Thanks for My Pastors

And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love! 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13 The Message

 

I walked into his church 61 years ago…perhaps even to the day.

A group of us in my freshman dorm had decided we would go to all the churches in our small college town to decide which one we would attend. (Interestingly, in that long-ago time, not going to church at all was not considered.)

The unorthodox church I grew up in was very spare and simple. Its services consisted of reading from the Bible and a book of interpretation. No sermon. No pastor, even.

Imagine my dismay when faced with the liturgy of his church, one which most of the people seemed to have memorized. They stood up and sat down, saying the responses, without any reference to anything I could see. Lost and confused, I was wondering how I could leave gracefully… when he stood up to preach.

I was hooked.

He was a great speaker. One of the best. Moreover, he talked about the issues we cared about. What did God want of us? What was our purpose in life? How did we live our lives well and faithfully? Small wonder his church was packed with college students, week after week–of which I quickly became one–liturgy and all. I was there, every Sunday, for four years. Even took my husband-to-be with me when we became “serious.”

That was all I ever did. I never joined a youth group, attended a Bible study, sang in a choir. I was surprised when he recognized me on the street one day. But that pastor’s sermons changed my life. They introduced me to the God I only thought I knew and started me on my life’s journey in faith.

Years ago, I was able to locate him in his retirement in Virginia and write him a letter of thanks.

I’ve sat under many pastors since then. Some were great preachers as he was…but not all. Some were gifted teachers…but not all. Everyone brings their own gifts to the job and gifts vary.

But all the good ones, like good shepherds, had a heart for their people, even the difficult, unruly ones. They fed us with their learning. When it was time to stand strong, they stood. When it was time to correct, comfort, encourage, they did that, too.

I don’t think I’d be who I am if it weren’t for them.

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month. Let’s go and appreciate!

FATHER GOD: Thank You for my pastors. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 6, 2019.

 

Into His Courts…Together

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and a thank offering and into His courts with praise! Be thankful and say so to Him, bless and affectionately praise His name! For the Lord is good; His mercy and loving-kindness are everlasting, His faithfulness and truth endure to all generations. Psalms 100:4,5 Amplified

 

Monday morning. I slide out of bed in darkness, note fresh snow on the deck when I let the dog out. As I walk to my prayer corner, coffee cup in hand, I realize I have a choice. I can complain about the too-long Daylight Savings Time (which saves no daylight, just rearranges it), about our too-early winter, or…

I can enter His gates with thanksgiving.

Hmmm…I sit in a warm, dry house. My heat came on with the flick of a switch. I sip my hot coffee, brewed with another flick of a switch. I have a kitchen full of food. Hot water at the turn of a faucet.

How many people in the world have none of those things?

Yes, I am blessed…and beyond my deserving. God is, indeed, good. My situation hasn’t changed, but my attitude has. Now I can pray with a receptive heart.

That’s what these verses are about.

God isn’t some sort of divine egomaniac who has to be praised and petted all the time. He knows Who He is; we don’t have to remind Him.

It’s ourselves we must remind–of God’s goodness, His love, His faithfulness, His mercy, His blessings—so we can enter His presence with thanks and praise.

But what of situations deeper and more difficult than a cold dark morning? What of people so overwhelmed they can hardly pray at all?

For instance, we have a cousin who enduring intensive chemo. Horribly sick. Scheduled for a stem-cell transplant from his brother, his doctors hold out every hope for recovery. But right now, gratitude is as far as the moon. I wouldn’t even suggest it to him.

Perhaps this is where we come in. As we pray, we could offer thanksgiving and praise in his behalf: for the medical advances giving him hope for survival, the skilled team taking care of him, the brother whose match will keep him alive, the small flame of faith helping him endure.

For we know, no matter how it seems, his God has not deserted him.

We could be “thankful and say so” knowing someone will have to do it for us someday. For no one escapes suffering in this broken world.

