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Words of Hope for Everyday Life:

 

February 17, 2018

One-on-One.

There is such beauty and power in one-on-one conversation between dear, trusted friends. The rest of the world rushes on by as the two of them set aside time to conduct the real business of life...concerns of the heart and soul. So much is accomplished in solitude when two people genuinely care, compassionately listen and speak truthfully from a heart of love.

The Friend of Friends has an open and flexible schedule each and every day. No heart is so loving, no ears so patient, no words so laden with love and wisdom as His. We cannot shock Him with our words...He has seen it all for thousands of years. What He hears is kept in confidence, what He says is our truest answer.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

("What a Friend We Have in Jesus", vs. 1 & 2, by Joseph Scriven, 1855)

 

 

 

February 16, 2018

Rough Seas & Forgetfulness.

When life's skies turn dark and the seas turn rough, it is very easy to forget what is most important of all...that God is there and He will see us safely through to the other side of the storm. How quickly we can forget all the storms in years-past when He reached down His hand and worked things out in such a way that we know it was Him! Since He was faithful before...things resolved in His perfect timing...He will be again, even if the current storm is the worst we've ever faced.

The men who walked and talked with Jesus on a daily basis, his 12 disciples, suffered from spiritual forgetfulness just like we do. The Savior had been performing many miracles as they stood by and looked on, healing people of diseases that no human could cure: leprosy, crippled legs, a withered hand, and so much more. The masses were desperate for His healing touch and they followed His travels, thronging closely around Him. The compassionate Savior healed one-after-another-after-another...miracle after miracle within the sight of those 12 men.

At the end of another day full of interacting with the crowds, an utterly exhausted Jesus told His disciples "Let us pass over to the other side" (Mark 4:35). He needed some time away from the multitudes and a boat ride to the far side of the Sea of Galilee seemed to be the answer. He found a place in the back of the boat, lay His head on a pillow and fell into a deep sleep. As they headed across the waters, a wind started whipping across the sea. The water got so rough that waves crashed over the sides of the boat and filled it. In the midst of it all, Jesus was still fast asleep. Full of fear that they would drown, the disciples woke the Master. He stood to His feet and told the wind and waves "Peace, be still" (Mark 4:39) and they promptly obeyed. He then told the men who rubbed shoulders with him on a daily basis "Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?" (Mark 4:40).

In all fairness to The Twelve, at least 4 of them were seasoned fishermen who knew those waters very well. The Sea of Galilee was known for its sudden storms and they had likely faced more than their share of them. They were human beings, subject to fear and they knew what a boat full of water in high winds meant: imminent loss of life. Yet, they had forgotten Who was in the ship with them, His supernatural power and His words "Let us pass over to the other side." Since He said they would reach the other side of the sea, they would. Period. When Jesus said something, it was going to happen. Yet, just like us, in the middle of rough seas, they forgot the power and words of the One riding along with them.

Christ can seem asleep and aloof in the midst of our worst days. Where is He? Doesn't He care? Can this situation possibly ever turn out for good? Will it ever end? We can very easily forget that, even if our boat is full to the point of sinking, He is still with us. The supernatural words of hope in the Bible are still true. When we invite Him into our heart and life, He doesn't bail out on us in hard times. He is with us through it all...yes, to the other side of the storm.

Oh Lord, help us with our spiritual forgetfulness in hard times. When the seas turn rough, please remind us very clearly of how You saw us safely through every storm of yesterday...and that You'll get us safely to the other side of every one we'll ever face...because You said so.

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February 15, 2018

Loving at Great Risk.

It was either 1944 or 1945. He was a pilot on a B-17 bomber, flying another of his many missions against Hitler. He had to bail out in the skies over Nazi Germany and as he made his descent, his parachute got caught on a church steeple. Fearful that he would be killed by the citizens who found him, those fears didn't materialize. He learned that he was in the presence of those who didn't support Hitler and his horrific regime. The people who cut him free from the steeple were, he believes, the same ones who took him into their home and hid him until the end of the war (May 8, 1945). Their home was never searched by German soldiers. At a later date, he and his wife returned to Germany and took that wonderful family out to dinner.

Had the news of this incident reached the ears of the Nazis during the war, this U.S. soldier and the family who hid him could have been summarily shot on the spot. Yet, on the balance-scales within their compassionate hearts, there was more weight on the side of what was right. Fear in the midst of a reign of terror was vetoed by stark courage and at great risk.

The family that rescued that soldier must have been so desperate for change, for the evil empire they suffered under to be vanquished, for a peaceful, new era to begin. Living in Nazi Germany was a nightmare. I recall one German lady telling me that they would search the streets for food...and a dog's jawbone was not exempt from being a part of the dinner-pot. Hanging from that steeple was a helpless hero combating that regime, a human in need of mercy, someone who was part of the solution to their deep, dark calamity.

What cost would I willing to pay, what degree of risk would I be willing to take, how much courage would be found within me were I faced with that same scenario? Or in going the extra mile for a helpless soul? Or by stating a few loving words in someone's defense?

Day by day, I want to keep my eyes and heart open for someone "hanging from a steeple." Just like the German family, I won't have to look far.  There's a lot of evil and hurt to overcome...and it's conquered one moment, one small act and one prayer at a time.

How about you?

"But when he (Jesus) saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." - Matthew 9:36

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February 14, 2018

The Love Song of Love Songs.

We've lived long enough to know that things come and go in this life. People...they enter our lives, we love them dearly and then... beyond our control...they're gone. Our health, once strong and vibrant, becomes a mere shadow of what it used to be.

Yet, one thing never changes...the love in the heart of Jesus for each and every one of us. It is more than rock-solid. He loves us just like we are, right where we are. His arms are always open for us, His ears await our prayers. His eyes watch over us with tender care and concern.

Why not stand under the fathomless, endless meaning of this song today...and every day...and let His love-above-all-loves pour over your heart, soul and life?

(Mom likely sang this song to me on the maternity floor when I was less than a day old. I will never outgrow it.)

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.

Refrain:
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

("Jesus Loves Me", by Anna B. Warner and William Bradbury, 1862)

(Photo: Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan's Upper Peninsula)

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February 13, 2018

When sorrow runs deep...Jesus goes ever-deeper,
When the ache of loss is crushing...His back shares the load.
Though the future is dark...His Light will push back the shadows,
If voices-past would haunt us...His voice stops their tongues,

When joys soar high...Jesus is ever-higher,
When deep love enfolds us...His arms encircle it all,
When faith's seed is found...He planted it,
When deep peace is known...He breathed it.

When we need a Truest Friend...it's Jesus's face we'll see,
If our hand be grasping desperately...His is reaching down,
When faltering feet need purpose...His footprints guide our way,
When our heartbeat needs another's...His will be the sound.

If we lose everything...He owns it all and will give back what we need,
If we gain everything...it is loss compared to knowing Him.

Jesus...God Incarnate...exceeds all and transcends all; He is the Source for our every need.

"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19


 

 

February 12, 2018

Gentle, Generous & Jolly.

They were brothers-in-law, Great-Great Uncle Oliver Short (left, holding Aunt Nancy Hays) and Great-Great Uncle Ed Kenimer (right), for Uncle Oliver had married Ed's sister, Ruby.

Uncle Oliver was a quiet, gentle soul. He loved the outdoors, especially while sitting in a fishing boat on Michigan's Hardwood Lake. He and Aunt Ruby spent many hours together fishing this picturesque body of water during his retirement years and I know their hearts must have been especially thrilled to experience the unique serenity of its October glow.

Having moved from southwest Oklahoma with Aunt Ruby to work for GM in Flint, MI, Uncle Oliver never forgot where he came from. When my Grandpa Hays decided to give up sharecropping and give factory life a try, he took a train to Flint with plans to reside temporarily with Oliver and Ruby. While changing trains in Chicago, Grandpa set his suitcase down and turned to look around for a moment. Sadly, someone swiftly stole his suitcase. Arriving in Flint with only the clothes on his back, Uncle Oliver kindly let Grandpa borrow some of his clothes, though they did not fit him well.

When I was an infant, Uncle Oliver took Dad, Mom and me on a boat ride on Hardwood Lake. Dad tells me that one time he picked me up and set me on top of his head...an act of gentle, playful affection. Jesus called Uncle Oliver's name before I could form any lasting memories of him and he flew Home to be with the Lord of All forever. I look forward to sitting down, perhaps in a fishing boat on a sea of glass, and getting to know a gentleman I know only through the words of others and the lens of a camera.

On the other hand, Uncle Ed, a World War I veteran, I recall warmly. Nearly 50 years ago, in the summer of 1968, we were on a family vacation and stopped in the Hobart, Oklahoma area to visit my Great Grandpa, Claud Kenimer. Uncle Ed was his younger brother. I recall Ed as being jolly and gentle, with a quick, broad smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Both had made their livelihood by farming and had endured the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Sweat poured down their faces for decades as they worked the red dirt of Kiowa County. Great Grandpa was 82 or 83 during our visit and Uncle Ed couldn't be too far behind him. Both were wearing their customary overalls as Ed, in effect, said to Claud "I doubt we'll ever see these kids again. Let's go buy them some candy." We all headed to a little store in Hobart where Dave, Cheri and I were allowed to pick out the candy of our choice, courtesy of Uncle Ed. We each still recall that moment with a fond, warm glow.

