Monday, April 28, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

This hymn has been around for over 130 years. It was written by George Matheson who was born in 1842 in Glasgow, Scotland. According to Wikipedia, "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go was written on the evening of Matheson's sister's marriage. Years before, he had been engaged, until his fiancee learned that he was going blind -- that there was nothing the doctors could do -- and she told him that she could not go through life with a blind man. He went blind while studying for the ministry, and his sister had been the one to care for him through the years, but now she was gone. He was now 40, and his sister's marriage brought a fresh reminder of his own heartbreak. It was in the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness that the Lord gave Matheson this hymn, which he said was written in five minutes."

I grew up loving this hymn. The story of its writing makes it all the sweeter to me. But it became sweeter still when I heard this a cappella arrangement by Sam Robson. While I am focusing in 2014 on old hymns to new tunes in my Hymn of the Month posts, I want to share this old hymn with its old tune, sung by a young person. I love watching Sam sing, as if in each track he's taped he is fully aware, not only of the music, but of the meaning of the song as well.

The Lord bless you today as you listen to this amazing rendition of O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dear Facebook Friends

Dear Facebook Friends,

I want you to know that I prayed for you, by name -- if not today, it was some time in the past few months. It is the sweetest privilege!

Last fall I heard about Ceaseless, an app that sends me an e-mail each day with the names of five of my Facebook friends to pray for. I met the designer of the app, Chris Lim, and signed up to receive my daily Ceaseless notice in my inbox. I am now on my second round of praying for each of my friends.

Most of you are friends from some specific time in my life, and I am enjoying getting to know you again through FB. I read your comments, see the pictures you post, listen to the things you care about, and that informs my praying. But even if you don't post much, or if you don't show up on my wall very often, I am always happy to have your name come across my path so that I can pray for you.

There are a few of you that I don't know too well, but I know enough to have become Facebook friends with you. I see your name on my Ceaseless e-mail and am happy to be reminded of you.

What do I pray? Each day there is a passage of scripture, usually something about prayer. Today's verse is Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. If I know of specific situations you are facing, I lift them to the Lord. I pray for you as I know you. And if I don't know how to pray specifically for you, I pray the verse of the day for you.

Take yesterday, for example. One friend on my Ceaseless e-mail was a girl from our days as campers at Warm Beach; another recently posted a photo from a camping experience I had in 1966! A much more recent friend whose life and mine have many parallels was on yesterday's list, as well as my Sunday school teacher from my youth who is now a dear friend. And then there was a friend we had just seen the day before. He'd shown up in the office at Seattle First Free Methodist Church just after we'd called in a panic on our way to the airport. A hose had come loose on our car and we had lost all our coolant! When he found out we were in trouble, he came with antifreeze and water, took us to dinner, and found a friend who could help get us on our way. The next morning, there was his name and photo; it was my opportunity to bless him and his family as I lifted them to the Lord!

It really is a joy to pray for you. But your name might not come to mind if it weren't for Ceaseless' systematic plan.

Would you like to enjoy this same privilege of praying for others? I encourage you to check out this post I wrote about it last Fall. It will give you links to follow to get your questions answered and to sign you up. If you have questions for me, message me on Facebook. We are friends, after all!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NCWA, a Writer's Place to Grow

When I joined Northwest Christian Writers Association last fall, I was looking for a place to nurture that seed in my soul to write. I sensed it was time to make my writing more intentional, to find additional outlets for my thoughts and to review some of the things I've learned about writing in my distant past. I needed help to navigate the writing path, and I thought this might just be the place to find it.

I can say that I have found nurture in NCWA and have gotten some direction on my journey as a writer. Each month provides a chance to gain fresh spiritual encouragement through a devotional and to hone my writing skills through the Christian Writers Coach presentations. There's time built in to each meeting to interact with others and I am making new friends and renewing old friendships. These are all things I was looking for when I joined the group.

But I had no idea of the additional benefits that I would gain with my membership.

This is an amazing group of people with interests and talents that dazzle the mind! Just since I joined in September there have been at least ten book launch parties for authors to share their newly published books with the group! The genres cover the gamut -- historical fiction, apologetics, parenting, writing, devotional, fantasy, and a novel about Israeli/Palestinian issues. Many more are in the works.

NCWA authors at the book signing during the Writers Renewal Conference

At the May meeting another new book will be launched by Bremerton author, Kate Breslin. The cover was designed by another NCWA member, Kim Vandal. I can't wait to read it!

