When I was in my elementary days as a kid growing up, my family and I went to an Episcopalian church in Owosso. And I remember that even though my family believed that going to church was a good thing, God didn’t really seem to make all that much of a difference in our daily lives. In fact, truth be told, the way my family and I lived back then probably gave people excuses for not believing in God. We didn’t really talk about God at home. We didn’t pray before meals and thank God for his provision. There was a lot of cursing and a lot of drinking. There was a lot of anger.
On rare occasions we would get into a run of going to church every Sunday, but it didn’t last past a month or two. Our practice was to attend church at Christmastime and Easter. We’d get dressed up and hop into the family station wagon, and we’d file into the church and find a pew where we were expected to sit silently for an hour. Back then, as a kid, it seemed like an eternity…and you definitely didn’t want to get caught goofing around by my step-dad. When I sat down, my goal was to be out of his arm’s reach.
But my church experience as a kid wasn’t all negative. I can remember that at one time the church brought in somebody to work with the kids, and we went on a youth outing. I can remember sitting in Sunday School singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I remember, when I was around 10 or 12, going through a series of classes called, “Confirmation classes.” These were a time of learning the confessions of faith, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments among other doctrines. For a while my brother and I sang in the church choir. Even though we weren’t very committed or deep Christians, I’m grateful for the experiences I had with that church growing up, and I really do believe that God used those scarce moments of going to church to get ahold of a little boy’s heart. I can honestly say that was the beginnings of a more serious faith for me.
My growing-up family never really “got it” when it came to understanding God’s love for them and what it means for us to love Him back…to live for him in a way that seems crazy to an unbelieving world because it means totally surrendering yourself to God’s purposes. Loving God means that you see and understand everything in life from the perspective of the God who loved you so much that he came into this world, showed us what God is like, and died for you. Back then we never really understood that Jesus brings you the most purpose and pleasure in this life and in the next. And I know that my family and I aren’t the only ones who lived with God in a half-hearted-yes-I-believe-in-him-but-you’d-never-know-it kind of way.
When it comes to living life with Jesus, are you committed or are you half-hearted? As we enter into February, the month of celebrating love, I want to challenge you to look at the Bible’s message and understand that God loves you immensely. Once you encounter His love, you will never be the same.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
As the year ends and a New Year begins, we often take time to reflect on our life: Am I the person I want to be, or do I need to make some changes? What about my journey with Jesus? Am I connected with him like I say I want to be, or are some adjustments needed so that I am intentional about my spiritual life and service on his behalf?
Elisha Mitchell was a professor of math, natural philosophy, and geology at the University of North Carolina from 1818-1857. He also served at various times as the university’s accountant and president when needed. Because he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, he also led chapel services there. The halted hands of Mitchell’s pocket watch are on display in the library archives at the University of North Carolina, and they tell a tragic tale. They mark the exact moment (8:19 and 56 seconds) the watch’s owner slipped and fell to his death at a waterfall in the Appalachian Mountains on the morning of June 27, 1857.
Mitchell completed a geographical survey of North Carolina in 1828 and observed a peak in the Black Mountains he believed to be higher than North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain, at that time thought to be the highest in the region. In 1835, he first measured the height of Black Dome, and through subsequent measurements in 1838 and 1844, Mitchell proved it was higher than New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, establishing the peak as the highest above sea level in the Eastern US. Mitchell returned to the mountain to verify his earlier measurements when he had been challenged by state senator Thomas Clingman, a former student of Mitchell's, who thought that a different mountain was taller than Black Dome. Clingman’s contender for tallest mountain, however, was 41 feet shorter than Mitchell’s Black Dome. Tragically, Mitchell fell to his death as he was verifying his claim about the mountain which now bears his name, Mount Mitchell. It is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. His grave is located at the mountain’s summit, not far from where he fell.
