Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I count on my own strength too much. I forget too often that God is the source of all my strengths: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. He knows how I should get from Step 1 to Step 2 far better than I. My “word” for 2013 is going to be Wait--wait on the Lord before I make any decisions. How about you?
ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair
After my knee gave out on Honeymoon Bluff trail and the EMTs whisked me to the hospital, a nurse in ER handed me a pair of crutches. For several days those crutches helped support me while walking.
My crutches made me feel off-balance, however. They gave me sore muscles in my arms and hands. They tripped me up and anyone else in my way. But they were a good substitute for my painful leg and I’m thankful for their use.
Sometimes we use emotional crutches, too. People who suffer from loneliness, anger, or bitterness often use the crutch of alcohol or drugs to cover their feelings. Others carry the crutch of criticism and a judgmental attitude to prop up their low self-esteem. Some spend money extravagantly out of envy or their need for self-importance.
At times, we all need the crutches of support from someone—a family member, mentor or teacher, friend, or spiritual leader. Jesus is the ultimate Someone on whom we can lean. As the Good Shepherd, He becomes our legs when we’re weak, our arms when we’re too tired to serve, our mouths when we don’t know what to say. He comforts us when we face situations too difficult for us to handle. He protects us, leads and guides us, and provides for all our needs because He loves us like no other—not like family, not like friends. All He requires is our faith and obedience.
Christians are often accused of using their faith as a crutch, too weak to solve their own problems—as though that’s a bad thing. But the Bible tells us we’re like sheep that have gone astray, so God truly is our ultimate crutch, the One we can cling to and trust when we falter or fall.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
Lord, thank You for guiding and restoring us, for being our provider and comforter. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
A writer’s blog entry prompted me to follow the example of writing on paper a blessing from God each day. I don’t need reminders to thank God for anything and everything that comes my way, but it will be fun to read each entry at the end of the year. A friend is adding her notes to my big jar that sits on my dining room table, labeled, “Gifts From God.” May you enjoy your own gifts from God, too.
A Grateful Heart
Thanksgiving Day is a day not only to watch football and enjoy a sumptuous meal with family, it is a day to remember our country's spiritual roots. The first emigrants, the pilgrims who had fled persecution for their Christian faith, suffered much during their first winter at Plymouth Colony. Most of them died of starvation or disease and those who survived suffered from the extreme cold and from hunger. By the next fall they had recovered somewhat, but not fully. They still faced many dangers, hunger, disease, and the uncertainty of the coming winter's provisions. Yet they set aside a time to give thanks to God for the little they had.
The story about the pilgrims reminds me of the people in Mexico I encountered while on a short-term mission trip there. Ministering to the poorest of the poor, our group offered the people small gifts—dollar store items like socks, pencils, toothpaste, and shampoo. To the children we gave small toys. Many had never received a gift before.
These people lived in shacks made of dismantled wooden pallets or cardboard, and patched pieces of tin. They pulled hand carts to get their daily water supply. They had no indoor plumbing, no medical care or insurance, no schools nearby. Most of the children could neither read nor write.
When we gave them their small gifts, you'd have thought they'd been handed a million dollars. The joy and gratitude they felt exploded on their faces and in their bodies.
That's what God wants of us, too—to explode with thanksgiving and gratitude for all He's given us, no matter what our life circumstances are. We have a loving, merciful God. We live in a country that is free of the restraints faced by many other countries, rich in the bounty that makes our lives comfortable, and beautiful to behold. How can we not be thankful?
As the pilgrims sat outside around their crude tables laden with simple fare, they might have recited Colossians 3:16. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." While we sit around our own table in our warm house and view the abundant food before us, may we too express heartfelt gratitude to God, our provider.
Lord, we give You thanks—not just today but every day—for Your goodness and love. Give us the will and desire and remembrance to always be thankful. Amen.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
There’s nothing better than breathing in the pure air that surrounds Lake Superior and other large bodies of water. Or the air of western mountains. Breathing such purity can revive us—body, soul, and spirit. Not everyone has that opportunity, however, including many of our servicemen and women and emergency workers, who are often forced to choke on smoke or dust laden air. We must remember to pray for their safety—body, soul, and spirit—and their freedom from the effects of breathing bad air. Their lives and ours depend on their good health.
ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES By Sally Bair
The Air We Breathe
We Northern Wisconsinites are blessed with clean, relatively unpolluted air. Not so those who live in areas where industrial or other kinds of pollutants fill the air. Even cigarette smoke affects many people. Add those who suffer from asthma and other lung-related diseases and the tally is incalculable.
When our lungs are filled with good air, it benefits every part of our body, including the heart muscle. If our lungs and heart are healthy, it's usually an indication of good, all-around health. When they are not, all kinds of bad things begin to happen. One thing for sure, we become sluggish and feel half-alive.
In 1988 during terrible wild fires out west, my husband and I were driving through Yellowstone on our way to northern California. The smoke became thick as fog in spots. An occasional wild animal stood or lay by the road, having come out of a smoky area. They all looked half-alive and lethargic, moving slowly.
There's such a thing as spiritual air, too. After Jesus died on the cross, His disciples no doubt grew despondent at His passing. They had lived with Him, seen His miracles, and listened to His teachings for three years. Now He was gone. What would they do? Perhaps they felt half-alive, as if the air had been snatched from their lungs.
