The Greatest Gift a Parent Can Give a Child: Thoughts on Precious Memories

Growing up, our family used to take a vacation every summer. We’d pack up the car and drive out for a week.

There were certain rituals that developed in our vacations.

I don’t know why, but I always loved to stay in the high floors of hotels. I guess I like to look out on the panoramic view. Well, whenever we’d check into a hotel, my dad would check in, and then as the clerk was choosing a room for us he’d announce, “My little son wants to stay on the top floor”. The person at the desk, of course, would smile as my face would get beet red, and give us the top floor. I knew that secretly, dad wanted to stay on the top floor too.

We did a lot of fishing. I think this is where my big brother, now a big ophthalmologist and avid fly fisherman, developed his love for fishing. We’d go out on a boat on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire, and catch a bunch of sunnies.

We each did different things to preserve our memories. My mom took pictures. A lot of pictures. And her rule was, every single picture had to have a human being in it. Even if it was of a flower or a sign or a landmark, we had to somehow figure out how to get the family in the picture.

My sister wrote copious journals. This was well and good, until we got to our teenage years. Then, I knew she was just writing about how stupid little brother was today.

Me? I collected junk. Hotel shampoo, hotel stationery, free postcards. I’d keep them in a bag and store them away, opening them up every now and then to smell the smell of the hotel room (which, now that I’m old, I know is just cheap deodorizer…but back then, the smell was vacation magic).

We got to see a lot of things over the course of twenty years. My first live baseball game in Minneapolis. The Lamplighter Inn, a quaint little hotel in New Hampsire and Lake Sunapee. We saw Disney World, of course. We Niagara Falls and the CN Tower in Toronto. We visited Dad’s college in Texas, and the church in Chicago where Dad and Mom got married. We took in Luray’s Cavern in Virginia, went fishing in Minneapolis, and ate lobster in New England.

When I look back, though, it’s not what we saw that sits in my heart. It’s not what we did, it’s not the junk I collected, or how beautiful the photos we took were.

It’s the smiles. The laughter. The security of sleeping in the back seat of the car knowing that a loving father had everything under control. The security of hearing the humming of the hotel air conditioner in the middle of the night, knowing that a family filled with love surrounded me.

In other words, family vacations were all about love.

A father and a mother can work all their lives to leave their children an inheritance. Some leave them a lot of money, others real estate, others a business to run. Others push their children to become rich, or highly educated, or successful.

This is all very well and good. But money will be spent, real estate will be sold, and businesses will pass on to others. Wealth and education and success eventually fade away. But what is the only inheritance that will never fade away?

It’s the thing that Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 13:9. It’s the one thing that never ends.

Love.

And God created something very wonderful to package that love in, so that you can carry it with you wherever you go and forever. He created precious memories.

If you’re a parent, or you teach kids in your church, or you’re just a friend to young people, remember one thing. Your duty is to leave a legacy for your kids. But what is the most precious thing you can give them? It’s not knowledge. It’s not a physical inheritance. The most precious thing you can give them are those precious memories. Create them now. Because everything else will pass away, but those memories will follow them for the rest of their lives, and into eternity.

———————————————————————————————————————
1.
Precious memories, unseen angels,
Sent from somewhere to my soul;
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfold.

Refrain
Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul;
In the still ness of the midnight,
Precous, sacred scenes unfold.

2.
Precious father, loving mother,
Fly across the lonely years;
And old homescenes of my childhood,
In fond memory appears.

Refrain

3.
In the stillness of the midnight,
Echoes from the past I hear;
Old time singing, gladness bringing,
From that lovely land somewhere.

Refrain

4.
As I travel on life’s pathway,
Know not what the years may hold;
As I ponder, hope grows fonder,
Precious memories flood my soul.

Refrain

Understanding the Artist by Looking at His Art: Thoughts on This is My Father’s World, Part II

I went to the Huntington Library in Southern California one Sunday on that same trip that I saw the wonderful sunset. One of my dear friends, Professor Li of Cal State Long Beach, brought me there, accompanied by his wife and one of his fellow professors.

It was an awesome day. For literally the first time in the few months I’d been in Southern California, the sky was a clear blue (no smog!). The sun was out, and there was also a cool breeze.

