The Better Sacrifice

Earlier this week, I was sharing with two of my grandchildren about having teachable spirits and of being obedient to God’s Word in their young lives. I’ve always said that if a person doesn’t have a teachable spirit then a life of struggle and disobedience awaits them. our decisions will bring either blessing or chaos. My prayer for myself, my adult children, their mates, and my grandchildren is that we will have teachable spirits and seek to be obedient to God and His Word.

This morning as I was reading my Bible, following a two-year plan to read the Bible through in that time period, I found the principle of being obedient and teachable versus being disobedient and prideful. Genesis 4 gives the account that Eve gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of flocks and Cain was a tiller of the ground, a farmer if you will. Both fully respectable jobs, both approved by the Creator. However, the problems began with the required sacrifice. They were to worship with these sacrifices. While it isn’t specifically spelled out here in Genesis, Hebrews 4 suggests there was to be a blood sacrifice. It speaks of the faith of Abel and his obedience to God in his worship. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that it was counted as righteousness to Eve’s second son. Cain’s sacrifice was not so. He brought his best but not what God asked. Obedience vs Disobedience, faith vs unbelief, relationship vs religion.

As I contrasted the life of Simon Peter, I saw that he was zealous for His Lord, cocky, and prideful. Matthew accounts the time that Jesus was revealing to His disciples what was ahead for Him. Peter, in his impulsiveness, declared that would never happen. Jesus gave a harsh rebuke, saying that satan was using this disciple. In fact, he used the strong words, “Get thee behind me, satan!” Not too long after this, Peter declared his undying love and faithfulness to the Savior, saying he would never stumble, even if the everyone else did. It was then that the Lord looked at him and told him that before morning, Peter would deny the Him three times. The sad thing was, he did.

The difference in Cain and in Peter was that Peter had that teachable spirit. He learned a valuable lesson. After His resurrection, Jesus spoke specifically to the disciple, asking him three times if he loved Him, giving him his ministry with each answer. (I wonder if asking him three times had any significance since Peter had denied Christ three times?) I believe Peter’s sin brought grief and repentance. Jesus’ questions to him in love provoked answers from obvious humility. Simon Peter was no longer arrogant and prideful, but meek. He exemplified a teachable spirit. The Lord’s commandment to him was to give his life to shepherding the flock of Jesus, feeding, nourishing, preaching and teaching, even if it meant a martyr’s death, which it did.

Saul disobeyed God by not destroying the Amalekites and everything they had, and  keeping their king, Agag, alive and even taking their plunder. He then offered a sacrifice to God from the plunder. Total disobedience. Samuel told him that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” I wonder if we halfway obey and then attempt to bring our pitiful offerings to God?

We can only be obedient from the heart as we crawl upon the altar and surrender our lives to God daily. It is from the abiding relationship with Jesus that we can experience true obedience and worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper and Bows

As I am wrapping presents this morning, my heart and mind are flooded with sweet memories.  I measure and cut the pretty paper I’ve chosen for this year with satisfaction. It takes me several trips up and down the designated aisles at Hobby Lobby to choose just the right paper, being oh, so careful, not to use the same as the year before. The ribbon must match perfectly. I’m a bow maker. The wrapping will envelope gifts I’ve bought for those I love. This year is a red and gold theme, with the names of Jesus on it. I really like it and hope the recipients will as well. 

I’m remembering Christmases past and a slideshow runs through the years. Our first Christmas, Bob surprised me with an engagement ring. I’ll never forget that night when he pulled it out of his pocket. For once, I was speechless! On Christmas morning he drove from Knoxville, after seeing his niece open Santa gifts. I didn’t expect anything else from him but he came in bearing gifts. Unwrapping the packages I discovered a beautiful yellow sweater and skirt. It was the most beautiful outfit I had ever had. There was also a bracelet and a few other trinkets. He spoiled me, as he did for the next forty-five years. 

I think of our children and the fun we had putting toys in layaway so we could chip away at the price of their presents. I see Christmas Wish Books all over the floor and little eyes big with anticipation of what the jolly man in the red suit would leave under the tree. I’m also reminded of the nights with no sleep as Bob assembled bicycles, Matchbox garages, Barbie Houses, and trains. I hear the whispers from the children’s bedrooms as they jump out of bed, declaring to the other, that it was finally Christmas morning. 

As the pictures run through my mind, I remember so much more. Bob would sneak in with packages for me and instruct me not to dare go into his office until after Christmas. He would try to outdo me with gifts. Sometimes I would outdo him but not generally. Again, he spoiled me. 

