Whiter Than Snow

Today, I am choosing to be thankful for snow. I don’t really like driving in it, or shoveling it, but there are some wonderful things about snow. God made it– in fact, the Bible says He has storehouses full of it (Job 38:22)! So what are some of the wonders of snow?

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  • Snow acts as a natural insulator of soil, roots, and underground bulbs and plants. When temperatures plummet, the snow acts as a blanket, protecting all that lies below ground.
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  • Snow– especially new-fallen, clean snow, reflects light and brightens the landscape. With less natural sunlight, this is very important, not just for plants, but for people. Physical and mental health is enhanced when we get adequate amounts of light. Visibility is also enhanced– even at night!– when there is a snowy ground-cover.
  • Snow is a better way to add moisture to the air and ground in winter–when winter rainfall freezes, it is much heavier and more dangerous than snowfall.
  • Snow can be fun! Skiing, sledding, making snowmen, and snow forts– it’s not just fun for children.
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  • Snow can be good for business! Ski resorts, plowing services, parks with cross-country ski trails, and many others depend on snow.
  • Snow accumulates– especially in mountainous regions– and refreshes rivers and lakes as it melts in the spring. Running water from snowmelts feed brooks and streams, and replenishes underground springs and wells as it seeps in. In this way, God gently wakes up mountainside forests and glens, turning them from white (or gray) to vibrant green.
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  • Snow is beautiful! (Especially if I don’t have to drive in it or shovel it.) It glistens on the bare tree branches and settles in mounds on the fields. It sparkles in the moonlight and glories in the sunrise. It delights us as it dances on the air, swirling and hovering and settling on our eyelashes or fingertips, only to melt away like a dream. We hear often about the marvel of snowflakes– each one is completely unique in its design and makeup. We may even take it for granted– especially after a particularly large snowstorm! But God chooses to lavishly pour out His creativity and love into each tiny flake that falls to the ground and melts with a mere breath. How much more does He pour out His love on each one of us!
  • God uses snow as a metaphor for His forgiveness. See Psalm 51:7, Isaiah 1:18. “Snow” white is considered pure, radiant, and refreshing. In just such a way, God can take our failures and mistakes, and replace them with His righteousness, making us pure, radiant, and able to be refreshed and to offer refreshment to others!
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Then, He Smiled at Me…

The story of “The Little Drummer Boy” is nowhere in the Bible. It is very unlikely that such an event ever took place. Yet it has become a classic Christmas song. I think it is easy for us to identify with the singer– a poor boy who wants to honor the Baby Jesus, but has no gift to offer. What he does have– a drum and the ability to play it– he offers gladly. He asks permission of Mary and she nods her consent. But the highlight of the song is when the Baby Jesus smiles His approval.

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At Christmas, we welcome a Christmas card-picture perfect stylized Baby Jesus, who smiles, never cries, charms all the animals of the stable, and merits the singing of angels choirs among the heavens. But we have a tendency to leave Him in the manger, where He can be a tiny miracle; a gift from God, bringing hope of peace on earth, and teaching us to give gifts and celebrate life.

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Somewhere along the way, our picture of Jesus tends to change. The adult Jesus is kind, wise, compassionate, and even passionate– but He is a man of sorrows. This is not “wrong” theology– the Bible describes Him as a man of sorrows; one who was despised and rejected by His own people, and condemned to die by those He came to save (see Isaiah 53). But we don’t tend to think of Jesus smiling, His eyes crinkled in a grin, dimples appearing as He delights in sharing time with us. Yet this is also Biblical (see Zephaniah 3:17).

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What an amazing image– Jesus, a radiant smile on His face as He listens to our prayers; a grin of delight as we speak words of encouragement to our family members and joyful greetings to those we meet throughout the day! Jesus smiling as we take out the garbage (without grumbling!); Jesus laughing along with us as we share treasured memories (or make new ones) with our kids; Jesus listening to our confession and responding with a warm smile of forgiveness and compassion; Jesus smiling as we sing along (maybe even a little off-tune) with one of our favorite songs on the radio, or tap our fingers on the steering wheel, or bob our head along with the rhythm, oblivious to onlookers!

