Meditating on the Commands of Christ (59): Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Today is December 1—the first day of Advent Season, and as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th, I couldn’t help but think how perfect it is that this is also the week to meditate on Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This has been my son Michael’s life verse, and I think he’s been living it out beautifully, but today I want to share about my dear friend, Sara, who’s been living it out for even many decades longer.

Last Sunday, I flew to Madison, WI to attend a surprise 70th birthday party for Sara. We all parked away from their home so that no cars could be seen.

As we awaited expectantly for her arrival to what she had been told would be a brunch after church with two other couples, we all wondered if she would actually be surprised, since over 60 people were involved. Was it possible that anybody had inadvertently said anything that might tip her off?

In fact, she was completely surprised, and the proof of it was that she’d been very frustrated with her husband, who had hurried her out of church before she’d had a chance to finish meeting the needs she sensed around here there. This is so Sara—always thinking of others and seeking His kingdom before her own pleasure!

Sara wept for joy as she hugged each of her children and grand children, her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, cousins and precious friends.

I think there were nearly thirty of us who met her at the door! Talk about overwhelmed with happiness!

The venue was amazing! The hosting family who opened their home for the celebration live in a gorgeous estate that looks like a resort lodge! The decorations were simply beautiful! As I helped lay out the last of the silverware on the linen table cloths (after hours of work by friends the previous day), it occurred to me that everything was as elegant as a wedding!

Sara’s daughter had been the mastermind, working in conjunction with Sara’s husband, assisted by several other family members and several couples who were friends, some for 30 years!

The Mediterranean cuisine and beautiful cakes were provided by fantastic caterers. It was amazing!

And then, after enjoying a sumptuous feast with her family, a second wave of about thirty more friends arrived to surprise her!

It seemed magical, like a happily-ever-after fairy tale. There was even a game to make everybody laugh and learn more about Sara! But, what I loved the very most was the final surprise. Her daughter, Jessica, had invited all of us to share something to bless her. It was like a fireworks of well deserved praises.

So many people had memories of her untold kindnesses to others over the years that the tap gushing gratefulness finally had to be turned off so there would be a little time to watch a video and end with a time of praying blessings over Sara.

I was one of the “lucky” (blessed) out-of-towners who had the privilege of spending the night with Sara and James afterward, and the afterglow lasted well into the night. In fact, Sara had trouble sleeping, she was so happy!

Sara’s life has not been easy. In fact, in some ways it’s been very challenging. But her life has been wonderfully blessed, and I know (because I’ve know her for fifty years) that it’s because she has always sought to love the Lord with all her heart and to love everyone around her with the love of Christ. She has chosen over and over and over again to seek God’s kingdom first and put the needs of others ahead of her own, and God truly has added everything and more than she’s ever needed.

Yes, there were times when their cupboards were pretty empty, but through the lean times, Sara hungered even more for the Bread of Life and thirsted most of all for the Water of Life. She’s spent her three-score and ten years choosing to serve God over material security. Nevertheless, God has supplied all her needs, spiritually and physically.

To me, Sara is a living example of someone who has lived out this command—to seek God first—and has received the promise: God’s abundant provision for her. God loves us, and He will take care of us if we are willing to obey Him!

So, as we begin this first day of Advent and look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on Christmas, I hope you are inspired and encouraged by the example of Sara (as I am!) to seek God’s kingdom first, knowing He will supply our needs too!

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This is also repeated in Luke 12:31, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This Is the Day I Became Thankful for Tim Tebow

Speaking of giving up our doubts and letting go of our lives to serve God—I was blown away by the inspiring ideas and example of Tim Tebow, which he shares in his latest book, This is the Day.

Maybe you’ve heard about Tim Tebow for the past 15 years, but I literally knew nothing about him until my son (who’s in Christian publishing) mentioned that he’d written a really popular best seller. Since I love biographies, I was immediately intrigued, and when I discovered it was available on Scribd, I couldn’t resist. So, on a recent trip, I listened to This Is the Day: Reclaim Your Dream. Ignite Your Passion. Live Your Purpose.

Before sharing some inspirational insights from his book, let me tell you a few amazing stories about his birth and childhood. Tim was the youngest of five children, born of American parents but in the Philippines, where his parents were missionaries. Tim’s mother contracted dysentery and fell into a coma before she knew she was pregnant, and the medicines used to help her survive caused a placental abruption. The doctors feared a stillbirth so recommended an abortion, but Tim’s parents refused, and today they have a very unique, superstar-healthy son!

