Overheard in an Orchard

As I sit in my easy chair and watch the birds in my back yard – robins, cardinals, flinches, blue jays and doves, this poem comes to my mind.

Said the Robin to the Sparrow;
"I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so?"

Said the Sparrow to the Robin;
"Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me."

Elizabeth Cheney

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29–31 — New Living Translation (NLT)

Do You Take Your Shoes Off – or Pluck Blackberries?

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How Much Faith Do I Need?

The story begins with the disciples approaching Jesus with a seemingly reasonable request:  “Lord! Increase our faith!”  It’s an understandable request given the sort of things Jesus has been teaching: 

  • Love your enemies.
  • Bless those who curse you.
  • Forgive even when it’s not deserved.
  • Give without expecting anything in return.
  • Be ready to take up your cross.  

But Jesus responds to the disciple’s request with a touch of irritation—and he tells them that if they had faith as small of a mustard seed, they could command a mulberry tree to uproot itself and replant in the sea…and it would obey. 

He then proceeds to ask them whether a servant would be so arrogant as to demand a meal with his master, or special praise for doing his basic household duties. 

Now, this may strike us as a little odd because we know Jesus wasn’t in the habit of speaking unkindly about slaves or people of low status. We know the familiar story of the rich man and Lazarus, where a beggar is assigned higher honor than his rich neighbor.  And we know also that Jesus often compared the kingdom to a banquet in which all are invited—slave and free, rich and poor alike—and he often talked about how the least among us would take the high place of honor at that Table to eat with the Master. Jesus was in the business of turning hierarchies and power structures on their head, so why does he resort to conventional social structures to make this point to the disciples? We have to keep in mind that, throughout the gospels Jesus reserves his harshest criticisms for the proud and saves his most biting satire for the folks who need to be brought down a peg. From the beginning, Jesus’ ministry was about lifting up the humble and humbling the proud, of challenging those in authority and giving voice to the disregarded, so it’s safe to assume that there must have been an element of pride or entitlement at work in the disciple’s request to warrant this sort of response. 

And I wonder if we don’t get a little clue as to what that was in Jesus’ strange—downright bizarre—image of a mulberry tree getting planted in the ocean.  Imagine it: A mulberry tree suddenly uprooting itself, flying through the air, and then replanting itself in the sea.  What on earth is that about? Why would anyone want to do that? What an odd expression of faith! 

I wonder if Jesus was gently, playfully poking fun at the disciples’ ongoing preoccupation with flashy signs and wonders as a measure of true faith. They’d been asking for an upgrade in supernatural powers, at one point suggesting it sure would be nice to be able to call down fire from heaven every time someone turned them away from their home. (Jesus responded with similar agitation to that request.) 

But the signs and wonders performed by Jesus and described in the gospels always had a point. They were always constructive. They… 

  • Healed 
  • Liberated
  • Multiplied
  • Fed
  • Blessed 
  • Restored 
  • Comforted

They pointed to the mission of Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom he inaugurated. And today these stories remind us of our own call to…

  • Heal 
  • Liberate
  • Multiply 
  • Feed
  • Bless
  • Restore 
  • Comfort

There’s nothing more ridiculously useless than replanting a mulberry tree in the ocean! And I wonder if Jesus wasn’t reminding his disciples that faith isn’t manifested in flashy magic tricks, or pointless, self congratulatory displays of power, or in destruction and uprooting, but in daily acts of faithfulness—those acts of obedience that grow the kingdom, one carefully tended little mustard seed at a time. 

It’s helpful here to contrast this bizarre idea of uprooting a mulberry tree with the work of the servant who tends sheep, works the land, plants seeds, makes dinner.  I wonder if Jesus isn’t telling the disciples that if they have enough faith to be faithful, then that is enough. 

Faith, after all, is a gift.  And we don’t have any business telling God we don’t have enough, when God always gives us enough to be faithful. God always gives us enough to do something useful, to “make it work.” 

Maybe the mistake the disciples make isn’t so much in asking for more faith, but in thinking they don’t have enough, in thinking God’s gift to them was insufficient. 

How easy it is to think we don’t have enough! These guys were in the very presence of Jesus and still they wanted more! 

We’re not so unlike the disciples are we?  How often we tell ourselves: “If I only had more faith, I could…”

  • Do something important 
  • Do something impressive
  • I’d never struggle with doubt. 
  • I wouldn’t be so scared. 
  • I’d finally be appreciated. 
  • I’d finally know I’m right. 
  • It would finally all make sense. 

