Monday, November 16, 2009

A Home Made Christmas

This year, our Christmas buy list is short. Our budget just will not allow us to be extravagant with what we can buy, even from the dollar store (there is a smile here). But instead of being bummed by that fact, I am excited. I started realizing all the things that I could do to make items that will be one of a kind and much more meaningful to those who get them.

Knowing that many are in the same spot, here is a list of possible things that you can do and that I might be doing.

1. Create art using old photos.

2. Do a scrapbook (if you do not have the items needed, budget and watch carefully, this can very quickly turn out to be very expensive.)

3. Sew some clothing, for dolls or for people. If you do not have a machine, who of your friends does and see if you can trade something. Use scrap materials or old clothes for the material.

4. Make a "Blessed jar". Take one of those old vases that you got flowers in, print out your favorite Bible verses, cut them out, and then decoupage (either with the actual decoupage stuff or thinned elmer's glue and a brush) on to the glass of the vase. When it is dry, tie a piece of leather or ribbon at the top. All year long, as God blesses you, write them on small slips of paper and place in jar. At the end of the year or when you need a reminder, read them. Great gift.

5. Bake and wrap cookies, bread, etc.

6. Make candy.

7. Make a coupon book of services. Put stuff in like babysitting at naptime or for a night out, one free vacuum service, window washing - the sky is the limit. For children, donut trip with dad, baking cookies with mom, get to stay up till 10pm - you get the idea. Be creative.

8. If you have an old talent (or a new one), use it. Paint a picture, write a poem and frame it, take a photo and do a pencil sketch and put in a frame. If woodworking is your thing, make something...

9. Crochet or knit or embroidery an item. You can find all kinds of items and free patterns on the internet. If you are a beginner, put the word easy in the search.

10. Write a story for a child or the story of how you met for your spouse. Sounds corny, but we often forgot how significant those things are to the ones we love. Illustrate it with photos.

Okay - I have written a list of 10 ideas. I just reminded myself of a couple of these. If you are on my Christmas list, more than likely you will get to see one or two of these things under the tree.

This year, I am being reminded about the true meaning of Christmas. Love - a love so amazing, so divine that there are no words that can fully express the fullness of His love so pure. My heart sings. He came in a manger, not in a 5 star hotel. He was swaddled in simple cloth, not in expensive silk. His gift is one of simple Love so deep that it binds us all together in a purity that can not be broken.

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Four Year Old's Theology

Four year old Matthew, "Aunt Terri, why are you always singing?"
"Hmmmm, I sing because I'm happy." Smile on my face and look down at Matthew. I am at the sink washing dishes.
"Oh. Mmmmm, why are you happy?" Lips pursed together and looking up. Puzzled look on his face.
I look down at Matthew, stop what I'm doing and sit on the floor in front of him. "Honey, I'm happy because Jesus lives in me."
"Inside of you? Where?"
"In my heart?"
Matthew sits down in front of me. Puts his elbows on his knees and his chin on his little fists and looks intently at me. I can see him thinking, his mouth and cheeks moving as he processes. He sits up quickly.
"Aunt Terri?"
"Yes dear one."
"Can Jesus live in me too?"
"At the right time, when you understand what that means."
"But can I pray to Him now?"
I nod my head yes.
"Aunt Terri, but if He lives in me, won't He stick out all over the place? I'm little."
I pull Matthew up into my lap and give him a big hug.
"Yes, He certainly will"
Matthew squirms around and looks at me.
"Aunt Terri, can you tickle me?"
I wiggle my fingers at him and he starts squeeling with laughter and gets up and runs off.
"Jesus,"I pray, "Thank You for Matthew. Please stick out in me so that You always show. Thank You for letting me see that through the eyes of a four year old."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just a Story

Sweat rolled down my forehead. I could hear the sound of my breathing and feel every rough spot in the floor below my hands and knees. The smell of years of dust and mildew pressed in and made me want to sneeze, but I knew I must not - it would give us away. "It has to be here," I thought to myself, "I know it is here."

I crawled on under the barriers that we had erected. A floor board squeaked behind me and I paused to listen. The sound came again along with a small sniffle - it was only Karen in the other room. The children were depending on us to find those pages. They had to know the truth the way we had been taught.

"If only", I mused to myself. "If only what?" I thought back over the previous ten years. So much had happened. The things that we so often took for granted then were only memories now, and dangerous ones at that. We could not even talk about the before...

