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Stepping Light-ly

Well people, there’s been so much troublesome news this week, I decided I needed a little enlightenment. And the timing couldn’t have been better, since on Sunday, Tony preached about that very thing: light.

I’m reminded of a time 47 years ago when we were in Zambia, Africa. A fascinating man by the name of Dr. Herbert F. Mitchell came through town on a mission trip.  He had just retired from many years at NASA where he worked as a space scientist. In fact, his work was crucial to the Apollo moon project, playing a big role in insuring that the astronauts got to the moon and back safely.

His specific job was to calculate all the orbital information needed, a task that was built around Einstein’s theory of relativity. Remember that famous formula? E=MC2, or in other words, Energy (E) is equal to Mass (M) times the speed of light squared. Yeah, if you’re like me, that doesn’t tell me a whole lot, either. But according to Dr. Mitchell, we would have never gone into space or set foot on the moon without that insight from Einstein.

After retiring, Dr Mitchell decided to visit as much of the world as he could, sharing that information and comparing it to Scripture. He began by reading from 1John 1:5, This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

“We need to understand,” he said, “that when John wrote those words, he was making an analogy that would have been meaningless before Einstein made his discovery in 1938.”  Then he went on to explain that “light” is made up of five specific properties. Here’s the first one:

Light is the source of all Life.

I had to think about that for awhile, but it’s true; If there’s no light, there’s no life. That fact was made clear to me during our last five years in Japan, when we lived in a tiny apartment in Tokyo, a city of 39 million people.  Our bedroom window, and every other window except one, faced the stair well and inner courtyard, so it was pretty much dark all the time. I soon discovered that if I was going to ‘come to life’ in the mornings, I was going to need some help. So my loving husband rigged up a desk lamp on a timer to come on at exactly 6AM.  I didn’t need an alarm clock, I needed a reason to live, and it worked like a charm.

Ah, but you say, “What about the bottom of the ocean where sea creatures lurk who have never seen the light? Well, for one thing, even deep sea critters have to eat, and what they feed on are all those things that live way up in the light. When they die, they drift down to the bottom of the sea, a veritable smorgasbord from above. And it’s also worth noting that those guys have their own light sources in the form of luminescent fish and rocks that are all around them in abundance. The same applies to underground caves where all manner of creepy crawlies thrive without sunlight, but depend on luminescent rocks.

The Bible underlines this first property of light time and again, beginning with the first recorded words out of the mouth of God in Genesis one, “Let there be light”.  Again in Matthew 5:14, Jesus calls to us by saying “The city built on the hill cannot be hidden”, and urges us to “let our little lights shine”. We are in fact, according to Jesus, “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

So, would you like to know more? Tune in next week, and I’ll give you the second property of light, and how it describes God perfectly.

Brighter days ahead! Have a ‘Bright Week”!

Marsha

Happy New Year!

Good Morning and Happy New Year!

Today I’m writing you a sort of ‘intermission’ between the years.  If, like us, you’re sort of spinning around and wondering what happened, then join the club.

2020 is over, proving, as many said, we now have valid proof that  “2020 Won”. (or as it’s written, 2021).

To bring that fact home, we had a vacation of sorts that was not the vacation we were planning.  Anyone else out there feeling the same? We were scheduled to visit a friend an airplane ride away, but at the last minute chickened out. It was only a domestic flight, but with the constantly changing border restrictions between prefectures, we were scared of getting stranded, either unable to come back home or else coming home to a government-enforced quarantine, to the tune of around $5000 for the two of us.

Now don’t laugh or mock us, but we HAD to leave our house, certainly not because we needed a vacation, but because I’d rented out OUR house on Airbnb and we had to vacate.  There is a long explanation for this; the week between Christmas and New Years is the peak of summer and when almost all Australians have a break from work (think 4th of July weekend).  Because of this, everyone’s looking for accommodation, and almost everyone wants to be where we live here in the Gold Coast.  People will pay enough in that week, especially for a whole home, that you can easily pay your taxes for the entire year with the profits.  Plus, it gives this old missionary a chance to do a deep clean and pack up and sort, taking time to evaluate the year’s accumulation of stuff.

