Bench-Pressing a Hersey Bar

“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.”
― Author Judith Viorst

When I was raising my children and dreaming of one day being–dare I say it–a famous author, I enjoyed reading Judith Viorst’s column in Redbook magazine each month. I also read her books. I even wrote to her once and received in return a sweet postcard.

When I become famous, I’ll answer my fan mail too, I thought.

Mrs. Viorst could make us chuckle about what it takes to keep house and raise children and maybe even teach us about resisting chocolate. But she couldn’t tell us where the ultimate source of strength comes from.

Like me, you’re probably faced with areas of weakness or a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting solved quickly enough for you. Where do you turn? Bench-pressing a dark chocolate candy bar seems like a good idea, but it doesn’t truly solve a problem of any magnitude. (Much as this chocoholic hates to admit that.)

My children are grown, but being a parent of a grown child possesses its own challenges. I’ve always been good at the housekeeping thing, but there are days I’d sooner eat that Hersey bar than sweep and mop the floors. And then, there’s the never-ending challenge of keeping finances in order, relationships from falling apart, and my health from doing likewise. I’m getting old and sort of broken down.

Heaven, help me! Literally.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When I’m honest, I’ll tell you I’m challenged on some days to keep my eyes on Jesus, the one who keeps me strong. We face things like the annoyance of a cancelled appointment, a disobedient child, needing an unexpected surgery, or the death of a loved one. Scripture says these things, which we can see, are “light and momentary troubles.”

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? Yet we’re told to stay strong because what eternity holds is worth it. God wouldn’t tell us a lie about eternity; it’s his dwelling place and inherent in his nature. So trust him for that and stay strong.

Upstaged by a Donkey

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This picture is for a fellow blogger, The Donkey Whisperer, who trains donkeys and teaches others to train their own donkeys. The photos she posts are incredible and she educates us about donkeys while doing it. For instance, did you know a donkey brays for a variety of reasons and they can sound different depending on the bray’s purpose? Fascinating.

My particular ‘episode’ with a donkey happened when our pastor did a sermon series based on Bible stories which included a donkey. He didn’t talk about donkeys per se. He used the stories to show us how the Bible is relevant to our lives and how to put our faith into action.

Our youth group helped keep this little guy available at the atrium entrance so people could pet him, children could sit on his back, and he could just be an example of God’s endearing creations. The pastor’s wife, Sandy, stood by to take some photos.

I wish I knew the donkey’s name. He was calm and gentle and I went away full of glee at my experience with him.

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered if we don’t first deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us (resentment, regrets, open wounds, and unforgiveness for example), real and meaningful progress in life doesn’t occur.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real in our lives until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives may be accompanied by His “Now, go.”

Read about a man blind from birth in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there; He did His part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine used to say, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often, we mustn’t be content to sit and wait for God to simply come through with our need. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work He’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how He’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, He’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what He’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.

Simeon and the Savior

This post is re-blogged from last December for this Advent season following my pastor’s sermon about Simeon last Sunday. While he taught on another aspect of the story, I find it interesting––and gratifying––that he and I are so often on the same wavelength.-Paula

“When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24)

Word made flesh visualAt first glance, this short passage of scripture might seem like a simple recording of an event in Joseph’s, Mary’s and Jesus’ lives. But watch what happens when an old man enters the scene.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Luke 2:25-28).

When I read this, I want to be like Simeon. Certainly, being righteous and devout sounds good, but also to speak to God with the confidence Simeon had. He praised God regarding the baby Jesus. He said,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29,30).

That baby was exactly what the old gentleman had been waiting for.

When it’s time for me to pass from this earth, I hope similar words occupy my mind and heart, because I have also been blessed to see God’s salvation. That fact gives me peace.

During this advent season, the coming of Christ reminds me there’s a wonderful hope for us. We have the promise of God’s glory when we know Jesus personally and trust Him as our Lord and savior. Like Simeon, we yearn to see Christ. We look forward to His return.

One secret to Simeon’s story is this: he listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit and went to the temple when prompted. He knew from prior experience that the Spirit would speak. He anticipated the promise which was in line with his going. He trusted that he wouldn’t die before laying eyes on the Messiah.

As I said, I’m blessed to know Jesus and His salvation.

