his oldest 10 sons to Egypt for grain will be dangerous for them if they are mistaken for spies.  They could be imprisoned or even killed.  Can you imagine how the older sons feel knowing their father is willing to send them into danger?

Through the years it would seem that Joseph has finally come to the rightful conclusion that Joseph's probable death was somehow at the hands of the ten sons who were known for their deceitfulness, their murderous hearts, their anger.  Jacob sums up his brokenness in verse 36 after they return from Egypt without Simeon when he says, "You have bereaved me of my children; Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin.  All this has come against me." Little does he know that all of this has come about to save him, to save his family, to reunite his entire family, to save the covenant people that God had set apart for Himself.

Over and over in the life of Jacob we see him sinning, repenting, turning to God and then falling again.  Here in this chapter, he is at an all time low. He seems to have forgotten God and his promises. Life can get no worse for Jacob.

God had brought Jacob to the end of himself through taking away any control he had over what was happening.  He had tried to protect what he held most dear and had failed.  His own efforts at self-preservation had proved futile.

Then there are the brothers who are brought to brokenness because of their sin.

 Can you imagine what it would have been like to be at a holiday dinner where they were all together.  You think you have a dysfunctional family... you have no idea.  These ten brothers had a secret that had no doubt weighed heavily on their consciences for 22 years.  They had sold their little brother, obnoxious as he was, into slavery to get rid of him just because they thought he was spying on them.  I'm sure some of them also thought if Joseph were out of the way maybe their father would love them more. We see evidences in the news all the time of boys and men horrible acts who had either missing fathers or ones who had showed them no love.

These brothers had no doubt heard stories out of Egypt about how slaves were treated.  In their hearts they knew Joseph was dead.  I doubt very much that they had even talked about what they had done with Joseph among themselves for those 22 years.  I'm sure there were many side-ways looks but not a word.  There had been sleepless nights and days filled with anger and bitterness at how life had turned out.  Each one probably wondered why their father couldn't love them.  Can you imagine the abuse, the anger they expressed to their wives and children.  They were in a viscous circle because of their sin and there was no way to get out.

Now to make matters worse there is a famine covering the earth and Jacob tells these ten sons he
doesn't like very much to go to Egypt... the dreaded country whose name had not been spoken between them.  At the beginning of the chapter we hear Jacob say to them, "Why are you looking at each other?" Well, no wonder.  I'm sure they weren't breathing either.  EGYPT...the last place on earth they wanted to go and who knew if they would ever come back.  If they were mistaken for spies, death probably awaited them.

Their desperate need for grain and obedience to Jacob sends them on their way across the border and sure enough they are suspected by the governor, second in command only to the Pharaoh, of being spies.  He calls them spies and no matter how much they protest, he doesn't believe them and they are thrown into the pit for three days.  Those three days and nights in the darkness give them plenty of time to remember what they had done to Joseph and how even though he had begged, crying to be let out, they didn't listen.

They must have come to the horrible conclusion that they would be left to rot in prison but they also knew it was what they deserved because of their sin.

The mercy Joseph shows them in letting them out after only three days only intensifies their guilt as we hear them say to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen.  That is why this distress has come upon us." Reuben even reminds them that he had tried to tell them not to sin against Joseph. "But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood." They have recognized that they are terrible sinners and there is no hope.

Their remorse for their sin is so obvious that Joseph had to turn away as his tears fell.  Then Joseph
shows them even more mercy as he only keeps one of the brothers and sends the other nine back to Jacob with all the grain they needed plus all their money.  Being given mercy when it isn't deserved does one thing for those on the receiving end.  It only makes them more aware of their sin, more aware of the fact they don't deserve it.

Now they have to go back and face their father and tell him that they have to bring Benjamin back to Egypt if he wants to see Simeon again.  When they find the money in their bags which Joseph meant for a blessing, they are totally undone by.  Their hearts fail them and they know if they go back to Egypt, they will be accused of theft.

 Talk about brokenness.  God has brought them to this place through them seeing their real condition. Their sin, their wicked sinful condition, where they understand that God is indeed involved in their lives and knows exactly what they have done.  They say, "What is this that God has done to us?" They know at some point sin must be paid for and they knew the time of reckoning had come with God, but they are helpless to atone for their sin.

Was there anything they could do to help their situation?  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  No matter how honest they were now or what they said or did, they weren't believed.  The ruler in Egypt didn't believe them, their father blamed them, and their guilt was enormous.  The hard of their life, even though it did come from choices they had made, had brought them to the place where they needed forgiveness and reconciliation.