Among the NCWA group are people who coach writers, those who edit, others who design book covers and websites, public speakers, upfront people and behind-the-scenes folks. The name tags are already out when we arrive and snacks are provided. Friendships are being forged, people are growing, and beautifully written, transforming truth is being shared through these gifted writers.

The recent Writers Renewal Conference that NCWA hosted allowed me to meet editors and agents who are interested in what I write. They encouraged me to submit my work to them. They also opened my mind to new venues for my writing and, because of the conference, I am grappling with the direction I will take in the days ahead.

Are you a writer who wants to grow in your craft? Why don't you check us out.

Our monthly meetings, which are the first Monday of each month, September through June, run from 7 till 9 pm at Life Community Church in Kirkland. Doors open at 6:30 for snacks, browsing the book table, and a chance to meet up with others. Visitors pay $5, which go toward the annual membership fee of $35, should they decide to join.

Update: Starting Monday, September 14, 2015, NCWA will meet at Eastside Foursquare Church, 14520 100th Ave NE, Bothell.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Time for a Smile

Do you need a little humor in your life today? I thought so! Here is my collection of chicken jokes, designed to bring a smile to your face. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Rose Triumphantly

Here's a favorite Easter hymn from my youth, as relevant today as ever!
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

Friday, April 18, 2014

And When He Died...

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open... When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:50-54)
Three o'clock Friday afternoon. Darkness had covered the land since noon, while people stood watching Jesus, the hope of Israel, endure the suffering of the cross. And now, with a loud cry, he died.

Had you been there, you might have thought that all was lost. Perhaps he was, after all, just a man -- brilliant and charismatic with power to heal, yet, still, a man.

But if you had not been overcome with grief -- as were his followers -- or fear -- as were his accusers, -- you might have noticed some of the remarkable occurrences that accompanied his death.

The earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open. Rocks splitting and tombs breaking open are an indication of a tremendous earthquake, the likes of which I cannot comprehend.

We know that the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21). When Jesus died was the earth groaning from a sense of despair, that its liberator had been overcome? Or was it celebrating the foretaste of its freedom?

Author and speaker Jennifer Rothschild says, "the earth that God himself created was responding to this unbelievable world-altering act. Jesus himself spoke the world into being. I believe that when he was crucified the world itself shook because its creator had done something that was even more amazing than creating the world. He was creating a way for us to know God."  (See her on the Day of Discovery's DVD, Six Miracles of the Crucifixion)

And the curtain in the temple, the heavy curtain that separated the Holy of Holies (God's earthly dwelling) from the people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. This could only have been an act of God. The sacrifice that Jesus offered to the Father, his very life, was an acceptable sacrifice, sufficient to cover the sins of the world. The dividing wall between God and man was removed the moment Jesus died and the curtain was rent in two.

Not only was the way opened up for the Jews who worshipped at the temple to have access to God, but through his death Jesus was making it possible for ALL people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to be saved. That is why the centurion, who had guarded Jesus and witnessed his death first hand, could boldly exclaim, "Surely he was the Son of God!"

We always wait till Easter for the big party. After all, it's the resurrection that we celebrate. But don't overlook the amazing victory that was won at the crucifixion. Our Lord opened the way for us, all of us, to know God, and even the earth itself sensed the wonder of it. It seems to me that even in the midst of Good Friday's somber mood a celebration is surly in order!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Go to Dark Gethsemane

This is how our Lord spent His last two days before His death. Let's go with Him today and tomorrow and remember His suffering. We have so much to learn from Him.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Weekend with Writers

The Northwest Christian Writers Association held its annual Renewal Conference over the weekend. It was a jam-packed two days at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond where folks with a passion for writing, from newbies to published authors, gathered to grow in our calling and our craft.

We sat together in general sessions and caught up with old friends.

Even if our friends could not attend, we greeted them anyway.

Dennis Brooke, NCWA President, and Vanessa Brannan, NCWA Secretary,
"hanging out" with James Rubart, who was unable to attend

Everything was thoughtfully prepared, including the decorations. Our keynote speaker, T Davis Bunn, is known as a gentleman adventurer, and Mindy had made a marvelous display of miniatures in his honor.

T Davis Bunn, author and keynote speaker

Display of miniatures, to go with the Ken doll (from Barbie) dressed as T Davis Bunn

Table decoration

Judy Bodmer was the conference director, along with her sidekick, Clint Kelly. I would have included pictures of others on the conference committee, but they were moving too fast to find them standing still so I could get a photo!

