The used up table

dining room table

I’ve been shopping for a new dining room table to replace the old table that’s been a steady fixture in our home for the last 20 years.  Shopping for furniture is stressful enough by itself, but I was not prepared for the emotional weight of it as well.

I looked at my old table with its scratches and worn chairs.  It needed to be replaced with something new and refreshing, but each time I tried to pick out a new table I hesitated with just a bit of melancholy.  I’ve served many meals around that table.  There have been Thanksgiving celebrations, birthday parties, moments of joy and even a few tears.  I remember a picture taken of me holding my two-day old baby son while sitting at that table.  Oh how I wish I could sit there now and have a nice talk with that young mom, and perhaps give her a little hug.  Throughout the years that followed, my son and I spent many evenings reviewing homework and studying for tests around that table.  I especially remember the pains of Algebra and Chemistry during the high school years.  We even had a large hole in the dining room wall from the constant banging of my son’s chair hitting against the wall in frustration.  That hole stayed there for over a year.  But he made it!  All of those scrapes and scratches and spots on the chairs are the well-earned medals of achievement of growing up.  My son is now in college and on his way to finding his own place in life; a path truly designed by the hand of God.

Now as I stroll through the furniture stores, all the new tables just look like cheap impostors to our home.  They don’t show the love from all the years gone by.  Our dining room table has always been cluttered with computers and books and printers for homework and other work.  We rarely used it for fine china and formal dining.  Yet time does not stop for any of us, no matter what our well-intentioned wishes may be.  We should happily cherish all those fond memories from the past, but also look forward to the future.  God has plans for us in every phase of our life.  Unlike my old used up table, we are not used up in God’s eyes.  He does not see our scratches and bumps, but only our potential.

After much deliberation and thought, I finally decided to go with a custom designed table and chairs where I can pick out every detail of the new table including the color, style, wood and shape.  Nothing ordinary will do.  I want something that will fit into our lives alongside the family photos and mementos, but also something strong and sturdy designed to carry us forward through the next 20 years with a fresh, bold outlook on the future.  It’s the same way in which God designs our lives too.

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Godliness with contentment is great gain.  I Timothy 6:6
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Charity in America

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A wealthy Christian man who lost everything in a financial downturn was asked if he ever regretted all he had given to the Lord’s work.
He replied, “What I gave, I still have. What I kept, I lost.”

 

 

As an American, we like to have our opinions.  We have opinions on everything from how to handle Ebola and gun violence, to how we should be spending our taxes and whether or not our favorite sports team played well.  We love our free speech and our beliefs.  Most of America was formed out of the quest for these two freedoms. We cannot lose them, for there is no where else to go on earth to find the same.  Though we are sometimes divided as a nation on where we stand with our opinions, there is one unique and inclusive part to America.  It’s our charity.  No other country in the world puts as much emphasis on charity and social welfare as America does.  We should be proud of these efforts.  You can see it everywhere you go: Salvation Army, Red Cross, YMCA’s, United Way, many churches and civic organizations, missions, local food pantries, Angel tree gifts at Christmas, foster care, Girl Scout cookies, and every school and athletic program in between.  In addition, America pays for almost all missions and charities for the rest of the world.  We are a giving nation.  It’s part of our culture, and we should never lose site of this.

Giving brings thankfulness, and thankfulness brings happiness.
Greed, on the other hand, takes away.

If you google “how rich am I“, it will show you a few sites where you can compare your wealth with the rest of the world.  I used globalrichlist.com for these statistics:

If you make $32,500 in U.S. dollars, then you are in the top 1% of the world.

It takes the average worker in Indonesia 43 years to make same amount.

Your monthly income could pay the monthly salaries of 141 doctors in Central Asia.

So the next time I find myself complaining about dirty dishes in the sink, piles of laundry and unmade beds, and not getting that raise I think I deserved, I will instead be thankful for food to eat, clothes to wear, a warm bed at night, and will skip that extra double chocolate mocha and help someone in need.

May we all be blessed with thankfulness.

Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.
Psalm 41:1

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Me and Jesus

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“For a couple of years it was just me and Jesus.  I thought we were the only two Jewish believers in the world.”

That’s what my new friend Anne said to me over coffee one day while I was visiting at her house.  Anne was on the welcoming committee for the new parents of my son’s Christian high school, so I was a little surprised that day when I showed up at her house prior to the start of school.  The living room was filled with all kinds of antique menorahs, Star of Davids, and many other Jewish symbols that looked like they had been handed down from several generations.  It did not look like what I was expecting from the welcoming committee of a new Christian high school.

After we all settled in with our coffee and dessert, I asked the question that none of the other new parents wanted to ask.  “Are you Jewish?”

“Yes, I am,” Anne answered proudly.  “I’m a Messianic Jew.”

I wanted to know more since I had never personally met a Messianic Jew and I had lots of questions.  “How did you become a Messianic Jew?” I asked.  And so she began to tell her story.

“My parents and my husband’s parents are traditional Jews.  They tolerate our beliefs but they do not believe themselves,” she began in a rather mild tone.

“I was in college and my roommates were Christians.  I would argue with them about their beliefs.  One day they simply asked me, ‘Have you ever read the Bible?’  I had not, so I decided I would read it for myself.”

