Jul 15

Sing praises

Praise pic 0715

PSALM 147:1-7

Praise the Lord.  How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!  The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.  The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.  Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music  to our God on the harp. 

Dear Lord,

Heal my broken heart I pray.  It aches to my very soul.  Yet I am such a small being in this Universe; how can I hope You even know I exist?  Because Your Word says You know the number of all the stars, surely You know all of Your created beings.  Surely You know the agony my heart suffers.  With Your limitless understanding, minister to my painful wounds, heal my brokenness.  Gather me to Yourself, restore my soul.  While I await Your comforting Presence, my spirit sings Your praise because I know my deliverance is near.  And then, as I praise and worship You, Your power washes over my grateful heart, granting my longing for relief.

Nov 29

Bow before Him

PHILIPPIANS 2:4-11         

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Dear Lord,

I do my best to follow Your example, and look not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others.  I use this guideline in my home, at work, with church activities and wherever else You may find me.  Because my Lord was a servant on earth, I must be a servant also. It is a difficult path at times, especially when I am in need of some help myself, and there seems to be none forthcoming.  However, You are my help.  I am Your humble servant at all costs; for Your name alone on my knees I bow and my tongue confesses daily you are Christ the Lord.

Bow before Him pic

 

Aug 31

MORTALITY AND ETERNITY

no-condemnationI have been writing for the Matsu Greatlander a year now; I enjoy it, and hope readers have found spiritual encouragement in each article. June’ 2014’s theme was ‘Going Coastal,’ I was on the path of researching some of Alaska’s coastal cities. Alaska has some of the most varied and beautiful coastline in the world, ranging from the rain forest dampness in Ketchikan, located at the bottom of the Panhandle, to Kotzebue, just above the Arctic Circle and surrounded by frozen tundra. However, as I read about these Gateways at either end of our state, one the first port of call in Alaska, the other the first coastal city above the Arctic Circle, my thoughts kept returning to the Gateway to Heaven because of a tragic loss my family just suffered, on Mother’s Day. Subsequently, this led me on a path from a theme of land and water, to that of mortality and eternity.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Because our lives are a composite of things calm and stormy, beautiful and dreadful, uplifting and devastating, faith is critical for responding to life’s challenges with resiliency and coming away with lessons learned for improving our future. God gives us individual strengths, yet allows individual weaknesses for reasons we may never understand while here on earth. Though I have strong faith in the Lord, such is the nature of not understanding the tragic loss of my nephew, who succumbed to the darkness of mental illness after a decade of fierce struggling.

Though his childhood had challenges, this young man was a sweet little toddler, a typical boyish dirt magnet, and a handsome teenager. He loved to play the guitar; he and a couple friends formed a small band and actually had some ‘gigs,’ so exciting for him. But by then the hidden illness had manifest itself, changing his life forever. His family witnessed firsthand that paranoid schizophrenia causes a person to have delusions that others are plotting to harm them, and the majority of the afflicted also have auditory hallucinations. Unfortunately, the paranoia can also result in contrary behaviors born out of frantic fear, impaired impulse control, or delusions of grandeur, including behaviors that break the law. Though it is possible for someone with this disease to live a successful, productive life, it requires a lot of resources from family, medical providers, and the community.

His mother garnered as many resources as she could. She talked to him virtually every day, trying to keep him on the best possible mental health path his illness allowed. As many others, he did not accept the diagnosis; he would feel better on medications, then stop taking them thinking he was cured. But inevitably he would flounder until convinced by his mother or authorities that continually taking them was necessary. And the cycle began again. Despite this deadly rollercoaster, he was energetic, well liked, friendly to everyone, a genuinely nice young man. Sadly though, he was basically homeless and jobless, as many others with his condition are, dependent on friends and family for basic needs because he could not take care of himself.

