Remember the widowed… [The Effective Prayer 8.31.15]

This post is part of a weekly series on Effective Prayer.cafe-569349_1920

They were quite a pair
The way that love should be
They still held hands
For all the world to see
She’s thankful that she had him all those years
But she still has days she can’t hold back the tears

She misses their Monday night bowling league
When they’d wear their matching shirts
She misses their Wednesday night dinner out
As soon as he got home from work
Saturday morning sleeping late
Holding each other close
But she misses him on Sunday the most

She sits alone on that same old pew again
His tenor voice still echoes now and then
It brings back all those memories of him there by her side
What she’d give for one more Sunday drive

She misses their Monday night bowling league
When they’d wear their matching shirts
She misses their Wednesday night dinner out
As soon as he got home from work
Saturday morning sleeping late
Holding each other close
But she misses him on Sunday the most
But she misses him on Sunday the most

~Diamond Rio, She Misses Him On Sunday The Most

You see them often: the elderly man sitting on a pew alone; the elderly woman who walks in and out unnoticed; the young woman juggling kids, still wearing black; the middle-aged man with the vacant, overwhelmed stare trying to help his elementary-aged children. They have to go home to an empty bed or quiet house. In the case of the elderly, their income is fixed, many of their dearest friends have passed on and they are engulfed by loneliness. In the case of the young mother or father, they are not only grappling with unexpected loss, but they are facing a future of uncertainty and the daunting task of raising children on their own.

At times, people walk hesitantly towards them, unsure what words to use and then keep on walking past to avoid discomfort.

They are the widowed.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

~ James 1:27, ESV

The Lord knows that there are people who need extra help. He has always made provision for those bereft of care. The New Testament has several scriptures regarding widows and the church.

In Acts 6, men were appointed to make sure that the widows in the church would get their daily portion of food, because they had been neglected up to that point.

In Acts 9, a woman named Tabitha cared for the widows; when she died they were deeply grieved and Peter raised her from the dead.

In 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives instructions for the church to care for widows who are in need and do not have family to help them.

Imagine if you were in the shoes of the widowed (maybe you are that person). It’s daunting!

I came very near to that point two years ago when I learned my spouse had been in a deadly situation. We had three children under the age of six that day, and I very nearly became their sole caretaker. It’s a frightening prospect to be struck with grief and raising children solo. Incidents like these give you a new appreciation for military spouses with husbands/wives overseas and cop’s spouses who never know from day-to-day if their husband or wife will make it home from work.

Imagine being an elderly man or woman who has been married anywhere from forty to sixty years. Suddenly, you have nobody in bed next to you when you wake up. The house is quiet. Everything you used to do with that person, you now do alone. Just thinking about that prospect makes my heart ache!

We need to wake up to the needs of those around us who are bereft of their spouses. They need our prayers, but they also need our help.

  • Ask to help them go shopping once a week.
  • Offer to take them to lunch and visit with them every so often.
  • Offer to bring them to group events.
  • Look for them on Sundays and make a point of talking with them each week.

They need us—their brothers and sisters in Christ—to show them love and compassion. I will warn you, it may not always be taken warmly or gratefully. I offered to help an elderly lady once shortly after she’d lost her husband and she said, “oh yes, you are doing what James said, ‘take care of the widows and orphans'” It was said sarcastically. Your care and concern will not always be received well, but we need to make the effort just the same. I have to admit that after being pushed away so bitterly, I was more hesitant to approach anyone who was widowed. Keep on trying; remember that they are hurting and people handle their pain differently.

Pray for them.

I write these Effective Prayer posts as an encouragement to myself and to you. I tend to be very self-focused in my prayers (praying for my needs and the needs of immediate family) and I truly believe that I need to be more outwardly focused on the needs of others, not only in my activities, but my prayers.

Here are some suggestions to help focus your prayer:

Pray for them to be comforted.

This will not happen overnight. They pain will be with them for years; it may never fully dissipate. They need our prayers, and our presence.

Pray for them to have friendship.

Don’t we all need friends? Pray that the Lord will send them solid friends who will not take advantage of them (this could be you!).

Pray for them to lean on the Lord.

Where should we always go in our need? Too often we seek outside comfort in a bottle, or medication, or in other dangerous places. Pray that they will seek healthy comfort from God and be fulfilled.

Pray for their protection.

Elderly people are particularly prone to being taken advantage of. They need help, contract work etcetera and people are more than happy to do things half way and ask for double the payment, or steal from them when they aren’t looking. Pray that the Lord will protect them.

Younger widows/widowers could marry another person who is only seeking to rob them of their money or take advantage of their young children. They need protection, especially in their state of grief.

Pray for and encourage these individuals in their time of pain and vulnerability. They need the Lord and they need our help.

Do you see your goal way off in the distance?

This week, I’m posting over at thei535project.wordpress.com. God be with you!

The Isaiah 53:5 Project

greenery and road

The Concert Master stood and nodded to the oboe player. A clear, woody concert ‘A’ resonated from her bell. At the nod of the concert master, the woodwinds played their concert A, followed by the brass and finally the strings. The sounds swirled around the room, luscious and rich.

My heart stirred with a mingling of trepidation and joy; it had been nearly thirteen years…

The conductor lifted his baton. Every member in the orchestra sat poised and ready, awaiting the downbeat.

The baton dropped and the music rose.

