2017: Page 231

Page 231 was a quiet day.  After a late night, I slept in a little while before getting up to write the previous day’s page.  As I checked on Susan, she was having a quiet seizure and was mostly just lost.  I sat with her until she made her way back to being aware of her surroundings and where she was.  She was tired so she went back to sleep and I went back to my writing.  Once my writing was finished, I did some checking on some overnight trip options but it seemed everything was either over-priced, unavailable, or didn’t interest me — or at least didn’t interest me enough to pay the price.  That seems to be what it often comes down to when we say something is over-priced — it’s not worth that much to me.  There are many things that one person considers over-priced that another person considers a bargain.  Often our knowledge of everything that goes into the product or service influences our perception of value — either positively or negatively.  

Jesus says that the price of being His disciple is everything you have.  People tend to respond to that in a variety of ways.  Some simply say the price is too high, they’re not interested if that is what it would cost them to follow Jesus.  Many try to strike up a bargain, they try to see how little than can actually get by with and still call themselves a disciple of Jesus.  They will give something, but this idea of giving everything can’t really be what Jesus meant.  Besides, doesn’t Jesus say that whatever we lose for His sake will be restored many times over — why don’t I just skip the loss and restoration parts and keep what I already have?  Then there are those who get it.  They understand that the price is directly related to the cost.  The cost to Jesus is really beyond our comprehension.  Yes, we think we understand death — but the we’re quick to say, “But He came back to life!”.  The cost was more than simply death — it was death on a cross.  But even before it came to that, Jesus was paying for our ability to be in relationship with Him.  The Bible says that He emptied Himself and became a servant — a slave to mankind.  He gave up everything so that we could be restored.  And after He had given up everything, God lifted Him up and restored Him to His rightful place in heaven — just as He desires to lift us up and restore us unto Himself when we pay the “asking price” of everything.

After lunch, we headed out for a little family adventure.  We made a visit to the Hesston Steam Museum and went for a train ride behind one of their steam engines.  It is a fascinating place and always interesting to see the steam powered equipment in use.  The rest of the afternoon was spent along the shores of Lake Michigan.  After a drive along the waterfront, we stopped in Michigan City where we were greeted by a few butterflies enjoying a large butterfly bush.  We even saw a hummingbird join them for a time.  Butterflies often catch our attention because of their beauty and design, but it is so easy to forget that they don’t start life that way.  God says that when we are in Christ, we are a new creation.  The old is stripped away and gone, and He transforms us into the beautiful creation He has designed us to be.  The butterfly photos were followed by some time spent on the lighthouse pier capturing photos of the sunset as the sun dropped behind the Chicago skyline.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • Sometimes the best thing we can do for a person who is lost and wandering is to just sit with them and be a safe presence.
  • The price we’re willing to pay for something generally reflects the value we give it.
  • Through the price He paid, God demonstrated the value He places on us.
  • Our willingness, or unwillingness, to give up everything to follow Jesus, says a lot about the value we place on being His disciple.
  • God has both the desire and ability to transform the ugliness of our sinful life into something beautiful.
  • Even as the sun sets to finish our day, it is rising to begin the day for someone else.

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2017: Page 230

Page 230 was one of those days that went well, but seemed like it would never end.  As I began my workday, I was greeted by a deer grazing just outside my office window.  In the early morning twilight, it was difficult to get some clear photos unless she stood very still while I was taking them.  Most of the photos have a sharp focus of the body and a blur of the head, tail, or legs as she slowly went about her grazing.  Even when the conditions don’t make for great photos, I still love seeing the deer outside my office.  

Next up was the morning prayer, cleaning, and building prep.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe the daily cleaning and prep are important; but the most important part of the routine is the prayer that takes place during all of it.  Once the building was ready for the day, I did some follow-up to some of yesterday’s tasks before beginning my primary project for the morning — working on the baptistery heater and pump.  Getting to the pump and heater can be a chore all of its own.  Crawling, and working, under the stage in the auditorium made me think about perspective.  When I’ve preached from the stage during a church service, I’ve always wished it wasn’t quite so high.  I don’t like the feeling of being so far removed from an audience when I’m speaking and the stage definitely gives a feeling of separation.  It’s a big part of why we’ve gone to a smaller, shorter platform in front of the stage.  On the other hand, as I worked under the stage, I sure wished it was quite a bit taller!  There is not quite enough room to sit up fully and working crouched over most of the morning seems to become more difficult with each passing year.  Oh, and I don’t know if you caught it or not, but I’m in this limited space area working on both water and electricity — two things that ought to be kept separate as much as possible.  After crawling in and out of the work area a few times to get the right tools, I eventually managed to replace the heating element and clean out the pump to get everything operation again.  I ran it for a while and crawled back under periodically to check for leaks before closing up the area and heading out to lunch.  

