THE ONE HE LOVES – Part 1

In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. [Deuteronomy 32:10-11 (NIV)]

eagleA friend once asked her mother which of her children was the favorite. I can’t imagine making such a query, wanting to hear the answer, or how I’d respond to the same question. Since I can’t even pick my favorite color, I certainly couldn’t pick my favorite child. Is it the one with the over-the-top personality who not only could sell ice cubes to Eskimos but convince them to double their order because of a possible shortage? Is my favorite the adventurous one with the wonderfully quirky sense of humor and a mind that puts Wikipedia to shame? Is my favorite the thoughtful child—the one whose faith, strength, and patience rival that of Job? If they were beverages, one child would be a doppio espresso; another spiced chai with ginger, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon and cloves; while the third would be calming chamomile tea with a touch of honey. Like those beverages, each of my children is interesting, pleasant, and delightfully unique. One challenged me, one grieved me, and one worried me. Do I love them less because of that? Absolutely not! While I love them equally, because they have been blessed with different personalities and abilities, I don’t always treat them the same. Nevertheless, I love all three of them, just each in their own special way!

When my father called me the “apple of his eye,” I felt precious, treasured, and loved. I realize now that he never used that phrase within earshot of my siblings and suspect he used the same term of endearment in private with them. While there probably were times he liked one of us more than the others, I think we each were the apple of his eye in our own special way.

The Apostle John seemed to think he was the apple of Jesus’ eye. In his gospel, John refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” In the only other gospel written by one of the disciples, Matthew always refers to himself by name. I suspect the difference in how these men referred to themselves has far more to do with their writing style than with whether or not they felt loved. Granted, Jesus had his inner circle—John, Peter and James—but I don’t think that means He loved one disciple more than the next.

Indeed, John was the apple of Jesus’ eye—but so were Matthew, doubtful Thomas, Simon the Zealot, impulsive Peter, prayerful Mary, busy Martha, the woman at the well, and even the repentant thief on the cross. Because each was unique, they weren’t always treated the same but, without a doubt, each was loved and all were the “apple of his eye.” When we accepted Christ, God adopted us into His family and each of us, in our own special way, became His favored and much-loved child and the apple of His eye. Like John, every one of us is the disciple Jesus loves!

For God does not show favoritism. [Romans 2:11 (NIV)]

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)]

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CORRECTION

An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. … As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. [Proverbs 27:5-6,17 (NLT)]

bougainvillaWhen I was asked if I’d ever been hurt by a fellow believer, I had to reply that in my seventy plus years, I’ve been hurt (both intentionally and unintentionally) by all sorts of people, including the most devout of Christians. When asked if any Bible verse helped guide my response to the hurt, Ephesians 4:32 came to mind: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” I was then asked what I’d learned from my experiences. The first take-away, learned the hard way, was to immediately ask God to put His arm around my shoulder and His hand over my mouth before I said something stupid or nasty. The second was that, as tactless, unkind, petty, and rude that both Christians and non-Christians can be, they also can be right!

It’s been said that the truth hurts and, indeed, it often does. Every now and then, we’re on the receiving end of judgment, criticism, rejection, condemnation, or disdain. While words of correction should always come out of love, sometimes they’re delivered out of anger, jealousy, or spite. Nevertheless, we need to distance ourselves from the circumstances, personalities, and hurt feelings to ask ourselves a simple question. Is there any truth to what was said? No wiser or smarter than the next guy, we’re not always the ones who should be giving critiques, suggestions, or instruction. Sometimes (perhaps more often than not), we’re the ones who should be on the receiving end.

Occasionally, we get so committed to a plan that we fail to see there may be a better way or are so vested in being right that we ignore the possibility of being wrong. As a result, we become so tenacious in our defense that we fail to see the validity of any criticism or so determined to claim victory that we fail to see resolution or compromise. As unpleasant as it may be, we need to stop and prayerfully examine the message. The delivery doesn’t have to be pleasant or welcome for the criticism or comment to be valid.