But He reappeared after His resurrection, making Himself known to them. "Peace be with you," He said. "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And He breathed on them, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22) Now they could breathe deeply again, filled with His peace and power.
We need God's breath of spiritual fresh air as much as the disciples did, if we're going to be effective in our Christian walk. When our spiritual lungs are healthy, our hearts are also. Why should our hearts be half-alive, lethargic, or cold and useless when we could be loving, vibrant, growing disciples? Only then will we be able to offer God's breath of fresh air to others. His life-supporting breath wasn't meant for the twelve disciples alone—it is meant for all of us. We must avail ourselves of it.
Father, we confess to You that often we allow our hearts to beat half-time. We want them to be filled with the oxygen of Your Spirit so that others, through us, may find fresh air in their own lives. Breathe on us Your life-giving breath today. In Jesus' Name, amen.
I wrote my first book, Wild Hero, at age 13 after having just read the classic, Heidi. Heidi became my hero and I wanted to duplicate her in my own, feeble way. When my children were young, I tried to be the perfect homemaker—just like my neighbor. I had many other heroes during my life, as you no doubt have. I finally learned, however, that the real heroes are those who live with integrity and grace. How futile it is to place someone on our mental pedestal based on their accomplishments, looks, or showmanship. In God’s Word we have countless examples of true heroes—imperfect men and women who believed and obeyed Him through thick and thin. Many more heroes followed in their steps. I consider Thomas of Kempen one of them. Who are your heroes?
ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair
An Avid Disciple
November 11, 1897, marks the day a monument was dedicated at St. Michael's Church in Zwolle, Holland, to the memory of Thomas Hemerken. No doubt many of you have never heard of this man. Born about 1380, Thomas of Kempen, Germany, led a life of poverty, obscurity, and quietness. But his was a life of great accomplishment within the Christian church as a whole. He wrote The Imitation of Christ, a best-seller that has remained on the charts for over 400 years.
Thomas's parents, though poor, were able to send him to Holland to be educated by the Brethren of the Common Life. This group stressed spiritual conversion, practical holiness, and meditation on Christ. Their teachings impacted Thomas's life so much that he became an avid disciple of Christ. He eventually became a monk and preached, copied manuscripts, counseled, and wrote books until he died at age 90.
The Imitation of Christ became popular among Protestants and Catholics alike, an unusual phenomenon for that time. By the end of the fifteenth century it reached its 99th printing. Today it is considered one of the greatest devotional classics ever and still is widely distributed. Here is an excerpt from Thomas of Kempen's book:
"Strive to turn your heart from loving things that are seen, and to set it upon things that are not seen … How much better is a lowly peasant who serves God than a proud philosopher who watches the stars and neglects knowing himself … We must not trust every word of others or feeling within ourselves, but cautiously and patiently try the matter, whether it be of God. The more humble a man is in himself, and the more obedient toward God, the wiser will he be in all things, and the more shall his soul be at peace."
Thomas's words are taken from Colossians 3:1-3. "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Heavenly Father, we pray these verses today. Help us to set our hearts and our minds on the eternal things of heaven rather than on the corruptible, unreliable, and temporary things in this world. In Jesus' name, amen.
The air was still as a whisper here in Wisconsin, while in the east the wind and sea were raging. Our emotional or spiritual storms also rage, at times so loud we can’t hear or see anything else. How encouraging and empowering to know that Jesus is in the midst of our storms, always ready to bring us stillness and peace. His words to the disciples during a storm at sea are meant for us, too. “Peace, be still.”
ETERNAL PERSPECTIVES by Sally Bair
What Are We Crowing About?
Recently a huge flock of crows flew across the road and lit in the tall trees nearby. Their continual, raucous caws dimmed all other sounds. So much for my quiet musing as I puttered in my garden.
As scavengers, crows have a specific purpose on this earth, but they do not have a good reputation. They're infamous for stealing corn and for being incessantly noisy. Crows are even the focus of some sayings we've grown up with, such as, "She's an old crow," or "What are you crowing about now?"
The noisiness of crows reminds me of a story in the Old Testament. Following the exile of the Israelites, they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. When the builders laid the foundation, the religious leaders led the people in thanksgiving to the Lord. Most of the people gave a great shout of praise. The older ones who had seen the former temple, however, cried aloud. They mourned its past beauty and splendor.
Ezra 3:13 tells the story clearly. "No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away." Talk about confusing cacophony! Like a big flock of crows, those who wailed nearly drowned out the voices of the joyous people.
Sometimes unpleasant noises arise in and around our own lives, too—even in our churches. The world finds it hard to distinguish the sounds of joy from those of complaining or weeping. All of us would do well to ask ourselves what kind of noise we're making. Do we grouse about the changes that have happened to us, forgetting that change can mean new opportunities? Are we so stuck in our ruts of mediocre, unproductive, or senseless living that we can’t seem to move forward? Are we dwelling on what we've left behind and crying about it?
Pity parties are not fun to listen to. God forbid that we should be a part of them. The world needs to hear our joy in the Lord, which comes through experiencing a close relationship with Him. Then His joy will be evident as we share it through our own. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." (Psalm 100: 1-2)
Lord, forgive us for crying, like noisy crows, over the past. Help us remember Your countless reasons to be joyful. Train our voices to sing joyfully so the world will hear our praise. Fill our hearts with the joy that comes in knowing and serving You, our King. In Jesus' name, amen.