All the pressing stress from the day—my fears and worries—evaporated as I concentrated on playing the right notes in tune and in time. There were dynamics, alternate fingerings, key signature and tempo changes to watch.

The harmonies vibrated in the air as the bows of the violins undulated back and forth in sync with the concert master. My clarinet seemed to be singing as…

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Testing, 1, 2, 3… [Coffee Chat #9]

coffee chat

I love a good discussion with a friend over a steaming cup of chai, but since I can’t gather all of you at a comfortable cafe, I’ll have to be content with this little corner of the Internet.

I want to thank each and every person who has come to these coffee chats and commented. I have thoroughly enjoyed your insights and inspiration! Thank you for your time.

Read previous coffee chats under the “discussion” category or click here.


On Monday evening, my spouse and I were engaged in discussion with two young men. They were teaching that they had “revelation from God” that gave more knowledge than the Bible. We had been having classes for a couple weeks and in each discussion, we were able to reasonably demonstrate to them that their “revelation” was full of holes.

Now, I want you to know that these discussions were quite amicable. There wasn’t shouting, fighting arguing or rudeness. It truly was a good setting for back and forth… definitely different from discussions I see on forums & comment sections that can get very acrimonious!

These young men had a minimal knowledge of the Bible. They knew the basic sketches of Bible accounts, but they were quite ignorant of the details. They liked to cherry-pick verses and base their doctrine on those out-of-context snippets. When they could no longer defend their position, the fall back answer was, “we just know, because God told us.”

After all our discussions, we told them that because their book contradicted the Bible, we would have no part in it. The “prophecies” contained in their book were short-term ones that could be easily brought to pass by the people who wrote them down. There were errors splattered everywhere.

It was nothing like the real thing.

We kept trying to gently show them the difference, but this was always the final answer:

“We’ve prayed about it. We just know these things are true. If you prayed about it, you’d know too. We just know.”

*sigh*

Ironically, the next morning, I was listening to the next few chapters in my daily reading of 1 Kings when I heard the account of a prophet who did not follow God’s instructions.

This prophet told Jeroboam, King of Israel that the altar he had built would be torn down. The king seized the prophet and his hand withered up. He begged the man of God to ask God for restoration. God granted the prophet’s request and Jeroboam’s hand was restored. Jeroboam, grateful to have two working hands again, asked the prophet to come home with him and get a reward.

This was the prophet’s answer:

And the man of God said to the king, “If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you. And I will not eat bread or drink water in this place, for so was it commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.’”

1 Kings 13.8-9 ESV

It so happened that an old prophet heard about all this and set about to deceive this prophet. So while the man of God is on his way home, he runs into this old prophet.

And [the old prophet] said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’”

But he lied to him. 

So he went back with him and ate bread in his house and drank water.

1 Kings 13.18-19

Now, as I read that, I asked myself: “Why in the world did this man of God, who had a direct line to God not check with God himself???”

What was he thinking?

If I could have back-and-forth dialogue with God, I would hope that if something contradicted His original instructions that I’d be saying to that old prophet, “Hang on a sec, I’ve got to check with the Lord Himself first…”

Why didn’t he ask God?

Why didn’t he test the word of this prophet?!?!?!

The result was his death.

And [the old prophet] cried to the man of God who came from Judah,

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water,” your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’”

1 Kings 13:21-22

I do not know if the old prophet lied to the man of God as a test or because he was seeking harm. Read the full account here.

Regardless, the lesson is plain: Just because someone says they have a message from God, doesn’t mean they are telling the truth.

Test their message.

Test them.

What litmus test do we use?

I read recently that the best way to recognize a forgery is to be intimately acquainted with the real thing. Bank tellers are taught the intricacies of real bills so that they can see the difference between a real dollar and a fake one.

What is the real thing? The Bible.

Now, riddle me this:

  1. Why didn’t the old prophet in 1 Kings get punished for lying?
  2. Why do you think the prophet didn’t ask God for confirmation?
  3. And finally, aside from my little anecdote, do you think that we can honestly distinguish between truth and lies by only using God’s Word?

I look forward to your answers while I sip some homemade iced chai!

First, you have to show up…

This is a great post! Sometimes our silent presence gives greater solace than our many words.

*SOUNDINGS

songIt was an off-handed comment made by my college professor of Old Testament, Dr. Song Nai Rhee at Northwest Christian College.  We were looking at the book of Job, specifically at the “pastoral malpractice” of Job’s three friends – Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite (Job 2:11).  Dr. Rhee contrasted the power of their initial silence (Job 2:13) with the foolishness of their subsequent “lectures” throughout the rest of the book.

Dr. Rhee related a story about a time that he went to visit the parents of a student who had tragically died in an accident.  A modest man, Dr. Rhee had arrived at the house of sadness without great fanfare, and sat quietly with the grieving parents for a while.  He didn’t say much.  He simply sat with them in their grief, and then he took his leave.  Weeks later he told us…

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A mere taste of heaven.

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Have you ever performed in a choir, orchestra or wind ensemble? I have done all three. It’s exhilarating. There is nothing quite like the simultaneity of being surrounded by and creating music. The vibrations of tightly tuned harmonies, the pulsating hypnotic rhythms, the pathos, all combine to evoke euphoric delight.

Sadly, the rehearsals, performances, jam sessions, all come to an end. The gloriousness of the experience is inevitably tinged with sadness.