God doesn’t want us living in error; He wants to turn our weakness into strength, our faults into attributes, our falseness into truth, our confusion into clarity, and our messes into messages. God’s correction is always good but it rarely appears printed on a sweet candy heart. Just because it doesn’t come wrapped in a polite loving package, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it shouldn’t be heeded. Although I would prefer correction from the comforting voice of someone who truly cares for me, some of the best advice I ever received came seasoned with a little spite and rancor. God used a talking donkey to give His message to Balaam and He will use both sensitive and thoughtless believers and unbelievers to send His correction to us. Just because the truth sometimes hurts doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. [Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT)]

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TEACH THE CHILDREN (FATHER’S DAY- 2020)

And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning. Tie them on your finger, wear them on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house! [Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (TLB)]

elkIn 2018, a woman posted a video on Facebook that was shared over 400,000 times in the next six days. It was of a little boy who had a unique way of reciting his ABCs—each letter was followed by a Bible verse that began with it. Rather than “A is for apple,” the youngster started with “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find,” [Matthew 7:7] and finished with “Zion hears and rejoices.” [Psalm 97:8] In spite of the boy’s dark brown hair and East Texas drawl, the woman mistakenly identified him as blond-haired Prince George, third in line to the British throne. Originally posted in October of 2016, the video actually was of  four-year-old Tanner Hemness from Tyler, Texas.

After the youth minister at Tanner’s church challenged the congregation to learn Bible verses for every letter of the alphabet as a family, Tanner’s dad wasn’t sure his then three-and-a-half-year-old could do it; nevertheless, the family gave it a try. Every week they worked on another letter and verse. Seven months later, Tanner was able to recite his ABCs in Bible verses. We had enough trouble convincing our children that they couldn’t use “Jesus wept” as their personal Bible verse at their confirmations and this little guy learned twenty-six far longer verses! Instead of “Jesus wept,” for J, the youngster learned Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Although there were many positive responses to seeing this little boy happily reciting God’s word, there also was criticism. Among other things, Tanner’s father was accused of brainwashing, psychological indoctrination, and child abuse. Yet, if he’d spent seven months successfully teaching his son how to hit a baseball or make a basket, those same people probably would have applauded his dedication to the boy. Tanner’s father did exactly what Scripture told him to do: teach God’s word to his child. After all, the Israelites were told to talk about God’s word from morning to night, tie it on their hands, wear it on their foreheads, and post it on their doorways, so writing a different Bible verse on a chalkboard each week doesn’t sound that extreme! It speaks of a father’s dedication to and love for both his family and the Lord! Sadly, if we don’t teach our children to follow Jesus, the world will teach them not to!

The Bible is the basis for our faith; all of our doctrine and practices are guided by God’s word. Unfortunately, many of us are at a loss when it comes to knowing what the Bible actually says. That four-year old boy is further ahead than many adults I know. Of course, Tanner’s dad knows that many of those verses don’t have the same meaning to a child that they do to an adult. Realizing his work is not done, he and his wife will continue sharing God’s word and the meaning of those verses with their son. “The hard part,” said Tanner’s father in an interview, comes with “being the kind of dad who helps him live these words.” He’s made a great start!

Sunday is Father’s Day but, sadly, not all of us had fathers as dedicated to their families and God as does Tanner Hemness. Unfortunately, it is far easier to father a child than to be a father to a child. Some of us never may have known our fathers, can barely remember them, or would prefer not remembering them, at all. Nevertheless, we probably all had men in our lives who inspired, taught, nurtured, guided, and corrected us. If we can’t honor our fathers this day, let us honor them.

Thank you, God, not just for our fathers but for all of the men in our lives who took the time to share your message and teach us your word. Thank you for the men who have shown us what it means to live in God’s light. Fill them with your Holy Spirit so they may continue in your good works.

Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best. [Bob Talbert]

And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice. [Ephesians 6:4 (TLB)]

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BUCKET LISTS

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

clock

Although its origin is unclear, the term “kick the bucket” as a figure of speech for dying has been in use since 1785 when it appeared in the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The term “bucket list,” however, is far more recent. Meaning a list of things a person wants to do, learn or experience before he dies, it seems to have originated with the 2007 film, The Bucket List, written by Justin Zackham. His list of “Things to Do Before I Kick the Bucket” (later shortened to “Justin’s Bucket List”) included having a screenplay produced by a major Hollywood studio. Wondering what a bucket list would look like if someone had a brief time left in which to live, he wrote a screenplay about two terminally ill men who go on a road trip with a bucket list of activities to do before their deaths. The term “bucket list” was born and Zackham checked off an item on his own list!