Our last Christmas together was so special. The family was gathered and there was laughter, food, fun, and giving. We even took a picture of the family, something we didn’t generally do for the chaos of paper and presents everywhere. I wouldn’t take anything for it. We had no idea it was the last one and in less than four months our husband, daddy, Papa, and friend would be in heaven. 

This is the third Christmas without him and it’s still difficult. Things have changed so much. It just isn’t the same. There will be fewer gifts under the tree this year…a fixed income prohibits more. One of our sons and his family won’t be with us because it’s not possible for them to travel home for the holidays. Then, there’s the empty chair around the tree…the straight-back kitchen chair that Bob would always take so we would have the more comfortable seating. That’s the way he was, sacrificing in even the little things, so we would have the best. 

Bowing to God’s Sovereignty isn’t always easy, but I choose to do that today. It’s sometimes a moment-by-moment choice. I choose to be thankful for the blessing of good memories with my sweet man, and the forty-six Christmases we shared. I’m thankful for our family, for the love we have for each other, and the good times around the tree and table. I laugh at the memory of a box of garbage bags that Bob would have, ready to pass them out for all the discarded paper and ribbon. I “hear” him say to make sure nothing of value was thrown away. My family knows exactly what I’m talking about. I’m sure they are smiling, too. 

The things that are meaningful can’t be tossed in a garbage bag. The value of family, of dear friends, of precious memories, all hold a special place in the treasure chest of the heart. I pray our minds go beyond paper and bows to a cradle with the most valuable Gift ever given, wrapped in cloth and hay. Even more than that, may our eyes look beyond a stable to the Cross. It’s why He was born…to die..to save His people from their sins. That is is the true meaning of Christmas. That is our joy, our hope. Christ is born. 

THIS IS MY STORY, THIS IS MY SONG

The holidays are here and I, like so many others, are acutely aware of the empty chair around the table. This is the third Thanksgiving and Christmas without my Bob and he is ever on my heart and mind.

It is somewhat easier this year…somewhat. However, the closer to Thanksgiving it gets, the heavier my heart. I’m mindful of the women (and men) who are facing that “first” in the days ahead, and heart aches for them. My memory of our first ones without Bob is a little blurred…I was still in the blessed numbness of the first year. I do remember bravely going on with Thanksgiving and Christmas as we always had, at least I fooled myself into thinking that. It will never be the same, not ever. People encouraged us to do it differently that year, to go somewhere like the mountains, or to just eat out for Thanksgiving. I wanted to be in our home, remembering the holidays past, where many would gather, to begin the healing process. No one knew quite where to sit. No one wanted to sit in Daddy’s chair, the empty chair. It was too painful for me to leave it empty, too raw, so I took my plate and sat in that sacred and beloved spot. Through the conversations around the table and the efforts my children were making for me to survive the day, I saw in my heart that tall, beautiful man who had graced my table for forty-five years. I could hear his laughter, hear him tell me how wonderful the meal was, and see him just relish everyone being together.

How in the world do families get through holidays, especially those firsts? My answer is, anyway you can. There is no formula. Grief is an individual affair. No one should advise someone as to how they personally should get through the holidays. The first two years I was unable to go to church from the week-end before Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Before I’m criticized for that, let me say that our entire life together was built around the church, in ministry together. The memory of countless services singing, “We Gather Together” and the Christmas Eve Candlelight services are cherished by me but to experience them alone was more than I could handle. Our life was ministry, ministry in the local church as well as overseas. My heart couldn’t take it.

Will I be able to go this year? I don’t know, I thought I did. Standing in church this morning brought a sadness that is hard to explain. It was a bittersweet time. We sang and the tears began to flow. The songs we sang were all the ones we sang in our church just three years ago. My heart saw so many familiar things…a church family, a worship ministry family I loved so much. I saw my husband worshipping in sweet abandon to the One he now sees by sight. Quite frankly, I didn’t know if I could stay in the service, but I’m glad I did.

At the last minute, our pastor had to call upon the youth leader to preach and you know how it is when you see someone is to preach besides the pastor? But, the young man was right on…I needed to hear from God through him. His sermon was entitled, “The Song I Sing.” His text was from Psalm 146. He asked a question in the beginning, “What song do you sing?” One of his points was that the birthplace of our song is the soul and that dominates the message of our song. He went on a few minutes and said we might say that the past 12-24 months of our lives may have been so difficult that no one, No one on earth, could help us in our need. He made a statement that resonated in me, “It is in those moments that our song is written.”