We started with “English Tea”. To picture what this is, just imagine a Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast. Then, imagine what the exact opposite of that is. Tea, finger sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and little fruit tarts with impeccably fresh fruit. Fancy-schmancy, to be sure, but to quote my little niece, “it was sooooo yummy”. And quite sophisticated!

Anyway, the Huntington Estate is a place to behold. I’ve been to other places like this in Russia, Paris, China and New York, but this one had its own uniqueness. Walking in, you immediately saw a bright arrangement of pansies and poppies in every color of the rainbow. There was a Japanese Tea Garden with a beautiful vista overlooking a pond with bright orange Koi fish. There was an herb garden where you could pick and smell herbs (I got to smell “hyssop” for the first time in my life). There’s the world’s biggest cactus garden with every variety of cacti you can imagine, in all kinds of intricate shapes and sizes and beautiful flowers. There were places where you could breathe in and experience absolutely glorious scents from fragrant flowers and plants.

I saw a hummingbird for about the second time in my life. As I pointed to it, it darted out of sight just as quickly as it appeared. There were beautiful bamboo stalks that were shiny and bright green, and about 10 inches in diameter. There was an incredible little red flower that consisted of two round petals, each interlocking perfectly symmetrically.

The magnolias were in full bloom, as were the azaleas and the pink cherry blossoms. The bright red Camellia flowers were too (I showed my cultural ignorance by failing to identify the tune that Professor Li was humming as from Verdi’s La Traviata, which of course was adapted from Dumas’ novel The Lady of the Camelias. Professor Li’s professor friend gave the right answer. Needless to say, I hung my head in shame).

After this, we went into a gallery with a nice art exhibition of British and American paintings of the 19th century. Some paintings were carefree, others deep and pensive, others downright disturbing. I’m no art aficionado, but looking at many of the paintings, I started to understand what the life of many of the artists must have been like. In so many cases, the artist put so much of himself into his painting that you could immediately understand a great deal about the artist just by looking at his work. Just by looking at different aspects of the painting, from the subject matter to the composition to even the individual brush strokes, you could glean clues about the artist himself.

Well, driving home that night, I saw a brilliant sunset over the mountains–the second beautiful sunset of that trip. And then it hit me.

Why do I love nature so much?

There are those who roll their eyes whenever I pontificate about a beautiful sunset or a sky full of stars. They tell me that these are just boring things that you can see anytime, and they don’t see the attraction. Then, they rush home to play their video games or watch TV. Well, I don’t fault these folks, but I wish they could understand what they’re missing.

I think I love nature so much because by looking at the creation, it tells me so much about the one who created it. God is the greatest artist ever. And God put so much of himself into everything that he created. He is in each flower petal and in each hummingbird and in the scent of a fresh rose and in the red hues of the sunset. And the most amazing thing is that he created these things out of love. He created these things for us. And while some try to understand God by doing deep research into theology or philosophy, sometimes I think you can learn a lot more about God just by opening your eyes and enjoying His creation.

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…

– Romans 1:20

———————————————————————————————
1.
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

2.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

3.
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

4.
This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

5.
This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

6.
This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

Slow Down or You’ll Miss the Best Parts of Life: Thoughts on This is My Father’s World, Part I

A few years ago I took a business trip to Southern California. I had some extra time one night, and I had a pretty nice car–Hertz automatically upgraded me to a Ford Escape. So I decided to take the name of the car to heart and to drive where the road would take me. I just zipped down Interstate 5, and instead of getting off at my usual exit, I just decided to shoot straight down.

My ultimate goal was Mexico, but I decided I didn’t have time. It was about an hour away from sunset, so I decided to try to find a nice place to watch. Back then, I could always see the sun rise over Manhattan from my apartment window, but watching the sun set over the Pacific is a treat I don’t get to see very often.

So I pulled off to La Jolla (luckily, someone told me how to pronounce it before I got there). The beach was pretty crowded, as you might imagine. I drove and drove, and finally found parking. Everyone seemed to be there to watch the sunset. A lady with a camcorder was even recording it. I climbed down onto a rock and sat there.

The sunset was beautiful, as you might imagine. The sun just slowly inched its way down until it was nearly gone. Then, with a brilliant last gasp, it disappeared under the horizon. Instantly, most of the people in the crowded beach started to noisily make their ways back to their cars. The lady shut off her camcorder.

I decided to wait there. Soon, it was just me and a few people here and there. Pretty soon after that, it was just me.