We pray to the very Lord of the Universe– but He is not a stern and joyless God. Jesus wept while He was on earth (John 11:35)–but He also laughed, and ate, and hugged, and sang, and ran, and danced for joy! And He is no less joyful in Heaven as He watches over us. He delights in our smallest triumphs. He cheers us on in our battles every bit as enthusiastically as a fan cheering on his favorite sportsperson. And when we stumble, He is there with the kind of smile that welcomes us to get up and fall into His arms.

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There is only one thing we must do to experience His radiant and glorious smile– “Come!”

November Poem

God is:

Worthy
Omnipotent
Never changing, the
Desire of the Ages
Eternal
Revered
Father
Unlimited
Light

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Jesus is:

Forever faithful
Accessible
Incomparable
Trustworthy
Hope for the hopeless
Full of
Unending
Love

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I am:

Grateful
Redeemed
Aspiring to be like Christ
Trusting that I am
Empowered by His Spirit to
Forgive others, even as I am
Unworthy of His unending
Love

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We are:

Transformed
Humble
Able to do “all things” through Christ
No longer slaves to Sin
Known by our Love for each other
Fruitful
Upheld in the power of His
Love

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What Costs Me Nothing…

We’re coming up to Thanksgiving in the U.S. next week. Many families will sit down to sumptuous meals–turkey with dressing/stuffing (depending on what region you live in), pumpkin pies, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, rolls or muffins, salads, mac and cheese, casseroles, cranberry sauce, and more. Some will settle in front of big screen televisions to watch American football, and parades crowded with giant balloons and marching bands. Some will have modest gatherings with family and friends.

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And the following day– Black Friday– they will rush to malls and giant box stores to take advantage of the spectacular sales. People will buy hundreds of dollars worth of Christmas gifts, all with the satisfaction that they might have spent a lot more if they had not braved the crowds and the 4 a.m. opening times (some will begin shopping on Thanksgiving Day for the “head start.” Others will stay comfortably and safely indoors and spend their money shopping on-line).

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All of this costs money, of course. But for many Americans, it is not a real pinch to celebrate Thanksgiving. And we will say “Thanks,” and count our many blessings. We will also give. Charities and organizations are already taking donations. We can give $10 at the store to help buy meals for the hungry. We can buy small gifts to be sent overseas or to be given to the children of those in prison, or those who are homeless. We can buy coats (or hats or mittens, etc.) for those who have none. These efforts cost some money, too.

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But how much of these efforts comes from true “thankfulness” and how much from other sources– pride or guilt or a sense of duty? For what am I truly grateful at Thanksgiving? Thankful that I have so much? Thankful that I have the power to help others? Thankful that I have the day off to go shopping?

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It is easy for some of us to be thankful and generous–in our own eyes. I can give with the click of a button, and money I barely know I have is taken from my bank account and deposited in the account of a charity I may know very little about. I never have to see the people who are helped, and I never have to see what they have suffered or how my gift makes a difference. In fact, I don’t really have to see whether my gift even arrives where I imagine or does what the charity has promised. Some organizations are more transparent than others, and more reputable or honest than others, but I can feel good just by giving. In some cases, I can “make a difference” without any cost at all– just “like” a certain site, or fill out a survey. I can “give” without even giving!

In recent years, however, I have been surprised by those who have tried to make me feel bad about giving. They are not angry because I have not given, or have given very little, or given to dishonest charities. No. One lady was outraged that I should give to an organization that sends toys, hygiene items, and school supplies to needy children in countries around the world. What caused her outrage? Three things–the toys were “too American”–the instructions were printed in English, or they were “frivolous” toys like jump ropes and “matchbox” sized cars and trucks. Also, some of the boxes and wrapping were printed with cartoon-like children, which she felt were “racist” in their depiction. Finally, the spokesperson for the organization had been portrayed by the media as narrow-minded and “hateful” toward the issue of gay marriage. Her solution: she was never going to give to such an organization. She was urging people to give to groups that were providing livestock, instead. Here, she felt, was a useful gift. Chickens, goats, cows–these were gifts that would truly make a difference. And such gifts can and do make a difference– in rural areas, where there is space and enough grass or other food to sustain such animals. Her gift will have little impact on a child living in Nairobi, or Tegucigalpa, or Kosovo. I am glad she has the means and the desire to give and to help. And the organizations who provide such gifts are worthy–I mean no disrespect to any of them. But giving should be a joyous outpouring of love and thankfulness, of compassion and humility. If that means helping a rural community get milk and meat, that’s wonderful. If it means sending a stuffed animal, some silly socks, and some soap and washcloths to Lebanon, that’s great, too. Even if I don’t like the wrapping paper…

