Monday, December 19, 2011

SHEEP AND SHEPHERDS



When my boys were small, they each wanted a sheep for Christmas. How happy they were when they received their pregnant ewes which soon after birthed the cutest, cuddliest lambs you can imagine. Who can resist such a gift? Who can resist the best gift of all—Jesus, the Lamb of God and the Great Shepherd?

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Christmas and the Cross

Long before Christ was born in a manger, Isaiah prophesied His birth. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His Name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) You may have heard those words sung in Handel’s Messiah. Because of Isaiah’s prophecy-come-true, we can celebrate Christmas with joy and thanksgiving.

For centuries, God’s people looked for the coming of the Savior. When watchful shepherds heard angels herald the good news of Jesus’ coming, they were so jubilant they left their post to follow God’s star to the stable where He was born. Most residents of Judea looked for someone who would release them from captivity of the enemy—the harsh rulers of the land. Perhaps that hasn’t changed. Perhaps some of us also look to Jesus, our Savior, as the One who will “make things better for us.”

There’s more to Christmas than the birth of Jesus, however. For there can be no birth without death. The newly-budded flower, the salmon roe, the embryo in a woman’s womb all live for a God-given purpose and then die.

We can’t celebrate Jesus’ unique birth without celebrating the reason for which He came to earth—to die for our sins. Isaiah 53:4-5 states: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

The good news is that although Christmas eventually brought Good Friday, it didn’t end there. The crux of the Christian faith is not in Jesus’ death, but in His bodily resurrection. Without the resurrection, we would have no Christmas to celebrate, no way to be reconciled with God. “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

We can celebrate His wonderful and miraculous birth with great joy! We can happily exchange gifts with those we love. We can be inspired by the words in Scripture that tell of the Good News of Jesus’ birth, His death, and His resurrection.

Lord, as we celebrate Your birth, help us remember that Your death and resurrection fulfilled Your purpose for our lives. Help us to share the Good News of salvation this Christmas. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

BEAR MUSIC



This black bear that visited our backyard one summer looked pretty content once he pulled down two bird feeders and then sprawled out to partake of the goodies. How he must have sang thanks for such bounty!

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

A Song in the Air

At Jesus’ birth, angels visited shepherds, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2: 14) Their music must have been a balm to the weary souls of those shepherds, knowing God was sending His promised deliverer to the world.

Music was a balm to Paul and Silas too while imprisoned and in shacked. Their songs of praise to God surely were like salve to their physical and emotional wounds and to the other prisoners. Music is soothing to our souls, also, when we are troubled.

God provides us with many kinds of music and joyful noise. Did you know that animals sing? Whales make inaudible, ultra-sensitive “music” while moving through the water. Bears and other mammals “sing” to their young and to their mates. Even rocks cry out! Jesus told the Pharisees after they told Him to rebuke His followers who shouted hosannas to Him, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Imagine! If we don’t “sing” hosannas to Christ, the very rocks in the fields will. Even a donkey “talked.” Check out Numbers 22. And the book of Job tells of how God spoke to him about “the morning stars singing together.”

We can also hear God’s praises in the form of rustling leaves on a breezy day, in the hissing and crackling songs of the aurora borealis, and through the kind words of a friend or loved one. It even comes through God’s still, small voice as He speaks to our hurting hearts—and through the songs of Christmas.

Who doesn’t feel happy hearing the hymn, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come”? Heaven and nature surely do sing at such Good News. What heart cannot help but leap at the sound of Handel’s oratorio, The Messiah, as it tells of the prophecies and their fulfillment of Christ’s birth?

Yet, earthly music is drowned out by the sounds of “tens thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands (of angels) saying with a loud voice: worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:9)

Lord, we celebrate Your birth with joyful music in anticipation of hearing the sounds of Your heavenly choirs. May we not forget to share the Good News of Jesus’ salvation, as the shepherds shared on that first Christmas night. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

THE PERFECT GIFT



We can buy what we think is the perfect gift for that special someone in our lives, but it won’t compare to the priceless gift of our Savior Jesus Christ. The magi brought extremely valuable gifts to the Baby Jesus. They sensed that here lay Someone worth far more than what they gave. What can we bring our Savior, the priceless, perfect One, except our love and obedience, our heartfelt thanks and praise, and our compelling desire to share the Good News of His birth, death, and resurrection?

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Christmas Details

They’re endless. Write and send the annual Christmas letter. Shop for the perfect gifts. Wrap the gifts. Find the perfect tree. Trim the tree. Hang the stockings. Practice for the pageant. Prepare the special meal. Open the gifts. Dress for the pageant. Perform without stumbling. Entertain family and friends. Collapse.

The details vary from family to family. For some, it’s the matter of preparing for a trip. For others, it’s finding ways to survive the pain of loss. For most, it’s going through the steps listed above. Regardless, we can get lost in the Christmas details.

The good news is that God is in the details. His details have eternal meaning. His details for Christmas began in the Garden of Eden where He prophesied the coming of Christ the Savior. Throughout the Old Testament, we find thousands of details God reveals about Christmas. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Chapter 9 of Isaiah also tells us about Jesus, the holy Child—the names He will be called, the purpose of His coming to earth.

Other books of prophecy add to God’s details. And they all culminate in those given in the Gospels about the birth of Jesus. Every detail had significance: Mary’s virgin birth, her visit to her cousin Elizabeth who was about to give birth to John the Baptist, and the glorious experience of the shepherds who heard angels praising God and telling them to go to the stable to worship Jesus. They tell about the brilliant star that led three wise men to the same stable, the dreams God gave Joseph about the baby and about leaving Bethlehem to seek safety in Egypt, and the subsequent dream about returning to Nazareth where Jesus grew up.

Yes, God is in the details. Our man-made details, however, are mere add-ons of little consequence. We gain a clearer perspective of Christmas when we focus on God’s details rather than our own. Christmas is about giving—giving of ourselves to God for His glory first before we give to our family and friends. It’s about relaxing in His presence instead of hurrying to fulfill all the details we add—many unnecessarily—to make Christmas “real.” Rather than being lost in the Christmas details of our making, we can find Christ in God’s details.

Lord, give us a clear perspective of the true meaning of Christmas. Help us focus on Your details about Jesus’ birth rather than on our own. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW!



Yesterday brought about five inches of the heavy, slippery stuff—the kind that forced my attention to the tracks ahead of me and my hands to remain glued to the steering wheel as I wended home from vending at a craft fair. But all the way home on that treacherous road, my heart overflowed with thanksgiving for God’s wondrous beauty of trees draped in clean, cottony softness. Choosing to thank Him in the storm always makes the journey shorter and more enjoyable.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Living With Thanksgiving in the Moment

For some of you, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. Regardless, I hope that for you, every day becomes a day of thanksgiving. When we live in the moment, accepting each day and hour as a gift, it becomes easier to be thankful for what we have. Perhaps that’s why the pilgrims were able to set aside a special day for thanking God—though they had suffered greatly that first, harsh winter. Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul, who suffered more than most others through repeated beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonments, never ceased to thank and praise God. He viewed his sufferings as opportunities rather than as deficits.

It’s not easy to “live in the moment with thanksgiving” while our knee aches. Rather, we tend to commiserate about the stupid accident that caused our knee injury, or about the dim outlook ahead. It’s not easy to be thankful when our emotions run rampant over someone’s offending word. We’d rather think back to other offenses to justify our anger, or think ahead to the miserable loss of that person’s friendship.

Living with thanksgiving in the moment has great value. It can change our attitude to one of expectation that God is with us and will help us overcome whatever problems we face. It enables us to see life as a gift rather than a coincidence or stroke of luck. It brings unexpected blessings.