“I started with the Old Testament and began to read about my ancestors and how they would often turn away from God and worship idols, and then they would be punished and go through many trials.  I realized their writings must have been inspired by God because there was no way they would make themselves look that bad if they had written it by themselves,”  Anne said with a laugh as if she were thinking about her ancestors personally.

“By the time I finished the New Testament, I knew in my mind it was true about Yeshua, but I couldn’t accept it in my heart yet.  It took about two more years before I could do that.”   Anne referred to Jesus as the Hebrew name Yeshua, because that is what he would have been called by those that knew him personally at the time.

“I started going to Christian churches.  I tried all different denominations but I just couldn’t fit in.  It was all so strange to me.  I lived in a Jewish neighborhood with a traditional Jewish family.  I thought me and Jesus must be the only two Jewish believers around.  After awhile, someone told me about a Messianic Jewish synogogue so I started going there.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  There were lots of other Jews there just like me, and I didn’t have to give up my heritage to believe.  I eventually met my husband there too.  We bought this house and a few years later a new Christian school opened up down the street.  And now I welcome other Christians into the school,” she said with a smile as she finished her story.

Thank you,” I said, “for sharing your story.  I feel like I’ve been sitting here listening to you and Jesus tell this story.”  And we all left that day with a little more knowledge of our history.
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A prophecy from the Psalm of David, written about 1000 years before Christ:

A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced My hands and My feet;
 I can count all My bones.
They look and stare at Me.
They divide My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.  

Psalm 22:16-18

Marks on a paper

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I had been helping my son John study for his algebra final exam all afternoon.  He had been doing fairly good, but after finishing that last grueling practice problem, he’d had enough. He got up from his chair and looked at the answer on his paper and exclaimed, “Algebra is useless.  That’s nothing more than a mark on a piece of paper!”

I didn’t think of it that way at all, but I began to realize how we all see things from different views.  To him, adding numbers to some obscure formula on a piece of paper had no more use than just making marks on it.  It meant nothing to him.  He couldn’t use it, hold it, or make anything with it.  I made a mental note to myself not to suggest math professor as a potential career for him.

But for myself, I did not see it as a mark on a piece of paper.  I saw it as a puzzle that challenged me to try to solve it.  It was the mental challenge that I liked, and the satisfaction of completing something.  I didn’t need to do anything with it afterwards.

We are all different in ways that are not easily detectable from the outside.  We all see the same object but think and respond to it in different ways.  To John, it was a mark on a piece of paper.  To me, it was a puzzle.  Neither of us were wrong.  I made another mental note to myself, to remember this the next time I am talking with others who may not see things in the same way as me.

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.
P
salm 133:1
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Peter, I have prayed for you

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And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  Matthew 16:18.

I came across this magnificent looking church recently while taking a walk through the park of a nearby town.  According to the sign posted outside the church, it was built in 1825.  At a time almost 200 years ago, the country was in a period of rest in between two major wars.  The American Revolution had ended almost 40 years earlier, and it was about 40 years before the start of the American Civil War.  Located in a part of the American South where many old buildings were burned during the Civil War, this church stood as a testimonial to what Peter and the other disciples had fought and died for almost 1800 years prior to the beginning of this church.

I sat in the park across the street from the church, sipping my latte and enjoying free      wi-fi, while I wondered what battles had been fought on this ground for my religion and other freedoms we enjoy today.  I heard the church bells ringing in the background while people hurried back and forth to the train station down the street, or to the coffee shops and restaurants nearby.  Did they know what this grand church represented and how a brave and faithful man called Peter lead the way for the first Christian church and for all the others that followed?  But Peter’s story wasn’t always a brave one, and he was known for little faith at times.  Then something changed that.

The story of Peter’s denial of Christ while Jesus is being taken away by the guards at the Garden of Gethsemane is a widely known story told throughout history.  It’s been said there were 300-600 men there that night to take Jesus away.  Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times and will abandon him in his greatest hour of need on this night.  Peter emphatically says he will do no such thing, but he ends up doing it anyway.  Yet there is more to the conversation between Jesus and Peter that night, a lesser known part to the story.  Jesus said to Simon (for he was not yet called Peter, the rock):

“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”   Luke 22:32

I have prayed for you… Jesus prayed for Peter.  Even before it happened, and even though Jesus knew what Peter would eventually do, he still prayed for him.  Jesus, the Messiah, about to be betrayed and handed over to guards, was praying for Peter.

And when you have turned back… Jesus was not focusing on Peter’s shortcomings or sin.  He was more concerned about his turning back, his repentance, his future.  Jesus was praying that Peter would become stronger as a result of his trial, and that his strength would become a greater help to others.  Jesus never belittled or embarrassed people because of their sin or lack of faith.

Even today, Jesus prays for us.  He is fighting for us, interceding on our behalf, praying when we don’t feel like praying ourselves.  It’s not about the straying away or falling down that is most important, but it is about the turning back, the repenting, the change of heart.  It is in that moment of repentance and faith that we are brought to Jesus.  It is knowing we have Jesus helping us back up.  That is the essence of Christianity.  This theme of Jesus’ ministry is found throughout the Bible and it is found in the redemptive stories of people’s lives being told today.

So the next time you pass by a grand old church or hear the church bells ringing in the background, stop and think of Peter, whom Jesus prayed for and who went on to build up and strengthen the Christian church.  And know that Jesus is praying for you too.

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