Sunny Pathway

Saturday, March 28, 2009


When a community is under siege—as during a major flood—we discover what motivates us. I’m not normally into community pride, but throughout the last week I’ve been proud of Fargo, Moorhead, and the surrounding cities (we live in West Fargo).

I say this though we’ve not personally been part of the battle. We’re adjacent to Fargo but a long way from the Red River of the North. Our closest river, the Sheyenne, was the source of frequent floods in the past so a huge diversion project was built a number of years ago.

Ken and I, feeling we can’t to do anything physical to help others, listen to the news and do our part by praying and by staying off the streets so we don’t interfere.

Nevertheless, the flood has been difficult. We feel for those evacuated, including a couple we met at church whom we’ve learned to love. We wonder where they are and how they’re faring. We feel for a young friend who’s given herself to help by preparing food. And, I have to admit a selfish preoccupation. I feel for myself because I’m reliving another flood.

In 1997, Ken and I were in the process of retiring. We’d accepted an offer on our home in Wahpeton, a house just three blocks from the river—but the sale hadn’t closed. We were in danger of losing what, to us, was a great deal of money when the Red River of the North rose to unprecedented levels at that time.

Now memories surface as we watch newscasts and see fatigue in the faces of people on the front lines. Fatigue is the common denominator among the workers and homeowners during a flood—because vigilance is required over an extended time period.

When I think back, I realize we were strong, able to carry the load. But what struck me most this week is that in 1997 we had other issues that overruled the flood. Life goes on, even during a life-and-death struggle.

Our daughter Sarah (then 22 years old) lived abroad. She had fallen in love with a national and talked about living in Indonesia the rest of her life. Then, retirement required huge adjustments, and we were making a decision about where to live. We couldn’t deal with our past—not even our recent past—because we needed to move forward.

Now, during this flood, two of our grandchildren—the ones living in Fargo—have worked on sandbagging crews. Matt is a senior and Emily a freshman. Patty, their mom, says they came home tired and sore—but they had a good time. They worked with friends and attitudes were great. She added that they’ve learned so much about teamwork when passing sandbags from person to person across yards and around houses. They’ve accomplished something that couldn’t be done any other way. I’m so proud of their willingness to put themselves on the line (pun intended), but I also remember how, in 1997, high school students sandbagged around our house.

The world seems awed by the effort to control this flood. Our son living in the United Arab Emirates saw coverage on international channels and called to make sure we were okay. Sarah, now living in Las Vegas with her Chinese Indonesian husband and their children, called again last night to tell us she keeps hearing about us on the news. Then I remembered we made international news in 1997, too; she called from Indonesia after seeing coverage on an international news program.

Our daughter in Minot has called. Siblings have called. Cousins have called. Friends from the past have called. History repeats itself.

Sarah has lived in a number of states as well as in a foreign country—and she says the rest of the world should learn from North Dakotans. “In North Dakota,” she’ll say, “things are done in a way that makes sense.”

Well, good sense surely isn’t limited to North Dakota—or northwest Minnesota. But this flood-control effort supports her statement. It’s enough to make a citizen proud.

While on my way to read about the flood of Noah I stumbled onto this verse at the very beginning of Genesis: And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:2b ESV)

It’s hard to visualize God hovering over the Red during this flood. We only need to remember that God used the chaos as material for His creation. He brought order. In one sense, we can say our officials have created order out of chaos during this massive effort. But looking beyond, will something entirely different be created in the aftermath of this flood?

Of course, engineers will think about contingencies for possible future floods. However, I want to look at spiritual order. Behind the physical realm we have a spiritual realm. What is God doing in that arena while people fight for what they know and love? What order might God bring to Fargo, Moorhead, and surrounding communities? Will we be interested in what He offers? Will we be willing to receive it?

Maybe He’ll bring an awakening as people use common sense and begin to seek God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our Youngest Grandchildren

I have a special treat today. At least it seems special to me. Pictures of our youngest grandchildren.

