Caring for the Birds

Sunday Chronicles. #238. 3/07/21

Natalia Kollegova, Pixabay

A near-perfect spring day in Springfield, MO, with high temps predicted to reach into the 60s. Abundant sunshine forms a backdrop for jet trails crisscrossing through a few wispy high clouds. But I’ve lived in Springfield long enough to know March can still bring surprise blizzards, so this may or may not be the beginning of spring. However, it’s a welcome relief from the recent snow and ice storms.

Today’s story comes from Tammy Bicket, a writer/editor friend here in Springfield, who shared stories about her sister Cindy and brother-in-law Tom who live in Texas and who fed the birds during the recent ice storm. While shivering in their home, battling frozen pipes and other issues, Cindy’s heart and mind were consumed with the needs of her feathered friends. Three separate times little birds flew into Tom and Cindy’s window, falling dazed to the frozen, snow-covered ground. and at risk of freezing. Each time, Cindy ventured out into the storm, picked up the tiny limp bodies, and cupped them in her hands to keep the bird warm until it was ready to fly again.

Tom, who usually leaves caring for wildlife to Cindy, helped by getting up early each sub-zero morning to put out more seed for the birds. By the eighth day of the storm, Cindy reported they would soon be out of seed. They had corn, which they kept for ducks, but corn was too big for songbirds to swallow. More hungry birds were coming, needing more calories to fight the extreme cold, while ice and snow had covered all normal food supplies. Using an old meat grinder, Cindy and Tom started grinding the corn to a suitable size, a time- and energy-consuming job. God saw their need and sent a 50-pound bag of chicken scratch by way of two generous brothers from the church. Cindy wrote: “Yes, God really does feed the birds. He does see the sparrows fall. Sometimes His provision comes through unseen hands. Other times, He uses our hands. How neat to be part of His plan.”

Christ has no hands but our hands, to do His work today.

Annie Johnson Flint

While Cindy was caring for the birds, God was caring for Cindy. In a week when Cindy was unable to do laundry (frozen pipes) and was running out of warm clothes, she received a delayed Christmas gift in the mail: sweat pants! She also discovered a pair of warm pajamas she had never worn. A tag was attached, written by a familiar hand: “To Cindy, love Mom,” a gift from her mother who is now with Jesus.

Poet Annie Johnson Flint wrote: “Christ has no hands but our hands, to do His work today.”

As His hands extended, how can we “feed the birds”? We do it by caring for those around us. A word of encouragement, a phone call or card, sharing God’s promises, praying for each other over the phone, showing kindness and giving help to those in need—We may think these things are too small or insignificant to matter, but if we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can step out into life’s storms, put our arms around those who are hurting, and share the warmth of God’s love. While we are doing this, God will meet our needs, just as He did for Cindy and Tom. I like a quote attributed to Mother Teresa: “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” I’m limited in what I am able to do, but I can extend Jesus’ love to those with whom I come in contact.

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Personal Notes: On Friday, March 5, I got my first COVID shot. I was dreading it because in the past, I have reacted negatively to vaccines. So far my only reactions have been a bit of soreness in my arm and feeling very tired and cold. My usually low blood pressure has also dropped a few degrees. So I’m going to spend some time in my recliner with a warm blanket. I go for the second shot on April 2, Good Friday. Thanks for your continued prayers that my reactions will be minimal. Peace, jwb

“Doing” Lent

Sunday Chronicles  # 237. 2/28/21

Lent is a term used in religious circles to identify a period of 40 days (omitting Sundays) when some communities of faith stress personal piety in preparation for Easter. Each person is to take inventory of his dedication to God and identify areas where he can increase his devotion. Fasting is usually part of the process as well as giving up something the person enjoys for the 40-day period. Some people give up a favorite food or drink; others omit popular TV programs or social media interaction as a way of increasing their devotion to God.

The word “lent” does not appear in the Bible; it is a shortened form of a Middle English word “lenten” meaning “spring,” the time when many churches prepared candidates for water baptism and church membership. It appears in church history in an account of “Apostolic Traditions” dated about 200 A.D.  It was made official by the first Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The 40-day time period was chosen because Jesus fasted 40 days before beginning His ministry.

However you feel about Lent, checking our devotional life to see if we are daily living to please our Lord is always a good thing to do. During Lent we especially remember how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, shedding great drops of blood in His agony. He “who knew no sin” accepted bearing our sins to give us salvation, while His disciples slept. Some of the saddest words recorded that night are Jesus’ sorrowful comment to His three closest friends: “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” He went out then to meet the soldiers who had come to arrest Him. The next hours were filled with mock trials, taunts of the Roman soldiers, the hatred of Jewish religious leaders, and the cruel, agonizing death on a cross to pay for our sins and open heaven to those who believe. He could have called legions of angels to rescue Him (Mt. 26:53), but He chose to die to make eternal life available to us. Give Him praise!

Throughout history, the Jewish nation, God’s chosen people, rebelled against Him again and again. He sent prophets, such as Elijah, to call them back to Himself, but they often ignored or killed the prophets.

One of the sins especially offensive to God was Baal worship which included offering their children to Baal by burning them on altars of fire. To make more babies available for sacrifice, Baal priests set up  “sex and religion” shrines all across the nation, some even in the Temple in Jerusalem! They perverted the sacred connection that God instituted between a man and his wife at creation. What God gave for our good, when used wisely, they turned into a destroying factor.