Great Uncle Ed's generosity, warmth, smile and cheer was handed down to his daughter, Lena Rutledge-Harris. One day in October, 2014, Debbie, our son Luke and I were greatly blessed to visit her in Kiowa County and she was a family historian and tour guide par-excellence. We went from site to site of interest in the greater-Hobart area and she was quick to share her knowledge with us. Our lunch together in her condo was a feast as she loaded the table with more than we could consume. Her ready smile and conversation revealed her soul. Just before we parted in the late afternoon to drive back to Luke's home in Texas, we joined our voices and sang "When We All Get to Heaven" and her face was beaming. There is so, so very much to look forward to in that glorious, indescribable place, the eternal home for all who trustingly receive Jesus' free gift of eternal life!

All that heaven holds is far beyond our greatest imagination! I'd sure love to sit at great length in a fishing boat with Great Uncle Oliver, hearing him tell of his life. I'd also enjoy taking a long, slow walk through the fields of southwest Oklahoma and hear how God brought Great Uncle Ed through the trials of war, hard times and drought.

To be gentle, generous and jolly is to give gifts that long endure, reaching far beyond one's own life.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." - Galatians 5:22,23

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February 11, 2018

Life in the Movies.

When Dave, Cheri and I were growing up, Grandpa Hays knew he wanted to capture some of those moments he knew would never return. So, he purchased an 8mm movie camera, complete with an ultra-bright light bar for indoor movie filming. The stage became wherever us kids were living life. Oh, the joy he had manning that camera as we did whatever little hands and feet do at those ages! In movie terms, we were living life at the rate of 16-18 frames per second.

Then, it was fun for all of us to sit and watch the movies after they were developed...no instant replay like today. Little spools, 3 inches in diameter, held the film...standard length was 50 feet after processing...with so many tiny frames of life frozen in place on it. We would sit with the lights off and watch those moments fly by on the screen. I can still hear the comforting, whirring sound of the projector as we did so. It was disappointing when each 3-4 minute movie was finished...the fun had passed by too quickly. Clear, empty frames whizzed by on the screen, followed by the "click-click-click" of the tail-end of the film whipping 'round-and-'round on the receiver spool.

There was anticipation and excitement at the beginning of each movie, shown at the same rate as they were filmed. I don't recall a fast forward feature on the projector...no one would have wanted to miss any of the action anyway...nor a freeze-frame option. Rewind was done at high speed without images being seen while the house lights were up, ended with a high-speed "click-click-click".

Aren't our lives so much like that? Minute-by-minute, day-by-day, tiny frames of life are lived out. We can't fast-forward...God doesn't allow it...there are too many tiny frames of life and love to be lived and He doesn't want us to be cheated out of those opportunities. Freeze-frame living is also impossible, although there are moments so sacred that we try to take mental and emotional "still frames" of them. Rewind? At high speed, yes...our memories skip back quickly over minutes or decades to replay moments we treasure or regret.

As Grandpa filmed us kids, we didn't try to get ahead of the action...we just did what kids do at any given moment. Unknowingly, we were living life one frame at a time. It is so much that way now. It's impossible to see what our last frames of life will hold. And it's not always very wise to relive the ones that caused us pain. True, there may be some fences that need mending between parties and yes, we need to learn from our sins and those times we've failed. But, by and large, we need to live in the minute, hour and day we find ourselves in.

One of the most devastating heists we can experience in life doesn't involve being robbed of material goods; it's when the present is robbed by our past and future. I've been stolen from in this way more times than I can count.  Why not install a "security system" of living in the present? Granted, we must do some planning for our future, but it must not take over the "now". Nor should the past. Worry and undue regret are utter wastes of the gift of life.  Living in the present is trusting God to take care of what we cannot.

I for one, feel life should be lived like an 8mm movie. Don't you?

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." - Jesus (Matthew 6:34)

"...but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before." - The Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:13)

(Photo, courtesy of Dad: Movie time with 57 year-old Grandpa Hays, 1962, at our home in northwest Flint's Manley Village.)

 


 

February 10, 2018

Finding Our Way Home.

I had to build up a bit of extra momentum before charging into our driveway and barreling through perhaps 7-8 inches of snow yesterday. After driving on sub-optimal roads while the snow was falling, then encountering the deepest snow of the day in our own driveway, it was a very good feeling to enter the safety of the garage. Although I certainly enjoyed the beauty of the day, it sure felt good to be home. I said a prayer of thanks right then and there.

Home...it has a feeling all its own. There is no other place where we can feel completely and fully at ease. It is our space, it is where we belong, it is where we are safe. Our roots are there, we identify with it and we call it our own. We treasure this abode, no matter how humble it may be. There are no words that adequately describe it except one: Home.

Daily, we find ourselves on life's snow-covered, slush-filled, black-ice roads and it can certainly be a challenge to encounter the dangers around each bend. If we're not careful though, we can become so focused on the road and its demands that we become very mechanical, woodenly turning the steering wheel left and right with our eyes fixed straight ahead. True, we're staying on the road...we're taking care of business alright...but we're far from the dynamic of treasuring what matters most. We're not home...not even close.

The dynamic of treasuring something deeply is, in a very real sense, the driveway leading to our home. Isn't that what we're all traveling life's highways and back roads in search of? We want to treasure something. We want to pull off the main road and find deep peace and contentment somewhere special...in other words, home. Climbing the corporate ladder, earning more money, reaching a certain goal that holds great promise, entering a new relationship, fulfilling a dream, changing addresses, addictions of all types and so much more...they're all roads we think will take us to the driveway of treasure and home. But they're all either dead ends or go in a continuous circle. Our trophies end up crumbling in our hands.

To come home, we must treasure what we were meant to treasure: God and people. Nothing else quite gets it done. Possessions rust, rot and, no matter how big, somehow slip through our fingers. So do achievements, notoriety, pleasures, wealth, education and status. We are eternal souls and temporary things simply won't satisfy our thirst any more than a glassful of sand will on a scorching July afternoon.

To treasure people...just like us, they're eternal souls...we must slow down. We must intentionally stop and sit for awhile in their presence. We must listen attentively and compassionately. Let the world go on by for an hour. We'll catch up...and if we don't, we sure got the better end of the deal by pulling off the freeway. Also, those who left their impact on us in yesteryear, though they're now gone from this world, are still treasured when we gratefully replay dear moments and view those snapshot memories of time spent them.

On the deepest level, we're never quite home until we treasure God. Life doesn't make sense without Him. Everything we know, everything we see, all that we possess, came from a source...a teacher, a manufacturer, a laborer, an artist, a farmer. But, behind it all, there must be a Source, a Maker of it all. To spend our lives in pursuits other than seeking and treasuring God first and foremost is not unlike driving repeatedly around the block without ever entering the driveway, pulling into the garage and walking into the house. We're never really home and at rest...we're continually living a life on the road.

Jesus told us "...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). He is the driveway that leads us to our heart's eternal home...God the Father. To know the heart of Jesus is to know the heart of The Father...they are one and the same. Theirs is a heart of love-beyond-description, peace-beyond-comprehension and meaning-most-sought-for. In other words, Home.

When we call upon Jesus to pardon our sins...our attempts at finding love, peace and fulfillment in all of our selfish, dead-end pursuits...and ask Him to enter our heart and life, He will get us to where we've been trying to get all along: Home...to the heart of the Heavenly Father.

It is there that we find our greatest, everlasting treasure...and find that He treasures us in a way we could not imagine.

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." - Jesus (Matthew 6:21)

 


 

February 9, 2018

Surviving Life's Blizzards.

40 years ago, I was attending Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana as I experienced "the blizzard of a lifetime". Amazingly, it snowed for parts of 3 days (Jan. 25-27, 1978) and a total of 41" fell! It just didn't stop! Fittingly, the storm has been named The White Hurricane. Snowmobiles made emergency hospital runs and horse-drawn wagons were used to haul supplies. Essentially everything had come to a standstill in multiple states across the Upper Midwest and that dorm room got pretty small after awhile...a college kid needs to be out and about! Of course, the Spring of '78 arrived in its time and all that snow eventually disappeared. Life, hidden below that enormous blanket of snow, resumed its normal rhythms as Nature awoke once again.

Our lives have stretches where it seems a massive winter storm system parks directly overhead and continually dumps upon us without mercy. The situation can be very confining and we want out...now!! When we're surrounded by ever-increasing drifts of trial...when the days are exhaustingly long and the nights become restless and short...it is very hard to remember that storm systems do weaken and move on, that spring does arrive again and songbirds will return to cheer us on summertime mornings.

Mom was one of 7 kids who grew up in an 800 square-foot home on Flint's north side during the Great Depression. Grandpa worked at Chevrolet Manufacturing and Grandma was a stay-at-home mom. Things were tight financially...two sisters per twin bed and two dresses per week to wear...an orange and maybe some nuts made for a great Christmas. Their oldest son, Ed, was a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II...talk about restless nights for parents. Tough times were the order of the day, but they always had enough and they made it through it all. There was a plaque that hung on a wall in their home that read "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psa. 46:1" Only the Heavenly Father knows how many times those words pointed Grandpa and Grandma to Him as they faced yet another day of struggle.

How do we not only survive, but emerge victorious from our blizzards in life? It helps to take pause, step back and recall how other vicious, seemingly-unsurvivable storms have come and eventually gone in our lives and the lives of others. What a great assurance it is to know that the same Almighty God who walked with us through very difficult times in the past will see us through each and every storm in the present and future! We must choose to hide in Him, within His massive power and peace, as the winds howl and swirl around us. Looking to Jesus, we will find the strength to make it...one hour, one day at a time.

