What Is A Christian To Do?

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Hate crimes, police shootings, terrorist attacks and injured stray cats are all recent events that have filled me with sadness. And yes, I purposely included cats in the same sentence as the lives of human beings. The reason why is because the cat incident hit the closest to my physical home.

Our backyard borders a small patch of trees and a drainage creek. We see our share of animals pass through. The stray cat was a new visitor. It looped back around to park his weary body under our front porch glider. I could see his matted fur and the swarm of flies that followed him as he oozed infection onto the concrete.

It was not a problem I expected to see in our backyard. We shooed him away, but he kept inching his way back until he found his familiar spot on the front porch again. Truth be told, I didn’t want this problem hanging around my house or present in my life.

I did the Christian thing and prayed for the cat. I prayed that the cat would simply disappear. I prayed for the cat’s suffering to end. I wrestled with Christian guilt because truth-be-told, I wished the cat hadn’t showed up here. In the end, the cat did not hear my prayers. He stayed where I could no longer ignore him.

We asked neighbors if they knew the cat’s owner. No one claimed the cat. I didn’t have to imagine their relief that this cat ended up in our yard and not in their yard. The cat was still our problem.

Eventually, we transported the cat to a local animal shelter. The employee examined the cat and used a sensor to detect a microchip. My heart lept just a little when she reported that there was a microchip. There was real hope to reunite cat and owner. Most likely, I will never know the end of this story. However, I can find some solace in the fact that we did something to potentially improve the cat’s circumstances.

Sometimes the problems in this world feel like that injured stray cat. We didn’t ask for the problem. We don’t want to deal with the problem. We don’t have the resources to fix the problem. Or worse yet, maybe we simply don’t care about the problems because it doesn’t directly affect our day-to-day lives.

The Bible has it right: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act (Proverbs 3:27). All of us have more power than we realize. Everyone deserves our good. Jesus shows us the better way: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36.) May we look upon others with compassion and love rather than with intolerance and hate.

The best expression of faith that I can come up with is to show kindness in the moment. It may not change the world, but it can offer hope for that given moment. Maybe that is the best any of us can do on our own. We show kindness and hope that together with the kindness of others, God uses those moments to become a movement of love that changes the world.

The Math Doesn’t Add Up

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Math is orderly and predictable in how it describes complex circumstances. I like math! Math has always been relatively easy for me. This explains why I became an engineer, married an engineer, and have two sons who chose math-related careers (engineering and actuarial science.)

Only one math class tripped me up in college: differential equations. I still managed to pull off an “A,” but I worked harder than I ever had to in a math class. Now that I am older and long since removed from my college days, I keep coming across math that causes me to stumble. The issue is not the application of differential equations as I haven’t used it since that class! The heart of my problem is that the math doesn’t add up: plus one minus one does not equal zero. Zero implies neutrality. You are not in the black or in the red as the plusses and minuses even out.

The year that my brother-in-law died at 52 years old is the same year that the first great-grandchild was born. We still had the same number of people at family get-togethers, but everything had changed. Of course, there was the surplus of joy in having a little one around again. The many pictures of four generations together are evidence of the new life in our family.  However, there is also a void that the number zero does not encompass. It is a gap in our hearts and a missing smile in pictures of the new family memories we make.

I see the same math in the cancer ministry I lead. A survivor succumbs to cancer and I enroll another survivor just starting their cancer journey. Our numbers stay the same, but the math doesn’t do justice for the emotional fall-out. Math doesn’t capture the hurt that zero brings. We acutely feel the loss through a survivor’s death and the pain that gain brings when another person is diagnosed with cancer.

Those are the times that textbook math doesn’t add up for me. I am reminded that these moments are when my education really begins. God opens my eyes to His math based on His perfection. Zero doesn’t exist when I trust in the completeness of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God fills voids with ever-increasing gains of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The negative is turned into a positive by God’s supernatural touch.

God’s math doesn’t have to make sense on paper for God prefers to permanently write it on our hearts. As we embrace His new math, God reveals wisdom and reassures with mercy. Finally, a math education that I can actually apply to my life!

