Shelley and I have a special appreciation for our shared grand children, because we prayed together, long and tearfully, for five years before Samuel was born. And then, Samuel was born frighteningly early, at 27.5 weeks as a micro-premie who spent his first 105 days in a neonatal intensive care unit. 😦 That kept us all on our knees for months and rejoicing ever since! Elanor—on the other hand—came without complications, but we don’t love her any less! She has been an unmitigated joy and keeps us amazed with her incredible vocabulary and dexterity.
Have you ever noticed how each child is precious and special . . . but for different reasons? As the youngest of five, I would sometimes worry about whether or not my mother loved me as much as my older brothers and sisters, and so I would ask her, “Who’s your favorite?” She would smile and say, “I don’t have a favorite! I love you all with all my heart!” I loved that and remembered her example as my own very different but all wonderful children were growing up.
I was so crazy about my firstborn that I secretly worried about whether or not I could ever love another child as much. But, without any effort on my part, I immediately “fell in love” with our second son the moment he was born, and the miracle continued with each child. I realized that what my mother had told me wasn’t just a sweet lie to make me feel good. It was true! Each child (and now grand child) is totally unique and lovable, but my love for them is so much deeper than any “because they are or do this or that!” I love them simply because they are mine. Period!
This inexplicable love of a mother for her children has helped me understand the love of God a little better. He created each of us, and He loves each of us, not because we are so clever or cute . . . or even good. (Despite our best efforts, our “good” isn’t really all that good!) Yes, God wants us to be wise and good, but He hangs in there with us through thick and thin not based on our being all he’d hoped we’d be, but because He loves us with an everlasting love. If you’re a parent, I hope you know what I’m talking about! Never give up. God never gives up! Accept his love! He’s waiting with open arms!
“13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.14 But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:13-16).
Last week, we were treated to one of the premiere showings of the newly released movie, Breakthrough.
It’s based on the true story of John Smith, a 14-year-old Missouri high schooler
who fell through the ice on Lake St. Louis back in January of 2015.
He was underwater for more than fifteen minutes before being rescued, but then he was declared dead at the hospital.
His mother, Joyce Smith, was unwilling to accept his death and started praying for God to bring him back to life even though he’d had no pulse for over an hour.
Miraculously, his pulse did return, although he was only given a 1% chance of making it through the night, and his pastor and parents were warned that because he had been brain-dead for so long, he would most likely be a vegetable if he did survive. His pastor, Jason Noble, brought a group of ministers in to pray over him that night.
You’ll have to watch the movie if you want to hear the end, but I guarantee it will make you laugh and cry, and you’ll be glad you watched.
Although Joyce Smith was a believer when the accident occurred, her son was not. What happened changed his life, and now John is not only a Christian, he’s excited about God! If you want to hear a few minutes more, there’s a short interview with the real John Smith (who was adopted from Guatemala) below:
What about you? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in miracles? Do you need a miracle? God doesn’t promise to do everything we ask, but He does promise to go with us through every trial and make all things work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Why not entrust your life to Him, prayer for his help and guidance, and see what happens?
“For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:24-28).
(Because I was watching the movie with a big group as part of a volunteer appreciation event hosted by Exalta Health, I didn’t take any photos, so these are all images I found online. I hope the makers of the movie don’t mind sharing!)
Last Sunday, on Easter morning, a friend who had been dear to my heart for almost 50 years died. Two of his daughters were at his bedside, holding his hands when he breathed his last. This was not an easy death. After 30 years of marriage, my friend walked out on his wife and family in order to pursue a homosexual lifestyle. You can imagine how shattered his married daughters were to discover that their father preferred seeking his own pleasure (over a thousand miles away) to being an active husband, father, and grandfather. I think their act of honoring love is the perfect example of what Jesus was trying to teach in today’s study.
Jesus had invited Matthew to become his disciple, and Matthew immediately accepted. One of the first things Matthew did in response was invite all his friends over for a big dinner party so they could meet Jesus. What a perfect way for Matthew to share what he was experiencing with those he loved best! When you love someone, don’t you want them to meet your friends?
Well, the Pharisees objected to this and criticized Jesus for eating with “publicans and sinners,” but—as is the usual case—they didn’t confront Jesus directly. Rather, they complained to Jesus’ disciples. Nevertheless—as is also usual—the complaints eventually made their way to Christ, who had no qualms about explaining his actions: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).
This is not idle conversation. Jesus really wanted the Pharisees to understand this saying, which came from Hosea 6:6, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” We see the end of the Pharisees failure to understand just a few chapters later, where they are criticizing Jesus and his disciples for picking ears of corn from a field to eat on the Sabbath. There Jesus rebukes them for not learning what he’d tried to teach them: “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:7-8).
What is it that Jesus wants us to learn? Showing mercy means even more to God than offering a sacrifice. Loving others who need help is more pleasing to God than bringing him an offering. In fact, caring for those in need is an offering to God. It is a sacrifice of love! Which would make you happier: Having your little girl bring you a bunch of flowers, or watching your little girl helping a smaller child who had fallen down and was crying?