Those who have followed this blog for some time know we have a son living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In October of last year we met him and his family in Ethiopia for their second baby's baptism.

A trip of that magnitude isn't something we did lightly. Both this blog and my Red, Red Berries blog featured the trip. I focused on the children and their parents plus the event. It was worthy, interesting subject matter, and it was hard for me to think of anything else at the time.

Equally obvious, we haven't seen their family since then. With their first baby we received pictures regularly, but Mom and Dad are typical in that they haven't chronicled this second child as often they did the first. We haven't had a lot of pictures to look at.

Let me tell you that Grandpa and Grandma went kinda crazy when they came. Simon has changed a bit, but Salome was especially exciting to behold. As Ken said, we really needed to see our little girl as she's beginning to develop.

Ted said the pictures were staged. They were billed as "Simon and Salome Reading." I'm not sure which picture came first, but here you see their faces. (I especially enjoyed the activity of the first picture!)

Aren't they beautiful?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lent, Repentance, and the Blood of Jesus

Repentance is both painful and comforting. I can’t explain how that works, but meeting God in desperation and confessing personal guilt—deep, raw guilt of motives as well as actions—becomes a place of restoration. And I agree with others when I say I somehow never feel condemnation from God—only restoration.

I have a bit of a problem with looking to Lent as a time of repentance, however. I don’t think repentance should be limited to a season. But I appreciate the focus anyway. God knows how to reach us by arranging life around our liturgical mindsets. I’m reminded of something I heard my dad (who was a pastor) tell my mom. He said, “I’ve learned that when something happens to people spiritually, it usually happens during Lent.”

My parents communicated on all sorts of topics all the time. I remember only a few of their conversations, but I remember the two reasons he gave: during Lent he preached on the cross of Jesus and the Blood of Jesus.

I seem to remember him preaching on the cross quite often—or at least making references to the cross. But the Blood was a uniquely Lenten topic for him.

Fast forward to my mid-20s when I learned in a Bible study that, “the life of the flesh is in the blood . . . .” from Leviticus 17:11. (RSV) Leviticus says a great deal about blood, but I wasn’t walking with the Lord at the time, and the concept didn’t resonate. How could blood shed almost 2,000 years ago have anything to do with my guilt?

I’ve shared in other posts how God gave me a life-changing revelation one morning when in my late-20s. He actually did it by bypassing the subject of Jesus’ blood. I accepted His sacrifice by faith because God said so in His Word. Not until my mid-40s, when I took a class in cell biology to satisfy general college requirements, did I receive a revelation on Christ’s blood.

Biology was a new world for my non-scientific mind. I’ve not retained a lot from the class, except for one thing: life is in the blood. Science and Scripture are in total agreement on the subject.

I can’t provide an adequate description of the process any more—but I can tell you our blood cells absorb the inorganic elements we eat and breathe and convert them into organic material. Somehow carbon—yes, the funny black stuff of charcoal briquettes—ignites with oxygen—and little fires burn in every cell of our body. That’s why we have body temperatures.

Life is in the blood, because that’s where it happens. Where non-living converts to living.

Jesus’ life was/is in His blood. Because He’s eternal—because His eternal existence entered human form and brought eternity along—the effectiveness of His blood sacrifice never ceases.

Yeah, blood is bloody, messy. Polite people often want to downplay the importance of Jesus’ Blood. We miss much if we do. God is bigger than our inability to understand His plan for bringing us to Him, and I think He excuses our ignorance to a point. But the more we appreciate the value of His Blood, the more we appreciate the value of His sacrifice.

When Jesus became Immanuel, God with us, He became human. Messy blood carrying His infinite nature coursed through his veins and arteries. Have you ever wondered if He fell while playing and scraped a knee? Did His blood clot to form a scab? That precious blood with the imprint of eternity.

