He (God) Himself has said, “I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. (I will) not, (I will) not, (I will) not in any degree leave you helpless not forsake nor let (you) down (relax my hold on you)! (Assuredly not!)” Hebrews 13:5 Amplified
Last Sunday, our church celebrated the fulfillment of this amazing promise…and we didn’t even plan it.
As the service began, our pastor’s wife, who is also the choir director, prefaced their anthem by reminding us that it’s five years since our pastor was at death’s door.
He had gone to Minneapolis for surgery—a tricky procedure, but one we weren’t terribly worried about. Tricky procedures are almost commonplace these days.
Sadly, this one went awry, leaving our pastor in a coma which lasted nine long days, while we wondered if he would wake up at all, or what he would be like when he did. His family kept vigil at his side while we waited for the email updates and fell on our faces in prayer. How well I remember the day we learned he had opened his eyes, when he talked, when they got him up walking for the first time. It felt like a miracle.
It still does.
For it was a dark time for our congregation, too. Our former pastor had just retired and moved to Choteau to care for his elderly mother. This man was scheduled to take over. Whatever would we do now? We felt helpless–like sheep without a shepherd.
But we were not. God did not fail us or leave us without support. He provided some great pastors to fill in—including one who went on to be our pastor’s fulltime associate. The church pulled together and became closer than we ever had been.
Now, five years later, our pastor stands before us—preaching, teaching, leading as he was called to do. He has even been strong to manage on his own for months at a time. Now, we all rejoice that we have just called a new young pastor, enthusiastic and full of energy, to share the load.
Our pastor has lived to minister among us, celebrate his childrens’ weddings, welcome four grandchildren into the world—including the latest, born just this week. And she was delivered by my own daughter-in-law!
It was, as the French say, “a good moment.”
As the choir sang the song that sustained our pastor’s family during that dark time, we remembered…
FATHER GOD: You are faithful. You do, indeed, keep Your promises! You will, indeed, never fail or forsake us. We are, indeed, grateful. What a wonder…and a joy. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” February 24, 2019.
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23 RSV
Christmas is over—really, truly over. Last week, I packed the much-loved decorations back in their boxes, hauled them down to the cellar, stacked them away. I’ve done this every year for over 50 years but it never gets easier. Or more fun.
Someone wrote that taking down Christmas is like saying good-bye to a beloved old friend.
When I allow my soul to wail like a kid after a birthday party, I lose sight of God’s Christmas gift, the one all this celebration is about, the gift given for today, tomorrow and all eternity:
Jesus: God with us.
In the person of Jesus,
God: the master and creator of the mind-blowing universe, the One Who names the innumerable stars (Isaiah 40:25), Who is so beyond understanding that He identified Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 2:14)…
decided to dwell among and with…
Us, His frail and struggling beings on a tiny planet in the far corner of His vast creation. With you. With me.
To reconcile us to Himself. To show us the Way. To give us eternal life.
It’s called the Incarnation.
Max Lucado, in his wonderful book, “Unshakable Hope,” sums it up like this: “The star maker, for a time, built cabinets in Nazareth.”
Wow. Selah. (Pause and think carefully about that.)
Why did God do it? Out of love—incomprehensible, unfathomable love. But in order to lead us, He had to become one of us.
Listen to Lucado again: “Had Jesus simply descended to earth in the form of a mighty being, we would respect him but never draw near to him. After all, how could God understand what it means to be human?
Had Jesus been biologically conceived with two earthly parents, we would draw near to him, but would we want to worship him? After all, he would be no different than you and me.
…So human he could touch his people. So mighty he could heal them. So human he spoke with an accent. So heavenly he spoke with authority. …All man. Yet all God.”
Adjectives fail before the wonder. And, what’s more wonderful yet: the Incarnation is as true now as it was in that manger long years ago, as true this morning as it was on a tender candle-lit Christmas Eve, surrounded by friends and family.
God with us: the one Christmas gift we can’t lose, break or box away. The one that shines bright—forever.