In other words, living with thanksgiving in the moment with God helps us to take our eyes off ourselves, to gain a new perspective of life. All these benefits bring health and healing to our body, soul, and spirit. We smile more easily and more often, which in turn causes others to smile—others who also may have little to smile about. I have no doubt that our thanks puts a smile on God, too.

Perhaps we can liken the habit of giving thanks as a discipline—a habit we can form and practice “in the moment” through daily communication with God. Here are three reasons to daily thank Him:

“…for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Lord, we thank You for all things. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

GRACE



Grace is what it’s all about. God’s grace is mind-boggling. To think that He never forsakes us, loves us in spite of our sins, and faithfully provides us with His strength and power. Now that’s something to be thankful for during this special time of year—and every day no matter what we’re going through.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES
by Sally Bair

It Takes Grace

Kids do it all the time. They run barefoot and unthinkingly onto Mom’s clean floor, leaving muddy tracks for her to clean up. If we don’t like dirty floors, sometimes we have to resort not only to clean the floor, but to wash their feet. We need to teach our kids proper behavior, but our love should compel us to look beyond the dirty floor and dirty feet.

Foot washing is a symbol of humility and servanthood. Some churches practice the ritual even today. Perhaps we all should. We’d be following Jesus’ example when He washed the feet of all His disciples—including Judas. He took a towel and lowered Himself to His knees, just as a slave would have done for his master.

Jesus meant His literal example in the metaphoric sense, too. When we humbly serve others in any way, we serve Jesus. “‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them … ‘Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”

Humility is often viewed as a character weakness. What strength do we exhibit by giving up or walking away or showing our “wimpy” emotions? Humility, however, is a purposeful act of love shown by placing ourselves beneath another to meet their need. It’s being the first to apologize. It’s giving a hand up to the guy ahead of us in the race at the expense of winning. It’s turning the other cheek rather than retaliating when someone criticizes us.

Humility and servanthood are what Jesus expressed when Judas betrayed Him, when His own people killed Him, when Peter denied Him. He humbled Himself before unclean lepers, an immoral woman, and the demon possessed—for the sake of their healing. For the sake of His Father’s love and grace.

It takes grace to wash someone’s spiritually dirty feet. It takes grace to keep from scolding or criticizing them for leaving muddy tracks on our pristine self-image. It takes grace to look at them with the eyes of love and compassion. A friend of mine, speaking about a crude co-worker, said, “It’s not my job to wash his mouth out, but to wash his feet.”

Lord, by the power of Your Spirit, give us the grace to see beyond the flaws into the hearts of others, as You have done for us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, November 7, 2011

WEATHER OR NOT



With winter approaching quickly, sometimes I think it would be nice to be able to hibernate like the chipmunks and bears. Just kidding. I love most winter days. God lavishes us with His beauty in all seasons. May your holiday season be filled with thanksgiving to our Creator and Savior in and for everything—even the monotony of cloudy days and the intensity of blizzards.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Fattening Up

The way our resident chipmunks are eating, you’d think they’re wondering if it will be their last meal. Bears, too, are focused on fattening up with high-protein and fatty foods before they head for their hibernating holes.

Sometimes we humans stuff ourselves with food, too, and with pleasures—as if we might lose out before dying. But what if we knew with certainty that today would be our last day on earth? Would we act differently with our parents, spouse, children, and grandchildren? Would we speak different words to them? How would we treat those we disdain or despise? Would we make amends for our past offenses?

What choices would we make regarding our money? Spend it all on fun and fancy things? Give it away? Hide it so certain others could not benefit from it? What about food and drink? Would we indulge ourselves, like the critters preparing for hibernation, knowing our last meal was imminent? Would we regret not fulfilling our Bucket List, or not spending more time with our family?

We all have the option of “fattening up” on anything we choose. Our selfish choices are endless—and worthless in the end. The Bible says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

The Bible is filled with ways we can spend our last days. Once we know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, getting to know Him better is a priceless, meaningful way to live out our lives. If we fatten up on His Word and obey it, we won’t miss out on His greatest gifts of love, joy, and peace now and forever. Fattening up on God’s Word will help us toward that end.

“You do not know what will happen tomorrow,” James 4:14 tells us. “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

James continues: “Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:8) Seeking Him in the Word will help us not only to know Him better, but to trust and love Him.

Lord, help us consider each day as our last so the love, peace, and joy You’ve given us will be evident to everyone we meet. Give us the desire to fatten up on and obey Your Living Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

THE LIVING WORD



These rocks came into existence when God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit fashioned the world. We are blessed in being able to learn about His creation and salvation through the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and through His written Word. May we never take advantage of such a blessing.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

The Book of Books

After hundreds of years, the Bible is still the best-selling book in the world, having survived banning, burning, and booing. That’s miraculous. Dwight L. Moody, the famous Chicago preacher, wrote these words on the flyleaf of his Bible:

“This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of life, the doom of sinners, the happiness of believers. Read it to be wise. Believe it to be safe. Practice it to be holy. It gives light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the soldier’s sword, the Christian’s chart. Here Paradise is restored: heaven is opened and the gates of hell described. Christ is its theme, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.

“It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, a river of pleasure. It is given us in life, will be open in judgment, and remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and condemns all who trifle with it. The Bible sets forth two things—the cross and the throne.

“The Old Testament points toward the cross. The Gospel tells the story of the cross. The Epistles point toward the throne. The Revelation tells the story of the throne.

“The Old Testament tells us what sin leads to and ends with the words: ‘Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.’ (Malachi 4:6)

“The New Testament shows the way out of sin and ends thus: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’” (Revelation 22:31)

In sales, the Bible has beat out the Koran, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Da Vinci Code. Even the Harry Potter books can’t compete. Nor can Mao’s Little Red Book, second in sales of between eight- and nine-hundred million copies. By comparison, between 2.5 and 6 billion copies of the Bible have been sold.

The Bible is popular because its words are God-breathed. “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Jesus is called the Word of God.

Lord, thank You for Your Living Word that sustains, encourages, and teaches us. Let us never take it for granted or fail to avail ourselves of its power. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ALL CREATURES LARGE OR SMALL



The variety of sizes in God’s creation is astounding. Some moths, for instance, are smaller than our little fingernail. Others, like this Luna moth, dwarf many of the flowers on which they land. Bald eagles dwarf the chickadee. Oaks stretch way beyond a lowly blueberry plant. A tidal wave swallows the seaside ripple. No matter the size, each has a purpose in God’s world. We see His love in the big and the small alike.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

The Right Size

The bigger the antlers or pelt, the better a hunter’s buck or bear will look in his “bragging room.” The bigger a foodaholic’s dinner portion, the more enjoyment. The taller the alcoholic’s drink, the better. Stores now sell bigger cans of beer and bigger cups of cappuccino. Let’s face it; size matters for many of us.

Some parents encourage their children to acquire the biggest and most. On Halloween, for instance, they drop off their kids at the end of a well-populated, city block and pick them up after they have filled their pillow cases with candy.

Smaller size matters, too. Technologically, we can talk, text, hear music, watch the news and weather report, and find our way while traveling—all with a palm-sized device. Even pets are bred for a smaller size.

I enjoy reading in bed, but the older I become, the more uncomfortable it is for me to hold a book up for long. Perhaps it’s time to buy a small, lightweight e-reader.

Size matters. Are we ever satisfied with the size of our house, our body, our paycheck? Don’t we all, at some time or other, avoid getting the short end of the stick, so to speak? Is anything ever the perfect size for us?

Sometimes we may even think God is the wrong size for our situation. We may decide He’s too small to answer our difficult needs. We may believe He can’t find us when we get lost in the bog of life, or won’t find us when we purposely go where sin and evil reside. Or we may decide He’s much too big for us puny, insignificant creatures.

