Just a Pile of Shells? (Why I Believe in God)

 

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Recently I found myself reading quotes from some rather famous personalities regarding their lack of belief in God. To quote a few, following are some excerpts:

There doesn’t need to be a God for me. There’s something in people that’s spiritual, that’s godlike. I don’t feel like doing things just because people say things, but I also don’t really know if it’s better to just not believe in anything, either. – Angelina Jolie

When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn’t a loss of faith for me, it was a discovery of self. There’s a peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and I’m responsible. – Brad Pitt

Organized religions in general, in my opinion, are dying forms. There are people who interpret the Bible literally. Literally! I choose not to believe that’s the way. – Bruce Willis

A few other well-known atheist film stars include Katherine Hepburn and Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame. This is only a small, partial list. What is it, one wonders, that makes the rich and famous so prone to atheism, but, that is a topic for another day.

John Lennon penned the lines of this famous song:

Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try

No hell below us, above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today.

Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too..

Imagine all the people, living life in peace.

The telling line in this song is “imagine all the people living for today.” Brad Pitt seems to echo that sentiment…”I have only one life, here and now.” But what if there is more to life than just the here and now? What if life is truly never ending, and there is such a thing as eternity, and you squandered all your wealth, talents and energy on only 70 to 80 years of it? Jesus poses the question this way,

“What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Jesus also shared the story of the rich fool who had accumulated so much in the way of crops and produce, his barns were too small to contain it all. He boastfully bragged that he would build a bigger barn to store all of his excess, that he might spend the rest of his years in ease and comfort and just sit back, eat, drink and be merry…enjoy life. The only problem with this plan was, that very night God required his soul of him. All the accumulation of his wealth was left to someone else. The larger, looming question was, what reward did he have awaiting him?

George Clooney was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I don’t know if I believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life – the only thing I know to exist – to be wasted.” Once again, we see the emphasis on THIS LIFE, but what about the next? He claims he “doesn’t know.” At least he’s honest enough to admit he’s not sure.

So, why take a chance?

Bertrand Russell, the famous atheist, mathematician, pacifist and political activist (1872-1970), was once interviewed and asked what he would say when confronted with the Almighty. His response? …

“Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?”

As a side note, I find it interesting that, although he did not believe in God, he had a question prepared for Him. I don’t have to imagine God’s response as He has already addressed this question in the Holy Scriptures. Let’s take a look:

King David clearly recognized the evidence of God in the natural world around him: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4)

The Apostle Paul wrote: “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”(Romans 1:20)

If you’ve ever looked up at the stars on a clear night and not felt a hushed and reverent Presence of the Almighty, you, my friend, have a hardened heart. Have you never walked an ocean shore, admired the beauty of a sunset, heard the thundering crash of the waves and not felt a deep stirring in your soul? Have you never wondered who set the boundaries for the ocean, and a million other questions?

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It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire.  Robert Louis Stevenson

I’ve always enjoyed beach combing and looking for shells. I remember one time that I chanced on a sizeable pile of shells against a sea wall that had been washed up by the tide. I sat down and combed through the shells for over an hour, totally entranced. I was in awe at the intricacies of design and color. There were perfect cone-shaped spirals of translucent white; shells with red, brown and yellow Indian blanket designs; other shells with every color of a tropical sunset. I had hit the jackpot! I was wishing I could bring in a backhoe and a truck.  I left with a small bag of treasures that I still display in a jar to this day. I will never forget thinking this pile of magnificent shells, of such amazing artistry was hidden under an ocean of water, never seen by human eyes before mine…. God had treated me to a private peek into His art studio just for my own personal joy and pleasure. I walked away with such a sense of the love and Presence of God. How could anyone not believe, I wondered?

 Even the sand beneath my feet was the exquisite work of an artistic hand. Miriam Drennan describes this phenomenon well:

“Have you ever seen photographs of individual grains of sand blown up 250 times their actual size? Some grains look like red gem stones, others look like icicles; some resemble speckled yellow and brown eggs, and still others seem shaped like corncobs, snowflakes and precious gems. Some grains are square, some spherical, and some flat. No two grains are the same – in fact, you’d never know you were even looking at grains of sand if no one told you.”

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The magnified image of grains of sand

 That kind of artistry is humanly unfathomable. It resides in the realm of the supernatural; the same supernatural force that scattered the stars through the heavens and hung the Milky Way.

 Thousands upon thousands of books, poems and songs have been written about the glory of God as seen in nature. Man truly is inexcusable.

Albert Einstein once stated, “I do not believe in a personal God, and I have never denied this, but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. “

 Yes, even Albert Einstein left a big, gaping IF….the structure of the world was something he admitted he had to admire. Can one admire such structure and beauty and still believe it all came about through sheer happenstance?

