THE DASH

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. [Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)]

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years. [Linda Ellis]

clock - ChicagoAfter scrutinizing the website for the umpteenth time in a futile search for the perfect gift for my daughter-in-law, I closed the iPad and announced, “What a waste of time! This is why God created checks and gift cards!” I remembered last Friday when both Linda Ellis’s poem “The Dash” was read and the recently deceased David Cassidy was mentioned. The former Partridge Family heartthrob’s last words were: “So much wasted time.” Indeed, too much time is wasted in unproductive activities or agonizing over what, in actuality, are trivial matters. Searching the same website, over and over, and expecting to find something different was certainly one of those.

Last Friday morning, I made better use of my time; after looking at a photo of a friend’s niece, I prayed for her. This two-year old, bald from undergoing chemotherapy for stage 4 cancer, was asleep in her mother’s arms and doesn’t understand that the chemicals making her so miserable are a last ditch effort to destroy the cancer that has ravaged her body. Later that day, I attended a Celebration of Life for a man who, less than a week earlier, set out for an afternoon ride on his motorcycle never knowing that would be his final ride in life. Absent from that memorial service were our senior pastor and his wife. They’d been in a car accident earlier in the day. Like the toddler and the motorcyclist, they never expected what came hurtling into their lives. One child is fighting for her life, one man lost his life, and one couple escaped with their lives.

Many of us might say we have too little time but the quantity of time granted us and our loved ones, whether just days or several decades, is exactly the right amount of time and has been determined by someone far greater than we are. The way we spend those precious moments, however, is our choice alone. Unfortunately, David Cassidy had it right: “so much wasted time.” When the book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a season for everything, wasting time is never mentioned as one of them. We can fritter away our minutes in all sorts of futile ways—anger, nitpicking, regret, lethargy, worry, complaint, conflict and fretting are just a few—or we can use them generously, joyfully, thankfully and with love.

This week we celebrate my mother-in-law’s 101st birthday; her dash has been long and well spent. While she has been blessed with exceptional longevity, last Friday was a reminder that we all have expiration dates and none of us know that day. In many cases, it will be far sooner than expected. The dates we are here, however, are not as important as how we spend the time between those dates. How will we spend our dash?

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (ESV)]

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GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

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MARA

Monarch butterfly - queen anne's laceBut she said, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me.” [Ruth 1:20-21 (MSG)]

The final lesson of learning to be independent – widowhood…is the hardest lesson of all. [Anne Morrow Lindberg]

When we first meet her in the book of Ruth, the widowed Naomi does not seem the sort of unpleasant meddlesome mother-in-law about whom jokes are made; she is much loved and respected by her daughters-in-law. After great tragedy strikes their family, Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to leave home, return with her to Israel, and adopt the God of the Israelites. Naomi must have been a very special woman to have a daughter-in-law so determined to stay at her side. By the time the widows arrive in Bethlehem, however, we see another side to the older woman. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she says, telling people to call her Mara, meaning bitter. For Naomi and Ruth, circumstances improve when Ruth meets and marries Boaz and presents her mother-in-law with a grandchild. Unfortunately, not every widow has a Boaz to act as her redeemer and provide a happy ending to the story.

I have a group of widowed friends who, if comparing tragic sob stories with Naomi, could put hers to shame. They lost as much or more and have endured as many hardships and challenges as did Naomi. Nevertheless, in spite of having their lives turned upside down by their losses, none of them would call themselves bitter. While they have their moments of complaint, sorrow and loneliness, their faith strengthens them and allows them to face their new reality with an eagerness and joy that does not depend on outer circumstances. Their grief hasn’t left them bitter; if anything, it has made them better. They radiate a sense of peace, purpose and zest for life because their redeemer isn’t a relative who has chosen to take care of them; their Redeemer is Jesus Christ!

I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to lose a spouse but I imagine it’s like being ripped in half. Someday, either my husband or I will face the grief and uncertainty that comes with widowhood. When the “we” of our lives becomes just “me,” loneliness, anger and resentment can easily follow. We can become bitter or allow our faith to fill us with hope. Death may take away a spouse, but Jesus will take that spouse away from death! I pray that, in our grief, we will be strengthened by our faith in God’s purpose and receive the consolation offered by our Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

Most loving God, you know the pain and sorrow of death; mercifully hear our prayer for those who mourn the death of their beloved. The nights are lonely and the days are too long. Comfort them and bring an end to the days of tears. Bless them and bring an end to their days of sorrow. Renew them with the joy of life and bring to an end their days of mourning. Let the bond of love which you have for your people be the foundation of their hope that love never ends and that precious moments with our beloved are forever held dear in our hearts. Amen. [Vienna Cobb Anderson]

The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. [John 14:26-17 (MSG)]

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. [Matthew 5:4 (MSG)]

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ROSE-COLORED GLASSES

rose colored glassesAnd we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans. [Romans 8:28 (TLB)]

When someone has an unduly optimistic or positive view of things, they are often said to be wearing “rose-colored glasses.” According to Adam Anderson, a University of Toronto professor of psychology, our moods actually affect the way we see things and, as moods change, so does our visual perception. “Good and bad moods literally change the way our visual cortex operates,” says the professor about a 2009 study he conducted. ”In a positive mood,” he explained, “our visual cortex takes in more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision.” He concluded that the better our mood, the better able our brains are to comprehend what it is our eyes are seeing. In short, we see better when we have a positive outlook and are wearing rose-colored glasses!