I again heard a sound from behind me. Something shifted and then scurried over my hands. Ugh, a rat. From the smell of urine, I knew that I must be near a rat nest. "Oh please, let it not be the pages." I continued ahead and crawled beneath a grouping of tables and chairs covered with a thin layer of mildew. Near the very back corner of the room I felt around on the floor. Beneath the frayed edges of the remnants of carpet I found the edge of the floor board.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the flashlight that I had covered with a cloth so that only a very small weak beam of light showed, and a tiny screwdriver. I positioned the light on my shoulder and held it in place with my head. Using both hands now, I pried open the board and peered inside the new opening. "Thank You, Jesus," I prayed quietly. Inside the opening was an oil cloth package laying on top of a thin layer of brown powder that I could see had not been disturbed. The pages were within.

I thought back to the day we had all created these very small crevices throughout the building. Before the building was confiscated, we had made sixteen small secret spots in the floor all over the second story. We knew some might be found, but not all. Each of the secret spaces had been reinforced with extra wood, lined with a small layer of wax and then covered the bottoms of each with coffee beans. In each space, we had put in a precious package like the one I held in my hand. We knew it had been a risk and a miracle that the building had even survived. I thought back to Pastor Steve's decision to turn the building quickly over to the government to hold their re-indoctrination classes. He knew if they were using it, they were less likely to destroy it. The sanctuary had been burned to the ground, but the education building had survived.

There was no time to see which pages I had. I needed to move on to the next space. I looked at the schematic in my hand. Anyone looking at it would just see symbols that appeared to be plugs in walls. However, if you knew what was really there, it would lead you to the right spot. There were four of us that had these plans, and only the spots that were marked on your pages were on your plans. Karen, Aaron, and Michael held different plans. We had to do that in case someone figured out the plans or turned. Until today, I did not know who the other plan holders were.

The room I was going into next was a bit riskier. It had a window that overlooked the field. It was going to be a bit harder to get this one. I glanced at my watch - an hour until sunrise and I had only gotten one packet. Three more to go.

I looked up and saw that this area had been cleared a bit, I could stand. I stood up and stretched, massaging the aching in my back. I sighed and then cautiously took a step. I could hear the others in other parts of the building. I glanced at the plans in my hands and turned left down the next hallway. My heart fell. I could see that there were floor boards in several areas that had been pried up. I glanced in the room I was heading to and saw an area of floor that was totally trashed. I did not have to get any closer to see that the spot was empty. My hope was that it was scavengers and not authorities.

All of a sudden, a light hit the window. "Oh no," I thought to myself, "they have found out somehow."

I hear Michael call out, "Everyone, quick outside. You are not going to believe this - it is beautiful."

My heart was pounding in my chest as I raced down the stairs. Just ahead of me I could see Aaron and Karen running hard. I was so scared. I hit the door and ran full into the outside. I glimpsed Aaron's shoes as he rounded the corner. "What is he doing? He is heading straight into the search light." I did not understand, so I followed. I rounded the building and ran into the field where the rest of my group was. I looked around and realized that this was where our church had once stood.

I looked up and realized that the light was not a searchlight like I had thought, but a ball of light so bright that it looked like the sun. "But that's impossible, daylight is in 45 minutes."

Shielding my eyes, I looked up again. The ball of light was moving closer. I felt someone bump me, it was Karen. She had a look of total awe on her face. I realized mine must look the same.

I felt someone at my left and turned expecting to see Michael or Aaron and instead saw a guard. I waited to be gunned down on the spot till I noticed the guard was not looking at me but the light - fear showing on his face. I then looked around and realized that a large group had formed. Many were believers like us, but others were guards, a couple of the officers, and then there were the bully followers. Everyone was staring up at the descending light.

My heart rejoiced as I realized that everything had not been in vain.

The light was beautiful. Flashes of color reached out from deep within. The intensity of the light should have blinded everyone of us, but it did not. I could see many had chosen to kneel on the ground and then realized that I too was kneeling.

The light stopped it's descent and hovered just above the ground. We watched, not daring to breath or blink lest we miss something.

Suddenly from the midst of the light stepped a woman. She was dressed in glowing white. Her hair was white and reached to the ground. Her skin glowed with vitality. I realized that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She turned to look at the light and opened up her arms as if to embrace it.

