Friday, June 28, 2013

On the Day a Smoker Quits

I suspect the few cigarettes I consumed as a kid had a greater impact on my teeth than on my lungs -- they were candy cigarettes. Still, as I sat in the doctor's office yesterday, I was fascinated with the poster on the wall about the changes in the body when a person has smoked that last cigarette, when he or she has quit smoking.

The thing that amazed me was how adaptable our bodies are. We were made to be healthy. God created us so that we can rejuvenate. We see that when we watch a cut heal or experience relief when dislocated bones are put back into place. Our skin recycles every two weeks; the entire human skeleton is thought to be replaced every ten years or so in adults! (source) This is just one more evidence of God's grace, that we should be designed for renewal and health.

If you are a smoker, or if you know a smoker, you should know what will happen once that last cigarette is smoked. Here's what the poster says:
Within 20 minutes after you smoke that last cigarette, your body begins a series of change that continue for years. 
20 Minutes After Quitting
Your heart rate drops. 
12 Hours After Quitting
Carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. 
2 Weeks to 3 Months After Quitting
Your heart attack risk begins to drop.
Your lung function begins to improve. 
1 to 9 Months After Quitting
Your coughing and shortness of breath decrease. 
1 Year After Quitting
Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's. 
5 Years After Quitting
Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker's 5-15 years after quitting. 
10 Years After Quitting
Your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker's.
Your risk or cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases.
15 Years After Quitting
Your risk or coronary heart disease is back to that of a nonsmoker's.
It sounds like a win-win to me.

(View the poster here.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Good Girl, Jazzie!

Susan Rice never planned on having a therapy dog. As a matter of fact, she didn't particularly want a dog -- until nine years ago when her husband and daughters began talking about getting a dog. She agreed, and they decided to get a poodle because "they are smart, they don't shed, they're trainable, and my husband grew up with a miniature." So off they went, to choose their dog.

In this case, however, the dog chose them. When the 10-week-old puppy came over and untied Susan's shoe, they were hooked. They adopted her and named her Jazmine ( Jazmine Rice -- get it?).

Susan and Jazmine went to puppy class, then to obedience class and advanced obedience class. Jazzie did so well and was such a responsive dog that they went on to get training for her to be a therapy dog. As a therapy dog, Jazzie is able to go to hospitals, nursing facilities, schools, and other settings where people can benefit from the comfort, companionship, and delight her presence brings.

I caught up with Susan and Jazmine at the Warm Beach Health Care Center, where they were entertaining about a dozen residents. The people were enchanted as Susan told them Jazzie's story and had her demonstrate her skills for them. Each one had a chance to play with the dog as she came up to greet them. The presentation was a definite success!

For several years Susan has taken Jazzie to VBS at their church. She shares with the children how the training Jazzie has received has helped her own understanding of living as a Christian. Jazzie is very attentive and is trained to keep her eyes on Susan. "Do I keep my eyes on Jesus?" Susan asks. "Do I listen for His voice as Jazzie listens for mine? And when I hear it, do I obey as eagerly as Jazzie does?"

We saw those skills demonstrated. Jazmine seldom looked away from Susan. She sat on her rug and awaited her commands. Then she flew into action! Whether she was fetching the newspaper or jumping through a hula-hoop, she seldom faltered.

Jazmine has learned to rest and be at peace in Susan's presence, and she trusts Susan so much that she will even walk with her when she can't see where they are going. These, too, are spiritual lessons for us as we grow in our relationship with Jesus.

Jazmine is from a family of show dogs. When she was born with a small patch of white hair on her chest, her breeders knew she would never qualify as a show dog, so she was sold as a pet instead. She may not be perfect by show standards, but she's proven to be a perfect pet and therapy dog. Good girl, Jazzie! Good girl!