You know what?  God does that in our lives.  In his perfect providence, He orchestrates the circumstances of our lives by using His Spirit to bring us to the place where we can see our sin, our need for a Savior and He gives us the ability to ask for forgiveness and to put our trust in Jesus Christ. And then even after we have received the faith He gives us, he continues to use brokenness because of our continuing sin to remind us of who we really are without Him.  He doesn't make us better, He makes us needy so we will depend completely on the work of His Son Jesus to cover us righteousness.

But what about Joseph?  He really doesn't seem so bad does he.  Other than being an obnoxious,
arrogant brat as a teenager, he seems pretty good compared to the rest of the family.  BUT he too must come to the point of knowing his brokenness, his inability to save himself.

So many times Joseph is held up as the epitome of what we all need to do.  To stand firm in our faith even in severe trials and suffering...even in the pit.  To be the person who withstands temptation by fleeing and leaving the trappings of that temptation behind.  And indeed, we can see Joseph as a picture of Christ in that he did save his people from sure death by going through a kind of death in being separated from his family.

But in the 13 years after this young 17-year-old was sold into slavery, God would use Joseph's captors, his dark prison, his disappointments, his broken, shattered dreams, his obligations and duties in slavery which were no doubt extremely hard, to bring him to a place of brokenness.  The brokenness that comes from a suffering where there is nothing one can do to change the circumstances but rather circumstances that consistently bring out one's weaknesses and need for help.

In the ebbs and flows of that suffering, he had not only learned to trust God but he had learned God loved him.  He had learned to fear God.  And that fear of God had resulted in his being the wisest, the most compassionate man in Egypt. When suffering goes on for years, a suffering not necessarily caused by sin and selfishness, the person either turns to God and learns about the steadfast love and faithfulness of God that is poured out or he becomes bitter and hard and can't see beyond the hard in his life.  Through God's goodness, He had brought Joseph through without bittereness and hatred but rather love and compassion.  Consequently, when the brothers were brought before him and he recognized them as they bowed their faces to the ground, he was able to control himself and not blurt our to them, "I TOLD YOU SO!"

We must also look to the fact that even though Joseph feared God, trusted God, he still hurt.  When we look at his first born son, Manasseh which means, "God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father's house," we can easily see that Joseph had spent years trying to forget those horrible brothers of his.  Brothers who because of their hatred of him had put him in a pit and sold him into slavery.  Living with that fact would have been difficult giving everything else he had had to face and so he tried to forget them.  He did everything he could to forget them, even giving his firstborn a name that would mean he had forgotten.  But how in the world could he forget when every time he looked at this son or spoke his name, he was reminded of what he wanted God to help him forget.

God had not let him forget.  You see God does not want us to forget where we came from or what He has brought us out of.  He doesn't want us to forget how bad we were, what failures we were.  He wants us to remember and that is why we must preach the Gospel to ourselves every single day.  I was absolutely dead in my sins, I could not lift a finger to save myself or speak a word to even ask for help, but God in His love for His own, sent His only Son to die on the cross and be raised from the dead so that He could give me faith to believe in Him.  He did it all.

It is only then, as we realize what we were, what God did through his Son and that we are now covered in the righteousness of Christ, that we can know with Joseph who named his second son Ephraim, "For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction." A name that acknowledges that God did it all.. through the suffering He brings, through our sinfulness and selfishness, he brings fruitfulness.  He, Joseph did nothing to bring about the fruitfulness just as we can do nothing except rest in Jesus and His finished work on the cross.

This beautiful story of Joseph gives us hope as we go through this hard life.  Hope because if God was totally and completely in control of the circumstances in the story of Joseph; if he can take a selfish, self-centered man like Jacob, and sinful, wicked men like the ten brothers and an arrogant self-centered brat like Joseph and use them for His glory, we know He can and will do the same with us.  Praise God, our redeemer, our HOPE.  Be encouraged.

[The girl in the picture is my great-niece, Maddie,  who went with Larry and I in June to see the Gardens.]

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"So we do not lose heart...."

 Tuesday's Grace Letters is where I am linking into today.  Kara's Graduation Grace is a great post.  Be sure to read it.

God's grace is no more evident than when He leads His people to say, "Thank you, Lord, for what You have taught me about Yourself through the story You wrote in a sister or brother's life." 

To see even a little of how God gets the glory gives the circumstances of our lives meaning. To be sure we only see through a mirror darkly but some day... face to face.

Just last week I learned that the Christian school I taught at for 17 years  will be recognizing Larry and I for what God accomplished through His work in us to affect the students we were privileged to work with. 

Through the years since we have often received notes and calls from students telling us how God had used our story to teach them God's truth about living life here. We are so grateful that God has been pleased to let us see a little of how He is growing His children to trust Him more.

