Meditating on the Commands of Christ (50): A Consideration in Prayer

Do you have a favorite prayer you recite at certain times of the day? When I was ten, my two best friends were both devout Catholics, and one wanted to be a nun. No matter what we did during the evening, Susie would always end her day by repeating a cycle of prayers on her rosary, explaining that if she could fall asleep without sinning after this recitation, she might be able to go straight to heaven without needing any time in purgatory. Being a cultural “Christian” (based on being born in America), I knew nothing about the mysteries of purgatory or rosaries or the meaning of “Hail Mary, full of graces,” but I did admire her devotion and would definitely try to fall asleep quietly (at least most of the time) to honor her wishes.

A few years later, after hearing the best news ever—that Jesus died to save us all from our sins and wants us to turn to him in faith, accepting his gift of eternal life—I began to pray too, although I went to a little baptist church, where we were taught that praying is more about talking to God, who is our Father. Instead of reciting prescribed prayers, we were encouraged to open our hearts and let all our thoughts tumble out, the way a small child pours out his heart to a tender-hearted parent.

I don’t want to deny the efficacy of memorizing or reciting prayers, but I do want to encourage anyone reading this to consider praying to God the way you would talk to your father. (Or, if your father was unavailable or not good to you, then pray to our heavenly Father with the recognition that He is better than the very best father who ever lived on earth!)

If this seems irreverent to you, or uncomfortably intimate, consider that we are instructed in Hebrews 4:16 to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” If you have never asked God to become your father and Jesus to become your savior, please do! Come to him for mercy and grace! His arms are wide open! No matter who you are, God loves you with an everlasting love and longs to receive you into his family! Last week a friend said there had been just 18 inches between hell and heaven in his life . . . the distance between his head and his heart. Until well into his adult life, Randy had a head knowledge of God, but it wasn’t until he embraced Christ with all his heart as his Lord and Savior that he was born again and on his way to heaven.

On the other hand, if you are already saved by faith and a child of God, then the omnipotent creator of the universe has become your “Abba” Father! According to Strong’s concordance: Abbá – “Father,” “is also used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; ‘daddy,’ ‘papa‘.”

So, prayers don’t have to be anything fancy or formal, any more than you’d ignore your two-year-old unless he could speak with the eloquence of an adult! God knows what’s in our hearts, and He wants us to share with him, just the way we long to share with our children . . . even our adult children! My “kids” are now 28 up to 44, but I will never stop wanting to hear “all about” whatever’s going on in their lives! Right?!

I have a girlfriend whose kids sometimes say she’s too nosy about their business. I love her response: “I ask too many questions because I love you too much!” God loves us more than the world’s nosy-est, most loving parent! Please, please talk to Him!! He’s here! Because he’s omnipotent and omniscient, He has all the time in the world for each one of us! He’s not too busy! He can carry on an infinite number of conversations at the same moment! He’s available. He’s knocking at the door of your heart! Have you let him in? If not, will you let him in? May we not only let Him in, but may we make the King of the Universe welcome as the resident King of our hearts as well!

Matthew 6:7-8 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

“Abba Father” sung in Korean (with English subscripts)

(Photo of the painting of Jesus praying by Yongsung Kim is used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Creamy Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dip (or Spread)

Looking for a new twist on a dip this autumn? My sister passed on to me a recipe for a pumpkin dip she had at a party last weekend, so I thought I’d try it with my grand kids. The original recipe called for nutmeg, which my body reacts to, so I used allspice instead . . . and a little more to bring out the flavor.

Creamy Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dip

I liked it, but I wasn’t sure my grands would, so I added touch of salt and a half a cup of peanut butter. With that bit of kid magic to enhance the flavor, it was a hit, so I’m going to pass it on to you with those modifications.

In a blender, combine:
4 oz. (1/2 cup) softened cream cream
1 cup (8 oz.) pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup (or whatever you use for syrup)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt (or salt to taste)

Blend until completely smooth. (I had to open and scrape the sides down once, because the maple syrup didn’t get completely mixed in the first time.)

I served it with red pepper strips, apple slices, and bananas, but I’m sure it would taste great with most any veggie, fruit, or cracker you like. I was going to try it on fresh bread, but the bread disappeared a little too fast last night!

