Chain of Events

dominoes

A few months ago, Steve was stopped by a Boy Scout as we headed into Kroger. The young man politely asked if Steve would buy the $10 coupon book he was selling. After Steve agreed and shelled out the $10, we continued into the store to do our shopping. We don’t generally frequent the fast food restaurants that place coupons in those sorts of books, so I never really expected to get our $10 back.

A few days later, I thumbed through the book, expecting to toss the whole thing. One page caught my eye, though. It was two “Ten Dollar Gift Cards” for the Whole Earth Provision Company. I knew where the store was—adjacent to the Trader Joe’s on Shepherd, but had never been inside. I tucked the coupons in my purse just in case we found ourselves in that part of town (a rarity at best).

Shortly thereafter, Steve and I drove into town to look at the azaleas, in full bloom despite the calendar that said, “It’s February, get your coat on.” We planned to pick up a picnic at Trader Joe’s on Shepherd. We were dissuaded by the FORTY people in the check-out line, but did go next door to check out the Whole Earth Provision Company. It’s a delightful store, and spending $10 of free money (each!) is always fun. My fun was particularly interesting, though.

I broke my little toe about ten days earlier. It still hurt a bit, and we were leaving for Washington, where we had planned miles and miles of walking, in just two more days. On the way into town I remember thinking, “What shoes am I going to wear? I don’t want to wear jeans and tennis shoes the whole time, and sometimes my tennis shoes still hurt.”

As you may have guessed by now, Whole Earth Provision Company sells everything from books and toys to socks and shoes. Clarks, a favorite brand of mine, has a new line called “Cloud Steppers.” They look like classy shoes but feel like a cross between bedroom slippers and running shoes. The “daily special” was a pair of great black ankle height CloudStepper boots, regularly $100, marked down to $40 (before my $10 off coupon.)

  • Sold.
  • Comfortable.
  • Delighted by God’s creative provision.
  • And no longer wondering what I’d be wearing around DC !

Please tell me, when has God used an unusual chain of events to bless you?

Falling in Faith

Steve VSI

We’ve all heard sermons about walking in faith, but what happens when we fall, when things go deeply awry as we seek to do God’s will? Let me share with you an edited email from my friend Steve Vinton and his wife Susan, founders of Village Schools International, and longtime residents of a village in Tanzania. Please look within this essay for their perspective on the troubles in life and the goodness of God.

Susan slipped in the mud, passed out, broke her arm, and dislocated her wrist. A houseful of people showed up in the early evening bringing her home. I was sick over what had happened and how much pain she was in, while at the same time I was feeling woozy myself from the pain of what I mistakenly thought were kidney stones. Our friend, Dr. Leena, told us the best thing was to make the 13 hour drive to the big hospital in Dar es Salaam. Godfrey and Emmanueli took turns driving that night, and Sarah spent the whole night massaging Susan’s fingers until we were finally all in the emergency room together.

Although Friday was a big holiday in Tanzania, the orthopedic surgeon came in that afternoon anyway and relocated Susan’s wrist. A CT scan showed that I had a blockage coming from my left kidney and putting me into three days of really terrible pain. Once we had Susan taken care of in the emergency room, Godfrey and I went to reception to get started on me. I was told that, since it was a holiday, I could see a general doctor, but then I’d need to come back next week. As he walked me toward another building, we ran into my dear wonderful friend, Dr. Jamal. He talked to the doctors in the emergency room, and the next thing I knew one of his surgeon friends was on his way to the hospital. As soon as they finished Susan’s surgery, it was my turn! (Things were a bit delayed when the electricity went off, but other than that everything was wonderful.) My body is all fixed, although I won’t be good to go home until next Friday, and Susan’s wrist is going to take months to heal.

Once again we are reminded of God’s goodness in all things!

  • A dear old grandmother carrying a huge load of firewood on her head stopped to help Susan where she had fallen.
  • Our students at the college spread messages to the four corners of the country for people to pray.
  • Dr. Jamal “just happened” to bump into me in the hallway here at the hospital.
  • Emmanueli, who never takes naps, had gone home for lunch that day and surprised his wife by saying that he was going to take a nap for “no particular reason.”  But that meant he could drive through the wee hours of the night to get us to the hospital.

Sometimes you just have to smile at ‘coincidences’ like that in order to experience the real joy there is in seeing God at work when the bad things happen.

How I wish that Susan had not fallen! But she did, and what followed was a little glimpse of God arranging really kind things for us.