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My point is that a lot of our “giving” has become more about virtue signaling than joyously sharing with others to meet their needs. It costs a lot more in money to send a goat to Peru. But it may cost a lot more in time and energy to spend a day serving meals at a homeless shelter, or volunteer to rebuild in a community hit by a tornado or hurricane. And even though there may be a monetary cost to some of our gifts, in some ways, our “giving” costs us nothing. Not just little or nothing in dollars and cents, but little in emotion or thought or effort. There is nothing personal, or heartfelt, or sacrificial about some of our giving.

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And if that is true of our giving to strangers, what does that say about what we “give” to our families, our neighbors, and to God?

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During the reign of King David, there are many instances of celebration and thanksgiving. But there are also stories of heartbreak, loss, and repentance. In one of these incidents, King David angered God by taking a census. His conscience caused him to ask God’s forgiveness and ask what could be done to take away the guilt. God sent the prophet Gad to give David three choices, but David left it in God’s hands. God sent a vicious plague that swept toward Jerusalem. When the angel of death reached the threshing floor of a man named Araunah the Jebusite, God told him to stop. David could actually see where God had stopped the plague, and immediately went to buy the threshing floor, so he could build an alter and sacrifice to the Lord in repentance and in thanksgiving for God’s mercy.

Read more about the story of David in 2 Samuel 24
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King David had plenty of money. He also had authority, and the respect of his people. Araunah offered to give David not only the field, but the oxen to make the sacrifice. As the king, David could have taken the land and oxen– he could even have demanded them of Araunah. But David paid for it all, saying that he would not give to God that which had cost him nothing.

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In this season of giving, it can be tempting to measure the value of our gift by the monetary cost, or by the value WE receive from giving. But true giving should involve a willing and joyful sacrifice of our pride and our time. Sometimes, this may mean NOT giving a toy or a goat–it may mean giving an apology, or a second chance, or being willing to give up a turkey dinner or a shopping trip, in order to visit a shut-in, or spend some much needed time on our knees.

Having said that, there are plenty of things we can give that cost us “nothing”–smiles, a warm welcome, a listening ear, reaching out for reconciliation, and most of all, a heart-felt “Thank You.” Sometimes, these gestures cost us nothing– sometimes, they are a sacrifice. But they are gifts that really make a difference.

If You Only Knew…

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)
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The Pharisees in the New Testament seem to spend a lot of time judging and criticizing everyone. They rail at Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath, they grumble about His disciples not following the ritual hand-washing customs, and they are constantly critical of Jesus for “hanging out” with sinners and undesirables. We shake our heads and lament how narrow-minded they were. But I have to wonder what would happen in today’s world if Jesus were walking among us today. Would He “hang out” at our churches? Would He praise those who spend their time pointing out the hypocrisy of others? Would He be a “social justice” warrior?

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Many of Jesus’s miracles were done quietly and without pretense. No one criticized “what” Jesus was doing. No one said, “you shouldn’t be healing people,” or, “how dare you turn water into wine.” Instead, they criticized “how” Jesus did His miracles and what He said about Himself, others, and God. In the book of Luke, we have a story that doesn’t even involve a miracle. Jesus was invited to be the guest of a Pharisee. Jesus didn’t turn down the invitation. He didn’t start out criticizing the host or the food. But when a woman crashed the party– a woman known all around town for her sinful ways–and made a scene, Jesus didn’t recoil in horror, order her to leave, or stop her from making a fool of herself. The Pharisee, believing that he had “unmasked” Jesus as a charlatan, concluded that Jesus didn’t “know” what sort of woman she was. But Jesus, breaking His silence, ended up “unmasking” the Pharisee, instead.