Years ago one of my students claimed these verses as his life verses, verses that really put in perspective what God does with the circumstances of our lives to bless others. 

On the surface it would have seemed that he was on top of the world, very intelligent, top notch athlete, good looking, and a huge amount of drive to be the best he could be.  Little did we know what God's plan was for him...an early death as a Navy jet fighter pilot during a test flight over the Mediterranian Sea leaving behind his young wife of only one year. Thousands mourned his death.

These verses have come to mean much to me through the years knowing that our story is really His story
Not my picture or flower but one I would love to have.
that will bring glory to  Him...

2 Corinthians 4:13-18
"Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence."For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to mroeand more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

  "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

I've been thinking a lot about Kara's question yesterday dealing with what a 17-year-old needs to hear to go into adulthood knowing they are loved and knowing what they need to know.  After thinking a lot and going over these verses, I would have for me I probably wouldn't have understood it then but maybe I would have remembered it when I needed it.

"There is a heaven and it is eternal.  Life is short and it will not last. Keep your eyes on Jesus and His abundant and unfailing love for you [better than anyone's love here]  and the rest will fall into place."

And I did learn it, through the circumstances that God brought to teach me.  Years ago I spoke at a chapel service at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN.  Sharing the story of our accident and the things God had taught me, one of the things I said at the end was,   "I don't need answers, I just need God." That phrase is a statement of faith... not faith in what I can do, not confidence in my own strength but simply knowledge that it is all about God and what He does in me.  I can rest on that because it is only through His abundant grace.

"Thank you, Lord, for teaching me that through your steadfast love and faithfulness as you showered your grace upon this undeserving sinner who has been wondrously made righteous by your grace and love."

Previous posts for you: Getting Bitter or Better
Trials God's Perfect Plan

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Grace through pictures in our days... through Tuesday Grace Letters

"Grace, grace,
   marvelous grace....
       Grace that is greater than all our sins..."

Grace--a gift that comes in spite of me.
    Grace--a gift that brings me to the end of me.
         Grace--a gift that opens up eternity for me.
             Grace--a gift that many times comes because of darkness opening up the Light of Truth.

I'm looking for the grace these days...posting on FaceBook when I see it and wondering if it wouldn't be good in a book some day. I know seeing these graces has helped me and I hope God will use it to help others.

Grace in my recent days of care giving after 37 years with Larry following a closed head injury:

"I'll just sit here and watch you while you work. " says Larry 25 times in one hour.
 Me?? I'm thankful for the company and the work I got done. (Living with Larry is never dull, if I look for the grace. )

Watching a video I saw on FaceBook where a man keeps telling random people they are "beautiful"...
After a short time he says, "I'm handsome, not beautiful. " 
Then the grace... He looks at me, "You are beautiful." 
Guess he has those words figured out--Grace.

Living life with Larry... The lady on the radio said, "on April first do you greet others with 'Happy April Fools Day," or do you say "Merry...?" Without missing a beat Larry says, "You say, 'You look great today!!!! April Fools!!!!'" Gave me a good laugh which is always grace given.

Larry went to our Red Hat planning lunch today. After lunch he dozed off and about fell over sideways. Someone asked him if he was bored. "I'm always bored with a lot of women. "
But as can be seen in the photo he is happy, grace for me. Grateful for his almost constant happy spirit.

Living Life and Loving Life with Larry 
"Look! I have a friend!" Says Larry before they both fall asleep. Peaceful Grace.

Ready to work... Larry for a running dialogue, sun screen, a hat, a shovel, gloves and seeds. Oh, and temps in the 60's and the sun. Blessed beyond measure.

Singing along with the Barbershop music on Pandora while Melvin tries to find a lap to sleep on. Amazing how many of these songs he knows the words to. The deeper the bass goes, the more he likes it. The grace? Hearing him sing.

Larry during Call The Midwife... "Wow...." Over and over in a bored voice. He is from the era of no fathers in the delivery room.

"Larry, are you sleeping?" 
"No, my eyes are just resting "

Another great group of women Larry has hung out with this year at Bible Study every Thursday morning. He will miss you all. Grace extended by all of you.

Tonight during" Call the Midwife" we have a running dialogue 
"it's a baby." 
Guess he is learning from the show. And I smile. 
Grace...at least he is wide awake. Maybe tonight he will sleep well. Me too.

Having lunch with my Dad and other family. The subject of snoring comes up. 
Larry pipes in, "I don't snore. " 
My sister says, "Larry, say, forgive me for telling a lie." 
Larry laughed, " Well, I don't hear it.."
We all laugh.  Grace.