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If you'd like to know more about therapy dogs, click here. On this site you will find stories of dogs who have served their country, their community, or their family.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Chronicles of the Kings

I have been reading Lynn Austin's book series, Chronicles of the Kings, and am 70 pages from finishing book 3, The Strength of His Hand. At the moment, King Hezekiah is being threatened by the Assyrian army which is surrounding the city. The situation is hopeless -- the Assyrians, who depend on their brute strength, barbarian warfare, and psychological torture to subdue people wherever they go, have left no way out for the people of Jerusalem. They have mocked God and terrorized the people. Based on every evidence to the human eye, Jerusalem and all its residents will soon be destroyed.

When God sends word through the prophet Isaiah of His deliverance, will the people be faithful to Him? Will they wait for Him, or will they yield to the terrorizing taunts of the Assyrians?

Lynn Austin has done an amazing job of bringing the stories of the kings of the Old Testament to life through her series. As I read the scripture I find it difficult to sort out the kings, to fit the prophets into the proper era, and to feel like I see flesh-and-blood people living out their lives in a way I can identify with. But when I read Austin's books, the people and the details of their lives appear before me vividly. Some of the characters have several chapters of scripture dedicated to them; others are a brief whisper in the pages of the Bible. Austin deftly fills out their personalities and their roles in the story. When I turn to the scripture to read the passages she has written about, I am impressed that she is true to the scripture and each of the characters that she has brought to life, even if there is little mention of them, fit very well within the context of the Bible. 

Book one, Gods and Kings, tells of the reign of King Ahaz, known as a man who did not follow God. The story of his son, Hezekiah, is told in books two and three, Song of Redemption and The Strength of His Hand. We will meet Manasseh and the intrigue surrounding him, in the last two books, Faith of My Fathers, and Among the Gods.

I enjoy the stories of scripture coming alive. But these aren't just historical retellings. I have been challenged to consider what my own response would be if I were to find myself in similar situations to the characters. I have watched as the author has called out societal evils in the days of the kings and seen similar evils in our own day. I have witnessed the faithfulness of God through the pages and been drawn to praise Him. 

If you are wondering what to read this summer, let me recommend Chronicles of the Kings.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Apostles Creed -- He Descended Into Hades

For our 2013 Hymn of the Month we will be exploring the Apostles Creed
With each post we'll look at one of the statements in the creed,
consider its significance, and share an appropriate hymn. 
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. 
Jesus' death and resurrection are well-known to us. But what happened to Jesus in the time between? According to the scripture, and declared by the Apostles Creed, He descended into hades, or, as some renditions of the creed say, to the dead. This, to me, is astounding. Do we really know the lengths to which our Savior went to provide full redemption for His fallen creation? It was our sins that put Him on the cross; it was our brokenness that He carried in His own body. Yet after enduring such agony that led to His death, He descended into the place of the dead. Why?

One reason is to show that He was indeed dead. There were those who believed that Jesus swooned but did not really die. The scripture says otherwise. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built (1 Peter 3:18-20). Jesus died. He did so for our atonement; it was His death that restored us to relationship with the Father.

In the interim between His death and resurrection, Jesus preached to people who had lived all throughout time. His sacrifice was for all people!

In his wonderful book, This We Believe! Meditations on the Apostles' Creed, Timothy Tennent says, "Satan thought that the crucifixion of Jesus was his greatest victory over God and his redemptive plan. At the moment of Jesus’ death and the descent to the dead, Satan first realizes that the death of Jesus was actually God’s plan. In Colossians 2, the Apostle Paul describes this when he declares that at the death of Jesus, He 'disarmed the powers and authorities' and 'made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross' (2:15). This verse is not a reference to human, political authorities, but to the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12)." Yes!

I do not believe Jesus was in hades suffering further  agony to accomplish redemption. That had been done on the cross. But He was there to claim victory over that doomed enemy, Satan, and to preach the Gospel -- the Good News -- to those who had not heard! All praise to God for this amazing triumph!

As I have pondered this statement in the Creed, and have read Tennent and chatted with Pastor Ike Timm, I have discovered how significant this often overlooked part of the life and work of Jesus is. Though His body was dead, His spirit was very much alive, fulfilling the work the Father had sent Him to do! Only God would have thought of such a plan, and only His Son could have carried it out.

