Friday, June 26, 2020

Gift-Wrapped, Ribboned and Delivered . . . to You!

          My grandson Scott once gave me two bugs. Oh, not real ones. These are ornamental bugs with a terracotta look. One is dark red; the other, orange. Both have bulging eyes, multicolored spots, springy metal antenna and hooks for feet. They’re maybe 3.5 inches high.

One bug hangs on the handle of a mason jar filled with clear yellow balls and topped with a solar lid that lights at night; the other sits by the jar.

          These bugs warm my heart because Scott picked them out for me himself. He knows my love of nature and wanted to give me something that his little boy heart loved as well.

When women at his church made blankets to take to the sick, he grabbed one for me because “Nana’s always cold.” How thoughtful.

I love the gifts I get from grandchildren that reflect their knowledge of who I am. On my kitchen wall hangs an oven mitt my granddaughter Rachel brought back from a mission trip to Haiti. It was made by women there, and Rachel knows I support missions.

As I look around my home I see many such gifts, each one special, each one picked with thought and concern.

Perhaps it would be good if we saw the people, things and situations in our lives as special gifts God has picked out just for us.

We tend to take people for granted. Our spouses will always be there to bring home the strawberries, to do the dishes, to take out the trash. Our children may annoy us with antics more often than delight us with cuteness.

Our neighbors may be ordinary people whom we rarely see and make little effort to do so. After all, we don’t have that much in common.

What about our colleagues, the people at work? Do we know anything about their families? Their cares and their concerns? Their joys and their pleasures?

The people in our churches come and go Sunday after Sunday. We say “Hi” and “See you next week.” We may be known as a friendly church because we offer friendly greetings, but do we ever invite these people into our homes? If not, why not?

But what if God brings people into our lives for specific purposes? What if He gives them to us to enrich our lives? And for us to enrich their lives? What are we missing out on by failing to appreciate them, by not getting to know them?

We might also look at the situations in our lives as provided by a loving God. That burnt dinner. That challenge at work. That car that won’t start. Challenges bless us with the gift of patience, one of the spiritual fruits listed in scripture. Challenges force us to rely on others, to work together to solve a problem. And as we do, we may be God’s image-bearer to a watching world.

What about our homes? Are they not gifts? From the humblest hut to the most spacious mansion, our surroundings can make us happy. It’s not what we have, but how we value what we have.
So look around at the persons, places and things that touch your life. How do you feel about them? Is there anything you might do to enhance a relationship? Or improve your environment? Or change an attitude?

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Perhaps that means we shall stop wanting what’s on the other side of the road and appreciate what grows in our own backyard.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Is Church for You?

A painting of my childhood church, St. Matthew's, near Spring Glen. Painted by the late Ginny Alexander.

Who would have dreamed we’d ever be denied access to church? And once we get back to “normal,” I’m sure it will be a "new normal." More distance, less hugging. More scooting, less lingering. But have we taken church for granted?

The psalmist writes “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:1 NIV). Two months after sheltering in place, I yearn with the psalmist.

Precious memories of church stretch across the years. I miss the sacredness of the sanctuary. I miss “dressing up” on Sunday mornings. Many of my memories come with clothes.

As a child, we dressed differently on Sundays. Taffeta dresses and Sunday shoes. Easter bonnets and gloves. My father and brothers wore starched white shirts, suits and ties to church. The only other time they wore them was for funerals. Which, of course, were usually held in a church. Church was where you dressed up to show reverent respect for the holiness of God.

As a teenager I knelt beside a wooden pew on a wooden floor, worried about snagging my newly acquired nylons. It was a holy moment. We always knelt, maybe four times a year, when we had communion. Church was where we confessed our sins and promised to do better.

I also "dressed up" for Halloween. We met in the church basement, before a panel of judges, and waited breathlessly behind a rubber mask to see who would be the last one guessed. Our family disguised ourselves behind Li'l Abner masks—the "Injun," Mammy, Pappy, Li'l Abner and, of course, pretty perky Daisy Mae. Church provided our social life.