Yes, I choose to believe in God because of the evidence I’ve seen with my own eyes of that which He has created. It’s overwhelming. It’s incontrovertible. Is this the only reason I believe? No, but it is one very big reason!

“They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.” Psalm 65:8 (NASB)

Just count me as one who stands in awe of His signs…one who stands in awe of a pile of seashells.

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To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wildflower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour. – William Blake

In the Eye of the Storm

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This morning I woke up at 2:15 A.M. Wide awake. That’s been happening a lot lately. I find it interesting that it’s always at the same time. It used to be 3:30. There are times when I realize I ate too much pizza for supper the night before and that I just need to go back to sleep. Other times, like last night, I’m aware there is a Presence, and a Voice of someone wanting to speak to me, and that I need to listen carefully. Now, before some of you get too spooked out…yes, I am one of those who believes God can speak to you. He could speak in an audible voice if He chose to, as He did in Biblical times with Adam and Eve; with Moses on the mount; with Saul of Tarsus who was knocked to the ground and blinded (to try to get his attention.) Elijah was an Old Testament prophet that heard the voice of God. He was told to go stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, and the Lord would pass by. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a GENTLE WHISPER. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13

More often than not, God now communicates with His children in quiet whispers of the heart, which means you have to be so very, very quiet to hear Him. Maybe that’s why He wakes you up in the middle of the night when there are no distracting lights, no blaring TV or radio, no internet, or a million other weapons of mass distraction. So…you wonder…what did I hear when I was awakened at 2:15 A.M.? From this gentle whisper in my heart I heard the words: JESUS…AT THE CENTER OF THE STORM. The words were so distinct, it was almost as if I had heard them audibly. From this point on I was wide awake, and it seemed as if I was watching a full feature movie playing out various scenes in front of me. When a woman wakes up, wide awake, in the middle of the night, let me tell you – the brain is not quiet. Sometimes I find it quite amusing to see where my mind takes me. At other times, I find it not so amusing, and just wish I could go back to sleep.

Before I go any further, I must warn you…for those who don’t understand how a woman’s mind works. A man compartmentalizes everything neatly in a box. If you were to illustrate a man’s mind you could simply draw a box and place a dot in the center. A woman’s mind, on the other hand, could be illustrated with a box of spilled spaghetti. As I lay awake, contemplating the whisper of my heart, the movie lines played and interwove with each other, like an upended bowl of tangled spaghetti. The first scene that played out was the famous painting “Peace in the Midst of the Storm” by Jack Dawson. This painting depicts a small bird who has found shelter in the cleft of the rock, while a storm is raging. Hidden in the jagged cliffs outside are two images; one of Christ and the other a more sinister looking creature.

Meditating on this scene, the bowl of spaghetti kept filling my box. The next scene to appear was a group of elementary children who had been moved to a hallway for protection from a violent storm. I had remembered seeing this story play out in the news. I heard a group of teachers leading their students in the song “In the Eye of the Storm.”

In the eye of the storm, you remain in control,

In the middle of the war, you guard my soul.

You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn,

Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm…

I find my peace in Jesus’ Name.

I was reminded of the storm chasers who fly their planes through hurricanes as they chart their path. It is so amazing to see them fly through the eye of the storm where there are blue skies,  sunshine, and perfect calm.

As this song faded away, I saw the scene of a man and his dog on a sail boat. I remembered reading this true story years ago. They had started out for a day of sailing under sunny skies, when the weather began to turn. As the man changed his course to head back home, the wind picked up and the waves began to toss violently. He feared for his life and the life of his dog. In his panic, he briefly looked down at his dog and was amazed to see perfect peace and love in his eyes. He was not the least bit stressed or agitated. He was just keeping his gaze focused on his master. The man began praying and asking God to forgive him. “My dog has more faith in me, than I have in you,” he confessed. “Help me keep my eyes on you!” The story had a happy ending, and the man learned a lesson in faith that day, from his dog.

The focus of the action then shifted to a similar scene. It was the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus and His disciples were caught in a violent storm in their small boat. Here, too, the disciples feared for their lives. In their panic, they awakened their Master. Jesus spoke to the storm, “Peace, be still,” and immediately the waves calmed.  Jesus couldn’t understand why the disciples were so afraid, and rebuked them for their lack of faith.

At this point my mind was beginning to calm and I was beginning to feel drowsy again, but not before two verses of Scripture appeared on the screen:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26::3…

and with this one, I turned over and went back to sleep…

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

So, I don’t know if there’s anyone out there that needs to be encouraged or reminded of this today, but don’t ever forget…Jesus is in the eye of your storm. He is your center, and it’s there you will find your peace. Find your center.  Find your center and keep your gaze steadfast on your Master. Find your peace in Jesus’ Name. It’s “a peace that passes all understanding.”