During my lunch break I headed down to Potato Creek and enjoyed some time resting on the pier.  The water was a little choppy with not an osprey or eagle in sight.  I could hear the calls of the osprey echoing across the waters, but they didn’t seem to be very active where I was.  At one point I sat up from soaking in the sun and noticed a bird clinging to the side of a dead tree in the middle of a nearby cove.  It was far enough away that I thought it must be one of the larger woodpeckers so I grabbed my long-zoom camera to take a few photos.  When I zoomed in on it, I discovered the subject of today’s photo.  There was a small branch protruding from this dead tree and one of the young osprey was out surrounded by water where he had a perfect vantage point for an afternoon of fishing.  Once again, I thought about my lesson from earlier in the day about perspective.  There was my perspective, created by distance, that made me think this osprey was something other than what he really was.  There was also its perspective — the one that saw the value in being able to take view your entire surroundings and take note of what is useful and what is potentially dangerous.  How often is our opinion created from a distance and rather than “zoom in” and actually talk to those involved in a situation on a day to day basis, we conclude our perspective is accurate because it is the perspective we want to believe?  But more important even than “zooming in”, is to step back and seek God’s perspective — the one that has the view from above and can see all of our surroundings to know what is good for us and what is dangerous.

I did manage to catch one photo of a bald eagle soaring high overhead before I packed up my cameras and headed back to work.  My evening was spent going through the building to get it cleaned and ready for Sunday.  As I was nearing what I thought would be the end of my workday, I came across a puddle of water where it didn’t belong.  There was nothing obvious that would have caused the puddle of water to be on the floor, so I began tracking down where it might have come from.  It was along a wall, so my first check was the room on the other side of the wall.  Sure enough, I could hear it before I even got to the room — a water heater had sprung a leak.  It was already late, so I didn’t bother to investigate why it was leaking or where it was leaking from; I just shut the water off to it and began the process of mopping and cleaning up the mess.  I had just been in that room about a half hour earlier with no rushing water other than the filling of my mop bucket, so fortunately the water hadn’t spread too far.  As I worked on the mess and set out fans to aid the drying process; I thought not about the mess, but about how good it was that I was in the building when the water heater decided its time was up.  While I had a small mess to take care of, and will have some work to do with the water heater next week, it was nothing compared to the mess that would have existed had the leak begun an hour later after I would have left the building for the weekend.  While I got home later than I had hoped, the thought of what was avoided made me appreciate how small the amount of extra work needed actually was.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • Experiencing the beauty of creation up close may not mean the same thing to everyone, but for me it is part of God’s way of saying, “I see you and I love you!”
  • God knows your “love language” and even if it is not through the wildlife, if you listen, He has a way of telling you, “I see you and I love you!”
  • If you want to increase the value of what you perceive as mundane and routine tasks, incorporate prayer into the midst of them.
  • What seems large when you are on top of it may not seem so large when you’re under it and what seems overwhelming when you are under it may not seem so impossible when God places you above it.
  • Some situations in life require extra effort and caution because you are working with things that can be dangerous when combined or used incorrectly.  People can be that way too.
  • Not everything is what it may appear to be from a distance.
  • Making judgments from a distance can be dangerous because they are often wrong.
  • God’s perspective is always worth looking for and finding.
  • Some blessings don’t look a lot like blessings until you consider the alternatives would have been much worse.

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2017: Page 229

The deer were out to greet me again this morning as I began page 229.  After saying hello to them, I went about my morning prayer and cleaning routine.  As I finished getting the building ready for the day I took the trash out and found another deer grazing along the back of the building near my office.  As I was talking to the deer (yes, I may have lost my mind but I talk to them), I was thinking about how God tells us in His Word that a gentle answer turns away wrath.  He also says we should let our gentleness be known to all.  I have seen deer perk up their ears and lift their tails, which are often precursors that happen just before they take off running, and at the sound of my calm, quiet voice which I believe the recognize, they relax and go back to grazing.  There are many things in this life that scare us, and should scare us, but we ought to know our Shepherd’s voice so well that it is able to calm us and make us feel safe.  But it goes further than that.  As the children, and representatives, of God here on earth, we ought to we ought to speak with that same calm and gentle voice to a world that is filled with fear.  Accusation and condemnation are tools of the enemy, not the tools God has given His children to use through His Spirit.  God has given us truth and love to be used together in order to share a message of safety and hope.  

A lot of today was spent researching prayer retreat location options.  Sometimes we need to take a break from the noise of the world so we can become more familiar with the still small voice of God which is present through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  I read in the Bible that Jesus would withdraw to “lonely places” in order to spend time with His Father and I can’t help but think if He needed to do that, how much more do I need to make time to visit the “lonely places” in order to hear more clearly?  Jesus prayed that the world would know His followers by the love we have for one another.  As you think about your interactions with people, and specifically with other believers, do you think love is what the world notices?  Is love even what your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ notice?  Do people relax when they realize you are the one nearby, or see your number show up on their phone, or get a message from you; or do they tense up and prepare to escape to safety?