So on that note, since we had to leave and had nowhere to go, I picked up the phone and called around, asking for somewhere that had cancellations, since our border to New South Wales had suddenly slammed shut just a few days before.

I know you Americans are shaking your heads at our concern Down Under, compared to the horrible reports that are coming down from the Northern Hemisphere. And you may have a point. I just pulled all the numbers I could find and came up with this thumbnail scorecard:

In Australia, we’ve had a total of 909 deaths attributed directly to Covid. With a population of 25,672,000, that comes out to about one death per 28,242 people. Keep in mind that at least three fourths of all Australians live way out in the country and hardly ever come in contact with anyone. Plus, while the Northern Hemisphere is in the throes of winter, we’re having a daily bake off of any germs that come by.

In the United States, I’m told that over 350,000 have died so far; with a population of 328,239,523, that comes to one death per 937 people.

With a worldwide population of over 7.6 billion and total Covid deaths recorded of 1.8 million, that comes to one death every 425 people.

Now, the skeptic in me wants to question the numbers, but I think the bottom line remains: our numbers here with a death ratio of 1:28,242 isn’t that bad, but we realize you folks in the USA are suffering, and our hearts go out to you. A church friend of ours from our youth died just before Christmas, making him the first one we personally knew to succumb to this pandemic.

But let me get back to more trivial things like where to go when our options were limited. My search finally landed a timeshare that somebody had been forced to cancel, so we booked it for half the going rate. It was just 10 miles from our house, in a beach area that we’d never visited (there’s too many to count right here on the Gold Coast).  Absolutely beautiful!  Soon the kids got wind of our good fortune and loaded up (at our invitation) and came with lots of food and sleeping bags. It was a week to remember.

In a lot of ways, I think a few days with the grandkids can be compared to last year, when we didn’t know what to expect from day to day. Some moments were Hallmark, Kodak, and “priceless”. Other times, well, we found ourselves tempted to dangle them over the balcony. Come to think of it, they would probably have been delighted, since they spent a great deal of their time trying to do just that.

But like last year, we mostly found ourselves thanking God for every moment and seeing how He has total control, loving and caring for us. I know we will look back on this event with smiles on our faces, and even possibly, want to do it again.

On that note, we moved into the New Year, complete with some beautiful little local fireworks at 9:00pm for us all to watch.

As I mentioned last week, Nicki’s pregnancy continues to be a joy for us, and we’ve started a series called “Letters to Schnicklefritz”, which we’ll be sending to the baby for the next 6 months or so.  Hopefully, it’s a niche that might attract a publisher, especially if you have an uncle or neighbor who is a publisher and want to recommend us to him.  So if you’d like to read these, send me your details and we’ll get you on the list to read the upcoming ones every Wednesday till July.

Next week I’m going to start a series here that Tony is currently preaching about “Light”.  I think it’ll be interesting, as some of us enjoy 4:30AM light in the heat of summer and the rest of you snuggle next to the fire trying to remember brighter days.

Cherrio………….and all the best for 2021

Marsha

The Best Christmas Present

Greetings from Sunny and Hot Australia!

I hope you all had the best Christmas ever. I know we did! Why, you ask?

You see, about 10 years ago our wonderful prospective son-in-love proposed to our daughter from the worship team stage at our church, complete with big screen video and lots of fanfare

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Fast forward to Christmas day this year, where we sat before that same stage and watched in joy as daughter, her husband, both brother-in-law and father-in-law all joined together with the worship team to lead us in a medley of beautiful Christmas carols. Some of the Pennycuick family had driven almost a thousand miles to get there. They came from New South Wales, the outback town of Broken Hill where there have been something like TWO Covid cases, so they were able to get into Queensland. Mum and Dad didn’t have as far to come, but since they started just over the border in more civilized New South Wales, there were treated to some bureaucratic and complicated permissions to get certified to our (again) locked down prefecture.

But everyone agreed the trip was worth it, especially the newest member of the worship team, possibly kicking a foot to the music, who was announcing a forecasted arrival next July: BABY Pennycuick! Needless to say, we’re all dancing in the aisles (at least as much as good Baptists can dance).