  • Right now I am not only without pain, but the nurses connived to get Susan and me in a hospital room together so that we get to talk and slowly get better together.
  • When Susan was nauseated and felt she just need a sip of coke, the nurse found out we were here with no money, went out herself, and bought Susan a coke.
  • Later Susan wanted a banana, so when Godfrey & Emmanueli & Sarah came during visiting hours they went and bought us a huge big bunch of deliciously sweet bananas to share.
  • As Susan said, the way she fell she easily could have broken both wrists.
  • How easy it would have been for us to have made a poor decision to go to a closer hospital that couldn’t have helped us!
  • And what would have happened if Dr. Jamal had not been walking down that hall?

Soon we’ll be back home and back into the busy days of what we do—there are schools to visit, classes to teach, big programs to work on—but for right now we just get to be the happy couple here with nothing to do, nowhere at all to go, and we just get to smile and talk and marvel at really how blessed we are.  How nice to just enjoy a nap together—a forced vacation! Life sure is good.

The Candy Cane (By Beth Smith)

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(For the next four weeks, each post will be an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at Etsy.com. )

Welcome to the Christmas season! Since candy canes are popping up in stores everywhere, I thought I’d share with you a few legends regarding their origin:

  • One story says that in 1670 a choirmaster at the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, handed out sticks of sugar to his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Nativity Ceremony at Christmas, bending them into shepherds’ crooks in honor of the occasion.
  • Another says that in 1847 a German-Swedish immigrant in Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small spruce tree with paper ornaments and white candy sticks.
  • We do know that, around 1920, Bob McCormack began making candy canes as Christmas gifts for his friends and family, twisting and bending each piece by hand. The story goes that in the 1950’s, a relative of Bob’s invented a machine that automated the candy cane’s production and made Bob’s Candies, Inc. one of the world’s largest producers of that Christmas treat.

I thought it would also be interesting to look at some of the Christian symbolism of the candy cane today:

  • Turned with the curve up, the candy does indeed look like a shepherd’s crook. We know that Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for us.
  • The “J” that the candy makes when the curve is down stands for the name of Jesus. And that is the greatest name of all. It calls us to worship and brings power to our prayers.
  • The hardness of the candy is a reminder that that Jesus is the Rock. He is stronger than anything the world can throw at us.
  • The white of the candy points to the purity of Jesus. Christ was without sin, even though he was tempted. Because of this, we can go to him for help with our own temptations.
  • The red stripes on the candy may stand for the blood Christ shed for us on the cross. In the words of an old hymn, “His blood can make the foulest clean.” His death, his blood, covers our sins so that we are made right with God.

Who does Jesus want to believe in Him? All of us. All of us! It is not his will that even one of us be lost. That’s what Christmas is all about.

So maybe it’s not “just a candy cane” any more. It’s a reminder of our Lord and his love for all of us. Merry Christmas!

The Barnabas Bunch

ewm-coverToday I’ll be sharing an essay by my mom about a famous encourager. But first, let me encourage you to check out Every Wednesday Morning by Beth Smith. If you want a copy for yourself, or want to give a few copies as Christmas gifts, you can find Every Wednesday Morning here on Etsy. It’s a collection of 65 weekly devotionals that will encourage you, challenge you, and make you laugh all at the same time. If you grab a copy, be sure to let me know what you think!

Now, back to The Barnabas Bunch by Beth Smith.

Acts 4:36 tells of a man named Joseph who encouraged the early church so much that they nicknamed him Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. Barnabas lived up to his name. He encouraged the apostles to accept Paul, and he encouraged the new believers in Antioch to stay true to their faith.

We can be great encouragers as well. I’d like to invite you to join my new club, the Barnabus Bunch. But like any club, we have a few by-laws.

  1. We promise not to give prideful encouragement by building ourselves up, or by saying, “If you’d do what I did …” with a superior attitude. 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NIV) says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (So no puffin’ allowed.)
  2. We promise not to build up and tear down at the same time, sort of like the old southern cliché of saying something rotten but ending the sentence with “bless her heart.” We will concentrate on words that really do build others up.
  3. We promise to consider these questions before giving encouragement:

Will it help develop faith and hope?

Does it promote peace?

Is it spoken in love?

Will it bless the person receiving it?

