Saturday, April 29, 2017

Joy in the Morning

Dear Friends,

We delight in our backyard birds. The sight of a gold finch on the clothesline outside my window takes my breath away. As we eat breakfast, we watch bluebirds chase squirrels away from their nesting box. Nature entertains better than television.

But one recent morning we noticed something sticking out of the bluebird house, and it wasn’t a bluebird’s head. It was part of the nest. Closer investigation confirmed our fears. A pile of blue feathers on the ground told us something had gotten its paws or claws on our backyard friend. Inside the bird house the nest was askew, eggs spilling over the side. Bill tidied things up. Perhaps new tenants will move in.

Then I checked the cardinal nest in the rhododendron. That nest too was askew; no eggs and no cardinals in sight. Something sinister stalks our backyard. What can it be? A cat? A squirrel? A hawk? We may never know. But that sinister creature hurt our birds and stole our joy.

So it is in life. We cruise along, enjoying the scenery. Then something sinister creeps in. A crime against us, an illness, a disappointment, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one. All of a sudden we are not as happy as we were before. I for one like things to be perfect. Life is not perfect when I’m suffering or watching a loved one suffer. My happiness dampens as problems deepen.

The bottom line is that life is not perfectly smooth. We have to accept the bumps in the road. Perhaps they jog us into a closer relationship with God. Perhaps they help us appreciate the good times to a greater degree. Predators are part of nature and, unfortunately, part of life as well. Germs, death, accidents, criminals—all predators. They may steal our happiness for a day but they cannot steal the joy of living unless we hand it over.

Take joy this day in what God has done for you. That’s why we celebrated Easter. Christ died on the cross so that someday we can be with him in heaven. There all will be joy! Forever! For the time being, I will delight in God’s grace du jour—a sunny sky, breakfast on the table, a family to enjoy, even April showers that bring May flowers. Oh, there goes a bunny, a fresh addition to our backyard, a creature that doesn’t climb birdhouses and bushes. Welcome!

Shirley

P. S. A neighbor told us who the culprit was. Our sign is for real.



Coming Engagements:

May 13, 1 p.m. - Friends of the Heart at Word of Grace Ministries, Harrisburg, "That Face in the Mirror: Who Do You See?"
May 20, 12 noon - Friends of the Heart at Millersburg Assemblies of God Church, "That Face in the Mirror: Who Do You See?"

(If interested in attending, just contact us for information about reservations.)


Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review: The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Have you ever been at a loss to answer questions such as: How could a good God allow suffering? How can a loving God send people to hell? Maybe you’ve wrestled with such questions yourself. Author Timothy Keller does a masterful job of putting into everyday language responses that will resonate with you, responses that will have you saying, “That’s what I always thought but didn’t know how to express it. That illustration makes sense.”

In the book’s introduction, Keller examines the current religious scene and the polarization of positions. His eclectic background has exposed him to traditional denominations and to people who embraced social activism. He writes: “The people most passionate about social justice were moral relativists, while the morally upright didn’t seem to care about the oppression going on all over the world.” He kept asking, “If morality is relative, why isn’t social justice as well?”

Keller eventually became a minister and opened a Manhattan church for a largely non-churchgoing population. As individuals doubting their faith confronted him, he urged them to “doubt your doubts.” This book resulted from many conversations with individuals of all persuasions—from skeptics to believers—who came to him to discuss spirituality.

Part 1 centers on “The Leap of Doubt,” and articulates the questions most doubters present. Besides the questions listed in the first paragraph, chapter titles include: There Can’t Be Just One True Religion, Christianity is a Straitjacket, The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice and Science Has Disproved Christianity.

Part 2 presents “The Reasons for Faith.” Here Keller offers: The Clues of God, The Knowledge of God, The Problem of Sin and several chapters related to the gospel. The book includes extensive notes and an index. Rather than an easy read, it’s a thoughtful read, but quite understandable. A great book to keep on your shelf to help you articulate responses to questions about spirituality posed by friends and associates.








Saturday, April 1, 2017

Do We Stand Out?

A rayon shirtwaist I made in my younger years on a cotton quilt made by my mother. Wonder if rayon, a synthetic fabric, would have been acceptable to wear in Old Testament times.
Did you know there’s an Old Testament law that says it’s wrong to wear a garment made of “mixed fabrics,” and it’s wrong to plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together?  And then there’s the verse that says it’s wrong to cook a goat in its mother’s milk (not that I’ve ever been inclined to cook a goat, period).