Children are especially important to God; Jesus makes this point when He corrected His disciples’ ideas of greatness. He stood a child in their midst and gave an object lesson: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of my Father… It is not the will of your Father who is in Heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Mt. 18:10, 14).  Are you listening, America? Are we praying for our children, grandchildren, the children of our neighborhood, our cities, our nation? Are we teaching them by example that God loves them?

In the 1970s our family lived on Grant Street here in Springfield. My husband Nelson had a backyard garden to raise tomatoes and other vegetables. When he went out to work in his garden, neighborhood children came to see what he was doing. He allowed them to “help” him, and he often told them Bible stories as they worked. We moved out of town, but years later Nelson went into an auto supply store to buy a car part. When the clerk saw his name, he asked if Nelson used to live on Grant Street. He was one of the boys who “helped” in the garden. He told Nelson how much those times had meant to him. 

One way to show our devotion to Jesus during Lent is to reach out to a child and let that child know, by our actions as well as our words, that he is loved by us and by God. Ask God to help make the connection a blessing to all involved.

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Personal Notes:  Gray skies in Springfield, MO, today with chilly breezes and a few hit-and-miss raindrops. Wednesday of this coming week marks the 4th anniversary of Nelson’s death. I miss him so very much, but I would not call him back to this troubled world even if I could. His ministry lives on in the lives of those he touched. I’m hoping that when I make the crossing, he will be there to welcome me. Please keep me in your prayers; loneliness can be overwhelming. Peace, jwb

Who’s Serving “The Least of These”?

Sunday Chronicles #236 2/21/21

 ….”One day in the late 1970s I was in my cubicle at A/G headquarters typing,. I felt someone watching me, and I turned around. An older woman I had never met sat there smiling at me. “I see you’re a lot like me, dear!” she said. I cast about in my mind what she meant. I was at least 30 years younger than her, and had no idea who she was or why she was there. Then she continued, “You wear your hair like I do!” She was right. I had my hair done up in a bun to keep it out of my face while working, and she had a similar bun! That was the beginning of my friendship with Anna Tomaseck, missionary to India for more than 40 years! Oh, the stories she told!” …. 

Anna went to India in 1926. She worked in various missions ministries for 10 years; then God revealed to her that He had a special place for her to serve Him. God gave her a two-fold mission: to raise children that no one else wanted and to reach people in Nepal with the love of Jesus, a small nation closed to the gospel.

Looking at a map of the railway system, Anna set her sights on Rupaidiha, the last village in India, a mile from the Nepali border. In 1936, she purchased a one-way ticket to Rupaidiha and rented the house nearest the border – the last house in India – and began learning the Nepali language.
Anna brought along with her three children who had been subsisting on whatever scraps they could find after their parents died. Soon local people understood that the young American lady would take in children, regardless of their health or status. Babies were brought to her home, from both India and Nepal. Some were orphans, some were unwanted by their families, and some were abandoned because their parents could not afford to feed them. Some had leprosy. They were all starving and sick. Anna became their “Mamaji” — “Precious Mother.”
Mamaji received criticism for using her time to care for sick children rather than evangelizing, but she had heard from God and she was undeterred. Soon her bedroom was lined with 10 cribs, all it would hold. She instituted a teaching program that provided life skills for her children, seeing that each boy learned a trade and that each girl was taught childcare and home management.

One Sunday when the cribs were all full of fretting babies, Mamaji sent the older children to the village church and she stayed to care for the sick babies. Weary from being up all night, she prayed, “Lord, please don’t send me another baby today!” She had hardly finished her prayer when a group of men approached, one of them carrying a baby. Its mother had died of snakebite, and they had no way to feed the infant. Would Mamaji please take him? Anna looked at the apparently healthy child. Could she turn him away to starve? When the girls returned from church they found Mamaji bathing another baby, and she seemed happy about it!

After lunch, and the babies put down for naps, the older girls took over their care so Mamaji could have a nap. She had hardly got settled under the mosquito netting when one of the girls came for her. Another group of men had come with a baby. On the porch was the filthiest baby Mamaji had ever seen. Lice fell from the rags she was wrapped in. Her parents had died and the rest of the family did not want the child; she was too sickly and cried too much, they said. Mamaji stripped off the rags and ordered them burned, and she held the baby, little more than a skeleton, in her arms. Suddenly her heart overflowed with God’s presence, and she named the child Shanta, which means “Peace.” A dresser drawer with a pillow in it made a bed for Shanta, and after a warm bottle of milk, she slept.

But there was no rest for Mamaji; another group of men had arrived. They were Nepali workers who had been working in India. Two women had been with them to do their cooking, and this baby had been born in India. To cross the border into Nepal, each person had to go through a ceremony of religious cleansing which included eating a wafer made of urine, dung, saliva, and whey from the milk of a sacred cow. The baby was too young to eat this wafer, so could not cross the border into Nepal. Mamaji tried to persuade the men to take the baby with them, but their fear of the gods prevailed, “No,” they said, “if you do not take the baby we will leave it by the side of the road for the vultures to eat.” Mamaji’s heart sank. Once she had refused a baby, thinking the parents would keep it, only to hear its screams as the vultures tore it apart. She would not refuse this one. So another baby had a warm bath, probably the first in its life, and another dresser drawer served as its bed.

This last baby weighed only 33 oz and could take milk only from a dropper. Mamaji decided to feed her every hour during the night, hoping to save her life. She set her Baby Ben alarm clock to ring in an hour. Taking the two tiny babies in dresser drawers under the mosquito net with her, she went to bed. When the alarm rang, she got up, turned the alarm off, fed the tiny baby, cared for any others that needed her, reset the alarm clock, and lay down for another hour’s rest. Thus the night passed.

