Friday, February 24, 2017

What Part Do You Play?

Our church just began rehearsals this  week for the next production, "Titanic, the Musical."  When I first heard what it would be, I chuckled and asked myself, "Doesn't everyone know how that ends?"  I did learn later that the musical does not follow the story lines as depicted in the popular movie of the Titanic voyage.

An introduction to the musical and some background and historical information were given to the entire cast and crew the other night.  Then last night all the players gathered to participate in the first script read through.

Afterwards, the set builders also revealed some of their vision for the sets and scenery.  This team has quite the ambitious task ahead of them, as they plan to build a hydraulic lift that will tilt the sinking ship in stages to nearly a 45 degree angle, allowing for mass chaos and passengers slipping down into the sea.

Son Caleb will be playing three male characters in the program, which will require some intricate logistics relative to costume changes, linguistic changes, and outcome details.  That is, two of the characters he plays will die as the ship sinks, and the third will survive in a lifeboat rescue.

A character, as you can see
He will take on the persona of Third Officer Pittman, who assists the Titanic's captain and helps look after the passengers.  Later he is The Major, a non-British war veteran who loves to tell tales that not everyone else loves to hear.  Apparently The Major provides a bit of much-needed comic relief.  Caleb's third character is simply called the Fourth Man, a poorer traveler staying in third class (cheaper) accommodations down below in the ship.

At the end of the rehearsal last evening, the cast members were given the assignment to research their characters and to learn every detail they could find in order to more realistically and accurately bring each character to life.  Each has a vital part to play in order bring the story alive.

This all got me thinking (which can be a very wild adventure!)  Thinking about the part each of us plays in this life here on earth.

What is our place in this story of life?

What is your character in the whole scheme of things?

What is my role in these few decades I'll have here on earth?

Sometimes I think it's awfully easy for us to think quite more highly of ourselves than we ought. In fact, we are routinely encouraged by everything in our society to do so.  Be honest now - aren't there more than a few people you know who fully think themselves to reign in the center of their world?  Part of this may simply be due to immaturity, but then how do you explain all those adults who are still convinced they're at the center?

Here's the reality, friends:  I am not the main character.  You are not the main character.  The story is not about me, and it's not about you, either.

As much as we may slip into erroneously thinking and acting as if we are at the center of our universe, we are not.

It's about Jesus.  Everything is about Him.

He is the star of the "show," He is the center of it all, and He is the best main character ever.

He's the Redeemer, and I am the redeemed.  No one could write a better story line.

When I remember that, I'm perfectly content to make much of him, to let him take center stage, and to do all I can to point all the attention to Him.  I'm OK to get small, to get really, really small.  He is the One who is fully worthy of every applause and standing ovation there ever was or will be.

Thank goodness He's invited you and me to be secondary characters in this greatest story ever written.

Come to think of it, I think it'll be a bowing ovation for Him...

           "...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  (Philippians 2:10-11)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Wanna Get In on the Debate?

Sometimes I just don’t get the Faith and Works conversations I read about and hear among the Christian community. 

Some insist it is possible to have a strong faith, yet not show it by works.  Think about those isolated monks, living in foreign monasteries up in the mountains of who knows where, spending all their days chanting and praying.  Are those the works that honor Jesus?

Others claim that in doing their frequent good and honorable works, the resultant sense of well being causes faith to grow.  But what initially motivates one to do those good deeds?  Guilt?  Fear?  A politically correct sense of “I oughta?”

Many years ago, on my first day in the first grade, I met Sylvia.  Sylvia and I became inseparable best friends, and to this day we are grateful for the special relationship we have had all throughout these years.

Sylvia and I often had sleepovers at each other’s homes, and as I spent more and more time with her family, I learned that her mother got up before the sun rose each morning and baked a pie.  Later she would know of someone who needed to receive her pie of the day – perhaps a shut in or someone just needing a little encouragement during a rough spot in life. 

It was the same every day.  Bake a pie.  Take it to brighten someone’s day.  Lemon meringue was her specialty. 

One evening, Sylvia’s mother was taking Sylvia and I to the local ice skating rink for the evening where we would skate and hang out with friends.  In a classic and memorable act of gracelessness, I stepped up into the car, placing my left foot smack dab into the center of a waiting lemon meringue pie sitting on the floor in the back seat. 

Open car door, insert foot
It was on its way to brighten someone’s day, and I had literally squashed that pie and plan.  I should’ve known though.  I should’ve looked first.  She took pies every day, and we all wondered what continually motivated her to do so.