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Jesus “knew” what sort of woman made such a spectacle of herself–one who needed compassion and forgiveness. Jesus knew exactly “who” and “what” she was. But He also knew who created her, loved her, and wanted to redeem her to become someone better. Moreover, He knew what kind of man Simon (the Pharisee) was. He started out with a parable about cancelled debt and a question. Simon answered the question correctly, but he had missed the point. Simon “knew” the woman was a sinner; he didn’t recognize that he was a sinner, too! Simon thought he was smarter and holier than Jesus. He didn’t know himself, and he didn’t recognize Jesus as God in the Flesh.

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How often I make the same mistake! I think I “know” who God wants me to love and honor– those who say all the right words and wear the right clothes and belong to the right church. But if I want to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, I will have compassion on the people who most need it; I will be ready to forgive those who owe me the most; I will spare judgment where I do not “know” all that God knows about someone else.

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It is easy to lift up in prayer those I admire; those to whom I am already close. It is more difficult to pray for those who persecute me, or taunt me about my belief in Christ. It is difficult to withhold judgment about why they may dislike me or why they distrust Christians in general. It is tempting to pray for their “exposure” or punishment, rather than their well-being. It may be unpleasant to spend time with them or take them seriously. But it is essential that I do, with God’s help, what I would not do in my own pride and limited knowledge. Otherwise, like Simon, I am showing only how little I love the one who died for me– and the person I choose to hold in judgment and contempt.

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I have a lot of work to do in this area. Just today, I read a news snippet about a political office-holder; one with whom I heartily disagree. My first instinct was to pray that she be ousted from office in the next election, and publicly scorned. And perhaps that will happen. But my first priority should be to pray that she would be protected in her current role as public servant, and that God would give her wisdom and discernment in the months ahead. Not because she is a “better” person; but because Jesus died for her. If she were the woman in this story, would I be another Simon the Pharisee? I pray not.

Of Spiders, Skeletons, and Saints

Just before writing this, I found a spider crawling on my shoulder. I’m not a big fan of spiders. This one wasn’t huge or furry or anything, but it startled me. I didn’t scream, but I did jump, and frantically brushed at my shoulder, and then stomped on the spider a couple of times for good measure as it tried to crawl away.

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Spiders are not uncommon. They eat other annoying insects, and many are not harmful to humans. But they are “creepy.” They have all those legs and eyes and they hide in corners and drop down from ceilings. Some of them jump and some bite. There are a lot of “creepy” creatures in this world– spiders and snakes, rats and lizards, worms, and bats, and scorpions, roaches and fleas, and more. “Creepy” critters startle us; they scare us in the ways that they move, in the noises they make, and in the threat of danger– diseases, poisons, filth…

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This time of year it is not unusual to see “creepy” creatures in movies and decorations and costumes for Halloween. Another type of “creepy” sighting involves things associated with death or near-death– ghosts, zombies, skeletons, ghouls, vampires…Their creepiness comes from the idea that Death has power over the living. The idea that Death stalks among us causes fear. Death is an enemy we cannot conquer. Everyone has to taste death and the unknown that follows. Everyone has a skeleton in life, but a skeleton walking without muscle or skin is terrifying to us. Everyone has a soul, but a soul without a body (or a body without a soul) makes us fearful–will that be our fate? What kind of existence would that be?

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I am not a big fan of “creepy” stories and horror flicks. I don’t like being frightened for entertainment, and I have never understood why such things appeal to others. Recently, though, I heard from someone an explanation that made me think. They said, “I enjoy watching horror films and reading scary books because I know, no matter how scary it gets, that Good will always win out in the end.” Well, all right. I still don’t want to watch spooky stuff, but I can agree with the sentiment of the speaker.