When I was fifteen years old, I went camping with two of my friends. We were on our way to Sequoia National Park, but we made a brief stop on the Central Coast in California. In a high school gym in Morro Bay, California, many fellow Christians had gathered to sing together. Over a thousand people were seated in a full circle around a central podium. The first song leader stepped up to the platform and began to lead everyone in the first song, “Our God, He is Alive.”

Never before, and never since, have I been surrounded by the sound of anything as beautiful as all those voices singing out in four-part a cappella harmony. The sheer volume took my breath away as my voice joined with those around me. No single voice stood out. It was as though we were one voice, united in praise to our awesome and powerful God.

It was a momentary taste, the palest glimpse, of what I imagine awaits us in heaven.

I cannot fathom what heaven will be like, but I imagine it will be unspeakable joy to stand in the presence of the Lord who has loved me forever. What a beautiful sight awaits us, surrounded by those who share in our love for the Lord, as we praise to Him beautiful, resonant harmony.

Life is chock-full of these momentary splashes of pleasure and delight, yet they never seem to sate us. We always crave something more.

C.S. Lewis said it best:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. 

If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.

Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.

I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (emphasis and breaks mine)

“Press on to that country, and… Help others to do the same.”

My purpose here at Elihu’s Corner is to encourage you to press on to know the Lord. Knowing your Creator will give greater joy than any other earthly experience. In fact, those joyful moments will be all the richer. Anything worth having demands effort. A relationship with God is worth every single minute of time and effort we invest in it. Living in such a way as to be with the Lord in heaven is worth every earthly sacrifice. Our small glimpses of heaven and the accompanying craving for more is not meant to harm us. It is intended to spur us on to what is purely perfect.

Several months ago, I had a discussion with a young man about the Christian life. He considered the phrase “enduring to the end” too miserable, so he always replaced the phrase with “enjoy to the end.” I’m not sure what my face reflected, but my heart twisted with sadness. I replied, as gently as I could manage, “What of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, the early Christians and Jesus himself?” Did they “enjoy life” in the way we think of enjoyment? Many suffered repeatedly. Jeremiah didn’t enjoy being thrown in a pit or watching the Jews self-destruct. These people possessed the lasting joy of the Lord, not the passing pleasures of earth. They endured; I don’t exactly think they ‘enjoyed.'”

If we aim for earth, we will miss heaven. There is so much more to life than mere sensational enjoyment!

The Hebrew writer, when talking about the people of faith said,

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 

For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 

And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. 

Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Hebrews 11.13-16, NKJV (read full chapter by clicking here).

Are you a traveling foreigner or a citizen of the world? Do you seek pale imitations of joy or the lasting satisfaction of being in Christ?

It’s easy to get bogged down in the heartaches and pleasures of what we see, taste, touch, hear and feel. Don’t settle for what is easy. Press on to attain that which has value!

Paul wrote the following to the Philippians:

“…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…”

Philippians 3.13-15 (read full chapter here.)

We have something far better waiting for us than this life. We have a “why” to live for no matter how bad things get. We have a beautiful country waiting for us that is far better than what we see here. When you get those small tastes of heaven, give thanks and glorify the Lord.

We have hope. And the hope we have in Christ does NOT disappoint.

Press on to know the Lord.

Press on towards that far distant country.

What are they teaching those kids? [The Effective Prayer 8.21.15]

This post is part of the weekly series on effective prayer.

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Math tests.

Spelling tests.

Reading Tests.

Tests. Tests. Tests!

I listened with weariness as my daughter’s second grade teacher rattled on about how many computer tests the kids had taken in the first four days of school.

In reading alone, the kids had taken ten tests.

Ten tests?!

Good grief!!!

And computer-run tests… sheesh. My poor kid. She didn’t know much about using a computer. We had been focusing on gross and fine motor skills like writing, reading, threading a needle… a computer was one of those things we were planning to get to later.

We have been a homeschool family for the past few years, but, as our oldest child has been locked in constant battle with us over every form of schoolwork, we decided she needed some experiential education. Spending 2-3 hours fighting about completing a simple math or writing worksheet was beyond ridiculous. She would dig her heels in and we would dig our heels in and neither of us would achieve anything but complete exhaustion. She thought that we were cruel for giving her “so much work” and so we decided she needed to see “how the other half lives.”

Within those first four days of school, she was a believer.

As for myself, I had been wondering if certain academic disciplines were lacking in our home education. After that open house, I realized that our home education was far richer than the public school education, but the public school offered something for my daughter that we just couldn’t provide: harsh reality.

I looked at the children and parents at the open house. The parents had that determined look on their face—determined that their kids’ tests results would be exceptional. The kids… well, the kids just looked tired.

Tests, tests, tests… it’s all about the tests.

My daughter’s teacher is a veteran teacher and I can tell she has a strong distaste for the common core education, but she has to administer it nonetheless. I was saddened by the emphasis on numeric performance. What about character development? What about becoming enmeshed in curiosity and exploration? What about critical thinking and analysis?

What are they teaching those kids??

Now, I want to make it clear that I’m not anti-public school. Public school has it’s advantages.

School can teach you how to get along with rude and negative personalities, how to succeed even when your teacher is set against you, how to work the system in your favor, how to work under pressure and how to juggle multiple commitments.

There are advantages to both forms of education. No matter which system your child or grandchild is in, they need a great deal of help, support and supplemental teaching from us. I would not be a writer were it not for my father’s excellent modeling and assistance as a young child. I would have no love for books had I no library to explore. My parents still have a large wall-length shelving unit packed with books. My grandmother taught me basic sewing. My mother let me mess around in the kitchen. My brother taught me how to build strong structures with legos or sand castles on the beach. I had a lot of family support, but not all children are blessed in the same way I was.