He depended on God as well, having accepted Christ as Savior. A chaplain who frequently visited inmates knew him said that he repeated the Sinner’s Prayer several times, just to be sure. I did the same thing as a child. And my nephew was still a child, though in a man’s body. There are those who believe a person who takes their own life cannot go to heaven. While it is a sin, Acts 16:31 says ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ Salvation is anchored in belief, repentance and mercy, not sinlessness (see Romans 3:23). My nephew had his Bible with him in those last weeks, and I believe he sought the Lord for relief from the crippling paranoid fears. However, left all alone in an isolation jail cell without proper medical and mental health interventions, his psychosis-induced demons finally chased him from this world. Why God did not deliver him, I cannot explain, except that we live in a world that has pain and sorrow. I take comfort in a verse of Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace rendition ‘My chains are gone, I’ve been set free, My God, my Savior has ransomed me;’ my nephew has been set free. In John 11:25-26 ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”’ My nephew believed; therefore, I am comforted that he is eternally safe, with a new body and new mind.

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Aug 20

Moving Mountains

mountain waterfall MARK 11:22-26  “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father I heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Dear Lord, My faith grows weak when my prayers go unanswered, when mountains of difficulty remain before me instead of falling into the sea of victory. Did I not pray right, claiming victory before the battle is won? Is doubt I may not be headed Your direction and need to re-direct my steps the reason why this prayer is not unanswered, or is the desire in my heart not in Your plan? Or maybe I have not forgiven those who hurt me adequately enough? So many questions when hope is fading. I pray forgiveness for my weakness, and mercy as I ask for guidance. Closing my eyes, I recall how many times You have answered prayer in the past, and am strengthened by Your faithfulness. And when I open my eyes, the mountain does not look so tall.

 

 

Aug 01

BACK TO THE BASICS

back to school kids 5302863243_7dd78e695c_o

As we reluctantly feel summer drawing to an end, another season begins, heralded by office supplies and clothing advertisements.  Back to School shopping has already begun; we greet its arrival with a mixture of anticipation and regret.  Returning students anticipate seeing friends again, wearing new clothes, comparing backpacks and notebook covers, and finding out who their teacher and classmates are.  Parents are relieved for the structure the school year provides, considering the summer requires more planning, from day care challenges for young children to choosing summer camps for children of any age.  A touch of regret follows as the cooling temperatures signal winter is closing in, and because it’s time to put the nose to the grindstone, to get to work on academic success.

Academics have been critical since the beginning of mankind.  Before writing systems were developed, oral traditions used poetic devices such as stories, songs and rituals for passing knowledge from generation to generation.  Different educational avenues have been used in the United States since it was colonized.  In 1635 Boston hired a schoolmaster and established Harvard College the next year.  Throughout the colonies, locally funded private and public institutions were opened, primarily to insure basic literacy that would maintain religious and cultural knowledge.   The basic building blocks were, and still are, the 3Rs: reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  Without these basic skills, a person is hard pressed to function or interact successfully with society.

Since educational institutions were primarily founded by religious denominations, they were taught from that perspective, and provided at a fee or given as charity, until the mid-1800s when national education reformers established free education for all grammar age children.  Since being established in the 1600s, attending grammar school had become cost prohibitive except for the more well-to-do families.  As for postsecondary, of the initial 9 Colonial Colleges established between 1636 and 1769, all by religious organizations, 7 are the Ivy League Universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn State, Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth (Cornell was not established until 1865).  Today these institutions, as opposed to grammar and secondary schools, remain cost prohibitive except for the more well-to-do families, or those falling below a certain income threshold, or those determined to obtain one of those highly valued diplomas at a substantial cost.

While it has always been the parent’s responsibility to provide religious education, it most certainly was easier when Christian religions were welcome in academia.  Understanding that our country was founded by those fleeing religious persecution, there is not a prescribed national religion, rather religious beliefs are rightly determined by the individual.  Through the centuries, other religions have joined the founding Christians.  Despite controversial discussions about whether or not we are a Christian Nation, our social heritage is Christian-based, and statistical surveys still show roughly 75% of Americans claim some form of Christianity as their faith.  However, the further the debate goes, it appears the less this rich heritage is valued in public education.   Which means that today’s Christian parents need to emphasis spiritual and moral beliefs even more so than in past generations.

