More Than Simply “Thank you”

Thanksgiving 2019 is over, but as the weekend nears its end and December begins, I’ll carry with me the words of the Lord from scripture that were impressed upon me this week. As Thanksgiving day approached and as I began to think about its meaning, and as I thought about that first Thanksgiving feast shared by the English colonists and the Wampanoags almost 400 years ago in 1621, the simplicity of the holiday came into focus. Thankfulness — an important, but very simple act. The realization that blessings and provisions from God abound around each of us every day. The understanding that even though we may work hard to provide for ourselves and our families for our basic needs, those needs are ultimately met by God. Every blessing we possess and enjoy is a gift from God. 🎵 Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 🎵

But how can we, and should we, show thankfulness to God for His many blessings? That question led me to narrow down to a few basic directives given in the scriptures. Thankfulness is not just in saying the 2 simple words “thank you,” but it’s in living out a life of thankfulness each and every day. It’s in being sincerely grateful to God for His bountiful blessings, not just on this holiday, but every day that He gives us breath. If the realization occurs that our greatest blessing is God Himself, the desire to express sincere thankfulness naturally follows. Sincere thankfulness requires action. For this Thanksgiving week, I chose a simple biblical directive on which to reflect for each day of the week.

Sunday: Worship God.  

[WORSHIP = an act of reverence or homage]

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6)

Monday: Serve God.  

[SERVE = to work for, to labor in behalf of] 

Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you. (1 Samuel 12:24)

Tuesday: Obey God.   

[OBEY = to comply with, to follow commands of, to submit to authority of] 

You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. (Deuteronomy 13:4)

Wednesday: Love God.

[PHILOTHEIA = love for God….associated with worship and devotion towards God]

And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. (Matthew 22: 37-38)

Thursday: Thank God.

[THANK = to express gratitude to]

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)

Friday: Praise God.

[PRAISE = to extol in words or song; to magnify; to glorify on account of perfections or excellent works]

Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Hebrews 13:15)

Saturday: Follow God.

[FOLLOW = act according to the lead or example of]

You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. (Deuteronomy 13:4)

HOPE NUGGET:

🎵 Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. 🎵

Happy Birthday, in Heaven

Thirty-two years ago today, my sweet nephew Daniel entered the world and forever changed our lives. At his sixth month in utero, it was determined that Daniel had hydrocephalus, often referred to as “water on the brain.” Hydrocephalus is a condition in which there is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities (ventricles) deep within the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the ventricles and puts pressure on the brain. The diagnosis of hydrocephalus meant that brain damage would most likely occur during development due to the pressure caused by the fluid buildup.

As can be imagined, receiving this news about their baby was devastating for my sister and brother-in-law, a young and newly married couple. Daniel was indeed born with severe brain damage which led to a host of disabilities. Daniel had a feeding tube and a colostomy and was unable to walk or talk. He was completely dependent upon his parents for his full care. When he was just a year old, Dr. Ben Carson – yes, That Ben Carson – performed surgery on Daniel. He informed Danny’s parents, Leslie & Cy, that the corpus callosum was not formed. The corpus callosum is the bridge between the left and right sides of the brain that allows information to pass between the two halves.

Being born with brain damage and an unformed corpus callosum though didn’t stop Daniel from learning, even learning sign language! Daniel loved music, toys with lights and sounds, and interaction with those around him. The sillier a person was when they played or interacted with Danny, the better he liked it! He laughed so hard sometimes that tears streamed down his cheeks. Daniel’s life brought blessings to our family that we would not have known without him.

If you ask Cy and Leslie how they did it – how they handled caring for a highly-involved child for 12 years, how Cy held down a job the entire time, how they managed numerous surgeries and extended hospital stays, how they took care of a second son born about 5 years later, and how at the age of 12 years they said their final goodbye on this earth to their dearly-loved firstborn son, they would say that God gave them strength through their dependence on Him. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever [Psalm 73: 25-26]. They would say that Daniel was a blessing and never a burden. They would answer without hesitation that they would willingly do it all over again.