Our children need us—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, bible class teachers, mentorsno matter where they go to school.

Above all else, they need God to work on their behalf in spite of circumstance.

They need us to be prayer warriors for them. I am thoroughly convinced that I would have gone down the tubes if someone hadn’t been praying for me.

The first best thing you can do for your children (or grand-children, mentored children etc) whether they are school-age or not is to approach God with humility and prayer on their behalf.

This week, work on praying the following for these children:

1) Pray for their teachers to exercise good judgement towards the children.

Little junior may or may not be a good kid. A solid teacher will work with them (and you) toward their improvement. Teachers can get biased based on older siblings’ performance and treat the younger siblings accordingly.

2) Pray for their teachers to be strong, steady and consistent.

First rule of parenting: consistency, consistency, consistency. First rule of teaching: consistency…

Second: Patience (steadiness)

Third: Strength to keep carrying out numbers 1 & 2 without wavering.

3) Pray for their protection from harm.

Let’s be frank: After Columbine, high school seemed more dangerous than ever. After Sandy Hook, we realized that even our little kindergarteners weren’t safe from danger. School has bullies, drugs, child molesters… I’ll stop there so you don’t hyperventilate. Trust in the Lord to watch over your child. Pray for them and put them in God’s care.

4) Pray for them to be delivered from temptation.

This worries me more than the mean people. This relies on the integrity of your child. Training at home plays a part, but it comes down to the mindset of your child. Pray for the Lord to keep them from being tempted beyond their ability to handle it. (He promises to do that, by the way).

5) Pray for them to be strong in the Lord.

Their faith is going to be attacked at some point, whether the source is another kid or a teacher. Pray that they will stay strong in their faith.

6) Pray for them to be focused and conscientious students.

We want them to succeed in school. It doesn’t happen by accident. Anything you can do to help them physically is good too (i.e. getting enough sleep, eating enough protein (and A LOT LESS sugar), helping them with their homework and encouraging them to be physically active after school).

7) Pray that they will be able to recognize deceitful teaching.

If children have a worldview based on God and His Word, they will hear things that don’t sound right and they will question both sides. Pray that they will always return to the Lord and not get sucked into the deceitfulness of the world.

 Let’s pray together to great effect!

Please share this post with others who have kids in school!

Coffee Chat 8 – Are you putting family or God on the back burner?

coffee chat

I love a good discussion with a friend over a steaming cup of chai, but since I can’t gather all of you at a comfortable cafe, I’ll have to be content with this little corner of the Internet.

I want to thank each and every person who has come to these coffee chats and commented. I have thoroughly enjoyed your insights and inspiration! Thank you for your time.

Read previous coffee chats under the “discussion” category or click here.


It has always mystified me how a godly parent can have awful children and how awful people end up with godly children. The most common answer is, of course, that people make their own choices in spite of upbringing. While that maxim is certainly true, it still shocks me when I read about Eli, Samuel, David and their children. The accounts of all three families are sobering.

Eli’s sons 1 Samuel 2:12-36

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.

1 Samuel 2.12

If you click on the passage, it will take you to the full context so that you can read, in detail, the wicked deeds of Eli’s sons. In that scripture, it details how they “treated the offering of the Lord with contempt,” and that they would “lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Eli rebuked them, but he did not stop them and it was within his power to do so.

Samuel’s sons 1 Samuel 8:1-5

Yet [Samuel’s] sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

1 Samuel 8.3, ESV

The people of Israel were so frustrated with Samuel’s sons that they demanded a king!

David’s sons

  • Amnon – 2 Samuel 13 (Amnon raped his stepsister)
  • Absalom
    • 2 Samuel 13 (Absalom kills Amnon because he raped his [Absalom’s] sister)
    • 2 Samuel 15 (Absalom conspired to overthrow David and rule the kingdom)
    • 2 Samuel 16:20-23 (Absalom had relations with his Father’s concubines on the roof of his house for all to see).
  • Adonijah – 1 Kings 1:5-7 (Adonijah set himself up as king without authorization from David)

Now, those three men—Eli, Samuel and David—were recognized as godly men, but the state of their households was deplorable! They pleased God, and yet it appears they neglected to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord.

I know of instances in which missionaries, preachers or pastors decide they are going to do some “great work” and they go on to accomplish great things in the name of the Lord… but while they are off changing the world, they leave their families behind to crumble from neglect. Is this acceptable to God? Is this how God wants us to put Him first?

It’s an interesting conundrum. In the book of Matthew, Jesus talks about the need to put God above family.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10.34-39

When two people choose to be married, that relationship is a covenant relationship. Vows are made between two people before God and other witnesses that they would love, honor and cherish one another under every circumstance while they are both living. There will be times in which that commitment requires one spouse or the other to set other obligations aside. When a couple decides to bring children in the world, those children are entrusted to their care (unless for some reason both parents are suddenly killed). We are told repeatedly to train our children in the ways of the Lord. Training children up in the way of the Lord is putting God first while still caring for the needs of those children. The two are not mutually exclusive.

