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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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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SHAVUOT

At the Festival of Harvest, when you present the first of your new grain to the Lord, you must call an official day for holy assembly, and you may do no ordinary work on that day. [Numbers 28:26 (NLT)]

fruitAt sunset yesterday, the Jewish feast of Shavuot began. Originally known as Festival of Harvest or First Fruits, Shavuot is the second of the three pilgrimage festivals given to the Israelites. The first was that of Unleavened Bread (Passover) and the third was the Final Harvest or Ingathering (Sukkot or Tabernacles). Originally, all three festivals were tied to the harvest with Passover at the beginning of the barley harvest, Shavuot seven weeks later at the start of the wheat harvest, and Sukkot at the last harvest of the season. For a nation who’d left Canaan because of famine, spent four hundred years in a foreign land (much of it as slaves) and then another forty years as nomads, the promise of becoming a people with land of their own, who could plant and harvest for themselves, must have been almost inconceivable.

Two distinct rituals were observed on Shavuot. In gratitude for the harvest, two loaves of bread baked from the new crop of wheat, a bull, seven lambs, two rams, and a goat were offered. In the second ritual, the choicest of the harvest’s first fruits were presented to the priests as these words from Deuteronomy were said: “With this gift I acknowledge to the Lord your God that I have entered the land he swore to our ancestors he would give us.” [26:3] Continuing with verses 5 through 10, the worshiper then acknowledged God’s faithfulness in bringing the people out of Egypt and in keeping His promise to the patriarchs to bring His people to a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Because it fell a full seven weeks (50 days) after the Passover, this festival became known as the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).

Ten days after Christ’s ascension, during Shavuot, a group of believers gathered together in Jerusalem. A powerful wind roared and flashes of fire appeared and “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Because of the uproar, a crowd gathered and Peter preached the gospel to them. That day, 3,000 people believed and were baptized; these new believers were the first fruits of the gospel harvest. Because it occurs fifty days after Easter, Christians call this day Pentecost, from the Greek meaning “fiftieth.” Because of the difference between the Jewish and Gregorian calendars, however, 2021’s Shavuot began last night but Pentecost will not occur until Sunday, the 23rd.

Because rabbinic tradition held that the Law was given on Mt. Sinai exactly seven weeks from the beginning of the Exodus, the day’s emphasis gradually moved from the first fruits of the harvest to the Torah. By the 2nd century, with the Temple destroyed, what began as a harvest festival commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.

Today, Shavuot celebrates Israel’s bond because of the Torah and Pentecost celebrates Christians’ bond because of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, when looking at the origin of this ancient Jewish festival and its acknowledgement that God fulfilled His promise to bring His people into the Promised Land, I think of the many Messianic promises of the Old Testament. Rather than freeing us from slavery in Egypt, God faithfully fulfilled His promise and freed us from slavery to sin. Rather than physically bringing us into Canaan, He brought the Kingdom of God to us. Granted, the story is not over and the Kingdom is not fully realized, but we are in the land He promised and the best is yet to come! Let us be thankful and praise God for all He’s given us!

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. [Deuteronomy 8:7-10 (NLT)]

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STRONG MOTHERS – MOTHER’S DAY

So the Lord answers, “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you. Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” [Isaiah 49:15-16 (GNT)]

While walking in the park, we came across a female snapping turtle by the side of the trail. Normally an aggressive species, she was too busy laying some thirty eggs to snap at us. Two days later, we walked past the same spot only to find that her nest had been destroyed. The empty shells scattered along the trail told us a raccoon (or some other predator) had enjoyed a turtle omelet soon after mama turtle’s departure. At first, I felt sorry for this mother who’d labored so hard just two days earlier until I remembered that she’d never know about the loss and really didn’t care. After laying those eggs and covering the nest, she returned to the water and wouldn’t be back until the following year when she’d dig another hole and lay more eggs. If any of those eggs hatch (and only about 5% of snapper’s eggs ever do), Mama won’t be there to help the tiny (1”) hatchlings find their way to water or to protect them from any land predators. If they safely make it into the water, she won’t be around to defend them from fish, snakes, and other turtles looking for a quick meal. In fact, she might even enjoy one of her own young for dinner! Ms. Turtle doesn’t deserve any Mother’s Day cards!

