Preparing for the Battle

Weekly message by Fr David Hostetler to the soldiers stationed on Okinawa.

During planning meetings I have often heard that “amateurs talk about tactics, professionals talk about logistics.” The truth of this simple aphorism is reflected by what Napoleon said, that “an army marches on its stomach.” What is meant by both is that even the most brilliant tactician cannot fight when his army is weakened from hunger, short of ammunition and supplies, and too far removed from reserves and reinforcements. I was reminded of this basic principle during training this week recounting the history of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.

While preparing for the coming enemy assault, General Oliver P. Smith of the 1st Marine Division didn’t just see to the placement of his forces, but also planned for the provision of his men. He saw to the construction of two airfields which provided a logistical lifeline that allowed for the survival and eventual breakout of his surrounded Marines. Because of his preparations and care, and his ability to keep the division together, General Smith saved it from total destruction.

The art of logistics isn’t just having plenty of stuff, it’s about having what you need where and when you need it. It does no good to ship a helicopter to a submarine, or artillery shells to an infantry battalion. We should be learning similar lessons during our Lenten journey. Are we preparing ourselves for spiritual battle by equipping ourselves with the necessary spiritual supplies?

One of those things we need in abundance is something that we learn about this week: stillness. This coming Sunday we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas, champion of the Hesychast movement. Hesychasm, from the Greek word esychía, meaning “stillness, rest, quiet, or silence,” is the practice of attempting to quiet the mind through the repetition of short prayers, most commonly the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. As through fasting we discipline our bodies,so through prayer we discipline our minds and souls. St. John Climcus speaks of this in Step 27 of his Ladder of Divine Ascent. “Stillness of the body is the knowledge and reduction to order of the habits and feelings. And stillness of the soul is the knowledge of one’s thoughts and an inviolable mind.” Stillness is important, says St. John, because “The celestial powers unite in worship with him whose soul is quiet, and dwell lovingly with him.”
And this is the goal of such stillness, to achieve the quiet peace that allows us to encounter God. St. Gregory Palamas taught that it was possible for the hesychast to experience the Uncreated Energies of God through stillness. Without such contact with God, without encountering Him regularly in prayer and through the sacramental life of the Church, we will be inadequately prepared to face the challenges of daily living. Jesus himself sought such stillness after his baptism, fasting in the desert for 40 days before beginning His preaching. The ascetic struggle through fasting and prayer teaches us that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
I pray this Holy Lent that we all are providing ourselves a robust and reliable logistics train connecting us to God. Without the peace of His abiding love it will be difficult to face the pettiness of coworkers without becoming bitter. Without the knowledge of our dwelling in an eternal kingdom we may find it impossible to be patient with the injustices we suffer here. Without moments of stillness, the chaos of life can be overwhelming. God wants to connect with us. He wants us to connect with Him. Let us make daily time for prayer and for practicing stillness, thus preparing ourselves for spiritual battle. Because the army of God marches on faith, and faith is nourished through stillness.

Somebody Prayed for Me

My prayer list seems to be growing.  Maybe it’s a function of getting old(er) and keeping company with folks even older than I.  This week I have been praying for a friend recovering from surgery and two others having surgery this week.  I have also sent prayers heavenward as I read on Facebook of friends and family who request prayer — sometimes without knowing any specifics.

The three disciplines of Lent are fasting, giving and praying.  The first two seem to go together naturally:  we “give up” something and what we save by doing that we give away. That’s the economy of ‘self-denial.’  I suppose a similar kind of thing surrounds the discipline of prayer.  Time we would spend on other things is devoted to prayer instead; but, I confess, my prayer time seems to expand or contract based largely on the length of my list or the depth of the concern I’m talking about with God.  (And I don’t keep a timer running during my devotions, anyway.)

Intercessory prayer has always seemed a boring topic to me.  I’d rather do it than talk about it or listen to others talk about it.  And here I am blogging about it.  That’s because, like I said, I’m doing more of it these days.  And it got me thinking …

First of all, the idea of intercession seems a bit cheeky.  We tell someone, “I’ll pray for you” as if that alone means something.  But apparently it does mean something.  As I have prayed aloud for a hair stylist or a waitress, her burden seems a bit lighter just by hearing someone else voice her concern to the Almighty on her behalf.

