Autumn Joys: A Few of My Favorite Things

Today is the first day of autumn, 2017…a day that has never been and will never come again. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the tragedies occurring in America and around the world this year. Sometimes it seems almost sacrilegious to speak about the blessings during such a time of hardship, but then I remember that it’s often in the midst of suffering that we’re most acutely aware of the everyday blessings that we usually take for granted. I’m going to list a few of my favorites, and I’d love to hear you share some of yours as well!   Now that it’s autumn, it’s dark when I wake up, but among my favorite everyday blessings are hearing the birds sing and watching the sun rise while Alan and I read the Bible and pray together each morning.      I’m also extremely grateful to be living in a clean, dry, safe, snug home.  I’m thankful for food and water and electricity. Millions are without right now in the Americas and Caribbean, and billions are chronically without worldwide.   I am thankful for the spiritual bread of life and the water of life, Jesus. Beyond all this, I find myself wrapped up in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, which is better than a velvety fleece around my shoulders, and I am a child of our heavenly Father, who has his arms outstretched to whosoever will come to Him in faith. I am thankful for the privilege of prayer! God invites us to come to him like a little child and promises to care for us and answer our prayers.  I’m thankful for my husband and children and grandchildren. I’m thankful that we love our Father and we love each other. I’m thankful for family and friends, both those far away and near.  I’m thankful for the golden warmth of the sun by day and the silvery glow of the moon and stars by night. I’m thankful for the seasons…for snowflakes in winter and soft green grass in summer, flowers that bud and bloom in the spring, and leaves that flame and fall in the autumn.  God has created a world of beauty, mystery, light, and darkness, and I’m thankful for it all, knowing that God is good and is working everything “together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?

10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.

13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him (Ecclesiastes 3:1-14).

A Little Thought About Being Thankful

Last year for Christmas I received a beautiful, velvety fleece blanket that matches our bedroom colors perfectly and is about as soft as a cloud. I keep it over the back of my favorite reading chair and snuggle into it every chilly morning when Alan and I settle in for our devotional time. Even in the summer it’s been a particular source of comfort, since my chair is next to the window, and often early morning temperatures are quite cool.  I’m sure I thanked Dan and Brianna when they first gave it to me, but almost every morning I think to myself, “I need to write them a note just to let them know how much I love their blanket!” However, every morning after rearranging the blanket, I’d hurry off to make breakfast and promptly forget my good intentions. Until today. Today I finally remembered to do something about it! Ten months later!!

Is there anything in your life like that? Any kindness that you often remember but never take time to acknowledge? I read the story of the ten lepers and wonder why nine of them failed to return and thank Jesus for healing them, and yet—I’m no different! But, they were excited! They wanted to share the good news with their loved ones. They were busy—they needed to go to the temple to be declared “clean” again. They were…just like me! So caught up in the routines of life’s business that I fail to stop and just express my gratefulness to those who are blessings in my life. Even more—I fail to thank God for the daily abundance He gives me. May I (we) become people whose hearts overflow with gratitude, and who take the time to thank God and those who bless us!

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good:
because his mercy endureth for ever
” (Psalm 118:1)

West Michigan Writers’ Conferences: Past, Present, and Future

Last Friday night I attended the JOT Writers Conference. If you enjoy writing and need a little inspiration, this is one A+ way to grow! JOT is the brainchild of the Weaklings, a group of five men who are successfully pursuing writing careers and live in the Grand Rapids area. About twice a year, they sponsor conferences to encourage and educate writers. I especially appreciate just about every aspect of their conferences:

*They are totally free (and you don’t even need to RSVP)! *They are just one evening long. *They are able to attract some highly successful writers (who also speak for free)! *The organizers are excellent human beings with altruistic egoisms. *The two I have attended meet at Baker Book House, which is a great venue.