Frankly, I say this Faith and Works debate is senseless.

When you’re crazy nuts in love with someone, you want to do anything at any time to please that person.  You go out of your way to do things that will bring that person joy and happiness.  No expense is too great; you will be extravagant in a way that matches your feelings for that person.

And so it is when one is in love with Jesus.  It is inevitable that your actions will follow. You simply cannot resist showing Him your love by doing those things that make Him happy.   You will spare no expense to achieve those things that matter to Him.  Whatever is important to Him is now important to you.

Ponder on a few thoughts from James:

            “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have
            faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother
            or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them,
            “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their
            physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not
            accompanied by action, is dead.

            But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith
            without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  (James 2:14-18)

So then the question I must ask myself is this:  Does my life show my faith in Christ that is clearly demonstrated by a life of “love” deeds?  Is there convicting evidence that would prove I’m a lover of Jesus?

I suppose the jury is still out on that case.  It should be a non-debate, though, according to what I see in the Scriptures.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Who is Kimham?

The following is a portion from a book I am writing, "Hidden Heroes: Behind-the-Scenes History Changers Tucked Within the Pages of the Bible."  I expect the book to be finished and available late in the summer of 2017.

Kimham enters the story line of Israel well into the long rule of King David. You can find his story in 2 Samuel 19:31-40.

King David flees
King David had ruled for many years when his son, Absalom, attempted to usurp the kingdom.  David fled to find safety in the area east of the Jordan River.  While there, a very wealthy man, Barzillai, befriended him and provided David with supplies.

After Absalom was killed, David planned his return to Jerusalem.  He invited Barzillai to accompany him and live there the rest of his days.  At 80 years old, Barzillai declined to make the journey and offered to send his son, Kimham, along with David instead.

David agreed and Kimham willingly joined him on the journey back to Jerusalem.  Just like his father had been, Kimham was hospitable to David and became a helpful companion.

David rewarded Kimham for his loyalty.  He gave Kimham a gift of land in the Bethlehem area that his descendants inherited later.

Do you see where this is going?

Researchers claim that considering the stationary character of Eastern institutions, it is possible that our savior Jesus was born in a stable or cave on Kimham's property next to the residence.  See the reference to the "Geruth Kimham" (the Habitation of Kimham) in Jeremiah 41:17.  Kimham was a residence near Bethlehem used as a place for travelers to find shelter.

Friendship, loyalty, and generosity.

These three qualities characterized the relationships between King David and Barzillai and King David and Kimham.

It is likely before reading this post you had never even heard of Barzillai or Kimham, yet they were the behind-the-scenes guys for perhaps the greatest king who ever lived - King David.

David was a man after God's own heart.  He was a worshipper, a warrior, and a mighty king.  Out of David's lineage came the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ, born in a small stable possibly on the land David had given to Kimham.

Only our Almighty God could've made that connection.  Isn't it amazing to trace where the lines of faithfulness, obedience, and generosity start and end?

After I discovered the hidden character of Kimham, the more I read over the details of this obscure man and his place in the larger story, the more my heart swelled in worship at the revelation of the picture I was starting to see.

The whole story of Kimham is a picture of the blessing that can happen when a person chooses to leave his past and walk in a relationship with a king.

While others, including Barzillai, refused the king's offer and said "no," Kimham accepted and said "yes."

Have you said "yes" to the King of Kings, to Jesus?

Your life, your actions, your "yes" can potentially resound throughout all of eternity.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

That's A Long One!

Whoa!  That one really snuck up on me!

I've been reading through the Psalms the last two months or so, studying them leisurely one or two a day.  Today I sailed through Psalm 118, and then came up on Psalm 119.  Sometimes I look ahead to see how long the next one is, helping me to decide whether I will read it today or save it for tomorrow.

Wow!  My memory did not serve me well, for surely I'd read this Psalm many times throughout my life, and I wasn't remembering its unusual length.  This time, though, I was shocked to see it covered nearly eight pages in my little Bible!

I decided to charge in.  The longest single chapter in the entire Bible, Psalm 119 contains 176 verses. If we were to look back at the original text, we would easily see that this Psalm is actually written as an alphabet acrostic poem.  The verses of each stanza begin with the same letter of each of the Hebrew alphabet, such as "Aleph," "Beth," "Gimel," and so on.  There are 22 stanzas, equal to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Each stanza has 8 verses, making a total of 176 verses in this Psalm.

