Contemplation

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. ~Henry David Thoreau

I can still see my grandfather walking across the hillside, hands clasped behind his back. He strolled down the lane, across Cherry Tree Hill, and then whistled for the dog to fall in line as they neared the house.

It was his daily constitutional. Gather the mail at the end of the lane, bring it to our house, then walk back to his. The entire trip was about a half-mile of slow, steady thought.

Walking just seems to open the mind and the ears.

Paul and his buddies were in Troas. The last year or more was spent running from one city to another trying to stay alive and yet preaching certain death. Now he gave all the last directions he could before heading off again.

The night wore on while Paul preached and encouraged. One of the young men dozed off and fell to his death from a third story window. Paul brought the man back to life and went on preaching.

He must have been worn out.

But instead of joining the others on a relaxing boat trip to Assos, Paul sent them ahead by ship while he walked.

Tired, beaten, victimized, he chose to walk.

Why?

Because a long walk opens the mind and ears.

Paul’s next recorded conversation is that he was headed to Jerusalem at the Holy Spirit’s urging, knowing that he was headed for prison and hardship. But he committed to follow through.

Are you having trouble hearing the Holy Spirit? Are the directions muffled or incoherent?

What you need is a long walk.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  Ephesians 1:17-19b NIV

What was I doing?

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. ~Bryant H. McGill

Why did the music teacher look inside her piano?

She had lost her keys!

We all forget where we put things at times, but do you ever forget why you came into a room? You stride into the kitchen and then stop in front of the counter. “Now what was I looking for?”

Paul found himself in the middle of a very hot kitchen, and he was the one being hunted.

He had been traveling through Ephesus, teaching about Jesus, when the local businessmen started counting their money. Demetrius, a silversmith who created shrines for the local god Artemis, was especially concerned. He called all of the craftsmen together.

“Listen, guys. This isn’t going to go well. Paul is leading our customers astray.” And soon the whole town was rioting- shouting, cheering, crowding into the town hall with hostages in tow.

The city was in total confusion and most didn’t know why they were even there. Jews, Greeks, Christian disciples all pushed against each other, yelling one thing and then another. Chanting their war cries and not listening to a word the others had to say, because they already knew what they wanted to believe.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Or does it?

You hear someone from another church talking about final decisions being made by women and start spreading gossip that they’re not following the Word. Did you know the discussion was about what color to paint the walls in the sanctuary?

Your brother-in-law condemns the group down the street because they’re inviting homosexuals into their organization. But is he aware that they are studying the bible with them? That men and women alike are making pledges of sexual purity?

Your neighbor volunteers at a pregnancy clinic once a week. You watch her walk to her car and mutter about the disregard for life that some people have. Perhaps if you stopped to talk to her about it, you’d find out she counsels women from all backgrounds and encourages those who choose to save life.

Not listening doesn’t always turn into a riot. But it always leads to confusion and bad information.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19-21 NIV

There’s always something to learn

Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow. ~Anthony J. D’Angelo

I’m reading a book that I find error-prone. Yet, I also believe it contains some truth and probably a lot of opinions that others in my sphere hold. So I keep reading it and try not to set my jaw too tightly.

Exposing our minds to differing beliefs and teachings helps us understand our own beliefs. Sometimes we feel justified in our beliefs, and sometimes we might find that we were wrong.

A Jew named Apollos was living in Alexandria. He was a smart guy, well-educated and an eloquent speaker. But he didn’t have all the facts.

Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos the way of Jesus and suddenly Apollos’s eyes were opened to the truth. His willingness to study further, to listen to others, and to accept that he may have been incorrect led Apollos to be a missionary to Achaia and to lead many more people to the truth of Jesus Christ as the Savior.

But Apollos didn’t just spout off his opinions. No, he used the Jews’ own scriptures to show that Jesus was the expected Messiah. He studied, prepared, and listened to the Spirit.

How do I know when I come across error-filled teaching? Because I know the scriptures. I read God’s word daily. I pray. I listen. I talk to others and process their conclusions. I surround myself with others who do the same.

Are you making sure that you know the truth and are being set free on the right path?

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. John 8:19-20 NIV

When am I finished?

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. ~Newt Gingrich

Do you know Frank Sinatra’s famous song ‘High Hopes’ from the 1959 movie, A Hole in the Head? Sinatra encouraged his young co-star, Eddie Hodges, to keep his chin up and keep plugging on through bad times just like the hardworking ant.

Can an ant move a rubber tree plant? Not by itself, but maybe if it has some buddies. One scientist took a photo of an ant lifting 100 times its own weight!

Plugging away through troubles and disappointments is an admirable trait. Keeping your head above water in a storm is what we hope for. But it’s all easier sung than done.

Paul and Silas made it to Thessalonica and started teaching in the local synagogue. All went well, converts were made, and then the Jews got jealous and ran them out of town.

No problem. They headed off to Berea and had great success there teaching about Jesus. But those Thessalonians heard about it and made trouble in Berea as well.

Not to be deterred, Paul headed to Athens and began teaching in the public places there. Paul was quite an ant.

Because Paul knew that it wasn’t about moving the plant.

It was only about working as long as he had life.

