Sunday, December 31, 2017

When Life Isn't What You Expected

Dear Friends,

“It was not what I expected,” I replied when the waitress asked how I liked my chicken vegetable soup. When I ordered, I pictured a bowl with chunks of chicken, carrots and potatoes swimming in clear broth. Instead, the bowl in front of me held a gravy-like substance with huge chunks of potatoes sticking up and tiny bits of chicken sunk to the bottom of the glutinous mess. It certainly was not what I expected.

The waitress immediately asked if I would like to try the beef vegetable instead, and I gratefully accepted her offer. Much better!

Sometimes life turns out to be “not what I expected.” When we marry we picture living happily ever after with this dream of a spouse who waits on us hand and foot. We picture perfect children with ten fingers and toes, good jobs with good salaries and happy family times round a dinner table. But then reality hits. We squabble. We get sick. We lose jobs. We notice flaws in our perfect spouse. Loved ones pass on. Friends turn into critics. We don’t like our job or our boss. Then what?

If there’s anything I’ve learned during my 70-plus years on earth is that every experience of life offers a chance for spiritual growth. Those we like least may help us grow most. The most irksome situations—illnesses, checkout lines, physical handicaps--may grow our patience as we call on God to help us deal with them. He gets to see our hearts and we get to know God best as we tell him our heartaches.

God is trying to grow the fruit of the Spirit in us--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. We may get in a snit when someone offends us, but that is when God grows self control. Just because we feel grumpy doesn’t mean we grump at others. Just because we don’t agree, doesn’t mean we get a pass on civility.

Parents dealing with rebellious children or children with physical or mental challenges find fertile ground to grow kindness, goodness and gentleness. Difficult bosses offer opportunities to develop love, joy and peace. Rather than let circumstances get us down, look at how God may be working behind the circumstances—in you and in others.

Perhaps God is telling you to show a sweet spirit or perhaps He is telling you to move on, to end a toxic relationship. It’s important to be in tune and stay in tune with God so that you don’t misread His signals. That’s why it’s important to read God’s Word, pray and stay in fellowship with Christian friends. Those are three sources of insight available to us all.

We certainly do not know what this new year holds. But let’s not be dismayed when things turn out to be “not what we expected.” Let’s simply stop, look, listen as we grow the fruit of the Spirit. And who knows, like the chicken noodle soup I ordered yesterday, it may be better than I expected.

Have a blessed New Year!


Upcoming Engagements:

January 14, 8 and 10:30 a.m. - Shirley speaking during worship at First United Methodist, Millersburg.

February 1, 6 p.m. - Friends of the Heart speaking at David's Community Bible Church, "Tea with Friends."

February 16-18 - Kim and Matt leading Lykens United Methodist Youth Retreat at Camp Hebron.

Click on the link below to comment on how you handle life when it turns out to be "not what you expected."

Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Review: Martin Luther

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World

This book tells the story of a man who changed the course of history by simply standing for what he believed. Martin Luther was a dedicated scholar who earned a master’s degree in liberal arts and rather than begin work on a law degree as his father hoped, he became a theologian and preacher. But he was a man consumed by his sinfulness. He suffered from depression and spent hours bemoaning his sins, until parish priests tired of hearing him.

According to author Eric Metaxas, much we believe about Luther is myth. For instance, Metaxas says it’s unlikely Luther nailed his 95 theses (a listing of what he saw as abuses within the Catholic church) on the Wittenberg church door, for that would have been damaging property.

By creating his listing, Luther assumed he was simply helping the church understand where leaders were going wrong. He never would have imagined that a new way of worship would spring from his observations. He would have been discomforted to think he kicked off what became known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther took issue with indulgences, payments taken by the church with the hope that relatives and friends would be released from purgatory. According to Luther, nothing in scripture offered a basis for such a practice. He also asserted that, according to scripture, common folk should be allowed to take bread and wine for communion; in that day only priests were allowed the wine. Although Luther repeatedly challenged church leaders to point out in scripture where he was wrong, they simply condemned him and insisted the church and the Pope had the final authority in all things. Period.