As I think about Mitchell’s story and my own mortality, I must face the fact that each of us has only a limited amount of time, and that time passes by so quickly. In Matthew 24:42-44 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. At the time, Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus is encouraging and warning them to live with intentionality, because it is easy to slip into a lifestyle that merely lives day to day with no thought for where one’s life is headed. We think we have all kinds of time to get things done, and then we realize that half our life is over, and we haven’t become or done what we had intended. Or we thought that we would have so much time to get closer to God than we really are, only to find ourselves physically older but spiritually immature. Nobody knows the moment when Jesus will return to this world to usher in eternity and establish his kingdom forever. And, so, Jesus tells us to keep watch.
Tick-tock, tick-tock. Life marches on, but for how long? Are you intentional about your journey and relationship with the Lord, or do other distractions continually push him off to the side? Is your family—your children and loved ones—growing to love the Lord and his church with increasing allegiance and commitment? Or are they learning that God and the church are entities you can take or leave depending on what else is going on at the time? You can only ignore God for so long before the reality of his power and might, love and mercy, show up in your life or pass you by.
Happy New Year!
With help from Wikipedia, I discovered that The Nutcracker is an 1892 two-act Russian ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Op. 71). The text used in the ballet (called “libretto”) is adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1816 short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King." Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. The complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season. Major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker. The ballet's score has been used in several film adaptations of Hoffmann's story.
I’ve sometimes wondered how ballerinas can do all those spins without getting dizzy and falling down. Kimya Loda, in the February 19, 2022 “Our Daily Bread” devotion, shares how she loved doing the graceful pirouettes as a child in her dance class, but whirling round and round made her dizzy in the head and she often fell to the ground. As she got older, a trick she learned to help her maintain balance and control was “spotting”—identifying a single point for her eyes to return to each time she made a full circle spin. Having a single focal point was all she needed to master her pirouette with a graceful finish.
At Christmastime, we all face twists and turns in life that attempt to steal our peace and make us feel out of control. When we focus on our problems and frustrations, however, the things we encounter seem unmanageable, leaving us dizzy and heading toward a disastrous fall. The Bible reminds us that if we keep our minds steadfast, or focused, on God, he’ll keep us in “perfect peace.” Isaiah 26:3 tells us, You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Perfect peace means that no matter how many turns life takes, we can remain calm, assured that God will be with us through our problems and trials, as well as through the chaos of Christmastime. He’s the ultimate “spot” to fix our eyes on, because he is our Rock we stand upon.
May we keep our eyes on Him as we go through each day by taking time to worship him both personally and with the community of believers. We can go to Him in prayer and study His promises in the Bible. May we trust and rely on Jesus, our eternal Savior who came to us when we could not go to him,
Merry Christmas and peace to you!
While history more frequently recalls the ‘49ers of California and the Gold Rush of 1848 when it comes to the first American gold rush, it actually started nearly 50 years earlier on the east coast after a boy brought home something he thought looked interesting. In 1799, twelve-year-old Conrad Reed found a large, glittering rock in the stream that ran through his family’s small farm in North Carolina. He carried it home to show his father, a poor immigrant farmer. His father didn’t understand the rock’s value and used it as a doorstop. For three years the family walked by it every day. Eventually, Conrad’s dad, an immigrant from Germany, wanted to know what kind of rock it was, so he took it to a jeweler. The jeweler told him the rock Conrad found on the family farm in Little Meadow Creek was actually a 17-pound gold nugget. The jeweler asked the farmer if he wanted to sell it, and the farmer responded that he would sell if for $3.50 (about $95 in today’s value). The jeweler jumped at the chance and purchased the nugget. The farmer really had no idea what the gold was worth, and he thought that a trade for a week’s worth of wages was fair.
As it turns out, the gold nugget was worth $3,600 at the time (about $100,000 today). Once word got out about the enormity of the find, Reed began to see how much money he missed out on. In 1803, he opened a small gold mining business on his land, and his property became the site of the first major gold strike in the United States. Eventually the company mined more than two million dollars-worth of gold from it, and he retired a wealthy man. A slave named Peter found a 28-pound gold nugget there, which is still the largest piece of gold ever reported to be found east of the Mississippi River.
