Category Archives: Trying to be our best inside and out!

How Do You Feel About All the Infringements on Your Privacy?

I love the internet bringing the world to my doorstep, but I really don’t like it invading my bedroom, do you? Am I the only person who notices my computer coming on in the middle of the night or who finds it unsettling to have Siri interrupt my conversations? Do you, like me, get frustrated with all the breaches in security and privacy on the net? My Facebook account was hacked recently …or at least someone was able to set up a fake account using my photos and information to solicit for other connections (to hack as well). I’m beginning to feel a little like the King of Syria from the story in 2 Kings 6, where he thought some enemy was spying on him and reporting everything he whispered in his bedroom to the King of Israel.

In my case, if it’s just the American government spying on all of us, then I don’t actually feel like it’s an “enemy,” but whatever happened to the sanctity of home? I’ve been slowly trying to make the emotional adjustment to the realization that everything I ever say or write is recorded, and I try to imagine that I’m relatively safe since I’m trying my best to live a moral, law-abiding life. But, what if America’s government begins persecuting Christians? In at least 68 countries around the world, the governments restrict, persecute, or at least don’t protect the religious freedom of Christians. If America changes radically enough, then I will be in big trouble, because my faith in Christ and love for God are woven into the woof and warp of everything I say and write. The day may come when I will become a lawbreaker because I worship God!

While pondering this issue the other day and feeling a little distressed, I began meditating on Luke 12 (which I’ve written out below) and found myself greatly encouraged and comforted, so I wanted to share what I read with you. If you feel alarmed because everything you write and every call you make is being recorded somewhere here on earth, take heart! It’s always been recorded in heaven anyway, along with every thought!

Our job is to be pure and faithful followers of Christ. If the world sees what’s going on, so much the better! If we are persecuted for our faith, that shouldn’t surprise us. If lifting up the name of Jesus and testifying to the goodness of God gets us killed, then that’s a price worth paying, because some silent observer may be drawn to God through what we share. Be faithful! “Thou, God, seest me.”

He began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.

“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12:1-12).

Lenten Specials

Do you observe Lent by giving up something you normally love? This year, I gave up coffee, and my son Joel has given up meat. Actually, Joel and I both find the challenge and discipline good for us, because every time we miss these staples of our lives, it reminds us of all that Jesus gave up throughout his life! And, it makes us appreciate the amazing bounty that we usually enjoy.

Joel’s fast from meat for these few weeks before Lent also reminded me of when we were in India last fall. There were several occasions when beef was listed on the menu, but when I’d order it, the waiter would always come back and politely say that they had no beef that day. Our guide eventually explained that it was illegal to serve beef in India because cows are sacred, and so I soon resigned myself to enjoying chicken and pork for the duration…and a few unusual meats, like water buffalo (which tastes like very tough beef).

Therefore, it was with special joy that my eyes lit on a distant McDonald’s while we were at the airport in New Delhi waiting for our flight to Nepal. We scurried right up the stairs and to the far end of the waiting area, anticipating a Big Mac. Alas, even at McDonald’s there were no burgers to be had. They only served various sandwiches made from chicken or fish. We had to laugh…mostly at ourselves!

Why is it so hard to give up certain privileges and freedoms…even for a few weeks? It made me feel ashamed of myself for thinking I might “get away with” a juicy steak or burger while visiting a country where cows are considered holy. I don’t believe cows are sacred, but they do. Shouldn’t I be more than willing to curb my own appetites and pleasures for their sake? I think so!

 “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:8-13, emphasis mine).

The Scripture teaches us this about Jesus Christ: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

In The Cave

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, I’d like to share this meditation written by a dear friend from my writers’ group who is a retired English teacher…wise, deep, and sweet!

It is the season of Lent, before Resurrection Sunday, and our church is encouraging us to be more contemplative in our personal worship, to be quiet, to listen to the voice of the Lord as we clear our minds and pray and wait. We have practiced being quiet in the worship service, in small meetings, in vesper services. It is a lovely and beautiful time. It is also totally awkward for someone determined to learn through study, to work out the faith in good deeds, to be busy just about all of the time.

