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Friday, 31 October 2014

Guest Post by Lori: Find a Penny

  This post comes from someone I have never met, whose name is Lori.  She writes a blog entitled Hope Feathers, which is filled with insights about daily life, faith and hope.  Lori lives in Maryland, is married and has three daughters.  She has been a teacher and still works at a school, but not in the classroom.  She graciously gave me permission to include this piece that she entitled "Find a Penny."

Photo courtesy of Hope Feathers

If you know me well, you know that if I find a penny on the ground, I will hand it to you and say, “Don’t forget. God provides.”

You might be tempted to look at me out of the corner of your eye with that “OK, thanks, I guess. What happened to the traditional, ‘Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck’ rhyme?”

When I was in college, I attended a women’s bible study led by an authentic, compassionate woman who loved teaching about the Lord. She felt such a calling to teach and lead women that she left her job to start a women’s ministry in Nashville. She spoke about the risk involved in this decision  especially in terms of a regular paycheck. Some months she wasn’t sure if there would be enough money to pay all of her bills, but week after week, month after month, there was always enough.  She still experienced days of worry when she questioned her decision and wondered if she was doing the right thing. One day in particular, she felt especially hopeless. As she tried to convince herself that a 9-5 job would be so much easier, she looked down and spotted a penny on the ground. As she bent down to pick up the coin, she heard in her head, “God provides.” She shook her head and walked to her apartment.  Waiting at her door was a bag full of groceries and a note of encouragement from a woman she hardly knew. A note was attached:, “I hope you don’t think this is strange, but I was at the store and felt like I should share these groceries with you for some reason…”

And so it began. Coins became a great reminder that God would help if she continued to trust Him. This didn’t mean that she would have all of the material things she could ever want. It didn’t mean she would never wonder about how she would pay her bills, but over and over again, she saw the truth in those two words, and she began to trust that God would provide for her.

I watched firsthand what it looked like for someone else to trust God and to see Him provide in ways that I never imagined possible. Every time I spotted a coin, I  reminded myself that “God provides.” My girls roll their eyes a bit whenever we are walking in the street, and I find a dime.

I gleefully do a little dance (for their benefit of course) and as I hand one of them the coin, I say, “Girls, you know what this means!”

They respond in that “WE KNOW, MOM” voice and indulge me a bit with “God provides,” but they giggle a little too, and they are also learning that it’s true. Not that God provides everything they want, but He will give them what they need.

We have seen it on the days when everything happened just like we hoped, but we have also seen it during times of struggle, days of uncertainty, and moments of loss. Even in seasons when we looked at each other through our tears and wondered about unexplainable suffering in the lives of those we love, we have been comforted by countless stories of God being close in the darkest moments.

Hoping the next time you find a penny, you might be reminded of something more than luck.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Two Men Named Saul: A Study in Humility

"I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don't mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them."
~John Ruskin, British writer 1819-1900

photo from http://www.lawrencewilson.com/how-to-be-humble/
The first man named Saul we meet in the Bible is taken aback when the prophet Samuel addresses him as the first king of Israel, and one on whom the hopes of the nation are set.  He says in 1 Samuel 9:21, "But am I not a Benjamite from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?"  Saul passes this initial test.  He has no ambitions to become king or even be a leader among Israel.  He saw his own weakness, not his height (he was a head taller than his peers) or impressiveness.

   We know what happened to Saul and that somewhere along the line he began to feel entitled and grasped his position with such fierceness that he feared rivals, including his son-in-law.  Taking 3,000 soldiers with him he pursues David relentlessly.
   A second Saul of the tribe of Benjamin becomes part of God's story in the book of Acts.  His initial demeanour is proud and hard-nosed--a Pharisee who shunned others for being less righteous than himself.  He takes a delegation to the Damascus synagogue in order to arrest followers of Jesus.  
   However, God humbles him on the road, causing him to become blind and helpless.  When he regains his sight he becomes a new man, one who is ready to be an ambassador for Christ to the far reaches of the Roman Empire and among non-Jews.
   Saul is renamed Paul (meaning "little") even as he takes the lead in missionary journeys with Barnabas and later with Silas and Luke.  He receives a thorn in the flesh that further reminds Saul of his weakness.  His missionary achievements and his visions of heaven do not make him proud.
   By God's grace, Paul passed the test of a great man to the end, even though he would have failed it at the beginning.
   Wherever God has placed us in some level of authority (as a parent, in our workplaces, church work, etc.), we need to retain that "curious feeling that the greatness" is not of us.  God is the source, so a posture of submission to him is fitting for all leaders.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Antidote for Envy

