Sure Footing

 

Mt. Precipice overlooking the Sea of Galilee

“Just put your foot on the next staple, then move your hands down and lower yourself to the staple below. Keep doing that until you are at the bottom.”

“just” –  does that word cause you to pause?

It should. One person’s “just” may be a significant challenge for someone else. As in “just tell him “no” – when you want your child to stop doing something that may be dangerous. Depending on the child, that may or may not be a simple solution.

Something that challenges me down to the very fiber of my being, may be “just climbing down a cliff” to someone else.

While in Israel, the main quality of the topography that Phil and I noticed were the rocks. (This is besides everything being very dry unless it is irrigated.) Rocks were everywhere. In the ancient sites and ruins we visited, the buildings were constructed of rocks and are therefore still visible. This makes perfect sense because rocks are in such abundance and people throughout history use what is available to construct dwellings.

After seeing rocks everywhere, it should have come as no surprise that our group would be asked to descend a rock formation.

Yet, Elaine and I WERE surprised!

We had hiked up a steep slope through brown grass that was sprinkled with flowers, startling in their beauty because everything around was so brown. The end of our climb was a spectacular panoramic view. This mountain was called Mt. Precipice.

I looked up the word precipice  – it means – a very steep rock face or cliff, typically a tall one. The name was so appropriate and should have been a clue of what was to come.

After our guide James pointed out the significance of the surrounding landscape and what Jesus would have seen during his time, we saw where we would be hiking next, even where we would be spending the night. (FAR in the distance!)

James then said, “We are just going to descend this cliff. It is a bit tricky, but we will help each other.”

The path James led us to was straight down!

You can see from the photo that I am not exaggerating. We were told that morning  before we left that there were some “rocky bits” and “one strenuous part.” We had been on rocky bits the whole trail. I should have know that when James said “strenuous” it really would be. There were large iron staples embedded in the rock face to hold on to and step on as one climbed down.

I watched as the others started descending first. I was so proud of Elaine! What a trooper! She went down from hand/foot hold to hand/foot hold, step by step.

As I watched Elaine descend, I knew I could as well. She went before me, making sure each of her steps was on sure footing.

Elaine’s example gave me courage and encouragement to make the descent myself. My biggest concern was making sure my foot was securely on a staple before I put my weight on it and went down to the next staple. I wasn’t sure I could see the next staple.

Phil went before me and when I needed it, he guided my foot to the next staple. Once I felt the staple under my foot – sure footing – I was fine.

Needless to say, we all made it down in one piece.

I have thought since then that this is a picture of our walk with God and how important the Body of Christ is. In life we come to those times where we are on a precipice, we are not sure where to go, or how to face what we see ahead. It may seem that there is NO WAY forward. Yet if we look around, God often provides someone who is going through something similar – right before us – and that person can support and guide us along the way.

Seeing Elaine descend successfully, then having Phil guide my feet, prevented me from being paralyzed by fear or being left behind on the mountain.

In Psalm 37:23-24 it says –

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

In Psalm 40, David encourages me –

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

We can encourage one another as we walk with God, encourage each other to keep out feet on the Rock, our sure footing.

Don’t Let the Fire Go Out

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I heard a truck in the driveway and the first thing I did was glance at the wood stove.

Was there wood in the stove or had I let the fire go out?

As is often the case, I had been caught up in my book-making and I had forgotten to tend the fire. So, before Phil came in I quickly added wood and was sheepishly grinning when he entered the den.

After 41 years, Phil is accustomed to those sheepish grins. 🙂

Yes, I am easily distracted, yet when I am working on art, time literally slips away. I am totally immersed in the creative process and I need reminders to fulfill my other responsibilities.

We do this spiritually as well. We can get so caught up in “doing” for God that we forget to “tend the fire.”

What does it mean to “tend the fire” spiritually?

It means that we are re-stocking our lives with fuel from the Source, in other words making sure that we are receiving fresh spiritual food from God’s Word. I have been a Christian for almost 60 years, yet I can’t survive on old teaching from my past – as good as it was.

Anyone who heats with wood will tell you – old wood burns up fast!

I need to allow Holy Spirit to speak to me with fresh insight for the current issues I face today. As I read the Bible, the Living Word, it feeds the flames of the spiritual fire within me. This past weekend I attended a women’s conference at our church. Katherine Wright shared from her heart some things that the Lord had been teaching her recently through very tragic circumstances.

“We have created for ourselves an illusion of safety,” Katherine said. “My recent study of Scripture has made me realize that this was NOT Paul’s or the early Christians view of suffering.”