So that’s the penultimate of our Christmas news.  Like most of us, it’s been quite a year, and one that most folks are happy to be looking at in the year-view mirror. But all in all, it’s been a good year. Tony is still apparently cancer-free and has gone back to being a part-time carnivore, finding that he didn’t lose his taste for unhealthy food.  So far, his only complaint as this year ends is a memorable case of sciatica resulting in back pain that has left him almost unable to walk. Any suggestions for home remedies out there? I teased him this morning, saying all he needed was a handkerchief pinned to his shirt to complete the picture. He failed to appreciate the humor.

We were reminded this week of the global crisis that still persists. A deacon in the church where I grew up whom I’ve always  enjoyed, was healthy and then suddenly died yesterday of Covid, … the first case of someone we actually knew well. Then another close friend told us of his failed marriage, totally blindsiding us, since they seemed to be the perfect couple.
What can we say about 2020? I suppose the same thing we can say each year since the Garden of Eden: Sin continues to break things, loved ones continue to come to the end of their days.

But literally “Thanks be to God”, Christ has come and continues to reach out to us in love, with hope and promise. Joys abound all around us, a reminder of His presence and mercy. And when the hard times bear down, we bear up, knowing that He has never forsaken us, and never will.

Christmas brought that reminder, and the memories of the season, of the Infant Savior of the world and His precious time here among us will gird us up for 2021. Bring it on, Lord. Come quickly!
Peace on Earth and pass the leftovers………..

Marsha

It’s Back (?)

We had the privilege of visiting Bethlehem a few years ago.  On our previous trips to Israel we’d been visiting missionary friends who lived in Nazareth.  They encouraged us to skip seeing it as the Catholics and ensuing tourists had completely over-built and over-glamorized the spot.

I guess they were right, but I was also glad I got to finally see it.  Yes, there’s a beautiful cathedral standing above the place where Jesus was born, but I have to thank the original Catholics, in the form of Helen. She was the mother of Constantine, the Roman Emperor, and when he became a Christian, he sent her to the Holy Land to ‘suss out’ all the holy sites before people completely forgot.  After all, it was already 300AD!  She travelled from village to village, meeting believers and listening to oral history, putting her mark (that of the Roman Empire) wherever she could.  Because of that, there is reason to believe that the CAVES under the cathedral, (that hadn’t yet been built) were places where the locals usually kept their stock. And these places would have made great alternatives when there was “no room in the inn”.

Actually, we were told on this latest trip that if you look into the history of the area, most stables were in fact caves or rocky enclosures.  It certainly makes sense when you realize that stones were the most common materials for building, much more than wood. Also another charm point of a cave or hollow is that it would be relatively cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

At any rate, as we climbed down into the cave under the cathedral, we could ‘picture’ that this would be a perfect, private and sheltered place to spend the night.  It would have had plenty of aroma, that’s for sure, but also safe and secluded. What a beautiful place for the Birth of a King!

I’ll never forget our first Christmas in Japan.  We’d been there 6 months and our son Trevor, aged 4, was already comfortable in Japanese, as he had been going to pre-school. We, on the other hand were wondering if we could ever even buy a loaf of bread…. in a bakery!  The adult brain is pretty well hardened, whereas kids like Trevor just started playing, not worrying about verbs and conjunctions and proper sentence structure.

Anyway, he announced one day that he was going be the leader of the Shepherd gang for the Christmas Pageant. And, he added with excitement, he had a speaking part!  I had a moment of horror at the entire community mocking my strange foreign child, but he did not disappoint.  On cue, he jumped up and said in a loud voice, “Sa!  Betsu-la-hamu iko!”  (“So! Let’s go to Bethlehem!”).  What a proud mom, what a great command!

Let’s GET TO BETHLEHEM!!

I’m sure you’ve heard on the news that somewhere in the world, tomorrow, the Winter Solstice, that the “star” the wise men followed as it came to rest over the Baby Jesus, will be making a rare appearance.  According to popular thought, it’s the alignment of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. I’ve done a little research and according to Google, the last recorded and visible alignment like this was in 1226 and the next one we might look forward to seeing is in 2288!  Might be worth dusting off the telescope.

At that time, back in the Middle East, the world wasn’t a very good place to be. There was plenty of political unrest and associated violence. Most people lived in poverty. Herod was stalking the wise men. The world at that time definitely needed a Savior!