   In my last post I reflected on the destructiveness of envy, but I did not want to just leave it there. What can we do when we are tempted to envy?  How can we extricate ourselves from this "green eyed monster"? [1]
   Since envy is self-focused, one important way to avoid it is to be God-focused.  A wonderful example of this comes in the biblical story of John the Baptizer.  At first he had been very popular, with crowds gathering at the riverbanks where John cried out for the people to change their ways. He encouraged people to be baptized to show they were ready to live a new life devoted to God. However, Jesus comes along and John's following shrinks dramatically.  Others tell John, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan...well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him."
   John is not offended by the popularity of Jesus because he recognizes that "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven." [2] In other words, God is the one who determines what any person has, whether talents, intellect, wealth, possessions, status or anything else.  When we hold a grudge against someone for something he or she has simply because we ourselves do not have it, we show a subtle resentment towards God.  John is content with his role as the one who prepared people's hearts for the Messiah, and he now steps into the background.
   We befuddle ourselves by begrudging what God has given to someone else.  We have to trust God to hold these individuals accountable for how they use what has been given to them.  Those who have more of anything will be judged by God, not us, as to how they used or abused those things.  It is not our business.
   Jesus makes this truth clear in one of his last conversations with his disciple Peter, in John chapter 21. Peter has just been given a glimpse of his future and how he will suffer for the name of Jesus.  He then points to another disciple and asks, "Lord, what about him?"  Jesus redirects Peter's attention with, "[W]hat is that to you?  You must follow me."  It is not our job to see what everyone else is doing or what they have.  It is our job to follow the Master.  He will give us the strength to do it!

[1] In Shakespeare's play Othello, envy is described in this way.
[2] John 3:27, NIV

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Poison of Envy

   The word envy has an interesting back story in English.  It comes from the Latin "in" + "videre", meaning literally "to see into."  In the seeing, hostility rises within a person because what he sees is not within his grasp.  Envy comes to us not through the sense of smell, hearing, taste or touch.  It comes by a twisting of the sense of sight.
   So much beauty comes to us through the windows of our eyes, but the envious person is not inclined to give thanks for it when it belongs to someone else.  Envy can also make it impossible to look into the eyes of that rival with anything other than hatred and anger.
   An illustration of the self-destructiveness of envy comes by way of pastor and writer Thomas Lindberg:

Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other's business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival.
One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, "I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?"
The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, "Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!"

   Envy can be fed and nursed so that it dominates one's entire life.  The same is true of many sins that separate us from the goodness of God and those around us.  I am reminded of a passage in C.S. Lewis' children's book Magician's Nephew.  The magician in this story is Uncle Andrew, who has immersed himself in magic for evil purposes, using children to test his theories about other worlds. His ingrained selfishness makes him unable to receive and recognize the greatest goodness that Aslan, the lion, would offer him.  Aslan remarks, "But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh, Adam's son, how cleverly you defend yourself against all that might do you good!"
   When we pervert the gift of sight into an opportunity to begrudge others the things that God has allowed them to have, we drink the poison of envy.  It hurts us more than anyone else.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Dessert for Breakfast

   An episode of the audio drama "Adventures in Odyssey" contains the funny incident in which a man has been locked out of his own house because of an argument with his wife.  He seeks shelter next door and is welcomed inside by a family in a flurry of activity, trying to leave for church on time for a change.  The mother of the family offers this visitor breakfast with the stipulation that he help himself to whatever he might like.  Unfortunately for the family, this man decides to cut a piece of cheesecake as a topping for a bowl of cereal before she can utter, "Except the cheesecake."
   We instinctively know that desserts, rich in sugar and fat, are not the best way to start the day. What we eat for breakfast ought to be more healthy.  If we are honest, we would also say that sugary and fat-laden desserts are not the best way to end the day either.
   That's why 90% of the time the things I serve for dessert would also be acceptable for my family to eat for breakfast, if there are leftovers.  Here is my "Top Ten" list of dessert-breakfast crossover foods:

  • home made muffins with fruit (applesauce, blueberries, bananas or cranberries)
  • yogurt with fruit
  • yogurt with granola
  • pudding
  • fruit salad
  • oatmeal cookies
  • brownies made with black beans and whole wheat flour
  • apple crisp
  • yogurt and fruit smoothie
  • home made applesauce

Would you ever eat leftover dessert for breakfast?