After a few minutes, I started to get up myself. Then, I looked back at the horizon. The clouds over the horizon were absolutely glowing with a bright red streak across the sky. As darkness set, the sky was filled with the most amazing colors you can imagine, from a deep dark blue up top to peach color, to an orange color. The color of the waves changed from a dark green to a dramatic black. The sand sparkled under the waves. Soon after that, a single star appeared on the horizon. Then, the skies above were filled with them. I closed my eyes and thanked God for letting me be part of his creation.

I think about all those people who left, thinking the sunset was over the instant the sun disappeared. I think about all they missed. Then, I thought about our lives. Sometimes, in our fast food culture of instant gratification, we are so busy rushing to the next blessing that we forget to relax and to just appreciate the fullness of all the blessings that we already have. We spend so much time rushing to “tomorrow” that we forget about “today”. We forget that this world, and our lives, are creations of God, and that God is the ultimate designer of everything in the world that is beautiful.

There is beauty everywhere in this world, and in your life. Enjoy it.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

(Job 38:5-8)

——————————————————————————

1.
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

2.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

3.
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

4.
This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

5.
This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

6.
This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

 

Don’t Praise God Because You Have To, Praise God Because He’s God: Thoughts on How Great Thou Art

My niece Katie just turned 13, which means that I turned an age that I’d rather not think about.

When my Katie was just about 24 months old, I used to love to pick her up and she loved being picked up. She had just learned to talk around that time; she’d only say individual Chinese words here and there, mostly at random just to identify things she was pointing at. My sister-in-law, of course, was “mama”. She made up a new name for my brother–instead of the traditional “baba”, she called her dad “baaah beeee”! The word for “aunt” is “gu gu”, but since she couldn’t pronounce Gs, my sister was “doo dooooo!”. I, of course, was “suu suu”, or “uncle”.

One day we were in church…I was the only one in the room with her, so I picked her up to take her outside. As soon as I picked her up, I heard a little voice out of nowhere.

“suu suu how dwong!”

I turned around…wha? Who was that? Who said that? But there was no one around. Then I looked down into my arms. There was little Katie, by then she got distracted and was already turning her head to looking around at other things in the sky.

Now, this is the first time I’d ever heard her put a complete sentence together. And the sentence translated into English goes something like, ahem, “Uncle is so strong!”

I chuckled at her and gave her a big hug…what a little sweet talker!

Funny thing is, the rest of the day, I felt really good. Now in actuality, I wasn’t really all that strong…she was about the size and weight of a small bag of supermarket rice at that point. But in her eyes, after I picked her up, I might as well have been Mr. Universe.

There is something very innocent and very precious about the praise of a child. It’s pure. There are no ulterior motives. Their ability to praise hasn’t been hindered by years and years of being whittled down by life. No one has to put them up to it. They just observe something, and say it.

I sometimes think. When we kneel down and pray before God, what do we say to him? Usually, we ask him for this, we complain about that, we stare at our watches to see if the twenty minutes we allotted to prayer are up. How sad he must feel sometimes.

What we need to do is to learn how to once again look at God through the eyes of a child. Imagine the joy we can bring to our Heavenly Father, How happy would he feel if we could just tell him how wonderful he is. If we could just blurt out, “God is so strong!” for no other reason except…He is.

From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
-Matthew 21:16

1.
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed!

Chorus
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

2.
When thru the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.

Chorus

3.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scare can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin!

Chorus

4.
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

Chorus

About the ministry of a friend of mine

I don’t talk too much about my own church on this blog, partially because this site is intended to be for all Christians and not those of a particular denomination, but also because while I love my church, I haven’t been very happy with its leadership in the last few years. I won’t get into the grisly details, but one thing they’ve done that has really, really gotten me ticked off is how they’ve treated a man I admire more than just about any other person in the world.

He was an ordained minister in our church, who worked tirelessly for God, and whom, every time I hear him speak, I can feel the power of the Spirit in his words. And while I don’t speak the same language he speaks (he speaks Mandarin and French), and we only see each other maybe once every few years, I consider him a dear friend.

Last year, my friend was suddenly fired from his post as minister. To this day, I don’t understand what happened. His only crime, it appears, is that some of his preaching veered off from the very strict orthodoxy that our church “officially” approves of. It seems that few “wise” men in the leadership of the church decided that it was “heresy” and worse, those who were in the church who should have spoken up on his behalf were silent.