In the middle of Lent we take a trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with two of our grandsons. We have been there before and also to various caves around the country, so small wet stairs going down down down, slippery handrails, and the “Now I am going to turn off the lights” from the Ranger are not brand new events. However, they are the events I most dread even though I am thrilled to be there with our grandsons.

After a long hike down into a truly mammoth cave, “you can do it you can do it” keeping time with my footsteps, our group reaches a large inner space with high ceiling and park-supplied benches. The Ranger tells us all to “take a seat.”

He talks about where we are, how the large space has been formed, and answers several questions from the group. Then he says, “I am going to turn out the lights.” I schooch over closer to my husband. “But first, I want all of you to close your eyes. Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them.”  Yikes, I find my husband’s hand, move even closer to him. And I also close my eyes. Best not to remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave, “Now I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” Click, he turns them out. Best not remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave with our eyes closed and the lights turned off.

“When I tell you to, open your eyes.”  Momentarily, he tells us to open our eyes. I do, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference, the darkness, the blackness, is all the same. I can’t see anything. Then the Ranger says, “I am going to turn on my light; it is the equivalent of one candle.” He clicks something and a light goes on. He is standing in the same place as before, he is holding a small light, and I can see the whole cave — ceiling, walls, jagged floors, bench seats, my husband, our grandsons, everyone else.

The Ranger makes some jokes about the overhead lights. Then he tells us that we can see well enough to get all the way out of the cave by this one small candle light if needed.  However, he does turn on the regular lights and we breathe easier.

And deep in the cave I think, “Wow, this is just like the practices for Lent. ‘Close your eyes,’ the Ranger says. ‘Be still,’ the Lord says. The choice is mine.”

The Ranger says, “I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” The lights go out which is not by my action, but I keep my eyes closed which is my choice. I choose to let my eyes adjust, I choose to clear other images out of my mind and heart. These are my choices.

The Ranger says, “Open your eyes.” I obey. It is deeply dark, fearsome. When I am quiet, focused, it can be deeply dark, fearsome. Light-action-busy is much more comfortable. “Now I will light one candlepower of light,” he says, his action not mine. The acuity of my vision astounds me. How can I possibly see this much? I see because I obeyed the Ranger and prepared my eyes.

So it is in the time of Lent. I can be still and quiet, close my eyes to the confusion of life. I can accept the darkness and allow the eyes of my heart to adjust. And now, with my eyes prepared, what more do I see?

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10, ESV).

(Written by Helen Bell. Thank you so much, Helen!)

Creating Beauty from Broken Glass

This is the kind of story where the title gives it all away, but I hope you’ll still be  interested in hearing about The Glass Factory in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they make everything out of recycled glass.  The outside of the building is totally unimpressive… the sort of place you’d pass by without a second thought  (unless you wanted to recycle some old glass bottles),  but inside, it’s like a little glass paradise!  The walls and ceilings are aswirl with glass,  and even the floor is studded with mosaics of vibrant inlaid glass. How do they do it? A well trained master craftsman starts with an old bottle
that’s been melted down into a red hot blob. Then the artist adds minerals to give his masterpiece glorious colors. (Notice the spot of red on his glasses? His eye is focused on his work!)
Their heart cried unto the Lord…let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease” (Lamentations 2:18).With the help of an assistant, more melted, recycled glass is added. Next, the master shapes the glass with a huge pair of sharp scissors. He slowly twirls the fiery ball in a heated container
while blowing through the pipe.He shakes and swings the heated glass until it’s stretched to just the right length.He blows very hard until the glass looks like an elongated balloon.  He blows until it’s the size he wants, then he squeezes it with long metal tongs to perfect its shape, shakes it more, then shapes it more. He repeats this process until he’s satisfied that the bottle is just the right size and beautifully balanced.With surgical skill, he flattens the bottom and makes an indention
so it’s stable and will sit flat without tipping over. With his assistant’s aid,
he detaches the rod from the top and holds the bottle from the bottom. So many steps! The glass has to be reheated again in the oven!