Are you still breathing? Then pick up your plant and start moving. There’s work to do.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

Expectations or expectant?

Let your dreams outgrow the shoes of your expectations. ~Ryunosuke Satoro

“Was there a woman with a white hat?”

Matt and I had just moved from Texas to Pennsylvania. I had been told by an angel that our new family would be in Philadelphia. I was also given a vision of a woman in a white dress and white hat.

“Yes, there was.” Matt replied, and the decision was sealed.

I don’t always get voices or visions. Sometimes dreams are just dreams.

But I’ve learned to listen expectantly, not with expectations.

You see, sometimes the woman with a white dress and hat is actually something else. This past year my dreams have been about babies, and I know it isn’t a physical baby that God is growing inside of me.

Paul wanted terribly to go to Asia to tell the good news of Jesus, but for some reason the Holy Spirit didn’t think it was the right time. He kept deterring Paul. Then one night, Paul had a vision of a man calling him to Macedonia.

Paul obeyed the vision and headed straight away to Macedonia where he met . . . women.

But Paul wasn’t alarmed. He didn’t need to find the man that had called in his vision. He was called to Macedonia and he went.

Maybe God has given you a vision of missionary work. It might not be in Europe to teach at a school but the other side of town to help someone very different from yourself.

Or perhaps God has sent you a message to preach the Word. Your pulpit might be a couch in your neighbor’s living room or a short chair in the church preschool.

Has God given you a desire to open a medical clinic for the destitute? It might not be in a third-world country. It could be in the economically-deprived areas of Appalachia.

Whatever God is calling you to, don’t limit him to the vision.

Expect to be amazed.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Acts 2:17 NIV

I Disagree

Words have no wings but they can fly a thousand miles. ~Korean Proverb

I was asked to give a devotional thought at a meeting.

There was disharmony in the group, and my devotional addressed that. I wasn’t asked to speak again for ten years.

It hurts to have your toes stepped on. You know deep down you are wrong, or maybe pieces of what you are doing is wrong, but you just can’t admit that your dance is out of step with the Lord.

I believe the reason I was asked to speak later was that I never- never– said anything bad about the leadership or the organization. They were my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and we had different opinions. I still loved them and they still loved me.

Paul and Barnabas were good friends. They liked each other, traveled together, shared bread and drink, and called Jesus Lord.

In Acts 15, they had a disagreement that caused them to part company. I don’t know who was right. Maybe both were right.

But I suspect both of them were also wrong.

Their disagreement isn’t what I want you to notice. What I want you to notice isn’t there.

Not once- not one single time– does Paul condemn or slander Barnabas. We have many of Paul’s writings. We have historical records of the early church. If something was said, you can bet we’d know it.

You know what I mean.

You’re new to town, trying out a church, and within weeks you’re told the dirt on all the screw-ups. It doesn’t matter that the arguments started in 1986 when someone thought a new song book was a good idea. There are people you should just stay away from.

Your kids’ new friends from the Northeast don’t address their elders with “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir,” and they borrowed their neighbor’s garden hose without asking when the grill caught fire. The scuttlebutt is that the teen is a druggie and they’re all headed to jail. Better steer clear.

Maybe some of what others are saying is true. Maybe the family with the bright purple house is an eyesore and they don’t use their money wisely. But is it helping anyone to say it?

Sometimes the Bible tells us a lot by not telling us anything.

And sometimes we shouldn’t say anything either.

Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9 NIV

Riding the Roller coaster

I’m not sure I always feel like I’m in the seat. Sometimes I’m only holding on by one hand and flying out behind the roller coaster. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t feel that way. ~David Morse

My aunt and uncle took me to an amusement park when I was about ten years old. I had been to a few parks in my short life, but this was the big league. They had huge roller coasters.

My aunt wasn’t up for the thrill, but my uncle was Full-steam Ahead Charlie. Until we made it to the stand-on-your-feet-while-turning-every-direction-but-right-side-up coaster.

I was glad he didn’t take that one on. I didn’t want to have to be the party-pooper, but no way was I riding that.

Paul and Barnabas knew all about roller coasters, even though they weren’t invented yet.

The first century apostles traveled through what is now south-central Turkey teaching Gentiles about Jesus. They also taught some of the Jews who were living in that area. Sometimes it went well, and other times it didn’t.

In Acts 14 alone they barely escaped stoning, were believed to be gods and had sacrifices brought to them, and then they were back to being stoned- this time successfully. And that’s only one chapter.

But through it all, Paul and Barnabas continued to preach Jesus Christ . . . Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, Friend, and Roller Coaster Companion.

Sometimes life feels like a roller coaster. Days slowly drift one after another and then suddenly you’re tossed downhill at the speed of light.

The kitchen ceiling falls in, the dog dies, and the kids get the flu, complaining loudly that they will never take the vaccine again. Or your husband loses his job, your insurance is cut, and now there’s a pink stripe on the pregnancy test. Or how about your son is caught drinking and driving, your father with dementia gets lost while driving, and your teen-aged daughter is just plain driving you crazy?