I remember when friends were going through the darkness of grief following the death of a child, they spoke of their prayer life as an enduring habit but one without warmth because of their anger with God.  They said that initially the trite assurance “I’m praying for you” seemed almost to be annoying, but by the grace of God they began to hear the words differently.  They started hearing it this way:  “When you cannot bring yourself to have a civil conversation with God, know that I am praying FOR you.  I’m praying the prayers you cannot articulate in your grief.  I’m putting words to your guttural cries of pain.”

I have come to view intercessory prayer as a way in which we incarnate Christ to others.  Truth is, human intercessors are not needed because Christ is every Believer’s Great Intercessor (Romans 8:34).  But praying for others is a way we can help bear the burden of someone going through difficulties.

And I have been the beneficiary of intercessory prayer.  My husband uses two words to describe the value of prayer on our behalf.  He says he feels “buttressed” by the prayers of others in a “palpable” way.  I know what he means — in a real way (palpably) we rely on the added strength we get (buttress) from intercessors.

If you wonder what I mean, listen to this beautiful song.

Somebody prayed for me

Forgoing the Pious Self

In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

First, we must completely forget how to say, “I will,” until God, through the Holy Spirit, teaches us to say it in a new and right way. It is precisely in matters of piety that “I will” can wreak the greatest havoc: “I will be godly, I will be holy, I will keep the commandments.” We must first have a basic understanding that in these things, it is not our will but God’s will alone that matters. We must also forgo our pious self, so that God can do his work in us. Otherwise our “I will” will almost certainly be followed by bankruptcy. But when through God’s grace we have stopped saying, “I will,” when through God’s new beginning with us in Jesus Christ we have been brought onto his path—in spite of our “I will” and “I won’t”—then the Holy Spirit begins to speak in us, and we say something quite new and different from our previous “I will.” 

The desire for one’s own honor hinders faith. One who seeks his own honor is no longer seeking God and his neighbor. What does it matter if I suffer injustice? 

Songs of the Soul

Why do we sing? What is it about music that so easily speaks directly to soul?  The short answer is that music is a gift to all humans. It is a gift that is used by all people; even the deaf have a way of experiencing music through its vibrations. Music can raise us up out of the deepest pits of despair to heights of joy and the next moment leave us in tears of sadness and regret. Why do we sing? Usually we sing to express ourselves but as a gift from God music can serve a higher purpose.

Sing so as to make the world hear. The highest value of our singing after all has not been the mere gladness we have felt because of our salvation, but the joy of pouring out the praises of our God to those who have not known Him, or of rousing them by our singing of new thoughts and a new life.

“And sing till your whole soul is lifted up to God, and then sing till you lift the eyes of those who know not God to him who is the fountain of all our joy.”     (William Booth, Forward in an early edition of The Salvation Army Song Book)

Music is at its best when it is bringing  glory  to God and when it lifts the heart and soul into the presence of our Creator.

A few years ago (ok about twenty or so years ago) my husband and I did a program titled, “Songs of the Soul.” Essentially it was about how some of our hymns came to be written. Some came out of great pain and suffering while others came simply through the musings of the author. One hymn was penciled in a pew hymnal during the church service! However, the one thing that they all had in common was that they became potent and powerful instruments in the Holy Spirits hands. And the good news is that God is still inspiring the writing of hymns that will also stand the test of time. 

So what are those special song(s) that have spoken to your soul? What are the songs that helped you through difficult circumstances? What songs always have the power to move you quietly into the presence of the Almighty? Those songs that were with you at the beginning of your spiritual journey? For me there are three songs that stand out: My Jesus I Love Thee, Behold Him Now and My Life Must Be Christ’s Broken Bread.

Why do we sing? Don’t know about you but I sing because I need. I need understanding; I need joy; I need grace; I need love; I need strength and endurance; I need God.
My Jesus I Love Thee by William Featherston.      