Reference: Tennent, Timothy  (2011-11-01). This We Believe! Meditations on the Apostles' Creed (Kindle Locations 385-389). Asbury Theological Seminary. Kindle Edition.

You might also be interested in this post for Holy Saturday.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ruth Graham's Testimony

Ruth Graham, daughter of Billy and Ruth, shares about learning to trust God in the most difficult situations.

Today I have been thinking about Psalm 94:19, which says, In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul (Psalm 94:19). I feel like the the anxieties have taken over at the moment. This video reminds me of God's comforts which delight my soul: his love, his power, his presence, his grace. I hope it encourages you today as well. (The audio is out of sync with the video, but what she has to say is worth hearing.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Holiness Matters

Holiness. It doesn't get the press today that it did when I was a kid, growing up in the Free Methodist Church. But it still matters.

When we think of holiness we usually think of God. One of the members of the Trinity is none other than the Holy Spirit! We remember Isaiah's experience, when he saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and he heard the seraphs singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory" (Isaiah 6:1-3).

We think of the places -- the temple, Zion (God's holy hill) -- and days, and the holy Scriptures.

But us? Do we apply the term to us flawed humans? God does! He calls us to be holy.

What does that even mean?

We are fallen and broken. We were born into a fallen and broken world and even by our very best efforts cannot live up to the standard of holiness that the Lord desires. But through Christ our broken lives are made new and we enter into a relationship with the holy God!

It is through the work of God in our lives, helping us deal with out the junk that needs to be redeemed and, as Pastor Pat says, the coping mechanisms that we have developed over the years, that we are made more and more into the likeness of Christ. As we give him free reign in our lives, he makes us new. He shines through us more and more, drawing people to himself as they see him alive in us.

Holiness is not what we do. It is what God does in us as we pursue him, as we hunger after him, and as we let him conform us to his own image.

Holiness still matters. In our world, where badly behaving celebrities make more news than righteous folks, the transformed lives of holy people impact our world. It is a practical, lived-out-daily experience of letting the grace of God flow through our lives, touching every part of us: affecting our attitudes; gracing our speech; filling us with compassion for others; keeping us sensitive to God.

Mitch Thomas, a youth pastor, understood the importance of holiness. He passed away in 2008, at the age of 28, after a 17 month struggle with leukemia. His dad, Matt Thomas, is a Free Methodist bishop, and he shared Mitch's story at our annual Leadership Summit last weekend. I spoke with Mitch's mom, Marlene, and she gave me permission to share their story.

It was during the three months that he was on a cancer ward in a Seattle hospital that Mitch's high view of holiness reaped immense rewards. Here, in his dad's words, is what happened.

Mitch and his father (Bishop Matt) would take daily walks in the halls in an attempt to sustain his lung function and prolong his life. On those walks, he would greet everyone he saw and use that as ministry time. One day, shortly before the end, Mitch was unable to walk due to the progression of the cancer and reaction to medications. Matt was stopped by several people while walking down the hall with the consistent comments that Mitch was missed that day and how impactful he was in their lives. It was a veritable gauntlet of appreciative people. Many of them (patients, staff and a doctor) spoke about how they had never met anyone like him who had transformed a war. One patient put it this way, "If I talk to Mitch, I have a good day. If I don't, it is usually a bad day." 
After Mitch recovered that afternoon, Matt asked him, "What do you think is the difference between you and many of the folks on the ward? They all speak so glowingly of you and have found hope through you. Why?" He responded, "It has become clear to me that holiness matters. I have no regrets, no moral issues to settle, no relationships to repair, no decisions to undo and no priorities to rearrange. My heart is clear. My memories are sweet. My relationships are outstanding. My ministry has been rewarding. M Jesus is always near. I am just fighting a physical illness while experiencing the riches of God in every other way. Walking in the Spirit, and allowing the Spirit to walk in me is living in holiness. I have [an] illness -- that's all. If I carried spiritual sickness, lacked forgiveness, harbored bitterness, lacked purpose of carried regret; the illness would be unbearable. I have none of that. It pays to be clean. Then when pain comes, it stands alone with little force behind its punch. For me, everything  that is not pain is peace. Peace is a wonderful fruit of holiness."
You can read Matt Thomas' full blog post here.  This post expresses the hope in Christ that the Thomas family experienced through this unthinkable experience.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Making it Through the Morning Madness

Trouble getting ready in the morning? Here are three how-to videos that could make a difference!!