God told the Israelites that they were to teach their children, and we know how well they did that… (sarcasm intended):

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Deuteronomy 6.4-7

Here are some cut-and-dry scenarios:

  • Your kid’s Sports/Extra-curricular activities on Sunday or… worship? (Ahem. Worship, of course!)
  • Your child doesn’t want to go to Bible class because it’s boring. In order to keep peace, you decide to stay home. (Negative! They are under your roof and you are charged with teaching them. Don’t be wishy-washy!)
  • Your child or spouse or parent has a medical emergency or illness and you are missing services or losing out on bible reading or class to care for them. (Yes!)

Here is where the gray area emerges: I have read about (and observed) missionaries and preachers so engrossed in working for the Lord that their families are neglected. Their care for a congregation is phenomenal and the church is thriving, but their children don’t love the Lord. The spouse begins to seek affection elsewhere. They may be doing a great work for the Lord, but what about their family? I read the story of one woman who was sent off to boarding school so her parents could go be missionaries in a foreign country. Apparently this was not an uncommon practice in the early twentieth century. Would you entrust the teaching and raising of your child to someone else so that you could go off and teach the gospel? Which one is right?? If you take your children with you, will you be able to care for them physically and spiritually? I’ve read about it being done successfully from time to time. Again, how do you find balance?

Maybe you aren’t a preacher or missionary, but you are very involved with your local congregation. Are you still meeting the spiritual and physical needs of your own children?

As a blogger trying to share the Word of God with others, are there times you have to set aside your blog to care for the needs of your family?

Maybe you have the opposite problem and you make excuses not to do this or that because you have to take care of family. (I will be the first to admit that I have been guilty of this in the past.)

I firmly believe that our walk with God and care for our family should be intertwined, but the how is not always clear.

How do we uphold our commitments to our families in a way that honors God without neglecting the work that God has for us outside the home?

How do we achieve balance?

Just a breath of wind…

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The glare of the sun bore down on the crew while the wind remained noticeably absent. Stagnant air hovered oppressively over the dispirited men.

The waiting was pure agony.

The object of their mission had eluded them for weeks. Now, in this pond of an ocean, it was nowhere to be seen, assuredly sailing farther and farther beyond reach. They could do nothing to move their massive vessel. It sat motionless in the calm water as though permanently affixed to the sea bed.

The sails of the ship sagged from the rigging while sailors paced aimlessly about ship or sulked in whatever shade could be had.

They had not been idle; they’d scrubbed the decks, caulked the cracks, cleaned the cannons, mended sails, run drills, polished every surface and tended every duty. There was little more to be done. At any moment they could set sail, if only the wind would appear!

They waited.

The steward had informed the captain only that morning of the dwindling rations. Only 3 days of food and 4 days of water. The nearest landmass was a 2 days journey. If they didn’t move soon… the captain quickly banished the unpleasant thought from his mind.

He absorbed his surroundings with mounting frustration.

The waiting would surely kill them.

When the doldrums had descended, he had done everything to keep the men distracted. There was always work to be done aboard ship. But now, ideas were becoming as scarce as tasks. He and his crew had been on half rations for several days. If they did not sail soon, those rations would be but a mere memory. Disease, death and mutiny would surely ensue.

This interminable, infernal wait!

He exhaled sharply.

The captain closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and prayed for the third time that day, lifting up the deep distress of his soul to the One who had never abandoned him.

At that very moment, he felt the gentlest caress of a breeze.

A mere breath of wind.

His eyes flew open and instinctively shot upward. The ivory sails undulated and slowly began to stiffen as the strength of the wind intensified. The men, stirred by the soft breeze rose hopefully and a cheer swelled from among them. The water wrinkled with ripples as the bulk of the ship slowly broke against it.

It was as though a skilled hand had brushed the strings of a harp. Hope revived. The captain nodded at his lieutenant and the young man began barking orders at the crew. The westerly wind gently pushed the ship forward as all hands eagerly made preparations to be underway once more.

The wait was over at last.

Now they had only to replenish their supplies and begin pursuit of the goal once more.


Have you ever felt like the captain of that ship?

Have you ever found yourself stuck, dead in the water, waiting for what seemed like an eternity?

There are storms and then there are doldrums.

Have you ever found yourself waiting in the middle of the storm? The wait can be terrifying as every power on earth seems poised to crush you. In those times, you have to focus on the One who is in the boat with you. You have to persist in your request for Him to “wake” and calm the storm, trusting in His power to save.

Then, there are the times of menacing stillness. These may be spans of time in which you can do nothing but mark time, and take care of the few things within your power.

Are you, even now, sitting on a boat that is fixed in place?

Are you caring for special needs children? Waiting for a response to a job application? Watching a loved one on hospice care grow closer to death?

Are you waiting?

What are you doing while you wait?

There is cooking and cleaning, kids to care for, job applications to be completed, paperwork to be filled out. Are you moving smartly about ship, trying to keep the oppressive stillness at bay?

Many years ago, author and former missionary Elisabeth Elliot hosted a radio show called “Gateway to Joy.” She had a saying, “Do the next thing.” When your despair threatens to consume you, don’t just walk around wringing your hands—do somethingMop the floor, wipe those runny little noses, change the bed linens, read a story to your child, read the Word to your loved one as they approach death, organize a cabinet, prepare food for the next few days, and pray.

In the past week, I have been meditating on and praying aloud Psalm 25. I have a copy of the Psalm hanging on the refrigerator door at my eye level. Every time I open it, I see part of the Psalm. Here is a portion of it:

Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

O my God, I trust in Thee:
let me not be ashamed,
let not mine enemies triumph over me.