Philippians 3:8

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Galatians 5:6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

 

 

 

Chance Connections

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It caught me off-guard. I was in a paper store attending a free “Make It, Take It” card-making session. One of the employees was helping the teacher at the table where I was seated. As the employee’s hands moved, her ring finger caught my attention.

I asked to see her wedding ring up-close. Sure enough, her ring brought back memories. My fiancé (now husband) included me when it was time to go jewelry-shopping. I was instantly drawn to an engagement ring with a single diamond and a matching wedding band with a chip diamond. The uniqueness of the rings’ finish hooked me. The rings have a split design with contrasting brushed and polished finishes. I had not seen another ring like it in twenty-eight years until that day at the paper store.

I just had to know more about her wedding ring story. We compared notes like giddy high school girls showing off their boyfriends’ class rings that they had received. We were married a year apart in neighboring states. She had a different style of wedding band while mine was bought as part of a set. It was a fun connection in an otherwise typical day. I walked out of the store smiling at this chance connection that God wove together.

For a moment, I thought that maybe God had given me a glimpse of heaven. We won’t meet a stranger in heaven because we will discover connections we were unaware of while in our physical bodies. We will be amazed with connections that God used to encourage, to mature, and to love on His people in preparation for heaven. We will learn how every little act of obedience and service to God resulted in a connection that will be celebrated in heaven.

On earth, our most basic connection is our shared sin against God. God’s heart is to connect us to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses our faith to bind us to God and Jesus. This special connection that begins on earth will take us into heaven’s glory with many more stories of God-ordained connections.

 

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. Thy were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Connections That Entangle The Heart

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Note: Donna Cronk recently shared her guest blog, Friendship is One of Life’s Sweet Places.  This was my guest post on Donna’s blog to share my perspective on our unique connections. Thank you Donna for a friendship that continues to grow and entangle our lives and hearts!  

Connections are our sense of belonging. We have connections from our tight-knit circles to ever-expanding circles that eventually connect us with people throughout the world.  A week ago, I was invited to spend time with one of my Indiana connections: Donna Cronk.

Donna was launching the “book tour” for her sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. The venue was the aftercare group at the local funeral home in New Castle, Indiana. Witnessing her connections prompted me to reflect on our connection through the years.

I trace our connection back to our boys growing up together in the same school district, playing on the same sports teams, and living on the same street. We were friendly neighbors busy with life. Donna likes to remind me that Carriage Lane was not the place where we first met. Over 26 years ago, we were in the same Sunday school class at the same local church.

In a way, our connection has also been a journey of faith where God kept putting us together for a reason. God eventually revealed the reason a couple of years ago, when we shared our mutual desire to self-publish a book. In practice, the enduring connection has been our shared love of writing.

Writing was natural for Donna as she went to college for journalism and has been a community journalist for over 27 years in one Indiana town and county. Writing was never on my radar given my engineering background with its focus on numbers and logic. I was the stereotypical engineer. I never aspired to be a writer and I did not care about writing, other than what was necessary to complete an assignment.

Hence the surprise when shortly after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 1994, God prompted me to write. God was very specific. I was to write devotions for our church’s monthly newsletter. When I approached my pastor, Dick said “Yes” and allowed God to use me. Pastor Dick’s encouragement enabled me to “blossom where I was planted!”

Donna’s recently published book was the day’s connection for the crowd that attended her new presentation. As I was introduced to people, I asked, “So how do you know Donna?” Some connections were common to all of us: work-related circles with both current and former co-workers. Other connections were more specific to the book: editors, reviewers, fellow self-published authors, and readers who wanted to know what happened next in the Sweetland story. It was a friendly crowd with people Donna knew and friends of friends that became part of Donna’s new connections.

Donna shared her presentation, “Bloom Before You Are Planted!” Her message reminded us that God has good plans for each one of us. The deeper take-away involved self-reflection. Am I paying attention to God’s nudges? Will I act on the seeds that God plants in my heart? Do I embrace God’s joy for my growth? Will I praise God for His beauty inside of me, waiting to bloom in the perfect season?