And so living with Larry and seeing life through his eyes and mind does give graces beyond what I could have dreamed.  I'm just glad grace indeed is greater than my sin of selfishness...when that slips in I find it difficult to see the grace... I love the surprise and joy that comes when grace is evident especially through Larry.

Father, I do ask to see the graces that are so abundant in our every days....Thank you. 

Linking with Kara and her Tuesday Grace Letters.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Graces after Winter

Grace...... such a little word and yet so real in our everydays.
    Grace....... what I'm given that I don't deserve, can't earn, can't even anticipate.
        But it is a gift given that many times I don't see....    
               because I am distracted, self-absorbed, blinded by fake gold and false promises.

Grace.... for me in the Spring is flowers everywhere after the white, cold, and barrenness of Winter. Evidences of the Resurrection that we celebrate is seen all around us as the earth comes back to life after the death knolls of winter.

I am so glad that Spring in our hemisphere is the time of new life in creation...going right along with the celebration of the empty tomb and because of that the new life we have through Jesus Christ.

First a poem, and I do love poetry, from the same brother in Christ who wrote "Amazing Grace", wrote this:

Kindly Spring
Kindly spring again is here
Trees and fields in bloom appear; 
 hark! the birds with artless lays
Warble their creator's praise. 

Where in winter all was snow,
Now the flowers in clusters grow;
And the corn, in green array,
Promises a harvest-day.

Lord, afford a spring to me,
Let me feel like what I see;
Speak, and by thy gracious voice,
Make my drooping soul rejoice.

On thy garden deign to smile,
Raise the plants, enrich the soil;
Soon thy presence will restore
Life to what seemed dead before.
John Newton 1725-1807

What a wonderful promise we have... that just as Spring brings new life to the Creator's earth, so too
He will continue to restore us, to give renewed faith and love when we have been depleted by life in this broken world.

I do get tired.  Just when I think I have this all figured out, just when I think I am doing pretty good handling what I have been given... change comes, life gets turned upside down and for whatever reason I try to fix it myself instead of laying down, looking up, and focusing on my Grace Giver, my resurrected Savior who gave me new life by sacrificing His own.

You would think after all these years of care giving, I would remember that I can't do it myself, I can't fix anything--after all I couldn't even save myself because I was dead. It is only as His Spirit in me reminds me, whispers in my soul that I begin to look for God's presence, love, grace. As I am grateful for His grace, the new growth appears.

And when I look, when I pay attention,
    God is all around me,
         but the truth is
                the winter must come first for me to really notice the spring.

These days you will find me out in my yard, and it is a big one as my oldest son reminds me often, doing what I love to do. There is something about being outside that is grace in itself. Being able to anticipate what the view will be in just a few short weeks... the smells, the colors, the sounds.

You will find me turning the soil over in my garden, planting seeds and plants, applying needed nutrients around worn out plants, cleaning out all the garbage that has piled up including pine needles, pine cones, weed skeleton leftovers from last year.

And I find as I immerse myself in His Word, His truth; when I spend time with Him, praying, listening, being, as He pours in nutrients that I need and His water flows to my thirst; As I ask Him to remove the garbage, and to grow in me the fruits of the Spirit, the striving, the worry, the discontent eases.

Sometimes, especially while I'm on my knees, I marvel in absolute wonder, at the work God is doing all around me, right in front of my eyes, and I thank Him for the work He is doing in me.

If there is one thing I've learned in my life, it is that Spring comes every year, every single year.

And likewise in my life, Winter comes, but right behind it is Spring waiting to show her beautiful face and renew my spirit as the evidence of the resurrection, of life being born out of death is all around me.

One more poem:

After the Winter
As spring the winter doth succeed
And leaves the naked trees do dress,
The earth all black is clothed in green.
At sunshine each their joy express.

My suns's returned with healing wings,
My soul and body doth rejoice,
My heart exults and praises sings
To hi that heard my wailing voice.

My winter's past, my storms are gone,
And former clouds seem now all fled, 
But if they must eclipse again,
I'll run where I was succoured.

I have a shelter from the storm,

A shadow from the fainting heat,
I have access unto his throne,
Who is  God so wondrous great.

O hath thou made my pilgrimage
Thus pleasant, fair, and good,
Blessed me in youth and elder age,
My Baca* made a springing flood.

O studious arm what I shall do
To show my duty with delight;
All I can give is but thine own
And at the most a simple mite.
Anne Bradstreet 1612-1672
*baca: valley of weeping

Linking up with Kara at Tuesday's Grace Letters

Monday, April 14, 2014

What kids and clean rooms and prayer and grace have in common

Grab a cup of tea and join me for some thoughts.

Parenting is not easy.