Yea, let none that wait on Thee be ashamed:
let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.

Shew me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths.

Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me:
for thou art the God of my salvation;
on Thee do I wait all the day.

Remember, O Lord, Thy tender mercies and Thy loving kindnesses;
for they have been ever of old.

Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions:
according to Thy mercy remember Thou me for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will He teach sinners in the way.

The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach his way.

All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth
unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Psalm 25.1-10

I used the King James Version primarily for the poetic factor. (Read the full text of the Psalm here at Bible Gateway. The link should take you to a side-by-side comparison of the King James Version and the English Standard Version.)

I learned a song of the same title a long time ago, and it was the remembrance of that song that lead me to the reading of the Psalm.

In my physical Bible (as opposed to my digital one) there was a footnote for verse 3 that says “wait for You in faith.” Perhaps one of my readers who have access to Bible reference materials can tell me what the original says; I have not been able to find anything else that indicates the presence of that phrase in the original. However, I do think the meaning is applicable: We have to wait on the Lord in faith, otherwise we will lose heart.

Notice verses 3 and 4: In verse 3 (using the ESV) it reads: “Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed.” In the next verse (verse 4), the writer asks for the Lord to reveal His ways. While we wait, are we only looking for the solution here on earth or do we ask the Lord to lead us in His ways? Are we seeking His purpose or are we solely focused on what is immediately in front of us? It’s natural during a period of great anxiety or grief to look inward. Take some time to look upward.

Lift up your soul to God. Lift up your requests, your burdens, your anxieties, your frustrations—lift them UP.

I would like you to notice something else about this Psalm. In the ESV version, the phrase “steadfast love” is used three times. I have always believed that if God repeats Himself, He is emphasizing something important. Steadfast love is a strong, steady and reliable love. Anyone who has lived long on the earth is well-acquainted with the failings of human love. Even the truest of loves will let you down at times, but God’s love never weakens.

Lift up your heart to the one who loves you with an unfailing (steadfast) love. He cares. He has orchestrated the perfect moment to supply the breath of wind to move you forward.

If you are slacking off and neglecting your ship, you won’t be ready to set sail when that wind comes. Prepare yourself for God’s purpose, even though you may not have an inkling of where it will take you. Take this time of stillness to make yourself ready.

Another well-loved passage about waiting is found in Isaiah 40:

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40.28-31, NKJV (Read full chapter here).

Are you waiting?

Wait on the Lord, my very dear friends. He will not allow you to be put to shame as you wait on Him in faith. Do not grow weary while waiting. Meditate on these scriptures while you wait. Commit them to your heart. Pray them to the Lord, reminding Him that you are waiting for His excellent timing.

Have you read the most influential bestseller in history?

20150807_005I remember the day they released the novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I sped home from work with the afternoon commuters, ate a hurried dinner and headed over to Costco to pick up my copy. I didn’t do the midnight event at Barnes & Noble or Borders (I’m not that die-hard), but I had been counting the days nonetheless!

In the weeks leading up to it’s release, somebody (probably Rowling’s P.R. team) “leaked” the following teaser:

One major character will die. (cue the sinister music!)

This one-liner stoked the excitement of fans everywhere.

Stephen King publicly appealed to J.K. Rowling to spare Harry (the protagonist) from death. I knew, as well as he did, that Rowling was not one to shy away from tragedy.

Filled with anticipation, I raced home, found a comfortable spot, briefly savored the new-book smell, gently opened the cover and began to read.

I kept saying I’d put it down at 1 a.m….

…well, ok, maybe at 2 a.m….

…had to finish that chapter…

…maybe 3 a.m…

As the soft light of dawn crept through the window, I gently closed the book, replete with satisfaction. I finally knew the ending… what a luxurious moment.

My best friend awoke, came out to the living room and laughed at me, utterly dumbfounded by my quick read and thoroughly amused that I had lost a full night’s sleep to finish a book.

Have you ever had a similar experience with a novel?

Well, get ready, because I have an embarrassing confession to make:

I have not always possessed the same all-consuming appetite for God’s Word.

I am extremely shamed by the admission, but I would be a liar if I said otherwise. When I get my hands on a great novel, I can’t put it down unless there is a compelling demand, but with the Word of God, there are times I just can’t seem to get into it.

Anybody else have that problem?

Reading God’s Word, like so many worthwhile tasks, is not always easy. It takes concerted effort to understand many of the passages therein and, as such, is difficult to digest. When we are tired, foggy-headed or distracted, it’s all too easy to give up time with the Word for things that are less taxing on the brain. Things that are thoroughly entertaining, but not life-changing.

What are some reasons we fail to read the number one most influential bestseller (not to mention the Word of our all-powerful God) daily?

1) It’s not our top priority.

My second job out of college was a Customer Service Support position with a mid-size corporation in El Dorado Hills. I reported directly to a Sales Director and provided support to business clients nationwide.

Shortly after my employment began, my boss enrolled me in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People training course offered on our corporate campus. Since my load of clients at that point was still minimal, the all-day training wouldn’t greatly interfere with my work. I was acquainted with the book of the same title, yet I was in for a real surprise. I discovered that many of the principles of the class were aligned with Biblical truths.