In spite of Mamaji’s devoted nursing care, the tiny baby died, and Mamaji sent word to its father. A few weeks later a group of men arrived from the hill country of Nepal. They had no baby with them, and Mamaji could not understand their language. A national worker on the grounds interpreted their request. “They want to see the talking God,” he said. Finally one of the men mentioned the tiny baby that had died. Mamaji assured them she had sent word to the father. They made clear that they cared nothing about the baby. But its father had hid outside Mamaji’s bedroom window that night she got up each hour to care for the babies. Her “god” called her! Finally, Mamaji understood. When she turned off and reset the alarm each hour that night, the man thought she was bowing to a god. He had told these men what he saw, and now they wanted to see her alarm clock! One of the children brought the clock, and Mamaji showed the men how it worked. Then, carefully choosing her words, she told them about the God in heaven who loved them and wanted them to know Him. They heard the plan of salvation for the first time!

For months, groups of men came to Mamaji’s porch asking to see the “talking god.” Apparently, the baby’s father was traveling through an area where missionaries could not go and telling his story. God had used a tiny baby and an alarm clock to bring scores of people to her porch to hear about Jesus and His love.

Mamaji soon found that she was able to cross the border into Nepal without police permission, as she was escorted by border guards whom she had raised. A string of churches was planted in southern Nepal, and much of the leadership of the Pentecostal church traced their roots to her ministry. God saw the need in a remote part of the world and He enabled a young single woman to raise up believers, teachers, laborers, and pastors who would go where missionaries could not go. Mamaji’s abandoned babies became men and women of the Spirit who built His church in India and Nepal. In three decades of service on the Nepali border, Mamaji raised 420 children in the Nur Children’s Home, teaching each of them about the love of Christ.

Anna Tomaseck retired in 1976 at age 74. She moved to Maranatha Village in Springfield, Missouri, and passed away five years later.

In Matthew 25:35-40 Jesus explains that what we do for the “least of these” – those among us in need but ignored, not considered worthy of our attention – if we serve them, it’s the same as serving Jesus. If Jesus were here in person, wouldn’t we rush to serve Him? This week let Jesus show you those who need to see His love through your service. 

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Personal notes:  Snow still on the ground under heavy clouds and light rain in Springfield, MO, today. The winter storm has moved on and warmer weather is promised for this week. Yesterday was the first day in 2 weeks that our temps got above freezing. My helper fills the bird feeders often, and the birds keep emptying them. It’s something we are glad to do! My physical strength continues to decline; it takes me longer to do less! Please continue to pray for strength and opportunities to serve Jesus. Your comments and notes bless me. Thank you! Peace, jwb

A CHILD’S FAITH

Sunday Chronicles #235 2/14/2021

Last week’s blog related a story of God’s answering intercessory prayer. Those of us who have followed the Good Shepherd through life’s hills and valleys have experienced this type of prayer, both as a sender and as a recipient.

As a child I learned to pray because my parents prayed. In the fall of 1936, when I was 3 years old, my dad took a church in a rural community called Beckett Mountain, near Rosebud, AR. I don’t remember the move, but I remember the house we moved to: it was an empty share-cropper’s cabin on the edge of a field. The cabin had one large room, a lean-to kitchen on the back, and a small front porch. At night, the large room served as bedroom for Mama, Dad, and me; by day it was the living room. Dad added another lean-to on one side of the large room so my sister, who was a teen-ager, would have her own bedroom. Water came from a well, and we gathered wood for heating and cooking. The house had no electricity; we used kerosene lamps.

People in this farming community didn’t have much money, but they shared food from their gardens and orchards, milk and eggs from their cows and chickens, and meat from their smokehouses. When supplies were low, Mama could make a meal of fried corn bread and gravy. Cash offerings for the pastor were very small, but cornmeal from home-grown corn and milk were two commodities we usually had plenty of because there was no market for them. During those months Mama often could not mail a letter to one of her three sisters because she didn’t have 3 cents for a stamp! What little money we got was kept for buying things such as gasoline for the car and kerosene for the lamps. Each night before we went to bed, we all knelt beside the bed or a chair and prayed. Mama often started her prayer by saying, “Oh, Lord, we are thankful that things are no worse than what they are!”

During that hot summer I spent hours lying on the floor near the front door to catch any breeze that came. My entertainment was looking at the Sears, Roebuck catalog. That year a few pages were printed in color, and one pictured several pieces of dress material. One piece came in either pink or blue with small white bunny rabbits printed on it. I begged Mama to order enough to make me a dress. She always answered by saying we didn’t have the money. (Material was 10 cents per yard.)

Day after day I dreamed of having a dress made from the pink rabbit print. Whether I prayed for one, I don’t know, but if prayer is defined as the sincere desire of the heart, I did. I knew that my parents prayed for things they needed. At this time in the Great Depression, most clothing for children in poor families was made from scraps, feed sacks, or cut down from adult clothing that still had some “wear” left in the material, as my mother would say.

I looked forward to Sundays. On Saturdays, my sister curled my hair; she or Mama starched and ironed my best dress. I felt like a queen when I walked to church on Sunday morning. After the Sunday School classes, all the kids stood up front facing the congregation, in what was called the “Booster Band.” We sang motion choruses such as “This Little Light of Mine,” “Zaccheus Was a Wee Little Man,” and “One Door and Only One.” Each child also said a memory verse. My favorite verse was “He careth for you,” and I said it every Sunday. Each week, my sister painstakingly taught me a new verse which I could say perfectly, but on Sunday, much to her embarrassment, I reverted to “He careth for you.” The adults laughed when I repeated the same verse Sunday after Sunday. Perhaps that is why I did it!