The light became a man. He was dressed in white robes and his dark hair flowed over his shoulders. The beauty of his presence was overwhelming. He looked around and even though his gaze stopped on no one, I know that I felt like he had looked into the inner most part of my soul. I felt my face and realized that tears were streaming down my cheeks. I lay down on my face before him and cried. I peeked up at him.

He turned slowly to the woman and opened up his arms. She stepped into his embrace and then disappeared. I heard a gasp and peeked out from my hands. Several of the guards and bully followers, and all of the officers had knelt, but not of their own choice. They struggled to stay on their feet. Several stood and had their weapons out and started to move towards the man. They were angry that the woman had disappeared because they had wanted her. He held up his hands and all who had tried to attack him fell dead on the ground.

He turned to the rest of us, many who were prostate on the ground. He motioned for us to stand and then pointed to the west. As I stood, I turned and looked. Where the church had once stood was a tree of light. Surrounding it were beings of brilliant light and beside them on a long table was a book that was open.

Person after person stood and walked to the book. They put their finger on the book as if to search for something. Everyone would hang their head and sob. Then, some looked up with a smile and continued past the tree and the beings. Many others would yell out with a "NO!" and would turn and flee into the darkness that was outside the field.

Then it was my turn. I walked up to the large book. My heart was pounding. Every deed I had ever done, both good and bad was brought to memory. My head bowed and I sobbed realizing that even my best was not good. Peace filled me and I looked up. My hand went out with my fore finger pointing. The page was blank before me but I knew that as soon as I touched it, I would know.

I woke up.

The story you just read is a dream that I had on October 20, 1990. I remember it today as if I had just dreamed it last night. This is the first time I have ever written it down, though I have verbally related it several times. I have intentionally not capitalized the mention and designations of the man. This is my dream - not the Gospel and I will respect that.

Whether you believe in the message of this dream or not is irrelevant. The truth has been written in His Word, the Bible. Jesus will return. He will call His Bride, the Church, to Him and each of us will be judged according to our own deeds. Those who belong to Him has their names in the Book of Life and will live eternity with Him. Those people who do not know Him and whose name is not in the book of life will be cast into eternal darkness away from Him.

Just one question, if this was you and you were putting your finger down, what would you see?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

An Encounter with Abraham

Going to church conferences is a two edged sword - on one hand you do usually come away changed on the inside spiritually. On the other hand, unless you are fasting you gain weight. A conference schedule is wake up, eat breakfast, go to morning session, have a coffee break, go to late morning session, eat lunch, take a break for afternoon, eat supper, have evening session, break and have a snack and then back to last session. By the end of a 5 day conference, ohhhhh my.

My husband Doug, our friend from church, and I left one such conference and on the way home made a detour and stopped at a large outdoor mall. Our friend, loves to shop. I, on the other hand, do not. That being said, Doug and I took off around the mall to walk off our conference schedule. About half way around the edge, I started feeling queezy.

Doug offered to go back and get our car; he gave me a kiss on my cheek and set off the way we had just come. I looked around for a bench I could sit on and spied one off to my left facing out to the parking lot. Sitting on it was an elderly, bearded gentleman, hands folded against his chest with an angry scowl on his face. I paused, considered my options and then went and sat next to him and said, "Hello". Not a sound from my new neighbor.

I settled down to wait for Doug to come back and looked around at the scene before me. I had learned the week before to ask God to show you what He wanted you to see - so I asked and waited. Almost at once I noticed all the people; in their cars, walking on the sidewalks, talking, laughing, crying, just being. I realized that so often I looked at buildings and cars and things but missed what God loves so much - each of us. I started praying for people as they walked by or as my attention was caught. I then prayed, "and God, if you will give me an opening with the guy next to me...". All of a sudden, a sneeze welled up inside of me and I really sneezed BIG. I heard from beside me, "Bless you". God had given me my opening.