And how have things changed since then? I think most of us might shudder at the thought of repeating 2020, and might be looking with a bit of fear and trepidation at 2021.

But then we’re reminded……… there IS a Savior!  He was born in Bethlehem for You and Me.

Mic. 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.”

Tony and I would like to wish you the most awe inspired Christmas ever. For us, there are a few items on the not so distant horizon that make us believe it’s going to be great year. We’ll tell you all about it … next time!

Marsha

Shepherds

Today is the third Sunday of Advent.  As I’ve said before, there are many ways to interpret these four Sundays leading up to Christmas, depending on your particular church’s traditions. In the circles we run with, the tendency is to focus on Prophesy, The Wise Men, The Shepherds and finally, Bethlehem.

Today, those Shepherds.  You’ll remember awhile back I told you how I’d handed the box of nativity decorations to my middle grandson (he was about six at the time), and asked him to set it up for me. The rest of us went about decorating and Ezekiel was left to his own devices.

He did an excellent job, carefully unwrapping and placing each figure in it’s “traditional” place…… until it came to the shepherds.

As you would expect, he had Mary and Joseph, placed well back in the stable, out of the cold.  The towering wise men were just arriving, along with their entourage of servants and camels. Other animals were placed here and there, some curious to see the Blessed Event, others looking uninterested.

Then there were the shepherds, taking no mind of the others, but crowded right up to the manger, blocking the view and in the process no doubt providing a measure of shelter from the cold. What I saw here in my grandson’s interpretation of the familiar scene, was the fact that he had actually listened to the story. Most Nativity scenes that I’ve observed (including my own) carefully have all the characters properly lined up as if getting ready for a family portrait. The center of attention, of course, is the Baby Jesus, looked upon by Joseph and Mary … carefully staged so that everyone is adequately visible.

But Ezekiel, in his childhood understanding, was not interested in portraits or stage plays. He thought, “Those shepherds were the first on the scene; it was cold; and I don’t care if you’re a Wise Man or a wise guy, you’ll have to wait your turn. And as I admired his craft, I concluded that this was probably more accurate than most traditional scenes we see every year. Granted, if he’d have been a little more theologically inclined, he might have left the wise men out there in the East for two or three more years. But some things just need compressing.

That scene led me to ponder those shepherds, and ask myself what was going on in their minds that night? I don’t think their lives were particularly exciting, except for the odd bear or lion from time to time to get their adrenaline running, but think about it: these guys had just been serenaded by ANGELS! In a sound and light show never before seen and so far never repeated, they were proclaiming that the Savior of Mankind had been born. And then, with the real “knock the socks off” moment, they were invited to a front row seat. If I were a shepherd that night, I think I would have been running, pushing, shoving, hang the formalities and move over. Wouldn’t you?

How would you feel if you got a special invitation to kneel at the foot of the Master? Would you stand looking outwards at the world around, give proper credence to any and all authority that happened to be present, and take your proper place so that all could see and admire the Miracle Child?  I don’t think so.

So what am I suggesting? Roll up your sleeves and grab for that last Christmas present on the shelf? C.S Lewis describes those Christians who are so caught up in their own personalities as “all elbows”. For them, the Nativity is something like an extension of their own lives … focused on Jesus, to be sure, but never failing to place themselves in a position where their own image can be seen.

As I look again at our Nativity this year, I’m going to try and get into the mind of each and every person standing or kneeling there. And come to think of it, I’m not going to dismiss the animals in my assessment. Just think, one of those donkeys in that stable might possibly have been the grandmother of the one who had never been ridden until the day in Jerusalem when a disciple came to his owner and, “The Master has need of him.” Obedient to a fault. I’ll take that over any wise man or woman. And possibly best represented in the lives of those shepherds.

I’d like to encourage us all, as we bustle and wrestle into the season, to think of that ‘one last gift’ we need to pick up and think of the ‘Best Gift of All’

Have a great week!

Marsha

Wise Men Still Seek Him

Today is the second Sunday of Advent.  If you didn’t read last week’s blog, you might want to catch up. My main blogspot is down for some reason, but you can still read it on www.mywoods.net .

Today’s subject is about the Wise Men, but let me start by telling you about a place we visited this last week. You guessed it, we’re ‘on the road again’. We and most of the country are all well and not suffering much from the virus except that we’re locked down in Australia, so many of us are having to find contentment in just ‘getting to know our country’.