*After several brief, TED-style talks with Q&A’s afterward, you’re welcome to leave (making your time commitment only about 2 hours), or you’re free to  mingle and enjoy some snacks, or you can curl up in a corner and write until 11:00 pm if you want!  Does it get any more accommodating than that? I don’t think so!! They haven’t scheduled their next conference yet, but you can connect with them here if you’re interested:   https://jotwritersconference.com/

Also, if you’re got some serious time and money to invest, there are several other writers’ conferences in our area. I’ve attended the first two in the past, although I won’t be able to make them this year. Here is a little information with links:

September 28-30, 2017. Maranatha Christian Writers Conference, celebrating their 40th year. Their website is:  http://www.maranathachristianwriters.com/

October 6-7, 2017. Breathe Christian Writers Conference, which will be held here in Grand Rapids. Their website is: http://breatheconference.com/home/

April 12-14, 2018. Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, Grand Rapids.
Their website is: http://festival.calvin.edu/

Grand Valley State University used to sponsor writers conferences, although they do not currently. Instead, they offer a “Writers Series” with a half a dozen guest speakers throughout the year. You can access information on their 2017-2018 series here: https://www.gvsu.edu/writing/grand-valley-writers-series-12.htm

For those of you who live in other areas, if you’re interested, google “writers conferences” and see what comes up! If you can afford to travel, Billy Graham’s Training Center, The Cove, is hosting The Asheville Christian Writers Conference-Writers Bootcamp on February 16-18, 2018 in North Carolina: http://www.ashevillechristianwritersconference.com/

Happy writing. Happy hunting!

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3).

 

Ready for a Coffee Break?

I woke up this morning with a headache, which is extremely rare for me, but I wondered if a cup of coffee might cure it. However, my health insurance requires a fasting cholesterol, which was this morning, so there was to be no coffee or tea for me until after my blood draw! I survived, and I’m feeling fine without any socially acceptable chemical dependence, but it reminded me of all the funny coffee jokes my friend Sarah E. puts on her Face Book page. If you love coffee as much as I do, I hope you’ll take a two-minute coffee break and enjoy these!… . Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
(1 Peter 4:8-10)

(Thank you, Sarah E., for sharing so many fun things to make others laugh! Truly, laughter is good medicine!)

Rise Up, My Love (252): Add Some Dazzle to Your Calendar

Song of Solomon 7:12, “There will I give thee my loves.” Let’s take a few minutes to think about one of the best things a wife can do for her husband in a very practical way to show her love for him. It’s the concept of planning “mini honeymoons,” and it’s been one of the most transforming discoveries of my marriage…drawn from the inspiring example of Solomon’s wife. So, what’s a mini honeymoon, and how does it work?

A mini honeymoon is a time set apart for the wife to whisk her husband away from his normal responsibilities so she can focus on loving him. It can be as short as a twenty-four hour period or as long as a long weekend, depending on what will maximize your husband’s pleasure without causing him undo stress over time or financial concerns. The first and most important aspect of the mini honeymoon is the wife’s attitude. She needs to be committed to doing this not for her own pleasure, but for her husband’s, as her gift to him, thinking of what will best meet his needs and delight his heart.

It is a time apart for the husband to “taste and see” that his wife is good…for them to reconnect and bond…for the husband to enjoy his wife—body, soul, and spirit—and to receive love from her. “There will I give thee my loves.” So, there’s nothing in it for the wives? Oh, yes, there certainly is, although I hope that’s not our motive or focus. As wives, we will be richly rewarded over time by the revitalization of our marriage. I have found (and believe it will also be true for you) a new energy and loyalty in my spouse when I consciously take steps to “give him her [my] loves.”   And, the wife can usually begin by picking the special place for the honeymoon retreat, because the good news is that (at least this is true in my marriage, so hopefully it will be true in yours as well) a husband will go happily most anywhere to spend the night with the woman he loves. (You may have to surprise him or talk him into it the first time, but he’ll probably be asking, “When can we do this again??” before you return if it turns out well, because everyone loves being loved!)

So, to start with, pick any lovely place (relatively close to home) where the scenery is refreshing and the dinner will be romantic…some place that will make you both feel relaxed and open…some place where there’s nothing to make your husband think about other people or work-related pressures, and some place that makes you breathe in deeply and sigh with delight. Have you got such a place in mind? If so, start saving up to pay for it. If not, start asking around for suggestions.

My husband doesn’t usually like us to have to drive more than an hour or two; yours may not care, but try to be sensitive to the amount of time transportation will take. You need to be far enough away from home so that you feel “away,” but close enough so that the travel doesn’t rob you of too much time or make the driver tense. Once you’ve picked your place, find a free time in your husband’s schedule. I have often had to consult with a boss or secretary on this one, but I’ve been amazed at how willing people usually are to help out if given enough lead time.