And like Simeon, I look forward to laying eyes on Him.

 

Touching God Through His Bestselling Book

A Book Review

“The TouchPoint: Connecting With God Through the Bible” By Bob Santos; 2016 by Search for Me Ministries, Inc.

However you see the Bible right now–a book of instructions, a book about history, or a book of stories–author Bob Santos wants you to see the bestselling book of all time as a way to create a relationship with God or continue to improve the relationship you now have.

The TouchPoint is meant to answer questions the average person might have about Bible reading and Bible study. Questions like “Why should I read it?” “What will I find?” “What’s the point?”touchpoint

Topics covered in the book include the authority of scripture, an overview of the Bible, the relationship between science and faith, preparing one’s heart for study, and the Bible’s credibility, among others. Throughout, Santos writes clearly and simply, which makes for relatable content. Readers won’t likely feel they’re being talked down to. Perhaps this is because Santos, founder and president of Search for Me Ministries, describes himself as “an average guy” relying on the anything-but-average grace of God. He’s found ways to ‘touch’ God and one way is through scripture.

Even though the book is written in simple language, The TouchPoint offers food for thought you can chew on even after moving to the next chapter. There’s meat in what Santos has to say. Just as Christians are encouraged to graduate from milk to meat, Bible reading and study should create, not only changed behavior but an increased intimacy with God.

According to the author, the Bible is where we learn who God is. That partially answers the “Why should I read it?” question. When we understand who God says He is, we’re better able to develop intimacy, which is Santos’ purpose for writing: to help us discover connections with the Almighty.

In every chapter, Santos reveals more and more of “What will I find?” within the Bible’s pages. He includes scripture to support the explanations he gives. What may be just as important to many readers is his inclusion of personal experience. Since God showed the author how to know Him and create a closer relationship, Santos can pass that information on, knowing God will keep the promise of meeting you right where you are.

In addition to being extremely readable, The TouchPoint exhibits humor. Santos is obviously able to laugh at himself, using phrases like “cranial ability” and “frustrated and disgruntled bandits.” Using such language, he holds the reader in with, again, relatability.

Each chapter held my attention because I’m already convinced that reading and studying the Bible is a good idea. My highlighter hit the page more often than in other chapters when I got to “What About Science?” Here, Santos includes some hefty comparisons. He argues as well as any apologist for how God’s word is believable. This idea is crucial. If the Bible isn’t believable, where can we find hope?

“As the grim reality of scientific naturalism becomes clear, a sense of futility overtakes the human heart. But when people begin to lose hope, their behavior becomes destructive” (page 132)

Bingo. Santos had me at “grim reality.” We all need hope.

Hope, found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, answers the question, “What’s the point?” Read between the lines and you’ll see that Santos is trying to tell us Jesus is always the point.

While Santos may disgruntle a few readers with his views or his seeming lack of formal training in the Bible, it’s good to remember that apostles Peter and John were “unschooled, ordinary men.” The Spirit of God works through whomever He wills. Give yourself permission to be a little disgruntled if you must.

Anyone, Christian or not, will find answers in The TouchPoint to questions about how reading the Bible can change a life. Combining thoughtful content with grace-filled delivery in a highly readable format, The TouchPoint is a book for people hoping to connect with God for the first time or for those looking for reasons to enjoy a deeper relationship with Him than they already have.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

Who’s Hungry?

“I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” Job 23:12

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger…to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:3

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” John 4:13,14

“I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15:16man-reading-bible

“For they drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:4

“The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.” Psalm 19:9,10

“I am the bread of life.” John 6:48

“The words of God which you receive by your ear, hold fast in you heart; for the Word of God is the food of the soul.” ~ Pope Gregory I

Now, are you hungry yet?

The Letter

As I begin work on a devotional book and a memoir, I’ll be spending more of my writing time on those works. I’ll still post original essays, Media Monday, Good News, and Foodie Friday, but you’ll occasionally see re-blogged posts like the one here. This story is from a couple years ago. What a difference it can make in someone’s life to write one letter.

This story is a version of what might have happened when the slave Onesimus returned to his master, Philemon. Purely conjecture, it is nevertheless partly based on facts. For the original letter from Paul, see Philemon in your Holy Bible.