To that end, Tony and I flew up (Thank you stewardess daughter for discounted tickets!) to Cairns, far north Queensland for a couple of weeks in the sun and tropics.

We visited an historical place called Paronella Park, which you might be able to find on Google. We would never have found it except for some Aussie friends who told us about it. It’s way off the beaten track on a narrow winding road that I’d call jungle, but the locals call it ’scrub’.  Anyway think hot and humid, filled with vines with names like ‘wait awhile’ and ‘lawyer’, since they’re both apparently fast growing and wanting to completely impede any progress. Also in the area is a nasty tree called the “back out” plant, since that’s all you can do if you ever get caught by it’s poisonous thorns.  Paronella Park is a heritage site, built by a Spaniard named Jose Paronella in the late 1920’s. Let me tell you the story.

In 1887, Jose was born into a family of many kids in Catalonia, in the northeast quadrant of Spain.   Growing up in a lower middle class family, he was barely educated when his mother died and he, in order to ease the burden, moved out to find a trade.  On his way out, a neighbor lady, who was a widow with a large brood of kids as well, arranged a marriage to one of her daughters.  Jose reluctantly agreed, but at the moment he was off to see the world, starting with Australia. They were engaged and he took off with a vague promise to return soon.

After a long and arduous ocean voyage, Jose arrived in Brisbane, Australia. Word soon came that there was lots of work in the mines and cane fields of the far north, so he jumped on the next buckboard and went “where the money was”.  After a brief stint in the mines, he decided to come out in the sunshine and try his hand as a sugar cane cutter. As you may know, this is some of the meanest work in the world. Accidents, disease, rats, snakes, and heat.  You name it, it happened.   Most of the workers were European immigrants, but he soon rose above the rest, working hard and learning rudimentary English as he struggled along.  Soon he was able to leave the backbreaking stuff to the rest. He actually bought, with money he’d saved, a small plot of land that he could develop himself and then sell it for a fast profit. He soon discovered that cutting cane was a lot easier than clearing land!

But Jose persevered, and soon became the proverbial  “poor boy works hard and makes good’.  By the time he was 34 he had bought, cleared, planted and then sold over 15 ‘farms’ , each time making a massive profit.  He was amazed at how much people would pay for a farm when all the initial hard work had been done.  He was now a wealthy man and could follow his ‘dream’ of building a Spanish park.  It would be as whimsical as his grandmother’s stories of castles and parks that had put wonder in his eyes as he sat at her knee.

He felt that it was finally the right time for a wife, so he went home to collect his fiancé.  Imagine his surprise after so many years, (although he’d never written even once, because, as I said, he hadn’t been much for school), when he found that she’d married long before and even had a child.  No worries, the family, not wanting to lose face on a deal, rustled around in the back and came out dragging another sister, 14 years younger than Jose, but with a light in her eyes that seemed to say, ‘get me out of this place!’

Jose and Margarita married within days and spent the next year touring all the castles and amusement parks of Europe (remember he was quite wealthy by now), before they came to Queensland to start hacking out another farm in the jungle. Margarita was only 22 but understood what she’d signed up for and became an integral part of everything from hard labor to fine cooking and careful administration.

Soon they found the piece of land they’d been looking for that best suited the park idea; he wrangled a deal and work began.  Then he, almost illiterate, figured out how to harness the beautiful local waterfall into a hydro electric plant. He sent to Germany for the machinery, and viola, 30 years before anything else in the area developed, he had electricity as well as plumbed and running water!

As you can imagine, people began to flock in.  The new “Paronella Park” was located on the only dirt tract that led to the end of the continent, and who wouldn’t, in the searing heat and discomfort of the early cars, not to mention the dress code of the 30’s,  just stop and have a swim in the lake, enjoy some ICE CREAM and wander thru the gardens?  By 1935 it was up and running and did so until the 70’s when the road was diverted, leaving Jose and his park in the middle of nowhere. Eventually the property came to ruin, was abandoned in the jungle, and most of the family died off.

But then in the early 90’s, another person with a vision bought the ruined park and, inch by inch, have worked to get it back to ’tourist ready’.  We enjoyed looking around, but found the ‘ice cream’ to be way too expensive now!