My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;

For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;

My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,

And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;

I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,

And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;

And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
In mansions of glory and endless delight,

I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;

I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Behold Him Now by George  Samuel Smith



Behold him now on yonder tree,

The Prince of Peace, the heavenly King;

O what can his transgression be

Such shameful punishment to bring?

And lo, a thief hangs on each side;

Who justly suffers for his crime.

But why should Christ be crucified,

The one so holy, so divine?

Chorus

It was for me, yes, even me,

That Jesus died on Calvary;

My soul to cleanse from all its guilt,

His precious blood my Saviour spilt.




O sinner, see, for you and me

He freely suffers in our stead;

And lo, he dies upon the tree;

Behold, he bows his sacred head!

So pure, yet he has borne our guilt,

By death our ransom he has paid;

It was for us his blood was spilt;

Our every sin on him was laid.

O loving Saviour, take my heart,

No longer can I live from thee!

With all unlike thee now I part;

Thy wondrous love has conquered me.

I yield to thee my little all;

Accept me now, Lord, as thine own;

I’ll be obedient to thy call

And spend my life for thee alone.

My Life Must be Christ’s Broken Bread by Albert Orsborn


My life must be Christ’s broken bread,

My love his outpoured wine,

A cup o’erfilled, a table spread

Beneath his name and sign.

That other souls, refreshed and fed,

May share his life through mine.

My all is in the Master’s hands

For him to bless and break;

Beyond the brook his winepress stands

And thence my way I take,

Resolved the whole of love’s demands

To give, for his dear sake.

Lord, let me share that grace of thine

Wherewith thou didst sustain

The burden of the fruitful vine,

The gift of buried grain.

Who dies with thee, O Word divine,

Shall rise and live again.

Engaging in Mission

Weekly devotional from Fr David Hostetler who is stationed in Okinawa.

“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18) When Jesus tells Peter that the Gates of Hell will not prevail he is clearly assuming that the Church, as such, will be aggressive. Gates, as a rule, are stationary and cannot attack anyone. Over the time that I have worked with the Marine Corps I have learned that the mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. We as the Church should adopt this as our mission as well.
The prayers and hymns during Holy Lent teach us how to engage this mission, and none better than the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. In its three stanzas the prayer covers these three aspects of our Christian mission:

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power, and idle talk.

Unlike the Marines our enemy is not external forces, but internal passions. This list helps to identify—locate—our enemies. In what aspects of my life am I not giving full effort? Am I praying as I should? How often do I meddle in other peoples’ business? Is my meddling in my brother’s affairs intended to help him or to puff up my pride? How many of my words are measured, used only when necessary and for the edification of others? By praying this prayer with heart-felt honestly we open ourselves to the possibility that these things are not integral parts of us, but are alien and subject to removal.

But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of purity, humility, patience, and love.

Fortunately, we don’t have to run like a Marine to close with the enemy. Our proximity to our own passions makes it easy to join the battle, so that we can engage them by employing virtues. The hatred and pride that makes us lust for power and want to meddle is not turned away but by love and humility. Martin Luther King, Jr. reflects the teachings of the Holy Fathers when he said that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

To destroy the enemy we must concentrate on him alone—my sins—and not be distracted by judging others. When we can do that we win, and the enemy is destroyed. When we are able to see our own sins and recognize that they are what keep us from obtaining a deeper relationship with Christ, then we can understand our reliance upon His mercy, for which we pray more frequently and more fervently during Lenten services. Because through His mercy we become partakers in both His death-destroying death and His life-giving Resurrection by which the Gates of Hades were smashed forever. They never had a chance.

God’s Fellow Workers

I have decided over the next few weeks to dedicate this blog to my husband’s writings. The reason I want to do this is that I find myself these days missing sitting under my husband’s preaching ministry.  He has been given the awesome gift of preaching (and teaching) and now in retirement he has few occasions to exercise these gifts. Soooo, I have “raided” his computer to copy some of his preaching notes.  Now the thing I love about my husband’s notes is that they are ‘full’ outlines.  He likes to note complete thoughts so that when he preaches the sermon he feels much more comfortable to elaborate.  Now while I cannot bring you the full sermon he would preach, I can share with you his developed outline.

(As an added blessing I have asked him to do a weekly Lenten devotional.  So stay tuned!)