I turned to the man beside me and thanked him and smiled.
He asked, "So, why are you not shopping?", looking straight ahead.
I replied, "I really do not like shopping. We stopped here because my friend wanted to shop."
"Don't like shopping, you are an unusual woman. So tell me, the man who was with you, was he your husband?"
I smiled, "Yes, he is my best friend and I am blessed to have him as my husband."
He turned and looked at me. "You like him?"
"Yes, I do."
He turned and looked at me, interest in his eyes. "You are a very unusual woman. So tell me, are you one of those, you know, Born Agains?"
I smiled and said "Yes, I am"
His arms at his sides, he asked quite seriously, "Tell me what that means. I have heard of it and have always been curious."
I looked at him to judge the seriousness of his inquiry and then replied, "To better answer your question, tell me what you understand it to mean."
His eyebrows raised, he took a deep breath, "I suppose it means that you have dedicated your life to God, but I do not know why that would be more than what I have. I have been in one church all of my life, the same one that my father before me attended and the same one that my grandfather before him believed in and followed. The faith I have is that of all my fathers before me."
I nodded my head and then gently said, "Okay, now I understand. The faith I have is in Jesus Christ Himself given by God His Father to us so that we could have a relationship with Him. My faith is a very personal one on one with Jesus and is walked out daily." I looked at him to see if he understood.

I watched as his face contemplated what he had just heard. He chewed on the inside of his cheek, and then making a decision he turned and looked straight at me again. "My name is Abraham. I am a great grandfather, and please pardon me if I seem to be rude, this is all so new to me and I am having to think about what you are saying. Please continue."

I took a deep breath, smiled and then said, "The Bible says, "
"Stop," he said, "without the Bible - tell me what all of this means to you."
"Okay, I can do that if I can refer to where I heard the truth in the first place. My story is nothing without the Words of the One who made my story possible. Okay?" He nodded yes.

I began telling him about my life before Christ, the fact that I am a sinner and that God has given to me and anyone else who will take it a promise of forgiveness. I told him about what Jesus did for us, how He died on the cross and then rose on the 3rd day. I told Him that He died once for all that we might have access to God. I told Him I realized my own need and how I believed in all that was told to me by my father - a man who was touched by God and changed in miraculous ways.

I looked at Abraham and he was intently listening, nodding every once in a while. I continued and told him that if we confessed with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in our hearts that He was raised from the dead that anyone could be saved and be born again.

"But I am an old man," he said, "It is too late for me." I shook my head, "No, as long as you have breath, it is not too late."

I knew, somehow, that today was not the day for Abraham to make a decision. Today was a seed planting day - Jesus would harvest on another day. I quickly asked him if he had a Bible that he read and he said, "Yes, I have a Bible, but I have never read it." I challenged him to read the book of John, that in that one book he would find what he was looking for. He smiled and said, "I am going to read it - I can tell it will be good by all that you have told me."

I heard Doug call my name and saw that he had pulled up beside me. I shook Abraham's hand and we smiled at each other. As we were driving off, I turned and looked - Abraham was sitting on the bench still, a large smile on his face and waving to all the people as they drove and walked by him. God had touched his life.

That day, I was thankful for a full, queezy stomach and an encounter with one who was needing the One.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Miss Maddie's Heart

When I met Miss Maddie, she was a spry octogenarian with a wreath of white curly hair, a quick easy step, and always a smile on her face. She had three main ways of greeting people. If she did not know you well, she would pat you on the back - one pat - smile and then move on. If she knew you by name, she would gently squeeze your shoulder. And then there was the third way - the double handed handshake with your hand warmly enclosed in hers that she reserved for dear friends.

At the church where we attended together, she actively participated in prayer meetings and greeted for morning services, would come listen to choir practice with a smile on her face, and often as not would be the one who would come into the children's Sunday School class near the end of the morning to help serve koolaid and cookies. She had a servant's heart.

In July of that church year, we prepared to sponsor a Vacation Bible School. The area around the church had grown up very quickly with a variety of low income housing on one side and higher end homes on the other. Both areas had many children and their families who were unchurched. It had been many years since the church had sponsored a VBS. I broadcasted a need for volunteers and everyone was readily volunteering their help, including Miss Maddie.

I remember sitting down with her to tell her where our needs were. I gave her a list of the positions we were in need of help with, and though she would nod at each one, she seemed to be looking for something else. Finally, I came to the position of children's counselor. I explained that she would need to be available all week, to be of help in many different places where she could get to know the children and their parents and would especially need to be available on Program Night. She looked at me expectantly and smiled. She had her volunteer position.