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Spread on a Bagel for Breakfast!

However, I put the leftovers in the refrigerator and tried some this morning on a bagel with some hot chocolate. As a spread, it’s not as caloric as cream cheese or peanut butter, nor as sugary as jam, so it made a very yummy, pretty healthy breakfast! 🙂

He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:10-12; Job’s confession . . . and oh, that it might be ours too!).

The Armstrong Clan’s 500th Anniversary Gathering

Have you ever noticed there is more to do in life than will ever be done? No amount of prayerful planning and meticulous organization can align all the opportunities in such a way that we can be hither and yon at the proper moment to squeeze every last drop out of our lives’ orangey goodness!

I cannot watch over my grandson’s surgery across the state and still provide for my grand children here in GR while my daughter-in-law cares for her father’s medical needs.

Armstrongs in the Poppy Fields of Belgium

I couldn’t host my son’s family, coming home from Belgium to America, and still fly to Scotland to attend the 500th reunion of the Armstrong Clan, now, could I?

Marius’s First Birthday Party

Indeed, I could not. However, we had a splendid reunion of our “Armstrong Clan” right here in GR while the world-wide Armstrong Clan’s 500th Celebration was occurring!

Brother Terry at Milnholm Cross, Scotland

And, although Alan and I had to miss it, Alan’s brother and his wife were able to attend. So—I wanted to share just a little bit about the event.

Perhaps the world’s most famous Armstrong is Neil, First Man on the moon, so the events of the clan centered around the Armstrongs’ 500th anniversary generally, but also the 50th anniversary of the lunar takeoff, which was July 16, 2019.

The Common Riding in Langholm, Scotland

For over 900 years, there has been a tradition of “common riding” (groups of riders [raiders, really]) on horses riding along the border between Scotland and England during the summer months. Happily, this has turned into a non-raiding riding event for fun and has become one of Europe’s biggest equestrian spectacles!

Gilnockie Tower in Hollows, near Canonbie, Scotland,
built by John Armstrong 500 years ago

What I didn’t really understand when I married Alan was that I’d married into a wild band of “reivers” (“from the old Scottish word “to steal”)! Back in their hay day, it was said that to survive to thirty was an accomplishment and that no one walked along the border . . . they ran for their lives!

Sign explaining the Milnholm Cross

(However, lest I think poorly of our esteemed Armstrong heritage, my grandmother was a Kerr, who is also on the list of wild border clans, along with Nixon, Elliot, Scott, and a host of others!)

John Armstrong Memorial

Terry and Eileen explored the area and shared much of what they learned with us. The last famous reiver of the Armstrong Clan was John Armstrong, who owned Gilnockie Tower and was a fearsome raider, although in July of 1530 he was executed by the forces of King James V in an attempt to bring peace to the borderlands between Scotland and England.

Fifty years ago, Ted and Judy Armstrong revived the Armstrong Clan Association, and since that time, Gilnockie Tower has been restored and become the focal point for Armstrongs from around the world who are interested in DNA and genealogical research into their past.

Gilnockie Tower Common Room

I don’t know if you’re an Armstrong or have any Armstrong blood, but it has been fascinating and fun to learn a little bit more about our family heritage, and I’m guessing you might enjoy exploring yours too, if you ever get any spare time!

Terry at John Armstrong’s Grave Site

Terry and Eileen (and their faithful dog, Maggie) are retired and are able to enjoy some leisure time traveling through Europe and exploring their history. Talk about keeping fit and being a lifelong learner!

They’ve spent several years adventuring, and I have to say, I lick my chops when I read of their travels and see the gorgeous places they’ve visited!

The Neil Armstrong Tea

Still, I am content, even if we didn’t make it to the moon and back for tea in July! God is good. Life is good. As my father used to say (quoting Aldous Huxley from Brave New World): “You pays your money and you takes your choice.” Are you happy with the choices you’re making? I hope so! If not, you are the only one who can change your choices!!

Only One Life
(—Avis B. Christiansen and Merrill Dunlop)

“Only one life to offer
Jesus my Lord and King.
Only one tongue to praise Thee
And of Thy mercy sing (forever).
Only one heart’s devotion
Savior, O may it be
consecrated alone to Thy matchless glory,
Yielded fully to Thee.