During the time I was day-dreaming of the pink rabbit-printed dress one of my mother’s sisters who lived in Illinois wrote to Mama and said her daughter was taking an advanced class in Home Economics. The final requirement was that she sew an outfit for a child. This aunt and cousins had never seen me; our families lived too far apart; I was the youngest of all the cousins, and my aunt wrote that if Mama would send my measurements, her daughter would make the child’s garments for me. Mama wasn’t very impressed. In fact, I think her sister wrote twice before Mama finally measured me. It was quite a task. She used a piece of twine to go around my wrist or waist or whatever she was measuring, then lay the twine on a ruler to get the number of inches. Finally, she mailed the letter with my measurements. Weeks went by, and we heard nothing from my aunt. Mama told me not to get my hopes up.

Late in the summer the package arrived. Mama opened it, and unfolded a dress made with great care, and a pair of matching pantaloons with ruffles just above the knees to wear underneath. And the material? The pink rabbit print that I had wanted for so long! Mama couldn’t believe it! She had never expected anything would come and certainly hadn’t thought it would be made from the material I had dreamed of. All those Sundays when I had stood in the Booster Band and repeated, “He careth for you” God had been at work caring about a little girl’s heart’s desire. 

In recent months COVID has brought dark times. Families have lost loved ones without being with them in their last moments. Holiday gatherings were restricted to try to stop the spread. Workers lost jobs, businesses failed, and the economy suffered. Protests and unrest filled our cities. I don’t have answers for our problems, but I do know that the darker the hour the brighter the light of God’s love shines. He’s still the Good Shepherd and in His care, we find “green pastures” and “still waters.” You’re His child, and He’s a loving Father. He invites you to draw near to Him and let Him carry you through dark days and hard places….because He cares for you!

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Personal Notes: Blowing snow and extreme cold in Springfield, MO, today, with forecast for more of the same! The birds are keeping the feeders busy, sometimes waiting on the patio for a spot to eat.

Various organizations and churches are providing shelter and food for Springfield’s  homeless population which has increased in recent months due to job loss cause by the pandemic. My heart cries out for those in need. I have so much: a warm place to live (as long as we don’t lose electricity!), plenty of food, and a safe bed at night. God has promised to provide for my needs, and He has done that. Some of you, when prompted by the Holy Spirit, have helped. I pray that the blessings He returns to you will be full and overflowing. Your prayers are another blessing, as are your e-mails, phone calls, FB comments, and cards. “Thank You” seems so little when I have received so much! But your kind actions are being recorded in heaven and “in that land where crowns are given” you’ll receive more than my weak words! With appreciation, jwb

Prayer: God’s “Internet”

Sunday Chronicles. #234. 2/07/2021

More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

One of the ways God allows us to participate in His work in this world is through prayer. Many of us who are older are unable to continue the ministries we’ve had in the past due to deteriorating conditions of our bodies, but prayer is still available to us. Many nights I lay on my bed and pray for friends, relatives, churches, and missionaries. The first missionaries that I remember knowing personally were Murray and Marjorie Brown. They received missionary appointment and married on the same day: December 21, 1939. Murray’s father attended the A/G church in Charleston, AR, where my father pastored. When Murray and Marjorie were Stateside in the mid-1940s, they often stayed in Charleston. The Browns began their ministry among the Mossi people in Upper Volta, West Africa.  (Upper Volta became Burkina Faso in 1984.) They also served in other African nations.

During their ministry, on one occasion, an explosion left severe burns on Murray’s hands, abdomen, and legs. He was hospitalized in Kumasi, Ghana, where the doctor advised that with burns this deep, he would need skin grafts. Bandaged heavily, Murray was in a 5th floor bed when one morning early an army of African ants came marching across the floor toward his bed. They got in his bed, burrowed under the bandages, and chewed on his burned flesh. In agony, Murray called for help, but no one answered. He called again, “Help! Isn’t there anyone to help me?” Three times, he repeated his anguished cry, but no one came to his assistance.

Half a world away in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, one of Murray’s friends was sound asleep. Awakened by a cry of distress, he thought one of his children was calling, but when he looked in on them, all were sleeping soundly. Back in bed, he heard the cry again, and once more checked on the children. They were still asleep. This time when he returned to bed, he distinctly heard Murray Brown’s voice calling, “Help! Isn’t there anyone to help me?” The man awakened his wife, and told her, “I’ve just heard Murray Brown calling for help!” They prayed for Murray, not knowing what the need was, until they were assured victory had come.

Back in the Kumasi hospital, no nurse came. But suddenly the ants left Murray’s bed and marched across the hospital floor. Murray watched in amazement as they left, just as though someone had called them. Later, when the doctor removed the bandages, he saw new flesh growing, even on the hand that had been most severely burned. No skin grafts were needed, and only a small scar on Murray’s thigh remained. Months later Murray learned how God had alerted his friend in Nebraska to pray by allowing him to hear Murray’s calls for help. 

Communication in that era was much different than it is today. Many of the devices we use had not been invented yet. Missionaries had to depend on uncertain mail service and, if they could get to a telephone, they had to deal with language difficulties and bad connections. Prayer was a much more dependable source of help. Our A/G archives are filled with stories of answered prayer. 