As a Christian mother who home schooled all seven of my kids, I was particularly interested to note that the Tebows home schooled all their children too. Among the many unusual honors Tim has received, Tim was the first home-schooled athlete to be nominated for the Heisman Trophy. He also managed to play the entire second half of a game with a broken fibula, which included one play where he rushed for a 29-yard touchdown! That year, he was named Florida’s Player of the Year! Tim Tebow has a string of athletic honors too long to list. To name a few, he is the only three-time recipient of the Gators’ most valuable player award. By the end of his college career, Tebow held 5 NCAA, 14 SEC, and 28 University of Florida statistical records!

Since then, he’s played five years of professional football, started a career in broadcasting, and is now pursuing a career in professional baseball. Even more astounding than his athletic prowess (at least, to me) is his unflinching faith in God and his incredible life of loving others for the sake of Christ through his Tebow Foundation. Tim seems to have unbounded energy for such ministries as visiting men in prisons and his “Night to Shine” program: “An unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older.”

I could go on and on, but you get the picture! What’s not to love about someone with a heart of gold, a body of steel, and a will of iron to love Christ and make His love known by serving others?

At any rate, the book was a total “upper” for me from start to finish. If you need a lift or a little bit of inspiration to “reclaim your dream, ignite your passion, and live your purpose,” think about reading This is the Day!

Bits and Pieces of Wisdom from “Timmy” (which is what his family and close friends call him):

“YODO” You Only Die Once: Motto of Sarah, who was terminally ill and wheel-chair bound but somehow managed to go to the Night to Shine prom and dance on her own two feet before dying the next day!

Don’t just show up for the party; be present during the process.

God can take us from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the sky!

Ask God what he wants and be willing to dream God-sized dreams.

Don’t “numb out” on media all the time, or you’ll miss the real world and all the good God has in store for you.

It’s all in the process: Wake up, work hard, and get better!

Don’t let your past define you, but learn from it.

“Clear your mechanism:” Stop. Breathe. Pray. Focus on the present.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth living” (quoting Albert Einstein).

Transcend the journey: Choose to believe in God and that God can make even our darkest days into light.

“Flip the Script:” Instead of thinking in terms of negative “what ifs,” turn them around into positives to move forward.

“Confidence is Key:” If you’re feeling disenfranchised, go back to the Well (God and his Word).

Remember your title: “Child of God.” He loves us! This can give us the confidence we need to reach out to others with the hope we have.

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God; And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22-24).

(*All photos found on-line via a google search, most from Wiki Commons or official photos of Tim Tebow.)

The Birthday Club: Time to Stroll Lowell

Do you have trouble finding time to get together with your friends no matter how much you want to be together? I’ve found that “time” has gotten to be more of an issue than ever before. Who would have guessed you get busier as you get older? I remember my father joking after he retired that he needed to go back to work so he could take a week off. Thirty years ago, I just thought it was funny. Now, I know what he meant!

Nevertheless, six weeks after the fact, Susan, Cindi, and I met up for a “Stroll through Lowell” (Michigan) to celebrate my birthday!

We started with coffee and tea at the new coffee shop, Brody’s Be (actually in Ada, the little berg next door to Lowell).

Brody’s Be was inspired by Brody’s mom, who opened her heart to make room in this world for the developmentally disabled, starting with her Down Syndrome son.

It was a great place to fill our cups and souls, remembering again how God can bring joy out of sorrow and goodness from grief.

Lowell is a little community about eighteen miles east of Grand Rapids, and it looks like it’s straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie! (They have a Christmas Parade coming up on December 7th that looks like it’s going to be a really fun event.)

Lowell has all sorts of cute shops on their Main St., and although I didn’t think I had anything on my “Wish List” as we wandered about, I quickly found several items that I’d actually been wanting but hadn’t taken time to track down in Grand Rapids, such as some blue netting for my orchid plants and a Christmas Advent calendar. Springrove Variety also has great prices on their spices. Believe it or not, this tiny 5&10 cent store saved me both time and money! Who would have thought?!!

After just enough shopping to get a flavor for the town and whet our appetites, the girls took me to the Flat Iron Grill for lunch. Definitely excellent food, and the company—as always—was unparalleled! 🙂

However, we were apparently taking a tour of all the best eateries in the area as well as enjoying the shopping, because “the best” in desserts (according to hearsay Susan had learned) was to be found at the Sweet Seasons Bakery, which is renowned for providing cheesecakes for certain celebrities in town.

I tried their pumpkin cheesecake, and it was wonderful . . . definitely worth attempting to imitate!! (I’ll work on it!)

Of course, no party would be complete without cards or gifts, and I got both!

Among several thoughtful and useful gifts, I particularly enjoyed the children’s book Cindi gave me, called Miss Rumphius (because, she said, it reminded her of me). I know my grandchildren are going to love this book about a librarian who travels the world and scatters flower seeds!