What has my song been? What is the chorus that continues to rise between the verses that have been so very hard to sing? In that moment, I remembered what I had sung just a few moments before,”…You are Shield, my Strength, my Portion forever; my Shelter, Strong Tower, my very Present Help in time of need.” This has been one of my favorite worship songs for years but the truth in those lyrics today are so much more meaningful than when I sang them before. I would sing them when my world was right, secure. When I could look around at my worship ministry family as we sang together, at my family as they joined the many friends around us. I sang with my precious husband and all seemed right side up. Now, my world had never righted itself and the familiar faces have dimmed and nothing is the same. The one thing that HAS remained is the faithfulness of my Father in heaven, and the security and peace I find in Him.

The holidays may very well be different but He is the same…yesterday, today, and forever. He sees me and cares for me as a Shepherd to His sheep. I am His own and that is one thing that will never change. This is the song I sing, this is my story.

 

(The sermon this morning will be able to be heard in the next couple of days at http://www.nbconline.net, under the media resources.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breezes and Ramblings

It’s been such a beautiful day today. As I sit on my patio this late fall Friday afternoon, a cool breeze is blowing. The sun is off the patio and it’s almost too cool to be out here in a short sleeved tee and capris (at least cool to me since I’m cold natured). 

There is something ratherpeaceful about   listening to the rumble of the children conversing in the house and the sound of the traffic behind me. I often wonder where they are going. Are they rushing to get home to family  or to meet someone for dinner? Do they feel light and carefree because another work week has come to a close? Are the kids jumping off the school bus, anticipating two days with no teachers or study? Is there one who dreads going home because no one waits there? 

The change of seasons always makes me miss my man more. I miss hearing him talk about cooler temperatures, the holidays that are just around the corner, or setting the clocks back this designated weekend. He would always begin resetting them on Saturday morning and I never knew what time it really was! That was our family joke. If you knew Bob you would know that was just the way he was. I may set one back In the morning just to honor him!!  

The peace I feel this afternoon is refreshing. I miss my husband more than anyone could even begin to comprehend, but I’m okay. The gentle wind is blowing the fall leaves in all directions. As it does I am reminded of the breath of God and the gentle breeze of His Spirit in my soul. Sometimes it is as loud as thunder and sometimes, like today, it brings comfort. 

When we were at the graveside for the final phase of his funeral that devastating afternoon in April 2014, a gentle breeze suddenly blew through the cemetery, ruffling the newly formed leaves, and it lasted for just a moment. We all felt it and it took our breaths away. God was there, His Spirit gracing us that spring afternoon. I always remember that when I feel the wind on my face, as it is today. 

Am I a bit thoughtful this afternoon? I suppose. Am I missing that tall man of mine? Absolutely! Would I love to be sitting down at the table with him to a meal of homemade soup to celebrate the onset of autumn? Sure would. But, it is well with my soul. One day I will see him again and it won’t be as long as it has been. 

Blessings

As I am waking up with a cup of coffee this early Wednesday morning, I’m mindlessly reading emails, checking the weather, checking my bank balance (!), and scrolling through Facebook. Memory posts will often pop up on my page and I find them bittersweet. 

My mind will play with each memory, sometimes smiling, sometimes crying. This morning, however, my reaction has been amazement, amazement at the change that has occurred, especially in the last 2.5 years. I can see the finger of God as He traced a path in my wilderness and then took my hand and gently led me through the curves and valleys until I could see light. It hasn’t always seemed that way but He was there. So often I’ve felt like I was stumbling through a thick forest that was carpeted with briars, but He was there, strong when I was so weak.

The face of grief changes over time. In the beginning, other widows would tell me that but I couldn’t imagine it. I have found that it does. Even a memory feed on social media speaks to that. When one experiences the deep, deep loss of death it is hard to imagine life again. I suffered the death of my husband and the death of all I had known. It was as if I was blindfolded, kidnapped, and dropped on an island, with nothing familiar around me. The face of grief was devastating. I looked everywhere to find normal. 

Today I see light. Today there is life. It’s not the life I really honestly want and the light has a different glow, but there is light and life nonetheless. I miss Bob so much but I’ve come to the settled peace that he is gone, he is with Jesus. I’ve had a head knowledge but now there is a heart knowledge. I still want to tell him things, have to stop and remind myself he isn’t here when I do. But, there is peace. 

 There is joy, the kind that comes in the morning.  Happiness is a choice but I’m not speaking about that. This joy comes from a peace and a trust in the One who holds all things.  The One who has proven Himself trustworthy. The One who is full of lovingkindness, the One who is from everlasting to everlasting. 

There is purpose. It has been difficult to believe there was still purpose for me, purpose without Bob and without our ministry together. I don’t presume to know what the future holds but I do know the One who knows all things. The One who knows the plans He has for me, plans for good and not evil, plans to give me a future and a hope. 

There is healing, the kind I’ve longed for, prayed for. I still get lonely, I still some days long for “home” and the life we shared. My faith knows that beauty will come from the ashes of what was. There is comfort in the cool breeze that is blowing away the intense heat from the fire. 