In I Peter 1:6-9, Peter encourages Christians that their suffering has a purpose –

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I must be faithful to feed the spiritual fire within me through reading God’s Word, hearing Biblical teaching, and listening to the Holy Spirit within me. Katherine’s words clarified for me the truth that suffering is part of life, yes, a NORMAL CHRISTIAN life.

Feeding on the Word of God will keep my fire burning!

Tender, Thankful Hearts

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There are many people in our country and the world today that are suffering. The pain, fear,and loss they are facing leaves little room to be thankful.

Here I am, looking forward to the arrival of some of our children, grandchildren and friends tomorrow. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I enjoy the family gathering, the food, and the focus on being thankful.

Yet I know many are not blessed the way I am. Recently, friends from church lost their college aged son in a tragic accident. A school bus crashed this week causing the loss of five young children. What is there to be thankful for in these situations?

A dear young mother recently shared in our women’s Bible study group that she was dealing with reconciling the fact that –

God is good,

God is faithful,

Yet the pain of the loss of seemingly senseless death lingers.

We are studying Ezekiel, a challenging book heavy with judgement. Yet this young mother shared that she felt challenged by the following verse. Ezekiel 36:26 –

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

“Do the situations around me cause me to harden my heart, or soften my heart?”

When my young friend said this  – I realized  – that is the challenge for me as well.

Will I allow situations around me, and personal suffering to harden my heart? Will I allow God to give me a new, tender heart that is able to see and feel His presence in the midst of suffering?

We have much to be thankful for, yet the suffering some face is very real.

The book Defiant Joy, the Remarkable Life and Impact of G.K.Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte recounts that during a period of utter despair, Chesterton “was filled with both an enormous sense of thankfulness, and an enormous need for someone or something to thank.” (p. 218) This insight caused Chesterton to embrace Christianity. He went on to become a critic and writer that greatly influenced the lives of C.S.Lewis among countless others. “The test of all happiness” he wrote, “is gratitude; and I felt grateful.” (p. 221) The defining quality of his life as described by his contemporaries was JOY. Thankfulness leads to joy.

Notice that it was “during a period of utter despair” that Chesterton came to the point of recognizing his need for God. He had a change of heart.

As we gather this Thanksgiving, let us remember to pray for those throughout the world who are suffering in loss and fear.

Pray that we would have tender, thankful hearts to experience God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of all we face.

 

 

One and Only

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“MOM!”

“Nana is right here, Adella”

“MOM!”

Our granddaughter, Adella, had fallen. Her mom had stayed at the house to get the bike trailer attached so they could go on a bike ride together. We had started to the park with her brothers so they could play soccer.

When Adella fell, all she wanted was her mother.

Nana would NOT do.

I tried everything in a grandmother’s bag of tricks –

  • distraction “oh, look at that amazing crack in the sidewalk”
  • empathy “I want my Mom, too, when I am hurt”
  • humor “let’s cut off the leg that hurts”

And when all else fails,

  • bribery “I will buy you a milkshake”

Nothing worked.

When an injured child wants their mother, mother is the one and only person that will do.

As Christians we should be that way with our Heavenly Father.

God should be our “one and only”.

Yet in our culture, think of who and what we go to for “help”-

  • the media “google that”
  • friends “rant on Facebook”
  • move to a new location “I am out of here”
  • alcohol, drugs “self medication”
  • distractions “partying, media, devices”

God wants us to come to Him. In fact, He wants us to come to Him FIRST!

John 6:66-69 says the following in the Amplified translation –

66 As a result of this many of His disciples abandoned Him, and no longer walked with Him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve [disciples], “You do not want to leave too, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You [alone] have the words of eternal life [you are our only hope]. 69 We have believed and confidently trusted, and [even more] we have come to know [by personal observation and experience] that You are the Holy One of God [the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

God is our one and only hope. In our troubled times, and we all have them, as parents, grandparents, yes, and as nations, we must go to God for help.

I love the way Peter, in verse 68 says “You alone have the words of eternal life, you are our only hope.”

Just as our children and grandchildren want their mothers, we must go to God as our source of help, comfort, and life.

God is our one and only hope.

 

 

 

Brokenhearted

 Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times

How do I respond to the horrific, senseless violence that is sweeping the world?

Is it getting worse, or do I just hear about it more frequently because of the 24/7 media coverage that sends an unending stream of information and images from throughout the world?

How do I help my children and grandchildren process these events without causing them to live crippled by fear?