After Donna’s program, she and I enjoyed our unique connection by simply sitting and chatting for hours. We covered much territory, revisiting old connections and discovering new connections. Finally, it was time to walk out to our cars and say goodbye for the day.

That’s when I remembered my family cookbook that made the trip with me. Over the previous six-and-a-half hours, I had completely forgotten about the cookbook I wanted to share with Donna. Conversations about family, recipes, memories, and traditions are some of our favorite connections.

I was struck once again by the nature of genuine connections. The time goes by too quickly and we are left with a longing for the next visit. The best connections always explore the nuances of life and entangle hearts!

 

2 John 12

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

 

 

 

Friendship Is One Of Life’s Sweet Places by Guest Blogger Donna Cronk

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Although I am the taller of the two of us, I look up to my friend Donna Cronk. She repeatedly has said, “Yes!” to God and stepped out in bold faith. God has given me the special gift to be a small part of those adventures and to experience the excitement of God doing something new in Donna’s life. Donna slows down enough to write this guest post. 

Friendship Is One Of Life’s Sweet Places By Donna Cronk

Are you ever amazed at how God works? I sure am.

For years, Debbie McCray was a friendly neighbor down my street. She was Andy and Ben’s mom, and their home was one of those lovely “safe places” where I knew my son was safe and happy when there to play with her sons. When life moved the family from Indiana, I never expected to hear from, let alone see them again.

This is apparently where God chuckled.

Many years later, ten perhaps, and I’m not even sure quite how (hear Him laugh?) Debbie and I started emailing each other. It wasn’t so much, or even at all, about rehashing life on our familiar lane, or detailing about what our sons were now up to. No, our cyber chats were about writing.

Debbie listened and commented with helpful prompts and good sense when I shared that I was writing my first women’s Christian fiction novel, “Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast.” And when Amazon put it up on its website, she even saw it –and bought a copy – before I knew it had gone “live.”

But a year or so ago, our friendship took an advanced turn. Debbie allowed me the privilege of editing a project of hers. As a writer of newspaper and magazine articles, and now two novels, I know firsthand that it is a big deal to entrust my labored-over words with an editor. It’s also a risk because an editor’s job is to question, find flaws, attempt sharpening and tightening copy. It can be a painful process for both writer and editor. Usually it’s not something friends should probably tackle together.

Yet I knew that I would treasure Debbie returning the favor and editing my new book’s manuscript. My book, the newly published “That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland,” went through three editors, each assigned with specific tasks in the project. Debbie’s was to react and provide general suggestions, point out any problem areas, but most specifically, to look at it with spiritual eyes and recommend scriptures that might inform each of the chapters.

She did a beautiful job. There was one area of the story, a turning point, really, where the lead character, Samantha, experienced a meeting of the minds with her boarder after they started out with a tense relationship. Debbie gently pointed out that she wasn’t quite feeling the specifics of that turning point.

Her nudge sent me back to the manuscript where I added a more direct change in their relationship. It greatly helped move the story forward. In fact, it was an essential edit.

As readers of Debbie’s blog, you might enjoy seeing this other side of your friend: that of editor. I asked Debbie if I could write this piece. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit this up front: I’m hoping you might consider having a look at my book. You can read all about it on Amazon … as well as Debbie’s comments about it in the book description there.

But I also wanted to thank Debbie publicly for her role in this book. Thank you, Debbie.

And Lord, I am amazed. Even when Debbie and her family lived on the same lane and then moved away, You were not done with our overlapping stories. You even knew that mine would be called “That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.”

Donna Cronk still lives in Pendleton, Indiana. She blogs at www.donnacronk.com. Contact her on her Facebook author page at Donna Cronk. And if you read her new book, please share with her what you think.

 

 

Endurance Can Speak Volumes About Faith

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My stomach didn’t feel right. It wasn’t long afterwards that something I caught or ate fully manifested itself. The worst of it gradually subsided over the next four days. However, new symptoms appeared. I was very hungry. I was tired of being lethargic. I longed for the motivation to accomplish something on my to-do list. I was bored of daytime television. Plain and simple, I was grumpy!