Kibrothhattaavah

May 20, 2020 – Bavaria, Germany

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My husband and I, along with our German neighbors, and military friends on nearby bases, have all been under a mandated “shelter at home” quarantine now, for over two months, due to an outbreak of the dreaded caronavirus. That, in itself, is not newsworthy, as this state of affairs spread rapidly to many other parts of the world, and at one time Europe was considered “ground zero.”  I’m not sure what the status is now, as things are slowly beginning to open back up. However, I am endeavoring to document our experiences while here in this country, so I am making an attempt (albeit a rather feeble attempt) to reflect on these happenings, if for no other reason than to be able to look back, years from now, and have some kind of perspective.

I say “feeble attempt” because it is such an overwhelming topic, and I along with others, have grown weary of the daily news and even the mention of the word. Social media quickly reverted to jokes and lighthearted memes, even divisive political debate about what measures should be taken. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to enjoying a little comic relief, but can’t help feeling shame at the thought of laughing when I had friends in the hospital who had been infected and were on life support – multiply this scenario thousands of times throughout the world. The world reeled in agony, and many of us sat back and laughed? God help us. Don’t take me wrong. I’m not standing in judgment over anyone. I totally understand the old adage…sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. I experienced that roller coaster many times during the years I took care of my mother, whose mental and physical health were slowly ravaged by dementia.

I guess the hardest part for me to understand is how quickly the world panicked. It only took a week or so, after hearing about the rush on toilet paper in the US, before shelves here in Germany were wiped out as well…no pun intended. Why, everyone wonders? It is, after all, a respiratory virus, not a stomach flu. Once it hit the toilet paper aisle, other aisles quickly followed: meat, bread, flour, sugar, peanut butter and jelly, ramen noodles…ramen noodles? Seriously? There must be a lot of people out there who don’t like to cook. On second thought, that was the Commissary on base where a lot of single soldiers shop.

Well…this brings me to my topic, Kibrothhattaavah. Recently I was reading in the book of Numbers (not my favorite part of the Bible), so when I get to this part, I tend to skip and skim. I landed in chapter 11.  The children of Israel had been delivered from slavery and bondage in Egypt, and had just experienced one of the most amazing miracles of God ever witnessed by man – the parting of the Red Sea. So, what was their response? Murmuring and complaining. God’s anger was kindled against them. He had delivered them from bondage and the mighty Egyptian army; He had fed them with heavenly manna (which they had hoarded), but that wasn’t good enough. They wanted meat!!!!! (Ah yes! That seems to be the on-going hot commodity lately, and meat counters continue to remain sparsely stocked.) God got so tired of their complaining, He decided to send them their meat…tons of meat! God said He would send them enough meat not for one or two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days. He sent them enough meat for a whole month, to the point He said it would come out of their nostrils and be loathsome to them. God sent a wind from the sea that brought quail and let them fall in the camp. According to my Bible commentary, the quail was stacked three feet deep around the camp, as far away as a day’s walk.

So, what did the people do? They HOARDED. (Evidently the temptation to hoard has been a common human trait since the beginning of time.) They gathered quail all day, all that night, and all the next day.  The least any one person gathered was 10 ½ bushels of quail. There was a total of 6,720 quail to each of 3,000,000 people. There was a total of 2,520,000,000 gallons or 20,160,000,000 quail. (In my mind, I’m picturing the scene of all this quail in a desert environment without refrigeration, and thinking the stench would  be unbearable.) Well, it was picnic time in the camp, but the story doesn’t end well.

While the quail flesh was still in their mouths, before they had even chewed, the Lord smote them with a very great plague. We are not told how many died, but the name of the place where they were buried was named Kibrothhattaavah – Graves of lust and greed.

In the New Testament we are taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer – a part of which is a request to the God of Heaven…Give us this day, our daily bread. Another core teaching of the New Testament is…Do not worry about tomorrow. In other words, be happy, satisfied and content with your provision for THIS DAY! This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Tomorrow will take care of itself, when you leave the control in God’s hands.

So, how will our story end? Pray for those in authority; our President, our governors, our mayors, that God give them great wisdom. Pray for our business leaders as they struggle to get our sinking economy up and running again. Let us continue to pray and have compassion over the sick. Continue to pray for healthcare providers and those working exhausting days and nights to provide for our basic needs.

Remember, life is 10 % what happens to you, and 90 % how you respond. May God help us not to fall into the trap of grumbling and complaining and hoarding, and find “Kibrothhattaavah” engraved on our tombstone.

On the Stage of Life

Words. Words have power.

The power of the word is real whether or not you are conscious of it.

Behind every word flows energy.