“Only one life to offer
Take it dear Lord I pray.
Nothing from Thee withholding
Thy will I now obey.
Thou who hast freely given
Thine all in all for me
Claim this life for Thine own to be used My Savior
Ev’ry moment for Thee.”

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Until Forever

“Live Until You Die!”

That’s the message of this incredibly inspiring true love story called Until Forever (2016 version), which is based on the lives of Michael and Michelle Boyum and their enduring love as teenagers and young adults dealing with Michael’s diagnosis of leukemia.

If I didn’t know someone with a similarly buoyant spirit, it would be hard to imagine anybody as sweet, faith-filled, and steady as this young man, but in reality, I know Tom F., who has also been through the wringer with leukemia and is every bit as kind and outreaching, so I know a few of these treasures exist!

Like my friend Tom, Michael always had the needs of others at the forefront of his thinking, and even during his hospital stays, he was busy reaching out to others with encouragement and the love of Jesus!

Jamie Anderson as Matt Boyum

Until Forever doesn’t shy away from the painful realities of how a cancer diagnosis effects everyone who loves the patient. In Michael’s case, his younger brother was severely effected,

Joel Jacobsen as Ben

as were many friends from his church family. (I loved the inclusion of this sweet young man!)

Madison Lawlor as Michelle Larson

Equally miraculous to Michael’s radiant spirit was the response of Michael’s girlfriend, Michelle, who refused to give up and stood by his side despite all the pain, insecurities, and sufferings that Michael endured. (Tom’s wife, Lynnie, is actually just as beautiful and wonderful as Michelle is, as depicted in the movie, so I have no trouble believing such devotion and faith exist!)

Here is a photo of the “real” Michael and Michelle (shown in the final credits of the movie). I truly believe only God can produce a love like theirs!

Well, I don’t want to ruin the story by telling you everything, but it’s one of the most moving movies I’ve seen in a long time, full of faith in the midst of fear

and triumph in the midst of tragedy.

If you are struggling with fear and tragedy, please take the time to watch this movie! It is possible to experience hope and peace in the midst of any illness.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5, ESV).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (49): Where to Pray

Since the essence of genuine prayer is communion with God, we can pray anytime and anywhere. We can pray kneeling by our bed or lying in our bed, while speaking to our boss at work or sitting alone at home, as part of a gathering or as part of a retreat, with arms extended on a mountain top or arms folded in a closet. It’s like eating green eggs and ham. It’s good whether we’re with a fox or in a box. God is here and there and everywhere.

Prayer is like breathing. It’s the spiritual life-giving exchange of ideas with God, like receiving oxygen when we inhale. We don’t have to speak; He can hear the silent cry of our hearts! No one can stop us! We don’t have to move a single muscle. If we’re too tired to form thoughts, we can simply rest in His presence. We don’t need light; we can pray in the dark. We don’t need wisdom; we can ask for wisdom. We don’t even need faith; we can ask for faith too! Whatever we need, we can ask. He invites us to ask, but truly, we don’t even need an invitation!

However, Jesus does give this instruction: Prayer is to be genuine. Pretending to pray isn’t praying. You can pretend to pray anytime and anywhere, but it will get you exactly nowhere every time. Ingenuous prayer may catch the attention of others, but God will not hear: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Prayer must come from a sincere heart, directed straight to the heart of our sincere Father. Honest, earnest prayer from a humble heart offered up in secret will bear spiritual fruit. God will hear us and reward us for seeking Him and His help. What a blessing to have this most intimate and immediate resource available to us every moment of our lives! We can commune with God!

If you’ve never read the little book by Brother Lawrence called The Practice of the Presence of God, I’d like to commend it to you. Your library may have a copy, or you can buy it for $5.95 on Amazon. It’s short and sweet, and it walks readers through the practice of focusing spiritually so we’re more fully aware of living in the presence of God and can better apply the injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to, “Pray without ceasing.” Sound good? It’s great! In fact, it’s the greatest thing in life to me!