Not all frightening things in this world are “creepy.” Cancer, blindness, aging, loss of a loved one, job loss, homelessness, loss of reputation, betrayal, false arrest, slavery to addiction, abuse, starvation–all are scary realities that can leave us overwhelmed, afraid, and even feeling hopeless. Nothing we can do will eradicate the threat of hardship, suffering, and death that await us all. We can make plans to “cheat” death, or build walls against getting hurt or suffering loss. But we cannot banish the threat or the fear of “what if..”, nor can we slay Death.

The Good News is that Death doesn’t win in the end. Death seems like the final word, but we can endure even this, knowing that “Good will always win out in the end.” God has not destined us to be skeletons, but to be saints–awakened to new life, cleansed of all sin and disease, and eternally Alive in Him! I can be startled by the spider, “creeped-out” by a skeleton, and knocked down by a debilitating disease. But I can turn the page, open my eyes, look up, and keep going, knowing that God is on His Throne.

And there’s more good news–Life, Hope, and Love are always with us. No spider, skeleton, sickness, or other threat will ever find us alone; none will ever take God by surprise; nothing can separate us from God’s Loving Care.


18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:7-11 (NIV)
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6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:6

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

The Unchanging God

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As I look out the window today, I see an array of autumn colors–yellow, red, orange, green, brown, and even purple leaves against a vibrant blue sky. Autumn is full of changes; changing leaves, changing temperatures, changing wardrobes. I love living in an area where the seasons change dramatically. I don’t always like the drama, however. We’ve had warm days, wet days, cold days– sometimes all three in the same day! But I do like the variety– snow in the winter, colorful leaves in the fall, new life in spring, and summer trips to the beach or the shady woods.

It isn’t only the weather or the trees that change. The times are changing– literally–we will be turning our clocks back this weekend, “falling back” to conventional time after several months of “daylight savings time. Our neighborhood is changing–the bank down the street just changed its name, and a couple of new businesses are opening, as a couple others close. We are experiencing life changes. My husband and I are in the “autumn” of life– feeling the slow creep of age, in good ways and bad. We enjoy spending time with our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, as they embark on new adventures and challenges of “becoming.” We don’t enjoy the aches and pains and slower pace we now find ourselves adopting, but we appreciate the wisdom of life lived and learned. We have aging parents who are facing their own decisions, many of which will involve us in one way or another.

God watches over all these changes. He sees them, orders them, anticipates them. God is the master of renewal, redemption, and restoration. God can move mountains, heal diseases, restore relationships, and raise the dead! And, unless we allow God to change our very nature and give us new birth through His Son, we will miss the greatest change of all.

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But God never changes. The same God who formed me in my mother’s womb is the God who will be with me as I take my last earthly breath. The same God who formed the oceans and spoke galaxies into being is the God who whispered frost onto the grass this morning. This God is faithful through every season of the year and every season of life. I will not wake up tomorrow to find that there will be no more winter or spring seasons, or that the grass has all turned purple, or that God’s word is no longer true and powerful. And there will never be a time when I cannot trust God’s Sovereignty, His Mercy, or His Love. God’s promises are eternally sure; His Faithfulness is everlasting; and His power is limitless. God will never quit; He will never grow tired; He will never be “confused” about the road ahead; He will never resort to “plan B.”

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Very soon, the colorful leaves will fall, the morning frost will be replaced with snow and ice, and my fall jacket will have to give way to my winter coat and gloves. In time, my gray hair will turn white, and my wrinkles will multiply. Someday, my great-grandchildren may find my name carved on a stone and wonder what I sounded like or what kind of person I was. But God will still be the same as He was in the days of Noah, and King Solomon; the same God who watched the fall of the Roman Empire, the horrors of the Holocaust, and the first Moon landing. That’s the God who hears my prayers– and yours. He can be trusted. He is faithful.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)