The third habit, “Put first things first,” included a video of Stephen Covey demonstrating how priorities work. A woman walked nervously onstage and was provided with sand, pebbles, stones and one large rock which she had to fit inside a glass jar. She tried putting sand, pebbles and stones in first, with the result that the large rock jutted grossly out of the mouth of the jar. Covey then advised the embarrassed woman to try again, only this time, he asked her to first insert the large rock, followed by the stones, then the pebbles, and lastly the sand. As the grains of sand poured into the jar, all the glittering specks rolled easily into the nooks and crannies between the large rocks. The jar was full, with no substance jutting from the top. Everything fit because the larger materials were handled first.

Our priorities are like those rocks. We have to start with the most important first (i.e. your large “rocks”) and let all the little stuff pour into the crevices afterwards.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told the crowd:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

And why are you anxious about clothing?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 7.25-33

Focus on that last sentence: Seek first the kingdom of God.

How do we seek the kingdom of God? How can we know what God requires?

Begin with the source.

Devotionals, sermons, songs and blogs are helpful and they stimulate the mind, but they aren’t the source. If we truly desire to know God—how He interacts with people, what His purpose is for us, His personality, His character—we need to read the Word that He supplied. It’s too easy to be deceived by false teaching when we aren’t reading the text personally.

Make reading His Word a top priority. Think of it as a large rock that you have to squeeze into that tiny jar of time. If you have time to eat, check your phone or watch a show, you can make time for the Word.

Recently, I have made every effort to read the Bible before I leave my room in the morning. Sometimes, I listen to an audio version while I get ready for the day. With three little ones, it’s easy to get sidetracked, so it is preferable to do this task before they wake up.

So, put first things first and get into the Word of God. It should be our top priority.

2) It’s too difficult to understand.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25.2

Truly understanding the Bible takes a lifetime. Even after a lifetime of study, many mysteries will remain unsolved until we meet our Maker face to face. The Bible is not a single book, it is a collection of books. Connecting the dots is much more difficult to do.

When I was 12, my dear friend Cecil McFarland (who was significantly older than my parents) was teaching our home study when he made the statement, “I’m still learning new things from the scripture.” When you are 12, everybody older than 30 is old; everyone over 60 is ancient. At that time, I assumed that elderly Christians knew just about everything; and Cecil was wise. Even now, after all the experience I have gleaned, I still consider him one of the wisest Christians I’ve had the privilege to know.

So, imagine my shock as my 12-year-old self took in his words, uttered in quiet humility. After all his years of study (more years than I had been alive), he was still discovering.

I pray that I have the same humility of spirit that allows me to learn more and more about God as I age.

Since the Bible is challenging to understand, let me make a couple suggestions, particularly to those who are new in the faith:

1) Get a version that is easy to read like the New American Standard Version or the English Standard Bible. Steer clear of the RSV (Revised Standard Version) and if you do decide on the NIV (New International Version), read it with another version nearby.

2) Start simple. Do not begin daily reading with the prophets or Revelation. Start with one of the following:

  • The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
  • Genesis through Ecclesiastes
  • Read a chapter of Proverbs every day for 31 days (there are 31 chapters—one for every day of the month!)
  • Read the Psalms
  • Use a daily bible program.

Note: I said to start there, but don’t ignore the rest! Once you get a feel for the easier-to-read books, move on to the harder ones. Get into a class with a solid teacher who has a firm grasp on prophetic language.

At 19, I had a one-time study with a young man in the book of Acts. Based on his love for God, his kind, charitable nature, and the fact that he always had a bible with him, I assumed he knew the Word pretty well. So, in our study, I said, “You know about the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, right?”

He looked at me blankly, shook his head and smiled sheepishly.

“Well, are you familiar with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8?”

Again, he shook his head.

I was utterly perplexed. These were accounts I had learned since childhood. I thought all Christians were familiar with them.

I had assumed too much.

I was embarrassed, because I had unwittingly made him feel foolish, and I hadn’t intended to do that. I have no way of knowing, but I have often wondered if he thought me arrogant. That whole scenario still makes me cringe!

The problem wasn’t that he was failing to read daily. The problem was that he only read his favorite sections. He felt that the rest was too hard for him to understand. In our class, we read those passages I mentioned and more. I was determined that he should read the Bible’s account and not my synopses.

(I realize that my approach was not the best one, but hey, cut me some slack… I was only 19 and not experienced nor trained in teaching people.)

My friends, I cannot say it enough: open up God’s Word and read, read, read.

Read and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Ask heaps of questions and read it again!

Be curious!

Think critically!

If something in the Word of God doesn’t jive with what you espouse or what your preacher is teaching, question it! Be a critical thinker! I am amazed at how many Christians blindly follow charismatic preachers and teachers, never realizing the rank contradictory teachings to God’s Word.

One more thing: Have you ever noticed that when someone challenges your beliefs, your faith grows?

Why?

Because you have to dig into the Word to mount your case. Once you do that, you have to be able to formulate your answer in your own words.

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Now, I know some things are beyond a six-year-old’s experience, but you should be able to articulate the basics…

To understand the Word of God takes seeking. Seeking takes effort. Effort takes time. Time is in short supply, so use it wisely.

3) We already know the plot.

“I know all the stories.”

“God created the world, people sinned, it got bad, there was a flood, Abraham had a son and the Jewish people began. That Moses guy sent some plagues, the Israelites left Egypt. They went to the promised land, did some stupid things and had some ups and downs. Somewhere in there (before Jesus came) there were some people named Daniel and Jonah and Esther. Then Jesus came to earth, died on a cross, rose from the dead and His followers spread the gospel.”