Faith is always a risk, a gamble—and adventure, if you will. The line between faith and doubt is the point of action. You don’t need certainty to obey; just a willingness to risk being wrong.” 

I was letting my desire for more keep me from working with what I had.  I’d convinced myself I needed more faith when what I really needed was more obedience. 

In the Catholic church there is a Saint Theresa whose famous “little way” has inspired generations of Christians to honor God by being faithful in the little things….by taking this faith thing one step at a time.  Theresa talked often about the smallness of her own faith. But she never questioned God’s goodness or fairness in giving her what she had. She never demanded more because she knew she had been given enough to be faithful. She’d been given enough to obey. 

 “God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized,” she said, “so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.”

Theresa (who indeed became St. Theresa), Peter and Paul, Mary Magdalene, St. Francis, Dr. King, Tersa of Calcutta, Nelson Mandela, you and I—we all share the same Master.  And that master has given us all the faith we need to be faithful.  

 So even if it’s just the size of a mustard seed, make it work. 

While We Wait

This time of Advent we not only remember the birth of our Savior but we also look forward with anticipation to His return. We sometimes long for that day when evil will finally be completely defeated and peace will truly reign.

But what do we do while we wait?

We often pray the Lord’s prayer where we ask that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” With that prayer we try to imagine what this world would be like if God’s will was completely done on earth?

But what do we do while we wait?

We admire the beautiful sunsets, enjoy the waves of the ocean crashing onto the shore, stand in awe of the majestic mountains and long for a world free of man’s pollution. Our imagination paints us a picture of what the world must have looked like in the very beginning of creation. How we long for the day when the earth will be restored to that beauty.

But what do we do while we wait?

As we look at the chaos and tragedies all around us, we can begin to even lose hope. We can wonder if God has abandoned us.

But what do we do while we wait?

We must remember that we who call ourself Christians, followers of Christ, are called to be His representatives in this world. While we wait for that day when He returns, even now in us we can allow God’s will to be done in our lives. We can surrender our own desires, our own opinions, our own will and allow Him to use us to reach out to others.

‘Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the kingdom of God established.” Paul W. Harrison

“The church is not a fortress community waiting for a future kingdom. Rather, we realize that the Kingdom of God has already arrived, in part…The church is God’s eschatological community, drawing the future into the present, living out Kingdom values and inviting the world to experience its power now….As God’s eschatological community, we hope for ultimate redemption din the future. But, in the present, we break down barriers and bear each other’s brokenness. Through this here and now experience, Christ’s bride, the church, begins to take on the beauty that will be hers when He comes to claim her as His own.” Brad Harper

But what do we do while we wait?

Let us continue to look with hope to His return. But let us not be guilty of just standing around waiting for “someday.” Let us do all we can to show the world what it means to be part of God’s kingdom even here in this world we share. Let us allow God’s Holy Spirit to move through us to bring a little bit of “heaven” to our friends, neighbors, community.

I Don’t Like Waiting

I hate waiting in line at the grocery store. I hate waiting in the doctor’s office. I hate waiting on my husband who is always talking to someone wherever we go. Did you notice? I don’t like waiting.

This Sunday marks the first Sunday of what the church calls Advent. Growing up in a non-liturgical church I never really celebrated Advent as it is done in main stream churches that follow a church calendar recognizing certain festivals and reading certain portions of Scripture. Only in the past few years have I come to appreciate this observance of “waiting.”

“Advent” literally means “coming” or “arrival.” It is a Latin term which was used when translating the Bible from Greek. In the Greek the word used is “parousia.” It meant “a coming” or “presence.” In the Early Church this term quickly became associated with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ disciples were waiting for His return – as the Christian church still is today.

This season of Advent is a time of waiting for the coming of Jesus. We celebrate it from three different views.

First, we remember His first coming to earth in Bethlehem. What a time to remember and celebrate. That the Creator of the universe was willing to become one of us is amazing! To subject Himself to human limitations was in itself quite a sacrifice. But He not only came to be one of us – but chose to be born to a poor, simple carpenter and his wife.

This is also a time to celebrate His coming into our own life. To reflect on what his birth, death and resurrection means to us personally. In all the busyness of the season, we need to schedule some time to examine our own heart and make sure we have really made room for Him in our own heart, our own mind, our own life. To remember the real reason for the season.

Finally it is a time to remember that Jesus has promised to return again. We can get so focused on the “here and now” that we lose sight of that hope of the Christian. In today’s world when so much is chaotic it is good to remember we have hope beyond this life.

I hope you will take time this month to “wait” and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

March and Its Bitter-Sweet Memories and Emotions

This time of the year I find myself remembering events from years ago that generate both sweet and bitter memories with all the accompanying emotions.