Quite often, because of busyness, hurriedness, and not living with intentionality, we miss the blessings that are all around us. Sometimes we take the life we have for granted, along with our possessions, and we miss seeing them for the treasures they are. As the season of Thanksgiving enters upon us, may we see the treasures around us, even if they’re small. May we see our family, friends, and church as treasures with which we are blessed. May we be grateful for a nation that allows us to elect our leaders and live in freedom. May we cherish the people around us, seeing them as valuable. May we be thankful for the everyday provision the Lord provides. May our thankfulness for the Bible as God’s message to us motivate us to actually read it. May gratefulness motivate us to work hard as we do our part while leaving the rest to God, knowing that he is always faithful to do his part.
Psalm 100 says, Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
The seasons have changed from summer to fall. Leaves are changing from green to red, orange, yellow, and brown. We stop wearing shorts and begin wearing sweaters. We begin thinking of Halloween and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Change. The Bible talks about change as well. In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
As I reflect on the changing seasons, I think of my great-grandmother who saw tremendous change in her lifetime. My Great-grandma Burnett died at almost 100 years old when I was in eleventh grade. I was blessed to have known her. As she got older and started needing more assistance, my grandparents moved her house trailer into their back yard in Owosso. She would walk up to the house to eat meals and visit and watch TV before going back across the yard to her trailer for the night.
When I visited my grandparents, I would walk out to Great-grandma Burnett’s pink and white house trailer to visit her. I remember that her trailer had an old musty smell, and there was lots of old stuff all around. Her lamps were old. Her furniture was old. Her dishes were old. Sometimes when I was there, she would give me old 3-cent stamps that were in mint condition. She just saved them through the years in case she needed them. Sometimes she would give me what we called “bread-wrapper” rugs. She would braid the plastic bread wrappers into round or oval rugs. I would take them home to my mom, and she would put them down in our kitchen and entryways. My brother and I would try to figure out which bread wrapper brands were used to make the rugs.
I also remember that my Great grandma would eat every bit of food that was on her plate. She would take bread and wipe up every bit of juice that was there. If she didn’t have bread, she would take her finger and wipe up whatever crumb or bit of food was still on the plate. By the time she got done eating, the plate looked as if it had never been used. And if you were sitting next to my Great-grandma, and you still had food on your plate at the end of the meal, she would reach over and pick up the food left on your plate and eat it. Or she would take her finger and swipe up the left-over gravy or mashed potatoes.
I sometimes wondered why Great-grandma was like that. Why not buy new stuff? Why worry about scraps of food left on a plate? My grandmother explained to me that Great-grandma Burnett lived through the Great Depression that took place in the 1930s. Nobody had money. There was no work for people to do so they could earn money. Families struggled to keep a roof over their head, food in their stomach, and clothes on their back. My Great-grandmother went through all of that, and it changed her. She became more frugal. She didn’t waste anything. Nothing was taken for granted, because one didn’t know what would happen and what might be needed.
Hard times will change you, too. It’s up to you to make sure you learn the lessons from whatever season you’re in. It’s up to you to make sure this season’s hardships make you better, not bitter. What are you learning in the season you are in, whether it is one of plenty or one of shortages?
Maybe up until now you’ve taken God for granted and basically ignored him. Maybe you’ve taken your relationship with Jesus for granted, and you’ve not worked very hard to have a relationship of prayer and Bible reading with him. Maybe you’ve taken the church for granted, assuming that it will always be open for you to participate in as you please, and so you only participate when it is convenient, thinking you’ll always have more time to go. It will be a waste of this season if God isn’t somehow changing you. Get intentional about your walk with the Lord so that he can transform and renew your mind. Then you will know his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Changing for the better with you,