A worthy subject any time of the year—but certainly a worthy subject during Lent. There’s power in the blood of Jesus.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, . . . let us draw near to God with a sincere heart . . . . (Heb. 10:19a,22a NIV)

For you know it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life . . . but with the precious blood of Christ . . . . (I Pet. 1:18a,19a NIV)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Deliverance: Launching Out on a New Journey

I’ve been attending meetings this week. Knowing in advance that this would be the case, I’d begun writing something so I could post it today. But I was so tired that I rolled out of bed late and decided to skip the morning’s meeting. That’s when I was inundated by multiple references to St. Patrick on television. It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick is one of my favorite historical characters. If anyone exemplified God’s grace, he did. So I’m going to briefly share a bit in hopes of encouraging you to do a search on the man, and then I'll use him as a launching point for a few things from the conference.

Captured and enslaved by pagan Celts, St Patrtick learned the language under gruesome conditions before escaping to his family in England. Then, in response to God’s call, he became a missionary to the people who had imprisoned him.

He changed their culture. It’s not always bad to lose an ancient culture. Slavery and a whole lot more were abandoned. For the benefit of all, even those who objected.

It’s also true, as you may have heard, that much later the Irish saved western civilization. When the barbarians overran the Roman empire, they ransacked England and Scotland along with the rest of Europe, but didn’t get to Ireland. So Irish monasteries remained intact and the monks continued to laboriously copy the old manuscripts of our Bible and other documents. Although most did not read, some did. Christianity in Ireland continued under the influence of Scripture.

Historians focus on the civilization aspects of Irish achievements. But love for God motivated the missionaries who traveled to Scotland, England, and finally, continental Europe. It’s an exciting story. Without a doubt, they saved European civilization. They re-introduced the Bible and a Christian world-view because their goal was spreading Jesus. Makes me want to shout Hallelujah.

Meanwhile, it’s off to more meetings this afternoon and evening.

The meetings are about, of all things, deliverance. When I was a brand new Christian I taught a fourth grade Sunday School Class on the Exodus titled Delivered out of Bondage. Individual lessons went something like, Delivered out of Slavery, Delivered from Pharoah’s Army, Delivered from Thirst and Hunger, Delivered from a Life without God’s Word, etc. I’m not actually sure about any of the titles—that was a long time ago—but you get the idea.

It was good material, a good beginning in my Christian walk because there are so many applications. In fact, without any trouble I can apply it to Patrick and the Irish!

Some people expand the deliverance concept to individual bondage. They look around to see a hurting world in need of relief, sometimes from pains inflicted by cultural conditions, but often inflicted within a culture by imperfect people.

For some reason, this threatens some people’s theology. They might insist the Christian is without problems, without wounds because Jesus took care of it on the cross. Or, more realistically, they insist people should strengthen themselves so they can reach out by faith and receive the deliverance Jesus provides.

Well, Jesus definitely took care of our problems on the cross. His blood covers our wounds. He also wants us to strengthen ourselves in faith so we can reach out and receive. Look at Saint Patrick. He struggled with forgiving his captors until he finally received deliverance. Then he loved them enough to risk his life for them.

The Irish didn’t know how to call out by themselves to the God who loved them. They didn’t know about Him. But the Hebrews did know something about God and they didn’t know how to get out of bondage by themselves, either. While it’s possible to receive deliverance by ourselves, sometimes we need help. Our knowledge of God is incomplete and our faith is weak.

The Bible makes it clear that God wants to heal our wounds. David wrote, He restoreth my soul. (Ps. 23:3a KJV) More importantly, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, . . .” (Mt. 11:29,29a NIV)

These are my hasty ruminations rather than the teachings of the seminar. I won’t try to share the teacher’s focus, because that’s his material, and much of it provides a new perspective. But I will share one thing he said yesterday afternoon. Deliverance isn’t an end; it’s a beginning.