Vanessa Brannan thanking Clint Kelly and Judy Bodmer for their work
as directors of the Renewal Conference

We had publishers and agents there to listen to our pitches and give us direction. Of all the things that impressed me about this conference the thing that stood out the most is how warm and approachable they all were. Their desire is that we be able to get the message out that the Lord has put on our hearts, and I enjoyed the contact I had with them all.

Catherine DeVries of David C Cook

There were also authors on hand to meet with anyone who wanted their writing critiqued.

Of course an event like this could not happen without the willing hands of volunteers. We had a couple of great helpers throughout the weekend.

We had many chances to share with other writers there and hear the books and articles that are in process of being written. Davis Bunn and many others who had their books for sale during the conference were on hand for the book signing on Friday evening.

Everyone behind the table is an author and had their books at the conference

We didn't lack for humor at our gathering. Friday evening this shady character approached the podium, turned to the audience, and unleashed a list of questions for T Davis Bunn in a way that only a super sleuth could do. For example, "How can this man be so heartless as to win four Christy Awards while the rest of us don't even have one?" and "What does the T in his name stand for, anyway?" I waited all weekend for an answer to that one, but it never did come.

Now that I've been to the NCWA Renewal Conference, I'm hooked. I'm going again next year. In the meantime I'll continue writing here, at Three Minutes to Nine, while I seek to expand my writing, and all to the glory of God.

Do you feel drawn to write? Do you want to know more about Northwest Christian Writers Association? Do you want to attend next year's conference with author Angela Hunt (May 15-16, 2015)? Check us out at Northwest Christian Writers Association. You just may have the story the world is waiting to read!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Are You Ready for Easter?

If you are the parents of young kids, you've probably been giving some thought to how you will celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as we celebrate Easter in just a few days. There are many wonderful things you can do, including Resurrection Eggs and watching The Story of Jesus for Children, but I have a couple of activities that could also help your children grasp the meaning of Easter.

Have you ever made Easter Story Cookies with your kids? I recently found in my files a recipe from 30 years ago, when I worked with families at the Warm Beach Free Methodist Church. Some of the kids from those days are now married and raising their own children in the church today. I wonder if they remember these cookies!

Check out the recipe and the story that goes along with each step of the recipe. Be sure to follow the recipe very carefully. It's a wonderful objet lesson for kids -- and the cookies taste great! 

In the past I posted a blog about the Easter Scavenger Hunt that my friend Joy has hosted for the younger generation of her family. She put a lot of thought into it, and I think it is worth repeating. Here it is:

My friend Joy wondered what she could do to make the true meaning of Easter come alive for her family, so she began a tradition for them -- an Easter scavenger hunt. The children hunted eggs before dinner and later, while the family finished their dessert, she slipped out into the yard to hide two sets of artifacts. Then they all split up into two teams and each team was handed a list of the items they were to find (see below).

Step by step, from the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to the angel at the empty tomb, the Easter story unfolded through the scavenger hunt instructions. Every member of the family participated, scouring the grounds together in search of the special items related to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It's been a great hit with the family.

Maybe you can use her ideas, or modify them to fit with your family. Joy's items included a leaf from an olive tree and coins which her mother brought back from her travels in the Holy Land. Most of us will not have these wonderful, authentic items, but a small jar of olives and pennies covered with aluminum foil would make fine substitutes. Let Joy's hunt get your heart praying and your mind working on how you can creatively share the good news of the resurrection with family and friends. Those who have already heard can always use a fresh reminder. And for those who haven't, what better time than now?

Joy's Easter Scavenger Hunt
(Items we are hunting for are representative of items involved in the very first Easter. They are in bold.)