Blizzards are a part of life. So is the God who sees us through until Spring.

"...as thy days, so shall thy strength be." - Deuteronomy 33:25

(Photo: Doves having breakfast earlier this week in our back yard)

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February 8, 2018

I saw this on a shirt yesterday: "WARRIOR NOT WORRIER".

Whatever the battle we face, we don't have to helplessly be tossed about like a rag doll in a lion's mouth. Worry is not a battle plan. It's not even a defensive approach, it's a destructive one.

We can dig in and take the offensive against the trials that come against us. With the Lord of Lords within us, we can head straight ahead one hour at a time and see Him become victorious over that which would otherwise destroy us!

"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life..." 
(I Timothy 6:12)

"...If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

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February 7, 2018

Singin' in the Snow.

It was April 27, 2016 as Debbie and I headed home from a trip to Montana to welcome the new arrival of our granddaughter, Ava. We ran into snow before we ever left the state. As we entered western North Dakota, there was still plenty of white coating on the ground as we drove through a segment of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and it added a unique touch of beauty to our tour. We proceeded eastward down I-94 a little further and pulled off again, thinking we'd drive through another segment of the park, only to find the gate closed.

It was there, as I stood outside the gate in the chilly, damp wind that I experienced one of those rare, great moments in nature. Perhaps no more than 200 yards from us, two behemoths of the Great Plains...buffalo...were ascending a hill and then slowly meandered across the landscape from left to right. Grazing, interacting with each other and a casual walk was their agenda for the moment.

While the buffalo show was unfolding, the sweet, lilting songs of Western Meadowlarks...one of my favorite birds...were being sung around me. Talk about being in hog-heaven, lover of nature and the vast, open spaces of the Old West that I am...I certainly was in it! A live concert extraordinaire it was!

Those Troubadours of the Plains had likely nested the night before with not a hint of snow around them and suddenly, the next day, things changed. Yet, that heavy, wet blanket of April snow did not steal away the song God had ingrained within them to sing. Undaunted, they sang their hearts out! Had they ceased to sing, the snow would have won and they were going to have no part of it! Across their chest of yellow, these songbirds carry a stark, black "V". To me, it's a sign of "Victory" over whatever comes their way...and the weather of the West can be extreme in scope and quick to change as it sweeps across the plains unimpeded.

Just like with us, right? Severe trouble doesn't have the common courtesy to ring the doorbell and patiently wait on the front porch of our lives. Rather, like a huge battering ram, it rudely knocks the door down and barges in, attempting to take us hostage...and for awhile, it may. Yet, when we have opened our heart and life to Jesus Christ, His very Spirit is living within us. His life of love and power transcends and far exceeds anything we can ever face in this world. Because He conquered the grave, victory is the end result for all who trust in him as Savior and Lord! He is The Song of Songs, though we may not always hear Him in our darkest hours.

Songs have a powerful way of reaching deep within us, whether in good times or bad. To sing a song that carries deep meaning when we're at rock-bottom can be a tremendous source of hope, strength and healing. Why were those great Negro Spirituals so powerful in the past...and still are today? While the slaves were undergoing brutal, inhumane treatment, doing back-breaking work for very long hours beneath a baking sun, these dear people would sing songs to God from the deepest part of their souls. They were songs that described where they were, what they were suffering, and Who their hope was in. It helped to see them through the worst of times to a better day.

We can ask the Lord to give us a "song in the night" (Psalm 42:8). Could "Amazing Grace" be your "go to" song? Perhaps "Blessed Assurance", "Be Not Afraid", "Great is Thy Faithfulness" or "He Hideth My Soul" is. How about David Crowder's "I Am"? There is a song for each of us to sing and to own as we walk the long miles of trial beneath the scorching sun...

Or, as we stand in a heavy blanket of snow with a "V" on our chests.

"...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." - Romans 8:37

 


 

February 6, 2018

For all we know, howling winds around their small-but-tidy home brought a crushing, minus-40 degree chill factor on February 6, 1902. Snow may have stood two feet deep. Were it a typical Volga German home, it was comprised of one room and a loft.* The stove used to heat the house, centrally-placed and fueled by dried cow manure chips or wood, would have been working overtime. The Volga German colony of Huck (pronounced "Hoook"), was where that house stood. Perhaps 6000 people called that village home at that time. Located on the western side of the Volga River (known as the Bergseite or "hilly side"), today it bears the Russian name of Splavnucha, located roughly 50 miles southwest of Saratov.

For Conrad and Marguerite Weisgerber, accustomed to battling brutal winters deep in Russia's interior, February 6th was not a typical winter day. A newborn boy's cry began to fill the air that day and he was given the name of John. Their society was based on agriculture and he likely was working in the fields early in life. Conrad supplemented their income as a cobbler, working on the shoes of others.

Relations between the Volga Germans and the Russian government had been deteriorating for years. In 1912, the Weisgerber family, looking for a better life, pulled up stakes, traveled roughly 1500 miles to the port of Bremen, Germany, boarded a ship and journeyed for 16 days across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in Philadelphia on February 24th. John turned 10 years of age just two days before their ship departed. Once immigration procedures were completed in Philly, they boarded a train that carried them far into America's interior, to Lincoln, Nebraska, where they settled in a Volga German neighborhood.

It was in this neighborhood that John met a young lady named Christine Alexander. Conceived in the village of Norka (roughly 6 miles from Huck), she was 6 months in utero when she entered America on July, 27, 1902, via New York's Ellis Island. They became husband and wife in Lincoln on May 13, 1923. Within the next 5 years, they relocated to Flint, MI, where John worked for Chevrolet, progressing to the skilled trade of millwright.

Living on Flint's north side on Proctor Street, a baby girl named Elaine was born within the Weisgerber's ~800 square foot house in September, 1934, the 5th of 7 children. She grew up and married a man named Carl. I know her name to be "Mom".

I have no memory of this man named John, whom I call Grandpa Weisgerber. I was less than a year old when he died of cancer. I also have no memory of Grandma, for she died two years before from the complications of diabetes. Both of them left earth for Heaven while in their 50's. What I know of them, I know through stories and photos.

I carry deep within my heart a story of this Volga German immigrant, a man unafraid of hard work and very familiar with persevering through hard times. It is from late in their marriage, when Grandma was so ill. Her kidneys, heart and eyes were failing. "Big John", as he was known at work, would come home from a day in the factory and ask his beloved wife "Is there anything I can get for you, Chris?" Then, as she lay on the couch, he would lay down on the floor beside her...ready to meet her next need. When the end of her life was near, Grandpa made a bed for her in the back of their car and drove her back to Lincoln so she could tell her loved ones goodbye.

This man whom I cannot remember, yet I feel like I know quite well, entered this world 116 years ago today. I cannot hear the echoes of his voice, though he held me as a baby. But I can still hear the echoes of his loving dedication to God, his wife and children today...and I treasure those resounding gifts.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Grandpa! Thank you for loving your family so well! All of your extended family sends their love up to you! We look forward to feeling those strong arms of yours wrap tightly around us in a great big bear hug some wonderful day on the streets of gold!

http://elliscountyhistoricalsociety.org/E…/Volga-German-Haus

https://www.volgagerman.net/huck

https://vgi.fairfield.edu/surnames/weisgerber-huck

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February 5, 2018

The Summer's Sun in Winter's Tree.

Now in her 90's and afflicted with dementia, this dear lady is fading quickly from our world. Though robbed of the ability to recognize all of her visitors that day, one name immediately rolled off her tongue...and she said it in the same warm tone as she had for years.

A frail wisp of a woman, her weight must now register only in double digits. Sweetness abounded in her room during a recent visit of several long-time friends. Her life-long, tender essence of love for God and people was in full bloom. In fact, glimpses of a child-like, loving-gentleness were exhibited that surpassed what had ever been seen before.

We sang old hymns together, songs that had built and sustained her faith in God for decades. Initially, she began to sing those beloved words but she quickly seemed to be lost in her memories. As we continued to sing...or at least tried to through thick emotion...she was no longer uttering the words she knew so well. It was as though she was again experiencing the heart-glow of what those timeless classics had given her while singing them many years ago.

She gifted us with gold nugget after gold nugget as we visited together. So many years of walking with Jesus day-by-day were condensed into one-sentence treasures. "I've always wanted to be available for God to use me", she told us. Truly, so many people saw her live that out repeatedly, us included. She stated that we should always be studying God's word and find joy in doing so. Oh, how true that is. "What God is, He gives me." Those profound words are now firmly etched into my memory. In essence, that one-liner defined this dear soul. God was her heartbeat, her Source. He gave her Life from Above to live out down here on earth.

One thing that this dear lady's decreased mental faculties hadn't stolen from her was the name of her trustworthy, gentle, beloved husband...now gone for many years. She spoke it without hesitation when asked and it was beautiful to hear.

Our conversation got around to Heaven. It was then that her failing mind went into overdrive. With child-like beauty and purity, her hands began moving with excited joy and friendliness, as though waving to person after person that she loved "In a land where we'll never grow old"*. What a precious thing for us to behold!

As we neared the end of our visit, we prayed together. To see her in that easy chair...hands together and head bowed low in utter sincerity...talking to the God of the Universe as she had countless times before, is a very precious memory for me. Her long life had seen its share of trials and heartaches, including many lonely years of widowhood. "What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer" had been lived out countless times in her life...and again in those moments together. Those words from "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" were the air that she lived in and that old song well-summed up who she was.