Despite the many challenges that came during his 12 short years of life, Daniel’s joy was infectious and his laughter was contagious! He gave and received more love & happiness than many people do in a lifetime. He was a pleasant boy and it showed even on his worst days, even on the many days when he was very ill. It’s hard to find a picture of him without a smile on his face! You will always be loved, Daniel!! HAPPY 32ND BIRTHDAY IN HEAVEN!! 

HOPE NUGGET: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. [Lamentations 3: 22-23]

With Wings as Eagles

“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” These words from Isaiah 40:31 were the last words that I spoke to my mother-in-law on July 30, 2011. Her husband, 5 sons, 4 daughters-in-law and grandchildren had gathered around her hospital bed to say final goodbyes. One by one, we took turns at her bedside to express our love and “see-you-later” to her. As I stood there, already grieving what I knew would be a great loss, the verse from Isaiah played over and over in my mind. I had asked God to give me words that would comfort Margaret. She was a woman of faith. A woman who passed on a heritage of faith to her children and through them to her grandchildren. 

Mom and Dad Huff and their boys

Why am I writing a blog post about her today? It’s not the anniversary of her entry into heaven. It’s not her birthday. She came to mind today, I believe, because this is the first day of November, Thanksgiving month. The month which is associated with thankfulness. I’m thankful for Margaret. Thankful that we had so many years with her. I’m thankful for the influence of faith that she had on her family, the greatest gift that she could have left for us. My husband has said more than once that he would not want to disappoint his mom. I’m certain that the desire to honor his God-fearing (and God-loving) mother influenced his decisions and kept him on the “straight and narrow.” I’m also certain that her influence affected his own decision to follow and serve Christ.

A joyous memory: the trip to Niagara Falls

Our family hasn’t been the same since that day when God welcomed her into His presence for eternity. In spite of the hole left in our family and in spite of our continued grief, we will joyfully celebrate this 9th Thanksgiving without her. We will celebrate, knowing that she is with her Father in Heaven, with her Savior Jesus. How do we know where she is? Through hope. The hope of Christ in God’s promise to those whose faith is placed in Him. The hope that she had in knowing that she was redeemed by the one who died for her so that she would have eternal life. It is the same hope on which I hang my hat as well.

My favorite photo of Margaret, a spunky redhead

HOPE NUGGET: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. [John 5:24]

Not by Might, Not by Power

Fellow believers in Christ, does it seem like you’re getting nowhere when trying to make a difference in the Kingdom of God? Is it harder and harder to remain a Christian and to stand for righteousness in a society whose moral compass is disintegrating farther and farther away from the principles of God’s word? Are you discouraged by dwindling numbers in your church congregation? Do you feel like walking away and starting new somewhere else or do you feel like throwing in the towel altogether? 

It could be that you are right where God wants you to be. Have you considered that His desire is for you to be completely dependent upon Him? Perhaps you need to know that it’s not by your might or power, but by the Spirit of the Lord that moves mountains (Zechariah 4:6). Zerubbabel was given the task of leading the first group of the return of Jewish people to Jerusalem after their exile to Babylon. After the return, he was appointed governor and oversaw the Temple construction. It had been about 70 years since Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed. Zerubbabel and the people faced their fair share of challenges and disappointments, but the Temple was completed and dedicated with much rejoicing. Even though Zerubbabel’s temple was smaller in size than Solomon’s, “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” said the Lord (Haggai 2:9).

The church fellowship I attend in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania has diminished in size over the years. Our congregation has faced challenges and disappointments that we never would have expected. In our place of worship where services were attended in recent years by 100-plus worshippers, the average attendance has dropped into the 20s. It can be quite discouraging, especially for those of us still there who had experienced the times of numerous activities and successful outreaches with more than enough enthusiastic volunteers. The church prospered and grew and it seemed as though God’s blessing was upon it.

Grace Fellowship Church of Everson….come visit us!