You know how I love ironing!  Here's a young man who watched his aunt iron a shirt and just wanted to pass on her great technique.

You might need help on getting that tie tied. This should help!

And, finally, you just might need to polish those shoes before you leave the house. (Disclaimer: this is not recommended for sneakers or flip-flops.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sister Connection Tea and Update

When the Sister Connection Board of Directors was in town last week, we threw a party!

Invitations went out to folks in Washington State who sponsor widows through Sister Connection and, including board members, 75 people showed up! Our guests of honor were Joy Buconyori, the Burundian director, and her daughter La Cherete.

Joy (center) and La Cherete with a few of the staff and board of SC

The tea and goodies were tasty, but hearing from Denise Patch, Sister Connection's American director, was the main course.

Sister Connection  began as a way to provide help to the thousands of widows in Burundi who have experienced not only the loss of their husbands but  the loss of their support and dignity as well. Through the $30 sponsors provide each month, these widows are able to feed, clothe, and educate their children. In addition, many widows have received homes built for them by Sister Connection. (For a one-time gift of $600 these homes, which the women get to help design, are built by local builders.)

The monthly support and the homes they receive through Sister Connection  have significantly changed the lives of the widows and orphans of Burundi, but there are other urgent needs these families have that Sister Connection also addresses.

The spiritual needs of the women and their children are of great concern to the Sister Connection team.
Each summer Sister Connection holds a widow's retreat for the moms and camps for the children and youth. These are times of teaching about God's love, his care for widows, forgiveness (it was genocide that took the lives of thousands of the men in Burundi), and trust. They are times of great healing.

Denise shared at the tea about a young man who came to camp and had the opportunity to speak with one of the counselors."I am angry, always angry," he said. "Can God help me? Why am I so angry?" The counselor pointed out that since he had lost his father, his mother had died, and he himself had been a child soldier, it was natural that he would be so angry. Then the counselor told the young man to put all his anger in a ball and give it to Jesus. After the young man relinquished his anger he said, "This is the first time I have had no anger. It is the first time I have felt peaceful!"

We also heard reports of the women who are starting in business so that they can support their families. Most of the widows start as gardeners, feeding their own families and then getting loans to expand their gardens to sell their produce. Others raise chickens and goats and sell eggs and baby chicks. Still others are learning tailoring or have set up a shop to sell food they have made. Loans are available to help the widows grow their businesses.

This widow gave us one of her chickens
as a gift for visiting her home.
Some of the widow's beautiful baskets
Julie, with an armload of purses and aprons
made by Sister Connection widows

In Burundi, when you don't have a man you are the lowest of the low. But Sister Connection is changing that for widows. Presently there are 650 sponsored widows and 1100 homes that have been funded. (Not all of the homes have been built yet because the rains prevent building for all but a few months of the year, June through September.)

Not only do the homes provide a safe and comfortable place for the widow and her family, they offer protection from thieves who pass by the sturdy homes, thinking surely a man lives with his family in such a fine home. These widows, who are happy and healthy and have clothing and a home, are a testimony that God is taking care of them. After all, who else would have done this for them?

There are 2,100 moms, kids, and young people who will be attending camps this August. The cost for each one is $30. That's $62,000 they need to raise. Denise announced that $16,000 of that had already come in. But that was before those at the tea took an offering for camps. I'm not sure where we stand now!

If you are already a sponsor, consider sending an extra $30 for your widow and each of her kids to attend camp. If you are not already a sponsor, maybe this is the summer you can make a difference in the life of a widow and her family. Go to Sister Connection's website to see how to sponsor a widow!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sing Praise!