The truth is, God is big—much bigger than we can imagine, but not too big. He sees all and knows all. He is more powerful than the earthquake and volcano, the flood and the tornado. Yet He reaches down to us with His immeasurable love and mercy. We don’t have to rely on the size of anything to gain His peace. We don’t have to change His size to fit our needs. He’s the right size for everything.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life … nor height nor depth … shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Lord, may we never view You in a size of our own perception. Help us grasp the truth of Your immeasurable love. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

COLOR ME PURPLE


A friend told me leaves turn red, orange, and yellow, but never purple. I found several purple leaves this fall. Did you? By now, however, most fallen leaves are brown and disintegrating. Saturday I did see some trees still dressed in their brilliant hues as I traveled to Crivitz to give a talk at the public library. Crivitz is near the town of Peshtigo, which is situated on Lake Michigan and which lost 1,500 people to fire the same day of the Great Chicago Fire during the logging days. They certainly experienced vivid colors that day, but not the kind we like to see.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

The Colors of God

A riot of autumn colors brought out my camera. Everywhere I turned, I saw a snapshot of God’s character. All the colors of the rainbow are evident in Autumn, and they’re the same hues evident in the Bible.

The rainbow colors that paint our world with beauty come from God’s light, which He created at the beginning of time. During creation, God proclaimed the light as “good.” From His light come the rainbow colors that show His glory.

The colors we see in the natural world have spiritual meaning, too. The color red, for instance, represents the sacrificial blood of Christ. Isaiah 1:18 reads, “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” Christ willingly took our sins upon Himself that we might be cleansed as white as snow. When we see the blood-red maple and sumac leaves, we are reminded of Jesus’ supreme sacrifice for our benefit.

The brilliant oranges of autumn signify several things: praise and passion, joy and power, fruitfulness and harvest. My mind automatically leaps to thoughts about the Holy Spirit when I see orange. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ followers as tongues of fire. The orange flame of a God’s Spirit-fire burns hot in our hearts when we allow it.

Our northern poplars and birch shimmer like gold coins on a sunny day. Gold is the color of God’s holiness which shines in our hearts as He releases His strength and energy to us so we can produce His good works. “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22)

The green of conifers contrasts richly with the changing colors of deciduous trees. Green is the color of plant life and speaks of growth. In spiritual terms, it’s called sanctification. God would have all of us “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

The blue of the sky reminds us of heaven, from which Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins and in which we will someday spend eternity with Him, if we have surrendered ourselves to His perfect will.

If we hunt for them, we can even find purple leaves in the fall. The color purple symbolizes Jesus’ royalty. He forever wears the crown and robe of righteousness and majesty and power.

Lord, we thank You for the rich variety of color in autumn which reminds us of Your love for us. Help us to learn more about You through Your marvelous gifts of nature. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

STORIES



Did you hear the story about the chickadee that ate from my niece’s hand? Such a simple act gives us a lesson in trust. We love to hear stories and we love to tell stories. The best stories told are those that lift up Jesus and point to His marvelous love. May your stories bring glory to Him.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Maturity and Fruit

I attended a writer’s workshop recently and was surprised and encouraged by the number of published authors in my age group. These writers, like me, had set out not only to tell their stories but to sell their stories. Telling and selling both require desire, determination, and dedication to succeed.

Seniors and younger people alike can be encouraged by those who have gone before us. Perhaps many of us subconsciously, or consciously, feel an inner pressure to share our wisdom before it’s too late. There are so many good stories to share—stories that will not only entertain, but will teach and encourage future generations.

I have felt that inner pressure to share my stories with others. Having been a writer for many years has given me an advantage. But there are people who are hesitant to preserve their stories because they “didn’t live an interesting life,” or “don’t know how to write well enough,” or “don’t want to be an embarrassment to the family.” That’s why I’m now offering memory-writing workshops for anyone, no prior writing skills necessary.

Stories are big in God’s view. Without the Old Testament stories about spiritual heroes such as Abraham, Noah, and Elijah, we wouldn’t know about faith. Without Jesus’ parables and Paul’s letters, we wouldn’t mature in our faith.

Our stories don’t have to be big and important. Big or small, or seemingly insignificant, our stories can have the same effect on our families and succeeding generations that Bible stories have on our faith. Memories often stir our hearts, causing us to want to share them with others. That’s how it was with David, who wrote in Psalm 45:1: “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

We have only so many years left. So, why not write our stories now, while we can? There’s no telling how they can bless someone who’s hurting or stumbling or seeking meaning about life.

Lord, thank You for Your wisdom that’s meant to be shared through our stories. Grace us with the desire and ability to pass them on to others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CHILDLIKE JOY

There’s nothing that beats watching babies or toddlers at play. Their joy is unrestrained and exuberant. Perhaps we should follow their example more often and not try so hard to restrain ourselves when we’re happy. Childlike joy is catching; let’s give ours away.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Freedom in Worship

Remember when you were a kid, running through the grass, hands lifted high in sheer exuberance? Remember clapping and bouncing up and down when your mom said she’d take you to the beach? Dancing in anticipation in front of the ice cream counter?

Ah, the joys of youth! Unfortunately, our expressions of joy fade with time. I heard someone say that second graders express boldness in their artwork, but by fourth grade, their art becomes stilted and stuffy and “within the lines.”

While maturing into adulthood, many of our visible signs of happiness and joy fade into mere smiles. We laugh, but only at the appropriate time and place. We clap, but only at a concert. We giggle and jump through rain-filled puddles only in our minds.

Why don’t we act like children any more? I don’t mean in a childish manner, but in a child-like manner. I believe we Americans, compared to many foreign countrymen, have lost our outward zest for life. For years I sat in a mainline church, so filled with the sense of God’s wonder that I nearly choked with emotion. But because everyone else sat, unmoving, in their pews, I did too. Many years later, I witnessed exuberant praise and worship from fellow believers. Spiritually thirsty desert-dweller that I was, I started clapping and moving my feet to the worship music’s rhythm and raising my hands along with others. No longer did I feel constrained, corked under the pressure of erupting.

King David was childlike in his worship of God. “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.” (Psalm 63:3-4)

Other psalms speak of David telling us to sing to the Lord, make a joyful shout to Him—like children. Like the crowds did when Jesus passed through Jerusalem and they hailed Him as King with their palm branches. They shouted and sang and danced and lifted their hands in joyful praise.

It’s unfortunate when we allow society’s “rules” and the sedate, inhibiting influences of our upbringing to keep our hands to our sides and our feet still. The most disturbing thing is that such rules don’t seem to apply when it comes to rooting for our favorite football team or our son’s Little League ballgame. Perhaps such a fact tells us that our society as a whole has decided to express freedom in worshiping our favorite team but not in worshiping God, our Creator, Savior, and Helper.

Lord, help us to be a blessing to You through our childlike worship. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DEEP WATER



During a writer’s conference, we heard a beautifully-crafted poem about grief and how it lessens in power over time. For a reason I can’t fathom, it reminded me of hot flashes. For another reason I can’t fathom, I shared my thoughts about it with the 120 attendees. They laughed, of course, but I felt as if I had jumped into deep water. I should have stayed there, to relieve the heat from my obviously-red face. “Don’t go near the edge,” my mom used to tell me. I should have remembered her advice.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Allergies

The goldenrod causes me to sneeze and rub my eyes and squirm in bed from overall itching frenzies. I had a sneezing fit on the way to church one Sunday. As usual, I coughed for two hours afterwards. Disrupting the service, I wanted to shout, “No, I don’t have bronchitis. It’s allergies.”

Perhaps you suffer more discomfort than I. Allergies are a bane of the living. The symptoms are sometimes so uncomfortable they keep people from accomplishing what’s important in their lives. Let’s face it. How can we drive a long distance after taking a sleep-enhancing allergy pill? Or feel like going to work when our bodies ache? Food allergies can be worse than uncomfortable. They can be life-threatening. Of course, the best remedy is to avoid the food causing the symptoms.