Life is not about external conformity; it’s about internal transformation. We are created as image-bearers of God, and He wants us to grow more and more like He is, not in the ways we can’t (such as in his omnipotence and omniscience) but in his attributes. Specifically, in this context, God is not only just, he is also deeply merciful. The Jewish leaders in the days of Christ had added an insurmountable heap of regulations onto the laws that God had given them. For instance, there is no law in the Bible against inviting people to your home to hear the message of Christ, but the Pharisees thought it was scandalous to associate with anyone who didn’t agree with them politically or religiously. Wrong.
Concerning their allegation that Jesus was “breaking the sabbath,” the principle God gave us was to set aside a day for rest and worship each week, which was not meticulously defined in Exodus 20:8. It says simply, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Jesus and his disciples were probably much better able to rest and worship with a light meal of fresh corn than they would have been on empty stomachs!
In the Bible, we are given all sorts of principles to guide our lives. I like to think of them as the Path of Life. In Psalm 25:10 we learn, “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.” I think of mercy and truth as being the boundary markers along the Path of Life. What we do must be “truth” (must be right) based on keeping God’s laws, but what we do must also be bounded by mercy. If we fail to do what’s right, or if we fail to do what’s merciful, then we have gotten off the true Path of Life. One regrettable memory I have is turning down an opportunity to see a sick sister because I thought it would be wrong to miss church. The scripture tells us not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25), but that does not mean it is always wrong to miss any service of our churches. There are times when it’s more important to be showing mercy, which is exactly what my friend’s two daughters were doing on Easter. Instead of being in church with their children, they flew across the country to bring the light of God’s presence into a very sad, dark corner of this world.
“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” (Proverbs 3:3).
Texts for this study:
“And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:10-13).
“At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:1-8).
“O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.5 Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.7 But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me” (Hosea 6:4-7).
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20: 8-11).
Do you ever have a refrigerator full of leftovers that you’re not sure what to do with? My older brother Wolle trained me in as his sous chef when I was about eight, and I never ceased being amazed by his inventiveness. Up until then, I thought I had to follow a recipe to make something that tasted good, but he taught me to improvise, because he was forever pulling something unusual out of the refrigerator to add to an otherwise standard dish.
Not too long ago, our refrigerator was full of bits and pieces, so I put everything on the counter and decided to try to use them in a lasagna. I’m not actually sharing this recipe so you’ll try it, but it turned out so well that my husband and son had no clue it was all a scheme to use up scraps until I confessed. So, I’ll tell you what I did, but only to inspire you to try improvising sometime when you have a few bits and pieces that you’re puzzling over how to use.
I started with a typical beginning, by frying together: 1 pound ground hamburger 8 oz. mushrooms 1 chopped onion 2 tablespoon crushed garlic 1 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon basil 1 teaspoon oregano 1 teaspoon regular salt 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
Then the fun began. I added some leftover pulled pork, the remains of a jar of pesto sauce and what was left of a jar of capers.
One of the most iffy things I added was some leftover refried beans, since that’s not something you usually put in pastas. However, I couldn’t taste it in the finished product, and it seemed to make the lasagna perhaps less wet than it might have been, which balanced the dairy products that I was soon to add . . .
But first, I added what was left of a jar of spaghetti sauce plus another full jar. That all looked pretty good, so I was ready to try a few more dangerous additives. 🙂
Instead of using ricotta cheese and eggs (which is the right way to do this), I had some leftover cottage cheese, sour cream, and yogurt. I dumped them all in. To tell you the truth, I think the refried beans kept the lasagna from being too runny.
Instead of the usual half a pound of mozzarella cheese, I had some leftover cheddar and some shredded 5-cheese Italian. In they went! I also added about 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, even though I never classify that as “leftover.” (Would it really be lasagna without any Parmesan??)
Last, but not least, I had some leftover fresh spinach and parsley. By this time, I was crossing my fingers and toes, but my refrigerator looked very neat and clean, so I was holding my breath to see if this combo would cut it with the critics.
The rest is standard practice again. I submerged 12 pieces of lasagna into salted, boiling water. I always lay a couple cross-wise and at various angles so they don’t stick together.
Cook the noodles until they’re tender (according to directions on the package). This is the perfect time to start preheating your oven to 350°F.
Line a 9X13″ pan with three cooked noodles. (Remove from the pan carefully with two spoons so you don’t break them.)
Add 1/4 of the sauce to cover the noodles completely.
Repeat the process three more times, so that you’ve used up all 12 noodles and all your sauce.
I was afraid the lasagna would overflow the pan because I had so much stuff in it, so I put a cookie sheet under it to catch any drips. Believe it or not, it didn’t overflow!
As a final touch, I spread a second 8 oz. of grated cheese over the top and baked it in the oven at 350° for 40 minutes. So far, so good. It really didn’t look much different from my usual lasagna, although the pan was a little fuller.