FATHER GOD: You love me. You are with me. Right now. Right here. Amazing. But true. Amen.
To be published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, January 20, 2019.
Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:7 RSV
Do you want to increase your joy this Christmas season? Try some “hilarious giving.”
The term came to me from radio preacher Charles Swindoll when he said that the Greek word translated as “cheerful” in this passage is “hilaros”—obviously connected to our English word, “hilarious.”
“Be,” he said, “a hilarious giver”—meaning one who gives above and beyond, who is unexpectedly generous.
Writer Ann Voskamp, in her wonderful book, “The Greatest Gift,” refined the idea for me. During the Advent season, she and her family did all kinds of crazy, unexpected things, like:
- scattering dollar bills up and down the aisles in the Dollar Store.
- buying coffee for people in line at Starbuck’s.
- giving the clerk at the grocery store extra money for the person behind them.
- taking flowers to all the folks at a nursing home.
- over-tipping the waitress when they had lunch.
- making cookies for the local firemen.
You get the idea. I did, too. Right now, I have an envelope in my purse, waiting for the opportunity, that Nudge from God that this is the person to bless, that this is moment to spread His love and joy.
At this season, we’re also asked to give to all kinds of worthy charities. I do some of that, too, and it’s certainly appropriate. But I get more fun out of giving immediate, unexpected gifts to people I don’t know. They may need the gift; they may not. They may spend it foolishly. That’s not mine to decide.
But in this dark, crazy world we live in, who doesn’t need a blessing, a touch of “hilarious giving?”
Paul promises God will provide blessings for givers. It’s true. I’ve found the one who ends up with the most hilarity is…me!
God loved the world—and me—so much that He gave us His Son to be born among us as a tiny, helpless baby, laid in a feeding trough, raised in a remote village among common ordinary people. To live as one of us. To die to save us from ourselves. I will never, ever understand it, but I believe it’s true.
At Christmas, God gave the unexpected to the undeserving.
I have no choice but to do likewise.
FATHER GOD: What fun we have, looking for folks to bless! Thank You for Your amazing love…and the chance to pass it on. Amen.
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Proverbs 22:17 King James Version
Friday morning. As I climbed out of my car at the grocery store, I noticed a young man in an orange vest, collecting carts into the space next to mine.
“Morning,” I mumbled, as I looked for my list and my bags.
“How do you do?” he responded, with a nod and big smile.
I hadn’t heard such an old-fashioned, formal greeting in many years…and told him so.
“They tell me I’m an old soul,” he answered, the smile lighting up his face. “You know, I love meeting people and I just love customer service.”
Wow, I thought, here is a job—collecting carts in the parking lot, bagging groceries and helping people to their cars—I would consider one of the most boring and menial I could think of. Yet he was doing it with joy.
I walked into the store smiling.
And to my delight, he stood ready at the checkout stand. I told him he was the most cheerful “bagger” (that’s what we used to call them) I’ve ever met. The checker remarked he was a delight to work with. We had a great conversation on the way to my car.
His upbeat, friendly attitude lifted me and bubbled over to everyone else I met—a little girl walking out with a big birthday balloon, the people in the next store. My day, my whole outlook was renewed.
The writer of Proverbs was right: his merry heart did me good like a medicine.
For the week had been a little on the tough side for me. Monday saw a flare-up of the allergy symptoms I’d battled with all summer, though I’d taken such care to avoid the milk and eggs I can’t have any more. I felt discouraged, yes, and more sorry for myself than I wanted to be. By the end of the week I’d recovered some perspective but my spiritual bones were still a bit dry around the edges.
So that young man and his merry, cheerful spirit was just what I needed. If he can find such joy in such circumstances, I thought, so can I.
Everyone wants to make a difference in the world, to make their lives count. We think to do that we must do big things on a big stage.
But last Friday reminded me how much small things matter. We can make the difference we long for in the parking lot of a grocery store.
If we bring the right attitude.
FATHER GOD: Thank You for that young man in the parking lot. Cultivate his joy in me. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 28, 2018.