According to a footnote in the David Jeremiah Study Bible, the purpose of Old Testament laws such as those found in Deuteronomy 22 was to set the Israelites apart. Perhaps the people of the land the Israelites conquered wore clothing woven of wool and linen fibers; perhaps cooking a goat in its mother’s milk was a pagan custom of worship. God called the Israelites to be “different,” set apart for Himself. If they kept His laws, He would bless them. Then people of other nations would notice and want to know the God they served. It makes sense.

So then I have to ask, what does that mean for me today? How does God ask me as a Christian to be different from people in general? And that makes me wonder if I’m different enough. Are we as a group of Christians different enough so that others take notice? Do people talk about those remarkable Christians at your church, at my church?

I do know that Christians have started mighty movements—hospitals, schools, ministries to the needy and the abused. But still, what does that mean for me?

I made a list. What do I do that a nonChristian would not do, and what do I not do that a nonChristian might do?

1.       I read my Bible and pray daily.
2.       I go to church on Sundays and keep Sunday as a day of rest. While I alone may not be noticed in that practice, perhaps nonbelievers will be impressed if they notice large crowds of believers flocking to church doors. And just what constitutes a day of rest? I grew up in a day of Sunday “blue laws” when stores were not open on Sunday so that people were forced to observe the Sabbath. So I will not go grocery shopping on a Sunday, although I will pick up something I need on the way home from church. But is that any different than shopping for a whole order? Or eating in a restaurant (which I do)?
3.       I serve in church leadership, but that is only noticeable to those in my congregation.
4.       I speak and write about my faith. I’m hoping somebody notices that.
5.       I don’t lie, cheat or steal but rather deal with others with honesty, kindness and love; at least I try to. But there are plenty of unbelievers who do that as well.

Do we as believers truly stand out from unbelievers? I wonder…. Monitor yourself this week and make your own list. Feel free to click on the link below and leave a comment about how you notice Christians stand out from the crowd where you work or play or live. Let’s motivate and challenge each other to be so different that people want to know the Christ we serve. Now there’s Someone who stood out!

Have a blessed day!

Shirley

Upcoming Engagements:

April 8, 1 p.m. –  Friends of the Heart at Hilltop Christian Church, Newport, for a Ladies Tea, “If Our Closets Could Talk.”
April 12, 10 a.m. – Shirley speaking at the CEF of Dauphin County Volunteer Appreciation Banquet, “Encouraging Words.”







Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Life Lessons From a Farm

Our Farmhouse

Dear Friends,

Growing up on a farm prepared me for the twists, turns and tumbles of life. Lessons learned, mostly subliminally, informed my faith and formed my work ethic.

Growing Chicks:

My fondest memories involve the seasons. Each spring the mailman delivered cardboard boxes filled with chirping baby chicks. Oh so cute. But oh so much work. We spread straw on the floors of brooder houses, covered it with newspapers and then sprinkled finely ground grain for the chicks to eat. We set up jars of water and watched the bubbles rise as the baby birds dipped their tiny beaks into the saucers below.

But it wasn’t long until the chicks kicked dirt into the saucers and messed up the newspapers. And as they grew, the messes only increased. Once they could be let outside, we mounted chicken wire fences to confine them. Nothing was ever once and done. They required care and feeding from the day they arrived until the day we gathered eggs from them and still later sold them or “dressed” them for eating. Work! A lot of work!
Brooder house behind my brother Robert and me.

Growing a Work Ethic:

But growing chickens and farm animals showed me that to succeed, you must keep at it. My family never took vacations. Who would feed the livestock if we were not home? And that work ethic has served me well. As a teacher, it took time to help students learn and develop business skills. As a director of Christian education, it took time to develop programs. And as a writer, well, they say you must write a million words before you’re worth anything. It takes work! I must keep at it.

Tasting Bitter Herbs:

Another sign of spring was helping my mother hunt dandelion. The March winds whipped our coats as we ventured over the fields, eyes peeled for the serrated dark-green leaved plants. We pierced the soil with sharp knives, cutting off the roots to harvest the bitter herb. My parents and four siblings looked forward to eating the delicacy in a hot milk sauce. Not me. The greens were bitter. I enjoyed the “hunting” more than the eating. But I knew the vegetable was good for me, so I nibbled on a few bites.

I also enjoyed helping my mother bake cakes and pies. They called me the “I wanna” girl, and she always found some small task for my little hands. Our meals never ended without the sweets. I always came home from school to milk and cookies.