The best place to start the renewed emphasis is with the 3Rs: reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  Read the ABCs of Salvation.  Acknowledge sin – Romans 3:23 ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’  Believe – Acts 16:31 ‘They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.”’  Confess – 1 John 3:9 ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’  Encourage them to ‘Rite the Word on their hearts – II Corinthians 3:3 ‘You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.’ Teach your children key biblical ‘rithmetic – The 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17 encapsulated): ‘You shall have no other gods before me; You shall not worship false gods; You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God; Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy; Honor your father and your mother; You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not lie; You shall not covet what belongs to another.’  Jesus summed them up in these 2 Commandments (Matthews 22:37-40):  ‘Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”’  If you will share these simple, basic, biblical truths with your children, they will have the building blocks to choose Christ for themselves.

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Jul 01

SUMMER CAMPS

Kids will find themselves something to do when left to their own devices; it’s better to plan summer adventures for them than risk them making a poor choice. I remember one summer when my son was in middle school he spent an inordinate amount of time laying on the living room floor, curtains closed, playing his video games.   That may also be the summer he and his best friend were so bored they decided to see what would happen if they lit gun powder in an old garden hose; I got a call at work from my neighbor suggesting I better get home, the police and fire department were in my backyard. I gave cell phones to both children thinking I could stay in touch better; my daughter was notorious for not answering so I could only wonder what she was up to when she was ‘out-of-pocket.’ To encourage good activity choices, I tried to involve them with family and church activities, my retired neighbors were a great help, and I financially managed to enroll my son in karate and my daughter in gymnastics year round.

A very beneficial summer option is to send children to a camp. Whether it is a day camp or a week-long away from home, the hope is it will be a very positive experience. There is a wide array of camps covering Outdoor Skills, Fitness, Special Interests, or Special Needs. Activities may include hiking, camping, horseback riding, canoeing, rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, sports, crafts, theatre, science, cultural studies, cooking, reading, writing and arithmetic. Surely a child will find something that piques their interest amongst all of those. A crucial ingredient to add to the experience is found at Bible Camps. They have many of the same activities; however they add biblical context and exploration to all that is done.   My children and I were able to attend a family camp once at Assembly of God’s Little Beaver Lake Camp near Wasilla. I was a newly single mom struggling to finish my Accounting degree. My church paid our way, and it was a peaceful week of family togetherness, spiritual growth and renewal, despite how hard it was being a single parent family amongst all those couples. The three of us spent time in Bible study sessions and activities, a lot of quality time walking along the trails, or playing by the lake, which included salting leeches off my daughter’s hands after I had her rinse dirt off them in the lake.   That may well be all she and my son remember: her and I freaking out because I couldn’t pull them off, rushing into the camp kitchen where the staff calmly filled her little hands with salt, and easily plucked away the slimy things.

Through some googling I discovered the first organized summer camp was in 1861. Schoolmaster Frederick Gunn and his wife Abigail ran a boarding school in Washington, Connecticut. Mr. Gunn felt learning about nature as well as academic subjects was important; he also believed pleasing outdoor surroundings enhanced learning experiences. Towards that end, he took his students on a two-week camping trip, which was a complete success. On a smaller scale, the first Vacation Bible School was held about 30 years later, in summer of 1894, in Hopedale, Illinois. A Sunday School/public school teacher felt she had too little time to teach the Bible. So D.T. Miles decided to offer a Vacation Bible School; she had 40 students enrolled in the four week session. Similar to the Gunnery Camp, she emphasized book learning and being active outside. Vacation Bible School (VBS) is still a critical community outreach for children. Unlike the aforementioned Bible Camps with wilderness facilities, VBS is held at local churches, mostly free of charge. While time constraints and location preclude VBS from having as varied activities as the camps do, the curriculums have entertaining themes designed to engage and inspire faith in children. Each year publishers offer a new theme, with accompanying promotional posters, decorating ideas, lesson materials, games, songs, videos, pre-packaged crafts, and memorabilia.