I knew that but didn’t know that I knew it, and it was good to hear it explicitly stated. Deliverance from Egypt launched the Hebrews on a journey to the promised land, and that launched them on still another journey. That’s true of every deliverance. Deliverance from unforgiveness made it possible for Patrick to love and it launched him on an amazing journey filled with miracles of grace. Likewise, deliverance from horrific Celtic practices launched the Irish into a glorious heritage of their own. Think of it. Bask in the wonder of it all.

Meanwhile, I must be on my way. Blessings.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Special Blizzard Memory

A meteorologist from CBS visited Fargo this week to experience our blizzard. He was impressed and he called it a spring blizzard, but I’m not sure it qualifies. This is early March! We live where winter lingers.

I enjoy a good blizzard. They carry good memories.

My favorite revolves around a special time with my father on Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday of course. A day of school vacation.

Dad was a pastor. For reasons unknown to me, he traveled quite often to the headquarters of our denomination in Minneapolis—a two hour drive from our home.

After arriving home late from an extended family gathering on Easter Sunday, Dad said, “Who’d like to go to with me to Minneapolis tomorrow?”

When I think about it now, I suspect he was tired and wanted someone to help him stay awake. As a pastor he’d just completed a busy Holy Week followed by extra services that morning.

But at that age I didn't think of my dad and tired in the same sentence. What I did think was that one of my brothers was going to have a fun trip with him. Before they could say a word, I yelled, “I want to go.”

Everyone laughed, but go I did. I think I was in fourth grade.

We were up by 6:00 and on the road shortly after 7:00 on a gorgeous spring morning. The snow had almost all melted. Grass was greening and trees were budding, the sun was shining, birds were singing, and I had a whole day ahead with my father.

During his meeting I read from a library book, never a hardship. Then he took me downtown to Dayton’s (before the existence of even one mall) where he found a department specializing in clothing my size. I only wish I still had the yellow sundress with stars arranged in a Big Dipper motif that he bought for me that day. And as if that wasn’t enough, we ate in the lunchroom on the top floor with huge windows overlooking downtown. I noticed the sky had turned gray, but only because I missed the sun.

On the way home he stopped at a friend’s. Arnie was a fishing buddy and a confidant. I finished my book while Hazel prepared a light supper of herring, cheeses, and her homemade bread. When we left, it had started to snow.

Weather forecasts then were not what they are today. Dad had no idea a blizzard was in the works. It wasn’t cold, and the snowflakes were huge lovely affairs. Very soon they whipped across the windshield and swirled along the sides. Within a short time, we couldn’t see the road. A total whiteout.

Dad inched forward, occasionally felt the edge of the road and steered ever-so-carefully back toward the center. And then we went in the ditch.

If he was concerned, I didn’t catch on. After all, I knew my dad could handle anything, and he knew just what to do. He unlatched the trunk to retrieve blankets and we settled in for the night.

But before we went to sleep, another car came inching along, almost bumping our rear end. They stopped, Dad let in cold air when he got out to talk to them.

Hearing them did stir a bit of concern in my little girl’s consciousness. They were local and knew where we were; Dad did not. With blankets and assorted other items I transferred to the other car while the men pushed our post-war Chevy further into the ditch. And we inched along again, this time toward shelter in a small hamlet less than half a mile away.

One business serviced the hamlet—a bar.

I’d never been in a bar.

Going into a bar, let alone spending a night there, would almost eclipsed all the other events of this huge day.

But everything about it disappointed. People we knew milled about waiting to use the one phone so they could tell family where they were. One couple had already talked to their son-in-law who drove a jeep. Before Dad made his call, the son-in-law came, telling us we were in center of the storm—that snow was falling only lightly just a short distance away.

So Dad and I joined the other couple for another scary ride. The son-in-law’s account didn’t quite match reality.

After midnight Dad and I trudged through deep snow from the street to the house where Mom waited. It was an anticlimatic end to a perfect day.

Well, I grew up, married Ken, and we moved south for a few years before returning north and settling in North Dakota.