In all honesty, I’ve heard his so-called “controversial” preaching. His is a preaching style that encourages people to think, instead of just indoctrination by repeating the same things over and over. That’s what makes him “dangerous”, I suppose. But as I think about it, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, what shows the greater lack of faith–those who encourage people to question with boldness or those who encourage people to stay silent with blindfolded fear?

What I admire more about my friend is that he continued to serve the Lord. He’s not a rich man (none of the ministers in our church are), but he continued to preach the gospel in China, in the French-speaking parts of Africa, and in his home of France. And the remarkable thing is, he hasn’t let himself be overcome by evil, but he is overcoming evil with good.

I don’t get to hear many details of my friend’s ministry, but a few days ago another friend of mine posted letters he received from my friend while ministering in the regions of Rwanda and the Congo. These are areas of the world that have been racked by poverty and war, and to this day it’s dangerous to go there, especially for a foreigner. But my friend still goes there because our church members there are desperate to hear the gospel.

Usually, reports of his trips are in Chinese, but in this case they’ve been translated into English. You can read them here:

http://www.seventhousand.net/en/node/482

I feel amazed and in some cases ashamed when I read the accounts of his ministerial trips. Here I am in my air conditioned room, with my white-collar job, and complaining every day about minutiae. But my friend (whom I think is in his 50’s, pushing 60) works with a cheerful heart, even amid oppressive weather, mosquitoes, poor living conditions, and the daily presence of danger, even a death thread. And he does it because he himself is inspired by the young men and women in the church who have committed to living as Christians, even as their homes and families have been torn apart by war and poverty. And they walk for hours and hours just to hear the Word of God.

I share the link above with you so you can read his accounts too (albeit most of the entries are in Chinese). And while I never put up this site to make money, I do have a favor to ask. If you’ve ever been blessed by this site or by the lyrics in the forum or in the Classic Hymns section, and if after tithing to your own church or favorite causes you still have some left to give, I would ask if you can consider a donation to a fund that’s been set up to support my friend’s ministry. The fund is an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) organization, meaning that donations are tax deductible.

The address is:

Lily of the Valley Community Outreach
10007 Harbor Hideaway Circle
Frisco, TX 75034

Phone (USA): 214-770-4350
Email: contact@lotv.us

The Amazon Echo Is Pretty Cool — And Great for Hymns!

amazon echoI usually don’t hock products on this blog (unless you count the rash of book reviews I’ve been writing recently), but here’s a product I really, really recommend–the Amazon Echo. I recently got one, and I have to say it’s slowly but surely changing my life, for the better.

For those who don’t know, the Echo is a cute little round cylindrical device (about the size of a 1-liter soda bottle) that you can put anywhere in your house and talk to. It reminds me of a cute little robot–although it doesn’t really do anything but sit there and wait for your command.

It’s sort of the same idea as Siri or Google Now, except while Apple and Google are trying to be too fancy with their voice-to-text recognition (and failing with laughable results), Amazon has gone the other direction and has started with simplicity. The Amazon Echo doesn’t attempt to understand every complex statement you utter from your mouth, but it understands simple commands and executes them flawlessly.

For example, it’s a morning ritual now for me to leave the house and ask the Echo “How’s the weather?”, and she’ll give me the temperature and the day’s forecast. She’ll also answer other simple commands like asking for a sports score, a stock price, the time, when sunset is, or read even the latest news. She’ll even maintain a To-Do List or a Shopping List for you just by dictating to her.

You keep the unit plugged in all the time, which eliminates the battery draining issues that Apple and Google have with their phone-based speech recognition.  And while I started out by yelling out commands, I realized that I can speak to it in a normal voice, even from across the room. I just say “Alexa” (the name that “she” goes by), and the top of the unit will light up, waiting for you to speak. The speaker is a really high quality one that sounds amazing, and you can even control the volume by saying “Alexa, louder” or “Alexa, turn down the volume”

But what I love most of all is that I can connect my Pandora account to Alexa. Specifically, I created a channel on Pandora called “100 Hymns Instrumental Radio” and to my surprise there’s some really great instrumental hymn music. I just have it going all day now, singing along. I use the free version of Pandora, so the ads can get a little annoying, but it’s worth it given the amazing collection of hymns they have playing at any time.