  • the killing of police officers in Dallas
  • the shooting of unarmed black youth in several US cities
  • the massacre of 41 innocent civilians in Turkey
  • the gunning down of 49 people in a night club in Orlando
  • 14 are shot dead in San Bernardino, California

and yet more personal …

  • the senseless murder of a dear young mother’s husband in Atlanta

This lovely young woman, a long time friend of our family, has been working tirelessly to eradicate human trafficking as an Assistant to the Attorney General of Georgia. She is now faced with raising her precious little girl without the loving support of a father.

I must respond with genuine concern and compassion to all those involved.

Jesus did that.

Right before he was crucified, on the Mount of Olives, Roman soldiers (the despised oppressors of the Jews in Jerusalem) approached Jesus to arrest him. Peter responded with violence – cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.

Mark 22:51 – But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

NO MORE OF THIS!

Our response to the violence and suffering around us must be an example to our children and grandchildren.

No more of this. We are brokenhearted.

If we  – for one moment – we think “maybe they deserved this” we are WRONG!

We MUST respond with compassion. If we do not feel compassion for the those shot and their suffering loved ones, regardless of the situation, we must repent.

Psalm 34:18-19 (NLT)

18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

19 The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.

Our children and grandchildren will form their understanding of suffering from the way they hear and see us respond.

  • if we express fear – they will fear
  • if we express hatred – they will learn to hate
  • if we seek revenge – they will seek revenge
  • if we express compassion – they will learn compassion
  • if we trust God for justice – they will learn to trust God

I heard an inspiring message Sunday from Rev. Reggie Screen of Atlanta. This Godly black man challenged us to have compassionate hearts in light of the violence all around us. He challenged us to be like Jesus. Reggie encouraged us that as things are darkest – the light of Jesus shines brightest.

We must be brokenhearted like Jesus.

We must have compassion.

We must love others and demonstrate that love at every opportunity.

We must seek justice and love mercy.

Oh, God, heal our land….

 

 

 

Underdogs

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My father has always rooted for the underdog. Unless his favorite team is playing, he has generally pulled for the team that is considered less likely to win.

Being from Illinois and a Cubs fan, his favorite team and the team considered the underdog are often the same!

It warms our hearts to see teams considered less capable triumph and pull off a victory. I’ll never forget the feeling of victory when our daughter’s high school soccer team defeated the favored team from a big school in Charlotte for the second round of the state playoffs. We were definitely the underdog, and it was so exciting for our team and our fans. “Little Mountain School Beats Big City Favorite”

Paul uses examples of athletic events several times in his letters to the early church. His readers were familiar with competition in games of physical skill and so Paul uses these to encourage new Christians.

Hebrews 12: 1-3 NET

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.

That “great cloud of witness” are those who have gone on before us – who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness. (AMP)

They are cheering us on!

Even when we feel like the underdog, the less talented, the “loser”, God’s saints are pulling for us.

When we feel incapable of

  • raising our children,
  • facing the challenges ahead,
  • just getting out of bed,
  • feeding one more whining, reluctant eater

we must continue to run with endurance the race set before us.

Your race is different from mine.

Yet we have the same promise of God’s presence and strength.

It appears my father will be joining that great crowd of witnesses soon. I know he will be cheering us on, trusting in God’s faithfulness to give us strength for what we are facing.

After all, Dad was a track coach and he always pulls for the underdog…

 

 

Deep Faith

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“They are fine. They have deep faith.”

My older brother spoke these words in response to my question, “How do you think Mom and Dad are doing?”

Ever since Garry said that, I have been asking myself a question –

Deep Faith – what is deep faith?

It is more than hope.

It is more than a reasoned sense.

It is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that GOD IS FAITHFUL.

No matter what happens, no matter how I feel, God is faithful.

As my “tween” grandchildren would say – “God’s got this.”

My 91-year-old father has been in the hospital and we are waiting for results from a myriad of tests. In the mean time, we must have deep faith. No matter what the results, God is faithful.

God is faithful to my dad who is weak and doesn’t like being in bed, poked and prodded.

God is faithful to my mother who is watching her mate of 68 years struggle.

God is faithful to my brothers and me as we watch the rock of our family seeming to fade.

Deep faith is based on the immovable, unchangeable, irrefutable fact that God is faithful. God will fulfill His purposes and His word assures us it is for our good. God is love.

Shallow faith is subject to the circumstances around us. Just like a shallow rooted plant, shallow faith

  • dries up when it is not watered
  • it is easily uprooted and destroyed
  • it can wither from being crowded out
  • it’s existence is based on outside conditions

Hebrews 11:1-3 (NIV)

11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Deep faith.

The kind of faith that stands firm no matter the circumstances.

May we have this deep faith in our loving, heavenly Father.