Several years later, Dad died a slow, painful death from prostate cancer. On weekend visits about midway through his struggle, I would sit up with him during the long nights. Once, during the total silence of the early morning hours, I reminded him of the Easter Monday blizzard and all the events leading up to our trip home.

“Did it all happen on one day?” he whispered. He remembered each event separately—but couldn’t quite put them together.

Was I mistaken, an adult who combined her little-girl memories into one huge collage?

It doesn't matter. It was a wonderful spring blizzard. And my daddy made me feel special.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Through a Glass Darkly

Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, For now we see through a glass, darkly. (I Cor. 12:a KJV)

Ouch. What an image. Can’t we see clearly?

Paul spoke to people who had received revelation from God when he said we don't see clearly. Obsessed with self-importance because of their revelation, the people had lost sight of the need to respond to others in love.

As their spiritual mentor and father, Paul tells them understanding is temporary and partial as long we live on earth—and that even revelation from God is partial. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, But when that which is perfect [Jesus] is come, then that which is in part shall be done away . . . For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (I Corinthians 13:9,10,12 KJV).

I think this is a truly humilifying passage. (Okay, so humilifying isn’t a word, but the alternative is humbling and humbling sounds positive in some circles. Humilifying gives a comic, negative image, so I decided to coin it.)

Plainly stated, until Jesus comes again, we will never have a complete understanding of truth.

So much for getting it all together. Our vision will always be inadequate, incomplete. Other translations read: we see in a mirror dimly (NKJV & NAS), see but a poor reflection in a mirror (NIV), or, we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror (NLT). Anyway you say it, our insight is inadequate until Jesus comes again to reveal all things.

This is devastating because the Bible also teaches that we must understand spiritual truth—that revelation from God is vital.

Peter responded to Jesus with, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus replied, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Mt. 16:17 KJV). Peter, a good Jew who knew Old Testament Scriptures about the coming Messiah, could not recognize the Messiah without a revelation.

When Peter received the revelation, Jesus called him Blessed. But Peter needed more revelation later. (accounts of Peter in Acts)

This might seem obscure to some, but let me share an example from life of how vital it is in daily life. I grew up in a Christian home, knew the Word of God, questioned it as a youth, and came back to it as a young adult. (Regardless of what some who desire to discredit it may say, I believe the Bible is the most accurate of all historical documents, and I didn’t come to that conclusion without research.)

But the truths of the Bible weren’t real in my daily life because I couldn’t experience forgiveness for my Sin. Jesus’ death on the cross almost 2,000 years ago didn’t seem to apply in the present age.

Until one day, after reading a hefty chunk of the New Testament, I knew. Yes, I knew because God said it was so in His Word, but I also knew because I received a revelation as I read the Word. It was a quiet experience. With my oldest daughter in kindergarten and my boys playing outside in the sandbox, I sat at our kitchen table, read, thought, and knew. The Father gave me a revelation and my life changed forever.

Did I doubt it at times? Yes. Often, at first.

After a time it occurred to me that regardless of my doubts, I still wanted to love Him, to serve Him. That hadn’t been the case before the revelation. Something essential had changed within the core of my being—and that became my evidence of the indwelling Presence of God. He’s alive within me.

I can walk away from Him—I have walked away from Him. I can sin—I have sinned. But beneath it all, I don’t doubt God is real. I don’t doubt He forgives my sin.

That was one revelation, over 40 years ago. But revelation continues to come, and there’s the rub. I know I’ve not received a full revelation of His salvation and never will on earth—I see darkly, dimly, obscurely. Troubling as it may be, every revelation is incomplete.

No wonder Paul said, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). It’s not a simple matter of plugging into a set of rules but rather of tuning into God’s voice for revelation, knowing all the while you’ve received only part of the truth.

It’s humilifying.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Joley and Gymnastics

Friday morning I woke up with a song. The words were original, the music was from the Wizard of Oz. It went like this:

We’re off to see our Joley, the wonderful Joley we love.

Joley is our granddaughter, and we were off to see her compete in the North Dakota State Gymnastics meet.