1. One week before Easter, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was greeted by crowds of people waving palm branches. (Note: you may have to substitute a fern frond if you can't find palms.) (John 12:12-15)
2. At Jesus' last dinner with his disciples, he washed the disciples' feet and dried them with a towel. (John 13:1-5)
3. Also, at this last meal, Jesus took bread and broke it, saying, "This is my body..." (Matthew 26:26)
4. Jesus told the disciples that they would all run away and claim that they did not know him. Peter claimed that he would NEVER desert Jesus. Jesus said, "Before the rooster crows tomorrow, you will deny three times that you know me." (Note: Find a miniature toy rooster.) (Matthew 26:31-35)
5. After dinner, Jesus and the disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. (Find a genuine leaf from an olive tree in that Garden.) (Luke 22:39)
6. Soldiers came to the garden, looking for Jesus. Peter pulled out his sword and struck one of the soldiers, cutting off his ear. (Find an ear, or a picture of an ear, or draw a picture of an ear. No, your own ears do not count.) (John 18:10-11)
7. Judas was with the soldiers. He greeted Jesus and kissed him so that they would know who he was. Later, the high priest paid Judas 30 pieces of silver. (Find a bag containing two coins from the country where this happened.) (Matthew 26:14-16)
8. The rulers decided to kill Jesus by nailing him to a cross. (Find four nails -- one for each foot and each hand.) (Acts 2:22-23)
9. Before they crucified Jesus, they took thorns and made a crown of them for his head, mocking him. (Find at least two inches of some kind of thorn.) (Matthew 27:27-29)
10. When Jesus was on the cross, he was thirsty. One of the guards soaked a sponge in vinegar and gave it to him to drink. (Find a container of vinegar.) (Mark 15:36)
11. When Jesus was dead, they took his body to a cave and placed a large stone over the entry to the cave. (Find a stone at least four inches in diameter.) (Matthew 27:57-61)
12. Judas felt very sad and guilty for betraying Jesus. He took a rope and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:1-5)
13. On Easter morning, women who were friends of Jesus brought spices to his grave in the cave, to preserve his body. (Mark 16:1)
14. When the women got to the cave, they found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the cave, and an angel sitting on the stone. (Matthew 28:1-7)

However you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, be sure not to miss the chance to share the reality of God's love demonstrated through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is the foundation of our faith, and your children need to hear it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Color Restored

Last week my sister-in-law Carol had cataract surgery on her left eye. Her lens was replaced with one that will improve her vision for distance, so things that had been fuzzy before are sharp now. But that's not what has overwhelmed her. It is the colors that are vivid and bold, and the brightness of light.

The surgery lasted only a few minutes, she told me, and when she was ushered into the recovery room she was startled by the intensity of the light that shone on her. She assumed she was in the presence of a special lamp to help her in recovery, but there was no such lamp. It was just the normal fluorescent lighting that was used throughout the facility!

Carol has always dressed with a flair. She loves bright colors and wears them with style. But lately her clothes have all been looking faded to her. So have the window coverings in her house. She had decided it was time to replace the kitchen curtains with something that looked bright and fresh, but now that she's had the surgery, the curtains are just fine!

She can hardly comprehend the difference. In the distant past, had I been able to see these amazingly vibrant colors? she said with wonder.

In just a few days she will have the same surgery on her right eye. She is at that point of time when she can close her left eye and view a scene as if she were looking at the dull right side of the flower above, or close her right eye and see the colorful left side of the flower. By this time next week her ability to see color will be fully restored and she will not be able to imagine the monochromatic world she has become so accustomed to.

Isn't spiritual vision like that? The color can go out of our world if we become complacent or cold toward the Lord. What was wondrously bright and beautiful when we first trusted in Christ fades unless we nurture our relationship with Him.

Have you lost your spiritual color vision? Spend time with the Lord. Soak up His word. Echo the psalmist's cry in Psalm 119:18, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Let Him restore the awe you used to know and you will rediscover the vibrant colors of a life alive with Him.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Powerful Promise

I came across a verse of Scripture the other day that I didn't remember ever reading before. But there it was, just opposite the beloved passage in Isaiah 39:27-31 about waiting on the Lord (well marked and annotated in my Bible) and separated from another favorite passage of mine, Isaiah 41:10, by just three verses.

The message of this verse was so powerful and so encouraging that I memorized it and began making it my own. Within the week I had a couple of experiences that caused me to cry out to the Lord, reminding Him of His promises He had just offered me in this new, favorite verse of mine.

Here's the verse:
For I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you,
Do not fear;
I will help you.
(Isaiah 41:13)

And I am here to tell you that He has been faithful to me. When I pray this promise back to Him, He helps me. I have found new confidence and courage to face difficulties in my life since I discovered this simple, profound promise.

Are you facing changes today, or overwhelming circumstances? Are you feeling alone, like everything is up to you? This is God's promise to you today. The Lord, your God, takes hold of your right hand and says, "Do not fear; I will help you." And He will.