So… what’s this got to do with the Wise Men?  Easy.  They had a dream. Yet, unlike Jose, they were far from illiterate. They weren’t necessarily leaving a bad situation for a good one……or so they thought. However, after studying the wisdom of the time, they came to the realization that something better was coming, and they took a leap of faith and started in search of it.

And so as we prepare for Christmas, in the words of the author of Hebrews, let’s throw off the old and set forth for the goal…….

(Hebrews 12:1-2),

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Come Wise Men and Women! Come Lord Jesus!!

That Great Prophecy

Most of you know I grew up in the small mountain community of Evergreen, Colorado.  I have many fond memories of life at our Baptist church there, although I have to admit I’m somewhat conflicted these days. One day after I had moved off to school, they sold the property but moved the church building about 3 miles down the road. The new landowners, who happened to be the local government authorities, built a post office on the site. So now, whenever I step in to buy a stamp, I feel a little … worshipful?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that church life in Evergreen was a major part of life overall. They were relevant to just about everything we did, from weddings to funerals. Nearly every Saturday, there was something going on, such as ice cream socials, ski trips, or exploring nearby ghost towns in our four-wheel drives. Every Sunday morning found us in church for both Sunday school and Worship service, then back again in the evening for Training Union, followed by a lighter version of Worship that the youth particularly liked. Come to think of it, that’s where Tony and I met, and later married!

And hardly a month went by without some sort of traditional celebration to mark the season. Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Christmas and Easter, to name a few.

Wherever we’ve lived in the world since then, we’ve found opportunities for just about all the same holidays, albeit with a few subtle variations on that theme. Independence Day, for example, is not real big here in Australia, since every true blue Aussie still swears allegiance to the Queen. But we do have Anzac Day, to remember those Australian and New Zealand soldiers who gave their all for God and Country.

In the lead-in to Easter here, we hold on to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Moving to Christmas, we have 2 more full on services, first Christmas Eve on the 24th, and then c service on the early morning of the 25th.  Surrounding that, the four weeks leading up to Advent are observed.   This is a time when my fiercely anti-Catholic mother would be rolling over in her grave, and thinking that next we would be bowing to the Pope, but I’ve come to understand that the Advent tradition has stronger English roots than we’ve been exposed to in America, and am comforted that the word “Advent” means ‘coming’ in Latin.  Actually, I think getting yourself mentally prepared for Christmas isn’t a bad thing.

Tony started doing Advent services in Japan.  I don’t think he was the first, but our churches really seemed to appreciate it, especially since they are a people who like to be prepared.

Anyway, I thought I might share some of Tony’s particular Advent journey with you these 4 weeks before Christmas!  Can you believe it’s almost on us again?

So…………here’s Tony:

Hey, thanks for letting me cut in here. There are many different Advent traditions, so not one of them is wrong. What I’ve gone with are those celebrations that make more sense to me and can actually help us to prepare for Christmas. To set up for Advent, we would have four candles of various colors, but mostly green, red, gold and purple, surrounding a larger white candle in the center.

The first Sunday, we light the green one, taking us back to the green days of the Garden, and we remember the prophecies that led to the birth of Jesus. The first prophecy was given in Genesis 3:15, when Satan was promised an “enemy” who, although would have his heel bruised, would in turn crush the serpent’s head.

For the next several generations, one prophecy followed another, each one with a little more information about the coming Messiah. Satan tried his best to read the signs and head off his coming doom, but he missed it … by that much.

This Christmas, let’s look back on the prophecies that led up to this season. Then let’s look ahead to the prophecies still out there telling us about the world to come. God’s been faithful to His Word so far; no doubt He will continue the tradition!

I’ll be checking in for week two and three from Far North Queensland, again, we’re off for a trip.  We hope to see some more of this beautiful country as well as hopefully get some writing done.

Stay tuned and we’ll talk again soon.

Draw Swords

Does the expression, “Sword Drill” mean anything to you? If it does, then you’re probably a part of my generation. It used to be a regular part of any church program worth its salt, and I must say with some humility (ahem) that I ROCKED at Sword Drills.