I believe some people are allergic to God. In fact, evidence of their symptoms is everywhere. For instance, there’s the guy who squirms when you mention the name Jesus in the holy sense. His mind and soul itch to avoid the subject altogether.

There’s the woman who avoids facing the perceived discomfort of God’s truth about her life by filling her days and hours with activities. And there’s the person who constantly runs from one place to another trying to avoid God—just like someone who moves to another climate to avoid uncomfortable allergens. The same applies to people who seek harmful pleasures such as excessive alcohol, drugs, or pornography.

Remember Jonah’s story? He tried running away from God and got into deep water. Pardon the pun. Peter denied Christ by lying and running away. Paul fought back with self-righteous persecution of the new Jesus-followers.

The remedy for spiritual allergic symptoms is as simple as accepting Jesus’ forgiveness and salvation. His gift brings not only the promise of eternal life, it brings healing of our body, soul, and spirit as well as indescribable peace and joy. We no longer have to run away from Him or fill our hours with meaningless pursuits.

Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

There’s no need to suffer from allergic reactions to God and His Son, Jesus. He wants you to be whole, symptom-free of all the discomforts you suffer in body, soul, and spirit.

Lord, thank You for Your perfect remedy against the allergens we face, perceive, or suffer. Help us to go to You for perfect health, thereby drawing others to You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

NATURE'S LESSONS



Isn’t it amazing how the things of nature teach us about ourselves and others—and especially about God? Whether it’s a chickadee, a puppy, a Coho salmon, a tiny bee, the last rose of summer, or the wind and waves of Lake Superior, we can see God’s wondrous beauty and power. What a blessing!

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Lessons From a Frog

I ran over a frog with my lawn mower. I nearly cried. The poor thing didn’t have a chance, for I was on a frenzied mission to finish the task so I could cross another important item off my To Do list.

I nearly cried not only for the sake of the unsuspecting creature but for the sake of my hurried, thoughtless act. Nature being what it is, animals will die. In fact, I’m not against the killing of them for food. My son fishes and runs a trapline. My husband, while still alive, hunted big game every year. And the fact is, I enjoy a meal of frog legs now and then.

It’s the deliberate destruction of wildlife and the uncaring or unthinking attitude of people—like myself—that bothers me. As stewards of the earth, we should be more cognizant of the natural world. That’s a hot topic for some people. Extremists are against killing mosquitoes and flies. Conversely, many Christians are against environmentalism because “the world will end soon anyway, and our only job is to save souls,” as a woman once told me.

I disagree. I believe God made animals, plants, and minerals not only for His and our enjoyment, but to show us His attributes. What better way is there to learn about true, unconditional love and devotion than through a puppy’s responses? How better can we learn lessons about God’s patience than by planting a garden seed and watching it grow? Where better can we view a glimpse of God’s heavenly realm than through viewing an uncut gemstone?

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead …” (Romans 1:20-23)

Part of honoring God and expressing our thanks to Him for all things is being a good steward of His creation. Imagine His pleasure when we respect the life of a simple yet beautiful, beneficial frog. And when we care for nature, we can care for others—which is God’s desire for all of us. Jesus said, “Follow me.” What better example of caring for others can we emulate than His?

Lord, thank You for Your creation which teaches us about Your love and Your continual care of us. Help us to be thoughtful and caring in return—not only for our loved ones and friends, but for our enemies and for Your creation. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

ACCEPTANCE



As a mother accepts her baby regardless of how red or wrinkled, how long or short, how beautiful or not, so God accepts us in spite of all our imperfections. He is the one who makes the imperfect perfect, through His Son, Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

You Are Chosen

As a youngster, I had trouble keeping up in Phys. Ed. I couldn’t climb a rope, touch my toes, or do a passing broad jump. In softball, my pitching and batting were pathetic and as an outfielder, every time the ball came towards me I ducked. When the team leaders chose me last, I felt unimportant and unwanted.

Sadly, this is true with many others. Listening to some kids today makes us realize the deep, unfulfilled longings in their lives. Their parents perhaps expect too much from them. They feel the sting of unpopularity. They’re called embarrassing names. So they grow up discouraged, which can lead to depression, anxiety, fear, rebellion, anger, substance abuse, and a host of other symptoms. Marriages in particular can suffer because of childhood trauma experienced by one or both spouses.

We all need to feel accepted. When we don’t, it’s easy to enter the pity-party mode. I’ve been there, and learned that if I continue in such a mind-set, nothing will change. So I make a conscious choice to get over it. How do I do this? Sometimes I start praising God for the good things in my life, whether I feel they’re good or not. Other times I yank my thoughts away from someone’s supposedly-uncaring words and think about their strengths.

Still other times I pray. Like king David prayed in some of the Psalms, I let God have it with both guns—my complaints and my miseries of the moment. And, like David, I end our one-sided conversation with words of thanksgiving.

Without fail, my attitude changes immediately. I remember how much God loves me and His mercies are new every morning. I remember that He has accepted me and chosen me to be His child. I remember, like David said in Psalm 27:10, that “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.”

Prayer, praise, Bible reading, journal writing—these are all good ways to “get over it.” Paul writes that, through Christ who loves us, we are more than conquerors. His prayer is that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge ….” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

Lord, let the love of Christ dwell so richly in us that we will not be adversely affected by feelings of unacceptance. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

MERCIES



While vending at a craft show earlier, I parked my car in the wrong spot. Thanks to the mercy of people in charge, they did not tow my car away. They could have. They should have. I’m thankful they didn’t. If we stop and think about it, we could find many instances of merciful acts delivered for our benefit, couldn’t we? Thanks to Jesus, He delivers His mercy to us every day.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Blessed Are the Merciful

When Jesus walked the earth, people learned quickly about His merciful acts. Dozens came running to Him, crying “Have mercy on me, Lord!” And He always did. He healed ten lepers. He raised a sick girl and Lazarus from the dead. He cast out demons that tormented people. He showed mercy to those who asked and to those who did not.

What does it mean to be merciful? The Oxford Dictionary says mercy is “kindness or forgiveness shown towards someone who is in your power.” Kindness, a part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness are important characteristics of God that He wants us to pass on to others.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) Does that imply we should be merciful so we will receive mercy in return? Yes, but only in the sense that showing mercy gives us feelings of joy and satisfaction knowing we’ve helped someone and knowing it’s the right thing to do as a follower of Christ.

Being merciful isn’t always easy, though. When someone is impatient with us, it’s sometimes easier to shout back than to be patient with them. When we see someone hurting, we may tend to turn away because we have something “more important” to do. When we have been slandered or misrepresented, we sometimes take offense and even retaliate.

Neither does mercy always come easy for us when it applies to the mistakes people make. I think back to when I felt impatient with my young kids as they charged headlong into a mistake after I had told them the “right way” to do something. When they messed up, I felt like yelling, “I told you so!” And if I didn’t say it aloud, I pasted a smirk on my face so they got the idea. Can you relate? As a more mature adult, I still find it isn’t always easy to deal with boneheadedness—even though I act like a bonehead at times.

Fortunately, mercy is evident all around us. We see and hear about acts of kindness from and to strangers. We marvel at the mercy some people show to those who don’t deserve it. Yet, should we marvel? As Christians we’re supposed to always show mercy as Jesus did. He’s our perfect example.

Lord, thank You for Your unending mercy toward us. Open our eyes to those who need mercy and teach us how to be merciful as Christ is to us. In His name we pray, amen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

SCHOOL IS FOREVER



We’re never finished with our learning. Whether it’s trying new words or styles of writing, building a better mousetrap, or identifying a new animal or plant, we’re smart to always be open to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. So it is in the Christian life. The more we read God’s Word, the more we learn about Him. The more time we spend meditating and praying, the closer we become to Him. Now, there’s a goal to pursue! He alone is worthy.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES
by Sally Bair

Testing Time

The seasons dictate who starts school when. In the natural world, spring is the time for baby animals to learn vital lessons from their mamas. Birds learn how to fly, fawns how to protect themselves from danger, and foxes how to hunt for food. Humans, on the other hand, usually start school in the fall. Kids around the globe learn how to read and write and solve math problems.