One of the most touching things to me was to watch the master wrap his arm with gauze to protect himself from the heat while working on the vase. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15).While continuously turning the metal rod to which the glass is attached, he carefully widens the mouth until it’s perfectly round and wide enough to be easily filled. “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10)He performs yet another operation to make the lip of the pitcher for pouring out.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
(Psalm 51:15)                Finally, a graceful handle is attached to make it easier to use.I think everybody who watched the demonstration would love to have been able to buy that exquisite pitcher and take it home with them, but it was still too hot to handle. It literally has to sit for 24-hours cooling down before it can be used. So, of course (as you can probably tell) my mind went wild thinking about all the ways in which The Glass Factory reminds me of the way God works in our lives. Here are a few, but I’ll bet you can think of even more:

*He takes broken lives and turns them into something lovely and useful
*But, not without a lot of work!
*Our hearts have to be melted down first!
*Our Master craftsman keeps us as “the apple” of his eye!
*The process requires assistance from trainees (the body of Christ?).
*We’re not all that glorious in ourselves but need additives to make our lives colorful. (The fruits and unique gifts of the Holy Spirit come to mind.)
* We’d never be anything more than a blob without the Holy Spirit filling us.
*It takes a lot of shaking up, spiritual surgery, filling, shaping, and heat to make us into something useful.
*Because God is compassionate, I believe he must feel the heat when he works!
*When finished, the mature Christian (who’s really never finished in this life!) is a joy to everyone who comes in contact with him.
* After fiery trials, it takes some time before the “vessels” are really serviceable.Are you ready to be made into something even more beautiful than you are to bring blessing to those around you, or would you rather just live for yourself?Or, maybe you’re struggling with the glass ceiling and can’t seem to get where you feel like you need to be getting. God is in the business of taking us to the next level no matter where we’re at…of making us into something more wonderful that we are at present. But, first we have to be humble enough to climb into his recycling bin and let him take charge. Have you done that? If not, would you like to do that?

Has this been true of you? “Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee” (Deuteronomy 32:18).

If so, this is God’s offer, not only to you, but to all of us: “Thus saith the Lord the maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, to establish it; the Lord is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:2-3).


The Mystique of Nicaragua’s Masaya Volcano National Park

                                   Perhaps the greatest advantage of cruising             is that the ship’s captain does all the “driving” while you relax on board,  and every day or two you’re magically transported to some fascinating new place, often in yet another foreign country!  Of course, cruising is also like a 101-class in foreign studies, because you skim over one or two highlights in each country without getting a very intimate look into the culture. To me, that’s the major downside. But, we don’t have the time and money for both, so we usually have to choose breadth or depth. On our recent cruise, we sailed from Los Angeles down through the Mexican Riviera, stopping for just one day in each of the Central American countries that touch the Pacific Ocean there before we transited the Panama Canal.        Today I want to share about the Port of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua,  where we took a wonderful day trip through the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” The most thrilling event was being able to walk right up to the edge of one of South America’s most active volcanoes and look deep, down inside (closer than this mortal has been able to get anywhere in America…even in Hawaii)! This opportunity to get up close and personal with an active volcano is in Nicaragua’s first and largest national park, Masaya Volcano National Park.  According to our guide, Masaya Volcano throws up to 2,000 tons of ash into the air every day* and emits a constant column of sulfur dioxide, which can be seen all the way to the ocean.  He said the natives believe there are seven doors to hell, and this is one of them! When Catholic missionaries arrived many years ago, the local priest set up a large cross at the edge of Masaya, gave it the Christian name Santiago, and “baptized” the volcano in hopes of purifying it and protecting the people.  Masaya hasn’t had a major eruption since 1772, and beyond the prayers of the people for safety and relief, it’s also thought that part of the reason it doesn’t explode is because it’s able to “let off steam” every day!  Do you ever feel like a volcano inside? I don’t believe baptism alone can fix the problem, but I’m sure that Jesus can transform us and give us peace if we’ll ask him.  Also, I think it’s extremely helpful to be able to “give off steam” every day…hopefully not as noxious gas and spewing ash that harm others, but by pouring out our hearts to God in prayer.                             He can take it. He cares. He loves us. He will hear.   “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).   Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:6-8).

*That statistic surprised both Alan and me, but I can’t find any source to verify or refute it.