To put it simply, you would gather a group of folks (usually the youth), and they would bring along their favorite Bible. When the leader called out, “Draw Swords”, we would hold our Bibles high over our heads.

Then the leader would call out a verse of Scripture, hesitate a moment, then say, “Go”. With no bookmarks or any other kind of “cheat sheet”, we would open our Bibles and look frantically for the verse. The first person to step forward and read it would get a point. Eventually, the drill came to a close, usually after the rookies who had no idea where “Habakkuk” was were weeded out, and the person with the most points won the game.

As I said,  (ahem) I excelled at the exercise, deriving some real self-esteem in an otherwise somewhat sparse childhood.

Now I have to admit: with today’s technology, there’s not so much call for “Sword Drill Champions”. Using the proper electronic device with filters installed, I expect that my grandson could run me in circles, locating any verse, in any translation, before I could bring my arm down. But hey! When the Apocalypse comes and our devices are useless, they’ll come crawling to me again!

But speaking of “swords”, that’s the last piece of armor that the Book of Ephesians talks about, and the last bit in this series I want to share with you. I think maybe it was left to the end because it’s one of the first OFFENSIVE pieces of armor.  The other pieces are designed specifically for protection, but a sword is all about taking it to the enemy. In the words of Inigo Montoya in that movie classic, The Princess Bride, “Very simple; pointy end toward the bad guy.”

As you know we have three little grandsons, and the youngest, Micah, turned 5 yesterday.  Perhaps because of his birth order, he almost always finds himself in a defensive role whenever he’s with his older brothers. But I think it’s interesting that he’s growing up before our eyes, and has been observed less and less on the receiving end and more on the giving end.

And he loves swords.

And it’s also amazing to see how many things in his life are now perceived as “sword material”. The other day he had not one but two of Tony’s long handled shoe horns, and was cutting a swath thru the house.  When it was time to leave, he begged to take them home because, in his words, he needed them to “train with”. If I were his older brothers, I might start to get worried at this stage.

Let’s look again to Ephesians 10:17, Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I’m really grateful that the “sword” Paul is talking about here is not the steel variety, but, quite simply, “the Word of God”, which, along with the Holy Spirit,  we already have.

But back again to the days of my childhood ‘sword drills”, one of my most precious prizes was a leather bound, beautiful Holman Bible of my very own. Unfortunately, it went missing during one of our many moves, but I think it must still exist somewhere.  I wonder where it is today and if it still has a story to tell?

So, as I already mentioned,  this is the last week I’ll write about the Armor of God. Thanksgiving is coming up in a few days and it’ll be interesting to see how we all handle that with the various restrictions.

Because Australia hasn’t legislated thankfulness with an appropriate holiday, we never get the chance to really blow out the stops with our friends and family. But thank goodness for Christian brothers and sisters in our weeknight Bible study who are now insisting that I make a Pumpkin Pie in deference to the season. They’ve never tasted such a thing, and can’t imagine what pumpkin would taste like as a sweet.  Hopefully, I’ll blow their socks off.
We ARE thankful for so many things and look forward to what we’ll encounter as we walk along this journey.
So here’s a recap of the Armor of God:

Ephesians 6:13, Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand firm.

I think you’ll all agree with me that this Thanksgiving, we may be needing to check all of our armor. It’s possible we’re going to need it more than ever.

Share your stories with me? They would be such a blessing!

Love ya,

Marsha

Check Your Brakes

I hope you’ve been enjoying this series on the “Armor of God”.  I’ve had lots of comments and opinions, leading to some great discussions! So now we’re ready to move to the last piece of armor, the “Helmet of Salvation”.

A few months ago one of our precious 14-year-old girls from church was over at a friends house, and it was suggested they take a bike ride. Not having her own, she quickly borrowed one, not knowing that the brakes were not working properly. Everything was fine, until they started down a steep hill. Both kids began picking up speed, having the time of their lives.

Until she noticed a curve in the road farther down.

Brakes were applied, and nothing happened, except even more speed. What followed were a few seconds of panic, during which time she could only pray as she her rode into a concrete wall.

By God’s grace an off duty fireman was passing by. Actually, there’re quite a few folks who are convinced that he was a guardian angel. At any rate, he was there to provide the help she needed before the ambulance arrived. The long and the short of it was that she broke her arm and almost every bone in her jaw and face.