Now that I have a grandchild, I remember how wonderful the kisses, the smiles, the hugs, the arms reaching for me were.  Sometimes I actually long for those days again.

The great thing about our memories is that we tend to forget the hard of parenting, but one thing I do remember is a question that went through my mind often and that was, "What am I doing or not doing that will ruin my child for life?"

Her 7th birthday
I actually thought that my parenting could result in them being happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, a good citizen or a criminal, a good parent or a bad parent. I felt responsible for what they would be as adults.

I remember one particular day when my daughter, a first or second grader, was at school.  Getting her to keep her room clean was a huge struggle but when I really became firm, she would go to her room and it would look much better in a short time. I thought she was being obedient and I was a good parent.

I have to admit here that I was not a great housekeeper but I certainly wanted my kids to do better than I did.

This particular day, I went into her room and decided I would begin to do a deep cleaning.  I remember going into her room and thinking what a good job she was doing..  After straightening her quilt I noticed something sticking out from under the bed.  Upon further inspection of that hidden cavity I realized there were bags of "stuff" including food, paper, clothes, dishes, silverware, towels, toys... you name it and it was there.  Opening her closet door I found that it was also stuffed as high as she could reach.

I felt like a failure.  Furious and terribly disappointed with her, I berated myself for not being a good parent.  I hadn't really taught her how to clean her room. I waited for her to get home from school.

I'm sure there were harsh words on my part and tears on hers, but over the next few days when she was home, we went through
Lighthouse on Grand Turk
all of that "stuff," working together to put each thing in its proper place, much of it the garbage.  Much to my surprise, we found items from the kitchen, tool drawer and bathroom that I had been missing for months.

Was that the end of it?  No, she struggled with "stuff" throughout grade school and I know there were more harsh words and discipline, mostly ineffective in the moment.

The end of the story?  By high school, she was the one who cleaned the house since I was too busy and the truth is, she really was good at it.  Today, her house is clean, organized and she finds it less difficult to throw away "stuff" than I do.

Hindsight always sees things from a better perspective but if I could do it over, I wish I had known a few things...

---God was and is doing His work in my children to work out His purpose and it will be His will that is done. (I knew it, but my actions didn't demonstrate the truth of it.)
---my praying for my child does more than all the talking, teaching, persuading and convincing could ever do. (I'm learning that now in their adult years.  I just watch, pray, and then watch what God does.)
---understanding His grace and love is the most important thing in all of our lives. Children learn about that as they watch us depend on His grace and love in our own life.

I love this quote.

“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Sometimes I think we work so hard at making sure our children are successful in everything that they do, we actually teach them to be self sufficient not needing God.

I keep reading about how narcissistic children and young people are today.  Oh that we might teach them how much they need a Savior, how hopeless they are without God.  If kids don't learn that when they are young, God will use the circumstances of their lives to teach them their need, just like He teaches us.

For reflection:

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Pictures taken in the Caribbean

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Ft. Lauderdale sunrise in the port

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Off the coast of Grand Turk Island where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea run into each other.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Timothy 5:1-16 Concerning the care of widows

[The following is the lecture I gave at our Women's Bible Study on March 13, 2014.]

I don't know about you, but I know that when I really dug into this passage, I Timothy 5:1-16,  I
At the Broadmoor (2013)
realized that we all play a part, we all have a responsibility, we all need to be involved in the care of widows, those left alone, who are in our families and in our church. 

Reminds me of the story of a 105 year old woman who in a nursing home who got news that her last living child who was 85 had just passed away. When the nurse came in she told her that now she was ready to die since she no longer had to worry about any of her children.
I think maybe she had the order of things a little confused since at her age her children should be taking care of her.

I refuse to call taking care of our widows a problem because some of the most godly women I have ever known were widows. They should be considered one of the biggest assets our churches have.

The first thing I want to talk about today is just how important widows are to God.

In the Old testament we read in Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed be he who perverteth the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” I found it interesting to note that all three of these are people who are alone... the traveler in a foreign country, children without their father and widows.
In the first chapter of Isaiah God Isaiah tells the people what God expects from them and in verse 16 we read, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, remove the evil from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”

And then through Jeremiah God speaks again about this subject close to his heart in chapter 22:3, “Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow,....”

In Exodus God was even clearer about mistreatment of those who were alone in this world:
 "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry to me, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

Garden of the Gods (2013)
According to Smith's Bible Dictionary during the Old Testament times the care of a widow went to the oldest son since he would have inherited the assets of his father so he would have resources to care for his mother. Widows were also encouraged to remarry. The only guidelines for that was if they were childless, then the brother of her late husband had some obligation to marry her to give her children to carry on the linage of his brother.