There is blessing, even in the brokenness I’ve experienced. Blessing because I know Christ in a deeper way than ever before. Blessing because I know His promises are true. Blessing because I can trust Him with my present and my future. Blessing because His love has been poured out on me in this journey. 

Yes, grief wears a different face and I lift my face to the Son and wait to see what’s next. I don’t know what that will look like but I know it will be just as He planned. 

Just Up The Road 

I’m terrible with directions. If i didn’t have apps on my phone to guide me to my destination, I might never find my way. When I moved to my current city I turned around more than I didn’t! In years past, before smart phones and apps, prior to his homegoing, my husband would often try to give me directions when I would call him. I would be somewhere lost, without a clue where I was. He would tell me I needed to go west or east. Frustrated, I would respond that I didn’t know which way west or east was. One particular day, I called him from Nashville and he patiently asked me which direction I was going. He asked, “Honey, where is the sun?” He would then get me on the right road.  

I’ve thought a lot about that since he’s been gone and I’ve embarked upon this journey. I have no clue where I’m going some days. I was talking with a dear friend this morning, also on the same journey as I. We discussed the fact that everyone’s road looks completely different. Oh, there are landmarks that are the same but no two paths are the alike. The terrain is rough and the mile markers say the destinations are far off. Our navigation systems seem to be stuck.  

Two and one-half years ago next month, this nightmare began. After these thirty months without Bob, I still feel lost and it’s hard to find my way. The expectation I put on myself is that I should be farther down the road than I am. There is the fear that others think that, too, and shake their heads because I’m not. The truth is, some days are worse than they have ever been while others are tolerable. There are some things that are still so painful, like hearing a band play Rocky Top or feeling the breeze on an autumn afternoon and wishing he was beside me, enjoying the new season. Going to church without him is almost unbearable and singing the songs he loved nearly breaks my heart. With every melody I see him worshipping and hear his beautiful voice. It’s hard to stay focused. 

This isn’t an easy trip by any stretch of the imagination, even after all this time.I didn’t ask to go, I didn’t want to go. Sometimes I cry and yell and kick against it, telling God how much I hate it. I long for home and the life we shared, the friends, the ministry … the love and just being together. God knows my hurt and He understands. I don’t shock Him when I rail and fight. He knows I will ultimately bow my knee to His purpose and plan. That’s all I can do, it’s what I must do. In that there is great comfort. 

This is the journey of grief. Unfortunately, there is no roadmap and no ETA. When I feel the most lost I just look for the Son. As long as I keep my eyes on Him, the way is clear. It’s when I don’t that I take the wrong route and have to turn around and find my way back. 

Will I ever cease to feel lost? Maybe, but I rather doubt it. He was mine to love for almost forty-six years. Will there come a day I enjoy things like I once did, or perhaps make new memories? I hope so. Will there be a time I enjoy a breeze upon my face and a deep blue autumn sky without wanting to share it with my man? Probably not. But what I do know is that I must keep my foot on the gas peddle and continue on this road until the journey ends, searching out the beauty in the  scenery, ever following the Son. He keeps me from falling, He directs my path. The destination is just up the road. 

Calling It What It Is

Devotional thoughts:

On days like this I am reminded how much more “growing up” I need to do. Impatience, being disgruntled, general “snarliness” (is that a word?) is what I’m dealing with on this cloudy morning. I make the excuse that it is because I’m tired. The Bible calls it as it really is, flesh. The struggle is real, we all deal with it. 
I have found that the root problem, at least for me, is that I cannot control my world. I can’t control a washer that is trying to go out, inflation, the weather, and most of all, death and loss. It is my observation and experience that a lack of control makes me try to control something, anything. Then, when I can’t, flesh rears it’s ugly head. 

Paul said in Romans 7 that the he, too, fought the flesh. He said that the things he ought to do he didn’t, and the things he didn’t want to do, he did. 

Romans 7:18-19, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.

That isn’t too encouraging, is it? He then cries out, 

Romans 7:24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…”

That is the encouragement. Jesus has already secured our victory! The question is, will we continue to to allow yukky flesh to be dominant in our daily lives? Will we fight the flesh as believes? Sure. We aren’t “home” yet. But, we must diligently seek to walk in the Spirit rather than walk after the flesh. (Galatians 5) That is only done as we surrender to His control. It’s a matter of want to, a matter of choice. 

“Father, may we relinquish control of our lives and give you the reigns, daily, minute by minute. Forgive us when we don’t. Thank you for Jesus and the victory through Him that we have as your children. May our lives reflect the indwelling Christ and bring glory to You.”

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