As animals and humans learn, they study for the inevitable tests they face after lessons are completed. Passing a test of strength, ability, and cunning can mean life or death for an animal. Passing school tests can mean future success or failure for a student. Smart students study for tests. I remember many late nights reviewing everything I’d been taught. I didn’t want to miss any test questions.

We grownups keep learning new things, too. If we review the information, we’ll be able to apply it to our lives or avoid repeating mistakes. We’ll gain self-confidence, expertise, and success for our efforts. Perhaps you remember the joy in learning how to build a set of cabinets, or can dill pickles, or use the Internet. Practice and review made it easier and, in essence, you passed the test of success.

Learning new things applies to a Christian’s life, too. As we study the Bible we discover that living a life for Christ means more than attending church on Sunday, saying the right words, and doing the right things. The test comes when we realize that being a Christian is much more than that; it is accepting Christ as Savior and Lord of our life.

Such testing requires self-examination. Do we truly believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Or, like many, do we believe there are various paths to heaven, that Jesus was simply a good man, or that our good deeds will give us entry to heaven?

Paul said, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Being “in the faith” means being righteous through Christ’s gift of salvation. Without that, we fail the test. But through self-examination, we can learn if we fall short and then take steps to mature in our Christian walk.

Lord, as we grow in Your grace, stumbling and falling along the way, we take joy in knowing that You are always with us to encourage, empower, and restore. May we ever strive for maturity for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


Monday, August 22, 2011

KING OF THE HILL



On a recent trip to the North Dakota badlands, we enjoyed watching the prairie dogs. They’re very social mammals, and I call their villages “kingdoms.” It’s hard to tell which one is king of each kingdom, however. Many of them stand upright and erect on top of their house, which is a big mound of soil, almost as if they’re vying for the privilege of being king of the hill.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES By Sally Bair

Where is Our Kingdom?

A dog’s domain is his doghouse or kennel, his yard or his farm. A wolf and its pack claim a specific territory for its own, and heaven help anything that invades that space. We humans tend to be territorial, too. We jealously guard our homes, property, and accumulated goods against intruders. We count ourselves owners of our jobs, our families, and our hard-earned leisure time. In other words, we consider ourselves, whether consciously or subconsciously, kings of our castles.

Our “kingdom” is where we spend most of our time, our thoughts, and our indulgences. Some of us acquired our property through family inheritance. Others of us earned our way to the top, becoming “king” through hard work and expense. Still others consider themselves king of the very little they possess. Any way you look at it, we strive to be king of our domain.

There is a kingdom, however, that goes beyond the natural—the kingdom of God. When Jesus lived on earth, the Jews looked for a king who would bring them freedom from the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. What Jesus brought, instead, was the divine power of God in action—salvation from sin, spiritual power over Satan’s rule and dominion, healing and deliverance, and “a life of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

The Bible tells us we are to seek God’s kingdom daily by resisting sin, the devil, and the world’s enticements. His kingdom is not for those who take lightly the discipline of prayer nor neglect the reading and meditation of the Word. Nor is it for those who have little spiritual hunger or desire to know God better.

His kingdom is more like that of Jacob, from the Old Testament, who wrestled with God all night in order to obtain his blessing. His kingdom is like that of Elijah who challenged the Baal worshipers to a power-duel because he knew that his God, the One True God, would prevail over Baal, their man-made god. His kingdom is like that of Daniel’s three friends who were supernaturally rescued from a burning furnace because they insisted on worshiping and believing only in the One True God.

For those who believe, the kingdom of God offers salvation, safety, peace, joy, and “unspeakable riches.” No other kingdom can offer that. It’s ours for the mere asking and believing.

Lord, we thank you that your kingdom of power and glory can be ours. We ask that only You—not any other “god”—will rule in our hearts, minds, and souls. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

NATURE'S PEACE



God has given us an incredible natural world to enjoy. Summertime offers us vistas of color, texture, and shape to feast our eyes upon. As well, the enjoyment and study of creation bring needed peace to our soul when we need it. Imagine how pleased God is when we’re praising Him for every butterfly, beast, and blade of grass.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES
by Sally Bair

Only God Satisfies

As our resident hummingbirds gear up for their long trip south, their appetites become gigantic. More and more often, we must refill their feeders. The best food for the hummers, however, is the nectar produced by flowers. They flit from flower to flower for the best stuff and yet keep returning to our feeders.

Processed sugar isn’t as good for them as naturally-made nectar. If that were all they had available, they wouldn’t be as healthy as those that also eat from the nectar of flowers. Sometimes I wonder if they’re thinking, “This sugar water is great stuff.”

That’s the way with us humans, too. We eat more of the second-best stuff and think it’s great, when in truth our bodies crave the best foods. The irony is that the less we eat of the best, the more we go for the second-best. The need for self-satisfaction is evident in other areas of our lives, too. The more money we make, the more we crave psychologically. The more we drink and use drugs, the more we crave physically.

At one time in my life, I sought out the so-called pleasures of alcohol and partying. The day came, however, when I realized that none of it satisfied my soul. On that life-changing day, I finally realized that only God can fill my deep, spiritual need. On that day His peace and joy overwhelmed me.

We all experience the need for God’s love and forgiveness, His peace and joy. God has put eternity in our hearts, we’re told in Ecclesiastes 3:11. In other words, He has purposely designed us with a deep, spiritual longing that can be met only through a relationship with Christ. That place in our heart is reserved for Christ alone.

When we realize that nothing can satisfy except Christ, it becomes easy to surrender everything we own and desire to Him. Jesus invites us to empty ourselves so He can fill every part of us with His cleansing, unfailing love. The key words here are “every part.” If we hang onto the least bit of our bad habits, desires, and pride, we won’t experience the peace and joy He desires for us. And like the hummers, we’ll be satisfied with the second best.

Lord, reveal through Your Holy Spirit anything that keeps us from being satisfied with anything less than You. Give us the strength and will to surrender to You everything we think, speak, and do so we can be wholly satisfied in You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

CELEBRATE CREATION


Summer days are meant to celebrate. God’s glorious creation offers us the chance to rest and relax and reconnect with God. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 1:20. “For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (His handiworks). So men are without excuse…”

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Celebrate!

Celebration is meant for weddings, births, family reunions, holidays, holy days, and any other event. In fact, there are so many celebrations across our country—especially during the summer—that we can pick almost any town and find something to celebrate. There are Renaissance fairs, county and state fairs, and music festivals. We celebrate pumpkin harvests, rutabagas, and apples. We toast famous men such as Will Rogers and Mark Twain with parades, and famous battles of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. We celebrate with parades, food, games, fireworks, fun, and fellowship. There’s virtually no end to what or how we celebrate.

God’s people also celebrated victorious events. They sang and danced after God led them across the Red Sea. They celebrated major victories over their enemies. They celebrated, and still celebrate today, the famous Passover of the Angel of Death after living under Pharoah’s rule for 400 years. They still rejoice at harvest times and other events.

Some of us today even celebrate the deaths of loved ones whom we believe have passed from this life to eternal life with Christ. Such celebration is able to minimize our sorrows for their loss and maximize the peace and joy we receive from our hope and faith in His promises.

One event we celebrate surprises me every time I read of it and partake of it—that of the Lord’s Supper. When it came time for Jesus and His disciples to celebrate the Passover, although knowing He would soon die a cruel death, He said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

This would be Jesus’ last chance to share in the earthly celebration and He made the most of it by using the unleavened bread and wine as a remembrance of Himself. Thinking only of them, of their spiritual welfare, He fervently—with passionate joy—offered Himself to them.