(I took all the photos a few weeks ago except for the gorgeous night shot into the volcano, which was used by permission of Leon Petrosyan via Wikimedia Commons.)

But What if You’re Unhappily Married?

This past week, I’ve been thinking about the fact that life, marriage and dealing with our sexuality is a perennial challenge for all of us, whether we’re straight or gay, and I remembered this little devotional from Timothy Campbell’s pull-no-punches book, Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree. To  me, it hits the nail on the head! I hope it encourages you too:

“Shocking News for Unhappily Marrieds”

“I’ve been unable to find anything in traditional wedding vows or in the Bible that allows for the breakup of a marriage because either party is unhappy… Selfishness has no place in a marriage. Self-denial does…

“The Bible takes a high view of marriage, comparing it to the mystical union between Christ and all believers. Husbands and wives can experience the love bond our Lord has with every person of faith, a love that is enduring, forgiving, sacrificial, giving, and expressed often. This kind of love is ever seeking the happiness of others in the family, not its own happiness.

“In worshiping God with our families and laboring to provide for them, we reach the end of our search. What we’ve been looking for isn’t in breaking from family responsibilities to pursue some romantic dream with another person, but in selflessly carrying out our obligations to those we’ve pledged to love.

“In the path of duty, we stumble onto happiness.” Roger Campbell

“Envision a quick make-up after every shake up.” Roger Campbell

Love “beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things
” (
I Corinthians 13:7).

For more information on this really wise and witty book, check out my review:


Leaving Mormonism but Growing in Grace

Although I virtually never read books that counter other religious viewpoints, I have begun reviewing books for Kregel Publications. I think they produce some outstanding Christian resources, and their recent release, Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Minds, intrigued me. The few Mormons I know are clean living and service-minded. In fact, there are many Mormons who serve in our military, and my military kids have become good friends with several because of their moral standards and family values. Therefore, I wondered why four Mormon scholars would take such a strong stand against the teachings of their church.

When Mitt Romney was campaigning for the Republican presidential ticket, I remember sharing the gospel with a Mormon gentleman on a flight home from the West Coast. He expressed such warm agreement that I assumed the Mormon church must have changed a lot in the past forty years. Perhaps it wasn’t a “cult” after all. Perhaps it’s just another branch of true Christianity. Or, so I thought!   The book is deep and wide. I was blown away by how much I didn’t know. Each of the four scholars trace their own life experience of loving the Mormon Church  (some whose lineage can be traced back to the times of Joseph Smith) but growing into such an appreciation for the Bible as the true Word of God (which they go to great lengths to support) that they could no longer believe Mormon doctrines. Why? Because at their heart, many Mormon teachings run contrary to what the Bible says. Consider just a few essential doctrinal contradictions:

“The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself” (Brigham Young).

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (The Bible, Revelation 4:11).

“The Spirit of God fell upon me to a marked extent and the Lord revealed to me, just as plainly and the sun at noon-day, this principle, which I put in a couplet: ‘As man now is God once was; As God now is, man may be'” (Lorenzo Snow, Latter Day Saint (LDS) apostle and prophet for three decades).

…we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge” (The Bible, 1 Corinthians 8:4-7).

A “plurality of gods exist…There is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods” (LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie).

And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he” (The Bible, Mark 12:32).

“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation” (LDS apostle and prophet for four decades, Spencer W. Kimball).

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

As Cory Miller points in the book, “One can be wrong on every other nonessential Christian doctrine and still go to heaven. But no matter how sincere one is, if one is wrong on the doctrines of God and salvation, one could be sufficiently wrong to lose one’s soul. In this Mormonism does not provide a path to the reality of the good life, eternal happiness in the knowledge of God.”

Leaving Mormonism not only lights the way for understanding the clear teachings of the Bible about the person of God and the way of salvation, it’s also one of the most scholarly books I’ve read in recent years on apologetics,  defending of the authenticity of Scripture and the reasonableness of faith in God no matter who you are. So, if you are a Mormon, love a Mormon, or are interested in sharpening your own spiritual sensibilities, please consider reading Leaving Mormonism!

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15).

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).