– Sonia Choquette

 

Picture4Think back over your life. What words have defined you? What words have you ALLOWED to define you? I know children whose parents have told them they were “a mistake.” Do you think that child is capable of ever forgetting those words? Then there are others who’ve been told, “You’re a mess; you’ll never amount to anything in life; you’re not smart enough; you’re not good enough; you’re ugly; you’re dumb; why aren’t you as beautiful and talented as your sister”…and the list goes on. Those words are hard to forget – they leave a scar. They haunt you for life.

Someone once told me she wished she had just a fingertip of my artistic talent. I reminded her that all it takes is the desire, and it sounded to me like she had that. She replied that she had been told by her parents that she didn’t have any artistic talent at all. For years she had accepted those words spoken over her. I talked her into signing up for oil painting classes, and she produced amazing paintings that now grace the walls of her home, but she wasted some beautiful, creative years to get to that point.

In thinking over some of the “defining words of life,” I decided to come up with a list of some of the power players, and then turned the list into a play. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself as one of the main actors. This is literally a WORD PLAY. I’ve entitled the play:

 ON THE STAGE OF LIFE

SCENE ONE:

Abused, battered, bruised, judged, scorned, afflicted, despised, disdained, condemned, heartbroken, abandoned, unwanted, broken, intimidated, demoralized, oppressed, immobilized, paralyzed, confused, discouraged, threatened, defenseless, deficient, inadequate, rejected, insulted, mocked, rebuked, bashed, slammed, blinded, injured, scarred, debilitated, rattled, caged, sickened, condemned, tortured, denied, overlooked, blamed, shamed, accused, embittered, trampled, shattered, emptied, drained, undone, destroyed, defeated…..

 SCENE TWO:

JESUS (enter stage left)

Faithful, loving, compassionate, accepting, saving, forgiving, healing, gracious, cleansing, purifying, understanding, guiding, uplifting, encouraging, gifting, filling, affirming, inspiring, supporting, powerful, competent, abounding, sufficient, unfathomable, unsearchable, unlimited, boundless, victorious, sustaining, upholding……..

SCENE THREE:

Loved, wanted, created, rescued, cleansed, healed, restored, delivered, chosen, filled, inspired, sustained, cherished, forgiven, redeemed, embraced, cradled, covered, protected, soothed, comforted, supported, accepted, uplifted, encouraged, strengthened, rested, refreshed, revived, gifted, enlightened, empowered, enabled, fulfilled……..

Curtain call.

Standing ovation!!

We’re all players on this stage of life. In which scene do you find yourself? I hope you’re allowing the energy of positive, affirming, God-inspired words to flow through your life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

He sent forth his word and healed them. Psalm 107:20

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:3

The very breath that God used to speak forth the creation of the world, and bring light out of darkness, is the same breath He breathed into you to speak forth your words. They can be creative, illuminating, life-giving words, or they can be dark, haunting, destructive words. The power is yours; choose wisely…and remember… “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

 

 

My God

Here is how I describe my God…how do you describe yours?