Despite the low numbers and despite the many changes that have occurred in a relatively short period of time, our small church is mighty. We are mighty in our faith and in our commitment and service to God. Within the past few weeks alone, we have shown love and compassion not only to those within our congregation, but to many outside of our church and in our community. God reminded me of some of those specific ways in which He is working in and through our fellowship of believers: *supporting members of our congregation at the passing of a family member by donating funds in memory of their loved one to an organization which makes and gives wigs to cancer patients free of charge, *visiting with an elderly congregant who is hospitalized, *donating to keep our community’s Christmas lights up and running (THE MOST BEAUTIFUL Christmas lights of any small town in the USA!), *paying the heating bill of neighbors in town (strangers to us) who were in need, *purchasing items for 20 gift bags to be given to Pediatric ICU patients in a nearby hospital this Christmas, *donating to a fundraising campaign for our local library, *having a prayer walk to pray for specific homes in our community, *participating in a pro-life community event. And besides holding weekly worship services, Sunday School classes and prayer meetings, we minister each Wednesday evening to boys and girls who attend our Awana children’s program!

Besides all of that, there’s much more that we’re involved with on a regular basis, such as supporting missionaries in the U.S. and abroad and monthly layette donations to a local crisis pregnancy center. We have not allowed our size to discourage or to dissuade us from being the hands and feet of God. He has remained faithful to us and continues to give us the strength and the hope we need to be His servants and to be used as He chooses. Maybe you’re in a similar situation or maybe even in a larger congregation that needs encouragement because you think you’re too small to make a difference. That’s just not true. If you are faithfully following Christ in obedience, staying true to the word of God, and seeking Him in prayer to use you and to use your particular body of believers, He’ll take care of the rest. Let Him have His way. Remember that it’s not by your might or power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.

Our small community in Everson Pennsylvania has the most wonderful display of Christmas lights! Grace Fellowship Church members help to hang the lights each year and help to keep the lights burning with our donations.

HOPE NUGGET: And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. [Galatians 6:9]

The Authentic Church

You can revoke our tax exempt status. You can attempt to silence us. You can try to pressure us into rejecting long-held and orthodox teachings of Christianity which are woven throughout the Bible. You can try to force our doors to be closed. But The True Church, God’s Church, will never be stopped; it will never be quieted. Why? Because God can’t be stopped. He will preserve His Church and He will preserve His word until HE declares that the end has come.

Around the world and throughout history, many attempts have been made at shutting down Christianity, but to no avail. Currently in China, there has been a severe crackdown on Christianity by the Chinese government. The police have confiscated Bibles, Christian schools and a seminary have been shut down, hundreds of house churches have been closed, and pastors have been detained and threatened with imprisonments. Some Christians have gone into hiding. The government has even gone so far as to rewrite the Bible, saying that they will establish a “correct understanding” with their new state translation. It’s an all-out war against Christianity. History has repeatedly shown that when The Church faces persecution, growth occurs. The official figures from the Chinese government state that there are about 44 million Christians in the country. According to Freedom House, a U.S. human rights group, this number is closer to 100 million if those belonging to “underground” or “house churches” are included. Despite the severe crackdown, the number of Christian converts is increasing.

Have you ever heard of King Jehoiakim? His story can be found in the Bible, in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. God had commanded the prophet Jeremiah to write down the words that He gave to him on a scroll. When Jehudi, Jeremiah’s scribe, read the words from the scroll to King Jehoiakim, the King used his knife and began cutting off pieces from the scroll and throwing them into the fire. Eventually the entire scroll was consumed in the fire. It didn’t end well for King Jehoiakim who ultimately faced judgment from God… “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity” [Jeremiah 36:30-31]. As for the lost scroll and the words of God? They were re-written by Jeremiah’s scribe at the command of God and were preserved. 

At a recent event in the United States, this question was asked of a Democratic presidential candidate: “Do you think religious institutions, like colleges, churches, charities…should they lose their tax exempt status should they oppose same-sex marriage?” His answer was stunning, yet was not a real surprise to those who have been paying attention to the cultural shift: “Yes.” Is this what the citizens of the United States of America want for our country? Will it be okay with our population if the First Amendment is trampled upon? Do the citizens know and understand the words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?  [Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances].

The authentic church will not surrender to the demands of the government when those demands are in direct conflict with the teachings of the Bible. The authentic church will not be silenced in sharing the truth of the Gospel of Christ. The authentic church will remain obedient to the commands of Christ even if it becomes difficult. Even if it is financially difficult. Even if broken relationships result. Even if hard times come, like they have in China for followers of Christ. The true and authentic church of Jesus Christ will remain, without compromise, in obedience and in steadfast service to Him.