Furthermore, if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, among other benefits you’ll get unlimited ad-free access to their music library which contains a lot of really great gospel and hymn tracks, from Elvis Presley’s Gospel Music to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to a number of modern gospel and worship artists, all which you can ask Echo to play for you on command.

And if you’d like your Echo to read the Bible to you, all you need to do is sign up for an Audible account and purchase something like The Word of Promise.

I think Amazon’s been pretty brilliant with this solution. While Apple and Google seem to be falling over each other trying to outdo each other with speech recognition so complex that no one even bothers to use it, Amazon’s Alexa is doing the simple things and doing them well. By purchasing other add-ons like the Belkin WeMo Light Switch you’ll even be able to use voice commands to turn the lights off and on. Who knows where it’ll go in the future but for now I’m pretty happy having a new little friend at my beck and call just answering the simple questions for me 🙂

Review of the Big Look Bible Book

This review is for the Big Look Bible Book. We’ve reviewed other “children’s Bibles” before, but more often than not I’ve been disappointed. Often, they’d present themselves as if they were “Bibles” but the stories would be so watered down that they’d be mere shadows of the real Bible. This book doesn’t purport to be a “Bible” but a “Bible book”, which I appreciated. It’s not a replacement for the Bible, but really just inspired by it.

The book goes through the most popular stories for young children in the Bible–Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Joseph, Daniel, the Nativity, The Angel’s Visit, and the Resurrection. A single page is dedicated to each, and a short paragraph of about 50 words is the extent to which each story is told. It’s certainly not comprehensive by any stretch, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s really more a way to provide a first introduction to the Bible stories for very young readers, who will ask questions and to whom you can describe more from your own Bible knowledge (and it’s also a good reminder to shore up your own knowledge too).

The illustrations are cute, colorful, and very, very engaging for youngsters learning new words. You can sit with your child and point out different animals, people, plants, and other objects. Each page is  uniquely shaped, which will further the uniqueness and interest.  Like the other book by the same folks (Make Believe Ideas) that I just reviewed, this one is one that will bring a lot of joy to your household.

How Could An All-Loving God Do That? Thoughts on Great Is Thy Faithfulness

This blog post is originally from August 2005.

————————————————————————————————————–

Like many of you, I’ve been riveted to the TV the last few days, looking at the effects of Katrina.

It was just a few years ago that I decided to treat myself to a little trip. I happened to see that the Giants were playing the Saints, so I used some of my hotel points to get a room in a Four Points Sheraton in Metairie, used Priceline to get a rental car, and used my air miles to book a plane from Newark to New Orleans.

The trip was a great one. The first night, I got the Giants game over with. I can’t remember the score, but I do remember the Giants phoning it in that night. And they weren’t the only ones. That was the game where Joe Horn of the Saints scored four touchdowns, and grabbed a cell phone from under one of the goal posts–I’m sure he felt it well worth the $30,000 fine he had to pay later. At that point, of course, I had to deny to the rabid Saints fans around me that I was a Giants fan. “California. I come from California” I sheepishly replied when a friendly person in the next seat asked me where I was from. I felt like Peter talking to the servant girl.

The next few days, I saw the town. Made sure to get beignets for breakfast. Walked around the French Quarter. Had a “Po-boy”. Ate an incredible Cajun buffet lunch at the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. Lots of Jambalaya, lots of crawfish, lots of great jazz. Visited the D-Day Museum. Had a nice drive down to Lake Pontchartrain, and drove up and down that bridge a few times. Lots of smiles from the people there.

A great trip, all things considered. I think it’s the last trip I’ve taken that wasn’t work-related.

To see the devastation on the TV is heartbreaking. Who would have thought it? Just a week ago, Katrina was just a tiny little disturbance, like all the others. Who would have known that just a week later, thousands and thousands of lives would be tossed about?

For some reason, a verse kept popping up in my head this week.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:18, 19

When disaster like this strikes, you invariably hear people snidely remark, “how could an all-loving God allow this to happen”.

But honestly, the questions should go something like this:

“Why is it that I have been spared thus far?”
“How is that that an all-powerful God still has the time to hear our cries when we pray?”

Disaster and calamity will happen on this side of paradise. It all goes back to the curse. That it doesn’t happen to us every day is the miracle. But some day we will get hit by that storm. That’s a guarantee. Maybe its name won’t be ‘Katrina’. Maybe its name will be “9-11”. Or “massive stroke”. Or “broken engagement”. Or “sick child”.