With prayer, you can be sure of a good connection with one provision: all prayer needs to include “Thy will be done.” Even Jesus, when He prayed in the garden before His arrest, concluded with “Not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). Until we can pray that and mean it, some of our prayers may not be complete. Remember, your Heavenly Father loves you! Trust His love to make “all things work together for your good…” (Rom. 8:28). Through prayer, we become channels for the love of God to flow to others. Isn’t that what all ministry is about?

The Browns retired in 1980 after more than 40 years of missionary ministry. Murray died in 1981 and Marjorie in 1994. What a glad reunion day with African friends who preceded them!

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Personal notes:  A cold day with grey skies in Springfield, MO …and it gets worse! Predicted daytime highs at or below freezing for at least five days and some nights expected to be in the minus category! That’s cold for we Southerners!

Thanks to so many of you who have blessed me in various ways, especially with your prayers.  Keep praying that I can cope, by God’s help, with this “age-related” stuff. I’m thankful the birds aren’t included in COVID restrictions. They continue to visit the feeders and offer entertainment.

Stay safe, stay warm, and keep giving away God’s love. Peace, jwb 

Peace or Turbulence?

Sunday Chronicles. #233, 1/31/21

Springfield, MO: we have a blanket of grey clouds overhead and freezing temps below–a winter Sunday. It’s also the last day of January which brings us one month nearer spring. Above those dark clouds, the sun is always shining! A truth to remember on weary days when life here is socked in with a fog of problems too great to see through.

In my research on Psalm 23, I learned that the reason David specified “still waters” in verse 2 is that turbulent water is dangerous for sheep, especially those who have thick, heavy wool. If that wool gets wet, it weighs them down until it is hard for them to get out of raging water. In our lives we can miss the peaceful presence of God if we focus on the “raging water” of our problems instead of on God’s promises to be with us always. If God is with us, what do we have to fear?

This week I have been thinking about Jesus-followers in nations where Christianity is a crime, punishable by prison and torture. As an American, it is hard for me to grasp the horrors they go through. I often wonder if I would be able to stand in the face of such terror. These modern stories remind me of the arrest, imprisonment, and death of first-century Christians. Why God miraculously rescued some, as He did Peter (Acts 12:4-17) and allows others (James, Acts 12:2) to pay the ultimate price, I do not know except that the decision is HIs and He does according to His will. I do feel that believers’ prayers affect the outcome. When Peter was delivered by an angel, the church was praying. Perhaps when James was imprisoned, they did not realize the seriousness of the situation.

A story I remember from my days of writing for missionaries was about a man living in a “closed” nation. Christians there were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned, then assigned to hard labor camps where they were supposedly “re-educated.” Many did not survive, but those who were released were kept under surveillance, to see if they pursued any “Christian” activities. Employers were afraid to hire them, and their children were refused education in the schools. The man in this story decided to cross the border (which was guarded day and night) and make his way south to a nation where he could worship Jesus openly. He hid along the river at night and watched the guards until he knew their schedule. Then on a dark night, while the guard was changing, he jumped into the river and swam across with only the clothes on his back.

After several days of hiding and studying the territory, he approached an older woman and asked for food. She perceived his situation and helped him to a church that would shelter him temporarily. From there he began to walk, often at night, toward a nation in the south where Christians were accepted. He had no money, no passport, no identification papers of any kind. After days of walking and crossing several borders unseen, he was nearing his goal when he was arrested in a small nation whose language he did not speak. He was placed in a prison crowded with other men. Since he did not know their language, they communicated with him by motions. They had no beds, but slept on a hard floor. Our traveler spent much time in silent or whispered prayer. Each day the prisoners were forced to sit on the floor for an hour facing a platform while an official instructed them in that nation’s religion. The powers of darkness were strong, so our friend whispered prayers to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit flowed over him. The men nearby felt this loving, peaceful Presence, and sat as close as possible. Soon there were arguments over who could sit by him. The same thing happened at night. They didn’t understand what they felt, but they wanted more of it!

After a few weeks in this prison, the poor food, unsanitary conditions, and crowded space took their toll, and our traveler became ill. He was carried to a hospital on the prison grounds where he was cleaned up and put in a bed. But best of all, some of the hospital workers spoke his language! He told them stories about Jesus, and they felt that same loving, peaceful Presence the prisoners had. Some were willing to pray with him.

When he was strong enough to walk again, the hospital workers provided him with a change of clothing and a few necessities, including a permit to continue his journey. When he arrived at his destination, he found Christians who welcomed him. Fellow believers helped him with housing, a job, and negotiations to bring his family to him.

Where are we in this story? (1) Am I like a sheep who gets upset in raging water, endangers those nearby, and has to be rescued by the shepherd? (2) Or can I be like the traveler who endured great hardship, but kept focused on communication with God and brought peace to those around him? My prayer is that the peace of God will fill my heart and overflow into every life I touch.

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Personal Notes: Thanks to you who take time to read my blog and especially to those  who comment, either by FB or in other ways. A writer without readers is like a preacher without an audience.
Birds were frequent visitors this week—one day a flock of robins passed through. I was hoping they were a sign of spring, but apparently not. Doves and red birds are regular guests now as well as many others whose names I don’t know.
My health issues continue. Your prayers are appreciated. And I still love to get mail! Peace, jwb

Using the Rod of God’s Love and Power!