You aren’t sure when it’s going to be over, but you really want to yell for your mommy. You wonder what your parents were thinking letting you out with these crazy relatives. And then it all straightens out and you realize you’re loved and protected with nothing to worry about. You were safe all along.

Then Jesus grins and raises his arms for the next loop-the-loop.

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me. Psalm 139:7-10 NET

Christmas Presents

Sublime upon sublime scarcely presents a contrast, and we need a little rest from everything, even the beautiful. ~Victor Hugo

Our family has Christmas traditions you won’t find in The Saturday Evening Post. A White Rabbit candy box has been used for nearly thirty years to hide surprise packages. Whoever receives it has to pass it along the next year. The ladies of the house make peanut butter crackers to dip in melted chocolate on Christmas Eve. And all of the men receive duct tape.

The tape was a big joke until the year Cousin Jerry’s car broke down. Jerry is a mechanical genius and he whipped out the duct tape in the back seat to make a fix until he could get back to town. Then he knew the great worth of the present.

Jesus was born in a hole-in-the-wall village. His parents were poor, his birth questionable, and his circumstances unsavory.  He looked like the kind of present you chuck in the back seat and forget about.

But then, your life breaks down; you look behind the seat, in the trunk, down in the cracks with the jack. . . and you find HIM. Just the present you need to fix the mess you’re in. You pull off a small piece at first and wrap it around your broken heart. Then yank off a longer piece, tear it off with your teeth in your hurry to stop the pain, and affix the tape to the breaking heart of your life.

The duct tape holds. It’s just what you need. The perfect gift that you’ve had all along and never even knew you needed.

Won’t you let Jesus be your duct tape this Christmas?


Who can believe what we have heard,
    and for whose sake has the Lord’s arm been revealed?
He grew up like a young plant before us,
    like a root from dry ground.
He possessed no splendid form for us to see,
    no desirable appearance.
He was despised and avoided by others;
    a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces,
    he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented. Isaiah 53:1-4 CEB

Jealousy

The jealous are troublesome to others, but a torment to themselves. ~William Penn

One of my middle school students belongs to a radio-reading club. She and a boy write a script together and then read it to the school over the PA system.

Another girl in the school likes this boy and gives my student “the evil eye” at lunch time.  There is nothing for the other girl to be jealous of; my student is in love with her cat and doesn’t seem to have noticed boys yet.

Jealousy is funny like that. It shows up to the party whether or not it was invited.

Paul and Barnabas were passing through Pisidian Antioch and went into the synagogue. During the meeting, the leaders of the synagogue invited them to speak.

Paul and Barnabas told the gathered Jews and Gentiles about Jesus and the free gift of salvation. The people invited the two men to come back and teach the following week.

When the next Sabbath came, nearly the entire city showed up to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say.

You see it coming, don’t you?

A big green cowboy riding into town on an even greener horse.

The very people who had invited Paul and Barnabas to speak were now filled with jealousy. They began to spread lies about the men. They incited the “popular people” against them and had them run out of town.

They lost the gift and gained the grave.

We can see the error of their ways, but can we see our own?

Do you invite a friend to join your book club but regret it when she becomes the life of the party?

Do you audition with a friend for the local theater and then smirk at every mistake she makes after she gets the lead role?

Or is it more serious than that? Have you hoped your Christian brother or sister would fail? That bad things would happen to them instead of to you for a change? That their children would screw up like yours?

Notice in Acts 13, that it isn’t the jealous synagogue rulers who have a happy ending. It’s the ones who followed Jesus and let others live in the limelight.

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. James 3:14-16 NIV

Where to?

Christians are not limited to any church. ~Billy Graham



I was just nineteen and out of my element. The woman I worked for as a nanny needed someone to take over a business trip for her private company. She asked me, and in my youthful naivete, I thought of it as an adventure.

It was my first plane ride, and my first experience with a taxi. The doorman at the airport, seeing my dazed look, helped me hail a cab. He loaded my things in the trunk and gave me some directions and advice.

I thanked him and climbed in the cab. It was too late when I realized that his frown was because I didn’t tip him.

The three-day conference didn’t get any better. Money was stolen from my wallet. The speaker- whom I was representing- was a drunk. And I didn’t get to eat often.

My problem was that I didn’t know where to go for help.

Herod was trying to make some friends and discovered that killing Christians was a popularity booster. He threw Peter in jail intending to have him executed.

God had other plans and sent an angel to rescue Peter from prison. The angel lead Peter out of the city, but instead of running for his life, Peter headed to Mary’s house, the mother of a disciple named John Mark.

Everyone was there praying for Peter.

Peter knew where to go.

He knew who would pray. He knew where friends would gather. He knew where safety, encouragement, and food would be found.

That’s what the church does for its members.

It cries out to God. It gathers and encourages. It rejoices and supports.

Whom do you call when your child is injured 1500 miles from home and family? Whom do you depend on to watch over your aging mother? Who brings you food when you’re too weak from the flu to cook?

And where do you go to sing and rejoice and dance when you discover you’re pregnant after seven years? Who hugs you and laughs and cries when you finally finish your degree? Who meets you with cupcakes and balloons to help you celebrate that thing you’ve been waiting for?

Do you know where to go?

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:10-16 NIV