Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Sunflower Message

A smiling sunflower, on a four-foot plant outside my patio door, greeted me at dawn.  At its feet, several smaller plants bloomed. A garden of unplanned sunflowers made me smile. 

            Last summer, I planted one small sunflower. When the blooms turned brown, I pulled them off and tossed them to the sandy soil. Rain watered them. Sunlight caressed them. Winter’s cold enveloped them. I did nothing and forgot they were there. 

            The exquisite, but unplanned, collection of sunny blooms brings me happiness. They shine whether the day is bright or cloudy. Several times a day, I walk to the window so I can see the surprise gift. 

            I only threw the seeds to the ground. After that, God provided what they needed to flourish and multiply. 

            As Christians, we are to plant seeds. We can invite someone to church, pray for them, listen to their hurts, cry with them, share a meal, or tell them how God loves them. Opportunities come often. We never know exactly how the seeds we sow will be used.

            Some seeds die. Some sprout and grow for a short time. Others germinate, thrive and produce more. At times, we are to nourish the seeds someone else has planted.  

This is what the parable of the sower means. It is about the kingdom of heaven. When someone hears the story of the Kingdom and cannot understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away whatever goodness and holiness had been sown in the heart. This is like the seeds sown beside the road. You know people who hear the word of God and receive it joyfully—but then, somehow, the word fails to take root in their hearts. It is temporary. As soon as there is trouble for those people, they trip: those people are the seeds strewn on the rocky soil. And you know people who hear the word, but it is choked inside them because they constantly worry and prefer the wealth and pleasures of the world: they prefer drunken dinner parties to prayer, power to piety, and riches to righteousness. Those people are like the seeds sown among thorns. The people who hear the word and receive it and grow in it—those are like the seeds sown on good soil. They produce a bumper crop, 30 or 60 or 100 times what was sown.
 (Matthew 13: 18-23 The Voice)
Jesus, show us ways we can plant seeds in this uncertain world. Also, help us also know how we are to nourish seeds planted by others so that they will know You. Amen


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Garage Sale Treasures

But now make sure you shed such things: anger, rage, spite, slander, abusive language. And don’t go on lying to each other since you have sloughed away your old skin along with its evil practices for a fresh new you, which is continually renewed in knowledge according to the image of the One who created you. (Colossians 3: 9-10 The Voice)

The last stop during the community garage sale in my area, brought a surprise. I spied several small vases that would be perfect for our women’s club Mother’s Day outreach project. 

            “How much is this vase?” I asked.

            “You can have all of these for a dollar,” the lady said as she motioned to three or four vases. 

            “I’ve been looking for vases to take to some charities for Mother’s Day since we are giving them flowers,” I said.

            Her husband added more items. They filled a box with various sizes of vases, a large drinking glass and a glass pitcher. Much more than I needed but I decided I would donate the unwanted ones to another charity. One dollar paid for the filled box. 

            At home, the vases stayed in the garage. The smudged pitcher and glass went into dishwater so they would be clean before I donated them.

            As I scrubbed away the grime, two treasures appeared. Soap and water transformed the grubby glass into an ideal one to drink from each day.

            What I thought was a dull, plain pitcher became a light blue treasure with flowing lines and circular designs in the glass. It was better and much cheaper than ones I had seen in stores. 

            Only by cleaning the outside of my soiled purchases, did I recognize their value. 

            Greed, lying, addictions, anger, abusive language, gossip, resentment, worry, envy, … smudge and contaminate lives. The world tarnishes and hides the treasure inside. But Jesus can cleanse and set apart those who believe in Him to reveal the treasures of new lives. 
Father, thank you for creating new lives out of our old, tarnished ones. Amen

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Silent Saturday

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. (John 14: 1 NIV)

For the second day, heavy clouds hovered over the lake. Silence just before dawn. Somberness after yesterday’s storm.

            Across the lake, a strip of light broke through the gray at the tree line. Gradually, the sun lightened the dark clouds to a light gray. Then a ring of blue defied the dreariness. 

            Though still bleak, the morning awoke with singing birds. An eagle flapped his impressive wings as he returned to his nest. 

            During yesterday’s pounding rain and gales, I searched for the new eagle’s nest. But in the storm, I couldn’t see it. I hoped it because of the rain. 

            In the calmness of Saturday morning, I heard the screeches of eagles. They were spared and the nest preserved. My wait was only overnight to find out their nest survived.

            After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples waited too. They tried to process his death.  Grief consumed them. They felt abandoned and lost. On silent Saturday, they wondered what to do. In their distress, they lost hope.

            The disciples had a longer time of despair and heartache. On Saturday after Good Friday, God was silent. A time of waiting and contemplation for His followers. They didn’t anticipate the celebration of Sunday. 

            Even though we know about the joy of Easter, we need to remember the times of abandonment, sadness and despair they endured. We also experience similar experiences but we are not alone. Silence doesn’t mean absence. 

Father, even in times of pain, you have not left us. Amen 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Remembering Good Friday

Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus and the ringleaders made faces, taunting. “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself: The Messiah of God-ha!”  (Luke 23: 34-35 The Message)

A gray shroud of clouds blocked the sun. Wind whipped the trees. Waves churned the lake. The dismal morning expressed the day perfectly. 

            As I read the Gospel accounts of Good Friday, I imagined what it must have been like in Jerusalem that day over two thousand years ago.

            A beaten, bloody Jesus hung on a rough-hewn cross. Jeering spectators watched the execution of Him between two other men. 

            Romans placed death crosses along thoroughfares to deter crime and rebellion. To remind occupied residents of Roman control. 