We Like Us

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I’ve been very blessed with a large extended family–in-laws, cousins, step-cousins, half-cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, second cousins–well over 600! (and counting). I’ve spent a lot of time recently attending family events, and each one has been happy, encouraging, and invigorating. I know that is not always the case in families. Some families argue; some won’t even speak to each other. And there is not perfect harmony, even in the best of human families. We’ve had divorces and divides, too; but mostly, as my one cousin is fond of saying, “We like us.” We like belonging to a family, but even more, we like belonging to our family. As our family grows, it is becoming more diverse, and we like that, too. Many years ago, most of our family members were farmers from a small area in southwestern Michigan. Now, our family includes truck drivers, mechanics, teachers, architects, coaches, doctors, office managers, car salesmen, nurses, dispatchers, accountants, chefs, shopkeepers, ministers, photographers, cosmetologists, pet groomers, medical transcriptionists, cinematographers, artists, dancers, contractors, factory workers, and yes, some farmers, too. We have family members with varying skin tones and ethnic backgrounds, and differing physical and mental abilities. And we LIKE “us.”

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Jesus likened the Kingdom of Heaven to a family– it is made up of many members, but we are all brothers and sisters “in Christ.” And, like a family, we are supposed to like “us.” More than that, we are supposed to LOVE one another! We are to be there for each other, in good times and bad; in mourning and in rejoicing. “For better, for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health..” It shouldn’t matter if our brothers and sisters live close by or halfway around the world; whether they belong to our local congregation of “that other church across town.” And it SHOULD matter when we see some of our family members being persecuted or facing hardship while others live in comfortable apathy.

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But Jesus went even further. We are to love those who are not “US.” We are to show love and mercy to those who don’t “belong.” We are to reach out to those who dislike, despise, and even persecute us. The way we treat each other as “family” and the way we treat those “outside” will either attract or repel others, and it will show whether or not we have learned to love as Jesus did.

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God “Likes” us. He wants to share life with us –any of us who will respond to His call. And God LOVES us. He treats us with the same compassion and love, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done, or how we’ve responded (or failed to respond) to His outreach.

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Clearly, there are those who do not like us; who do not wish us well. And God does not call us to be victims, dupes, and doormats for abusive relatives or strangers. We are to Love– but wisely, and with the strength of God. Liking someone does not obligate us to betray our conscience, or enable abusive and immoral behavior in others. Loving someone may mean setting boundaries where they are needed. But it also may involve tearing down false walls of fear and “inconvenience” that we’ve been using to excuse action.

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Who can we reach out to this week, extending the kind of welcome and acceptance we give our family? How can we begin seeing more of “us” in the people we meet, and less of “them?” And, if there are family members (either our birth families, or our church families) with whom we have a broken relationship, are there ways we can make a move to try to mend fences? How can we set wise boundaries, while tearing down false ones? One sure way is to begin praying– pray for those we meet, whether or not we consider them “family.” Pray for those who have hurt us– and those we have hurt. Pray for those who seem different and hard to understand or accept. Pray for God to bless them, encourage them, meet their needs– Pray that God will give us wisdom, opportunities, and strength to reach out.

Always Remember, Pray, Give Thanks

The Apostle Paul is consistent in opening most of his letters with a phrase that uses the same four key words– Always, Remember, Prayers, and Thank. The order of the words may change, but the idea stays the same. Paul is always remembering others, always praying for them, and always thankful to God for them.

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Paul uses similar phrasing whether addressing individuals, like Timothy or Philemon, or church groups, like the Ephesians or Philippians. But the message is always very personal. He is not saying a general “Thank You” to God for people “like” Philemon, or “like” the church in Ephesus. He is remembering shared burdens, shared laughter, shared experiences, and thanking God for those deeply held memories. He is lifting up individual burdens, such as the on-going disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi (Philippians 4:2), or Timothy’s stomach problems (1 Timothy 5:23).

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It is easy, and costs nothing, to pray generic prayers for a large, faceless mass of strangers. It is easy to love humanity from afar. It is another thing to enter into another person’s “messiness” and “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2); to remember struggles and sacrifices made on behalf of others (or to remember being the one in great need of another’s sacrifices). Life– abundant, vibrant, and glorious–calls us to get involved. Not just from the sidelines, not just when it’s convenient, but “always.”