The author of this lengthy Psalm is unknown, but most scholars agree it was David, Ezra, or Daniel.  Each of these men suffered serious difficulties in his life, and suffering and persecutions are well reflected in these verses.  To be sure, the persecution and affliction of men and women of God is a major theme of Psalm 119.

Additionally almost every verse in this poem mentions God's word in some way, and indeed, the overall message of Psalm 119 is that God's Word is truth.  "Word," "ways," "statutes," "decrees," "law," "precepts," "commands," "promise," and others.  We can take encouragement from this Psalm to stay close to God and focused on his Word no matter what difficulties swirl around us in this life.

As we know His ways and obey them, we will be able to truly live wise, strong lives.  That's comforting to know.

People have a number of favorite verses that come from Psalm 119.  One of them is "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."  (Psalm 119:105)

Probably the one verse that has held the most meaning for me lately is "I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise."  (Psalm 119:58)

Here's a little tidbit of random information, too.  It would appear that Psalm 119 lies smack dab in the middle of the Bible.  Actually Psalm 117 is the middle-most chapter of the Bible, with 594 chapters preceding it and 594 chapters following it.  Psalm 117 is also the shortest Psalm with only two verses.

Have you read the longest and shortest Psalms?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Update on the Mission Work in Guatemala

The finished playground
Reports coming home from the team show that much progress has been made on both of the planned projects.  The team will return home late on Saturday.

One project is adding a kitchen to the local maternity clinic.  Work is proceeding on this task.  I saw a lovely video of a "Bucket Brigade"  effort in which about 10 workers were cooperating to dig and move dirt.  The kitchen project is still ongoing.

The other project was the culmination of a dream by a young man, Ike Sunanday, 6 years ago when he was on a mission trip to this area with the church.  He envisioned the building of a playground for the children at the school in the village.

Since then, Ike has passed away on to his eternal home.  His parents and sister have been working there this week with the team, taking Ike's dream and making it a reality.

It's an emotional story, for yesterday, the playground was finally finished, dedicated, and opened to the children.  His family and others with them installed a plaque in memory of Ike there, and a celebration ensued.  Yesterday would have been Ike's birthday.

The children swarmed the playground areas, and Ike's dream had come to fruition.  Many persons were part of the process that made this playground come together.

First, the vision was cast to the church by a man who was willing to spearhead the effort.  A playground set that was scheduled for demolition was found and refurbished.

Then there were the church fundraising efforts to purchase, transport, and store the playground equipment prior to assembly.  As you can imagine, transporting a large set of pieces from central Pennsylvania to a remote village in Guatemala was no small challenge.

There were difficulties along the way, as to be expected.

Upon arrival the truck belonging to the man overseeing the arrival of the equipment was stolen.  As of now it has not been recovered.

A few days later the same man was held up at gunpoint by three young hooligans in the area.  He was shaken up by the incident but unharmed.

Several pieces of the playground had not been shipped with the rest.  Some last minute arrangements with the playground company worked it all out and the pieces were sent.

A number of the mission team arrived in Guatemala suffering the effects of a stomach bug.  It passed and they are all well.

Now, however, it has all come together and the playground will be there as a reminder of God's extravagant love for those little ones and their families.  At first I had wondered at the wisdom of all that expenditure of money for the playground equipment and the folks to fly there and stay for a week to construct it.

Now I have seen, again, that God's ways are not like human ways.  His ways don't always match the way we do things.  His love for us makes no sense - it's so ridiculously extravagant compared to what we deserve, but that is how He loves us.

This lovely playground will always be there for those children.  It's extravagant, yes.  So is God's love for those little ones.

In the evening after the project was completed, there was some free time to explore the local area.  Son Caleb, along with team members Kyle and Mike and a local guy, took a motorcycle tour of the area.

Caleb's excited report:  "I rode a motorcycle.  Around a volcano.  In Guatemala!"

I think it's been an awesome adventure for Caleb and for the team, and I'm anxious to hear more details when they return home.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Report From the Team in Guatemala

San Juan Christian School
A team of 29 from our church flew out of Newark, New Jersey early Saturday morning and landed later in the afternoon in Guatemala City for a week long mission trip.  From there it was an intense, hairy 5 hour ride to arrive at the group's destination in San Pedro la Laguna. They arrived in a remote, small village in the Lake Atitlan region.  Son Caleb is with the group, experiencing his first mission trip which has as its focus construction work.