            Soldiers taunted Jesus. Laughed at the sign King of the Jews near his head. They gambled for his clothes. Their laugher and scoffing added to the indignity. Satisfied Jewish leaders looked on from afar. 

            Multitudes of people, in the city for Passover, streamed past the dying men. Some stopped to watch. Perhaps they had become accustomed to the horrible killings. 

            Confusion reigned too. How could that happen to the one who taught and healed? Jesus preached to thousands. Healed and comforted countless people when they were sick, lonely, and dejected. Where were they? Though He saved them, they deserted Him. 

            Even most of those closest to Him hid. Pretended they never knew Him.  

            But a small group of mourners stood at the foot of the cross. Horrified as they watched the spectacle.  In disbelief, they saw life slowly drain from his body.  

            Hour after hour, the grieving followers remained. They ignored the callous soldiers and heartless Jewish leaders. Their love for Jesus kept them close even though they didn’t understand what was happening. Discouragement and heartache consumed them but love kept them at His feet. 

            My gloomy lake scene fit the sorrow of the day Jesus died.  It reminded me the despair of Good Friday came before the joy of Easter. 

Lord, as we prepare for the celebration of Easter, take us to the agony of the cross. Amen

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Winter to Spring

Tufts of green swaddled cypress trees by the lake. For months, only a few birds perched on naked limbs. Occasionally, a squirrel scampered to a nest at the top. 

            A couple of weeks ago, a hint of green appeared on brown branches. Each day, I observed the growth. Soft needles poked out in all directions. A halo of emerald began to fill in bare spots. Soon the needles will change the trees into a mass of spring green. Then wildlife will hide and be protected within the branches. The trees will offer shade and reflect their beauty on the lake. 

            What appeared dead during the winter, burst into life during spring. The transformation didn’t surprise me because I watch the cycle every year. Even though I prefer the beauty of spring, I have learned to appreciate the trees during each season. 

            In my own trials, I have learned that God is with me in every cycle of my life. Sadness and tears fade as He takes me to the next phase. Since He has been faithful in other circumstances, I can trust that He will continue to be with me. 

Have faith in Him in all circumstances, dear people. Open up your hearts to Him. The true God shelters us in His arms. ( Psalm 63:8 The Voice)

Creator, You are the God of the spring and of the winter. You are faithful to be with us in all of our seasons. Amen

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Marred Image

We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. (Romans 8: 28 The Voice)

From my patio, I surveyed the abundance of purple, pink, white, and orange 
spring flowers in my garden. Tiny bells, spikes and clusters of dainty blooms decorated the variety of plants. 

            The dark lake reflected a forest on the opposite shore. Sunlight streamed through empty branches of the cypress trees. Only the birds joined me in welcoming a new day. Peacefulness wrapped me like a cloak. 

            However, within the loveliness, I noticed imperfections. Clumps of algae spoiled the lake’s surface. Dead blooms intermingled with the colorful ones. Weeds popped up in the grass. A broken limb dangled high in the cypress tree. Roaring cars and motorcycles almost drowned out the bird melodies. 

            This world is filled with pain, trials and uncertainty. We can focus on the imperfections or we can appreciate and be thankful for our blessings. Even in our hard times, we know that God can take our difficult circumstances and use them for good.  

Loving Father, you are with us in this imperfect world. Thank you for using all of our situations for good. Amen

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Unhearlded Servants

For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was homeless and you gave me a room. I was shivering and you gave me clothes. I was sick and you stopped to visit. I was in prison and you came to me. 

Then the King will say, “I’m telling you the solemn truth. Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me-you did it for me.” 
(Matthew 25: 35-36, 40 The Message)

Wheelchairs. Walkers. A few residents strolled in on their own. The recreation room began filling up for the weekly service. 

            With two of his children, a young pastor moved around the room as soon as they arrived. The elementary aged boy and girl shook hands with every person. Their dad shook hands and greeted each one by name. He introduced himself to my cousin and me as we joined my aunt for the Sunday service. 

            At the small organ, he played familiar hymns and then asked for requests. Elderly voices blended with younger ones. 

            With confidence, the young girl and boy sang several verses of “Jesus Loves Me” and signed the chorus. What a delightful part of the afternoon church service. 

            The simple, but powerful sermon about faith, touched my heart. Earlier in the day, I had attended my own church with thousands of worshipers. Both pastors used Scripture and preached a significant message for their congregation—large or small. 

            Days later, my cousin and I returned to the assisted living facility to attend another service with my aunt. A different man led the gathering and moved around the room to greet each person by name too. 

            While we sang selected songs, the leader constantly scanned the room and moved to those who needed a little encouragement. Throughout the service, he motivated and uplifted the audience with his kindness and compassion.

            One young and the other old, both men faithfully serve the tiny congregation every week. They treat each person with love and dignity. The love of Jesus shows through as they serve the aged. Some with dimming eyes, impaired hearing, and fuzzy minds. Men and women who lived full lives working and serving others, now have two devoted men doing the same for them. The dedicated men see every person living in the facility as precious in God’s sight.

            Their preaching and faithfulness to the elderly will never be announced on the news. There will be no monetary compensation for their time. The reward will be to hear, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” 

            How many others quietly serve with no expectation of fame or riches? Instead of elevating those who love the limelight, look for the humble servants who make life richer and more meaningful for the lonely, widowed, and orphaned. 

            I went to the services to support my aunt but received a powerful lesson in serving from two godly men. 

Loving Father, thank you for those who faithfully serve even when many fail to notice. Help me to love and serve like Jesus. Amen