But our all-loving God already did do something. He sent His only begotten Son to die. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse by becomes a curse for us.

So it’s the same, whether you’re dealing with the aftermath of a physical storm, or of any kind of storm in your life. Maybe we can’t think of an explanation of why things happened the way they did. Maybe there is no explanation, at least not one we’ll fathom until we’re out of this world. But the one thing to hang onto is this: Christ lives. And this means we have hope. This means we can pick up the pieces, and move on.

And the best way to move on…is to wait. Kicking and screaming and crying might be what we feel like doing, and yes, it’s okay to do that for a time. But it won’t change anything. Waiting quietly for the salvation of the Lord, that’s what brings relief. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

Please remember the victims of Hurricane Katrina in your prayers, and please be generous in your giving.

—————————————————————————————-

1.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Refrain
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

2.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Refrain

3.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Refrain

Follow the Signs: Thoughts on Savior, Lead Me Lest I Stray

I do those 30 and 60 mile bike tours every now and then. A few years ago I did the 60-mile bike tour for MS in New York. The weather on the day of the ride was absolutely perfect for the ride. Arrows posted all along the route showed us the way to go. The ride took us through Manhattan, from the South Street Seaport, up the FDR, across town, down the West Side Highway, into the Lincoln Tunnel (you haven’t lived until you’ve coasted at 35-40 MPH through the Lincoln Tunnel), through Hoboken and Edgewater, New Jersey, and into the Palisades.

I stop here, because this is where today’s adventure begins.

The Palisades, for those who don’t know it, is a National Recreation Area in New Jersey. It’s a beautiful bit of wilderness running along a cliff facing New York City. At certain points in the Palisades, you can look down and see a great view of Manhattan.

I knew I was in for a bit of a challenge, because even when I drive up the Palisades, I get exhausted. Now, here I was with a mountain bike and legs that had already ridden about 45 miles, against these mountains.

I gave it the old college try. I rode up until my legs gave out. Then, I took the bike and walked up. My average speed of 12-15 MPH suddenly went down, as I trudged up the mountain at 1-2 MPH. Still, there was no turning back.

I’d made it past the roughest parts of the trail. Now, there were a bunch of roads that were mostly downhill. There was one in particular where I just coasted and coasted downhill. But suddenly, something seemed wrong.

All through the ride, I had always had at least 3-4 bikers within shouting distance. Suddenly, I was all by myself.

Then I realized—I haven’t seen an arrow in quite some time.

Panic started to set in. A few minutes later, I saw two guys with bike jerseys in the distance walking up the hill with their bikes.

“MS Bike Tour?” they asked.
“Yep,” I responded.

We didn’t have to say any more. We had all missed a turn somewhere. I joined them in the arduous trek back up the hill.

Admittedly, I looked down that hill, and it looked awful tempting to keep going down. I looked up the hill, to where my missed turn was, and I wasn’t looking forward to yet again proving Newton’s Third Law. But I swallowed hard, got off my seat, and walked my bike with the other guys back to the point we all missed, probably a good mile up the hill.

We got to the intersection. Surely enough, the sign was there, but really hard to see. We got on our bikes. It made me a little late, but I still finished the ride, back over the George Washington Bridge, and down to Chelsea Piers. I had finished my own triathalon—I biked, I walked, and I crawled. But I finished.

Sometimes God’s will is very clear. But quite often, even after things have been made abundantly clear to us, we still want to press forward with our own way.

I’ve been in that boat many times, as I’m sure you have too. I’d want something with all my heart. I’d be convinced that it is the best thing for me. I’d try my best to achieve it. I’d even pray and pray asking God to make that thing happen in my life.

But everything would fall apart.

But, I’d press on. Maybe…maybe God didn’t hear me. I’ll pray harder. I’ll spend day and night hoping and hoping for what I want. After all, I know what’s best for myself, right? I know what “feels right” to me. And that must be the best for me.

I guess as I get older, I realize something. I don’t know what’s best for myself at all. Because feelings lie.

The funny thing is, I look at my life today, and…I like it. A lot. And I wouldn’t have gotten to this point had I not gone through the uphill climbs, the soreness, the fatigue. Had I had a choice, I would never have faced any of those things. But I did, and it made me who I am today.