The week of VBS went by in a blur. I would look up and Miss Maddie would be helping in one way or another. She was on hand at registration, shaking hands, reassuring children, and being a wonderful encourager to all of the teachers. I saw her consoling little ones and wiping away their tears when they fell and hurt their knees. One day, I came around the corner and she was pushing a little cart filled with cookies and koolaid pitchers, a big smile on her face.

Program Night came very quickly. The children had learned their songs, parents were expectantly filing in and filling church seats, and teachers were scurrying around. I looked to the right of the auditorium, and there in her designated spot was Miss Maddie.

The program proceeded with much delight. The flash of cameras became the background as the children sang the songs and did the choreography that they had been taught all week long. The delight on people's faces as they watched their children was wonderful. My heart prayed, "Let them hear the message in these simple tunes." At the end of the program, our Pastor presented a very simple message. He talked about the love of God, our sinful nature and need for a Savior. At the end, he gave a quiet invitation for anyone who wanted to know more to come to the front of the auditorium when everyone was dismissed.

As the service ended, parents, teachers and students all stood. Some headed to the back to go on to the fair in the gym. About 20 people headed for the front where we stood waiting with smiles. As each person stepped up, a different counselor would step up and take the hand of the child or parent and would head to a seat in the auditorium. Finally each person was paired. I looked to my left and there stood Miss Maddie, Bible held before her like a shield held low, disappointment evident in the set of her shoulders.

I started towards her to encourage her when I sensed movement behind me. It was a 5th grader by the name of Chris. He and his little sister had been coming regularly. They lived across the street in the apartment complex. I looked at Miss Maddie and nodded my head. Her eyes lit up and she stepped forward. I introduced the two and she took his hands and headed for a seat.

I remained in the auditorium and prayed quietly. The different counselors one by one brought their charges forward. Introductions done, explanations and a practice of first testimony encouraged of the decision each had just made. Miss Maddie came up and brought Chris to me. A radiant look was on both of their faces. Chris had also decided to follow Jesus.

As everyone filed out of the auditorium, I waited to lock up and then head over to the fair. Miss Maddie came back to me and asked very quietly to speak with me. We went and sat on one of the chairs and she said, "I have been a Christian for a very long time. I said yes to Jesus when I was just 5 years old and He has walked with me now for 75 years. I have served Him all this time, but I want you to know this - today was the first time I led someone to Jesus." She took my hand in both of hers and gently squeezed. I gave her a hug and handed her a tissue and kept one for me. Waiting by the door was Chris. He took her hand and the two of them walked over to the fair.

I walked slowly over to the fair and prayed as I walked. I thanked God for all He done over the week, the lives that had been touched, the decisions that had been made. I thanked Him for all of the teachers and especially for Miss Maddie. I walked into the fair and started my rounds of enjoying the results of a week of very hard work done by faithful volunteers. At one point, I looked up to see Chris and Miss Maddie standing with his parents. They were holding hands and all had their heads bowed.

Chris and his parents were baptized a couple of weeks later. Miss Maddie was in the front row witnessing their public display of their decisions, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Miss Maddie was never the same after that. As the weeks went by, invariably I would see her with someone new, hands held gently in hers, head bowed and tears on both faces. Miss Maddie had found her heart - the joy of sharing Jesus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Cross and the Manger

Years ago, Doug and I helped out every year at a church event that was an outreach to the community. It was a Christmas walk that took place on a beautiful piece of land that the church owned next door. The church would set up platforms along the walkway that depicted the Christmas story. The first platform held a modern family in a living room setting reading the story of the first Christmas. The next scene had a donkey and a man and woman dresses as Mary and Joseph. Altogether, there were about 10 scenes plus musician platforms where quartets played or sang, and decorated, tree lit paths that were meant to make anyone comfortable. Near the end of the walk was a scene that held an empty cross and an empty manger. After that was a registration area where people could write down what they thought, give us their info, and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.

I was usually at the registration area. Hundreds of people came through there, church members and many more of the area's residents. We were there as counselors to pray with anyone who was moved by what they had just seen or just to be on hand to help. I would also walk the trail and pray and help where I was needed or answer questions.

One evening, I came upon a little girl of around 6 standing by herself at the cross and manger scene. She was intently staring at first the cross and then the manger and then the cross again. I sat on a bench near her to wait and see if her parents were coming behind her. Suddenly, she turned and looked at me.