Paul describes the perfect attitude of an encourager in Romans 15, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1-2 NIV). You can bear with my doubts and fears and weaknesses and use the strengths you have in those areas to encourage me. In turn, I use my strengths where you may be weak to build you up. We do this, not to please ourselves, but to show our love for each other. And it’s God who gives us the ability to be encouragers, even as he encourages us.

If you agree to the three rules listed, then welcome to the Barnabus Bunch! Here’s the club motto. (I hope you’ll memorize it and say it often.)

“Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV).

Activate your new membership by encouraging someone today. You’ll find you are encouraged yourself as you help someone else. May God make each of us sensitive to the needs of others, and may he use us to express his love.

Other Good Words

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I keep a little red moleskin journal in my purse. It helps me remember the names of new friends, the list of calls I need to make or items I need to buy. Best of all, it becomes a depository for inspiring quotes. I’d like to share some of those today, credited where possible.[i] (Next week begins a five week description of an unexpected journey.)

“Don’t make obedience exhausting. You need the help of heaven to understand the things of heaven. Ask God to help you.”

“Be careful. What was miraculous can become mundane.”

“As to forgiveness, St. Stephen did not pick up the stones and hurl them back at his executioners.”

“Do we squander our forgiveness?”

“Letting your sinful nature control you mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Romans 8: 6 NLT).

“Pray the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.) throughout the day, and keep Christ at the center of your existence.”

“The pains of this world are temporary.”

“This is the prayer that never fails, ‘Thy will be done.’” (Father Tim in Jan Karon’s Mitford Series)

 

And how about you. Do you have a favorite quote scribbled somewhere? I’d love for you to share it here.

[i] If you can identify the source of an uncredited quote, please let me know!

No More Excuses by Beth Smith

tankI once heard a preacher say, “An excuse is a reason wrapped up in a lie.” Are you as good at finding excuses for your actions, or lack of action, as I am? We are not alone. Let me give you a few examples from the Bible. Even though these people went on to obey, their first reactions were excuses.

In Chapter 6 of Judges, the Israelites were in deep trouble (again). They were being starved to death by the Midianites. God called Gideon to the rescue, addressing him as a mighty man of fearless courage. Gideon answered with an excuse, “Lord, I can’t rescue Israel. I come from the weakest tribe…” We do that, don’t we? We tell God we can’t because we’re just nobodies. We don’t come from a very good background. We’re not well educated. We’re the poorest of the poor. In other words, we tell God he’s not able to use us.

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to the Israelites, saying to him, “Before you were ever born, I planned on making you my spokesman.” Wow, that would inspire and convince anyone, right? Nope. Jeremiah’s first response was an excuse. “I can’t speak for you. I’m too young.” Does that excuse sound familiar? Sometimes we think we’re too young and inexperienced or (as in my case) too old and worn out. That’s just a flimsy excuse, if we’ve been called by God to do something.

In the book of Exodus, God even spoke from a burning bush, assigning Moses the task of going to Pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses immediately offered two excuses: They won’t believe me, and I’m not a good speaker. Do we dare to tell God that we don’t have the talents or skills to do what he wants us to do? In the light of God’s power and God’s grace, we stand without excuse for our disobedience.

How do we break our habit of making excuses? Try starting here. Do the last thing you remember thinking God wanted you to do, but that you didn’t do. Perhaps it’s something that offers a great challenge. Maybe it’s something as simple as writing a letter or making a phone call. We may think we can’t go through with whatever those things are, but God’s Word tells us that:

  • He knows us.
  • He has empowered us with his Holy Spirit.
  • He never leaves us or forsakes us.
  • We can do anything he asks us to do, because he will make us able.

I heard a story about a group of Marines who were using war games for training. Instead of using weapons, the men were told to use verbal cues. For example, when they “fired” their unloaded rifles, they were to say “Bang! Bang!” They said “Boom” when lobbing an imaginary grenade.

A young soldier spotted a member of the enemy team, but all of his shouts of “Bang!” and “Boom!” did nothing. The other soldier simply held his ground. When asked for an explanation, the unmovable Marine simply said, “Rumble, Rumble! I’m a tank!”[1]

With Christ we’re tanks. Next time we’re about to offer excuses for avoiding what we know we should do, we could say to ourselves, “Rumble! Rumble!” Then move forward and do it. Write “Rumble! Rumble!” someplace where you can see it this week. Let those words remind you that we can do anything God wants us to do through Christ who gives us strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Inspired by a skit found at http://www.scoutorama.com/skit/sk_display.cfm?sk_id=104 accessed 5/14/15.