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GOD DESCRIPTORS

His position is SUPREME Col. 1:18
His greatness is SURPASSING, UNSEARCHABLE and UNFATHOMABLE Psalm 150:2; Phil. 3:8; Psalm 145:3
His majesty is GLORIOUSLY SPLENDID Psalm 145:5
His garments are SPLENDOR, MAJESTY and LIGHT Psalm 104:1-2
He lives in UNAPPROACHABLE light. 1 Tim. 6:16
His presence is BRIGHTNESS Psalm 18:12
His image is INVISIBLE Col. 1:15
His splendor is ABOVE THE EARTH AND THE HEAVENS Psalm 148:14
His glory is GREAT, ALL-SURPASSING, ABOVE THE HEAVENS, and ENDURES FOREVER 2 Cor. 3:11; Psalm 104:32; Psalm 8:1; Psalm 138:2
His kingdom is GLORIOUSLY SPLENDID and EVERLASTING Psalm 145:13
His throne is FOR EVER AND EVER Psalm 45:6
His righteousness is EVERLASTING, ENDURING FOREVER Psalm 111:3; 119:142
His kingship is ETERNAL and OVER ALL THE EARTH 1 Tim. 1:17; Psalm 47:7
His reign is FOREVER Psalm 146:10
His renown is EVERLASTING and ENDURES FOREVER Isaiah 63:12: Psalm 135:13
His wonders are REMEMBERED Psalm 111:4
His dominion is ENDURING Psalm 145:13
His name is HOLY and AWESOME Psalm 111:9
His name is GLORIOUS and HOLY Isaiah 63:14; Psalm 145:21
His name alone is EXALTED ABOVE ALL THINGS Psalm 148:13; Psalm 138:2
His name alone is EXCELLENT. Psalm 148:13
His name is ABOVE EVERY NAME Phil. 2:9
His name is REMEMBERED IN ALL GENERATIONS Psalm 45:17
His name ENDURES FOREVER Psalm 72:17;135:13
His creation is BEFORE ALL THINGS Col. 1:17
His voice is POWERFUL,  MAJESTIC, UPON THE WATERS, THUNDERS, BREAKS THE CEDARS, DIVIDES THE FLAMES, SHAKES THE WILDERNESS Psalm 29
His Word is FLAWLESS and ETERNAL, and EXALTED ABOVE ALL THINGS Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 119:89; Psalm 138:2
His Words are TRUE and RIGHT Psalm 119:160; Psalm 33:4
His fear is THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM Psalm 111:10
His law is PERFECT, RIGHTEOUS, ETERNAL, ENDURING, TRUE and DELIGHTFUL Psalm 19:7; 119:91,142,160,174
His statutes are RIGHTEOUS, TRUSTWORTHY, LASTING FOREVER and FOREVER RIGHT Psalm 119:138,144,152;19:7
His truth is ABUNDANT Exodus 34:6
His right hand is FULL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS Psalm 48:10
His counsel is EVERLASTING Psalm 33:11
His promises are FAITHFUL and THOROUGHLY TESTED Psalm 145:13; Psalm 119:140
His faithfulness REACHES TO THE SKIES; ENDURES FOREVER and CONTINUES THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS Psalm 57:10; Psalm 117:2; 119:90
His compassion is GREAT Psalm 119:156
His kindness is MARVELOUS and LOVING Psalm 17:7; 31:21
His teaching is LIGHT Proverbs 6:23
His precepts are RIGHT, TRUSTWORTHY, STEADFAST, FAITHFUL, UPRIGHT and SUSTAINING Psalm 19:8; Psalm 111:7-8; 119:93
His commands are TRUE, DELIGHTFUL, RIGHTEOUS, BOUNDLESS (Even though all other perfection has its limits.) and UNFORGETTABLE Psalm 119:151; 119:143; 119:172;119:96,176
His ordinances are SURE and ALTOGETHER RIGHTEOUS Psalm 19:9
His judgments are UNSEARCHABLE Romans 11:33
His power is MIGHTY, ALL-SURPASSING, INCOMPARABLE and MAJESTIC Psalm 147:5; 2 Cor. 4:7; EPH. 1:19; 2 Thes. 1:9
His works are GREAT, POWERFUL, WONDERFUL, AWESOME, MARVELOUS, FAITHFUL, JUST and TRUE Psalm 145:6; Psalm 111;6-7; Psalm 9:1; Psalm 33:4
His acts are MIGHTY Psalm 145:4
His ways are RIGHTEOUS and PERFECT Psalm 145:17; Psalm 18:30
His deeds are GREAT, GLORIOUS and MAJESTIC Psalm 145:6; Psalm 111;3
His riches are UNSEARCHABLE and GLORIOUS Eph. 3:8; Eph. 3:16; Phil. 4:19
His mercy and grace are GLORIOUS, INCOMPARABLE, SUFFICIENT, ABUNDANT, RICH and FULL Eph. 1:6; Eph. 2:4,7; 2 Cor. 12:9; Romans 5:17; John 1:16
His patience is UNLIMITED 1 Tim. 1:16
His peace TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING Phil. 4:7
His energy is EMPOWERING Col. 1:29
His hand is MIGHTY Exodus 32:11
His gift is INDESCRIBABLE 2 Cor. 9:15
His goodness is ABUNDANT Exodus 34:6; Psalm 145:7
His understanding is INFINITE and LIMITLESS. Psalm 147:5
His paths are BEYOND TRACING OUT Romans 11:33
His Church is HOLY and WITHOUT BLEMISH Col. 1:22
His praise is ETERNAL, ENDURING FOR EVER AND EVER Psalm 111:10; PSALM 45:17
His covenant is ORDAINED FOREVER Psalm 111:5,9
His love is UNFAILING, SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE, ALL-ENCOMPASSING, RICH, PRICELESS, EXCELLENT, REACHES TO THE HEAVENS and ENDURES FOREVER Psalm 32:10; Eph. 3:19; John 3:16 ; Psalm 145:8; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:10; Psalm 136:1
His help is EVER-PRESENT Psalm 46:1
His arms are EVERLASTING Deut. 33:27

STAND IN AWE OF GOD. Eccl. 5:7

An Angel to the Rescue

e458e80815dc3632c2f5e6e09b7faf35I had pulled up in front of the local Thrift Store to deliver a rather large box of donations. As I lifted the box out of the trunk of the car, I set it down on the pavement. I knew it was too heavy to carry in, so I decided to drag it. I was stepping backwards and failed to see a slight raise in the sidewalk, and down I went. There I sat by my box, feeling rather sheepish, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted someone approaching. How nice, I thought. Someone’s coming to help me. My next thought was that this person reminded me of Aunt Bea (from the Andy Griffith Show.) She was a sweet looking older lady dressed in an old-fashioned coat. She had a look of concern on her face, but never said a word. She set down her old-fashioned purse and positioned herself behind me placing both hands under my arms. In one deft swoosh, she had me standing on both feet. I stood there totally amazed that anyone of her stature could pick up dead weight with such quick ease of movement. As I turned around to thank her, Aunt Bea and purse had vanished!