“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”

Susan found “the perfect” card that says it all. What would the world be without friends?

Ability Weavers: Weaving with a Purpose

We finished our stroll through Lowell with a four-hour craft project, making handmade rugs and table runners. I hope to tell you more about our experience weaving, but for today, I want to share that this weaving shop, “Ability Weavers,” is another not-for-profit ministry borne out of the love of a mother for her autistic daughter with a heart to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities.

Honestly, I was blown away by the commitment of these two families in caring and providing for their disabled kids. Beryl (in the photo above) was a pharmacist who gave up her career in order to start a business where her daughter (and others with special needs) could have work, respect, and hope. They pay more than minimum wage and provide an opportunity for many young people to contribute to society by making beautiful rugs. Isn’t this brilliant? Praise God for mothers who sacrifice themselves and choose to invest their time and energy in their children and communities!

One last sidebar, and I’ll quit, but I’m halfway through reading Kisses from Katie. Oh, wow! If you want to read a wonderful (true) story of love for those in need, read this! It will break your heart and make your day! Talk about using time well and living with the purpose of loving others!

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.”
(Psalm 9:9)

“Love Heals; Hate Hurts”

Two nights ago, Grand Rapids enjoyed the great privilege of being addressed by Martin Lowenberg, a ninety-one-year-old survivor of the Holocaust who has taken up the mantle of trying to be an agent for spreading love and peace. I arrived fifteen minutes early, which was way too late to actually be admitted into the overflowing hall. After winding slowly through the stop-and-go traffic (all of whom were looking everywhere for parking, just like me), I found my way to a nearby church lot. But alas, the venue was dangerously overcrowded and the leadership made the decision to turn away all remaining wanna-hearers.

However, I noticed that the hour and a half presentation was recorded and is available on the Kent District Library Face Book page (Lowenberg starts at about minute 8):

The powers that be are trying to find a time to bring him back to speak at a larger venue, but meanwhile, I wanted to simply report the heart of his message, particularly in light of the reactivity of at least one of my blog followers, who disagreed with the church sign I posted yesterday, encouraging people to “Just love everyone. I’ll sort “em out later. —God”

Of the 179 times the word “hate” is used in the Bible (KJV), the overwhelming preponderance has to do with people hating God or one another. There are about twenty times it mentions things that the Lord hates, such as wickedness (Psalm 45:7), evil (Psalm 97:10), pride, lying, murder, discord (Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven sins the Lord hates), etc. I think Amos 5:15 sums it up: “Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate.” God clearly hates evil, and he also wants us to hate evil, love good, and establish justice. What are we doing to “establish justice”?

Certainly, justice isn’t established by hating people!! Hating evil is not the same thing as hating people. Jesus specifically commands us to love people, even those who are cruel and hurt us: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

This is also the message of Martin Lowenberg, who is Jewish and suffered terribly—in five different concentration camps during World War 2. His message? Love others. Be kind, because love heals and hate hurts. Lowenberg’s life demonstrates the ability of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and be happy. In the Q&A afterward, he mentioned that we can all learn to be happy and understand that life doesn’t have to be serious and sad all the time.

On the other hand, this sweet, bent-with-age, very elderly gentleman is clearly not just resting at home! He’s on the road sharing his story, not for the sake of making people feel sorry for what he endured, or to make himself famous, but to help people learn that hatred hurts others. “We all want to live as long as we can in happiness and harmony with our families.” So, he advised those who asked for advice to “Be good people, help others, be with others, and show them what you would like to see . . . stand up against evil. It’s very difficult to speak against evil, but we need to do it all the time.”

Hebrews 1:9, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” God anoints those who love righteousness and hate evil with joy, and I think this is the message Martin Lowenberg was sharing . . . and demonstrating in his life.

Is Jesus Calling You?

For those of you who’ve never heard of Sarah Young’s devotional book, Jesus Calling, I want to recommend it. It’s formatted as a 365-day devotional book, but I was so intrigued that I listened to the whole book on one flight. My (publishing house editor) son mentioned that it’s a New York Times’ Best Seller, has sold over ten million copies, and is so popular it can be bought at Walmart!

However, Jesus Calling has gotten a lot of criticism for being based on the supposition that we can hear from God and share what we’ve heard with others. Really? Is that strange or wrong? Sarah Young does not claim to be a prophet; her claim is that God speaks to her, and she has shared with others what He has said to her. Does God speak to you? He speaks to me! Do I share what I learn with others? Of course! Don’t you? Her writing is not as profound as the Scripture, and it is not inspired in the way that the Scripture is inspired, but her meditations are filled with Scripture, and I didn’t find the thoughts running contrary to Scripture.