We can only see what’s right in front of me. We don’t know the twists and turns on the road ahead. Sure, there might be a road where the arrow points to the left, but the downhill slope straight ahead is just so tempting you want to ignore the sign and speed down the slope. But if you do that, be prepared to crawl back up.

Are there things I wish I had that I don’t have? Of course. But it’s just not time for that arrow yet. I’ll keep an eye out for the arrow, and when the time comes, I’ll follow it, just as I’ve followed the others that have gotten me to where I am. The one who placed the arrows there knows the right road to lead me to the finish line and the goody bag.
1.
Savior, lead me, lest I stray,
Gently lead me all the way;
I am safe when by Thy side,
I would in Thy love abide.

Refrain
Lead me, lead me, Savior, lead me lest I stray;
Gently down the stream of time,
Lead me, Savior, all the way.

2.
Thou the refuge of my soul
When life’s stormy billows roll;
I am safe when Thou art nigh,
All my hopes on Thee rely.

Refrain

3.
Savior, lead me, then at last,
When the storm of life is past,
To the land of endless day,
Where all tears are wiped away.

Refrain

Clean Up the Mess: Thoughts on Is Your All On the Altar

A few years ago, I moved to my apartment in Long Island. Now, I’d lived in NJ for all my life. I was born in Princeton, grew up in Princeton Jct., went to college in New Brunswick, went to grad school in Newark, worked in South Plainfield, Piscataway, and Basking Ridge, went to church in Elizabeth and Hillsborough. I have a shelf full of Sinatra CDs, I’ve been to a Springsteen concert, and I still feel weird pumping my own gas and making u-turns.

Anyway, I moved from my childhood home in Princeton Jct to my apartment in Montclair about 5 years ago. Now, I didn’t move all in one day…I actually moved over a period of a few years. You see, I’d go home to visit my dad, and every week I’d drive up, I’d bring a carload of stuff with me back to my apartment.

So, in September a few years ago, I got a job in Westbury, NY. So I sold my apartment in Montclair and bought a new one in Great Neck. When I first walked into the apartment, I fell in love with it. Two big bedrooms, beautiful hardwood floors. I thought to myself…there is just so much potential in the place. I could move in furniture, invite friends over, maybe even start a family there one day. I looked forward to the move.

The week of the move came. Now to myself, I thought…this’ll be easy. I’ll just pack about 15 boxes of stuff, take about 2-3 hours to move, and that’d be it. I started packing.

10 boxes.
20 boxes.
30 boxes.

I ended up with over 40 boxes full of junk!

The day of the move came. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Four hours. Five hours… It was a full Nine hours later before the movers were finally done. It would have been a lot longer, but by the sixth or seventh hour, I put on a T-shirt and became one of the movers. After all, they were paid by the hour…

After we were all done, I signed a few papers and let the movers out the door. Then I turned around. My heart sank.

Every square inch of my beautiful new apartment was filled with moving boxes and junk. Some boxes were piled 2, even 3 high. I couldn’t even walk from one end of the room to the other.

The next week I went to church. One of the first people I talked to about my new apartment was a good friend of mine, who happens to be a fellow Yankee fan. I mentioned to him that I had cable TV, with the YES Network. His eyes lit up like Times Square.

“Say Steve…Opening Day is this Sunday against the Red Sox”.

I wanted so much to tell him to come over that weekend. But I was too ashamed…not to mention that it would be a health risk…I don’t know if his insurance would cover if a pile of boxes fell on him.

The next week, I was at the CostCo near my work, and a girl came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. It was someone else from my church! She and her husband had driven all the way to Westbury to buy the famous CostCo grapefruits. We had a nice chat, and I wanted so much to invite them over to my place for dinner…I was in the perfect place to get food for a feast. But again, I wasn’t able to.

And I came to a realization. Until I got rid of the clutter, I could never enjoy my apartment. And no one else could either. I could never invite anyone over. My apartment would be pretty much useless.

So I started to get rid of stuff. I went through all the junk box by box, item by item. I had to decide what was worth saving and what wasn’t. I found that some things I had treasured 10 years ago, they were meaningless to me now, but for some reason I held onto them. I just threw them out.

Some things were still worth something, but had no value to me personally anymore. But I listed them on eBay, and funny thing is, they had value to other people. Things I was about to throw away, I ended up making tens, even hundreds of dollars of them!