"Excuse me, Miss. Where is Jesus?"
Not wanting to mistake her question, I asked back, "What do you mean?"
She turned and pointed to the cross and manger scene in front of us. "There" she said, "where is Jesus, why is He not in the manger and why is He not on the Cross?"

About that time, her parents showed up. She again pointed to the manger and cross and said, "This lady was just going to tell me where Jesus is."

The mom looked up from her daughters face and looked at the scene. I patted the bench beside me and the three sat down, the little girl on her daddy's lap. We once again looked at the scene in front of us. I took a deep breath and quietly prayed, "God, please give me the words to speak exactly what You want me to say."

I asked, "Tell me what you know about the cross and the manger." The dad answered, "We know that Jesus was born in a manger - that's why we celebrate Christmas. Every year at our church we kiss the baby Jesus." The little girl nodded her head. The mom spoke, "and we know that He died on the cross. We have a crucifix of Him and have it hung in our home."

"Ok", I said, "The reason why the cross and manger are empty is very simply this - Jesus did not stay a baby and He did not stay dead on the cross. The Bible tells us that Jesus was born of a virgin and wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in the manger, but the Bible also tells us that He grew up. He did not stay the baby in the manger but became a man who followed and did God's will. The Bible tells us that He did die on the Cross of Calvary and took the penalty of death for our sins, that he was buried in a tomb and on the third day He arose from the grave."

I looked at the family to see if there were any questions. The dad nodded his head to go on. "Jesus is alive. He truly wants to be our helper in times of trouble, to walk with us through joys and heartaches. To take the heavy burdens of our life and carry them for us. He took our penalty on the cross so that we could enjoy eternity with Him if we call on His name, acknowledge our sinful nature, and believe that He died for our sins that we might have eternal life. He loves you and cares about you and everything you are going through. He wants to be your strength"

I looked in the parents faces and both had tears streaming down their cheeks. The little girl reached up to her dad and wiped away his tears. The dad asked, "Please tell me what we need to do." We bowed our heads and the mom and dad prayed, "Dear Jesus, we believe. We now know that you love us so much that you were willing to die for us. Forgive us for our sins and please come and help us." I heard the little girl say, "Amen."

By this time, I was crying too. We stood and hugged and headed down the trail. I introduced them to one of the ministers and other church members and hugs were given all around.

I saw them around the church from time to time. Always with big grins on their faces.

Sooo, why am I telling a Christmas story before Thanksgiving? Look around, the stores are filled to overflowing with all the Christmas decor you could ever want and stuff into your garage or attic. We are inundated with images of high price Christmas gift possibilities and temptations to use our already maxed cards and go deeper into debt. We have people dressed up like elves in slinky outfits hawking the newest drink to dull our senses and empty our wallets.

No, I am not the epitome of Scrooge himself. I am just reminding myself, this is my rattle can after all, that there is a truth that must not be forgotten - the manger and the Cross is empty - He lives.

He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Friend Bartholomew

I would like to tell you a story about a man.

I first saw him in Michigan the summer of 1993. I was taking out the trash and had just put a bag into the dumpster when an older man popped up and startled me. He was in the dumpster looking for cans. In Michigan, there is a deposit on every bottle and can. For someone who is on a tight budget or who is homeless, there is money that can be found. I would like to say that I said hi and started a conversation with him - but I didn't. His appearance was disheveled, his white hair and beard were long and he had nicotine stains around his mouth. The smell of cigarette smoke on him was heavy and permeated the air around him. I dropped my trash in the dumpster and backed up and then quickly headed back to my apartment. From my window, I watched as he slowly climbed out of the dumpster. He was quite old and walked slightly stooped over. He picked up his bag of cans and bottles, brushed at his clothes and then disappeared slowly around the corner.

As the summer wore on, I would see him come through the apartments on Tuesdays and Fridays. He was always moving very slowly and made an effort to stay away from people who lived there. One day, as I was dragging a large bag of trash out, he called out "Hey - let me help you with that." I started to say no that I could handle it - but paused. A gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit was an encouragement, and so I smiled and handed my bag to him. He handed me his much lighter bag and we headed to the dumpster.

He walked beside me. The smell of smoke was almost overpowering on him, but I knew that it was important not to flinch. He threw the bag in and then turned towards me. He grinned as I said thank you. He waited until I was away from the dumpster to start his slow climb in.