I heard the door of the outer chamber open and close and went to investigate. Quartus stood with Onesimus kneeling next him. Onesimus stared down, holding out a sealed letter.

“Onesimus has returned, master,” Quartus said.

“I see that, Quartus; you may leave us.” I was full of conflicting emotions. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Mostly relief. “The letter, Onesimus; what is this letter? Hand it to me.”

He stood and handed me the letter. He remained standing with his eyes averted while I read the whole thing through. In fact, I had to read it twice. It was from Paul, the apostle, imprisoned in Rome. The letter was a plea on behalf of my slave–a request to accept him back now that he’d become a follower of Christ.

It was a good letter and he made good arguments.

“Do you know what this means, Onesimus?” I asked him.

Onesimus nodded, his eyes still averted. “Master, I cannot speak as Paul does. His words are much more convincing. Of course, they are or I wouldn’t be here. All I know is that now I belong to Christ Jesus. I was freed from the bonds of my sin to serve Him. I suppose you could say I’m a slave in two ways; first to God and then because I’m still bound to you. That’s why I’ve returned.”

Yes, he knew exactly what it meant.

“You may go to your quarters, Onesimus.” He left and I sat down heavily on the chair by the table.

He’d made it all the way to Rome! Somehow he’d found Paul and now he was a follower of Christ and a brother. Of course, he knew what could happen to a runaway slave. But he returned.

I got up and paced the room. I pounded my fist on the table where the letter lay. I don’t know why I was so agitated. Paul’s letter requested nothing more than what my Lord would do. But forgiveness is hard, even when it’s someone you care about. And I had always cared about Onesimus. Maybe we hadn’t always seen him as anything but a house slave, but we cared about him.

I put my head in my hands and I prayed. I thanked God that Onesimus had made it safely to Rome and found Paul. It was a blessing that he could be of use to Paul so I thanked God for that as well. Then I prayed that God would give our household the willingness to accept my decision because we are bound together in love with Christ as our head. I sighed deeply before calling him to me.

“Onesimus, come!” Once again he stood before me, eyes cast down. “Look at me.”

A man is what I saw through my eyes. But now, because of what had happened for Onesimus in Rome, I saw someone else in my heart. I put my hands on his shoulders and squeezed.

“Welcome home, Brother. It will be a pleasure having you here serving again.”

The Red Letter Life: A Book Review

Hello, Media Monday, when we talk about books, movies or music. Today’s offering: “The Red Letter Life: 17 Words From Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical and Purposeful Living” by Bob Hostetler.

The adjectives in the subtitle of this book, The Red Letter Life give us a hint into Bob Hostetler’s message for living as a disciple of Jesus. Hostetler writes with purpose; his message is practical; and his writing is simple so anyone can understand it.the-red-letter-life-872316900

Hostetler has delivered his message in a ‘pure’ way: truth, grace, simplicity and clarity of thought are all in place. Sure, he uses his knowledge of Greek to explain things. But he only does it to enhance the message. I never got the feeling I was being talked down to because these explanations are not overdone.

The seventeen words chosen are excellent choices and indicate the author’s careful study of Jesus’ message and mission. From “Come” to “Go,” every word inspires us to deeper relationship with Christ and a call to carry out His mission as commanded. Often, we get to see Jesus, his disciples and the people He encountered with fresh eyes. Expect some “Aha” moments.

Hostetler has a way of telling stories which not only lend themselves to giving meaning to his message, they often are entertaining and sublime. That’s the way Jesus Himself told parables. Overall, his heart and personality shine through. He makes being a Christian sound challenging and enjoyable at the same time. After reading The Red Letter Life, I would enjoy sitting down with the author, simply talking about our respective spiritual journeys.

While not your typical Bible study text (with questions for participants to explore), the book could certainly be used as such because Bob offers a challenge at the end of each chapter. At any rate, the book begs to be discussed. Lately, I read less Christian non-fiction than I used to, choosing more often to study the Bible. While there is no substitute for God’s Word, there are certainly excellent supplements. This one happens to be one of them.

You can find Bob–a speaker, blogger and pastor, in addition to being an author–in “Stuff I Read.” He’s the One Prayer Daily fellow.