Sunday Chronicles. # 232. 1/24/21

Greetings from Springfield, MO, on a cloudy, cold Sunday. Definitely a day for singing, “There’s sunshine in my soul today, More glorious and bright…” Thank God for the sunshine He gives to our heart regardless of what’s happening outside.

I could not get away from Psalm 23 this week and have read various commentaries. The last part of verse 4 “…your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” has often puzzled me. As a child I heard people quote “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” thinking they were quoting Scripture. (That phrase was coined by a poet in1664, possibly from a wrong interpretation of Proverbs 13:24.) In my memory, it was used by parents or ministers to justify harsh discipline. Let me say here that certainly discipline is necessary, but the most effective discipline is done with love.

I could see how the staff was helpful both to the shepherd and the sheep, but how could David receive comfort from the idea of being beaten with the “rod”? In my research I learned that the shepherd’s “rod” is used to keep both the shepherd and his sheep safe. He often carved the rod himself from a young tree or a strong limb. In his hands, he used it to protect his sheep from thieves or predatory animals or reptiles. He practiced until he could throw it forcefully and hit his target. In convincing Saul to let him fight Goliath, David recounted how he had killed both a lion and a bear who tried to steal some of his sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-36).

Other uses of the rod included (1) gently bringing back any sheep wandering from the herd, (2) untangling the wool of sheep who got caught in thorn bushes (3) and lifting lambs out of ravines. All of us who follow the Good Shepherd have likely experienced these helpful experiences. But there are two other ways the rod was used that had never occurred to me.

One is referred to in Ezekiel 20:37: “I will take note of you as you pass under my rod.” After the shepherd and sheep had been out in the pastures all day, the shepherd stood at the door of the fold and counted the sheep as they passed under his rod. He also checked them for injuries, ran his fingers through their wool to locate any hidden problems that might need his care. This time of examination allowed the shepherd to locate potential problems before they become life-threatening. To me this represents the time we spend in communication with our Shepherd when He puts His finger ever so gently on things in our life that need to change.

The fifth use of the rod that we will look at is one I had never thought of. When God called Moses, the former prince of Egypt but now a desert shepherd, to deliver His people from Pharaoh’s bondage, the rod was the instrument that demonstrated God’s power both to Pharaoh and the Israelites. The Lord’s question to Moses, “What is that in your hand?” (Exod. 4:2) repurposes Moses’ ordinary tool for sheep-keeping to uses in ways Moses would never have imagined possible (Exod. 4:3-5). This rod continued to be a conductor of God’s power throughout Moses’ years of leading the Israelites from Egypt to the edge of the promised land.

What ordinary talent or tool do you have in your hand? How can God use it to show His love to those who need to know Him? The rod in the shepherd’s hand was not an instrument to beat the sheep but to demonstrate the shepherd’s tender love for them.  Now I know why David could say, “Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” They comfort us because they show us our Shepherd’s love.  And being loved, we can extend that love to others! Are we doing that? Let’s do a self-check and see if there’s something in our hand that we aren’t using.  

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Personal notes: The birds have had a wonderful week of feasting! Grounds crew came Thursday and trimmed the tree the feeder hangs under, so the birds took a break until that was over. The trimming lets more sun in on the patio, which I like. It’s been a week of struggles for me physically, but now I’m starting a new round of a nurse coming twice a week and a physical therapy person once a week. Pray that I can make their visits enjoyable and filled with Jesus’ love. I can go out only to medical appointments, so I ask Jesus to send those to me that He wants me to love and pray for. Praying for the Good Shepherd to  keep each of you in His loving care…Peace, jwb

The Shepherd’s Love

Sunday Chronicles  # 231. 1/17/21

Greetings from Springfield, MO on a cold Sunday afternoon with light snow lingering on the ground.

We’ve passed through another week of COVID and its mutations ravaging nations around the world, made more appalling by the political turmoil in our nation. In this time of “distress of nations” (see Luke 21:23; “tossing of the sea” can mean unrest among people),  I turn to Psalm 23 and that comforting promise: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” It follows that if He is our Shepherd, then we are His sheep. As a child I saw cattle drives in Oklahoma. Cowboys on horseback rode behind and drove the cattle forward. Any straying animal was brought back to the herd by dogs. Not so with shepherds; they lead their flock, going before them. Shepherds have a personal relationship with their sheep; they know each animal by name. When changing pastures, the shepherd walks in front of his flock to meet any danger or adversary first; the sheep follow. If one strays, the shepherd secures the flock, then seeks the straying animal.

This week I’ve meditated on part of verse 5:  “You anoint my head with oil.” In my younger years, I thought that sentence referred to the Old Testament anointing of priests and kings for service, and it possibly does have some connection to that.  But after reading about the duties of shepherds, I realized it had further meaning. Shepherds place oil on a sheep’s head for one of three reasons: (1) to discourage insects, especially flies, who attack sheep; (2) to prevent conflict, and (3) to heal wounds.

One type of fly buzzes about the sheep’s head and attempts to crawl up its nose to deposit small eggs in the warm mucus. The eggs hatch into worm-like larvae that work their way up inside the sheep’s head.  A sheep will beat its head against a tree or a rock, trying to get rid of the irritation. They lose weight, and some even batter their heads until they die. To prevent this, early in fly season the shepherd rubs each animal’s head and nose with a mixture of oil, tar, and sulphur. He gives repeated treatments throughout the season. This keeps the flies away and the sheep from suffering harm. A second use for this oil mixture is during mating season when rams fight for possession of ewes. Their battles can become so fierce that one kills the other. As prevention, the shepherd greases their heads with oil. They still fight, but the oil causes their blows to slide off without doing serious harm. The rams can’t figure out what happened. (Sheep aren’t the only ones who butt heads and look silly afterward!)