On the other hand, unlike most reptiles, alligators are good mothers. While 90% of turtle nests are destroyed by predators, because Ms. Gator carefully covers her nest and guards her eggs, less than a third of alligator nests get raided. When the mother hears her babies start to hatch, she uncovers the nest and gently carries each hatchling to the water. Mama Gator continues to watch over her young for more than a year. If a youngster is threatened, he just calls for mom and she comes! Few predators are daring enough to approach the little guys knowing mom can’t be far away. While cold blooded, Ms. Gator is anything but cold to her young.

While I’m not sure they’ll appreciate the comparison, most of us were blessed with women in our lives who were more like an alligator than a turtle. But, for those who weren’t so blessed, God provided us with foster, step and adoptive mothers, along with aunts, mothers-in-law, teachers, neighbors, and mentors, all of whom watched over us. They were like the Muscovy duck I saw at the zoo. Muscovies typically lay a clutch of eight to sixteen eggs but this mother was watching over more than thirty little ones; apparently, she was running the equivalent of ducky foster care. I watched as she chased off a large softshell turtle as it swam near in search of a duckling lunch. The softshell is an aggressive hunter but, fortunately for the ducklings, he was no match for Ms. Duck. She kept an eye on that turtle as it circled around the young ones and fearlessly snapped at it whenever it dared approach the youngsters. She kept nudging the ducklings along the shore into a more protected area. No matter whose babies they were, she seemed determined that not a one of those little guys would be lost on her watch.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking mothers only comfort and nurture. They’re as tough as mother alligators, muscovies, and even little mockingbirds. After giving a warning with their angry buzz, mockingbird moms will dive-bomb humans if they venture too close to the nest and bravely fend off crows, herons, hawks, and snakes. Mothers can be pretty tough when someone messes with their young! The only one who keeps a better eye on children is God!

Thank you God for the women you brought into our lives—women who not only comforted and encouraged us, taught us about love, and shared their faith with us, but also protected us when danger lurked. Thank you for those women who had eyes in the back of their heads, knew when we told a lie, stood up for us, taught us to stand up for ourselves, and cared enough to punish us when we misbehaved. Thank you for the women who watched over us, taught us how to navigate the murky waters of life, and kept us safe from harm.

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child. When you see this happen, you will be glad; it will make you strong and healthy. Then you will know that I, the Lord, help those who obey me, and I show my anger against my enemies. [Isaiah 66:12b-14 (GNT)]

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NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER – 2021

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. [I Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Without God, there is no virtue because there’s no prompting of the conscience. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under. [Ronald Reagan]

In 1775, the Continental Congress proclaimed that “a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer” be created and, since then, a president has called for over 140 national days of prayer. In 1795, for example, George Washington declared a day of public thanksgiving and prayer and, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed a resolution making April 30 a day of fasting and prayer. It was in 1952, during the Korean War, that Reverend Billy Graham challenged our nation’s leaders with these words: “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.”

In response to Graham’s challenge, a bill proclaiming an annual National Day of Prayer “on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals” was unanimously passed by both houses of Congress. President Truman signed the bill requiring each subsequent president to proclaim a National Day of Prayer on the date of his choice. The original law was amended in 1988 when the first Thursday in May was designated as our nation’s National Day of Prayer.

The National Day of Prayer isn’t just a “Christian only” holiday and people of all faiths are encouraged to put aside their differences to pray for our nation. The day’s purpose is to unite people of all religions in prayer and to renew respect for God. Over 40,000 prayer gatherings at churches, parks, mosques, synagogues, temples, courthouses, and schools are held on this day every year. Of course, even though the law doesn’t establish or mandate a religion, its constitutionality has been challenged several times. The day has been found legal because it simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States and can be ignored if one so wishes.