It’s a challenging read because the situation divided Christendom as then known. Some sided with Luther, but later some of his allies disagreed on points of doctrine and turned into enemies. It’s hard to keep the names straight. In time, when the church condemned Luther’s stance and threatened retribution on any who aided him, Luther’s supporters “kidnapped” him and he spent a year hidden away from church leaders, disguised as a knight. But he used time away from the public eye to write scripture in the vernacular of the common man, so that people could read for themselves the basis of what he preached.

Luther’s personal life is fascinating, for he married Katherine von Bora, a nun who had escaped from a nunnery, although Metaxas insists she did not escape in a herring barrel as many biographers claimed. Luther would not take any reimbursement for his prolific writing, so after his death his wife and children were left without resources.

According to Metaxas: “In the end, what Luther did was not merely to open a door in which people were free to rebel against their leaders but to open a door in which people were obliged by God to take responsibility for themselves and free to help those around them who could not help themselves.”

Copious notes, a bibliography, index and photograph credits complete the 480 page tome. A great book to give as a Christmas gift to a serious reader.

It’s a fascinating read because most if not all Protestant denominations were influenced by Luther’s stance. And the Catholic church in time addressed some of the issues he raised.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Wish Book . . . and the Bible

Dear Friends, 

A Montgomery Ward catalog stirred memories: When I was a girl, it was a Big Day when a catalog arrived in the mail. And these catalogs were nothing like the skinny 84-page one I just received. They were mammoth books, 2.5 to 3 inches thick. Living in the country with little access to shops, the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs came Spring and Fall and showed me the latest little girl dresses and coats.

My sisters drooled over the latest fashions. My mother longed for nifty appliances. My brothers and father? I don’t remember them ever noticing the books. But the women of the family poured over the pages, yearning and dreaming. We called these catalogs “wish books.”

Then at the end of November or the beginning of December (Christmas shopping started later in those days) came the toy catalog. Now I really got excited. I loved dolls. Every year I wanted a new doll. And my favorites were the baby dolls. “Oh, please, Santa, bring me a doll that drinks and wets. I will be such a good mother.”

Catalogs today are a dime a dozen. I send many to recycling without ever cracking the cover. Prices have gone up, and I’ve found the best way to avoid temptation is simply not to look. Besides that, I need much less. Clothes don’t wear out. My home doesn’t need one more doo-dad. Catalogs just don’t ooze magic for me like they once did.

I hope I never feel that jaded about opening the Bible. I remember how fascinating the Bible was to me when as a young adult I dedicated my life to Christ. I went to my pastor time after time asking about this passage and that passage. I wanted to understand how it all fit together. Instead of looking for the latest fashions, I wanted to find how passages applied to my latest life, the life that included a husband and kids, the life that included changes and challenges.

Of course, I still read my Bible. Every day. Without fail. But am I as excited? Am I as curious? Since I dedicated my life to Christ sitting by the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree, contemplating if my life was really honoring the Lord, the season holds special memories for me. But much as I love the lights and the Christmas shows, I want to revel in the real meaning of Christmas, the fact that Christ left heaven to come to earth where he would face earthy, sinful people, people who think far more about things we see in shops and catalogs than about Him. And then He died--so we could go to heaven. It boggles my mind.

It’s sometimes hard to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. We show Christ’s love for others as we shop, so we shop. We show God’s hospitality as we welcome families around the table, so we cook. It’s all good. But let’s remember to show our love for God by worshipping with other Christians, by donating to God’s people in need and by examining our hearts to see if we’ve really forgiven and forgotten. Those are the greatest gifts of all. And they aren’t found in catalogs.

Have a Blessed Christmas!


Upcoming engagements for Friends of the Heart:

December 2. 10 a.m. - Women's Christmas Brunch, New Buffalo, CMA, "Mary: Ordinary or Extraordinary."

February 1, 6 p.m. - David's Community Bible Church, Millersburg, "An Evening with Mary, Martha and Their Psychologist."