I imagine it was a set of rose-colored glasses that allowed young David to see the possibility of defeating the huge Goliath with his sling. In all of Saul’s army, there had to have been other brave men equally skilled with a sling. Because of their despair and pessimism, however, they never saw what was right in front of them—an enormous man, encumbered by a coat of mail weighing 125 pounds, wearing heavy bronze leg armor, and carrying a javelin, spear and sword. Instead of seeing a man so weighed down that he needed another man to carry his shield, they saw an undefeatable opponent. David, however, saw someone who wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to dodge a well-aimed stone. That stone wasn’t from a child’s toy sling-shot; it came from a shepherd’s weapon used to kill wild animals. According to Malcom Gladwell, that sling had the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. With their defeatist attitude, Saul and his army only saw the power of the enemy. David’s optimism allowed him to clearly see both the enemy’s weakness and his own strength and skill!

Like Saul and his army, when the disciples found themselves in the midst of a storm, the fearful men had tunnel vision. They only saw danger and impending death. If they’d put on some rose-colored glasses, they would have seen the one who can calm storms sleeping in their boat! Rose-colored glasses can help us see what is right in front of us. A positive attitude is what helps us notice any weakness in the opposition, find detours in life’s roadblocks, identify solutions to our problems, and spot help when we need it.

We actually can purchase rose-colored glasses but, unless they have corrective lenses, they’ll not improve our eyesight. Faith in God, however, is what offers us the kind of rose-colored glasses that give clarity to life and allow us to see the big picture. It is knowing Jesus that enables us to face each morning with optimism, joy and hope. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that allows us to see our challenges as opportunities to do God’s will. So, put on your rose-colored glasses and see what wonderful things the day will bring!

I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you wisdom to see clearly and really understand who Christ is and all that he has done for you. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him! [Ephesians 1:16-18 (TLB)]

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MIX IT UP

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

hummingbird moth - sphinx mothThe men from the church were enjoying their monthly breakfast at their favorite diner. The new minister, Pastor Tim, decided to join them. Wanting to get to know the men better, he asked who would like to offer grace before the meal. John, a retired farmer from Iowa volunteered. After taking off his cap, he stood and said loudly, “Lord, I sure do hate buttermilk!” The old farmer then added, “And, Lord, I don’t care much for lard.” Pastor Tim wasn’t sure how to react but decided to see where this prayer was leading. Then John continued with, “Tell the truth, white flour doesn’t taste like much either and baking powder sure is bitter.” Pastor Tim started to stand up and take over saying grace when, in his booming voice, John added, “But, Lord, when you mix them all together and bake them, I truly do love those fresh biscuits! Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the biscuits, gravy, eggs, and bacon with which we are blessed this fine morning. Amen.”

Of course, this is just a bit of humorous and anonymous Internet fiction but it makes a good point. Lots of events will occur in our lifetimes that we’re not going to like very much. We won’t understand what God means by such difficult circumstances nor are we able to see how anything good can come out of such unpleasant, sometimes tragic, events. Even when things seem chaotic and inexplicable, we must remember that God is in control and He knows what He is doing. Just as John had to trust the biscuit baker, we must trust God for the end result. By themselves, challenges and difficulties can leave a bad taste in our mouths. After God is done mixing them all together, however, they can turn into something quite wonderful (and much better) than fresh buttermilk biscuits!

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen [Ephesians 3:20-21 (NLT)]

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WHAT’S YOUR GOLIATH?

Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember him when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness too. [Ecclesiastes 12:1-3 (TLB)

“What’s the Goliath in your life?” was the subject line in an email advertisement for a new book. That question made me wonder what opposing force I face today that appears to have overwhelming odds in its favor. Of what am I afraid?

I realized my Goliath doesn’t look imposing, strong and powerful. Nowhere near nine feet tall, my Goliath has osteoporosis and is stooped, frail and weak. Rather than carrying a sword, my Goliath uses a walker and, instead of an armor bearer carrying a shield, this fearsome enemy has a caregiver who carries his glasses and cuts his meat. My Goliath doesn’t have a vast army behind him; he has outlived both his spouse and contemporaries and has trouble recognizing anyone else. My Goliath is old age.

When our Florida pastor asked who wanted to live to be 100, neither my husband nor I raised our hands. We’ve seen 100 (his mother is approaching 101) and it isn’t appealing; in fact, it is daunting. If we could physically and mentally remain as we are today, we would have raised our hands instantly. Unfortunately, we know that no matter how well we care for ourselves, our bodies and minds will be thirty years older and deteriorating the way milk does near its expiration date.

Someone asked if I was afraid of death and I quickly answered, “No!” Death is going home to God and will be wonderful. Dying, however, is another story; it can be a slow and painful process and that scares me. Granted, I can lob a few stones at Goliath in the way of healthy habits, but there is no way, short of death, that I can delay his arrival. Ecclesiastes 12 paints a vivid but grim picture of old age with its physical infirmities and loss of faculties.

Several hours after the Goliath question appeared in my email, a different question showed up in my inbox: “How firm is your foundation?” That question gave me pause. If my foundation is firm, nothing can defeat me! I had been thinking of old age as my Goliath instead of my David. David was small and weak, as I am fast becoming, and yet he overpowered Goliath. I can’t vanquish the indignities and decline of the oncoming years and I certainly can’t evade my body’s final defeat, but God will give me the power to rout that defeatist attitude. I’ll do that by having a firm foundation and doing as the writer of Ecclesiastes advises: fear God and obey His commandments. [12:13] My Goliath isn’t old age; it is fear of old age! With a firm foundation in God, I can trust His promises. Knowing He will never abandon me, I can face my enemy with confidence and defeat it as did David with Goliath. As long as God gives me breath, He will continue to calm my fears and give me both purpose and the power to achieve it.

 If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old. [James A. Garfield]

I have created you and cared for you since you were born. I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior. [Isaiah 46:3b-4 (TLB)]

But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him! [Psalm 92:12-15 (TLB)]

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