When we, too, partake of His body and blood, we’re reminded not only of His suffering and death for our sake, but we celebrate the same hope of the disciples, that of spending eternity with Him. Each partaking of the Lord’s Supper should become a celebration of joy and hope and communion with Him.

Lord, thank You for cause to celebrate life with family, friends, and with You. May we always be mindful of Your sacrifice for our sin and may we always be filled with joy that comes when we commune with You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

JESUS IS THE ROCK



The rocks of life that we drag around can become so heavy that we lose our spiritual joy. What rocks need moving in your soul? Doubt that Jesus can bring blessings out of your problems? Disbelief in His promises, causing you to place your trust in other things such as your own strength or intelligence or feelings, in doctors, drugs, or alcohol? Why not place your heavy rocks at the cross and let God deal with them? With His help, you can move a mountain of rocks. The Bible says so.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Move That Rock!

When I was young and my dad farmed, every summer my sister and I had to help pick rocks. It seemed like our land grew more rocks than crops. How we hated that job. We always ended up with sunburn, broken fingernails, sore backs, and a sore attitude.

Rock-picking is a necessary evil for anyone who works the soil. Farmers can’t afford the time and expense of repairing or replacing plows, cultivators, and harvest machines that have been damaged by a rock. Some field rocks are so big that it’s easier to simply plow around them. Like big elephants, they can’t be moved without the help of special machinery.

The rock that was rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb was huge, too. If anyone had tried to roll it away, it couldn’t have been done because tombs back then were lower in elevation than the land in front of the entrance. When the disciples witnessed Jesus’ death and burial, they were devastated. They couldn’t see beyond the rock that seemed so immovable. No good could possibly come out of such a hopeless situation. For them, it spelled the end of three glorious years with Jesus, their friend. Only by the supernatural power of God could it have been—and was—moved.

But God had something else in mind, something so astounding, they could hardly believe it. His burial site was exposed and found empty. Now they understood His promise that after three days He would rise from the dead. Such news and proof should bring joy to His followers today, too.

Sometimes, however, we tend to keep Jesus behind the seemingly-immovable rock. Sometimes, when death or illness threatens, we find it hard to believe new life can come from it. Sometimes it seems impossible to see beyond the rock of defeat or rejection, anger or hurt feelings. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Just as Jesus’ disciples were called to fulfill His purpose, we too are called. In obedience and love, we can know with certainty that however big the rocks seem in our lives, God will help us move them. And something even better will come from the moving.

Lord, give us the strength, wisdom, and will to move the rocks that prevent us from loving You and fulfilling Your purpose in our lives. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH




I took this picture one summer morning when my daughter and her family accompanied me to Alaska. It’s unusual to see the top of Denali as we did that morning. Already, one little cloud showed itself, and in hours the summit was obliterated with clouds. God truly blessed us with a glimpse of His marvelous handiwork.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

The High Places

Mt. McKinley (Denali) is the tallest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet. It is a magnet to nature lovers, photographers, outdoors enthusiasts, and mountain climbers. Its profound beauty, however, shrouds its dangers: violent winds, sleet, snow, severe cold, and avalanches. But nothing stops several hundred climbers who struggle to reach its summit each year.

There are man-made high places, too. Many cities vie to build the highest building. Larger-than-life statues of people and animals are seen all over our planet. We use high places as landmarks.

Although God’s people, the Israelites, worshipped Him, they built other gods—something visible to the eye—and set them on high places. When they looked up at their man-made gods, they believed they saw the object of their strength. Idol worship eventually resulted in their downfall as a strong, mighty nation.

Second Kings 12:2-3 tells that king Jehoash “did what was right in the sight of the Lord … but the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” That scenario is repeated several times in the books of Kings.

Things haven’t changed. Our lesser gods aren’t necessarily statues of mythical creatures or dead heroes. They consist of more familiar things such as gems and money, classic vehicles, and other things of great monetary value. Even while worshipping God, it’s easy to set things above Him—things such as our homes, families, friends, careers, leisure pursuits, health, churches, spiritual leaders, and ministry.

Though we worship God, claiming Him as our Lord and Savior, do we put our trust in something or someone else? When one of the New Testament scribes asked Jesus what the first commandment was, He answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

We could spend hours meditating on that verse. We could ask, how much of my heart am I devoting to the One True God? How much of my soul (emotions and will) belongs to Him? How much of my mind is focused on Him and on my service to Him? How much of my inner and outer strength do I allow Him to control?

Lord, draw us—heart, soul, mind, and strength—away from anyone or anything we may set on a higher place than You. Though we don’t see You visibly, we see the work of Your hands and learn about You in Your Word. Help us remember that Your grace is sufficient for all our needs. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

THAT SPECIAL TOUCH


We’re never too old to learn and never too old to serve. May the love of God in you compel you to serve Him in a new way. It will stretch your faith and propel you out of your comfortable lifestyle, and it will bring you joy unspeakable.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Never Too Old

Missionary couple Charlie and Debbie Chivers recently spoke at my church about the work of Special Touch, a ministry that serves handicapped people. The Lord nudged me into signing up as a caregiver at their recent summer camp near Waupaca.

Not knowing what to expect, I was apprehensive about caring for someone disabled. Then I learned there would be not one, but three people under my 24/7 care. Yikes! After the first night—with a scant three hours sleep—I wanted to go home.

But God had amazing blessings in store for me and by the end of the third night I knew I wanted to return next year. Love flowed among the 175 guests and 125 staff members like a constant waterfall. It caused me to worship God with abandonment, as uninhibited as the guests. It brought me to a state of total contentment with whatever unpleasant task I faced. It taught me to trust God without a familiar, daily schedule. He led me moment by moment to perform each necessary task. And He gave me the grace and strength to do it willingly, without a thought about my own feelings or needs.

When one of my girls got sick, I didn’t hesitate to clean it up. When they clung to my hand as we shuffled from building to building, I remained patient with their slow pace. When they became upset over something, I hugged them fiercely. I cut up their food, helped them shower, changed their clothing. When they laughed, I laughed. When they cried, I cried. I felt like their mother, though two were in their seventies, like I am.

God doesn’t want us to remain comfortable in our faith, but to stretch it by taking a new step of service to others. Peter stepped out of a boat to meet Jesus on turbulent water. Elderly Abraham stepped out of his tent to follow God to a new, uncharted land. Reluctant Moses led God’s people across the Red Sea and through the desert to the Promised Land.

It’s easy to remain static and comfortable. It’s scary to step into a new role. But the love of Christ within us will help us grow in faith and be of greater service to Him. “But concerning brotherly love … you yourselves are taught by God to love one another, and indeed you do so … but we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more ….” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-11 in part)

Lord, give us willing, humble hearts to follow Your leading no matter what our age, circumstance, or readiness. And bless caregivers everywhere. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, July 4, 2011

RUGS THAT RUN


I’ve been a Wisconsinite nearly all my life, and saw our state animal, the badger, in the wild for the first time. The badger dug into the soil so fast, in seconds it had displaced it into a large mound. They truly do look like cute rugs with their short legs and long fur. But I wouldn’t want to tangle with one, nor did the prairie dogs. Nature being nature, however, it’s inevitable they’ll manage to catch a few prairie dogs in spite of their warning system and their running speed.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Positive Feedback

On a recent trip to the North Dakota badlands, my daughter, granddaughter, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching prairie dogs in their villages. Cute as buttons to us, they’re tasty morsels for badgers, as we soon learned when we happened to see one (my daughter calls badgers “rugs that run”) chase a prairie dog. The dog ran into its tunneled hole, the badger bounding behind. The other prairie dogs set up a loud and constant chatter, and several “guards” stood on their mounds from a safe distance. The feedback chatter from the other prairie dog villagers lasted during the entire episode. We watched for a long while but didn’t stick around for the final outcome. The last we know is that the badger remained in the tunnel.