There is no other explanation than what I experienced was the help of an angel unaware. Yes, I believe, according to the Scriptures, that there are angels all around us and that they are sent to minister to us in the time of our need. Sometimes we recognize them as such, and other times they pass us by unnoticed because they tend to blend in with those around them. In Psalm 91:11 we read, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I know this Scripture is true, for I have personally experienced it many times in my life. The rest of Psalm 91 reminds us that God rescues and protects those who love Him and acknowledge His name, and He promises to be with us in the time of our trouble. Yes! When you are down, He will lift you up!

The Music of the Far Away

Ken _001I turned onto Interstate 35 North to begin my long journey home to Illinois from Olathe, Kansas. I had just said my final good-bye to my brother, Ken. I knew it was probably the last time I would see him this side of heaven. It had been four months since he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 mesothelioma, a slow growing lung cancer. It became painfully obvious that he had contracted this dreaded disease as a young sailor aboard the aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger, during the Vietnam war era.

I couldn’t hold the tears back as I watched a train pass by. Trains had been a big part of Ken’s life as a dispatcher for the Burlington Northern Railroad.  How would I break the sad news about my brother to our 92-year-old Mom? As of yet, I hadn’t told her about his illness. I knew I needed to, I just didn’t know how to go about it. Not only did Mom have dementia, she was almost completely deaf, and it was extremely difficult to communicate with her. My husband Steve had stayed home with her as she was unable to travel. Mom had lived with us for twelve years at that point. I remember how many times she had asked to see her son, and I tried the best I could to explain to her he wasn’t able to travel. I was always amazed that, for the most part, she remembered who I was, and remembered she had a son.

I dreaded the hours of travel ahead of me. I reached for the radio hoping for some distraction. If only I could find a good Christian station. I needed some “soul comfort.” Amazingly, the most beautiful, quiet, soothing voice came on announcing a familiar song about heaven. I was mesmerized by the voice. I felt a blanket of peace fill the car as my eyes welled up with tears. I began singing along. Then another song about heaven followed. That was beautiful. How come I’ve never heard that song before? Then came a beautiful rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, followed by Beulah Land….then other magnificent songs of heaven I’d never heard before….followed by an inspiring version of The Holy City, and When We All Get to Heaven….and the songs went on and on, mile after mile, one song after another about heaven. From time to time the calming, quiet, male voice would come on sharing a few remarks and announcing the next song…..another song of heaven.

Had it really been six hours that I had been driving? It seemed only a few minutes. The soothing, peaceful voice had never left me. The songs of heaven, the sweet, comforting music of the far away, had followed me all the way home. Traveling through four different states, I never once lost the station; there had never been any static interference; there hadn’t been one station break for commercials, weather or news. As I pulled into the driveway of our home, the final strains of a beautiful hymn faded into the quiet of the moment….

1016127_396260830492929_732820389_nI sat and listened to the end…

O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee…

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

that morn shall tearless be.

 

Ken passed from this life October 27, 2012, embraced in the loving arms of Jesus, and slipped into the warm, waiting arms of his earthly father whom he had dearly loved and missed so very much. They were joined by our sweet Mom on May 25, 2016. Some tearless morning, I will see them all again.

Thirty Minutes in Hong Kong

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My year of teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China was quickly coming to an end, and I found myself swamped with grading final exams, reports to be submitted, sorting and packing, and a round of farewell dinners and parties to attend. It finally dawned on me that I needed to make reservations and purchase a ticket for my flight home. I had waited until the last minute, not realizing the mass exodus of teachers and other foreigners leaving during this same time frame, let alone Chinese travelers.

One evening, as a group of teacher friends were sitting around visiting at our apartment, the topic of everyone’s travel plans came up. I shared that I had purchased the last available ticket for the next two weeks which only allowed me a thirty-minute layover in Hong Kong before catching my connecting flight to Los Angeles. It got really quiet, jaws dropped, and everyone looked at me as if I had lost my last ounce of common sense. I could certainly understand why they would think that, but for some reason I was rather nonchalant and unconcerned about it. Everyone shook their head, “That’s impossible! You’ll never pull that one off.”

“Well, it was the only flight I could get out for the next two weeks, so I’m going for it,” I shrugged.