HOPE NUGGET: 

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:58]

An Incredible Act of Love and Forgiveness

An exceptional example of Christian love and forgiveness is being shared across the internet. Many who have shared it also most likely grieve the loss of an innocent man, Botham Jean, shot down while sitting in his own apartment. A terrible and tragic and unnecessary death, one which should never have happened, one which the family and friends of the young man and the shooter now must spend the rest of their lives living with grief, suffering, regret, and guilt.

Brandt Jean hugging the killer of his brother
Video of Brandt Jean offering forgiveness: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NkoE_GQsbNA

Most anyone who has read the story or seen the video of Brandt Jean, the young man who now lives without his beloved brother, is in awe of the words that he spoke to his brother’s killer and of his request to hug her in the courtroom. It’s impossible to watch without becoming emotional and without wondering if you would respond as he did had you been in his shoes. Instead of taking from this the outcome of an incredible act of selflessness, forgiveness and love, there is a minority of those who instead must tweet their “just a word for the white people” or who write their “Dear white people” letter.

In the “just a word for the white people” tweet, it was said that “If you didn’t share about Botham Jean’s murder and weren’t willing to say #BlackLivesMatter, save us in tweeting out the hug.” In the “Dear white people” letter, it was said “I will judge the way so many of us in the white community are so quick to applaud black people for forgiving white murderers.” In both of these instances, the writers take it upon themselves to assign motives to the folks who have shared the courtroom video and story.

I say this INSTEAD: perhaps, just perhaps, we “white people” applaud ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, A GODLY MAN, for extending amazing grace, love and forgiveness to one who most likely doesn’t deserve it. We applaud him, NOT because of skin color, BUT because of our admiration for him. Admiration given because we doubt we could do likewise in the same situation. I take issue with both of the assumptions made, but if it makes the writer of the letter to white people feel better by making those assertions, fine. Most of the rest of us will go on admiring and respecting Brandt Jean, regardless of the color of his skin.

As amazing as the act of love and forgiveness shown by Mr. Jean was, a much more amazing act of love was shown by Jesus Christ. The sinless Son of God willingly laid down His life for the world. Christ – a completely, sinless and innocent man – willingly dying for sinners, for the unrighteous, for those filled with evil, for the God-haters [read Romans 1]. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us [Romans 5:7-8]. But that’s exactly what He did. But why? For Love. He did it out of Love.

HOPE NUGGET: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life [John 3:16].

In the Beginning, God.

Our family enjoys homemade foods and prepares them as much as possible. We like growing our own organic vegetables and fruits, picking wild berries, and preserving canned and frozen foods for later use. We feel blessed to have our own little garden paradise. A while back, I became interested in making homemade apple cider. We started out by purchasing a small tabletop fruit press. It worked well, but was good for just making small amounts at a time. It became obvious that we needed a bigger press to handle the amount of cider we wanted to process. Fortunately, my husband is somewhat of a “jack of all trades.” He often jokingly adds “and master of none,” but that’s what a man of humility says. Anyway, plans were found online to build a larger fruit press and the wood, tools, and metal parts were purchased. After a lot of hard work and time on Scott’s part, we ended up with a masterpiece! The result was a beautiful homemade fruit press which we now use in the fall to prepare fresh apple cider!

In the biblical account of creation, the Garden of Eden is first mentioned in Genesis 2:8. In the verses prior, we read of the creation of the heavens and earth, light, plants, animals and man. God Himself planted a garden paradise; it was perfect, unlike the lovely, but imperfect garden growing in our yard. In His garden, God caused to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).

God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). It was there in the Garden of Eden where God created woman out of one of the ribs of Adam. Sadly, in this beautiful garden which God marvelously created, man (and woman) failed. Creation became marred by sin. Through the freewill given to man by God, the choice to sin was made. With that choice came consequences – consequences which would forever affect all of mankind.

HOPE NUGGET: 
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…..For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ [Romans 5: 12, 17].