March has been a month that has brought both good and bad events into my life – events that changed me forever.

The first one that brings sweet memories occurred 52 years ago on March 29. That day I walked down the aisle at church and promised to “love and cherish until death do us part.”

For almost 13 years I kept that promise. Every year as that date approaches I remember those years with my first husband. We were happy and shared a lot of joy but the best part of those years was the birth of our two beautiful daughters. Memories of those times make me smile and I am grateful for every moment we shared. Those events changed me – made me a wife, a mother.

The second memory is more painful. It was 39 years ago in March that I got a call at work that I will never forget. My eleven-year-old daughter called me and said, “Momma, I think Daddy is dead.” Those words changed our lives forever. My first husband had been working on our car when an accident occurred that took his life. Ironically it was just four days before we would have celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. So March brings also feelings of great sadness as I remember the shock and horror of that day. The pain my daughters still feel today. The older one grieves as she remembers all the times she had with her daddy, while the younger grieves because she was so young her memories are few. That changed me – made me a young widow with two little girls to raise.

So – every year in March I deal with these memories and these conflicting emotions.

That would be enough to make the last of March an emotional time for me.

But last year added another event that adds to my emotions this time of year.

On March 19 last year my second husband fell and hit his head on the concrete floor of his art studio in the basement of our condo.

By the 22nd he was in pain and we went to the emergency room of our local hospital. From there he was rushed by ambulance to the main hospital in Lansing – the capital of our state – where they did emergency surgery. He had a major brain bleed and they said without the surgery he would not survive the night.

As I remember the next couple of weeks I still can feel the knot in my stomach as I waited at home (because of the virus I could not be with him) wondering if the next call would be to tell me I was a widow again. I wondered how I could take it if he died on the same day as my first husband had died. As the next few days were “touch and go” while they tried to get him off the ventilator, I kept telling God “please, not again, not this time.”

I am so grateful to God that he not only survived the surgery but after a few weeks he was back to his normal self. The doctor said he might have trouble walking, swallowing, communicating. While he had some of these symptoms for a couple of weeks, he was soon completely okay with no lingering symptoms.

One major concern of mine was would he be able to paint again. Would he even be able to walk down the stairs to his art studio. That prayer was again quickly answered. Our son-in-love brought his painting equipment upstairs and within two weeks he painted a beautiful lighthouse scene. Soon he was able to return to his studio downstairs and continue painting.

So along with the knot in my stomach, I also must rejoice with a great emotion of gratitude that I am not a widow for the second time, that my husband is not only alive, but well and strong again.

One of his first paintings also was of a beautiful rainbow which symbolizes hope and a reminder that God keeps His promises. He called it “Hope in the Storm.” It now hangs in my kitchen as a reminder to me that no matter what troubles come, with God there is always hope.

When my first husband died, when my second husband survived, regardless God has been there – and He brings me hope. Hope for whatever next March or any time may bring. Good times or bad – He is faithful.

Modern Response to Message of Jesus

The Lesson

Then Jesus took His disciples up on the mountain and gathering them around Him, He taught them, saying:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
  • Blessed are the meek
  • Blessed are they that mourn
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are they that thirst for justice
  • Blessed are you when persecuted
  • Blessed are you when you suffer
  • Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.”

Then Simon Peter said, “Are we supposed to know this?”

And Andrew said:  “Do we have to write this down and take notes?”

And James said:  “Will we have a test on this?”

And Thomas said:  “Do we have to get this signed?”

And Phillip said:  “I don’t have any paper.”

And Bartholomew said:  “Do we have to turn this in?”

And John said: “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.”

And Matthew said: “May I go to the boys’ room?”

And Judas said: “What does this have to do with real life?”

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and inquired of Jesus:

“Where is your anticipatory set, your aim (long-term goals), your objectives in the cognitive domain?”

AND JESUS WEPT!

Shut My Mouth!

This past year has been so full of noise. So many voices approving this point of view – attacking that point of view. If the voices had only been speaking of ideas, beliefs, policies, it might have been a good year of honest open debate. Sadly, I have found there was little true debate. It seems we all went into our own corners and listened only to those we agreed with.

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply….Stephen R. Covey

Everyone has a right to be heard, but only if they are willing to listen to others in an attempt to understand….Eric Overby

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen….Winston Churchill

Know these my beloved brethren, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger….James 1:19

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion….Proverbs 18:2

To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people….Titus 3:2

I have been guilty myself of giving my opinion whether wanted or not, adding my own thoughts to all the posts and articles out there. In my devotion today I really felt convicted in my spirit as the Lord reminded me that my primary focus should be on Him and not the craziness around me.