I knew this detour of sickness would be short-lived and minor in the big picture of my life. Why is it so hard to endure when I am in the midst of troubling circumstances? Why do I struggle to gracefully handle a couple of bad days?

I want to be one that rises to the occasion and follows the examples shared in the Bible of how to endure suffering. Jesus knew the depths of suffering, punctuated by separation from His Father, yet never sinned. Once Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus, his life became very messy with opportunities seized to glorify God. Endurance can speak volumes about one’s faith.

Maybe you are like me and still learning how to endure joyfully. God uses our circumstances to remind us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. May the experiences we would rather avoid draw us closer to God’s heart.

The following principles have helped me to strive for endurance with patience and joy.

1) Embrace Suffering:

Or perhaps more aptly described: give into it. There are times when we are to put everything else on hold and focus on the suffering in order to rest and heal.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

2) Make the Most of Suffering

Suffering is oftentimes the best platform to share our faith. People are paying attention to your life and want to know the reason for your hope.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and  respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

3) Pace Yourself

Rely on God’s grace for your good and remove your expectations. We are to desire more of God’s agenda and less of ours.

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

4) Reach Out to Others

Ask for prayers. We can’t endure in our own strength as life is too hard. Victory comes through our prayers and the prayers of others.

As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. (Exodus 17:11-12)

5) Keep Praising God

Worship fixes our eyes on Him, softens our hearts to receive, and causes joy to well up from deep inside.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

6) Trust God

We don’t have to figure it all out to endure. Rather, we trust that God has it all figured out and is using our circumstances for His good.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

 

 

 

Sharing Burdens One Card At A Time

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Death leaves tangible voids in life. It hurts to see others hurt. We long to keep the tears from falling, but it doesn’t work. The grief of loss overwhelms and we join in with the tears. We use euphemisms to convince ourselves and others. “Time heals everything.” “It gets easier with time.” We know it is a lie as the pain still feels raw and grief erupts from deep inside.

We feel helpless so we pray. We feel powerless, so we pray some more. We want to comfort in the moment. We listen with hugs and empathize with silence. Words would betray us, if we think we can truly understand the intensity of their loss. We feel inadequate and long to do more, to just do something. But what?

At first it stirred in my heart and later was confirmed with the young widow. It was the comfort I could extend that perfectly suited my personality. I committed to sending a card once a week for a year. I have two more cards to send out as we are almost to the one year anniversary of her husband’s death.

The cards are not meant to be a reminder of her loss. Instead, the cards are a reminder that I remember her loss, I am thinking of her, I prayed for her, and I love her. Some cards were long as one would expect from a writer, others were one-sentence short, some funny, and others simply sweet. God answered my prayers and used these cards at just the right time in the widow’s week. Her burdens were shared one card at a time.

My sister-in-law, and really our entire family, will make it through the year. Sending cards helped me to work through my own grief, one card at a time. The gift of comfort I could share was a box full of love expressed through those cards. God’s gift will always be the comfort that fills the voids of our lives. His joy and His hope carries our burdens and ushers in our healing.

 

Proverbs 14:13

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.

 

Psalm 56:8

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?

 

 

The Best Answer Is God!

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They showed up with no note or name attached. An anonymous donor dropped off a big bag of cards for our ministry that supports cancer survivors. The cards were beautiful with themes and messages for every occasion and age of recipient.

There were over 125 hand-crafted cards in that bag. I was in awe that someone touched every single card and poured their time, energy, and money into those cards. Then, that person gave the bunch away without any strings attached. I wish I knew who to thank. I want to send them a card, give them a hug, and let them know the blessings their cards will be for our cancer survivors.

In the book of Acts, the men of Athens didn’t know who to worship. As a result, they filled their city with many idols. In Acts 17:23, the Apostle Paul connects the dots for the people: For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

As Christians, we know who to worship: God the Father. We don’t have to wonder if God loves us for we are God’s favorite creation made in His image. We know the depth of God’s love through His Son Jesus Christ who died for our sins. In a world with more questions than answers and more doubts than certainties, God speaks truth deep into our hearts. Jesus’ resurrection cements our eternal hope in God.