But … and here’s my point today … she was wearing a helmet. And not only a physical one. She was immediately surrounded by the whole Christian community praying, sharing, working in so many ways to ensure that both she and her family had all the support they needed.

In three weeks (with a short break between surgeries to come home for Easter), she walked out of the hospital. Everyone was astonished because she has healed up so well that no one looking at her would realize what she had endured. She serves on our church’s music team, and every time we look at her, seeing the joy in her face, we’re reminded of God’s mercy and grace. She continues to be a real blessing to us all.

So…… it’s interesting isn’t it? When physical trauma comes your way, you can lose legs, arms, and spleens, but your head pretty much has to stay intact.  This armor we’ve been talking about these last few weeks has covered our body’s vitals, but when it comes to our capacity to think, make our muscles move, our eyes to see…….. so much of that depends on keeping the HEAD in good shape.

And my Bible says in Ephesians 6:17.  ”And accept salvation as a helmet”.

I don’t know of a child out there who gets his first little scooter bike and looks around for a helmet.  His PARENTS require that he wear one.  They make the decision to keep him safe.

I think it’s the same with this “Helmet of Salvation”.  We didn’t ask for it, we didn’t know we needed it…..but Romans 5:8 (one of my absolute favorites), says, “ But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t ‘remind’ God how much we needed it. He just sent his Son so that we’d have it.

Now I need to remember that I’m protected.  Inside my head today, there may be some fear and panic when I think of the state of the world, but inside my helmet of Salvation, I know that I have God’s heart.

And that makes all the difference.

Stay safe,

Marsha

Those Fiery Darts

Well, haven’t we all had a week to remember?  Whilst we remain fine, things around us are pointing to doom and gloom, at least as far as the world we understand.

And the trend seems to be global. Here in Australia as well as in the USA, the ‘more conservative’ factions were beaten out by liberal powers.  Not sure yet how that’s going to play out, but we’ll be praying for wisdom among our evangelical brothers and sisters who are convinced that the end is nigh. I did hear a remark the other day that I found both comforting and challenging. “Historically, persecution has never hurt the church.”

And then on top of all that uncertainty, another of our missionary kids from Japan and from son Nathan’s generation had a heart attack and died this week. I think that makes five from a close-knit group of friends who grew up together as part of a very special mission family. Suffice it to say, folks all over the globe have been crying on each other’s shoulders, separated by miles but closer than ever in His Spirit.

What better time to come back to our exploration of the ‘Armor of God’, even as we’re wondering if it might be coming in handy sooner rather than later!

Ephesians 6:16 “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

About those ‘flaming arrows’ …  what do you suppose those are in today’s world?  Those images play a pretty big part in the movies. The enemy presses on, coming closer and closer to the castle walls. The cowboys on horseback and the covered wagons take on the Indians: six-guns against flaming arrows. It’s always exciting to watch, but hey, do we really believe that the hero will succumb to those arrows?  Will those fiery shafts bring the battle to an end?

Usually not.

But what do they accomplish instead?  They set drawbridges and covered wagons on fire. In other words, they create DIVERSIONS!  Our hero can’t really focus on the enemy if the grain stores or the ammo dump is about to go up in flames.  Like it or not, he MUST divert his energies and deal with the situation at hand.

Can you see the connection to those images and the week we’ve just weathered?  Have we had some ‘flaming distractions’?  You bet we have. I’ve struggled to have a quiet time when all the while my mind is yelling at a friend whose political candidate is so misguided.  Where was the ‘peace’ I talked about last week?  Did I spread it or lose it?

Sadly, I need to get out my ‘Shield of Faith’ and polish it.  I need to REMEMBER that the battle we find ourselves in is not the end of the world. Until the Lord returns, we will always have Satan and his minions with us, each one loaded with a supply of fiery darts. And they’ll use every last one, if that’s what it takes to distract us from the real conflict.

Of course I want beautiful skies and smooth sailing, all to the sound of an appropriate soundtrack. But in reality, it’s just possible that I may have to ‘gut it out’ for awhile and watch for the fires that may spring up. With a firm grip on that Shield of Faith, I have nothing to fear and every reason to rejoice. Help is on the way!

Till next week, Marsha