The day of my departure I left without the least bit of apprehension. (Looking back at the scene now, I have to wonder at myself. For international flights, they usually advise you to arrive three hours early.) When my flight from Shanghai landed at the busy international airport in Hong Kong, I knew I needed to exit my plane and move fast. There would be no time to waste. I walked out onto the crowded, bustling concourse and didn’t have a clue in which direction to turn. It was then that I noticed a very official looking Chinese lady dressed in what appeared to be an airport uniform. She was standing in front of me, holding a clipboard and surveying the passing crowd. I walked up to her, and not knowing for sure if she even spoke English, I simply showed her my ticket. She looked up, didn’t speak a word, and motioned me to follow her.

For the next fifteen minutes I followed my Chinese guide as she led me up one escalator and down the next; down one long corridor to the next. Then we walked across a balcony. As I looked down over the railing, I noticed what seemed to be hundreds of people waiting in line to have their baggage inspected. We went down another escalator, through a back door and a back corridor, and across another long concourse, when my escort stopped and pointed to a door being closed by an airport attendant. I hurriedly gave my thanks and scrambled across the departure lobby now full of empty seats. The assistant kindly opened the door and allowed me to squeeze through. I managed to barely enter the cabin of the plane before the door closed behind me. It wasn’t hard finding my seat as it was the only vacant one left. I looked around and it seemed everyone was sitting there staring at me as if to say, “Where have you been? Hurry up and sit down!”

As I sat down and buckled my seat belt, the plane began to back out of the gate. The stewards had already gone through all the required safety procedures. Within minutes, we were airborne and on our way to Los Angeles! I sat back and relaxed, rather pleased at how smoothly everything had gone. My friends would be incredulous. No problem. Piece of cake. Then it hit me. I hadn’t gone through customs, baggage inspection, or even security. I didn’t even have a boarding pass.  How did I manage to get on this flight, anyway? The prospect of arriving in Los Angeles without my two suitcases began to sink in. How could they possibly be offloaded and transferred to another flight in the space of half an hour? I was planning an overnight stay before catching a flight home the next morning. Would my suitcases remain in Hong Kong? How would I even track them down?

Arriving in Los Angeles many hours later, I made my way to baggage claim with the other passengers and waited anxiously at the carousel. Did my suitcases even make it? I held my breath. Soon the familiar hum of the conveyor belt kicked in. Everyone’s eyes (especially mine) were glued on the chute, when out popped my two suitcases – first ones onto the belt! I was beyond thrilled and relieved, and breathed a prayer of thanks to God. It was obvious. He was the one who had orchestrated this incredible journey, this amazing year, from beginning to end. Thirty minutes in Hong Kong? My friends were right…I couldn’t do it, but God did!

Oh yes…there was one thing that did get left behind in China — my heart!

 

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Thirteen Chinese Bibles

th-2During the mid 80s, which seems a millennium ago, I spent a year teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Three years prior to my arrival, the Chinese government had surprisingly softened their stance against freedom of religion, and had made public statements to that effect. However, as foreign teachers, we still had to be careful and sensitive to the issue and were certainly not allowed to do any proselytizing. We were told we could share any religious beliefs pertaining to western culture and traditions in our classes, and that we could answer any questions relating to religious matters if the inquiries were initiated by the student.

I was on a team with three other Christian teachers, so of course we enjoyed sharing our faith and our cultural traditions during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. One memorable experience I had was setting up a little cardboard nativity set and sharing the Christmas story. Afterwards, the students gathered around to get a closer look. They were just fascinated with the story, most of whom had never heard it before. I was amazed as they stood with reverent awe and pointed out the various characters and quietly reviewed their names.

One student began reciting, “These are the wise men, these are the angels, this is Mary and this is Joseph, Jesus’ father.” Another student immediately spoke up and corrected him, “You mean Jesus’ step-father!” I was pleased to see how they had absorbed the key elements of the story, and could sense a real hunger for God, but also a fear and hesitancy to even broach the subject. Even though there had been some significant relaxation on religious matters from the government, it was still difficult to purchase a Bible anywhere, and when you did, your name was registered, which caused some angst and hesitation.

During our holiday break for the Chinese New Year, my colleague Helen and I decidth-1ed to take a trip to Hong Kong. At that time, Hong Kong was still under British rule, so it was easy to find Christian bookstores and purchase Bibles. Both of us decided to purchase as many Chinese Bibles as we could possibly stash away in our suitcases. I purchased thirteen Bibles, and Helen about that many. We never had any fear about being caught, as we didn’t feel like we were doing anything illegal. We had never been told we couldn’t bring Bibles into the country.