”Lord, pour out your love, life, and liberty,” is this year’s prayer theme and, other than being sure to pray, there are no guidelines for the day’s observance. This past year has been an extremely challenging one for our nation—the lives and health taken by COVID-19, chaos in our capitol, political polarization, isolation from friends and family, on-line learning, business closures, working from home, immigration issues, a troubled economy, church services suspended, unemployment, and escalating racial tensions to name just a few. We could spend the entire day in prayer and not cover them all. Regardless of your politics, I think we all can agree that divine intervention is desperately needed if our nation is to heal. The president’s call to prayer on this day, however, is merely a symbolic gesture unless we collectively fall to our knees in heartfelt prayer! Let us pray, not just today but every day, for our nation.

It is our prayer today and throughout 2021 that the Spirit of the Lord, pour out, pour through us across America, to fill our lives, families, churches, workplace, education, military, government, arts, entertainment and media, with Biblical, not cultural, not worldly, but Spirit-empowered, Spirit-filled LOVE, LIFE and LIBERTY as designed and defined by our Creator and Savior. [Kathy Branzell, President, National Day of Prayer Task Force]

What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance. … We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone. [Psalm 33:12,20-22 (NLT)]

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KEYSTONES – EARTH DAY (April 22)

God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind: cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.” And there it was: wild animals of every kind, cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug. God saw that it was good. [Genesis 1:24-25 (MSG)]

When the grands visit, we usually take them to a nearby preserve where we walk the boardwalk and hope to catch sight of one of the more than 150 gopher tortoises living there. We watch them lumber through the sand, munch on prickly pear cactus, or sun on the apron of their burrows.

The gopher tortoise is what’s called a “keystone species,” meaning it plays a unique and crucial role in holding together a habitat. A keystone species can be a plant, animal, fungi, or even bacteria. It isn’t necessarily the largest or most plentiful species in an ecosystem but, if it were to disappear, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.

Gopher tortoises are considered keystones because they are ecosystem engineers capable of digging tunnels forty feet long and ten feet deep. Their burrows provide refuge for some 350 to 400 other species, including snakes, rodents, armadillos, rabbits, lizards, worms, spiders and bugs. Some animals use the burrows as homes and others hide there from predators. In the case of fire, animals can escape the blaze in the deep tunnels.

Although these prehistoric looking creatures have lived on the earth millions of years, their survival is now endangered by predators, herbicides, and habitat destruction (better known as “progress”). Their population has declined by 80% in the last century and the gopher tortoise’s extinction is a real possibility. Sadly, its disappearance would lead to the disappearance of those other species that share its habitat. The gopher tortoise carries more than a carapace on his back—he carries the future of his ecosystem!

Other keystone species include sea otters, mangroves, prairie dogs, wolves, salmon, saguaro cactus, and bees. Not all are ecosystem engineers like the gopher tortoise but each is essential to its specific habitat and fulfills a critical ecological role that no other species can accomplish. It’s amazing how intricate God’s creation is and how interdependent various species are. Every living thing seems to uniquely mesh with others, much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When a piece goes missing, however, the puzzle ceases to come together as it should.

Although mankind clearly has a huge impact on the environment, we’re not a keystone species. In fact, some scientists argue that, if we were to disappear, the environment would improve! With the cessation of so many human activities because of COVID lockdowns, greenhouse gas emissions reduced, water quality improved, noise pollution lessened, air quality improved, and nature began healing. The break, however, was short-lived and now that many restrictions have been lifted, pollution has returned to pre-pandemic levels in most areas.

After God created the world and everything in it, He found it all to be good. He then gave mankind the responsibility for His beautiful creation. I wonder if He is as pleased with the state of our world today as he was when He turned its care over to us. Let us remember that each one of God’s creatures (whether bee, gopher tortoise, or mangrove) is His handiwork and precious to Him. Today (and everyday), let us consider what we can do to keep His creation functioning as He meant it to do!

Father of all, Creator and ruler of the universe, You entrusted your world to us as a gift. Help us to care for it and all people, that we may live in right relationship—with You, with ourselves, with one another, and with creation. [From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops]

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” [Genesis 1:26-28 (MSG)]

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