As I walked away, I reflected on what I saw. His eyes were the most beautiful color of blue - the blue of a clear day. When he smiled - the smile reached his eyes. I also noticed that his hands were gnarled and swollen with arthritis. His clothes, though well worn were surprisingly clean, save for a few spots that bellied his occupation of dumpster diver. I saw someone that God loves.

The next Tuesday, the kids and I scurried around. We decided to make breakfast for this man. To make it easier to carry, we made breakfast burritos and wrapped each one in foil. We cut up an orange and then poured him a large glass of orange juice. As he came around the corner of the apartments, I called out "Excuse me sir!" He turned and looked and was a bit cautious. The kids and I held out the breakfast we had put into a bag and I said, "We made you some breakfast, I hope you like it." He grinned, took the bag and the asked if it was okay to eat it right now. He sat down, put a napkin on his lap and ate.

Between bites, we talked. He stuck out his hand and said, "My name is Bart. That's what all my friends call me." We each said hi and introduced ourselves. He opened the orange juice and exclaimed with excitement, "Oh - it is so good. I have not had orange juice in ages."

He finished his food, wiped his mouth and hands and then thanked us. As he was getting up to leave, he turned to me and said, "You know, my full name is Bartholomew. That's the name my Momma gave me. No one has called me that since I was a boy. Would you please call me that - it would much honor me." I gave his hand a gentle squeeze and said of course.

Time went on and through the rest of the summer and into fall, we made sure Bartholomew was taken care of. We saved cans for him and gave him food and treats. As the days got shorter and the temperature started dropping, we scraped some money together and bought him socks, a stocking cap and some warm gloves. In the deep of the winter, we checked with friends he had told us about and they assured us he was with family for the winter.

The next year flew by and in January of 1995, we decided to move back to Texas. The day we were packing our truck was a snowy, overcast day. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had never said good-bye to Bartholomew. In fact, I realized that even though I had prayed with him a couple of times, I never really told him about the love of Jesus. I cried out to God and said, "Lord, I know it is winter and there is snow on the ground. I know that Bartholomew does not do his rounds in the winter, but if you will give me one more chance I will be faithful to tell him how much you love him." As soon as I finished the prayer and opened my eyes, I saw him coming around the corner. I jumped out of the truck and ran to him. His eyes brightened and he grinned.

I gave him a quick hug and the said, "We are leaving today and I was so afraid I would never get to see you again. You see, all this time I have never told you about Jesus and how much He loves you. Can I share that with you?" He gave me a hug and asked please. I told Him about our condition as humans, our sinful nature that separates us from God. I told him about God's plan for His life and mine, that even if he had been the only person - Jesus would have died for him any way. I told him that God had created a way for him to have an assurance of heaven and being with Jesus once he died and to live with peace while he lived.

He wiped his teary eyes and then said, "I am 85 years old. I have lived many years and will not live many more. I have been worried about what will happen to me once I die. Tell me what I need to do next." He knelt in the snow, bowed his head and prayed to receive Christ as his Savior and Lord.

We stood up and he again hugged me. He said, "I almost did not come out today, but something urged me to. I knew that something was going to happen. Through all of these months, you have loved me through what you did. You and your children have been for me the family I never had, the daughter I would have liked to have. It was for this that I have lived and am so glad to call you friend."

We hugged again and he turned and walked back the way he had come.

I never saw Bartholomew again. It has now been fourteen years. I am sure that he has gone on to be with the Lord. I look forward to one day getting to see my friend again. I still remember the color of his eyes and the light in them when he smiled.

Fermented Stuff Paper Clipped Together

Ferment - an interesting word. It was rattling around in my brain and so I decided to sit down and type and see what had developed. This is a bit long - but read though please.

We know what the results of fermentation are - sometimes good and sometimes "THROW IT OUT NOW!". We give each other those Friendship Cake starters - it is fermented dough or a type of sour dough. Some people drink fermented drinks - we call them wine or beer or even other types. I have made a peach preserves that fermented and became peach brandy (not on purpose - you should have seen my face when I bit into my jelly sandwich and got a whiff of what I was eating).

So, we know what some of the food stuffs are. What exactly does the dictionary say. After going to Websters, this is what I found:

Main Entry: 2 fer·ment Function: noun
1 a : a living organism (as a yeast) that causes fermentation by virtue of
its enzymes b : enzyme
2 a : a state of unrest : agitation b : a process of active often disorderly

Did you see that - the 2nd meaning - a state of unrest, agitation, a process of Active disorderly development??? That's what I am aiming for.