In the New Testament we see over and over the compassion Jesus extended to widows. He not only knew their plight but he saw them, he didn't turn away. He knew what was happening in their life. 

In Mark 12 we see Him in the temple watching as worshipers put their money in the offering box. He saw those who put in large sums of money and then a widow came and put in two small copper coins, which added up to a penny. This was important enough that he called his disciples over and said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Another time we see a miracle he did for the widow as he approached the city of Nain, “As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, “arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus cared about this woman and her plight. Widows, be assured, God knows you and knows your needs.

And of course, Jesus himself was the oldest son of his mother Mary, also a widow. On the cross as he was dying we see him committing her care to the disciple whom He loved, “Behold they mother! And from that hour that disciple took her into his own home.”

In Acts we see the early church specifically assigning to seven men the care for the Hellenistic
My garden  2013
widows. Just a word of explanation: the Hellenists refers to Greek speaking or “Grecian” Jews. The Hellenists as a body included not only the proselytes of Greek or foreign parentage, but also those Jews who, by settling in foreign countries, had adopted the prevalent form of the current Greek civilization, and with it the use of the common Greek dialect. So we see that the church not only took care of their Hebrew widows but also saw to it that these other widows were also cared for.

But today we must admit that times today are a bit different than they were back in Paul and Timothy's day. Then women generally were considered to have no real use except in the home for the rearing of children and keeping of the house. There were few jobs available for them and without a husband, “a woman alone” if she had no family to provide for her was destitute. So then women who were “indeed” widows... real widows with no one to take her in and too old to remarry needed help.

Today, in many cases widows actually end up with more financial resources than widowers do simply because their husbands have worked hard and planned well to take care of their wives in the event that they die first. Also because of savings and investments, Social Security and pensions many widows do have a sufficient source of income, to varying degrees to be sure, but they do have some sort of income coming in.

The biggest problem today is that families tend to be spread across the country and when as widows get older, they find they can't care for their home, their yards, their finances and sometimes even just their needs to get groceries and health care without help, but there is no family close enough to help with all of that.

And so today that is where the church comes in to help.

a cosmos 2013
I thought it would be interesting to share with you the role our church has taken to help those left alone in our church. Tom Baird who is the head of the deaconate here at Village 7 said that all the widows in the church are identified as soon as possible. Whether that is through the death of their husband or through new widows becoming a part of our church family. Each one is assigned to a deacon or a deacon's assistant. Their purpose is to insure that the widows whatever needs they have are taken care of.  Like I said before that is generally not financial help but in some cases it is. The deacons also give help to meet spiritual needs, they help with yard work, home repair or even transportation for various reasons. He said that they are also getting young people involved in helping too whether with physical work but especially just spending time with those alone. The deacon assigned also connects other people who want to help in the church with those needing help. Many times they also work with family in other parts of the country to be sure the widow has what she needs and is in the place that is best for her.

Their ministry has also begun to include women who are single,for various reason but find themselves in need of help. They don't have a list of these but do appreciate it when these women contact the church and let them know of their needs. Or even friends who reach out for their friends and ask for help.

He also pointed out that as our families get more and more spread out across the country and even the world there is a growing need for more help. If you were in church Sunday you saw the wonderful video on the mercy ministry here at the church. Another School of Mercy is beginning the end of the month which will give you the resources and training you need to reach out to others with compassion and mercy. After you take the class you can decide what it is you would like to do or not. You will need to register by the 24th and you can do that online at V7PC.org.

Here in chapter 5 of I Timothy Paul lays out exactly what should happen to the widows in the church
Yard -fall -2013
Timothy was leading, and he was exact wasn't he? He also lays out some basic principles about what our response should be in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. Principles that applied then in that culture and still apply today in ours.

He begins with instructions concerning the need for encouragement to everyone in the church. In those first few verses Paul sums up a pretty simple attitude we should all have in our relationships with everyone else in the church.

Rebuke comes across as criticism and judgment and even punishment. Someone said that Rebuke looks back at something done in the past while encouragement looks to future actions on a positive note.

I love how Paul explains saying Timothy should think of the older men as fathers, the younger men as brothers, the older women as brothers and the younger women as sisters in all purity. Just as a family does, the church family needs to build others in the family up, not tear them down. We need to work on encouraging one another to go forward with proper actions as we live in this broken world.

I saw this little bit about the need for encouragement on Facebook the other day from Ann VasKomp. 

Hey Soul? Everyone you meet today is fighting this hard battle & needs courage. Needs help to live "in courage." Needs someone to encourage with words that give strength for their battle. "Gently encourage... & reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out." 1Thess5:13MSG”

Another idea or truth Paul teaches is that women definitely should not be passive in the care of the widows. He is saying caring for the widows is not just for the men, the leadership in the church to deal with. It would seem that he is telling Timothy to teach or command the women in the church some basic things about what  their behavior should be as widows and as a woman in the church.