Since 2003 our church has taken groups on approximately 53 mission trips, many of them to this same village in Guatemala.  Relationships have been built with these people over the years, and many of them have learned about Jesus Christ and have decided to follow Him.  Much of this happens as our people have worked on job sites side by side with the locals, helping and loving them.

The focus of this current trip seems to be ministering to the children.  One project is for the children there in the San Juan la Laguna Christian School, where the team is assembling a modern playground unit.  Half of the team is working there.  The other half is constructing a much needed kitchen unit attached to the Casa Materna maternity facility in San Juan.

Yesterday (Monday) was the first full day of work, and the report from the team organizer was very upbeat.  Apparently the playground is 75% installed after just one day, and the maternity clinic kitchen work is progressing nicely too.  Already four people have decided to turn their lives over to Jesus.

Caleb with public transportation - The Tuc tuc

The hubby and I had gone on our first short term mission trip to Trinidad back in 1989.  My memories of the people, the culture, and the living conditions there are still very clear to this day.  Some things I experienced on that trip have changed my outlook forever, and I told Caleb he most certainly will be changed by his mission trip experience too.

So far I've received one brief text message from Caleb:  "All is well!!!!! Love you guys.  This has been amazing!"

Caleb needs a shower after a long day of dirty work

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."  (Matthew 19:14)

My prayer is that all the kids there in that village, big and small, will see and experience the unfathomable love of Jesus for them through our workers, and be drawn to follow Him for the rest of their lives.  To be sure, no playground or other building can compare to that.

If I receive more updates, I'll report on the team's news again later in the week.
The playground construction is well on its way

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Brunch and Books Club Launch

For the majority of my adult life, I've yearned to be in a book club.  It finally happened today.

I freely admit, there is practically no other pastime that trips my trigger as much as curling up with a good book and sailing away on some literary adventure for several hours.  Or days.

When my four kiddos were young (and when we were too poor to be able to enroll them in any sort of preschool or any other kids learning center), I searched regularly all over town and scoured all newspapers and billboards for interesting and free activities for my children to enjoy.

I discovered the local library had weekly story hours, and for all the years preceding their entries into public school, we were regulars at the Wednesday morning story time.

In the adjacent adults' library area, I often noticed posters advertising the upcoming selection for the ongoing book club there.  Month after month, I'd see the posters, and then wait until they announced the next book to read and discuss.  You see, I never felt interested in the books, authors, or genres they picked each time.  I wanted to read, and I always read a lot, but I didn't want to read that.

How great would it have been if I could've been in a book club in which I could always read the books of my choice.  I never found a club like that though.

Now, all these years later, the kids are grown up and have children of their own.  And I'm still wanting to belong to a Book Club.

I decided to stop waiting, wishing, and wanting, and finally make it happen, my way.  Today I launched the first meeting of the Brunch and Books club, meeting monthly in my home.

For an hour and a half, a small first group met here, and we each brought along a book we had recently read.  The sharing of the books was in the form of show and tell, and old fashioned library cards were on hand for club attendees to write down titles of those books that they want to put onto their book reading Bucket List.

When the folks arrived, we chatted for a bit, and then began with brunch around the kitchen table.  The menu was simple, consisting of a Cheesy Ham and Potato Breakfast Casserole, a colorful fruit platter, and some (February appropriate) chocolate dipped Valentine shaped Rice Krispy treats.  Coffee, tea, orange juice and tomato juice were available throughout the meeting.

After a brief discussion explaining my long term intent for the Brunch and Books club (to establish more relationships with neighbors and others outside of my present friendship circles), I challenged the people there to think of one person they may want to invite to come along to an upcoming gathering.

Next we went around the table, one by one, showing and sharing tidbits from the books we had brought or recently read.  There was no debating whether or not a book was good.  There was no fussing over which genre will be selected next month.  There was no quibbling about an author's true intent.  Each of us had read a book that we had selected because, for whatever reason, it appealed to us.  The variety was interesting.

It was fun to hear each of the reports, and several of the books went onto my book reading Bucket List.  The web address of a thrift store type book store was shared:  www.thrift books.com .  I may be doing some shopping there later this afternoon.

Together we had food, good conversation, good sharing, and I'm sure went home with some things to think about.  I look forward to seeing how this group will grow and evolve.

Have you ever participated in a monthly book club?  If so, how was your experience?

Would you be interested in this format for a book club?