That way we can enter His gates and pass into His courts…together.

FATHER GOD: Help me to give thanks; enter Your courts with praise. And help me pray for those who simply cannot. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 27, 2019.

My Need; His Peace

Peace I leave with you: (my own) peace I give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. …(Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.) (Jesus) John 14:27 Amplified

There is a reason why the last sentence of this verse is highlighted in my Bible: I do it so often!

It happened again recently—right in the middle of our summer’s best weekend.

We were hosting a rare family reunion. My brother, sister-in-law and their whole family had come from the Washington, D.C. area. So unusual was their visit that our second son and his family took precious time from moving to a new house to join us.

And it was great. Pastor McDevitt was right: families are a gift from God—especially when they work together as they’re supposed to. There are few things better than spending time and having fun with people who know you to the bone and love you, anyway.

But hosting the event threatened to take me into full “Martha mode”–you know, “distracted by all the preparations…” (See Luke 10:38-42.)

I woke up far too early one morning, running logistics in my head. Where was I going to seat everyone? Did I have enough plates and silverware? What about drinks…and glasses? Were all the food bases covered? Round and round my brain went, like a hamster on a wheel.

Those of you with big, casual families are laughing at me right now. But I came from a small, formal one. My Mom would get into such a swivet about “entertaining” that she didn’t do it very often. And I could swivet right with her.

But I really did know better. It was my family, after all, and I could see how I’d had Help all weekend—as He quietly unraveled one knot after another, exchanged our plans for His better plan. God would help me now, too.

Then the enemy started me beating up on myself for not having enough faith to live what I knew. Sheesh!

It took me an hour to pry my hands off the controls and tell Martha and her demons to go back to sleep.

Sure enough, it all went fine. My son and my nephew’s wife cooked the dinner; everyone had food and drink and seating and fun. I could even relax and enjoy them enjoying each other!

We live in the peace Jesus bequeathed us when we do what He says: let go and believe the words of the old hymn:

“All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided/Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 8, 2019.

A Lesson from My Dog

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV

She had no idea.

Three years ago, almost to the day, our rescue dog, Misty, arrived on the plane from Texas—a quivering, pile of red-brown fur huddled in the far corner of an airline crate. Knowing how noise-averse she is, how frightened she gets when faced with the unknown, I can only imagine what that plane ride was like for her. She landed at the airport completely shut down, terrified beyond terror.

Little did she know, when we finally managed to coax her out of that crate, she was stepping into doggie heaven. Unlike the hostile streets of Fort Worth where they found her, she would be safe and warm and well fed, with a clean comfortable place to sleep. All her needs would be met for the rest of her life. Never again would a hand be raised to her in anger. All she had to do was hang out with a couple of old people all day and go for easy walks in the dog park.

I looked into her trusting brown eyes this morning, saw that happy, wagging tail and said, “You had no idea three years ago and I couldn’t tell you. You were too busy being afraid.”

Then I heard that Whisper in my heart.  “She was just like you are, child.”

Ahh. I knew immediately what He meant.

You see, I’m at the stage of my life when I’m ever more aware of its end. I’m watching my friends weaken; losing them, one after another, knowing someday it will be my turn. But I don’t know when or where or how. It’s enough to make a barely-reformed control freak panic.

I’m like Misty climbing into that scary-looking crate in Texas: terrified of the trip ahead, afraid to trust, not knowing the end of it will be wonderful beyond my imagining. There’s no way God can explain it to me; I wouldn’t understand it if He could.

Misty came from a world where people called her, leashed her, then abused and abandoned her. Why should I have been surprised when she ran from me, hid when I offered to take her on a walk? Only now is she beginning to come, tail wagging, like every other dog I’ve owned.

Trust takes time for broken dogs. People, too. Yet trust is what it takes.

To the extent that I’m willing to trust God and believe His promises, I can be free of fear.

At last.