I told myself I’d toss a little bit each day. So for the next few weeks, I’d make sure I’d have at least one garbage bag full of stuff as I left home for work in the morning. On weekends, I’d spend all day and night, to the point where I’d get exhausted.

But finally, I started to see hardwood floor again. And the empty boxes started to pile up one by one, to be thrown out.

Bet you’re wondering how it all ended up ☺

Well, not too long after that, a friend and his wife, both of whom are good friends of mine, came to visit from California. I offered to host them in my apartment. They came, and spent two nights with me.

On the last night, my friend made a comment. He said he couldn’t say my place was like a 5-star hotel. He explained. Saying that would be a disservice to my place, because it was more like a 6 or 7 star hotel!

The following week, a bunch of church youth went to eat at the buffet in Great Neck. I invited everyone over to my place after dinner. Everyone came over, and we just sat around the living room table and talked for hours. And my friend did finally get to see a Yankee game.

The feeling of having my friends over to my place was just a wonderful feeling…like Peter, that night I wished I could have built booths so that they could stay there forever.

Well, there is a point to my story.

And I’ll give it in the form of a question.

What junk are you carrying around with you?

You see, as servants of God, we’re a lot like my new apartment in Great Neck. We dedicate ourselves to God. We are excited at the change to be of service to God. We are filled with potential, with beautiful gifts.

But something within us prevents us from being of service to God? Or something prevents our service from being joyful.

Perhaps it’s something we’ve carried with us for a long time. Something we never quite let go of.

For each of us, it something different.

Perhaps it’s a bad habit. A habit that we never quite let go of. And it still clutters our lives today.

Perhaps it’s an incorrect concept. Maybe there is still a part of ourselves that still believes that money has value. Or that outward appearance has value. Or that human prestige and honor has value. This is all clutter.

In some cases, perhaps we were hurt in the past. Perhaps by someone who was supposed to love us. Perhaps by someone who should have known better. And we never let go of that hurt. Instead, we let it clutter our lives.

So, like my apartment, our lives get filled with clutter. We wish to be of service to God, but we just can’t. Even if we try to, chances are people will get hurt. And we simply feel more burden in our service, and certainly no joy.

What do you do when this happens? When your life is filled with junk?

Well, we know Jesus is the greatest physician.
He is the greatest philosopher.
He was the greatest orator.

But did you know that Jesus is the greatest garbage man? He is the king of the Sanitation Engineers.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28)

Just like those 40 boxes, the clutter in our lives is a heavy burden to bear. For as long as we’ve been carrying it, it’s been taking a heavy cost from us. The longer we’ve lived with it, the heavier it becomes.

Whatever trash you have, one by one, give it to him. How do you do this?

Like I did with the boxes

One by one, go through the junk. Ask yourself..Is this junk I’m carrying with me worth anything?

Perhaps your junk is valuable to someone else, like my useless junk was worth something to others on eBay. In other words, maybe a bad experience you’ve had in the past will help someone else going through the same thing.

But most things will be worthless. In that case, throw them out. Every day, throw something else away. Clear your heart. Just like my apartment had beautiful hardwood floors once the clutter was gone, the same is true of your heart. Once the clutter is gone, you’ll see the beauty of a pure heart, ready for service to God.

I’m happy to say that the apartment is still relatively clean. But keeping the apartment clean is a daily task. It’s so easy to leave a pile of junk mail here, an empty can of soda there, and soon the apartment will be unfit again. So, clearing the clutter is not something you do once and it’s over, it something you do for the rest of your life. But the beautiful thing is, Jesus is always there, waiting for you to take a pile of junk and hand it over to Him. And each time you do that, you’ll find that your heart opens up to being able to be a blessing to many.

—————————————————————————————————-
1.
You have longed for sweet peace, And for faith to increase,
And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest, Or be perfectly blest,
Until all on the altar is laid.

Refrain

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest, And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.

2.
Would you walk with the Lord, In the light of His Word,
And have peace and contentment alway?
You must do His sweet will, To be free from all ill,
On the altar your all you must lay.

Refrain

3.
O we never can know What the Lord will bestow
Of the blessings for which we have prayed,
Till our body and soulHe doth fully control,
And our all on the altar is laid.

Refrain

4.
Who can tell all the love He will send from above,
And how happy our hearts will be made,
Of the fellowship sweet We shall share at His feet,
When our all on the altar is laid.

Refrain