I served it with cold slaw, fruit cocktail (items that also needed to get used up) and made if festive by opening a bottle of sparkling grape juice. Totally non-traditional, but we all liked it, and it all got eaten up. So, I’d never go out of my way to get all those crazy ingredients, but sometime when you’re not sure what to do with a whole refrigerator full of the tail end of a dozen items, why not trying making a concoction? Think about what might be the common denominator. Have you used many of the ingredients separately in a number of similar dishes? Pasta? Asian? Soup? Using up leftovers is a little like solving a puzzle sometimes. If you find (or have already found) an unlikely combo, I’d love to hear about it!
“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1).
Although weeping willows grow quickly to great heights and are often prized by romantics (like me) for their long, gracefully arching branches and lacey leaves, they are relatively short-lived (about 50 years). They have vast root systems that suck up huge amounts of water, and in the winter, the water can freeze, causing the branches to become rigid and brittle. So, despite their beauty and size, weeping willows are prone to ice damage, and even a stiff spring wind can cause a great fall, such as happened recently to one of the lovely willows along our lane.
In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes the healthy way for a church to grow. Have you noticed that some churches grow at amazingly rapid rates? They may be drinking in a lot of spiritual water (the Word, Ephesians 5:26) and even have sturdy root systems (rooted and grounded in love, Ephesians 3:17), but if they don’t recognize and utilize the full compliment of their church’s gifts (as given by God to each member), they are likely to become rigid and brittle over time (which happens in churches led by only one man) and very susceptible to “every wind of doctrine” that blows. The results can be devastating, just like weeping willow trees: Individual branches break off easily, and sometimes even huge limbs can come crashing down in a wind storm, not only killing a large part of the tree, but exposing the rest of the tree to disease and eventual death.
If you are a part of the leadership at your church, are you making sure to use all the spiritually gifted members of your congregation? Many minds and hearts working together will protect you from doctrinal error and strengthen your church family. If you are an inactive member of your congregation, do you know what your spiritual gift is? Will you offer to use your gift to help your church be healthy and grow stronger?
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV).
While in Atlanta, where Alan attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry, we were treated to this stunning view that seemed more like a set for a sci-fi movie than the atrium of a hotel. I marveled at its beauty and thought to myself, “Whoever did this deserves some type of architectural award!” Indeed, the designer is none other than John C. Portman Jr. who died at 93 in 2017.
Atlanta was his hometown, and the street right outside this hotel—Atlanta Marriott Marquis—bears Portman’s name! Furthermore, I’ve seen his buildings (and photographed them) all over the world, from San Diego’s Bayfront to Beijing’s Yintai Center and Shanghai’s Tomorrow Square. Even Detroit’s Ren Cen (whose central tower held the title of the tallest hotel in the Western Hemisphere until 2013), where Alan and I used to watch the Grand Prix races out the window from our friend George’s law office, was built by this man!
I marveled both at Portman’s prestigious career and at my own ignorance. He has built some of the most creative architectural masterpieces of my time, and I have been astounded by their beauty, but I never stopped to figure out who designed them, nor did I put two and two together to formulate a simple question: Phenomenal designs . . . do you suppose the same person designed this one too?!
How about you? Have you marveled at the beauty of our world—from the majestic mountains to the tiny, fragrant flowers—and felt overwhelmed by the creative genius without ever asking who the creative Genius is?
“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear . . . But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrew 11:3,6).
By Faith (Stuart Townend)
By faith, we see the hand of God In the light of creation’s grand design; In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness, Who walk by faith and not by sight.
By faith, our fathers roamed the earth
With the power of His promise in their hearts
Of a holy city built by God’s own hand –
A place where peace and justice reign.
We will stand as children of the promise,
We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul’s reward.
Till the race is finished and the work is done,
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight.
By faith, the prophets saw a day
When the longed-for Messiah would appear
With the power to break the chains of sin and death,
And rise triumphant from the grave.
By faith, the church was called to go
In the power of the Spirit to the lost
To deliver captives and to preach good news,
In every corner of the earth.
By faith, this mountain shall be moved
And the power of the gospel shall prevail,
For we know in Christ all things are possible
For all who call upon His name.
It was the perfect day for an Easter egg hunt outside, and in less than 15 minutes Alan and I had distributed all the Easter eggs, candy, and chocolate rabbits—especially the chocolate rabbits (everybody’s favorite gift)—around our field.
Quick as a flash, our grandchildren flew around the field, gathering up all the surprises and treats.
However, to the children’s horror, two of the bunnies (which had been hiding in the sunshine) must have experienced green-house effect heat and melted down into little masses of mess! 😦
Isn’t this a picture of so many of our fondest dreams in life? We have such high hopes and work so hard preparing for the future.
We are eager and “do everything right” as best we know how, but suddenly something unexpected dashes our hopes for “the perfect” ending and turns our “high point” into a low point.
At times like this, I am reminded that every dream and ambition apart from seeking God is like a hollow Easter bunny that will not withstand the heat of life. Better to keep my eyes on the Lord and find my joy in Him! “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5). “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25).