Text for this Meditation: Matthew 6:5-6 “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Traditional Swedish Pancakes

My all-time favorite sweet breakfast at the swank restaurant on Holland America’s Koningsdam during our cruise of the North Atlantic Sea last summer was called “Swedish Pancakes.” Ever heard of them?

Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberries

I hadn’t, but they’re delicate, crepe-like pancakes with a cream filling and lingonberry jam, which is apparently a classic in Sweden, although it’s not something you can buy easily here in America. Lingonberries are tart and taste almost like cranberries to me . . . but they are the perfect compliment to the sweet cream inside Swedish pancakes.

Swedish Pancake Batter with Lingonberries

I found some lingonberry jam online to make the pancakes truly authentic, but you can substitute blueberries, strawberries, or cherries and still have an amazingly gourmet treat! Here’s how:

Filling for Swedish Pancakes

Whip in a mixing bowl:
1 cup heavy cream until firm peaks form, then add
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Whip until completely consistent in texture, then chill in refrigerator until you’re ready to fill the pancakes. (You’ll probably have leftover filling; I did, and it set almost like a soft mousse, so I served the leftovers as a dessert later.)

Pancake mix
Serves 6 (makes about 18 medium-sized pancakes)

In a large mixing bowl, add:
2 cups pancake mix (I use Aunt Jemima’s Buttermilk but your favorite works fine)
2 cups milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat with a mixer just until well mixed (may be small lumps still). Let it rest a couple of minutes.

Ladle 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake onto a well buttered frying surface at about 375°F. If you have one, use a crêpe batter spreader to smooth out the circle, making it as thin and large as possible. Fry for approximately 90 seconds on the first side, and then about 1 minute on the other side, or just until browning nicely. (I forgot to photo this, but you get the picture!)

To fill:
Assemble your cream filling, some more confectioner’s sugar and either of these items:
a jar of lingonberry preserves
Or, a jar of blueberry, strawberry, or cherry preserves (or better yet, a sauce made from cooking fresh fruit with equal parts sugar until thickened, and then add 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice)
If you have any: some leaves of fresh mint for a garnish on top
Some fresh berries to garnish
Whipped cream for a garnish

You can stack the pancakes up, separated by pastry paper and kept warm in the oven, but make sure you serve them warm.

To assemble:

Lay a pancake on a flat surface and spoon a generous portion of filling diagonally across the middle of the pancake.

If you want the jam inside, add a stripe of jam before rolling them up.

Roll up each pancake, set them on a clean plate, and sprinkle them with confectioners’ sugar.

Crown with a generous serving of whipping cream, and garnish with a mint leaf ± some fresh fruit. Serve immediately. Enjoy!!

The berries can be inside, on top, or mixed in with the cream filling.
They’re good every which way!

The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Proverbs 16:21; may our speech be as sweet as our food)!

Sonnet 81: “Shall I Compare Thee To a Summer Play?”

“I’d rather go to a Dime-Dog ball game than watch a boring Shakespeare play.” Yikes! Times are changing! In the light of that comment, and in the spirit of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, I couldn’t help but write a (somewhat playful) response expressing my preferences too.

What was considered the height of literary wit four hundred years ago is out of vogue with most of Gen Z, and maybe Gen X too!

As I admitted last time I wrote, even I found a walk in the park more refreshing than a night at the theater!

So, here’s to my Maker, in honor of his glorious being, his creation, and His immutable Word, which stands above time and is eternal, surpassing the eloquence of even the most revered of our English-speaking writers!

Shall l compare Thee to a summer play?
Thou art more worthy and more glorious:
The winds of change oft temper what men say,
Their words, once apt, become notorious.
Words melt and molt; they fade and lose their voice.
What once was wise, youth’s wisdom doth suspect.
The audience today rejects past choice
And says it’s not politically correct.
Though wit be wit and dark be dark through time,
Though love and life and death collide with pow’r,
No light shines like Your canticle sublime,
No truth excels the wisdom of Your bow’r.
Yea, thine eternal grandeur shall extend
Thy Word still pure, unchanging to the end.

Thy word is true from the beginning:
and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.”
(Proverbs 30:5)

Sunset Falling on a Bridge Along the Avon River

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).

Walking the footpath along the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario with my son