I spent some time on the porch this evening watching for the hummingbirds and shot today’s photo while I was waiting.  The loose petals around the edge of this rose made me think of the rose under glass in the Beauty and the Beast.  The glass was to protect the rose as much as possible because it served as a timer.  True love must be found before the last rose petal falls or the young man who had acted like a beast, and therefore given the form of a beast, would remain trapped forever as this beastly creature.  Anyhow, the loose petals made me think of the brevity of life and the uncertainty of when that last petal will fall.  I want to live in such a way that if all the petals fell off tonight, my life would have been lived to the full.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • If I’m ever too busy to notice the beauty of God’s creation, I’m too busy.
  • A kind word is good for the soul . . . it also seems to be good for the wildlife. 🙂
  • We ought to recognize safety in the still, small voice of God.
  • Those seeking God ought to recognize safety in the way we represent Him.
  • “Lonely places” are not necessarily lonely when you intentionally go to them in order to spend time with God.
  • The good Shepherd calls His sheep and His sheep know His voice.
  • How people respond to my voice, words, or presence ought to indicate to some degree what kind of voice I am using.
  • Only God knows the amount of time each of us have on this earth.  Live in such a way that you’re ready if that “last petal of life” were to fall today.

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2017: Page 228

Page 228 found me continuing to settle into a school year routine — or at least the fall version of one.  Some mornings I am rewarded for starting my workday early, some mornings I am doubly rewarded, and today I was at least triply rewarded!  As I began my day, the moon was hanging brightly in the sky and I was able to get some good photographs of it as I left home this morning.  When I arrived at work, there were two deer grazing in the morning twilight and they continued their early breakfast as I got a camera out and walked up the hill to photograph them.  Today’s photo is one of them as she looked up from her eating to bid me a good morning.  As I shot a few photos of the deer, the sun began to light up the eastern sky with a variety of morning colors that made the entire scene look bright and cheerful.  There were some light, fluffy clouds scattered about the sky so I anticipated that the sunrise would be a beauty.  I went inside and gathered up the trash, and was able to get some sunrise photos when I took the trash out.

Once the building was ready for the day, I made a cup of coffee and checked on messages and my  to-do list.  As I worked on my morning projects, a lot of my prayer focus was about the lack of peace in our nation.  It’s as if we’ve thrown out all hope for peace and have turned to using hatred and violence as our only response to the hatred and violence of others.  As I worked and prayed, pieces of the song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, began to float through my mind.  As I paused between work projects, I looked up the song lyrics with a focus on the line that says, “And in despair I bowed my head; there is no peace on earth, I said.”  What I discovered was that the song was missing two verses of the poem as originally written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The missing verses make it clear that the feeling of despair was brought about by the hatred and violence of the Civil War.  While hatred and violence continues to do its best to drown out the message of “peace on earth, good-will to men”, the final verse of Longfellow’s poem is still true — “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”  Peace on earth and good-will to men will never be accomplished through returning hatred for hate or evil for evil; rather it will come about by turning to God for a complete transformation of heart, mind, and soul.

I did manage to get the floor scrubber put back together today and get the batteries all charged up so it is ready to use.  I followed that project up with some phone calls regarding parts that had not yet been shipped, which I no longer need, and then headed home for a late lunch.  After lunch I went through the final groupings of the Upper Peninsula trip photos and shared the highlights from those.  I rested a little bit, then went out on the porch before supper to look for hummingbirds, but it seemed they didn’t care for the warmer temperatures of today.  As I finish writing today’s page, I look back in wonder and thanksgiving for the things God allowed me to see today.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way, but I view the opportunity to see the beauty of creation as blessings from the hand of God.
  • When I consider how far away it is, I am always amazed at the detail of the moon which can be seen when there are no obstacles to get in the way.
  • My demeanor and gentleness often appear to be the greatest factors in whether the deer view me as a friendly visitor or as a threat.  The same is likely true for people.
  • I never get tired of seeing a sunrise.
  • Responding to hatred and violence with our own version of hatred and violence will generally make things worse.
  • It is always good to be reminded that God is still God and He is not asleep on the job.
  • God’s mercies are new every morning.  It is up to us whether we will see and accept them.

