CROWNING GLORY

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life. [Proverbs 16:31 (NLT)]

The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. [Proverbs 20:29 (NLT)]

GrandmaGrey hair may be a crown of glory and the splendor of old age, but that’s about all the splendor and glory I see in advanced years. As my mother-in-law approaches her 102nd birthday, there is little about her quality of life that I consider glorious or splendid. Her sparkling personality, vigor and enthusiasm, along with her hearing, visual perception, ability to reason, and memory are vanishing. Occasionally a spark of her old self resurfaces but, for the most part, the essence of the woman who has been a mother to me for over fifty years has disappeared.

When I join my mother-in-law for meals at her senior residence, along with gray hair, I see plenty of stooped, shuffling, and incapacitated people. While speaking with them, rather than words of wisdom, I often hear the words of confused and failing minds. While writing about fear yesterday, I realized that, while I’m not afraid of old age, I am afraid of the infirmities that can come with it.

Fear may lie about plenty of things but he doesn’t lie when he tells me I’m getting old. The mirror, arthritis, my worsening eyesight, and my less than sharp memory tell me that every day. Fear, however, doesn’t stop at telling me I’m old. When I walk into a room and forget why I went there or fail to recall someone’s name, he whispers “dementia.” When my knees scream or my back aches, he flashes an image of an old woman hunched over a walker. If I need a magnifying glass to read directions or a small flashlight to scan a menu, he tells me it’s only a matter of time before I’m blind as a bat. Fear, however, doesn’t know what the future holds and neither do I.

My life expectancy at birth was almost 70 years of age. Having passed that milestone, I took an online test to determine my expected expiration date. Based on my zip code, marital status, and present health and weight, it’s a high probability that I’ve got twenty-five more years. Rather than finding that number reassuring, I find it terrifying. I don’t want to require help to bathe or dress and I don’t want to give up hikes through the woods or riding a bike. I don’t want there to be a time when I can’t read my Bible, remember the verses I’ve worked so hard to memorize, or do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku. I don’t want to need Depends, use a wheelchair, or forget my children’s names. I want to stay the way I am now but, short of dying today, that’s not likely to happen. Moreover, what I want doesn’t matter. Time will take its toll on all of us and, for some, that toll will be great. All we can do is take care of ourselves the best we can and trust the rest to God. As long as He gives us breath, He has a purpose for us. Our job is to live purposefully, thankfully, and joyfully all the days He’s given us.

As for my mother-in-law, in spite of her loss of vitality and mental faculties, she remains cheerful, pleasant and friendly (and she looks fabulous). Her younger tablemates tell me she’s an inspiration to them. Indeed, when I think about it, she’s an inspiration to me. She is facing the ailments and indignities that come with advanced age with faith, grace, and love. With God’s power, I can do the same. I will make the most of today, send fear packing, and let God worry about my tomorrows!

God never said that the journey would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worthwhile. [Max Lucado]

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Psalm 73:26 (NLT)]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. [2 Corinthians 4:16 (NLT)]

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IT HURTS

I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (MSG)]

oleander - rocky mt. bee plant

I recently read about a man who can’t feel pain because of a rare neurological condition called “congenital insensitivity to pain.” As someone who often reaches for the Ibuprofen because of assorted aches and pains, this sounded like a true blessing. In actuality, as nice as never having a headache, sciatica, or feeling the sting of fire ants initially sounds, it is life-threatening. Although this man can identify whether something is warm or cool, he can’t know that the coffee is burning his tongue, the stovetop is blistering his fingers, or the subzero temperatures have given him frostbite. He won’t feel the pain in his abdomen before his appendix bursts or the tightening in his heart signaling a heart attack. He chewed off part of his tongue when just a baby and has broken over seventy bones simply because he doesn’t know how to avoid injury. With no pain to restrain them, children with this condition tend to be daredevils. Pain is what teaches us to use our bodies correctly and safely. It warns of danger by telling us when something is too hot, cold, heavy, tight, hard or sharp and alerts us when something is wrong—a muscle is torn, a bone is broken, or an infection has set in.