However, when it was time to re-enter China, we had to go through baggage inspection, which was no surprise to us, but we still weren’t the least bit apprehensive – for some reason. At the train station we waited in a long line for baggage inspection, chatting away with each other and never did notice any other Americans in line ahead of us. The next thing we knew we were waiting behind two tall young men, who appeared to be American. I remember being surprised, because in our long wait, we had not even noticed them. (When you’re in a foreign country, Americans tend to quickly identify each other and strike up a conversation.) Their suitcases were being inspected rather thoroughly, and everything was being dragged out. The two began laughing, when one of them turned to the other and blurted out, “They must think we’re trying to smuggle in Bibles!” This was followed by more snickers and laughter. The guard/inspectors quickly replaced everything into the suitcases and waved them on. When Helen and I walked up they rolled their eyes at us, and waved us on as well, never inspecting our luggage. It was obvious they thought we were traveling with the two American men.

Upon arriving back in Shanghai, I carefully stored the Bibles in the back of my closet. Throughout the remainder of the year, I had exactly thirteen students come to me privately, asking for a Bible! I was so grateful that I was able to quietly honor their request. I’ve often wondered about them. Did they read their Bibles? Were their lives transformed? Did they share their Bibles with family and friends? One student did come to me later and ask, “What does ‘Emmanuel’ mean? I was happy to tell him that it meant ‘God is with us.’ Even though I lost contact with these students over the years, I know that God is still with them.

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The latest news out of China, in regard to religious freedom, is not good. Christians are suffering renewed and intense persecution, churches are being shut down, and Bibles are now being confiscated. Once again, the government is tightening their grip. It would be wonderful to know where those thirteen Bibles are right now. I am forever grateful Helen and I were able to get them into China when we did…and that God provided His protection and covering for us! I know the Word of God is powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and has the ability to tear down barriers and cut into the darkest corners of the world and spread Light.

A Treasured Photo

IMG_3255One of the most memorable experiences of my life was the year I spent teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Some of the Chinese, such as my students, became dear friends over the course of the year I was there. Others, total strangers, briefly crossed my path, but I was fortunate enough to capture their beautiful faces on my camera, and they now hang in the art gallery of my mind.

One photo was such a treasure, that I made a charcoal drawing of this beautiful face, and it has hung on the walls of my office for years, with the original photo tucked in the corner. For the Chinese New Year break, (back in the day), my friend and colleague, Helen, and I made plans for a trip to Hong Kong. On one of our stops, rather late at night and still quite a distance from Hong Kong, we stopped at a little corner dive for a bowl of noodles. We were pleasantly surprised when an elderly gentleman (with the look of a classic Chinese scholar) struck up a conversation with us in fluent English. More often than not, when we were approached by strangers, it was usually someone wanting to practice their English, and the subsequent experience became burdensome and tiring.

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With my friend Helen

However, this gentleman shared fascinating stories with us of his time in America when he worked on the railroads. It was such a pleasant visit, we totally lost track of time, and didn’t even notice anyone else around us. Realizing the lateness of the hour, Helen and I shared our farewells and gathered our belongings. As an afterthought, I grabbed my camera and asked the gentleman if I could take his picture. This made him happy and he broke out in a big, toothless smile. As luck would have it, I was completely out of film. (That was back in the day when you had to place film in your camera and wait to have it developed.)

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Guilin, in southeastern China

I apologized to the sweet man and expressed my disappointment. At that moment, a young lady walked up that had been a silent listener to our conversation. She introduced herself and told us she was from France. She, too, spoke fluent English. She very kindly offered to take the man’s picture for me, and told me if I gave her an address, she would be happy to mail the photo to me. I was surprised by her kindness, and gave her an address but couldn’t help wondering if she would actually follow through on such a generous offer to a stranger.

Several days later, Helen and I were walking the streets of downtown Hong Kong (at that time, a city of 6 to 7 million people)  bustling with New Year’s fervor and throngs of people. We were on a mission to find a good “western” restaurant and were in the middle of a difficult decision: steak, hamburgers, pizza, or spaghetti? At this point, anything but rice and cabbage sounded pretty good. This would be followed up with a hunt for a good dessert: chocolate cake or maybe apple pie, if we were so lucky. (We were craving western food and wanted to take good advantage of our stay!)  We were enjoying the shopping and the hustle and bustle of the street when, out of nowhere, up walked our friend from France! Helen and I were so stunned, we were totally speechless. The young French lady didn’t seem the least bit surprised. “Oh, Hi!” she said, as she casually opened up her bag and pulled out a photograph. “I have your picture for you,” she shared, as she handed me the photo and walked off. We barely had the time to thank her and say good-bye before she disappeared into the crowd.

Helen and I looked at each other in total disbelief. The odds were about 7 million to 1 that we could possibly have run into our friend from France on this busy street in Hong Kong; how close we could have come to missing her had we walked into any number of untitled_46restaurants. What were the chances she would have had the film developed so quickly? That made the odds even greater. We had no idea she even had plans to visit Hong Kong.

The whole experience was so amazing to me that I decided to memorialize it with a charcoal drawing of my Chinese scholar.  Such encounters just make you pause, wonder in awe, and cherish the memory for the rest of your life.