    Clematis Fall 2013
    How many of you  have at some point in your life been a child? 
    How many of you have parents? 
    How many of you have grandparents? 
    Or even Aunts and Uncles?  Relatives alone or in need of help?

    *Not only in verse 4 does he talk about the children of widows showing godliness by caring for their parents just as their parents took care of them when they were children because this is pleasing to God. And of course we all know the command in Ephesians 6:1-2, [and he doesn't specify which gender] “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), [why] that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth.”

    AS children, no matter our age we do have an obligation to our parents but in verse 16 we see that a believing woman also should care for other relatives who are alone. But what does that look like in this day and age when so many times families live so far apart? Sometimes it means a move, a change for someone.

    There are so many possible scenarios concerning this but as we have studied Timothy we see an overriding theme here--godliness. And godliness is the key...godliness leads to being content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves whether that is something we planned or something that becomes necessary because of the circumstances of our life or in the life of those we are to care for.  You see God  has extended amazing grace to us by sending His son to die for us while we were still sinners, to die for dead people who could do nothing for themselves. And that becomes the focus, not ourselves..

    Change is always hard, and the older we get the harder it gets. But through God's grace, we can face with joy the changes that will come. As Paul said in chapter 4 starting with verse 7..."Rather train yourself for godliness, for godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come...for to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

    When our hope is set on the living God, when we have our eyes on him and not our comfort,
    our desire to have things the way we have always had them, our things, our home, our whatever, then the changes can happen with contentment because we don't look to those things for our happiness but to God.Our eyes are on Him and so we humble ourselves accepting the change. Then and only then will we realize that change is part of God's plan to teach us to trust Him more.

    Note that when Paul talks about the real widows he has several criteria which include a woman who has set her hope on the living God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” She has learned through years of walking with God, of trusting Him that He will provide and so when she finds herself alone, she turns to this God whom she has found faithful so many times. 

    The opposite of this woman is the “self-indulgent” woman who lives in worldly pleasure. I can't help but think this doesn't just mean fulfilling her sexual desires or wanton pleasures but could mean the woman who spends her life gratifying her desires for things, money, clothes and the list goes on rather than seeking God and doing good works. Notice that Paul talks about “good works” over and over. Other things he mentions are bringing up children (and in one of the commentaries I read, they said that can mean helping raise or care for children not her own who need care, she has also shown hospitality, by taking in strangers who are traveling from other lands. She also washed their feet which was necessary because of their having walked the dusty roads. Today we just provide a clean shower and nice soap and towels. They also reached out to the afflicted, they helped protect and assist those who were in danger, and those who wer down trodden.

Hudson Gardens, Littleton, 2013
But again the point is that these women have not lived a self-indulgent life.The things they did were for others.  Those women whose motives and heart are focused on God and his work will not be selfish when they become widows and in need. 

When I was in South Dakota in that small church there were a number of widows in the church. One time I said something to someone else about one of the widows whose demeanor was so peaceful and calming. Her face just glowed with an inner beauty that was amazing. Vangie encouraged everyone she came in contact with and reached out to everyone in the church. This other person who had been in that church all of her life said that was exactly the way Vangie had lived her entire life. She went on to say that it seemed like you could tell how an older woman had lived her life by just looking at her face in her later years. I think that is what Paul is saying here. The trust we have in God during our younger years will become evident when we face the “hard” days of old age. My Dad always says that getting old “ain't for sissies.” It is hard to get old, it can be lonely, it will in all likelihood be painful, there will be many nights of little slee and lots of frustration at not being able to do what once was easy to do.. And at some point we might have to move out of our homes, perhaps move in with our children or at least close to them so they can help us. What will our attitude be? Will the trust we have in God come across if change is necessary or will our own selfish desires for things not to change come through?

Another idea or truth that we need to think about is what he says in verse 16, “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened.”

Wow, that really does cover most of us, especially if you think that as part of the church, we are sisters of each other and so all the widows in the church are our relatives. 

What does that look like?

There is a story in Acts 9 about a woman by the name of Dorcas or Tabitha. We've all heard of Dorcas
Dahlia at Hudson Gardens 2013
because of her good “works and acts of charity.” Evidently her good works were helping the widows in the church. She evidently made them tunics and garments using her own resources. But here in Acts we read that she became ill and died. The widows were weeping over the death of this dear sister who had taken such good care of them. They called for Peter who was in a nearby town and when he came he sent everyone from the room (perhaps because their crying and lamenting was so loud). Then he knelt down and prayed: then he turned toward the body and said, “Tabitha, arise.” She sat up and giving her his hand she stood and he presented her to the saints and the widows.