The oil mixture is also used to protect and heal wounds. Sometimes sheep get into thorn bushes or run against sharp rocks that result in cuts or bruises. The oil protects the scrape or cut so it has a chance to heal. (By this time, you are likely thinking, “I’m not a shepherd. Why should I care about this information?”) Here’s why: in the Bible, oil is often used as a type of the Holy Spirit. Like the insects that harm the sheep, our daily lives are filled with aggravating frustrations: physical struggles, loss of income, aging, family problems, etc, ad infinitum.) We can either let our problems get inside and create worry, frustration, resentment, and other negative attitudes, until, like the sheep, we feel like butting our heads against a wall. OR we can apply the oil of the Holy Spirit, keep the problems outside our heart, and trust God to deal with them. After all, there’s not much we can do about them!
Like sheep, good people and family members also butt heads. I’ve known churches to split over what color of carpet they would install, and families to break up because they didn’t like an in-law. Yet, the message of Jesus is to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). That means being willing to die for another person to know Jesus! Are we practicing love in all our relationships? If not, ask for the oil of the Spirit to saturate us so that those we meet will see Jesus, not us.

Last, in life sometimes we hurt ourselves; not intentionally, but through carelessness. Perhaps we try to reach into areas beyond God’s plan for us to satisfy a need for positive attention. It’s not always easy to determine whether a desire pleases God or is for our own gratification. Turn your dilemma over to the Holy Spirit and let Him show you the answer.

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Personal Notes: Our nation is facing a tumultuous week. I have been appalled by some protest groups advocating another Civil War. My great-grandparents endured terrible hardship, especially near the end of the war in 1863-64 when law and order broke down and vigilante groups took over. It’s a time for “the sheep of His pasture” to follow the Shepherd closely. Pray, love, and trust God of the Angel Armies to fight for the right.

My friends, the birds, have come out between snow and freezing rain to enjoy meals at the bird feeders.  Seeing red birds against the snow was a colorful sight. They brighten my days of being shut in, as do your communications by various means. Thanks so much for remembering me in prayer. Arthritis in my knees and hands and my failing eyesight all need the Master’s touch. Peace, jwb

(Information about shepherds from Phillip Keller’s book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.”)

Jacob’s Story; Our Story

Sunday Chronicles #230 1/10/21

“Don’t look to men for help; their greatest leaders fail…

But happy is the man who has the God of Jacob as his helper…

He is the God who keeps every promise,
who gives justice to the poor and oppressed
and food to the hungry” (Ps. 146:3-7, The Living Bible).

Jacob’s story doesn’t begin very promising: he was a deceiver. He tricked his brother Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew, then finalized that act by pretending to be Esau so that his blind father couldn’t tell he was blessing the wrong son. Yet in Malachi, God says, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Mal.1:2-3). In fact, in the Bible God refers to Himself 22 times as the “God of Jacob.”

How could God love a man with Jacob’s faults? (Maybe we should look in the mirror?) The birthright was more than a financial blessing; it included a spiritual dimension. God had made a covenant with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham that through him and his descendants the promised Messiah would come into the world. Jacob, in spite of his flaws, wanted to be a part of that line; Esau didn’t seem to hunger for God; he was more interested in satisfying his physical hunger. Thus, by selling his birthright for a single meal, he lost his opportunity to be a blessing.

But God had much work to do on Jacob before he became the man God planned for him to be. (Anyone out there identify?). To escape Esau’s wrath he had to leave his home and flee… to his mother’s brother Laban for safety. En-route, he had a lesson from God. Apparently, he was in a desolate area, because he cleared a spot on the ground, found a stone for a pillow and lay down to sleep. God chose that night, when Jacob was probably at his lowest point, to begin His work to make Jacob into the man He had envisioned from eternity.

It started with a dream: Jacob saw a stairway reaching from earth to heaven. Angels were going up and down, but at the top stood God Himself. God revealed to Jacob His plans for him; God finished His revelation by promising, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised.” Jacob awoke and was afraid. He said, “Surely the Lord is in this place…This is the house of God…the gate to heaven.” Please note: When God begins to work on a person, one of the first things He does is give a revelation of Himself and His love. Jacob’s revelation is recorded in Gen. 28:10-17, but other revelations appear throughout the Bible: (See Isaiah 6 and Acts 9 for two examples.)

God continued to reveal His love and faithfulness. Immediately upon arriving at his uncle’s home, Jacob fell in love with his cousin Rachel and, since he had no money, he bargained with his uncle to work seven years to pay the bride price. When seven years ended and the wedding was over, Jacob, the deceiver, found he’d been deceived! According to oriental custom, the older daughter must be married before the younger, and Laban passed off Leah as the bride. I wondered how this could be possible, but after seeing pictures of how completely brides were covered for the wedding, I understood. Laban agreed for Jacob to have Rachel for a second wife if he worked seven more years–which he did.