Friday, 10 October 2014

Open Dialogue

   Where in our society is it possible to have open dialogue about faith?  I really wonder sometimes. Despite the rhetoric of accepting all people and practicing tolerance, what seems to be happening is that we don't talk about faith at all.  For fear of offending someone, we say nothing.  We pretend that faith does not matter to society at large because it is a private belief.  
   This situation is not necessarily new.  When I attended teacher's college in North Bay, Ontario, I did not know anyone.  Of course, when you meet someone new you might not automatically start talking about your most deeply held beliefs.  Nevertheless, I felt as though there was a conspiracy of silence about anything related to faith.  It took months before I found out for sure that there were other Christians in my program. Everyone seemed reluctant to disclose, including me.
   A few years ago a mainstream author who writes books for older children and young adults came to speak and share at the Christian school where I teach.  I was struck by something he said to me privately before the group session began.  He said he felt more freedom to speak at our school than he did at public schools.  This gentleman has visited hundreds of schools.  Why would he say such a thing?  It is totally the opposite of what someone outside looking in would think.  The Christian school does not have to be a place where faith is shoved down anyone's throat.  Rather, because it is a place where faith is affirmed as a natural part of everyday life, it can be OK to talk about the full range of human experience.  People are not so easily offended by differences of opinion; there is room to debate.
   This week I was taking Day 2 of a Health and Safety certification course in a city about 45 kilometres away. I carpooled with another participant, whom I met the previous week.  On our two hour round-trip we had respectful and open conversations about a variety of topics that were all related to faith.  She practices Judaism, but because we both were up front about where we were coming from, we could appreciate each other's experience and opinions.  She expressed frustration that whenever she has been invited to share in her child's public school about a Jewish holiday, the things she felt free to talk about were the surface and cultural aspects of the holiday, rather than the actual meaning of the holiday itself.
   Everyone is guided by some kind of faith, even humanists whose faith is placed in themselves and human abilities.  When faith is acknowledged instead of ignored in schools, children can learn how to express themselves without offending and to ask the big questions they long to hear answered.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

31 Days: a Discipline and a Joy

   One of the bloggers I follow mentioned at the end of September that she would take part in a "31 Days" challenge.  She would write and post a blog every day in the month of October.  She shared the website that originated this challenge and encouraged others to join her in this.
   I did go to that website and explored what it was all about, but in the end I decided it was not for me, not this year.  However, it set me on a slightly different 31 Day challenge.  During the month of September my times of reading and meditating on God's Word were inconsistent.  I could blame the adjustment to my new job responsibilities and balancing all my roles at home and in the community, but instead I blame my lack of discipline.
   I have set a goal for the month of October to read one chapter of the book of 1 Samuel (chosen because it has exactly 31 chapters) and then write in my journal about one nugget in that chapter that especially struck me.  It was not about posting all of these reflections publicly but re-learning a daily discipline in my spiritual walk.  That being said, I would like to share the nugget from Day 3.

1 Samuel 3 Verse 19

"The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground."


   The phrase "The LORD was with" appears in different parts of the Bible, in reference to Joseph (sold into slavery by his brothers),  Moses and Joshua (leaders of the Israelites).  That word "with" is such a common word that we can quickly gloss over it.  We would hardly say that this preposition is a key word in the verse, but it actually is important.  Writer Marilyn Chandler McEntyre states about any preposition "we love [it] for its startling power to affirm and reframe relationships" [1].  The fact that God is "with" a person tells us that He cares to come alongside us despite the fact that we are imperfect and weak.  The notion that God is "with" us is further elaborated in the very name "Immanuel" by which Jesus came to be "God with us" is a fuller and more tangible way.
   The second half of the verse is also remarkable.  God let none of Samuel's words fall to the ground.  None.  There is consistency of character in this servant of God.  He was a steady leader that all Israel could count on.  The expression "fall to the ground" reminds me that when things fall to the ground, they are not valued, they get lost and forgotten.  They may be trampled or destroyed.  They surely will bet wet, dirty or tarnished.  The ground is not a place we put items we care about.  In contrast Samuel's words were heeded, upheld, sustained, able to be used and not wasted.
   May it be that my words and meditations not fall to the ground, not because I am so eloquent but because I strive to be in tune with the LORD.  Amen. 

[1] From her book Caring for Words, page 36.