Come to me. … Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Jesus) Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
Ah, a gorgeous September afternoon—warm, but not hot, air clear and golden in the long light of autumn. My dog and I were walking the trails of our favorite dog park. She trotted ahead of me, alert and happy, tail wagging, hair shining in the sunlight.
“Look at her,” whispered the Voice. “Isn’t this all you wanted when you adopted her two years ago?”
My heart smiled in response. “Yes, of course!”
You may remember my Misty, the rescue dog who arrived on the plane from Texas, a terrified bundle of fur. Coaxing her back into life, teaching her to trust us, has been a long process, testing our patience and commitment. There were many times I wondered if she could ever become what we called “a real dog.”
Now I think she has—mostly.
I can walk her down the road on leash without her cringing in terror. She naps at our feet, rides in the car calmly, has adapted to our RV. And she positively blooms in the dog park—greeting people and other dogs politely, walking with me on whatever trail I choose, staying at my feet when I rest on a bench. It has become her “happy place.”
But she’s not perfect, like those rescue dogs on TV. She doesn’t always come when we call. She still tries to hide when I get the leash and offer to take her on a walk. And she has her “PTSD moments,” when she spooks and runs for no reason we can understand.
I’ve been wondering: should I try to “fix” these last remnants of her old problem?
“Do what I do with you,” the Voice went on, “Accept her and love her just as she is. I gave her to you to develop your patience, compassion and mercy. You’re not perfect. It’s unfair to demand perfection from anyone else…even a dog.”
And yes–the same principle applies to the imperfect people we live and work with every day. God puts these folks in our lives for a reason. Sometimes, they are to be sandpaper, rubbing off our rough spots. They balance our weak areas, crucify our selfishness. None of this is fun, but it’s good for us.
Our job is not to change them but offer God’s unconditional love.
Lighten up…and leave the rest to Him.
LORD JESUS: Is this what you mean by the “unforced rhythms of grace?”
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 23, 2018.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6:19 New International Version
I just saw anchors at work—twice.
The first time was during our recent fishing trip off Vancouver Island.
On our last morning, we headed out to a bountiful spot, seeking ling cod. The ocean seemed calm, like poured grey silk in the dawn light. Our fishermen dropped their lines, only to find that, underneath, the ebb tide, strengthened by the full moon, was pulling us away to sea.
So we lowered the anchor. Though the tide stayed strong all morning, twisting the boat about so much it snarled the fishing lines together beneath us, the anchor held. Then waves, forerunners of a coming storm, began to build. Our boat rode up and down over rolling hills of water taller than she was. Again the anchor held—so strongly that the captain had trouble pulling it up when it was time to leave.
Little did I know, as we pulled safely into the harbor and prepared to leave, a storm of grief and sorrow was breaking at home.
When we drove out of camp far enough for service, my cellphone pinged; I stared in horror at the screen. Old friends had lost a daughter and grandson in a horrible boating accident on the Yellowstone.
My heart broke. Their grandson was nearly the same age as the boy I’d been laughing with on the boat, just as bright, full of life and precious as he. I’d known their daughter as a little girl, saw her bloom into lovely womanhood. A floodtide of sorrow, doubt and fear broke over me. My faith lost its footing in the unanswerable questions: “Why them? Why now? Why didn’t You…?”
“I am the resurrection and the life,” whispered the Voice. “whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)
Ah, yes. I’d let the storm blind my vision.
This sin-haunted world breaks our hearts, leaving us suffering, bleeding, questioning our faith in the goodness of God. We will all die…some of us way too soon and way too suddenly. We can never understand why; that path leads only to futility and despair.
BUT…because of Jesus, death is not the final word. We have life everlasting in the world as God meant it to be. These two, even now, are dancing in fields of glory.
That is our hope, our anchor, firm and secure–no matter how high the waves or strong the flood.
And that second anchor will hold us all the way to eternity.
DEAR JESUS: Thank You for defeating death for us. So even in sorrow, we have hope. Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” August 19, 2018.