“What’s on your bucket list? What would you do if you only had a short time left to live?” asked our neighbor over dinner the other night. I know one man whose immediate answer would be, “Start smoking again!” but I had no answer. In actuality, a Christian doesn’t need a bucket list because this is not the only life we’ll live. Someday, we’ll live in bodies made new in a world made new—one without suffering or sin. For a Christian, death doesn’t end our adventure—it begins it!

Nevertheless, I continued to ponder my neighbor’s question but failed to come up with a decisive list of adventures I must have. It’s not that I’ve lived a life full of fabulous travel and daring activities. There are many things I haven’t experienced but, if I had just a few months to live, I wouldn’t spend them visiting exotic locations or experiencing thrills. After spending an hour or so straightening my drawers and closets (so no one would know what a secret slob I am), I wouldn’t spend another minute cleaning, travelling, or looking for excitement. My remaining time would be spent doing pretty much the same things I do every day but with family and friends nearby instead of thousands of miles distant. We’d laugh, play silly games, bake cookies and brownies, hug, watch the men grill, eat way too much, watch sunsets, have water fights in the pool, play in the park, talk late into the night, and dance to Y.M.C.A.!

When facing imminent death, my regrets wouldn’t be about places unseen or thrills not experienced. They would be for time wasted being angry, hurt, critical, dissatisfied, argumentative, offended, resentful, pessimistic, grumpy, surfing the Internet, or being “too busy”—time that could (and should) have been invested in being forgiving, loving, compassionate, generous, positive, helpful, understanding, joyful, pleasant, peaceful, and present.

We all know we’re going to die and yet I wonder if we truly believe it. If we did, I suspect we’d spend less time dreaming about seeing the Great Wall of China, trekking to Machu Pichu, whale watching in Antarctica, or going skydiving and more time tending to what really is important—expressing thanks, making apologies, loving openly, giving generously, forgiving freely, laughing loudly, living the life we have right now with our loved ones, and being the person God wants us to be.

For all any of us know, we may have even less than a month in which to live. Will we waste it or wisely use whatever time is left?

Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper. [Billy Sunday]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.  [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

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DECORATION DAY

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [Matthew 5:4 (NLT)]

michaelkirsch cemetery - meringen switzerlandMany of the younger generation don’t know that yesterday’s Memorial Day originally was called Decoration Day and originated in the years following the Civil War. With some 620,000 dead from that conflict, communities began holding tributes to the fallen soldiers by reciting prayers and decorating their graves with flowers, flags and wreaths. The practice of leaving flowers at gravesites may have begun with the ancient Greeks who believed that, if the flowers took root and grew, the fallen had found peace or happiness in the afterlife.

Decorating graves with flowers and other memorabilia occurs throughout the year and isn’t limited to fallen warriors. When my mother-in-law was alive, I placed flowers on my father-in-law’s grave but I only did it because those flowers were important to her. They were placed to honor a living woman rather than her dead husband; I remember that wonderful man in other ways.

Forty-five years ago, we attended a Celebration of Life for my uncle and one of the speakers shared a quote that, even with Google, I have been unable to find. Although the exact wording is forgotten, the gist of it has continued to stay with me. In effect, its words were, “When you’re in a beautiful place, think of me so that I can come and share it with you!”

Whenever we attend the symphony, I remember that uncle and how much he would have enjoyed hearing the violins and reading the program notes. When I see a beautiful rose, dig in the garden, or read anything by C.S. Lewis, I remember my mother and how much she would have enjoyed the same things. When I schussed down a great run or enjoyed après ski fun, I thought of my brother and how he would have treasured a day like that. Watching men fishing in a mountain stream or hunters in their camouflage brings to mind my father and the avid sportsman he was. When my son discusses business with his father, I remember similar conversations my husband had with his dad and, whenever I bake spritz cookies or eat ripe red cherries, I joyfully remember our beloved GG. Even though I don’t think their spirits come and share those experiences, for a brief moment, those I’ve loved are again with me. Rather than decorating their graves, I have carried them forward into an unrealized future.