Paul expressed it best in Acts 17:24-25, 28: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else… ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

The answer to my question of who to thank is God. My gratitude for the cards is lifted up as praise to God for meeting the ministry’s needs with bountiful and oftentimes, surprise blessings. God connects people in unique ways to serve Him and share the love of Jesus with others. God even uses a piece of decorated card stock to let us know that He is always the best answer!

 

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bucket List Is Nothing New!

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According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a bucket list is, “a list of things that one has not done before, but wants to do before dying.” What comes to your mind when you hear bucket list?

For some people, that bucket list consists of travel to an exotic foreign country or the thrill of doing something crazy (to the rest of us) like skydiving or bungee jumping. Others have it in their hearts to self-publish a book including their devotions (this is on my bucket list), life stories, hobbies, or passions. The inspiration for bucket lists can seem endless!

My dear friend and fellow blogger Donna Cronk (www.donnacronk.com) has turned her bucket list of opening a bed and breakfast in her hometown into two novels: Sweetland of Liberty (2014) and That Sweet Spot (to be published this year.) We dream, talk, and even write about our bucket lists.

The idea of a bucket list is nothing new. Examine this passage from Luke in the Bible and you will recognize the feelings evoked by the desire and the fulfillment of a bucket list item. Luke 2:25-32: Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

The Holy Spirit placed that overwhelming desire in Simeon’s heart to see the Lord’s Christ before he died. Simeon fulfilled his bucket list by being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s nudging. Simeon showed up at the temple with expectancy. He embraced his bucket list and praised God for granting his heart’s deepest longing. We hear the joy in Simeon’s response, “You now dismiss your servant in peace.” Paraphrasing in other words, “My bucket list is completed. I can die in peace now.”

What desires has God placed in your heart? Are you listening for the Holy Spirit’s confirmation to realize that dream in God’s perfect timing? Are you open to the new experiences that God wants to bless you with?

God gives us the possibility to dream big. Bring your heart to God and let Him transform you with a bucket list that will thrill and fulfill you. Like Simeon, a personal experience with the Lord’s Christ is to be at the top of the list!

Luke 1:27

For nothing is impossible with God.

 

Luke 18:27

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

 

What Is In The Name?

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Pale honey was the color I carefully chose. Anything would have been better than the color we inherited from the previous homeowners. The main bathroom made a statement with bright red sponge-painted on stark white walls.

Pale honey was not an easy decision. I explored color palettes and imagined. I taped paint chips to the walls. I purchased samples and painted swatches to see the actual colors in my actual room. I literally pondered the decision for months as the project slowly moved up in priority on our to-do list.

My husband remarked that I was giddy in anticipation. It took washing, spackling, sanding, two coats of primer and two coats of paint to re-do the bathroom walls. Now that all the walls are pale honey, it looks more yellow and less pale honey in my eyes. The lighting and room configuration affected my perspective. I am a little disappointed as I had to adjust my expectation to a slightly different reality.

Has that ever happened to you in your faith? We read, study, hear, and talk about Jesus. In our minds, we form expectations for who Jesus is and can be to us up-close and personal. We apply Jesus to our lives and can still feel disappointed by the results.

If you have ever felt this way, my advice to you is to persevere. We know that God is the giver of all good gifts. The Father’s best gift to us is Jesus Christ. God does not change like shifting shadows. It is our perspective that needs to be adjusted to His timing and His means.

God leads us into His newness. We choose to let go of the old. God’s Word challenges our human thinking. We choose His truth through faith in His Son Jesus. God takes us by surprise. We choose to embrace the adventures along God’s path. God requires more than we feel capable of giving. We choose to endure because Jesus endured the cross.

The name that changes and defines our life’s makeover is Jesus. For Jesus is the sweetest name that brings the brightness of the Son into our homes, lives, minds, and ultimately our hearts.

James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 

Acts 4:12

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.