Yes, we were highly blessed that day as we watched the Summer Sun...the life of Christ...shine brilliantly through the increasingly snow-covered branches of a mind-in-winter. Dementia is continually robbing the mind of a dear saint...but it can't touch her ever-living soul.

"I have heard of a land on the faraway strand,

’Tis a beautiful home of the soul;

Built by Jesus on high, where we never shall die,

’Tis a land where we never grow old.

Refrain:

Never grow old, never grow old,

In a land where we’ll never grow old;

Never grow old, never grow old,

In a land where we’ll never grow old.

* ("Where We'll Never Grow Old", by James C. Moore, 1914)

 

 

 

February 4, 2018

A Collection of Autographs.

Pompeys Pillar National Monument is a large sandstone butte located in the southeast quadrant of Montana. Less than two football fields to the north, the Yellowstone River flows on its long, northeasterly journey to join the longest river in America, the Missouri, in western North Dakota.

Native Americans engraved images of animals on this 200-foot tall edifice. Well over 2,000 people from yesteryear, including pioneers and soldiers, have carved their names on it as well. The most well-known of the names is that of Captain William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He inscribed his name and dated it July 26, 1806. It is still well visible today.

When we meet someone of renown...whatever their sphere of influence may be...what is the most common way we preserve that special moment and maintain a connection to the person? We ask for their autograph. As personal and treasured as their autograph is...their own unique way of signing their name...in another way, it is very impersonal. We don't truly know the person, even if we've read about them extensively...there's so much that never reaches the public eye. Our entire interaction with them may last less than 10 seconds and, very likely, we'll never meet them again.

In a very real sense, each of us carry within us a continually-growing "Pompeys Pillar". Every person we meet...parents, total strangers, spouse, casual acquaintances, business associates, dear friends, even TV personalities and those on the silver screen whom we never meet in person...they each carve their name and influence upon our lives. Some barely scratch the surface. Others run deeply...into the very core of our being.

Upon my heart I carry the life-signatures of many people whom I hold very dear, beginning with my Mom and Dad. Their imprints are indelible upon my life. Others, too numerous to mention, have signed their names-of-influence as well...beginning with next-of-kin and spreading ever-outward. Though many have now left this world, their signatures remain...and still guide me. I wouldn't trade all the good that they've inscribed upon my life for a collection of the most highly-priced, rare autographs in the world.

When someone signs their name in their own blood...as rare and perhaps unthinkable as that may be...it represents their utter and complete sincerity. It is impossible to write one's name in a more personal way or to attach more meaning to their signature.

The signature carved most deeply upon my life...the one that I treasure most dearly...flowed from the hand and the blood of Jesus Christ. He lived for all of us, bled and died on the cross for all of us, and arose from the grave for all of us. Yet, I had to make it all very personal. We all do. We must individually choose whether or not we want His "autograph" of pardon and new life from Above upon our hearts and lives. It's ours when, in faith, we ask Him for it. When we do, He not only "signs" our lives, He writes our name in The Lamb's Book of Life (Revelation 21:27). There is no other place so precious to find our name inscribed. Subsequently, over the course of our lives, The Savior wants to continue to etch His signature-of-influence ever-deeper into who we are.

A towering edifice of sandstone in The Old West may preserve signatures for hundreds of years, but I'd much rather carry Christ's hand-written name upon my eternal soul.

(Photo: Pompeys Pillar, October, 2017)

https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/lewisandclark/pom.htm

 

 

 

February 3, 2018

To Listen Like an Old Wall.

The sun was dropping low in the west last Saturday and as dusk set in across downtown Flushing, MI this wall quietly reflected the various colored paces of the stoplight at the corner of Main and Maple. I couldn't help but pause to take it in.

Buildings in my beloved hometown's two-stoplight downtown can date back to the later-1800's. I wouldn't be surprised if this wall grew row-by-row toward the sky during that time frame. Imagine all that these bricks-and-mortar have seen and heard, from hoof-beats of horses to rumbles of muscle cars! Facing west, the full brunt of westerly-driven snow and freezing rain has plastered this wall...and hot evenings of July have baked it. With the old fire station just up the street, countless sirens were echoed by it, as have sparrows' chirps at dawn.

The dearest sounds ever heard by this old wall were ones I could not hear. Standing at this corner in 2010, I watched as Mom and Dad, hand-in-hand, walked away from me and up this sidewalk toward their car. Quiet steps of love and dedication, beginning more than 56 years before, were gladly listened to by this towering, stalwart, silent giant on that special evening.

Speaking of listening, I want to be ever-growing and improving as a listener....not unlike this wall, by the way. Always there, ever-patient, quiet and attentive, a trusted-and-silent-confidante, eager to hear but not quick with answers, quietly reflecting back to the speaker what I think I've heard, not meddling...but rather letting them solve their own problem as I look on with care from nearby.

We all know when we've been patiently and compassionately listened to...and when we haven't. It is one of the best ways to show someone unconditional love. Many times, people don't want our answers, they want our ears...and our heart. If they desire our input, they'll ask for it. And, lest we forget, there is no set of ears so attentive or a heart so compassionate as that of our Heavenly Father.

In our very fast-paced society, I'm asking God to help me fulfill one of my biggest goals: to be in a hurry to listen.

Kind of like an old wall downtown.

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." - James 1:19

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February 2, 2018

The Glow of Peace.

As these doves contentedly basked in the warm afternoon sunshine of last weekend's January thaw, peace exuded from the moment. They knew a good thing when they saw it and lingered in the light and warmth surrounding them.

What we dwell upon within our hearts and minds determines the atmosphere that flows from our lives moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. We can sense, without a word being said, when we're in the presence of anger, hurry, impatience, apathy, arrogance and more. We are born with "antennae" that pick up on what is going on in the lives of others around us. In addition to what we can innately sense from others, their eyes betray their soul.  Sadly, what others have felt in my presence and seen in my eyes has not always been love and peace.  We each are so imperfect and need to dwell within the Source of Love-Light.

What a beautiful thing it is to be in the presence of one who is so much at peace that the we cannot help but be warmed by it! We can sense it, we're immediately at ease and warmed by who they are. They are a tremendous gift to the world and we want to linger long in their inviting presence.

When we spend quiet time in the presence of Jesus, The Prince of Peace, the divine glow of love and peace that emanates from Him is off the charts. Oh, what a gift He is to the human heart! 
When we open ourselves to soak up who He is, we become more and more at peace within ourselves.

We then become instruments of His peace in a world full of brokenness, discord and disarray.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." - Jesus (John 14:27)


 

February 1, 2018

Does nighttime alter the course of a river, or its very presence? How about its depth? Does it totally cease to flow...or at least slow down...in the darkness? Without question, a resounding "no" is the answer to each!

Darkness and its associated chill may at times settle in across our soul. Life simply has a way of bringing it our way at times...with or without apparent reason. Does that change any attributes of The River, the Eternal Spirit of the Living God, in our lives? An even more resounding "no"!

Though we may not see The River in the darkness, He is present. If we are still, we can yet hear Him flowing oh-so-quietly, yet so mightily. We cannot stop Him from moving. In the deepest of winter, with ice thick upon the face of the Waters, all we can do is walk out upon that frigid barrier, sit down and wait. Initially, there may be no sound. Yet, there will be a "knowing" of His presence. Over time, we will begin to hear the Water gurgling beneath us once again...the ice will wear thin and begin to crack...spring always follows winter.

If we see the sun disappear in the western sky, we should not longingly linger to see it again where we saw it last. Rather, we must turn around expectantly, face eastward in the darkness, for something new awaits. The night will pass. That warm ball of glowing orange will once again be there for us...opposite to where it faded from view.

No, The River doesn't change. But we do. Though we're "like a tree planted by the rivers of water" (Psalm 1:3), we have branches that sway in the brutal north wind and blossom richly in the warmth of winter-past.

When we choose to stand still, firmly and deeply rooted along the banks of The Changeless, Eternal River...drawing nourishment from His words in Scripture, finding delight in them...the sun will again rise, the breezes will begin flowing from the south and new buds will appear upon the branches of our lives. We must come to grips with the fact...just like those mighty oaks along the river have had to do...that there are four seasons in our souls. God has ordained each of them to grow our soul in a season-unique manner.

Perhaps one of the greatest lessons God wants us to learn is to trust in the immutable fact that The River is ever-flowing for us...ever-so-close-by...even though He is shrouded in the dark of winter.

"But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away." - Psalm 1:2-4

(Photo: January sunset over the Flint River, along the Flushing River Trail, Flushing, MI.)


 

 

January 31, 2018

A song needs a singer; a singer needs a song.

God has written a love song...a ballad...to be sung through our lives. Not all the verses of this tale-wrapped-in-tune hold words of beauty. Genuine love is put through all of its paces in our story...thick, thin, high, low, grimy, pristine, gritty and smooth. The tempo may change quickly, and so may the key...even from major to minor...then back again.

It is our choice to either sight-read the notes and words He hands to us...for there is no rehearsal...or toss those sacred pages aside. If we choose to write our own notes and words upon old, yellowed pages...futile, familiar songs of life that have been repeatedly written down through the centuries...we'll find our attempts at rhyme and plot repeatedly foiled. Time and again, the sound of pages being ripped from our notebook of life, then crumpled up and tossed aside in desperate frustration, will be heard.