In my teens, I stood before the congregation in a blue dress with rhinestone-dotted black velvet across the top of the bodice to profess faith in Christ, although at the time, I didn’t really understand salvation. (Can you find me in the photo?) We “confirmed” our faith, and I received a Bible of my own, which I read pretty regularly. Church informed my faith.

I wore Sunday dresses when “drafted” to play the piano for Sunday school. I had had only a year or two of lessons. My parents said, “If you don’t practice, we don’t pay.” So playing for Sunday school was a big deal and made me nervous. But I practiced the songs and my forgiving audience followed my lead.

In ninth grade, I played “Holy, Holy, Holy” on my clarinet for a baccalaureate service held in a church. I don’t remember what I wore that night, but to me, that was another holy moment, a special privilege. Church offered a place to explore using my gifts and talents for God.

One summer day I borrowed my friend Ginny’s wedding dress to get married in our little country church. I stood before a holy God, vowing to love, honor and obey my husband. It was a hot but holy moment. Church was where God blessed life events such as marriage, baptisms and dedications. (There’s our family in the clothes we wore for Terry’s baptism.)

As a young mother I wore a blue woolen sheath dress I had sewed myself as I walked to the front of a sanctuary to commit my life to Christian service. I didn’t know if that meant inviting a neighbor for coffee or going to Africa, although I must admit, I worried a bit about the latter. Church challenged us.

Photos remind me of maternity dresses I wore to church, many that I made myself. Throughout my life I “dressed up” for church. I cannot even imagine going to church in jeans on a Sunday morning. Not that there’s anything wrong with jeans. It’s just not me on a Sunday morning.

But lately, I’ve watched church in jeans, limited to worship by the screen of an I-Pad. And that too has been good. But I miss the fellowship. The “hi’s” and “good to see you’s.” I miss the singing and the prayers. The holy atmosphere of a sanctuary.

One good thing is that the church has been pushed out into the world. More people are probably tuning in via Facebook and YouTube than ever darkened the doors of churches.

Families now worship together, separated from others. Parents, I hope, realize they carry the prime responsibility of teaching their children about God. Perhaps they’ve never before prayed with their children. Now’s the time.

However, “Let us consider . . . not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).

So I ask, will we have a greater appreciation for church now that we’ve been denied access? Will you go to church once your church reopens and you feel safe to attend? I hope so.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Book Review: Courage for the Unknown Season

Courage for the Unknown Season: Navigating What’s Next with Confidence and Hope:

Author Jan Silvious offers hope for the journey of life by focusing on the positive. In light of scripture, she helps you view aging—and any other unknown season of life—as an opportunity to learn and grow. After all, God is the God of all seasons.

Her chapter on resilience points out how others have survived hard times. A chapter on fear helps you identify pessimism to instead focus on gratitude. One chapter reminds you to find humor in life, and another motivates you to change the question “why?” to “why not?”

The author’s writing style is light and conversational. She’s a speaker, professional life coach and grandmother who has authored 11 books. Published by NavPress, the book’s back matter includes notes with resources to dig deeper into chapter topics. The book is endorsed by notables such as Mark Lowry, Anita Renfroe, Patsy Clairmont and Babbie Mason.

I bought this book because I felt overwhelmed by changes I detect on the horizon of a new decade. But whether you’re facing a major birthday or a major move or loss. Jan Silvious offers hope for the journey. I enjoyed the read and will refer back to it as needed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: Relentless

Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves

Through the lens of biblical accounts, author Michele Cushatt shines light on how God is with us even in the most difficult places. She has encountered God Presence in her own life as she has survived physical pain and even disfigurement.

Besides undergoing difficult cancer treatments and surgeries, Michele has raised “children from hard places.” She knows the meaning of suffering, so this is not a book meant to entertain. By identifying marker events, “altar stones,” in our own lives, Michele points out how God is with us even when we may not realize His Presence.