While kids are having fun with synergistic activities at Bible Camps and Bible Schools, a moral and spiritual foundation is being built that will serve them for the rest of their lives. They develop meaningful friendships with those on the same journey. The outdoor activities teach them Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” The invaluable biblical wisdom threads woven throughout the experience encourages them to embrace 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ By having such opportune spiritual experiences as children, they are better equipped to make good choices for themselves in adulthood.

 cartoon kids at church

May 01 2014

A Few Fish Facts

600 pounds of Halibut, Petersburg, Alaska 1930s

600 pounds of Halibut, Petersburg, Alaska 1930s (Photo credit: born1945)

It’s common knowledge that both commercial and sport fishing are dominant factors in Alaska’s economy. Thirty years ago I worked for North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal agency tasked with managing fisheries within the 200 mile economic zone off the coast of Alaska, where I learned first-hand about the local, national and international importance of our fishery resources. And besides family fishing outings, a brother-in-law has operated a charter boat out of Seward for years. Originally just for fishing, it has expanded to sightseeing, hunting, and surfing – uh, no, I have not surfed in warm water, let alone the frigid arctic waters of Resurrection Bay. But apparently there are plenty of people who do, much to my surprise, and my brother-in-law was one of the first out there in the North Gulf Coast and continues today.   Since I will not try arctic water surfing, it’s no surprise I much prefer summer to winter, though I know there is value in both. What I like most… its warmer! I have never gotten into Alaska’s winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or ice fishing – I do not like being cold. Now that I think about it, though, I am not active in Alaskan summer activities either, such as camping, fishing, hunting nor hiking. When I was young, my family went camping and fishing, but I did not learn enough to attempt it on my own in later years. I have neither the skill nor the funds to go on outdoor adventures, despite occasionally wishing I could experience it again. Interestingly, while researching for this article I discovered quite a bit of information on the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s website (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=education.main), including classes and programs teaching the community how to have successful, safe outdoor fun; some activities are free, others have a cost. Their calendar of events had a couple of things I might like to take my grandchildren to, such as Bear Awareness for Families and Potters Marsh Discovery Day. What I found most interesting though was the BOW program – Becoming an Outdoors-Woman; apparently an entire program especially designed for a clueless woman like me! Maybe it is time I purposefully look around for other outdoor educational opportunities I did not know existed.   For as long as I can remember I have purposefully striven not to be clueless about our Creator, who spoke our unique Alaska great outdoors into being. Such as the topic of fishing; just as it is important to Alaskans in several ways, it was also important to the people in Jesus’ time. Matthew 4:18-22 tells the story of Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee where he called his first disciples, brothers Simon Peter and Andrew and the brothers James and John, all who were fishermen. He commissioned them by saying, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The Bible records two separate instances where the Lord miraculously fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and some small fish, because the people did not want him to stop teaching long enough for them to go into nearby villages for food. Reading these biblical accounts, it gives me pause to think, have I ever been so deep into His teaching I would not put down my Bible long enough to eat? Rather shamefully I say rarely if ever; rather once I realize I am hungry, my concentration is broken and I am rummaging around in the kitchen. I thought it humbling to note that Jesus did not forget the people needed physical sustenance even as he fed them spiritually. The Lord cares about our healthy well-being – spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally.   As you escape in to summer with camping, fishing, hunting or hiking, look at the outdoor beauty around you with the spiritual lens that it is God’s Creation, entrusted to us because he cares about our well-being. While entertaining yourself with the bounty our state is blessed with, thank him for his provision and generosity. With the prophet Hosea (6:3) “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Potter Marsh

Potter Marsh (Photo credit: Douglas Brown)

Apr 04

Apart from you I have no good thing

PSALM 16:1-2, 5-6Lady in Field

Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.  I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing…”  Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Dear Lord,

It is true – apart from You I have no good thing.  If I were the richest or the poorest, the most fair or the most foul, at peace or in turmoil, I have nothing if I do not have You dwelling within.  I grumble because of my lot in life; however You are my portion and I am spiritually safe because of Your salvation, therefore I should always rejoice because of the eternal inheritance I have through Jesus Christ.  Surely my cup runneth over with Your love and blessings.