I want no flowers on my grave; then again, I want no grave. I do, however, want to be remembered. When the time comes, I hope my loved ones will remember me whenever they come upon a field of wildflowers, see a butterfly, eat chocolate chip cookies, hike the Rockies, or ski in deep power. Maybe they’ll even yell a joy filled “Ye-haw!” for me.

God promises to comfort us in our mourning. Indeed, there is comfort in our faith—in knowing that our loved ones who followed Jesus are with God and that someday we will be reunited. Although faith helps, it’s the memories of our loved ones that finally get us through the heartache of loss. Our memories are the way God heals our broken hearts.

As for decorating graves—we should send flowers to the living while they can still enjoy them. Smiles shared with our loved ones today will be far more welcome than tears at their gravesides tomorrow. As for flattering eulogies and glowing obituaries, perhaps those words of admiration should be spoken to the person now rather than about them at some later date.

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal. [From a headstone in Ireland]

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. [Psalm 147:3 (NLT)]

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. [Psalm 34:18 (NLT)]

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A MINUTE TO REMEMBER – MEMORIAL DAY 2021

Defend the defenseless, the fatherless and the forgotten, the disenfranchised and the destitute. Your duty is to deliver the poor and the powerless; liberate them from the grasp of the wicked. [Psalm 82:3-4 (TPT)]

It is essential to remember and renew the legacy of Memorial Day, which was established in 1828 to pay tribute to individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice to the United States and their families… [National Moment of Remembrance Act]

memorial dayContrary to popular belief, the purpose of our long holiday weekend is not to celebrate the end of school or the beginning of summer. More than a day for picnics and play, this is a day to honor those men and women who died while serving our country. Just as we stop to give thanks for our nation’s blessings on Thanksgiving, Memorial Day is the time we should stop to give thanks for the people who sacrificed their lives to makes those blessings possible.

When a group of school children touring our nation’s capital in May of 1966 were asked the meaning of Memorial Day, they said it was the day the city pools opened! After a survey that same month revealed that only 28% of adult Americans knew the significance of this national holiday, the idea for a moment of remembrance was born. Four years later, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act that designated a “moment of remembrance” at 3:00 PM (local time) every Memorial Day. In honor of our fallen warriors, people are asked to pause from whatever they are doing for one minute of silent remembrance and respect.

Sadly, this national moment doesn’t seem to be common knowledge and we’re usually too busy grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, splashing in the pool, planting flowers, playing ball, sitting in the shade with a cool drink, or watching sports to officially observe our national holiday. Rather than replacing other Memorial Day events, this observance is a simple way to put the memorial back into the day. If actually observed, these 60 seconds when all Americans honor those who died in service to our country could be a rare moment of national unity (something that seems to be in short supply these days).

While much is wrong with our country, there is much more that is right. We can worship freely or freely choose not to worship. We can read the books we want to read and say pretty much whatever it is we want to say. We can peaceably assemble and loudly complain to the government and everyone else. We can write letters to the editor, run for public office, Tweet, Instagram, and blog. We have mail that is uncensored and access to the Internet and everything on it. We can choose the television shows and movies we watch, the music and political commentators we hear, and the newspapers and magazines we read. If arrested, we have the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and to confront any witnesses against us. We enjoy a level of freedom that is unknown in much of the world. That freedom, however, came at a terrible cost. Today, if only for a minute, let us remember the heroes who made all of that possible. In December, we’re reminded to keep the “Christ” in Christmas. How about putting the “memorial” back into Memorial Day? One minute, however, is nowhere nearly enough time to honor those who died for us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for those men and women who made it possible for us to enjoy the rights we so often take for granted. May we bear in mind that Memorial Day is not a tribute to summer but rather a tribute to those brave souls who died in the pursuit of our freedom and peace. Thank you for their courage, honor, service and sacrifice.

That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. [Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863]

For the greatest love of all is a love that sacrifices all. And this great love is demonstrated when a person sacrifices his life for his friends. [John 15:13 (TPT)]

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