The God of the Broken-Hearted

Have you ever had the experience of being close to someone whose heart has been broken? It can be an extremely helpless feeling. No matter what words you prepare and rehearse, you know that there’s nothing you can do to take away the pain. It’s a difficult place to be for the one who is on the outside looking in. It feels as though your heart is breaking too, breaking for the one who is suffering through a tragedy or loss or painful trial. It’s not always possible to be physically present with the one who is hurting. Sometimes distance stands in the way of giving a hug or putting your arm around a shoulder or crying together.

God, what should I do? What can I say? How can I be supportive? How can I help to ease the pain? I talk to God a lot, pretty much throughout the entire day. When I ask a question, I try to listen for the answer and I believe that He’s given me answers many times. Those answers haven’t always come in ways that are expected. Sometimes the answer comes in that still small voice. Sometimes, it’s through a scripture passage. Sometimes it’s through another person. Yesterday it was through music. It came when flipping through YouTube videos on my iPad while cleaning up after dinner.

“Say something that says something …. sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.” The answer came in the form of a duet by Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake. Song lyrics can be interpreted in whatever way the listener chooses. I knew what those lyrics meant for me at that moment. They meant that the greatest way to help ease the pain in this situation was to say nothing at all. They meant that “He [God] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). They meant that my role was to love by simply sharing scripture passages. They meant that what was needed for the brokenhearted was not to hear from me, but from God. But God. The God of the Broken-Hearted. 

HOPE NUGGETS:

*The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

*Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

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The Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Its taste is described as a cross between a banana and a mango. Even though the pawpaw is the largest edible fruit native to the United States and can be found growing in the wild in 26 states, not many people have heard of or tasted a pawpaw. Last weekend at Lake Snowden in Albany Ohio, I attended the 21st Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival with my husband and son. After several years of talking about making the 3 1/2-hour drive west, we finally coordinated our schedules and made plans to attend the first of the three-day event.

The festival far surpassed our expectations. Chris Chmiel, founder of Integration Acres, gave an informative pawpaw presentation and led a walkabout in which he helped us to identify pawpaw trees in the wild. We learned the proper way of opening and eating the creamy custard-like sweet fruit. We learned that pawpaws are very nutritious and high in Vitamin C. Did you know that George Washington’s favorite dessert was chilled pawpaw?

Many activities and booths were available at the festival and there’s something for everyone. There was the Pawpaw Cook-off, the Pawpaw Eating Contest, sustainable living workshops, music, booths of all sorts – food, crafts, art, history, education, lots of activities for the kids and even a talk about Bigfoot sightings! In addition to fresh pawpaw fruit, we enjoyed eating pawpaw ice cream, pawpaw bread and pawpaw chicken adobo. With so many food booth choices, we didn’t get the chance to try pawpaw cotton candy, pawpaw cookies, pawpaw funnel cake, pawpaw burritos or pawpaw waffle-on-a-stick! Maybe next year!   https://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/index.html

If you would like to learn more about pawpaws, the book “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit” by Andrew Moore is highly recommended by my husband. A portion of the book’s description reads: “As much as Pawpawis a compendium of pawpaw knowledge, it also plumbs deeper questions about American foodways―how economic, biologic, and cultural forces combine, leading us to eat what we eat, and sometimes to ignore the incredible, delicious food growing all around us. If you haven’t yet eaten a pawpaw, this book won’t let you rest until you do.”

Until last weekend’s festival, I had no idea that I was missing out on a delicious and healthy fruit! Because of that trip, we now have 2 pawpaw trees planted and growing in our back yard. We’re looking forward to the day when they bear fruit. My introduction to pawpaws reminded me of a time, decades ago, when I was introduced to Christ and made the decision to follow Him and to walk in His ways. If I wouldn’t have been willing to “taste and see” by putting my hope and trust in Him, I would have never fully realized His goodness. How about you? Are you willing to taste and see that He is good?

HOPE NUGGET: Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! [Psalm 34:8]

Camouflaged (2)

Camouflage is an adaptation that is used as a survival technique in the animal kingdom. It is a way for animals and even for humans to blend in with their environment. When my husband served in the Army during Desert Shield / Desert Storm, he was provided with desert camouflage uniforms known as the Six-Color Desert Pattern or sometimes referred to as Chocolate Chip Camouflage. The purpose of wearing the pattern of light tan, pale green and two-tone brown with black and white spots was to blend in with the desert sands of Saudi Arabia. The black and white spots were designed to mimic the appearance of pebbles and their shadows. Wearing a uniform of those desert colors was a way of being undetected by the enemy which helped to provide safety for the service members.

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (June 1991)

Through some research, I found that animal camouflage is also referred to as cryptic coloration. Small animals such as lizards, snakes, insects and frogs blend in with their environment by using this unique adaptation to avoid becoming prey. These animals are often the same color as the leaves or twigs around them and some of the insects are even able to look like the twigs or leaves. They use camouflage to mask their location, identity and movement. One of the most beautiful and interesting animals to use camouflage is the Eastern Screech Owl. This little owl has the ability to hide in plain sight in tree holes with its feathers camouflaged to match tree bark. The camouflage is used as a means to protect its home and to capture unsuspecting prey which venture close.