To sing the song handed to us by The Writer...one note and word at a time...as hard as it may be to hit every note and pronounce never-before-seen words...we'll find a story-song unfolds that, in the end, will bring the biggest smile to both Writer and singer. The Writer doesn't expect us to sing perfectly...He only wants our heart to be filled with His heart...as we stammer and squawk through the pages. Between start and finish our heart will be taken on a journey between deepest sorrow and highest joy.

Every life needs a love-story sung through it. And we will know our ballad was worth the singing...the tale written specifically for us.

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January 30, 2018

A Coal Miners' Darkness Turns to Light.

His father was a coal miner. Following in his dad's footsteps, Clifford Wright, my wife Debbie's grandfather, entered the mines at age 13 or 14. Barring layoffs or strikes (when he then found work on the railroad) or injuries, he spent the next 30 years or so digging, clawing, cutting and shoveling a very-hard-to-come-by living out of the belly of the earth. One time, he was injured and couldn't afford their $5/month house rental in a mining town. Their family of 6 had to move from Kentucky to Tennessee's eastern hills and live in the old farmhouse at the "Old Wright Place" for nearly 18 months. There was a time when the seam of coal he was working in was 8 long, dark miles from the mine's entrance. He lost his brother, Ed, in the coal mines of Kentucky when a huge rock fell and crushed him, leaving behind a wife and children. In 1953, the mine Clifford was wrestling a living from in Stearns, Kentucky permanently closed and he pulled up stakes and moved north to Dayton, Ohio to work for General Motors.

Grandpa Clifford brought with him his wife, Edna, and four children: Millie, Pat, my father-in-law, Larry (who married Virginia Artz) and their little sister, Carol. Yet, on his way to a new life, he didn't leave Kentucky unscathed. He exited the mines each day covered from head-to-toe in coal dust, but it wasn't just on his body, it was in his body...within his lungs. The many years of inhaling coal dust took its toll in the form of Black Lung Disease. Late in life, that once very strong, strapping man eventually was reduced to a mere shadow of his former self. Each breath he took was a trip across the bridge to life...and he had to pay the toll charge in advance, every single time, with the currency of labored breathing and oxygen.

This miner-turned-factory-worker never lost his sense of humor and knack for telling stories...an ability that his son inherited. His love of laughter was likely a good portion of "grease that kept his wheels turning" as he descended into the blackness to earn a living day-after-week-after-month-after-year-after-decade. I cannot imagine what Clifford's work life looked like every day...the darkness, the back-breaking labor, the monotony, the black dust...but I do know that "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones" (Proverbs 17:22) and he took plenty of doses of it.

Clifford retired to the hills of Eastern Tennessee, residing on the farm of his father-in-law, roughly 5 miles from where he grew up at the Old Wright Place. He used to walk a trail between those two farms when he was dating Edna. At roughly age 70, his son Larry paid yet another of his many visits to Tennessee to visit his dad and mom. He had long been praying for his dad, as had others, for him to put his faith in Jesus as his Savior. On their way to visit a shopping mall, Larry told his aging father that he would like to play a song for him. It was a Gospel song entitled "Wasted Years". When Clifford heard it, he was gripped with remorse and told his son that, in essence, that song summed up his life.

Another 2-3 years passed by and Clifford, now 73, was laying in bed. Suddenly, a Light filled the room. Grandpa knew the presence of the Lord was in that room. He keenly realized that it was a make-or-break moment for him. He sensed that if he didn't get his heart right with God then, he never would. There, in that room, after so many years of walking away from Jesus, he took one step of prayerful faith toward Him. The Savior of the World did the rest...taking Him into His ever-loving arms, pardoning his sins and writing the name "Clifford Wright" in The Lamb's Book of Life. He was a new man in his heart and soul.

The next 3 years were so special and precious for both father and son. They were now on the same page spiritually...their lives flowed from the same Eternal Spring, sharing the same Savior and Lord...and conversations about God and Jesus Christ were easy and full of meaning.

Grandpa never got over the meaning of the song that caused him to look himself squarely in the eyes, a song that began to shine The Light into those dark mine shafts of his soul, "Wasted Years". God had miraculously answered the prayers of a miner's son and his extended family.

Clifford Wright had stepped in and out of dark mine shafts more times than he could count over the course of 30 years. He finally left them behind for good at roughly age 43. It was yet another 30 years before he stepped forever from an even deeper darkness and into The Everlasting Light of Christ.

Then, at age 76, Clifford Wright traveled from this dark world to Heaven...the Light he entered there is far brighter than any sunshine he ever stepped into with squinting eyes in Southern Kentucky. He lovingly and gratefully looked into the face of The Savior who redeemed every second of every one of his wasted years. He drew an effortless, deep breath of air-celestial and took his first step toward the eternal mansion Jesus built just for him...a home that made his $5/month rental house in Kentucky look smaller than a spoonful of coal dust.

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January 28, 2018

Soon They'll Be Gone.

It was April, 1996.  My sons Luke and Lance, both in grade school, were on Spring Break and the three of us were on our way to St. Louis to watch a couple of Cardinals ball games and enjoy some family history in southeast Missouri / northeast Arkansas. I had just filled up with gas in Indiana and we were cruising along just fine, southbound on I-69. It was perhaps 9:00-10:00 at night when all of a sudden a terrible, loud noise erupted beneath the hood and I pulled the car over to the side of the highway. I did not own a cell phone at the time and we were "dead in the water" near Anderson, IN.

There was a light in the window of a nearby house so we walked over to it in hopes of obtaining assistance. They didn't answer my knock at the door, and understandably so. Back to the car we went in the chilly air. The boys stayed in the car but I couldn't run it to keep them warm, as the motor was bad (I learned later that it may have been a "thrown rod"). Thankfully, it wasn't any colder than it was. As I stood behind the car with my thumb out, vehicle after vehicle sped past without stopping, and again, understandably so. An unremembered number of hours went by as I altered between sitting in the car and standing behind it in hopes of aid coming our way. Finally, a semi truck pulled over to the shoulder in front of us and waited. Evidently, he had radioed the police because soon thereafter a cruiser pulled up. He took us to a motel and I got a room for the boys. Leaving them there to sleep, back to the broken-down car I went and a wrecker towed it away, dropping me off at the motel. The night was such a blur that I cannot recall, but it was likely 2:00 am or later when I finally walked exhaustedly into the motel room to join my sleepy sons.

In the morning, with what was felt to be wrong with the motor, I chose to sell and leave the car in the Anderson area. I was bound and determined to get to the ballgame that evening, so I rented a car and we were off and running once again. With the night we had just put in, we were all tired but very glad to be on the road. Along the way to St. Louis, the boys drifted off to sleep as I drove. It was then that the repetitive beeps of an electronic game one of them had been playing before they drifted off to sleep started speaking very clearly to me. Over and over again in the silence as I traveled down the expressway, those beeps and chirps from the back seat kept saying "Soon they'll be gone, soon they'll be gone". It was a very poignant moment that spoke very deeply to my heart and soul.

As only the kindness and grace of God could do for us, we arrived at Busch Stadium soon before the game started that evening. We were able to take our seats during the top half of the first inning! What a joy and relief it was to be there and enjoy the game after the fiasco we had just been through! In a certain sense, it was almost surreal.

Luke, Elizabeth and Lance are now grown and reside in states other than Michigan, living out their God-given dreams. Debbie and I are very happy for them to be doing so, for we feel it's best for them to be in the middle of God's will...even if that involves significant distance between us...rather than to have them living nearby and not be fulfilling His individual plan for their lives.

I don't regret one second I spent with our children as they grew up. What I do regret is that there weren't even more of those moments. For such a brief whirlwind of time they were with Debbie and I. We intentionally made time to be with them and for that we are so grateful to the Lord. We wanted to be a part of their lives, to spend enjoyable and meaningful time together. Yet, it didn't slow down the clock. But it did redeem some of the minutes and hours that were swiftly slipping through our fingers. Even this morning, I wonder where all the time went and how I got to where I am now...a grandparent. The answer is: one day at a time...a day just like today...24 hours came and went with the chance to do something constructive with them.

Parents, if you have children still at home, you live in a pressure cooker of obligations and responsibilities. Life can often be like a vise, squeezing in on you from all sides. Everyone wants a piece of your time and energy. I encourage you to push back with determination, to fight for time with your family. Pray for wisdom regarding what to say "yes" and "no" to. Make sure you say "yes" to what matters most and lasts the longest...including time in church on a regular basis. Faith in God lasts throughout time and eternity...most of the things clamoring for your time on Sunday mornings do not. Some pursuits may have to be put totally on hold for an entire chapter of life...yes, perhaps even 25 years...but you won't regret it when all is said and done. Some dreams never will come true, but I've learned that doesn't matter. There are much more important things in life: loving God and loving people, sometimes by giving up something we desire. There are times when we just have to let the world zoom on by as we pursue better things.

Speaking of chapters in life, I have found that there are 3: before, during and after child-rearing. We must live in the chapter in which we find ourselves and devote our energies to fulfilling what that time-frame entails. For the years when children are growing up under our roof, we owe it to them to do what we can to raise them to be unconditionally loved, well-balanced individuals who love God and others. As Jesus grew up, He developed in a well-rounded way. Luke 2:52 tells us "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."