Does that sum up the Bible?

I’d say that it’s a start, but so much pertinent information is excluded from that summary. It isn’t even good for Cliff’s Notes!

My best friend is not quite the bookworm that I am. When go to a movie adaptation based on a book, I’m always filling him in on the “whys” if the screenwriter has failed to make good connections. My friend may know the plot, but the depth and emotion of the book is lost.

Have you seen the movie Unbroken?

I read the book long before the movie came out and I can tell you why the movie fell flat—it lacked substance.

A quick synopsis: A young soldier and olympic athlete is lost at sea when his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean during the hostilities of World War II. He survives in a life raft for over a month with his best friend only to be captured by the Japanese military. He’s placed into a prisoner of War camp where he spends the remainder of the War. He is later released and succumbs to drinking and PTSD. When he is close to falling apart, he remembers the promise that he had made to God that if God saved his life, he would serve him until he died. He turns his life around and goes on to help hundreds of troubled youths and save his marriage.

First of all, the movie ended when Zamperini arrived home. It left out the most compelling and redeeming part of the book!

The movie failed to capture the interminable length of Zamperini’s time lost at sea, his inhumane imprisonment with the Japanese, the severity of his torture, the self-destructing lifestyle he succumbed to after the War, his remembrance of promises he had made to God, his subsequent redemption, and the lengths to which he went to meet with his torturers to express forgiveness.

It’s not an easy book to read, but it was one of the most inspiring non-fiction books (other than the Bible) that I’ve read in years. The movie just didn’t cut it. My friend knew the plot, but the movie just didn’t do anything for him. It did not inspire. So he survived. Big deal. I could survive a couple hours of torture, couldn’t you?

How about weeks? Months? Years?

Could you handle PTSD? What if your life began to fall apart and you felt helpless to put it back together?

The basic thread of plot wasn’t compelling. The details, the unremitting suffering is what made the redemptive portion inspiring. Leave that out and it’s just another story.

The crux is this: Don’t allow your basic Bible plot knowledge trick you into thinking you know it all. If you read the Bible with the purpose of knowing the Lord, it will be an inspiring read.

The Bible is often considered one book, but it is actually a collection of 66 books. Those 66 books were hand-written by many different people and cover thousands of years worth of history.

Those 66 books are the key to better things.

Those 66 books outline the plan of God.

Within those 66 books is the meaning of life.

Within those 66 books lies the ultimate way, the ultimate truth and the ultimate life.

Open the number one bestselling book of collected works in history and discover what you’ve been missing.

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Make time today, while you still have breath and access to a Bible.

Special thanks to Albert Krabbe of Studio Twenty Photography for the awesome photograph. Visit studiotwenty.net to view their excellent portfolio!

Coffee Chat 7 – How can I be a peacemaker?

coffee chat

I love a good discussion with a friend over a steaming cup of chai, but since I can’t gather all of you at a comfortable cafe, I’ll have to be content with this little corner of the Internet.

I want to thank each and every person who has come to these coffee chats and commented. I have thoroughly enjoyed your insights and inspiration! Thank you for your time.

This week, I want to talk about peace and conflict.

Where would the world be if England had rolled over and played dead when Hitler assaulted them with his Blitzkrieg?

Where would the world be if the United States of America had chosen to turn a blind eye to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941?

Where would we be if Jesus Christ went along with the folks who wanted to make him an earthly king?

If there were never resistance to evil, there would never be peace.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4.4, ESV

I’m going to step out on a limb here, and I beseech your patience and mercy.

The apathy within the church towards sin makes my blood boil.

So often, people become “members” of their local church so they can have friends or the approval of family, but they don’t care much about the approval of God. They want to keep doing whatever it was they were doing before—fornication, adultery, porn-addiction, alcoholism, selfishness, greed, pride, hate—and the people in the church, not wanting to be cast as “judgmental” go along with their sin so as not to create waves. They don’t want to push them away, so they remain silent. “Let’s not preach about selfishness, it’s too negative.” “Don’t rebuke brother so-and-so for causing so much trouble in the church or else he might leave.”

When Jesus resisted the calls to be made a king, he put himself into conflict with the people and with the leaders. They didn’t want the will of God, they wanted earthly triumph and vengeance against the Romans. He engaged in conflict in order to make peace with God on our behalf. Until he died, we had no way to be in that state of peace.

The church gets corrupted when it decides that it doesn’t want to engage in conflict with worldly desires—pride, selfishness, greed, conformity—to remain at peace with God.

There is no Switzerland in the war with Satan. There is God’s side and there is Satan’s side.

There is no neutral territory.

The point is this: Peace cannot be achieved without conflict.

In Matthew 5:9, in Jesus famous “Beatitudes” he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

James also writes this:

Who is wise and understanding among you? 

By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3.13-18

I am not someone who takes pleasure in conflict. I like harmony.

And yet, I don’t often feel harmonious with the church. More often than not, I feel anger and frustration. I feel overwhelming vexation by acceptance of sin, weakness of leadership, acquiescence to stupidity “in the name of peace,” and compromising truth “in the name of unity”.

Am I wrong to feel this way? Am I at odds with God?

If I am right in my feelings, what in the world am I supposed to do about it? Simply stewing in my anger doesn’t help anybody.

How can I help my brothers and sisters in Christ without sinning towards them and towards my God?

How can I be a peacemaker?