FATHER GOD: Thanks for the lesson. Help me remember it when the doubts come. Amen

First published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 11, 2019.

The Gift of Forgiveness

…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV

What are you giving your Dad this Fathers’ Day? How about something that will cost you nothing…except your pride and your need to be right? Something worth more than all the shirts and fishing gear and steak dinners put together? A gift that can yield you both peace into eternity?

Forgiveness.

Most of you know my father was an alcoholic. “Bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor” (vs. 31) echoed through our house on many nights, sending me under the covers, trembling in fear.

But he wasn’t always like that. When he was sober, he shared my love of history and a good story, enjoyed singing funny songs to make us laugh, cherished his beloved football and baseball games—first on radio and then TV.

I never knew which man was walking in the door at the end of the day.

I now understand things I didn’t know back then—how my great-grandfather had abandoned the family when my grandfather was little, leaving a sad legacy of men not knowing how to be fathers. How my father was forced by the Depression into a job (in sales) he was completely unsuited for, how he fought down the fear of rejection and failure every day in order to make a living. How he worked in a milieu saturated by alcohol, one in which a man was measured by how well he could “hold his liquor.” How admitting he couldn’t and getting help to overcome it was more humiliation than he could bear.

Knowing how life wounded him helps me forgive him. Bible teacher Joyce Meyer, who knows a few things about forgiving a toxic family, says “Hurt people hurt people.”

Life in this broken world wounds us all. We all then do things which hurt other people—usually the ones closest to us. We all fail to live up to the potential God created in us.

That’s why Jesus came.

On the cross I believe He took all our failures, imperfections and sins upon Himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God pours His blessed balm of forgiveness on my wounds, offers me love and healing and acceptance without condition.

How can I then refuse to offer that same forgiveness and love to my father?

My Dad never repented. It doesn’t matter. My Dad never asked for my forgiveness. That doesn’t matter, either. I forgive him as God through Christ forgave me.

So we are both free.

Forever.

FATHER GOD: Through and because of Jesus, I forgive my father for his failure to be the Dad I needed. May my children forgive me. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 16, 2019.

 

Amazing God, Amazing Love

This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice… 1 John 4:9,10 NIV

I had a faith-affirming experience last week.

On our way to Salt Lake City, we listened to “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel. I was blown away.

Now you have to understand that, though I live in a family of scientists, I’m not one. I took what little I learned in high school 60 years ago, boxed it up and tossed it in the far corner of my mind, telling myself science was “not my thing.” I now realize I was afraid that learning more would destroy my faith.

I needn’t have worried.

For now, as Strobel shows in many interviews with highly respected scientists in different areas of study, the cutting edge of scientific research is pointing toward God, not away from Him. They now believe there was, indeed, a moment, nick-named “the Big Bang,” when the universe was created. What’s more, the incredible complexity of the universe in general, the fine-tuning of the parameters of life in particular, leads them to the conclusion of an Intelligent Creator.

We call Him God.

Just the small glimpse these scientists give of His wonder leaves me gasping and groping for words. How can such an Awesome Being notice me at all, let alone love me?

“That’s why I came,” whispered the Voice of Jesus. “That’s what the cross was for.”

Ahh. Of course.

We can never understand or explain the magnificent Mind Who created the universe. But we can understand Jesus Who, in the words of Paul: “…taking the very nature of a servant, (was) made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:7,8

Why did He do this? Why would this amazing God humble Himself enough to take on the problems and limitations of human life? To be born as a helpless baby? To grow up subject to the care and instruction of fallible human parents, to become tired and thirsty and hungry? Even, as John Eldredge points out, to walk everywhere? Why should God allow Himself to be betrayed and rejected, to suffer on the cross, taking on the full forces of evil, sin and darkness?

For love. For love so amazing it should drop us to our knees in awe.

LORD JESUS: When I doubt Your love, remind me Who You are. Point me to the Cross. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” April 7, 2019.