It takes guts to say "no" to very appealing offers and opportunities that take away from the priceless, unreclaimable time of child-rearing. No one gets it right all the way and all the time...I'm certainly living proof of that. Yet, if we ask God to direct us and give us the courage and strength to follow what He whispers in our hearts, we can pull it off. Take the long view...see beyond the immediate to the eternal. Live wisely today so tomorrow will hold lasting rewards. You'll never regret it. There's a ton of wisdom and truth in what that electronic game was telling me nearly 22 years ago:

"Soon they'll be gone."

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Malachi 4:6)

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January 27, 2018

Songs of Hidden Heroes.

Jimmy Webb, an immensely-gifted songwriter, was commissioned to write a song for Glen Campbell that had a regional feel to it, capturing the essence of a particular part of America. Webb, born in Oklahoma and so familiar with the Southern Great Plains, flashed back to a glimmering moment in his memory to do so.

Years before, he was traveling through the Oklahoma panhandle on a seemingly endless, flat, country road. Countless telephone poles grew larger and larger and then smaller and smaller behind him as he went along. And then, all of a sudden, he saw a very striking sight: a solitary repairman high on a pole, phone in hand, doing his job. That moment, burned into Jimmy Webb's memory, was the inspiration for the song "Wichita Lineman". He wasn't really happy with it...and didn't even feel it was complete...but he sent it on to Campbell anyway due to time pressure for the current album Glen was recording to be completed. Folks in the studio instantly fell in love with the song and recorded it. Glen added the bridge, the bass guitar solo that could be considered the song's signature. This upcoming November will mark the 50th anniversary of the song's release and it climbed to #1 and #3 on the country and pop charts, respectively. In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked "Wichita Lineman" #195 on their list of top 500 all-time hits.

Though millions know the name Glen Campbell and this continually-endearing song, far fewer know the name of Jimmy Webb, its author. And, who but God alone knows the name of that solitary telephone repairman from years before, working high atop a pole along a forsaken country road in rural Oklahoma? Yet, would "Wichita Lineman" have been written had he not shown up for work that day? What if he had called in sick, his back sore from the 14 hours he had put in the day before? That every-day blue-collar worker's countless days on the job blurred together like a long line of telephone poles...each one looked like the one before and never seemed to end. Yet, because he, "a man with no name" was faithfully on duty once again, untold millions have been blessed for nearly a half-century by a song he unknowingly inspired...simply by being who he was, where he was, when he was, doing what he did.

Think about the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Day after hot day in the middle-eastern sun, it went about its duties as a beast of burden. Never could it have fathomed that one day the Savior of the World would grace its back on His triumphant entry into "The City of Peace". Yet, that little donkey, by doing what it did every day, was unknowingly being prepared for a timeless moment.

How about all of us, doing what we do, where we do it, in this hurting, aching world? When we faithfully show up day-after-day, accomplishing our God-given tasks for that day...inside and outside the home...far more is being done for the Lord, the betterment of others and, yes, ourselves, than we can possibly realize.  Jimmy Webb felt "Wichita Lineman" was flawed and unfinished when he sent it to Glen Campbell, yet it impacted so many people with Glen's touch. Likewise, our lives, as imperfect, incomplete and shortened as they may be, are far more effective than we think possible when we turn them over to Jesus Christ.  He, the only Perfect One, was here a mere 33 years but what He accomplished in those years far exceeds all that can be imagined.

It's fascinating to think that God, the Writer of Writers and Singer of Singers, just could be writing a song about each and every person who unglamorously and anonymously does what they do every day out of their faithful, heart-felt love for Him and their fellow-man.

It will be one unspeakably fabulous concert in Heaven, sitting back and hearing Him sing song after song of tribute, telling the untold stories of countless millions of lives that were lived out in common places, doing common things with His uncommon love. We won't get restless in our seats because Time will have been replaced with effortless, beautiful Eternity. We'll be captivated in wonder and awe at the ballads we'll hear...His stories of amazing love and grace.

"The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty...he will joy over thee with singing." (Zephania 3:17)

"His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." - Jesus (Matthew 25:21)

"The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty...he will joy over thee with singing." (Zephania 3:17)

"His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." - Jesus (Matthew 25:21)

(Photo:  Wilderness Trails Zoo, Frankenmuth, MI)

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January 26, 2018

The End of a Generation.

We learned last evening of the passing of Great Uncle Jim "Doyle" Hays, 96, the youngest and last remaining sibling of my Grandpa, Cletis. He flew Home to Jesus on January 1st. Uncle Doyle was a long-time resident of Poplar Bluff, Missouri but moved to Blue Springs, MO (near Kansas City) with his wife, Betty, late in life. There is a type of sadness that this brings that has to be experienced rather than described...a finality of a different proportion...a certain "thud", the closing and locking of a door that cannot be reopened this side of Heaven.

Great Uncle Jim was tall and lean. He loved being a pitcher in baseball as a teen. He wanted to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals but his dad needed him on the family farm. Then, World War II broke out and he gave 4 years of his life in the U.S. Navy, defending the world's freedom. When he came home from the war, he went down to Jonesboro, Arkansas to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals, attempting to see his long-term dream of pitching for them come true. They told him that if he was younger, they would have taken him. He was perhaps 24 or 25 years of age at the time and they felt "too much water had gone under the bridge" for them to invest in developing him as a pitcher. I can't imagine the sadness and disappointment in his heart. He moved forward wonderfully, though, becoming a principal at an elementary school in Poplar Bluff.

I first met Great Uncle Jim in 1968, when Dave, Cheri and I were just kids. We were on a family vacation and I'm so glad and thankful that Dad decided to stop by his house in Poplar Bluff to see family. I have almost no recollection of him except that he was kind and happy. Though we were there just for a little while one evening, it was an occasion that lasts a lifetime.

In 1988, when my Grandpa, Cletis (Oxnard, CA), was near the end of his life, Great Uncle Jim and Great Uncle Joe Hays (Las Vegas, NV) traveled to see their dying brother in the hospital. They had such a fabulous day together, laughing, telling stories and remembering yesteryear! What a wonderful, tremendous gift it was for Grandpa to have two of his brothers visit him and brighten his life in such a way before he went Home to Jesus!

In 1996, my sons my sons Luke, Lance and I drove from Michigan to Missouri to watch a couple of Cardinals games. While there, we took a day and drove down to Poplar Bluff and visited with Great Uncle Jim. He took us on a "Hays History Tour" to various sites of interest, including the graves of his mother, Nancy, and sister, Great Aunt Fern, in Broseley, MO. We tried to find the grave of his father, McKenery, in Gravel Hill Cemetery, Clay Co., Arkansas, but were unable to do so. Great-Grandpa died over 20 years before Great Grandma, evidently when they were living in northeast Arkansas. A couple of other sites of interest he took us to were the old Hays farmstead (no house remained) and also the Lone Oak Baptist Church, which was co-founded by one of our ancestors. Great Uncle Jim was a wonderful tour guide and it was such a very special day that I still treasure greatly!

Years later, I called him on the phone and we had a very pleasant visit. His voice sounded so much like my Grandpa's voice. Genetics are so powerful! Grandpa had been in Heaven for many years and yet it was almost like I was talking to him again! This was the last time I had contact with Uncle Jim.

We have lost a great man. We have now seen the end of a generation of the Hays family...a thought difficult to totally process. Yet, we must carry forward the values they exemplified for us to follow...long shadows of influence to attempt to stand within: kindness, friendliness, honesty, integrity, humor, hard work, and, most importantly...faith in Jesus Christ.

Let's all meet again at The Savior's feet, catch up on the past and watch the family circle grow larger and larger in Heaven!

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January 25, 2018

Good News from Above.

86 years ago today, a newborn boy's cry pierced the air of a sharecropper's farm house in Kiowa County, Oklahoma. Times were tough. The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression were both wrapping their unmerciful fists around this part of the country. The little boy's mother, my Grandma Hays, chose to deliver her second son in the home of her parents, Claud and Mae Kenimer (the house stood somewhere beyond the fence post in the photo below). The little fella was given the middle name of Carl and that's how he's been known throughout his days...but Dave, Cheri and I call him Dad.

Those were good sounds in the midst of bad times...Good News from Above: a little boy's feet pattering and his little voice chattering throughout the house of another sharecropper...that of his parents, Cletis and Willa Hays. When Dad was 3 years of age, Grandpa decided that the prospects of working for General Motors in Flint, MI sounded better than struggling to squeeze a very meager living out of the thirsty, wind-blown, red dirt of southwest Oklahoma's Dust Bowl. Despite losing parts of 3 fingers in a Flint GM factory press accident before Dad was born, Grandpa was desperate. Their family of 4 moved north.

Yet, Flint was hit hard by the Great Depression as well and things were far from easy in Michigan for so many, including the Hays family. In 1936, a year after moving to Flint, things were so tough that Grandpa was teetering on the brink of moving back to Oklahoma again. But, just like a perfectly-timed downbeat of a conductor's wand in a symphony, a church gave that struggling, desperate family a grocery shower...just in the nick of time. It turned the tide in Grandpa's mind and he decided to tough it out in Flint, working odd-jobs in between times when the GM factories were working. You could well say those groceries were Good News from Above.