I appreciated the many quotes and examples Michele included within the chapters. Her writing style is easy to read and understand. Chapter titles include: “A God Who Has Always Wanted to be With You,” “A God Whose Mercy Carries You” and “A God Who is With You When You Reach the End of Yourself.”

The book cover sports an endorsement from Philip Yancey: “To anyone who experiences, pain, depression, confusion, or simply a nagging sense of life’s unfairness, I recommend Michele Cushatt as a trustworthy guide.” Published by Zondervan in 2019, the book has eight more endorsers including Sheila Walsh and Liz Curtis Higgs

For anyone dealing with pain—either mental, emotional or physical—Relentless offers hope for the journey. And even if you’re not dealing with difficult life events, this book will help you recognize God at work in our lives. Back matter contains questions to discuss, so it’s a good pick for a book club or Bible study.

Friday, May 15, 2020

As You Wait, Be Faithful, Not Fretful

Kim laughed when I called a paper facsimile she had made of herself a “paper doll.” She digitally produced a “Flat Mrs. Messinger” to give students as a reminder she was with them during this COVID19 isolation.

When I was a child, paper dolls were a standard for little girls. You cut out paper doll figures dressed in underwear out of a book with stiff pages. You also cut out various items of clothing to “dress” your dolls. The pieces had little tabs to fasten the clothes onto shoulders, hips and legs. We played for hours, fashioning outfits and creating dialogue among paper dolls. Evidently paper dolls have been replaced by “flat” figures. 

When I was a child, you made margarine by massaging a plastic bag with an orange button in the midst of a thick white creamy substance. You popped the button with your fingers, and worked the color through the substance. Today you buy four sticks of margarine in a box.

As a young mother, I taught Bible stories using flannel-graph figures. Today, teachers play animated videos.

Get the picture? The methods change but the products remain the same.

One thing that doesn’t change is God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Have you noticed, the seasons never change? Spring, summer, fall, winter. We never doubt that seasons will continue. The hummingbirds just arrived in Millersburg--on schedule. Who established that process?

Have you noticed, the sun, moon and stars remain in orbit? Our ancient ancestors marveled at the same heavenly configurations we see. Night follows day. Full moons, blood moons, harvest moons, eclipses—all occur at expected times. Who created and governs the heavens?

Have you noticed, plant an acorn and up grows an oak. Unless a squirrel steals the acorn, of course. But you know what I mean. Who created such a process? A huge oak from a tiny seed. Amazing.

Since we know all that is true, we need not worry that God will be faithful through our current crisis. Yes, people are dying. Yes, people are in economic distress. But countries have survived plagues and epidemics. Societies have survived famines and depressions and recessions. God has a way to not only see us through but to bring good out of our turmoil. He is faithful.

A pastor friend of mine, William Niblette, posted a devotional on Psalms 88 and 89. Both are psalms written during Israel’s captivity in Babylon. In the first psalm, the writer moans about his troubles. In the second, the writer praises God for His faithfulness. And that should also be our focus. God is faithful, even when we are fretful.

Even though God from time to time turned his back on the Israelites, his chosen people, because they had turned away from Him, He always restored them, even from exile. God was faithful to His promises.

Back then, God sent prophets to remind people of who they were and Who He was. And God is not silent today. We have His Word, in plenty of translations—reminding us God is faithful. We have pastors preaching on social media not only Sundays but during the week—reminding us God is faithful.

We have His Spirit within us--inspiring hope. During Old Testament times, God’s Spirit came only on certain people at certain times. Now His Spirit lives within us, guiding us if we ask, teaching us if we listen, inspiring us as we open our minds to Him.

As my friend pointed out, we turn to God most earnestly during tough times. That alone is reason to be thankful. He has our attention. And we try much more earnestly to get His.

So do not despair. Do not give up hope. Do not dwell on statistics that weigh down your spirit. Like Flat Mrs. Messinger is with her students, God is with us. He is loving, kind and just. Read a psalm. Sing a hymn. Pray for the sick. Encourage the weary. God just may lead us to a better place. He is faithful.