For surprise getaways, I’ve found coworkers more than happy to help, even taking delight in making the schedule look especially difficult for the time when your dear husband is really going to be “sprung” from duty. (That is never my idea…but often theirs!) Once you have the place and the time, start preparing for the occasion. Notice how Solomon’s wife invited him to be a “fruit inspector.”

This will require a big commitment from you, because your husband will be checking out your fruitfulness! Are you bearing the fruits of love in your life? Are your thoughts in order concerning your husband? If he should “taste and see” the thoughts in your mind, will they be like the refreshing bursts of sweetness found in a pomegranate? How about the discipline of getting back into physical shape (preaching to myself on this one particularly!)? If you want him to be crazy about you the way he was when you were first married…how about trying to look something like you did back then? (I didn’t say we can really look like we did twenty or forty years ago…but we can at least try to look pretty by eating wisely, exercising properly, and dressing neatly.)

Is this too scary? Does it sound too hard? Impossible? If money is the biggest issue, find a friend who will watch your kids for a night and just creatively dress up your house. You could make funny little signs with crayons on sheets of white paper. That doesn’t cost much. Remember, it’s not about money; it’s about loving your mate! Or, perhaps you are saying to yourself, “I haven’t got a chance! I’ve gotten fat, and I feel ugly. All my thoughts are unhappy thoughts and I don’t even feel like I love my husband. In fact, why should I want to do anything for him? He’s a jerk.”

Well, if you’re reading this devotional commentary, you must have—at the very least—either some deep love for the Lord or your husband. If love for your husband is lacking, always remember that the burning core of our lives and motivation is our passion for the Lord. Start by doing what you do for the Lord’s sake. He instructs us to love others with a pure and fervent heart (I Peter 1:22)…and that includes loving our husband! This is a way of loving our husband, even if he seems totally unlovable.

Take the burden on your own shoulders of learning how to love. Do everything as if he were the most wonderful man in the world…as if he were Christ. What would you do for Jesus? Love your husband in that way. Prepare for your honeymoon with that much prayerful ingenuity. Take a few props…some pleasant-smelling lotion for a good massage, some bubbles for the bath tub, an appealing new nightgown (okay, so maybe new lounge pants and tee shirt if you’re a Millennial)…whatever you think would make him feel especially loved and desired.

Make a very conscious attempt to “dazzle” and “fascinate” your mate! (By the way, the husband can do all these same things for his wife; remember, at the beginning of the Song, it was the husband doing all the wooing. Wives will forever love being wooed!) Well, maybe you’re an old hand at mini vacations, but if not, I hope I’ve offered enough suggestions to get your mind turning. Let your own creativity and what you know of your husband’s tastes spark your imagination as you prayerfully plan a mini-honeymoon to live out this verse: “There will I give thee my loves.”

Why Would Anyone Want to Devil an Egg?

Why would anyone want to devil a perfectly good egg? If you don’t like eggs or mayonnaise, then you probably wouldn’t enjoy deviling eggs, but for most of us, a platter of deviled eggs is a truly cheery sight and welcome addition to any potluck or picnic. They’re yummy, inexpensive, bite-sized, and a good source of protein. So, perhaps I should ask, Why wouldn’t anyone want to devil an egg?!

Classic Deviled Eggs:
(makes 16 servings)

8 hard-boiled eggs, cooled, peeled and sliced lengthwise with the yolks scooped out and placed in a mixing bowl. To the egg yolks, add:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/4 minced onion (or 1/4 teaspoon onion powder)
1 minced clove of garlic (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
1/4 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoning salt (or your favorite)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mash the egg yolks and mix thoroughly with all the condiments and spices. Gently spoon the filling mixture back into the empty egg white cups, and then sprinkle liberally with paprika. Chill and serve, but don’t let anybody pick on them anymore. They’ve already been deviled enough.Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:10-11).

It occurs to me that eggs are probably the only thing it’s okay to devil.  🙂

What’s the Relationship Between Forgiveness and Repentance?

Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach was written as a tool to help victimized people work through the pain of their injury, specifically as they confront the issue of whether or not to forgive their offender, and if so—when, and on what basis. If you’ve sustained an injury in the past that is still causing emotional trauma for you today, or if you have an old injury that has never healed but you’ve dealt with by consciously refusing to ever think about it again, then this book might be helpful.