Times gradually improved for the Hays family. Grandpa took a job as church custodian for Behtlehem Methodist Church, located on Flint's north side. His pay was the opportunity to live in a little house sitting in the church's shadows. This was more Good news from Above. Dad's second home was that church, helping Grandpa with various chores. More importantly, he heard great messages from God's word week-in-and-week-out and met wonderful people who embraced their walk with God passionately. These influences all figured into Dad trusting in Jesus as his Savior and Lord at age 14 in that "church next door". Dad spent many of his growing-up years in that church's shadow. He married Mom there. In essence, that long shadow has followed him all of his life. Again, you could say it's Good News from Above.

Times improved greatly and Dad worked as an engineer for AC Spark Plug. While his career was under way, the US Army drafted him and he spent two years serving America in the 1950's. He retired in 1990 and has spent his subsequent years traveling and enjoying time with Mom, caring for her in her very difficult last years, bringing Jesus' message of pardon and hope at downtown Flint's Carriage Town Ministries, spending time with his grandchildren as they quickly grew up, and more. All of these blessings were gifts from Above...good news in Dad's life.

Last Saturday was Dad's initial radio spot on Quartet Time. Entitled "Good News From Above", he is slated to share thoughts and words from the Bible on various topics of interest. These spots, running approximately 4 minutes in length, are scheduled to be aired weekly on Saturday mornings, at or very near 10:30 am EST. Quartet Time, hosted by Donnie and Judy Cox, has been running continually for over 40 years and can be heard on Saturday mornings from 6:00 am until 12:00 noon on Flint's WSNL 600 AM/106.5 FM, other affiliate stations or on the internet at https://tunein.com/radio/Quartet-Time-p65884/

Dad, you have most certainly been "Good News From Above" for so many of us throughout your life...and most of all for Mom, Dave, Cheri and I! We love you, thank God for you and wish you your happiest birthday yet! Keep spreading the Good News!

 


 

January 24, 2018

Seeking for Answers.

The ice in this photo, taken earlier in January, lays thick and heavy across Saginaw Bay. It was more than strong enough to support me and, much further out from shore, it was supporting ice shanties. The opaque quality of the ice makes for a very poor window through which to peer at what lurks beneath. The amount of sunlight it allows to reach the frigid waters below its rigid cover is limited. Yet, come back to this spot in July and there will be no issues with a cold, thick barrier between sun and water...and no shanties on the horizon.

We humans want answers, we want the details, we want to know why. We are inquisitive by nature. Also, we're born with a sense of justice. Yet, so many times in these pursuits, we run up against a thick, solid sheet of ice. At best, it's as though we're peering through two feet of it with barely a clue to what's below.

How do we deal with mystery when we want answers...and we want them yesterday? Certainly, we can attempt to bore through the ice. Many, many holes are drilled through the wide-reaching ice of mystery. Lonely ice shanties fill the wind-whipped horizon near and far as weary people try to keep their soul warm while yearning desperately to reel in an answer. And, sometimes they do. Their patience and persistence is rewarded. Yet, so many more times, we never get the answer we're looking for...or the small "keeper" we pulled through the ice keeps us longing for more.

There's nothing wrong with wanting answers and searching for "why". We were made to search, to ask, to wonder. In fact, Jesus told us to "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7). It's just that sometimes, in all of our seeking, the answer is not an impeccable set of facts and a clearly-stated reason. As we sit on that thick ice, we must eventually reach a moment where we become content...as much as humanly possible...with mystery, a partial answer, with a small fish on the line. Or even none at all. Could it be that if we were provided with the answer...the huge lunker on the line...we wouldn't be able to "pull it through the ice"? In loving Providence, our Father in Heaven knows just how much to reveal to us for our own good. He wants us to learn to trust Him entirely, through-and-through. A place of resting in the fact that Almighty God knows...even when we do not...must become enough for us. In a precisely-balanced, finely-tuned universe, The Maker balances all the books perfectly in the end.

The time comes as the years wear on...as winter begins to turn to spring...that the ice begins to creak and groan with warming temperatures. We must, for our own sake, pull the shanties off the ice lest we break through and perish. We are nearing eternity and the Sunshine of God's face is thinning the ice. We are closer and closer to the answers...and to The One who holds them.

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (I Corinthians 13:12)

 


 

January 23, 2018

January Thaw.

Wow, how rare it was yesterday to have torrential rains and temperatures sneaking above 50 degrees on a January day in southeast Michigan! Amazing! After snow and sub-zero wind chill days earlier this month, we've pretty well run the gamut of weather possibilities for the initial month of the year here in The North Country.

Undoubtedly, there are seasons of the soul. We can run the entire "spectrum of weather" in our relationship with God. Sometimes we can feel so close to Him it's as though He wrapped us up in a warm-as-July blanket. Other times, it's as though we homelessly roam the bitterly-frigid streets of January at midnight. And everything in between.

Our sin...our deliberate walking against the known will of God... can quickly put great distance between us and Him. Thankfully, He is so quick to forgive and restore us to a close relationship. Jesus' death on the cross makes it possible. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). When we admit our wrongs to Him, He swiftly moves to wipe them away. What a loving, tender, gracious Heavenly Father He is! When we turn our backs on what we know to be wrong and walk toward Him, our relationship with Him blossoms.

Life itself can sweep over us like a fast-moving cold front from the northwest. A sudden, tragic turn of events can viciously knock the wind out of our sails and we wonder where God went. The answer is nowhere. He is still as near as ever, though our human feelings betray that fact. If a little child is suddenly gripped with fear over a scary sound in their bedroom closet at night, does that mean their parents have fled the home? Does it mean the little one is suddenly an orphan? Of course not, on both counts. Dad and Mom are still the loving parents they were an hour before when they kissed their child good night. And, they're still in the living room like they are every other evening...no matter what sounds are heard. Likewise, traumatic events alter our thoughts and emotional lives but not our soul's "belonging-ness" to our Father in Heaven.

Conversely, we never know when the south winds may bring in a warming trend that restores the joy of living. So many different options cause those breezes to blow. A heart-to-heart visit with a dear friend, pastor or qualified counselor. How about some of our favorite music...songs that have never let us down over the years? A favorite chapter in the Bible can speak comfort way deep down inside us. Pulling a favorite book by our favorite author off the shelf and reading it through at a leisurely pace can do wonders. Sometimes we need a three-day weekend of total solitude at a place that always restores us...or at least a relaxing evening away here and there doing something we greatly enjoy.

God loves to answer the prayer King David prayed: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit" (Psalm 51:12). Though we as human beings experience a wide range of emotions that blow across our souls...4 seasons-worth...we can know what it is to see the weather change for the better, time and time again.

Sometimes, all we can do is pray and wait: "...Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD..." (Exodus 14:13). It can be so very difficult to choose to live in faith rather than feelings. They are not one and the same, as much as we seem to think that they are. Facts are facts...and they don't change. Feelings are feelings...and they do. Perception is not always reality. Who God is and what He says in His word remains more solid than bedrock...though the mountains may crumble around us. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psalm 46:1,2).

No matter how scary and real the sound may be in the closet, The Infinitely-Loving Father sits quietly at the bedside of His children. If we could only see in the darkness and feel in our numbness, we'd know His hand rests comfortingly upon our brow. As soon as we remember that fact, a gentle, warm, southerly breeze begins to rustle through the leaves of our soul.

"...times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." - Acts 3:19

 

 

 

January 22, 2018

Pray for Rain and Keep Plantin'.

Great-Grandpa, Claud Kenimer (far left in the photo below), was born in Georgia in 1885. At some point in time, he moved to Van Buren County, Arkansas. I gather that he was a jack-of-all-trades. In Arkansas, he sold Watkins Products from a wagon drawn by horses. He built houses. He also farmed, moving from Arkansas to southwest Oklahoma's Kiowa County with his brother and long-time friend Ed, camping along a creek as they searched the county for land to farm.

The Dust Bowl set in across the nation's midsection in 1930 and lasted for essentially a decade. Massive wind storms stripped the top soil from huge amounts of farmland. Daytime turned to near-darkness as towering black clouds of dust rolled through town after town and state after state. The story goes that you could put your hat against the side of your house and the wind would hold it there. This was on top of the Great Depression, which began in 1929 and lasted 10 years. Across America, 1 in 4 were unemployed while certain regions and cities saw much higher rates of joblessness. "The Dirty Thirties" saw Oklahoma suffer a net loss of 440,000 people. Many, many farmers lost their farms, packed everything they owned onto a single vehicle and moved westward to California and Arizona in hopes of finding a better life...hopes that were very often dashed to pieces.

By God's great grace, Great Grandpa made it through the Dust Bowl. Lena Rutledge-Harris, his niece (Ed's daughter), told me that he was diversified, which greatly helped. Having been established as a sharecropper before the Dust Bowl set in gave him a little advantage. He not only worked the land, but had some livestock as well. Miraculously, he scratched, clawed and eeked out what must have been a razor-thin living from the unforgiving red dirt of a county that based its livelihood on that constantly-shifting soil.

Great Grandpa was a generous soul, though he never owned very much himself...sharecroppers never do...the kind of man who would give the shirt off his back for another. He was an honest man, an ideal he held very highly. He was a man of faith in God and Jesus Christ, making the choice to put his faith in Jesus as his Savior one time while travelling across the state of Kansas. He loved the old hymn "Standing on the Promises" and had my dad sing it for him when he was just a little boy. He loved his family and he loved to talk...accentuating his words with his hands.