Are her thoughts the very words God spoke to her? I can’t vouch for the complete purity and inspiration of anything besides the Bible, but I do know that I pray daily for God to inspire and direct my writing, and from her book, I believe that God at least inspired and directed Sarah’s thoughts and writing. I appreciated the gentle reminders of God’s love and presence and the continuous encouragements to seek Him, trust Him, and grow in our relationship with Him. As we seek God in the Bible and through prayer, and as we rest in his presence, we will find Him and experience peace: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

Is Jesus Calling a replacement for meditating on Scripture? Of course not! I meditate both morning and evening on the Scriptures alone. That is my daily spiritual bread!! But, if you—like me—enjoy reading a quick devotional at some point in the day (our family has devotional books for both breakfast and dinner readings), you might enjoy Jesus Calling. It’s addressing believers, not unbelievers, so it’s not full of the gospel or the need for us to repent from our sins (which believers understand fully already), but my heart was touched and my spirit uplifted by the gentle reminders of God and his everlasting love for us. If you’re looking for a daily devotional for this coming year, don’t be afraid to listen to (or read) Jesus Calling. Because, He does call us, and if we’ll listen, He does speak to us!

Jesus Calls Us
—Cecil F. Alexander, published 1852 (Public Domain)

  1. Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
    Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
    Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
    Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
  2. Jesus calls us from the worship
    Of the vain world’s golden store,
    From each idol that would keep us,
    Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
  3. In our joys and in our sorrows,
    Days of toil and hours of ease,
    Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
    “Christian, love Me more than these!”
  4. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
    Savior, may we hear Thy call,
    Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
    Serve and love Thee best of all.

A Look into the Life and Legacy of J.R.R.Tolkien

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

“The Father of Modern Fantasy,” John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (BBC News)

Today, nobody stumbles over the name “Tolkien” in the English-speaking world, but back in 1962, when I was in junior high, it was all news to me! The Lord of the Rings was just becoming popular in America, and one of my closest friends, Danny Green, kept me fascinated as he reported day by day what he’d read about the little Hobbit who had to leave his cozy home and go adventuring to save Middle Earth. Since those days, Tolkien’s series has ranked as one of the most popular fiction works of the twentieth century!

Fifty-five years later, I’ve still not read Tolkien’s fantasy books for myself, but I was delighted to watch the recently released movie, Tolkien, based on the youth and formative years of this brilliant and dedicated scholar!

There is so much I didn’t know about Tolkien, and almost everything I learned has made me admire him more than ever! Tolkien lived in Britain and was orphaned at a young age. He was among those who had to make his way in the world through sheer grit . . . for Tolkien—hard work, wisdom, and unending, passionate drive.

At a young age, he fell in love with another orphan, and the movie records their very sweet relationship. (Although, as in all good romances, there were many challenges, twists, and uncertainties.)

Because of his brilliance as a student and the care of the Catholic priest who was his guardian, Tolkien was eventually allowed to attend Oxford, where he succeeded in becoming fast friends with several of his classmates. (This was no easy feat, either! My father, who attended Harvard for graduate school—also in philology—as a young man during the Great Depression, found it very difficult trying to fit in with the wealthy elite without the trappings of material privilege.)

Perhaps the most difficult part of Tolkien’s journey was his military service during World War 1. The movie is PG-13, so the war scenes—though terrifying and disheartening—are not about the gore but rather to give us a feel for the intense suffering and emotional trauma that all soldiers experienced.

Did he survive the war? Did he get to marry the girl of his dreams? Did he get to finish his studies? When and how did he become so famous? All great questions, and most of them were answered in this wonderful depiction of his life!

The very best aspect of the movie (for me) was the goodness of Tolkien’s character throughout (in stark contrast to most stories you hear about the “bright young things” of his era). Sometimes people are so bright and shiny with goodness that it just makes you wonder why, so I studied more of his life from Wikipedia. There I discovered the reason: He had a “deeply religious spirit.” As Tolkien explained: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Sign in the Eagle and Child Restaurant, Oxford

Ah, ha! Yes, I did know of the connection between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the good spiritual influence Tolkien had been on Lewis, helping him come to faith. It was C.S. Lewis who later wrote Mere Christianity . . . the book that influenced both my mother and my dear aunt, “Lant Henna,” to believe in Christ many years hence!

Alan and I even made a bit of a “pilgrimage” to Oxford’s Eagle and Child (pub/restaurant where their literary group, The Inklings, met) with two of our sons (one of whom is now an editor and aspiring writer himself). So, we have a very personal experience of being inspired and edified by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

So, thank you Tolkien, and thank you to those of you who gifted us with this great movie! I hope many people see it and find the story uplifting and encouraging!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

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).