Me On My Wagon
Tasting Life’s Sweet and Sour:

Sweet and sour. In food. In life. There was the sweetness of watching nieces and nephews take their places around the family table. When our gang got too large to hold Christmas dinners in our home, we moved to our church for the event. Still, there was the sadness of losing relatives. My mother was the oldest of ten children, yet one after another, they succumbed, mostly to heart disease. And some of my cousins too. I sometimes wondered how my mother could survive the news of another death, but she accepted death as part of life. And so must I.

Sowing and Reaping:

In fall we gathered tiny seeds, small as grains of pepper, from poppies, and in spring we sprinkled them in rows. The seeds we sowed varied as much as the flowers and vegetables that grew from them. Some you planted individually and others you sowed in rows. Then you prayed for sun and rain to grow them all. First a little sprout would poke up its head, then a leaf or two unfurled. I loved hoeing the garden, pulling the weeds that grew faster than the vegetables, breaking up the ground hardened by the rains.

Sowing and Reaping into Young Lives:

How would I have developed parenting skills without performing such chores? It’s a day-by-day, watching and waiting experience. Raising children is much like that. You sow lots of love, caregiving, kindness and goodness into their lives. You try to weed out undesirable traits—greediness, anger, hostility. Then you hope and pray for God to work in their lives and bring about a harvest you can enjoy. 
Our Meadow

Watching Nature Takes Its Course:

A thunderstorm could wipe out tiny seedlings and affect the harvest of whole fields. I remember a rainy period that turned a clear trickling creek that meandered through our meadow into a raging brown monster that swept away the bridge that provided access to our lane. Of course, it had to be rebuilt by my father and brothers.

Watching Life Take Its Course--Overcoming Adversity:

Such things happen in life as well. We carefully build a reputation, advance our career and establish a comfortable way of life only to wake up one day and find someone or something has undone years of toil. So we rebuild. Just as painstakingly as the men of my family rebuilt our bridge.

A Country Church Near My Childhood Home
So What:

Each of us grows up in different environments, and we come away with different impressions. I am who I am today in part because of the family and community who nurtured me and the experiences that shaped me. As I walked the fields of our farm, I often pondered the skies and thought about how the clouds would be rolled back at the time of Christ’s return. I grew to know and love the God of nature, the God I heard about in a little country church. I’m grateful for a family who nurtured me physically, mentally and spiritually. And I hope you are too.

Feel free to click on the link below and leave a comment about how your past has prepared and influenced your present.

Enjoy the journey God has laid out for YOU.

Shirley

Upcoming Engagements:
March 10-12 – Friends of the Heart at Women’s Retreat with Mt. Calvary’s Church, Elizabethtown at Christian Retreat Center, East Waterford.
March 24-25 – Friends of the Heart at United Methodist Women of the Susquehanna Conference at Best Western, Lewisburg.

                

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review: Sacred Marriage - What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

The subtitle says it all: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? According to author Gary Thomas, if we cultivate that attitude, we are better able to bear—and learn from—the daily exchanges that cause us anguish. He writes: “This book sees marriage the way medieval writers saw the monastery: as a setting full of opportunities to foster spiritual growth and service to God.”

According to Thomas, when you become disenchanted with your spouse, marriage offers you the unique opportunity to work on your own issues such as selfishness and self control. Marriage also allows you to model God’s ministry of reconciliation. We can learn to love by holding our tongues, admitting faults and apologizing to each other. I liked the way Thomas included illustrations from his own marriage throughout the book.

Thomas reminds readers that Jesus went against the culture of the day by lifting up women and keeping them in his inner circle of confidantes. Referencing I Peter 3:7, Thomas reminds men to make a special effort to be a good husband because if they fail, their prayers are hindered. He encourages them to think of God as their father-in-law.

Instead of dwelling on the negatives of marriage, Thomas encourages couples to view marriage as an entryway to sanctification and to counter negatives with positives. In other words, if a wife has been ciritical of her husband, she should instead encourage and praise him.

He writes: “The stronger we grow as spouses, persevering and pressing further into our marriage, the more we’ll develop the very character traits we need to become mature believers.” Just as God built a history with Israel through their ups and downs, so we need to build a history as a married couple, and as we embrace struggles, we build character.

In various chapters, Thomas examines various aspects of marriage, the spiritual, the sexual, serving one another. I loved this statement: “Christianity does not direct us to focus on finding the right person; it calls us to become the right person.”

Questions for Discussion and Reflection conclude the book along with detailed notes. With 14 chapters, it could be used for a Sunday school or small group study. A six-session participant’s guide with DVD is also available. Thomas’ website is www.garythomas.com and offers the participant’s guide as a free resource. 

Whether you’re married five days or 50 years, this book will inspire you to become the spouse God has called you to be.