Eastern Screech Owl

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the command of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to Christians to let their lights shine before the world. I wrote about the green bean patch in our garden and about how the green beans were so well hidden in the bushes. I wrote about how sin causes us to blend in with the world rather than standing out and being separate as representatives of Christ. Since that last blog post, I returned to our garden to gather more beans from our little patch. This time while picking, a few beans fell from the plants to the ground below, becoming lost beneath the thick bushes. It made me think of the dangers of blending in, of having the idea that no harm will come by having partnership with the world. It’s a frightening thought…lostness. Yet, by looking at the lifestyles of many who proclaim Christ, it appears that the possibility of lostness does not occur to some. It seems that they believe they can look and act just like the world without detrimental consequences. It is really a very dangerous place to be. Christians are certainly in the world, but by no means are meant to be of the world. Instead of adding more and more layers of camouflage, why not be obedient to God and clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ? It is in Him where safety is found.

HOPE NUGGETS:

*I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness [Isaiah 61:10a]

*Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  [1 John 2:15-17]

Camouflaged

Gardening season in southwestern Pennsylvania has reached harvest time. The row of green bean plants in our garden has grown very big and bushy. Gathering beans from those plants is a challenge. It requires squatting or being down on knees, trying to separate and lift the tangled bushes and stems from each other enough to spot the elusive green beans underneath. It’s not as easy as one might think! I don’t know if the picture below gives a good perspective, but the beans are hidden very well amidst those bushy plants. One would never know that quarts of green beans were hanging in there if just walking by that row of green plants without intentionally looking or investigating more closely.

As I picked those beans a few evenings ago, I wondered if that’s what the church looks like to the world. Are we camouflaged so well that we blend in with the world? Are we hidden so well that others need to go to a lot of effort to find us? Or, do we stand out to others, letting our lights shine before them that they see our good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven? [Matthew 5: 16]  If our lights aren’t shining…why not? Perhaps it’s that ugly three-letter word: Sin. Maybe we blend in so well because we look just like everyone else. Maybe it’s because we act like those who aren’t followers of Christ. Our actions cause us to be indistinguishable from the rest of the world. We are lustful, gluttonous and greedy. We are lazy, envious and prideful. 

We neglect to attend or serve in the church, but in its place are sure to find time for pleasure and recreation. Are Sundays set aside to gather with the church to worship God or are Christians instead involved with other seemingly more important activities on that day? Does the way we go about life look like it does for everyone else? Are Christians avoiding sin and offering ourselves as living sacrifices to the Savior of our souls? Are our lights shining brightly enough that we can be easily seen by those who are in need of salvation? Do our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family have the impression that God is the priority of our lives? Do they see by our words and actions that we live to please Him?

Maybe if those green beans were neon or yellow or any other color besides green, they would be much easier to locate. Maybe they would then be easier to identify as the bean and not mistaken for the stem or leaf of the plant. Maybe if Christians would walk and talk more like Jesus, they would be more easily identified by others as belonging to the kingdom of God. Maybe then they would be making a greater impact on this world rather than spending so much time wringing their hands over the direction that the world is going. Just maybe.

HOPE NUGGET:  Spoken by Jesus:   I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  [John 17: 14-16]

A Song of Thanks

Do you ever wake up singing in the morning? One day last week, I did. It wasn’t something that happened consciously, so I can’t take credit for it. It wasn’t even a day that I was especially excited about or necessarily looking forward to. That particular day meant that summer break for me had officially ended. The realization had come that we would not be together again as a family with our kids and granddaughters until Christmas break. It meant that once again I’d need to set my alarm clock and head back to my job with an inservice meeting in the morning. It was a bummer. All of it. “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul….” I wasn’t singing when I lay down in bed the night before. Instead, I had been feeling sad because the summer months had passed by so quickly and I was anxious about the start of another school year.

God has a way of changing our outlook. He has a way of turning our sadness and our anxieties into joy. Sometimes He does so in unexpected and surprising ways, even when we’ve set our minds to looking at our situations negatively. Sometimes He needs to remind us of where our focus should be. Sometimes He uses a song to do that. “Thank you Lord for saving my soul. Thank you Lord for making me whole. Thank you Lord for giving to me, Thy great salvation so rich and free.”

It’s an older chorus which we used to sing years ago, a song which I usually don’t sing and which never even really comes to mind. But on that day last week, it came out of nowhere. It came as a reminder that I should be dwelling on all of the reasons to be thankful, especially of being thankful for God’s great salvation. When you wake up singing a song with that kind of meaning, your perspective changes. It just has to. And it changes the entire course of your day. And of the days that follow… Thank you, Lord.

HOPE NUGGET: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. [1 Peter 1: 3-4a]

Preparation: Soup and Souls

Green beans, potatoes, onions, tomatoes. Last week, I gathered them all from our vegetable garden. For years, my husband and I have processed foods to be used throughout the year after gardening season is over. It’s a hobby that requires a great deal of work, but one that we both enjoy. The benefit for us is having healthy, organic homegrown food on our table, not only during the summer months when the vegetables are fresh out of the garden, but year round. There’s nothing like sitting down to the comfort of a steaming bowl of vegetable soup on a chilly fall or cold winter evening.