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Peace On Earth

On December 25, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, “Christmas Bells”, that was eventually put to music and became a popular Christmas carol. There are some stories that say the poem was written following the death of Longfellow’s wife in a house fire, which may be true, but that isn’t the despair of which he writes. The despair is a nation divided by hatred and war. His son had just returned home after being seriously wounded in a Civil War battle. The first part of the poem seems to speak of the “peace on earth, good-will to men” that he believed existed prior to the war. Then, in the middle of the poem, come two verses that were left out when the poem was made into a song — the verses which make it clear that the despair written about in the next-to-last verse comes from seeing a nation divided by hatred. The violence that comes from hatred has a way of drowning out the sounds of peace and good-will today just as it did in the days of Longfellow. The good news comes in the final verse with the realization that even as bad as things seem, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep”. Even in a nation filled with reprehensible hatred and violence, God continues to offer hope through those who promote peace and good-will. Here is the last half of Longfellow’s poem, including the two “left out” verses.

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
And with the sound 
The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
And made forlorn 
The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head; 
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
“For hate is strong, 
And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail, 
The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
(Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, December 25, 1863)

New Wine Church

2017: Page 227

God consistently fills my life with reminders of His presence, but some days those reminders feel like they are more needed in order to get through the day.  Today was one of those days when the need was great and God was even greater.  The external activities of the day seemed to go well, it is the turmoil in my mind that was in the greatest need of God’s calming presence which brings peace.

The morning cleaning and building walk-through went well as I began my day in prayer taking care of the usual needs of the building.  Once the building was ready for the day, I checked messages and followed up on some maintenance needs and parts I’m trying to track down.  I was expecting parts for the floor scrubber, so I spent a good part of the morning getting it cleaned up and ready for when the parts arrived.  New batteries for the scrubber arrived with the delivery of some maintenance and janitorial supplies, so I put away the supplies before trying to get the work finished on the scrubber.  Unfortunately, in trying to finish up the work, I broke off the end of one of the battery cables so a trip to the store would be required before I could finish.

As I worked on the machine, my mind continued to think about the subject of compassion and the suffering that exists almost everywhere.  It was in this work, that a poem began to show up in my mind.  By the time I had broken the cable end, which brought the repair project to a temporary pause, the poem appeared to be complete in my mind.  After typing out the poem and posting it on my blog, I finished out the workday with some further research and work on the “Growing Strong” prayer retreat plans.  By mid-afternoon it was time for a late lunch followed by a stop at the store to get the parts to finish up the work on the scrubber tomorrow.

At home, I spent the early part of the evening going through a couple more rounds of photos from our recent Upper Peninsula trip.  Eventually I took a break from the computer screen and took my camera out to the porch to enjoy the evening light.  While I was out the sun danced on the nearby roses and sunflowers, asking to be photographed.  Today’s photo is of one of the rose blossoms that is nearly done.  Most of the petals have fallen off, and on its own it has very little left to draw a person’s attention.  However, the light of the sun shining upon it, and through it, changes it from something unnoticeable to something remarkable.  The scene served as one of those reminders sent throughout the day of how God’s light can turn ordinary, unnoticeable people into something of remarkable beauty.

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • God knows me better than I know myself and He always knows just what I need and just how to provide it.
  • God doesn’t lack the ability to make His presence known — He just asks that I seek it with all my heart.
  • A routine of cleaning, whether a building or a life, helps to keep the messiness of either from taking over.
  • Times of waiting are often meant to be times of preparation.
  • I find that when I pray and work at the same time, God often fills my mind with direction and words that are reminders of His presence.
  • Sometimes things don’t go as planned and all you can do is evaluate what is still needed and set out to obtain what is missing or repair/replace what is broken.
  • If you don’t know someone who is suffering that needs to receive compassion from you, you’re probably not paying attention.
  • It doesn’t matter how dull and drab and worn down you think you are; when the light of God shines upon you and through you, you become something of great beauty and value.

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Lemonade (A Heart of Compassion)

When life gives you lemons
and you make lemonade.
Will anyone join you
as you sit in the shade?
Will they share in the sorrow
from which this drink came?
Or turn a blind eye
with feelings of shame?

A heart of compassion
will pull up a chair.
And drink from your offering
of the pain you do share.
As you drink it together,
I pray you will know.
God’s compassion is with you
wherever you go.

So, what will you do
when the drink has been made?
Will you sit with the one
who feels alone in the shade?
Will you share in the suffering
and walk hand in hand?
For that’s the compassion
that God Himself planned!

Your walking together
will lighten the load.
As the suffering is lifted
from a single abode.
And soon you will find
that the drink can be good.
When compassion does sweeten
the way that it should.

© 2017 by Tom Lemler

As I spent time praying this past weekend, a number of partial poems filled my mind but none of them seemed suitable for sharing until today. People are suffering and each of us need to ask ourselves if we are showing true compassion (suffering with them) or are we showing a form of contempt as we don’t want to see the many forms of suffering taking place.  I share this poem and pray that it would be used by God to accomplish His purposes.

In prayer,
Tom