A bit of history is in order. Joley’s mom, our daughter, started Joley in gymnastics because she needed an outlet for her energy—at the ripe, old age of three. Talk about cute—a group of little boys and girls running and jumping into pits filled with foam, learning to do summersaults and cartwheels.

She loved it and grew into the sport. Then watching her became torture. There’s nothing quite like watching someone on the balance beam—doing the splits while jumping and then landing again on the beam, or pirouetting, or performing those awful backward flips. Of course they fall at times. Ken would comfort me with One thing to remember when they fall is that they’ve fallen before. They know how to fall.

And, although Joley did well in all four events, the balance beam became her specialty. As a Sophomore she won first in the state meet.

Last year she took first in the region but fell when competing at state. Not an unusual occurrence. This year, a week ago at regions, we saw her give the performance of her life on the beam. She didn’t wobble once and the score was the highest I’ve seen for the event in our state.

But every meet begins with a clear slate. None of the above matters.

This year the state meet was four and a half hours away—but we wanted to support her. And there was another factor. She decided some time ago that this was the end of her gymnastics career. This was her last gymnastics event ever.

State meets are grueling with team competition Friday night followed by individual competition Saturday afternoon. I can’t provide a blow-by-blow, but as a group they did incredibly well on the uneven bars and vault, were way ahead of their nearest competition. Then the beam, and Joley fell. So disheartening. And she wasn’t the only gal on the team who did, she wasn’t even the first to fall. Their margin for victory at that point was so slim, too slim to maintain, really.

The schedule placed the other team just before Joley’s team for the floor exercises, the other team's strongest event. I so wanted our kids to win—even though I only knew most of them from a distance. I had to fight the desire to see the opposing team do poorly, remember they were also good kids who deserved recognition for their achievements.

Wouldn’t you know the other team was performing beautifully. I didn’t see how our gals could top them. I had a discomfiting thought. These girls were cut from a cloth similar to Joley’s team—good kids with deeply ingrained work ethics. They needed good performances just as our kids needed good performances. I began to pray for them. I asked God to bless them, one by one.

When our girls were ready, the Minot fans stood and cheered. I want to think this encouraged the girls. They knew there were people behind them no matter how they did. I’m not sure they even expected to win at that point, because at least four would have to provide nearly-flawless performances.

Of course, you know what happened. We’ve missed more meets than we’ve been able to attend, but we’ve seen enough over the years to recognize the unexpected. And when it was over, we won.

And our Joley? Well, let Grandma brag. I’ve always loved watching her on the floor, her second-best event. She not only provides the necessary gymnastic moves—and they’re spectacular—but she holds the positions, maintains the extensions, and she moves with the music. Her facial expressions change to reflect the changing mood of the music. Her scores for this event reflect her art.

Joley has competed on the high school team since seventh grade. During those years, her team has won several second places, but this was her only experience on a first place team. She was captain. Here they are. Joley is holding the award.

But we were only halfway through. On Saturday afternoon, one more grueling meet.

Again, they did well, but not as well as the night before. I won’t go into the details because they aren’t as spectacular. There were high moments and low moments. Until the end.

After going through all the awards—and our girls including Joley received some—an Outstanding Senior award is given. This includes both athletic ability and leadership. Well, you guessed it. Joley received the award.

Even writing about it today brings tears. Her other grandma cried, too. Even Mom had tears in her eyes. At the same time, I felt for one of the other girls who must have been a strong contender.

Now that it’s over, we have to give everything to God. For Joley, apart from all the ribbons and awards she’s won over the years, it’s been good. She’s learned to win and she’s learned to lose. Both prepare a person for life.

Although gymnastics is an individual sport because they compete as individuals, the encouragement the girls give each other is palpable at times, even when they’re overcoming their own disappointments. In real life we need to work with others, not compete against them. I think she’s learned the lesson, in a big way. As I’ve said before, God is good. Very, very good.