Feedback is important. In the case of the prairie dogs, I imagine their feedback came in the form of warnings. Perhaps it came as encouragement, too.

We all need encouragement. The word comes from courage. When we face any sort of danger or feel desperate or discouraged, positive feedback from someone is always welcome. I treasure the many encouraging words I receive about my Eternal Perspectives columns. When I find it hard to write the right words for a new column, I need only remember someone’s email letter telling me how the column helped them get through a tough situation. When I wonder if I’m too preachy in my messages, I’m reminded that my message to you is for me, also. My words then become the positive feedback I need to get my own spiritual house in order.

The Bible speaks of courage and encouragement. God’s people are often beset with problems and dangers, and God intends that His words will give us hope. Paul wrote to the new Christians in Colosse, asking “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love ….” (Colossians 2:2) Like the prairie dogs that live in tightly-knit villages for the sake of safety and fellowship, we too need one another. Being knit together in the love of Christ, we become constant encouragers and hope-givers. Without the companionship of family and friends, we can easily flounder.

The continual feedback from God’s word, prayer, and fellowship with our Christian brothers and sisters, brings us hope and joy that will help us through any danger, despair, or discouragement.

Lord, we thank You for Your living Word, Jesus. May we ever seek You through Him so we can become a source of encouragement to others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, June 27, 2011

SUMMER IS HERE!


And the living is marvelous. Green grass, red fawns, yellow dandelions, and other bee-you-tee-ful flowers. The lupines are my favorite, and this year they’re extra tall. It’s time to spend time outside enjoying God’s creation. It offers therapy and healing, and never ceases to bring a smile.


ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Seeds that Multiply

The beautiful Wild Lupine plants are in full bloom. One plant spike contains dozens of five-petaled flowers all the way from stem to tip, which can be as long as twelve inches. They’re so abundant that the roadsides and fields are a blue and pink feast to the eyes.

Lupines are not only pleasing to the eye, they offer other benefits as well. They give nectar to the endangered Karna blue butterfly. In fact, the lupine is that caterpillar’s only host plant. The lupine, a legume plant, also restores nitrogen to the soil. Some of the 200-plus species of lupine are referred to as green manure.

Each flower from one lupine plant can produce between ten and twenty seeds. It’s mind-boggling to imagine how many more lupines can be reproduced from a single plant. If not for insect predators, we would see lupines everywhere. But that’s true of many plants, which exist to reproduce more of their kind.

Jesus told a parable about seeds, recorded in Matthew 13, that reminds me of the life of a lupine plant. Jesus is the One who sows the seed through His Word and through the words and deeds of us Christian believers. He uses us to plant good seeds along the roadsides and in the field of the world. But we can sow His seeds of love only if the soil of our own heart produces attractive and beneficial crops like lupine.

Galatians 5:19-20 says: “the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.” Such fruit is what all Christians should ask for, strive for, and live for, so the seeds we sow in the name of Jesus will reproduce good fruit in others. The more we do that, the more seeds of God’s love and joy and peace we can spread throughout our world.

Every day God gives us the opportunity to sow good seeds that will produce an abundant crop of beautiful and useful soul-food, like the lupine. Every day God gives us the opportunity to keep bad seeds—worry, envy, unbelief, discontent, and pride—from getting mixed in with the good. The day will come when He will gather His harvest. As with any crop, the harvest will entail getting rid of the fruit of bad seed. Only the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s seed will last.

Lord, we look toward the day of Your harvest, when “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43) Thank You for the privilege of planting seeds of love, joy, and peace in the world. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, June 20, 2011

JUNE IS FOR COUPLES


On my recent trip to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands near Medora, ND, I saw pairs of bison, mule deer, prairie dogs, and many varieties of songbirds. Love is in the early summer air for animals and humans alike. What is more exciting than a wedding in June? What is even more exciting than to be united with Christ in His love?

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Royal Weddings

The recent wedding of William and Kate brought oohs and aahs from many viewers. No one could deny its beauty and perfection. Kate’s attire and William’s regal presence awed the massive crowd. The well-trained horses didn’t miss a step. Color, glitter, pomp, and pageantry filled the air.

The wedding brought joy and hope to the people. Surely anyone living under a kingdom would want to exult in their beneficent, royal leaders. Even when their leaders falter, display character flaws, and disappoint, the people look to them as exalted rulers who will keep them from hardship and harm.

We who follow Christ can also exult in our God who is the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. The Bible is filled with references of His royal attributes. “Your eyes will see the King in His beauty.” (Isaiah 33:17) “The Lord … is clothed in majesty ….” (Psalm 93:1)

The family of William and Kate will reign over England and its territories for many years to come. By contrast, our God will reign “forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

People throughout the world will honor and rejoice over their royal leaders. However, the Bible tells us to give honor to God. “Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory ….” (Revelation 19:6)

There’s an even greater contrast between earthly and spiritual royalty. Followers of Christ are much more than mere subjects of a kingdom who must be content to watch a royal wedding. As inheritors of God’s kingdom, we receive all the benefits of royalty. We are the bride of Christ—that is, the Christian Church.

Kate’s white gown was spotless. We too must be spotless—without sin. Such a condition comes only through repentance and acceptance of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as not only our Savior from sin, but as Lord of our lives. Only then will we become the recipients of everything that royalty offers. “For the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

Lord, thank You for giving us the awesome opportunity of becoming a member of Your kingdom. Thank You for promising us eternal life in Your kingdom. We are humbled by Your majesty and we exalt You. Continue to reign over us in Your truth, beauty, and holiness. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, June 13, 2011

EXUBERANCE


Babies have a way of wrapping us around their fingers. Who can resist them? They learn how to manipulate their irresistibility at an incredibly young age. For grandmas like me, that’s fun. Whether innocent or not, ya gotta love ‘em. Best of all, so does God.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

The Benefits of Praise


We enjoy watching animal shows on TV. My favorites are about newborns that romp and play around their mothers in the prairie grass, on mountaintops, and under water. Their antics tickle my insides. Perhaps they make God, their Creator, laugh too. Perhaps their exuberance at life is simply their way to praise Him.

Human children are just as uninhibited and exuberant in their playful praise. Watching a toddler splash in water or run through raindrops brings sheer pleasure and joy to our hearts.

God’s heart receives our exuberant praise with joy, too. He encourages us to praise Him—whether we clap our hands, shout, sing and dance, or raise our hands. He encourages us to be still before Him, which is another way to offer praise.

Praise is a powerful tool that hinders the devil’s plans. Through praise, God brings us out of our spiritual slumps. Through praise, he breaks our habits of complaining. Through praise, He replaces our fears with faith and turns our negative thoughts to positive.

Praise is a discipline we all should learn. When we’re in a slump or facing a difficult situation, we can choose to praise God in and for the situation as we go through it. The bible tells us, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15) Think of it this way: when you don’t feel like praising God, decide to sacrifice your feelings and do it anyway. Such beautiful sacrifice brings great rewards. Such sacrifice brings a sense of God’s power and presence like nothing else. When we offer praise to God before the battle is won, we open the way for Him to bring us victory. Praise in the tough times brings us hope and encouragement and power to meet our adversaries. What are our adversaries? The temptation to smoke or do drugs or eat too much, the feeling of helplessness or fear or anger, the pain of rejection or illness or grief.