Not only does pain protect and correct us, it certainly gets our attention, knocks us to our knees and turns us toward God. Moreover, it offers an opportunity both for our church family to draw near and comfort us and for us to witness to others in our pain.  As much as we don’t appreciate pain, it is a blessing rather than a burden. In reality, along with thanking God for the Ibuprofen, we should be thanking Him for the pain.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. [C.S. Lewis]

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. [2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (MSG)]

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (MSG)]

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FAITH AND PATIENCE

But you have followed what I teach, the way I live, my goal, faith, patience, and love. You know I never give up. [2 Timothy 3:10 (NCV)]

great egret

On Moses’ sixth ascent up Mr. Sinai, the Lord told him to bring Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders part way up the mountain with him. All of the men saw the God of Israel and ate a covenant meal in His presence. After Moses was told to come further up Sinai to receive the stone tablets, he entrusted the Israelites to Aaron and the other men who then went down to their camp.

Easily missed when reading Exodus 24 is that Moses’ assistant, Joshua, continued up the mountain with him. The two climbed a little further and made camp where they stayed for the next six days while a cloud covered the mountain. On the seventh day, God called to Moses from within the cloud and the Israelites’ leader disappeared into the mist. He wasn’t seen again for forty days. During that time, God gave Moses various instructions and commands for the Israelites. When God told him of their sacrilege and wickedness with the golden calf, Moses went back down the mountain where he met Joshua.

Although Joshua served as a sort of personal assistant or servant to Moses, there is no mention of him during those forty days. We know he couldn’t have returned to the Israelites’ camp or been with Moses; in either case, he would have known that the clamor from the encampment was that of pagan revelry and not warfare. It appears that Joshua stayed on the mountainside alone and patiently waited for Moses’ return. If I’d seen someone vanish into the mist, I’m not sure I would have lasted even four days but Joshua lasted forty. As the days wore on, did Joshua worry that Moses may have been eaten by lions or consumed by what appeared to be fire? Did he wonder how long he should wait before giving up? Waiting alone in the wilderness, did he fear for his own safety? Think of the patience and faith it took for the young man to remain there for Moses’ return.

The rest of the Israelites, however, lost both faith and patience. They all had seen the glory of the Lord like a consuming fire on Mt. Sinai’s summit and seventy-three of them had gazed on God and eaten with Him! In spite of the miracles they’d experienced, they lost faith and grew impatient. Fearing Moses wouldn’t return and wanting to set their own time frame for events, they fashioned another god to lead them.

We think of Joshua as a scout, military strategist, leader, statesman, and a man of great faith but do we ever think of him as a man of patience? Yet, the same man who waited forty days alone in the wilderness had to wait an extra forty years before setting foot in Canaan! His faith and patience, however, were rewarded when he arrived in the Promised Land.

Faith and patience go hand in hand. If we have patience, we won’t lose faith in God’s plan as did the Israelites. If we have faith, we can be patient, even when things take longer than expected, as they did for Joshua.

My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience. [James 1:2-3 (NCV)]

Be like those who through faith and patience will receive what God has promised. [Hebrews 6:12b (NCV)]

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IN EVEN THE BEST FAMILIES

mute swansBut Samuel’s sons did not live the same way he did. Joel and Abijah accepted bribes. They took money secretly and changed their decisions in court. They cheated people in court. [1 Samuel 8:3 (ERV)] 

Not all dads did as well with their boys as did my father-in-law. Eli and Samuel, for example, were both high priests and judges; while they were good at their jobs, neither is known for his parenting skills. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, were corrupt judges who took bribes. Eli’s boys, Hophni and Phinehas, were no better. They took advantage of their position to appropriate the best portion of every sacrifice for themselves and to have sexual relations with the sanctuary’s serving women. Even David had problems with his boys: Amnon was a rapist, Absalom a murderer and rebel, and Adonijah tried to seize his brother Solomon’s crown.

Clearly, being a godly parent doesn’t guarantee godly children. Were Eli and Samuel so busy with their temple duties that they failed to spend time with their boys? David had at least nineteen sons and probably several more with his concubines. Between the battlefield and his obligations as king, did he neglect being a father to his many children? In their busyness, did these men overlook their obligation to train their children in proper values? Were they as attentive as they should have been? I’m not pointing fingers because, at some time or another, we all have disregarded some of our parenting duties and short-changed our children with our time, attention, and affection.

Eli and Samuel knew their sons were corrupt and David knew of Amnon’s rape of his sister but the men did nothing about these offences. Perhaps, not wanting to face the unpleasant truth about their boys, they ignored their parental responsibility to discipline. At some time or another, in spite of evidence to the contrary, most of us have refused to believe our children are anything less than perfect, as well. Sometimes, we find it easier to ignore the elephant in the room than to address it.