That being said, Dr. Maier’s book reads like a doctoral dissertation, so it’s primarily an academic exercise in trying to understand the nature of forgiveness and the interplay between forgiveness and justice…aimed more at the head than the heart and clearly written to provide insight for Christian clergy and health-care professionals as they minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of victims.

Maier begins by refining the definition of “forgiveness,” pointing out that “the overarching meaning of forgiveness is manifesting and sharing redemptive grace.” However, he feels that the basic concept of forgiveness as “letting go of the need for vengeance and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment,” or “giving up one’s right to hurt back” may be too simplistic, because many people have trouble actually forgiving by that definition.

After exploring the definition, boundaries, and contours of forgiveness, Maier argues that our pattern for forgiveness should be modeled after God’s manner of forgiving us, which includes: “A readiness to forgive, an other-centerd focus, a foundation in the gospel, and a requirement of repentance.”

Although I believe that Maier’s observations on how God forgives us are sound, I do not believe the Bible teaches that we are to forgive others using the way in which God forgives us as a model. In fact, I don’t think it’s even a possibility! Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Do you sense the difference? Jesus teaches us to forgive on the basis of our having been forgiven, but this is not true of God. God has never sinned. God has no need of being forgiven. God does not appeal to any higher authority, because He is the highest authority in the universe! God does not offer forgiveness based on his willingness to forgive those who’ve offended him, although this is exactly the model he sets up for us when Jesus teaches us to pray.

God, as the divine judge, is required to demand justice. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is incomprehensibly merciful and ready to forgive. God has an other-centered focus in forgiveness because He is perfect in love and needs no healing or help for himself. God is only able to offer forgiveness and remain just based on Christ’s death as the complete payment for our sin: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And finally (Maier’s fourth point), God does require repentance for salvation: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

God, as divine judge, forgives us based on our repentance, but he does not tell us that we are divine judges who must base our forgiveness on repentance. Rather, the Bible teaches, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). This places the weight of forgiveness squarely on our shoulders and gives no indication that we cannot—or  even need not—forgive if our offender has not repented.

Instead, he urges us to remember that He is the judge, and he will hold each man accountable for his sin: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth” (Romans 14:4). Paraphrased, I believe this verse means, “Who are you (me…any of us) to judge someone else, because each person is ultimately God’s servant, not ours. God is omniscient. He knows all the facts. He alone can judge with perfect insight and wisdom.

Does that mean that we should forget about justice? No. We have every right to seek for justice, love justice, and applaud justice. We are required by God “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). However, we are not to take justice into our own hands (unless we are the appropriate, responsible authority, such as in our homes and work places). God and government are ordained as the conduits for prescribing punishment for unjust behavior, and when we are mistreated, we can fight for justice (as portrayed by Esther), but we’re not supposed to take personal revenge on others: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Like Abraham, we need to trust, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).

In my experience, offenders have very little insight into what they’ve done wrong, and if they do repent, it usually seems shallow and inadequate. If that hasn’t been your experience, you’re very blessed! However, I’m acutely aware that this is without a doubt also true of my repentance. I have very little insight into how sinful my attitudes and conduct often are, and when I realize that I’ve been wrong, I’m sure I don’t fully realize the negative impact I’ve had on others.

Therefore, it’s easy for me to feel compassion for others when they offend me, and I often find consolation in verses like: “The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (Proverbs 14:10).

Well, the book has many helpful ideas and definitely made me search the scriptures to refine my own thinking, but in the final analysis, I believe God does require us to forgive: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses) Mark 11:25-26. In fact, I believe God calls us to a life of forgiving: “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).

Although reconciliation definitely requires repentance on the part of the offender: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15), I truly believe that forgiveness is based on, “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8), and God is extremely hard on those who are unwilling to forgive: “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:34-35).

If you find that you have no desire to forgive someone in your life who has injured you, I beg you to pray for the Holy Spirit to give you the grace to forgive and heal your soul, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). An unwillingness to forgive will keep us from experiencing the freedom that comes from releasing all our pain and sorrows to God, who alone is able to redeem, restore, and reconcile our hearts and our relationships. We don’t have to wait for our offenders to repent! If we’re believers, we can forgive based on the fact that Christ has forgiven us. Let’s leave divine justice in his capable hands. This will free us to heal, and who knows? The day may even come when we can be like the good shepherd in Luke 15, who went out seeking for a lost sheep!