After about 20 years of working for his uncle, Jacob had accumulated much livestock and wealth. Laban’s sons resented him, so Jacob decided it was time to take his wives and children and go back to his native land. He was afraid Esau would kill him, and after days of travel with herds of animals plus his wives, children, and servants, they were getting close to Esau’s area. That night Jacob had his second encounter with God. In a lonely forest, he wrestled with an angel. As dawn was approaching, the angel said, “Let me go!” but Jacob tightened his hold. “I will not let you go until you bless me!” he said. The angel changed Jacob’s name (Deceiver) to Israel (One who prevails with God) “because you have struggled with God and prevailed” (Gen. 32:29). The angel touched Jacob’s hip and displaced it, so that he limped the rest of his life. The old Jacob was defeated and exhausted; but a new Jacob now existed. He held on to God, clinging to Him, clutching Him tightly. “Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘…I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared’” (Gen. 32:30).

Apparently, Esau had no interest in or desire for God. He didn’t value his opportunity to be in the line that brought Jesus into human history. He lost his chance to be a blessing. He chose the temporal over the eternal. Jacob had to experience painful lessons, but his desire for God enabled God to use him. God will not change our past, but He can and will forgive our failures and help us please Him.

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Personal Notes: After several days of gray skies, we had a very welcome sunny Sunday afternoon. Son Jon and grandchildren Andrew and Elizabeth came Saturday.

We had a delayed Christmas with daughter Melinda. Daughter-in-law Amy is back at work teaching younger children, and she did not make the trip. We missed her, but wish her the best in her work. Technical difficulties with my computer have been very troubling for the past two weeks. Things I had been able to do before no longer worked. Jon and Andrew changed some programs, and it is now working. They tell me the problem is that my computer is too old, and the programs I was using are no longer being supported. I didn’t want to hear that as learning new programs is hard for me, and the cost of a new computer a bit shocking. So for now, I’m leaving the problem in God’s hands. Perhaps I’ve finished what He intended for me to do.

Thanks for your comments on my blog. Also, I appreciate hearing from each of you, whether by e-mail, snail-mail or greeting cards. I pray for God to show His love and power to those reading the blog. Trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us home to Our Father’s House! Peace, jwb

Walking On Troubled Waters

Sunday Chronicles #229 1/03/21

Welcome to 2021! Also welcome in Springfield, MO, this Sunday afternoon is sunshine which has melted the light ice/snow that made travel hazardous for several days. I don’t know how your year began, but freezing rain and snow flurries ushered in January 1 and caused power outages. Here at Maranatha we spent most of New Year’s Day with no electricity. Flashlights and other battery-powered devices helped us navigate our apartments, but if a vendor had come in with hot chocolate or coffee, he could have named his price! Finally, our lights and heat were restored in the early evening of January 1, but parts of Springfield were still in the dark Saturday night.

This week I did some devotional reading in one of Max Lacado’s books, and I’ve been mulling over a story he used to illustrate a truth. His characters were three fishermen living on an island where ships stopped to refuel. While the ship was being serviced, a bishop, traveling on the ship to visit Christians in various parts of the world, got off to walk about the island and met the three fishermen. They were delighted to actually see a bishop and told him they were Christians. He was surprised to find Christians in such a remote place and in examining their faith, he asked them how they prayed. Apparently, they had some knowledge of God in three persons, (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit) because their prayer was “We are three; You are three; have mercy on us.” The bishop, wishing to enlarge their faith, spent the time he had with them teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. They learned quickly and memorized the prayer by the time the bishop had to re-board the ship.

Weeks later, on its return voyage, the ship stopped at the same island. Passengers, including the bishop, were gathered on the deck. As the ship entered the harbor, the three fishermen came walking on the water to meet them. When in hailing distance, they called out: “Bishop, we come hurry to meet you. We forget part of lovely prayer you taught us about our Father in heaven. Please tell us again how to pray.” Humbled, the bishop replied, “My friends, go back to your homes and when you pray, say ‘We are three; you are three; have mercy on us!’”

Sometimes religious people make following Jesus more complicated than God intended. Only one thing is needed for a person to come into fellowship with Jesus: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (see Rom. 10:9-13.). Those who seek Him will find Him. God has already done His part by sending His Son to be our Savior (see John 3:16-21).

When God brought His people, the Israelites, out of Egypt, He met with them at Mt. Sinai and gave them instructions on how to live. These laws, which we call the 10 Commandments, are recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. They are quite simple; even a child can understand them. But as centuries went by, Jewish religious scholars added extensive explanations and more do’s and don’ts until by the time of Jesus they had developed a long and complicated system of religious law. Chapter 23 of Matthew contains Jesus’ condemnation of those who make rules to block people out of God’s Kingdom.

Part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to teach us what pleases God. If you are a Christian and do or say something that displeases God, the Spirit will whisper correction in your heart. Pastors and other mature Christians may be used of the Spirit in this way to help believers, but they must be sure they are ministering in love. (See Luke 11:42-45) Read Acts 8:26-38 to see how the Spirit used Philip to minister to an Ethiopian official. 

Our nation is in a time of distress. Those of us who represent Jesus in our homes and communities need to pray that God will use us to walk on troubled waters, empowered by God to bring the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit to hurting hearts. If we do this, 2021 will be a year of blessing for our nation. Peace, jwb

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Personal Notes: Thanks for the many Christmas greetings. I’m still catching up! They have helped me through some lonely days. Jon and family have not yet been able to come. We may have to complete Christmas by mail or else have Christmas in July! The weather has added to my arthritis problems, and my “slow” is now “slower.” I work to complete exercises each day, trying to keep my body with some moveable parts! (My tongue seems O.K.) The birds enjoy the feeders, and I enjoy the birds. Yesterday, a dove visited the patio and red birds are daily guests. “Just remember in His Word how He feeds the little birds…” To both birds and old people, He is faithful! Praying God’s blessings for each of you….jwb