Can you imagine the joy in that house, among those widows that day?

Tabitha or Dorcas, which means good works, was just a woman in the church. She did what she could to care for and encourage those left alone around her. We don't know about Dorcas's husband, we don't don't about her social situation but she evidently had a means of resources that she used to help others who were in need. In our church today that could mean widows, it could also mean single moms, it could mean widowers, it could mean women who have never married. As women, Paul says that we are to help each other.

Judy is a friend of mine whose family lives back in the eastern part of the country. She has several
Rose at Hudson Gardens 2013
aunts who are widows and alone. I met Judy through the stamp clubs I had when I was a Stampin Up Demonstrator and each time she came she was looking for cards she could make for those aunts. She had been sending them a card and a hand written letter each week for years. She also sent cards to the children in the church and also the widows and those who were hurting in her church here in the Springs. Judy has a full time job but she spent hours reaching out to others.

Another woman who is in her later years, but has a car and drives well can be found several days a week transporting her friends (sometimes younger that she) to doctor's appointments or to grocery stores to do their weekly shopping. She does this expecting nothing in return for the time and gas used to help her friends.

Several years ago a woman who was recently widowed shared with a friend that the hardest thing for her was evenings and getting ready to go to bed.  There was no one to talk to or even just say "good-night" to.  The friend decided at that time that she would call the widow every night at nine o'clock to just ask her how her day had been and then say, "Good Night....sleep well."  Only took a few minutes each day but what a blessing to this woman all alone.

Many of our widowed relatives have the financial means to live but the hardest thing they deal with is loneliness. In this day and age when most of us have phones with free long distance included, why don't we pick up the phone more often and just call an aunt or an older cousin or a long lost friend to visit for a few minutes. To let them know we are thinking about them. Or even sending a little care package with a bag of tea, a little box of chocolate or even a bouquet of flowers can mean the world to someone who lives alone. We need to let each other know that we care and that they aren't alone. 

Rose at Hudson Gardens 2013
And you know what? Loneliness doesn't just happen to widows.  There are times we most of us feel alone even in a crowd. But the more we reach out to others, the less alone we will feel. My advice for anyone here who feels lonely at times is to get up and go out and do something for someone else. Get out of your comfort zone. If you don't know what you could possibly do, sign up to take the course in the Mercy School. I promise you it will be seven of the most profitable weeks you will spend.

One ministry directed to widows here in the church is Naomi Fellowship. This is in large part funded by the deaconate who also try to attend these monthly luncheons where they can be even more involved with the widows of the church. But the thing I love about Naomi Fellowship is that many of those who plan and carry out those monthly luncheons are widows themselves... again involved in doing good works of every kind. Isn't it wonderful to know that as Paul said in Ephesians, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

So once again we see Paul in essence saying that in the church as we grow in godliness, as we become more and more aware of our dependence on God and what he has done for us, our focus will be Christ instead of ourselves. And then He will be able to direct our work, our work of good to others in the body of believers. I am often reminded of a story about General William Booth who founded the Salvation Army.

It was Christmas Eve, 1910. General William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army in
Rose Garden at Hudson Gardens
London, England was near the end of his life. His health was poor, and he was going to be unable to attend the Army’s annual convention. Booth had become an invalid, and his eyesight was failing him. No one knew that he would not live to see another Christmas. 

Somebody suggested that General Booth send a telegram or a message to be read at the opening of the convention as an encouragement to the many soldiers of the Salvation Army that would be in attendance following Christmas and their many hours of labor ministering to so many others through the holidays and the cold winter months. Booth agreed to do so.
Knowing that funds were limited and desiring not to use any more money than necessary so that as much money as possible could be used to help the many people in need, General Booth decided to send a one word message. He searched his mind and reviewed his years of ministry, looking for the one word that would summarize his life, the mission of the Army and encourage the others to continue on.
When the thousands of delegates met, the moderator announced that Booth would not be able to be present because of failing health and eyesight. Gloom and pessimism swept across the floor of the convention. Then, the moderator announced that Booth had sent a message to be read with the opening of the first session. He opened the telegram and read the one word message:

Signed, General Booth.

I pray that God will use each of us to be devoted to good works of every kind. To reach out not only to our own relatives who are alone, but to others in our church who are alone. After all Paul tells us that the world will know we are Christians by our love for each other. They don't know that kind of love but they are looking for it. Let's pray for each other that through the grace of God through His Spirit, that kind of love will be evident to a world that so badly needs His truth.