Ok - so I will come to the point of this.

My brain ferments. No, it's true. According to the dictionary, it is fermentation. And, it's without any help from the fore mentioned drinks. So you ask, how does a brain ferment - I THINK! (In case you missed it - that was the answer to the question.)

The enzyme in this case is me, myself and I. My ego and/or insecurities. The things I am when no one is looking. Then you add in thoughts. They can be any stray thought - or they can even be an intentional "What do I think of this?" type question. Regardless of where they originate, thoughts are added into the process. Then comes the agitation and here are the results:

What was she thinking wearing those 2 colors together? or
I am so hurt he did not even look at me and acknowledge I was here - he did not even say Hi (sob sob).

How about this favorite -
I can never forgive her, she hurt my feelings, and ohhhh, I remember the time she looked at me funny and ohhhh, I remember the time that she said one thing but I know she really meant something else!!!

And the thoughts grow, and expand, and are somehow doubled and tripled until they become... (wait for it - here it comes) a person totally AGITATED (see I told you it would come back around) and unconsoled. Then, on top of that we paperclip the like type thoughts/offenses together and store them in our brain until we have a little time to pull out our collection during lectures or sermons (whoops, did I just type that) - wallah - instant entertainment that grows a little bit juicer every time we give it notice.

I don't know about you, but I am tired of fermented thoughts that give me a sour taste in my mouth and poison my relationships. I would love to say that the examples above are just random examples taken from my extensive reading library - but I can't. They have been in the recent past some of my paper clip collections of thoughts I have collected and held dear through the years. Unforgiveness, envy, gossip, have been fed well with these random, fermented thoughts.

The Bible says in Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. In the book of Matthew we read But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Wooo, that is some pretty heavy stuff. Throughout the Bible, there is reference after reference of what our thoughts can do to distance and greatly injure or even destroy our relationship with God and with each other.

So what is the answer? Here is where I started.

In Isaiah 55:7 (New International Version)

Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

So, today I will give up my over-active, fermenting brain. I will capture every stray thought and hold it into the Light. I will forgive (not begin the "process" - that's for another blog) and ask for forgiveness. I will choose not to gossip. I will treat every person who is a Christian as the new creation they are. I will accept that God knows my thoughts and loves me so much that He waited for me to come to this realization. I want to spend eternity with Him and I also want to spend the time I have on this earth in peace with those around me. No more turmoil. No more fermentation. No more me. God's peace, His love above all, His joy. Nice trade, huh?

As for those who do not know Christ, without the fermenting odor of my brain, they will be attracted to the Jesus in me rather than being repelled by the odor of my thoughts. Alleluia - I do believe I get it!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The other day I decided to edit information on my face book page. One of the places I had not commented on was blank. It was the place where you put in your religious views. I had skipped it purposely. I usually type in Christian - typing the word "Christian" was too easy and I decided to leave it blank for another day.

Ok - so why did I not go the easy path and just type in Christian. A couple of reasons - 1. It has unfortunately become a catch all - kind of okay, not Buhdist, not Muslim, and not an atheist, so must be a Christian. Secondly, why do I think it's easy - it's something to hide behind. It does say that you do (or you should if you call yourself one) believe that Jesus is Lord - at least that's what it used to be. Now, it is just as likely to mean you attend church twice a year.

So what did I finally type? I put in "Follower of Jesus". I had to stop and think this through - did I really, really mean that or was it just another label that was self designated? In identifying myself as a Follower of Jesus I had to acknowledge that what I wanted to say was all or nothing. I had to understand that I was identifying myself as a radical believer, or as an old song sang about, A Jesus Freak. I also had to realize that for 10 years I have been asleep - truly going thru the motions but not living a sold out life for the One I gave my life to 21 years ago.

In perspective, I am on a daily walk to grow closer to Jesus. To pursue His heart and to truly know Him. He has identified the way - it's just a matter of deciding to follow Him and then... Do it. I will have days that I will fail. I am a sinner, but I also know that He is ever with me and His Word does say that if we confess He is faithful to forgive.

I am wiping the sleep out of my eyes, looking up to a much better prize and following Him, Jesus.