Lord, no matter what our age or circumstance, help us to be as exuberant as a baby critter in our praises to God. We agree with the Psalmist: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1) In Jesus’ name we offer you our sacrifice of praise. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2011

EAGERLY WAITING


Something big was happening. Ann, my niece, started to scatter sunflower seeds on her deck for the resident chipmunk. Every day the chippie came. The news spread. A chickadee joined the chippie, then a nuthatch, then a white-throated sparrow. Two more appeared. Then three. Then … Now they all watch and wait for their daily rations. The crowd has grown and is eager—just like the pray-ers were during the great Prayer Meeting Revival. Great things come to those who faithfully wait.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

The Great Prayer Meeting Revival

It started on Sept. 23, 1857, during a desperate time in America. On the edge of financial collapse, banks and businesses failed, and unemployment figures reached many thousands. People in desperate straits didn’t know where to turn for help. The spiritual climate showed the Christian religion in decline as well. That’s when Jeremiah C. Lanphier posted a sign outside a New York church advertising a prayer meeting during the noon hour.

Like many prayer meetings, only a handful of people attended at first. But as they began to meet weekly, the numbers grew. Soon the people met daily to pray. When their numbers outgrew the church capacity, other churches and even a large theater opened their doors for prayer.

Some 150 interdenominational prayer meetings took place in Brooklyn and Manhattan alone. Within six months, over 10,000 men met to pray daily in New York. The prayer revival soon leaped to Philadelphia, Chicago, Louisville, Cleveland, St. Louis, and many other cities to the west and then overseas. In fact, the meetings continued until 1860, just before the American civil war began.

There was little or no preaching during those daily meetings—only unified prayer. The results of such persevering prayer astounded the world. By 1859 the hearts of over two million people had turned to God through personal repentance. In parts of Europe, the revival continued during the American Civil War. In America it brought us such spiritual giants as William and Catherine Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, and Dwight L. Moody.

The great Prayer Meeting Revival is a testament to perseverance. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing … for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Anything worthwhile requires perseverance. When we see the broken hearts of people around us—the sick, the depressed, the helpless—we should be compelled to pray without ceasing for them. God wants all of us to be reconciled with Him.

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) Fervent prayer accomplishes great results, as shown by the great Prayer Meeting Revival.

Lord, thank You for hearing our prayers. Kindle a fire within us that will become another Prayer Meeting Revival. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

CHANGING COATS



The deer up here in the Northwoods are finally shedding their gray winter coats for the rusty-red ones that help to camouflage them in summer. When this doe came through my yard this morning, I laughed at her striped coat. Half gray, half rusty-red, she reminded me of a transplanted zebra. Within a week, I expect her gray coat will be totally shed.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

Change Happens

It’s said we can be sure of only two things: death and taxes. We might add one more thing: change. Every day we’re bombarded with items that have changed literally overnight. Our favorite style of shoes has been replaced by a new style. The roll of toilet paper has become narrower. A new computer program has made ours obsolete and useless.

Harder yet to deal with are the sudden changes in our circumstances. A death in the family, a divorce, or a new job—they all cause stress to our mind and body. Every change requires time to adjust. And when too many changes take place too fast—even happy events such as a wedding or birth—our systems become overloaded and stress takes its toll.

Like a cooker equipped with an adjustable steam valve to control its pressure, we seek ways to control our inner pressure. Taking a walk or pulling weeds helps dissipate anger. Writing a letter or journal entry calms our spirit and offers a new perspective. Drinking a cup of cocoa or eating a chocolate bar soothes the turmoil in our gut.

Since the days of cavemen, people have used the “fight or flight” instinct when facing sudden change. Sometimes flight has its purpose, such as in seeking shelter from a dangerous storm. At other times, we may be tempted to fight a situation head-on. Our decision to flee or fight usually determines the outcome—safety from the storm we fled, or victory over the enemy we faced.

Regardless of our response to change, we know that eventually we must accept change. In fact, change can be a blessing rather than a curse. And when we choose to count on God’s strength and wisdom, changes become easier and the results more satisfying.

God’s ways of lovingly leading us into change are far better than our own. He knows exactly what we need to learn from the experience as well as in what area we need to grow in faith.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:3-4) Change does not have to be difficult when we allow God to have His perfect work in us, thereby increasing and strengthening our faith “wised up” and “toughened up, we won’t have to endure stress.

Lord, help us to wise up and toughen up whenever we face change. Help us remember that with You, all things are possible, so we need not face change fearfully. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

DANDELIONS


Like some other flowers, dandelions close their proverbial eyes at night. Come morning, they open into beautiful, butter-gold blooms that are a feast to our eyes. I've decided that since they're too prolific to think about eradicating, I might as well enjoy them. Now when I look out at the golden sea in my yard, I smile. Actually, I laugh, content that I'm not alone in hosting the 'lions, for every field and yard and roadway is covered with them. Perhaps part of their purpose is to remind us that God even uses pernicious weeds to show His glory.



ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair


Keeping the Veil Open

I recently wrote about the curtain, or veil, of the temple being torn in half when Jesus died on the cross, allowing total access to God. No more blood sacrifices are required for our sins, since Jesus sacrificed His own blood on our behalf.

The veil has been opened. But sometimes we close our hearts to that fact. For instance, when we plan our day—and our future—without asking God what He wants us to do, we draw the veil closed. God tells us, “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man (nor in ourselves, I add), in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish.” (Psalm 146:3-4)

When we hurry into the day without feeding on God’s Word and communing with Him, we draw the veil closed. Psalm 37:5 says, “Commit your way to the Lord; Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” “Direct my steps by Your Word ….” (Psalm 119:133)

Refusing to believe that God can bring something good out of our terrible situation closes the veil over our heart. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

If we believe we don’t deserve God’s love or aren’t good enough to be accepted by Him, the veil closes. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Conversely, if we believe someone else doesn’t deserve God’s love and salvation, we’ve closed the veil. “Judge not, that you be not judged … why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1, 3)

When we simmer and stew and take offense to what someone said to or about us, the veil closes. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Lord, You’ve opened the veil so we can have fellowship with You. Help us to keep it open every day, regardless of our circumstances and feelings. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Monday, May 16, 2011

THE STEPS OF SUMMER


A few weeks ago, ice presented us with a challenge along the trail. Now it’s wood ticks. The little buggers are everywhere. They drop from overhanging branches, crawl onto our socks from the grass, and sometimes I think they bomb us from the air itself. But unwelcome intruders as they are, God has given them the purpose of feeding the birds. They simply add to our summer experiences and challenges.

ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair

A Step at a Time

The wooded, meandering trail still had ice on it which had built up, and been compacted by earlier trekkers. The only way to reach our destination was to keep moving and, in this case, move slowly and deliberately. Our greatest concern had to be the next step, not the destination. At times we had to stop and consider where to place our feet without fear of slipping or falling.

Our walk with God could be compared to hiking a trail. In fact, the Old Testament tells about men of God who didn’t know the details of their future but who trusted God to lead them on the right path. They knew little more than the next step. Joseph, for instance, though imprisoned and without knowledge of his future, believed God would reveal the next steps he should take. Abraham left his home country at God’s command without knowing his destination. Countless Christians called by God to enter the mission field simply left their comfortable lives, trusting that God would take them where He wanted them to minister.

None of us knows what our future holds on this earth. Our job is simply to walk with God, trusting in His guidance and His promises to plant our feet where they should go. Such a simple trust will propel us forward, knowing with assurance that God will direct us.

It’s when we focus on the icy trail ahead that our walk is hindered. Fear of movement will cripple us, rob us of God’s promised trail-blessings, and prevent others from starting or continuing their own walk through life with God.

Fear of the unknown looms large in the hearts of many. But usually the “What ifs” we ask ourselves come to nothing. The opposite of fear is faith. God’s Word asks for faith, promotes faith, encourages faith. It is a fact that there are at least 365 “Fear nots” in the Bible—one for every day of the year. That’s enough to cause all of us to start walking!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Lord, we want to walk with You one step at a time and depend on Your leading. Keep us from fearing the icy steps ahead. Rather, keep our minds and hearts on Your perfect path. In Jesus’ name, amen.