The vegetable soup recipe that I used was from: https://www.freshpreserving.com/homemade-vegetable-soup—pressure-canning—ball-recipes-br1067.html.  The only change I made was to use green beans instead of limas. TIP: Be sure to allow a 1-inch headspace in each jar!

There’s no way around it; anything important enough and worth having takes work and maintenance. Whether it be relationships, a marriage, a home, vehicles, belongings. They all require time and attention and care. The same is true for the church. If the church is to grow and is to be healthy, it won’t happen without work. Sitting comfortably on our back porch with glasses of iced tea in hand and looking across the yard at our garden in June and July and August without setting foot in the garden would have resulted in a different outcome than the one we have. The weeds would have grown and would have blocked our view of the lovely vegetable plants. Weeds are ugly and unsightly; they are also very destructive. They would have choked out the vegetable plants and taken over the garden.

The Parable of the Sower [Mark 4: 1-7]:

Again he [Jesus] began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.”

Before planting could even begin in our garden, preparatory work was necessary. The rototiller was put to use. Rocks were removed. Stakes with strings were placed to create straight and even rows. The hoe and shovel came out. The holes were dug, the seeds were sown and plants were placed in the ground and then fertilized and watered. Over the days and weeks and months that followed, having a good quality garden required continued watering, thinning out, pruning, staking and tying back, mulching and weeding. It wasn’t until all of those steps were completed that a successful harvest came. A willingness and commitment and sacrifice of hard work, time, patience, and a hope that the weather (out of our control) would cooperate.

If the church is to grow, the same kind of hard work and nurturing and maintenance is necessary. Prayer is foundational to the success of the church and every person and every plan must be bathed in prayer. We must have leadership willing to initiate and develop a plan, to organize, and to set it in motion. We must have dedicated workers to fill all of the needed roles and to accomplish all of the necessary tasks. There must be enthusiasm and excitement and interest which starts at the top of the leadership and spreads it’s way through the congregation. If the church is to grow, we cannot just “sit comfortably on our porch with our iced teas in hand,” without putting our hands and feet to use. We must join together as a team and be sold out to accomplishing the work of The Master.

HOPE NUGGET:

And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [Mark 4: 8-9]

Taming The Tongue

A few years ago, a Christian leader who I was associated with, posted a facebook comment about Bruce Jenner which was meant to be humorous, but which I saw as childish, unnecessary and unbecoming of any Christian, let alone by one serving in an influential leadership position. I wanted to voice my opposition, but stayed quiet and responded by simply using the dislike button. Later, I noticed a meme, which I assumed to be a further attempt at humor, shared as a reply to that initial post by a Christian friend of that leader. The meme was insulting and derogatory with images of Bruce Jenner as an Olympian and Bruce as Caitlyn on Wheaties cereal boxes. This time, I hoped that because the meme was a bit outrageous, that my associate would delete his post or at least the meme. It didn’t happen. I waited. Nothing. Days later, still there for the world to see. I finally disliked the meme and wrote something like “Christians don’t help matters by posting comments like these.” 😥 The meme was eventually deleted, but the initial post made by the Christian leader who I was associated with, remained.

Recently, a young adult Christian friend and I were having a facebook chat. She pointed out that a number of times she has seen those who proclaim Christ agreeing with or sharing the photos or memes of “Facebook took this photo of Melania down – share our beautiful First Lady” (We’ve all seen them). While that’s not bad in itself, what IS bad is what’s often being implied and by what can be seen in the comments added … “FINALLY, we have a beautiful and classy lady in the White House again!” And “Finally, she is so much more beautiful than Michelle or should I say MICHAEL” and “Yes God bless her. She is so classy, not GROSS like Michelle the Monkey!” 

If you participate in this kind of horrible nonsense, shame on you. It’s wrong. It’s not Christlike! I will tell you that I don’t believe that Bruce Jenner is a woman, but a man who is in need of psychological help. I will tell you that I am more of a conservative than liberal in political ideology and policies. I will also tell you that I don’t believe it’s appropriate or helpful to spread hateful or ugly memes or comments about Jenner or to compare the looks of Melania and Michelle, by insulting one or the other. I will also tell you that I believe they are both beautiful and attractive women. 

The insults and lies come flying from all directions, from all political persuasions, from left and right and are wrong no matter who makes them. Christian friends, we must control our words. We must consider how our words will affect others. We must ask ourselves if our words will be a blessing or a hindrance to others. We must speak words of truth and guard what comes out of our mouths and off of our keyboards and from our pens. We must allow God’s word to be our source of guidance for our words and actions. We must obtain wisdom for our behavior through prayer and through the reading of the scriptures. 

HOPE NUGGETS:




CHRISTIANS, THE WORLD IS WATCHING…AND LISTENING…(So is Jesus)… A few words of warning from the Bible: ~~~“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3). ~~~“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). ~~~“I tell you, on the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak” -Jesus- (Matthew 12:36).