Let everything in all creation praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!

Friday, June 7, 2013

In Celebration of Samuel!

Tonight our son, Samuel, graduates, this amazing boy who was so full of energy, so determined, always going some place. Samuel is a thinker, a story teller, a jokester, a loyal friend. He has grown into a fine young man.

And now, beautiful boy, all grown up and finishing school, I wonder, what lies ahead?

I don't know, but I'm sticking around to find out.

Samuel, we love you. We are so grateful for your tender spirit, your love of Jesus, your sense of humor, the hard work you've done through all these years, the way you continue to grow. We are so proud of you, and so happy to be your family. 

* * * * *

If you are in the area and would like to celebrate Samuel with us,
please drop by the Warm Beach Free Methodist Church,
20815 Marine Dr,
Stanwood, WA,
on Sunday, June 9, between 2 and 4 p.m.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Time for More Hymns

As you probably know, I love hymns. Each hymn is music, theology, church history, God's power and love, our need for him and our praise all together in one song. If we are still singing them today, they have stood the test of time.

So today I am sharing a chart by Christianity Today that lists 27 Hymns That Last. The hymns are listed on the left side of the page. On the right we learn how many hymnals they appeared from the late 1800s through the 20th century. Check it out.

But to just share about hymns without sharing any hymns would be unthinkable! So I've chosen three of these hymns to post. Enjoy them! And if you want to hear others, just go to the search bar in YouTube and type in the name of the hymn you want to listen to.

Monday, June 3, 2013

God Has Revealed Himself

from Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, NIV, copyright 1983
Over one-third of my 1900-page Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is study helps. I have always loved this Bible, with Jesus' words in red letters, chain references running down the outside columns of each page, concordance, maps, and tables in the back. I purchased my Bible in October of 1983, thirty years ago, when this edition had just come out.

I've filled up most of the blank pages in the front and back with quotes and notes from messages, and nearly every book has passages highlighted and comments scrawled in the margins. I had to have the cover replaced years ago. Instead of the lovely calfskin it used to be covered in it now has an impervious binding made from some hearty animal in Idaho that had already lived a good, long life! It doesn't have a dainty look, to be sure, but I've been told that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And what's inside is pretty good stuff!

So I was browsing through the helps at the back of the Bible the other day and I came across the Seven Editions of the Divine Law. It is an illustration of God's gradual revelation and the publication of his law. Step by step -- from the display of his workmanship in creation, to the law he has written on each person's conscience, to the tablets he inscribed for Moses, to Jesus, the Living Word, to the collection of all the scriptures we call our Bible, to the gospel written on our hearts, to believers being living epistles to the world around us -- God has revealed himself in every way possible.

Let's look at each of these seven "editions of the divine law" that are mentioned here, and the scripture that goes with each one. It may give you fresh insight into God's revelation of himself, and it might give you a way to share with others when they think there is no evidence for God's existence.

1. Written on Nature -- The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1).

2. Written on Conscience -- Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them (Romans 2:14-15).

3. Written on Tablets of Stone -- The Lord said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction" (Exodus 24:12).

4. Christ the Living Word -- The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

5. The Entire Scriptures -- For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

6. Written on the Heart -- This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people (Hebrews 8:10).

7. Christians as Living Epistles -- You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).

Can we look with integrity and see that God has indeed revealed himself through these various means so that we would be without excuse since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:19-21).

Michael Guillen,* former science editor for ABC, calls the gulf between the communities of faith and reason that is so prevalent in our world today a "divide of enormous misunderstanding." Rather than "defending science" or "defending faith," he says that the gulf would disappear if we'd stop listening to the debates and do the work of seeking the truth for ourselves. The evidence of God has clearly been given.

And if we have seen the revelation of God expressed through the first six of these editions, we will want to live in such a way that, when others read the living epistles in our lives (edition seven), they will, in seeing us, be seeing Christ.
* * * * *

*Michael Guillen is the guest on Haven Today this week, talking about his book, Can a Smart Person Believe in God?