As Great Grandpa got out of bed day after day during the Dust Bowl, put on his caked-in-red-dust overalls and stepped outside into the hot wind, I can't imagine what went through his mind. There well could have been many days when he didn't have two nickels to rub together in his overalls' pocket. He could only wish that he could hold onto the topsoil as well as he could hold his hat firmly to the top of his head. There must have been many moments of desperate despondency. Yet, based upon the fact that he loved God and the words of "Standing on the Promises", he must have stared those dry, parched crops in the eye, reached way down inside of his sometimes-just-as-dry heart and called upon His Savior, pleading for rain and the strength to make it through another day. Yet, week after week, month after month, year after year, adequate rain didn't fall.

How did Claud Kenimer make it when his prayers seemed to keep falling on deaf ears...when he had no idea when that horrible drought would end? Great Grandpa kept standing on God's promises anyway. He kept planting...a bold and determined act of trust. He looked beyond the soil to other means of income. He stayed connected to his extended family...farmers suffering through the same plight as he...finding strength in community. He continued to look for a better day of God's provision. And it finally arrived.

It is hard enough to endure tough times when we know there is a specific end-date to them. A known time frame helps us to grasp when light will begin to appear at the end of the tunnel and life will start returning to normal. It's a whole different story...the difficulties are multiplied...when we cannot see when the trials we're engulfed in will end. How do we persevere in such times?

I think we can learn a lot from a man who owned a little. His name wasn't on a piece of paper stating ownership of a parcel of Oklahoma soil...but he had a firm stake in "land on the other side". Red dust blew in through the cracks of a house he did not own. Now he resides in a spotless mansion in Heaven...built by the Nail-Scarred hands of the best Carpenter the world has ever known...perhaps on a street named Kenimer.

"Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God."

("Standing on the Promises", verse 2 and refrain, by Russell K. Carter, 1886)


 

 

January 21, 2018

50 Years Ago.

Just like today, January 21, 1968 was a Sunday. On that day 50 years ago, my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Lowe, gave me this Bible. I treasured it back then and I treasure it even more so today.

As I recall, Mrs. Lowe was a widow. She lived on Flint's northwest side in a nice apartment complex, not far from our church. One time, she had our family over for ice cream after church on a Sunday evening. She had my brother, sister and I over to swim in the apartments' big swimming pool in the summer...a very big deal for a kid. She believed in God, Jesus, living and giving.

I cannot remember one lesson Mrs. Lowe taught me in Sunday School. But I do remember that she cared, that she was friendly, warm and kind, that she was involved in our lives outside of church. As an adult, I can now appreciate one of her biggest lessons: her perseverance and determination. Life had dealt her a tough blow when she lost her life's mate but that didn't keep her from moving forward and being a vehicle through which God could bless others.

Parents, teachers, coaches, mentors...anyone who works with children...please remember that the little things count the most. Those kids you work with will long remember who you are much more than they will the "fine points"...as important as they are...that you are trying to teach them. That, by the way, is the bigger lesson of the two: who you are and how you live far outweighs the concepts you are trying to convey. When you care, when you go out of your way to show it, when you take the time to listen...decades later, you'll get a lifetime A+ from your students.

This morning, I found this verse underlined in the Bible Mrs. Lowe gave me. By her faithful, loving life and her long-forgotten lessons on Sunday mornings, she taught me what these words mean:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." - Proverbs 9:10

Thank you, Mrs. Lowe, for everything you did for me, including giving me my maroon-covered Bible. You are a treasure. I doubt that I ever told you that I love you. But I most certainly do. We'll catch up at Jesus' feet.

 


 

January 20, 2018

This is a view of Lake Huron's southern portion yesterday, just north of Port Huron. I was surprised that with all the cold weather we've had, it wasn't frozen all the way across to Canada. In fact, there was a south-bound freighter far on the distant horizon.

As I stood there and took it all in, the ice intermittently groaned and crackled. It's quite an amazing experience. Changes in temperature make the ice expand and contract. Additionally, that massive body of water is fluctuating beneath the ice, causing it to "work", slightly rising and falling. These forces cause cracks to be formed, as well as their associated formational sounds.

This is so much like our individual lives, and thus, society as a whole. Just below the surface, just behind our "game faces", so much is going on. Struggles, fears, pressures, heartaches, depression, strained or broken relationships, regrets, longings and so much more are "quietly heaving" just beneath all that John Q. Public can see. Anyplace that teems with people is a tossing sea of coexisting joy and sadness. So is a dinner table for two. Individuals in particular, and society as a whole, wordlessly long deep inside for that "something more"...an ache that yearns for a better tomorrow, a better life, for healing of all things broken. The ice of society never stops groaning for very long.

Romans 8:22 tells us that all of creation groans and is in pain. Yet, there is hope. God's infinite, loving Spirit is at work beneath the surface, intermingling with our struggles and heartaches. He "heaves with us", if you will. The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and lives, imperfect as they are, and hurts with us and for us. In fact, He cares so much that He groans as He prays for us to the Heavenly Father. "...the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26). I take enormous comfort in that fact, don't you?

As society aches and groans for something better, something more, God's Spirit is aching and groaning along with us. He is at work beneath the surface in all of us, mingling with our troubles and pain. Our part in it all is to move along with Him, to humbly yield to His healing graces.

A better day is ahead for us all...a thaw is on the horizon. Winter of the heart doesn't last. Summer is on its way if we choose to move only in direct response to the undercurrent of God's Loving Spirit at work deep within our hearts.


 

 

January 19, 2018

Healing the Bitter Schism of Hate.

I listened intently to an interview of a man who had been drawn into a hate group as a teen, why he became immersed in such a lifestyle and how he escaped from it.

Anger at his parents was the "greased slide" that drew him in. They weren't there for him, both being occupied in very long hours making a living. When he was recruited to join a hate group, it gave him an avenue through which to channel his anger. Over a number of years, he committed horrible atrocities against people he was taught to hate. It must be emphasized that the horrid ideologies of the hate group were not the reason he joined them initially...it was the deep need to have an identity, to experience a sense of community and to find a purpose for living...things he did not possess at home. (He says these are still major characteristics found in those recruited for hate groups today).

A very powerful turning point that opened the door for him to leave this horrible lifestyle was when people from groups he hated showed him unmerited, genuine compassion. Repeatedly. He began to have honest dialogue with them. They were no longer objects to hate but genuine people who cared about him as a person. He subsequently abandoned his life of hate and now helps others to leave theirs.

Anneke Burke, a friend of our family, tells the story of her parents hiding 8 Jews (and sometimes more) in their home in Holland for two years during the Holocaust. She has told this amazing story at least 2000 times over the years...she calls it "A Message of Hope". After the war, she watched her father treat Nazi soldiers, men who would have killed him during the war, with respect. Near the end of her talks, she says "With love in your heart, there is no room for hate."

Shouting down those you disagree with won't solve differences. Neither will talking down to them. Debating and arguing won't. Secret bitterness and resentment are sharp knives that continually cut the hands that hold them. The seemingly unbridgeable, ever-widening chasm of hatred is closed one heart, one person, one day at a time. It's up close and very personal...not something to casually embrace from a distance.

To heal the gaping, seething wounds of hatred in the hearts of people, the ones who must change are those harboring the hate. Compassion, love and genuine care for those different from ourselves is what Christ the Savior...the One who made us all...is calling us to. As he was wrongfully dying on a rugged cross between two thieves, He prayed "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). He not only calls each of us to such a lifestyle, He provides His very heart as the Source through which it is possible.

Jesus offers every person in the world His heart...an absolutely amazing Source from which to draw...each and every day. It's ours for the taking...and the healing.

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." - Jesus (Matthew 5:44)

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." - Jesus (Matthew 5:9)

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January 18, 2018

A Timeless Gem Turns 105.

It was January, 1913 in the tiny southwest-Michigan town of Pokagon. Rev. George Bennard, a traveling minister and resident of Albion, MI, was in town to preach a 3 week revival meeting. At the church parsonage, just around the corner from the church, he wrote the 3rd and 4th verses to a song that he began writing in Albion the month prior. He said that he wrote the song out of his own need.

In a little church that still stands in Pokagon, Rev. Bennard then proceeded to introduce "The Old Rugged Cross" to the world in its entirety for the first time. Accompanying himself on the guitar and singing in his baritone voice, he was joined by a lady on the pump organ while a gentleman played the violin and a 4-member choir joined their voices with his. (That original organ has been located, restored and now is in the church sanctuary).

One of the world's most beloved hymns was born very quietly in an obscure village in the snow belt of southwest Michigan 105 years ago this month. Perhaps sub-zero temperatures and three feet of snow clung to that tiny church on the day those 4 verses first warmed the souls of every listener inside, an old wood/coal stove popping and crackling nearby.

Since that January day in 1913, the power of the pardoning blood of Jesus, shed so humbly on a rugged old cross, has warmed the souls of countless millions around the world who've taken the message of this old song to heart by faith. Years of haunting guilt and separation from God melted away as this song's words found their way into listener's lives, exchanging their aching, broken past for the eternal warmth of Christ's love and total forgiveness.

A barn in a little town called Bethlehem, 5 loaves and 2 fish, a splinter-laden criminal's cross "on a hill far away", a little church in an obscure town in Michigan's Mitten...God so often uses the unlikely and unsuspecting to accomplish the impossible.

"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,

The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share."

("The Old Rugged Cross", by Rev. George Bennard, 1913)

The Old Rugged Cross Church and Museum: http://the-oldruggedcross.org/

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