Apr 01

GROW GREENER SPIRITUALLY

Pussy Willow

Pussy Willow (Photo credit: Len Radin)

Around this time of year my grandmother used to search the barren, snow covered trees for the first pussy willows, a sure sign Spring is almost here; once found, she would collect a few in a vase as if they were flowers.  Though she’s been gone over 20 years, I still think of her and smile as those soft, gray buds appear.  A little while after the pussy willows bloom, I start watching for one of my favorite signs: the day I can almost see a tinge of green on the trees; soon I can actually see the tinge of green on the trees; and then, almost overnight, the trees burst forth with lush green leaves.  It seems like nature imperceptibly peeks out, then leaps into full bloom shouting Spring’s arrival.  I love to see that transformation from gray to green, an annual affirmation of Genesis 1:11, ‘Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.’  It’s amazing how small gardens, farm crops, entire forests begin as small seeds buried in soil.  I admire people who have the green thumbs to tend beautiful yards, grow colorful vegetable or flower gardens, or work on farms producing our food.  As for me, I cannot take care of a single plant successfully.

There are many things about growing plants I do not understand; one in particular is a little hard to wrap my mind around – organic fertilizers.    It would never occur to me that plant and animal waste combined into a smelly stew would then be stirred into soil used to grow crops.  I cannot help but grimace realizing I most certainly have unknowingly eaten vegetables plucked from such an unsavory mixture.  I have always thought waste is just that, waste, the unusable residue.  While the title of one of Erma Bobeck’s books is ‘The Grass is always Greener over the Septic Tank,’ I thought it was simply a tongue in cheek metaphor rather than an actual phenomenon.  However, turns out it is a real phenomenon, demonstrating residual plant and animal waste actually does have recyclable nutrients.  A caveat, though, is that greener grass can mean something good or bad.    It may just mean the leech field is providing the grass above it a little more water, nitrogen and phosphorous than the rest of the lawn; or it may mean the septic tank is leaking rather than leeching, and it will gradually create a bio-hazard swamp which will be unpleasant and expensive to deal with.  The bottom line for me, I will still eat my vegetables, but if I try planting flowers again, I will be buying my fertilizer at the local home improvement store, not making it with a backyard compost pile.

Figuratively, the backyards of our lives have personal compost piles which may be filled with broken dreams instead of crushed egg shells, heart wounds tossed in like orange peels, leftover relationship hurts added rather than dinner scraps, or stewing unforgiveness and anger akin to co-mingled waste residue.  How we care for our private unsavory mixture determines whether it leeches growth and wisdom or leaks hazardous consequences into our lives.  To successfully use my personal compost, I need the Lord’s guidance.  In Matthew 13’s Parable of the Sower a farmer spreads his seeds on various ground surfaces, all but one prepared to sustain growth.  First falling on a pathway, the seeds are quickly taken by birds; if one lacks understanding, the seeds of God’s message are quickly swept away by worldly disbelief.  Secondly, flipping seeds onto rocky ground one may initially start understanding, but when believing causes trouble, the growth quickly withers as it has no sustaining roots in faith.  The next handful of seeds falls onto unkempt ground, where thorns of worldly worries and desires are able to choke out hope and trust in God’s Word.  Finally, seeds are planted in good soil; soil prepared to hear, understand, believe and follow God’s Truth; soil that remixes lessons learned from unpleasant, difficult, and tragic events back into existing soil, continually strengthening the unwavering belief in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and the Way, the Truth, the Resurrection, and the Life.  I say with the Psalmist ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’

 

 

Compost

Compost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Purple and White Carnations

Purple and White Carnations (Photo credit: Images by John ‘K’)

 

 

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Mar 15

His Grace is Sufficient

Thorns

Thorns (Photo credit: Jinx!)

II CORINTHIANS 12:7-10 

To keep me from becoming conceited…there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But He said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

Dear Lord,

This teaching is hard to comprehend, to accept the thorn in my flesh that has worn me down to nothing could be for my good.  I have pleaded with you three times three thousand times to take it from me – yet it is still with me.  The many years continue to pass and I continue experiencing devastating, painful torment. I continue to plead for Your merciful deliverance from ravaging effects of emotional, mental and physical agony.  Though You have not delivered me in the way I have asked, I know Your powerful grace continues to sustain my spirit in my weakness.  Then I realize, perhaps I comprehend this teaching after all.

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