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Prayer calls us to be involved. That doesn’t mean we can’t pray “general” prayers– for peace in foreign lands, or and end to drought or hunger, etc. But we must not neglect “wrestling” prayers–prayers for our unsaved loved ones, prayers for persecuted believers (whether next door or around the world), prayers for our community workers, and prayers for those who are in need. Nor should we neglect prayers of remembrance and thanksgiving for those who have come into our lives. Finally, we need to be willing to let individuals KNOW that they are being remembered, prayed for, and appreciated.

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One of the greatest blessings I know is remembering all the special people who have crossed paths, shared the journey, and borne shared burdens with me, and knowing that each person, each memory, each moment, is eternally and infinitely precious to God! What a privilege it is to share good times and even “battle scars” with so many amazing, unique, beloved people! What a privilege to lift them up before the throne of grace!

When Nothing Else Could Help

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

Sometimes, I write because I feel as though I have received wisdom to pass on about prayer. But sometimes, like today, I write because I need to confess how much I still need to learn (or put into practice)!

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My mother has been in and out of the Emergency Room over the past few weeks. It’s not that she is experiencing actual emergencies–heart attack or difficulty breathing or broken bones or blood clots (though she has been checked for all of these at one point or another). Instead, she is experiencing pain and fear– fear that her pain is related to a larger issue that could be life-threatening. My mother is 88 years old, and there is a reasonable fear that her health is deteriorating and that death is closer than she wants to think about.

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The other day, I received a call from a dear friend and neighbor of my mom to say that she had stopped by to visit Mom and ended up taking her to the ER at the local hospital. Again, Mom was not in medical distress requiring an ambulance– this was not a “life or death” call; but Mom hadn’t slept well, she was hurting, and she just didn’t feel “right.” She had just seen her physician last week, and she had an appointment to see another doctor the next day, but she was afraid.

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I was very much less than gracious about receiving the call. My siblings and I are exhausted, frustrated, and worried. I can’t speak for the others, but I feel guilty about not doing enough, and guilty for doing “too much” all at the same time. My emotions were raw; my gut was churning, and my mind was a complete disaster. I couldn’t think clearly, and I couldn’t “feel” anything. As a “last resort,” I sent out a request via Facebook asking others to pray for my mom– I didn’t feel like I could even do that on my own.

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Of course, there is a power in prayer that goes beyond anything we can comprehend, much less explain. Within minutes, over three dozen people let me know they were sending prayers for my mom. But more than that, I received a call from my cousin–and he had just the words to assuage my false sense of guilt and refocus my thoughts and emotions. As time passed, our friend called with an update–Mom has severe arthritis in her back, and another minor issue that should respond to simple medication. She will still have pain; but now she has one less reason to worry about the cause.

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I can’t say that this is the “end” of the frustration, exhaustion, or even the worry about my mom’s declining health. We are still struggling with various questions and decisions she needs to make for the future.

But this episode reminded me that prayer should not be a “last resort” when facing the unexpected. It’s not that I haven’t prayed about Mom’s health recently– a lot! But in that initial moment of hearing about yet another trip to the ER, my first thought was not to “take it to the Lord in prayer,” but to worry and let my thoughts run everywhere but up.

Thankfully, God is eternally gracious and powerful– willing to give the doctors wisdom in dealing with my Mom, and willing to give me peace and restore my flagging faith. Mom still has to face pain; my siblings and I still have to face the looming reality of life “after” God calls Mom home, and the chaos and uncertainty in the time between now and then. But we can seek Him first, with confidence and hope, rather than letting worry sap our energy and steal our joy. God’s love and grace are more powerful than worry and doubt, fear and guilt.

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I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my earliest memories is of my Mother singing and humming an old hymn as my lullaby. Even as I watch her struggling with end of life issues, I am joyfully anticipating that this season will give way to being “lifted” by Love into eternal bliss. I am so grateful that this song is etched in my heart– even when I need a reminder. So I’m going to listen and let it be part of God’s comforting message to me. And I hope, for anyone struggling with stress, guilt, worry, or fear, that it will be “uplifting” for you today, as well.

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