These fathers were far from perfect but, then again, so are we. Nevertheless, we must remember that the failings of a child are not necessarily because of poor parenting. Even the best parent makes plenty of mistakes. We just do our best and pray (a whole lot). We’ll never know exactly what went wrong with those boys. After all, Solomon came from the same household as his malicious elder brothers and the same home that produced the honorable President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel peace prize winner, gave us his troubled and somewhat embarrassing brother, Billy.

Home may be a child’s first classroom but he continues to learn when he steps into society. As the church, we need to fill the voids in the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of our community’s children. Not all of us are parents, but we all share in the awesome responsibility of raising the next generation.

Lord, guide us in our homes, community, and churches so that all of your children become people of faith and good character.

My son, remember your father’s command, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Remember their words always. Tie them around your neck and keep them over your heart. Let this teaching lead you wherever you go. It will watch over you while you sleep. And when you wake up, it will give you good advice. [Proverbs 6:20-24 (ERV)]

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WHEN GOD REMODELS

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 (ESV)]

tiger swallowtailMany years ago, we did some major remodeling on our lake house. The original structure was gutted: carpets ripped up, paneling pulled off, decks knocked down, stairs demolished, walls cut open, and our landscaping ruined. Filled with fear and misgivings, I stared at the gaping hole in the hillside and what was left of the original dwelling. The architect/builder kept reassuring me that, having drawn the plans, he knew how everything would eventually fit together. Me? I just saw the ruined house, a deep pit and piles of dirt. I hadn’t expected this devastation; it had seemed so simple on paper. How this mess was ever going to become the house we’d pictured, I didn’t know. I simply had to trust the builder and leave it in his hands. Seven months later, I stood in the same spot, thrilled with the final result; it was better than I’d ever expected!

Life can be like that remodeling project. Change can be unpleasant; at times, it may even look downright ugly and hopeless. We can rest easy when God is in charge; we’ll find that all will be good in its proper time. When God is finally finished, everything will make sense. We have to trust Him and not judge His work before it’s complete. He is a master architect and builder; let Him do His job!

Father, thank you for the beauty and joy you can salvage from our messed up lives. Help us trust your plan and timeline; give us patience and faith as we grow and change into the people you want us to be.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)]

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TABLE SCRAPS

Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” [Mark 7:25b-27 (NLT)]

dogYears ago, I often baby sat my granddaughter and dog sat my son’s dog at the same time. The grand in her highchair would push her food around the tray while trying to feed herself. Since fine motor skills are lacking in toddlers, a fair amount of whatever she was eating would end up on the floor. What my grand didn’t get in her mouth became a feast for the dog who waited patiently beneath her for the bits and pieces that fell.

I think of my grand and the dog whenever I read about Jesus and the mother of the demon-possessed girl. When this Gentile woman begged Jesus to help her, He gave her an odd reply. At first look, Jesus seems to insult her by comparing her to a dog. A derogatory term often used by Jews for Gentiles, His response seems very un-Jesuslike. Although the word Jesus used can also translate as “little dog” or “puppy” rather than mangy mutt, a dog is a dog and His response seems harsh. He’d never withheld healing before this, why now? Where was His compassion and love?

As unfeeling as it seems, Jesus’s response was correct. Parents would never take food from their children’s mouths and then throw it to the dogs (regardless of whether they are pedigree puppies or wild strays). I never would have fed the dog first and given my grand whatever was left in the dog bowl. My priority was feeding my granddaughter and Jesus’s priority was giving his message to the Jews; Israel was to come before any Gentile nation. The woman, however, didn’t take offense. She humbly agreed with Him; in effect, she said, “You’re right! I may be a dog because I’m not a Jew, but I’m like the little dog that waits under the table for scraps.” Jesus came as a Jew to be the King of the Jews and yet His own people couldn’t recognize the promised Messiah. This Gentile woman, however, knew Him. She was just asking for a scrap from the man who’d fed a multitude with next to nothing and ended up with leftovers. She knew that even the smallest crumb of His grace would be enough to heal her daughter.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says, “Good answer!” and the child is instantly healed. Is it because the determined mother’s logic convinced Jesus to change His mind? On the other hand, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Your faith is great.” Is the healing because she passed a test of faith? Perhaps, it was both. After all, stumbling blocks are often put before us to test both our determination and faith in God. Could their exchange also have been a lesson for the disciples who would shortly be spreading the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles? This was prophesized centuries earlier when God told Abraham, “All the families will be blessed through you.” Their exchange shows that it is determined faith, not Jewishness, that brings the blessings of God.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:11-13 (NLT)]

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