I know many Christians are afraid of the new administration and what that might mean to the Christian freedoms. But looking at the Early Church I want to follow their example.

In Acts 5 we see where the apostles were put in prison for sharing the gospel and then warned not to do it again. Their response:

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Note that they did not argue with the Sanhedrin, they did not complain or start a political movement. They praised God they were worthy of suffering for the cause of Christ and kept on proclaiming the good news about Jesus.

Earlier in Acts 4 after being imprisoned and then released the apostles met with the church and told them of the threats they had received. If that happened today – if my pastor was arrested and told not to speak any more about the Gospel – I imagine the prayer meeting that would follow would be for a cry for protection – for justice – for our rights to speak. However that was not where their focus was. Rather they prayed:

Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them….Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. THEY DID WHAT YOUR POWER AND WILL HAD DECIDED BEFOREHAND SHOULD HAPPEN. Now Lord consider their threats and ENABLE YOUR SERVANTS TO SPEAK YOUR WORD WITH GREAT BOLDNESS. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I know there are times when injustice requires us to speak out. I could also post that famous quote “Bad things happen when good men do nothing.” But to me today I have decided to leave all the discussions and comments to others. Going forward in 2021, this song I have attached is my prayer.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight O Lord!

Persistent Prayer

A parable Jesus told about the importance of prayer has often made me wonder.

He tells of a widow who went to the local judge to ask him to intervene in her behalf. Apparently there was someone who was treating her unfairly and she wanted help in resolving this dispute. According to the Mosaic Law judges were never to show partiality.

And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s.

Jesus tells us that this judge just ignores her. Whether he did it because he was trying to protect a friend, to gain favor with someone, or was just indifferent without any compassion we do not know. Clearly he was an incompetent judge and should not have been allowed to remain in that position.

The woman is persistent and will not stop coming to the judge and asking for help. Finally, Jesus tells us, that the judge hears her case simply because she was driving him crazy. “She is wearing me out with her constant requests.”

Jesus then ends the parable by telling us that if this unjust judge would do what was right in the face of someone who would not give up, how much more would God answer His children’s cries for help.

In the past as I read this parable I wondered why God would compare Himself to an unjust judge and thereby imply we needed to keep asking Him for our needs. Did that mean if I keep asking for something – even though it might not be the right thing or me or in line with God’s Word – God will give it to me? That is actually a frightening thought to me. I can think of some prayers I have asked that later I was so glad God did not give me what I asked for.

As I study the Bible more I am learning to take Scripture in the total context. So I noticed that Jesus ended this with a question.

When the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on earth who have faith?

Some Bible scholars have said Jesus was simply pointing out the need for His followers to trust Him regardless of whether it seemed their prayers were being answered. I get that. When I pray I need to trust that God is faithful and leave the “when” “where” and “how” to Him.

But as I looked at that today thinking of my own prayer life, I saw something else. Persistent prayer and my faith in God are fundamentally connected. As in any relationship, honest and consistent communication are necessary if that relationship is to grow and remain strong.

When I first met my husband I knew only a few facts about him. Slowly as we dated and shared our fears, hopes, dreams I came to know him. I felt I knew him enough to marry him and pledge my love until death we do part. But today after almost 37 years of communicating I realize how little I really knew him on my wedding day. My knowledge of him today is very deep – I think it is safe to say I know him better than anyone else.

So I think Jesus was telling us that if we want our faith to grow and be strong until the very end of our life, we need to be persistent in our prayer time. In contrast to the unjust judge, Jesus is telling us that God’s character is just the opposite. Of course, He will hear the cries of his children. Trusting in His character and His goodness, we must never give up hope as we pray.

How Did the Baby Change Your Life?

I wrote this three years ago – but wondering again this year – after all the decorations are put up, after all the Christmas songs are put away until next year, after we have posted all our pictures on FB, has the baby made a difference in your life for 2021?

Grandma's Ramblings

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One last look this time around

Brrrrr! It’s so cold outside. So today while staying snug inside I read and thought one more time on the Christmas story which we have just observed. Now it’s time to move forward and begin thinking about spring and about the resurrection story.

But one writer I read during the Christmas season still speaks to me.

…the Christmas story is not just for observing, but for participating. A long time ago, Jesus Christ was born. But today, Christ is born in us. And so we would be wise to spend some time wondering with the sheep and the shepherds, how does this baby change my life?

Sarah Cunningham

For 2017 – how has this baby changed your life?

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