This first installment was prepared as a devotional message for those we worked with on Training School staff.

God’s Fellow Workers — Major Donald Hostetler

Scripture: I Chronicles 22:2-19

     I Corinthians 3:9

           David knew his life was coming to an end. He knew that the task of building a spectacular temple to the glory of God would be left to his son Solomon. But Solomon was young (some say twelve or even younger), so David needed to make preparations as detailed as he could to insure the project’s success – extensive preparations, the Word says in verse 5.

Everything was in order for the temple to be built: raw materials were provided – gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone. The land was at peace, an important ingredient for building without interruption or distraction. And, as David said to Solomon, “you have many workmen: stonecutters, masons and carpenters, as well as artisans skilled in every kind of work in gold and silver, bronze and iron – craftsmen beyond number!”

Now clearly, we are not “beyond number” in this room. There are fewer of us than we would like. But we are all, regardless of our session name, God’s fellow workers. God’s fellow workers.

I) It is the Lord’s work in which we are engaged.

It is the Lord’s whom we are. “Now, my son, the Lord be with you,” David says. “Build the house of the Lord your God…May the Lord give you discretion and understanding.”

It is with God that you are fellow workers, Paul says to us through his letter to the Corinthians – God’s field, God’s temple.

A. On the one hand, that is an incredibly liberating understanding.

  1. God’s work is noble work — it has eternal value. Unlike the Temple that Solomon built, the workmanship in which we are engaged does not spoil or perish, wither or fade.
  1. God’s work is under HIS supervision, which means that He is responsible for the outcome – we need only follow his blueprint, His plans.
  1. God’s work is something we can be proud of.                                                                        ILLUS – public servants in Britain are proud to claim that they are “In her majesty’s service.” We are in His Majesty’s service – the service of the King of Kings.

B. On the other hand, realizing that the work we are called to is God’s work places enormous consequence upon us.

  1. People’s eternal destiny depends upon our ability to declare the word of the Lord with clarity, with purity and with power.
  1. God has placed His truth in our hands for proclamation and for perpetuation, and we dare not distort it nor dilute it.
  1. But most sobering, perhaps, is the recognition that God has chosen the hearts of His people as His dwelling place – He resides not in a Temple made of hands, but in you and me. Don’t you know that WE are the temple of the living God?

C. Consider how David’s instructions to Solomon were less about plans for the building he was to construct than for the life he was to lead: “May the Lord give you discretion and understanding…so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God…you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses…Be strong and courageous.”

It occurs to me that when we keep our attentions focused properly on God’s word and God’s work, it forestalls lots of potential problems.

God weeded out from Gideon’s army those who could not focus. The rebuilding of the Temple under Ezra and Nehemiah was complicated by the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. The church at Corinth was quarreling among factions who claimed superiority over one another – Apollos is better than Paul; no, Paul is better than Apollos, etc. And so Paul emphatically declares to the church at Corinth that “it is God’s fellow workers that we all are”!!

As God’s Fellow Workers, let’s remember in Whose work we are engaged. And in that remembering, take heart in the truth that

II) God’s work means God’s supply.

A. Stories abound of God’s miraculous provision to accomplish his work. One of my favorites is the story told by one of the Army’s medical missionaries to India. Supplies were getting low and they had one day’s supply of disinfectant for surgeries. They were preparing to cancel the next day’s surgeries, when a carton arrived from the U.S. The note in the carton explained that a Salvationist was praying and felt God urging to send soap to Major Rader. They didn’t need soap – but the soap the soldier sent was Dial soap, which was the only bar soap that had an ingredient that supplied the hospital’s need for disinfectant until their regular supply could be replenished.

B. God will supply His work. God does supply His work. While we celebrate those occasions of His miraculous provision, let’s not overlook the “ordinary grace” of God’s daily provision of our daily need. Jesus prayed “give us this day our daily bread” – ordinary grace. The truth is, we have lavish provision of supply for God’s work.

In fact, it may be too lavish.

It may cause us to take it for granted, to be less than thankful for it.

It may tend to make us self-reliant in ways and at times that God wants us to be  God-reliant.

C. We have everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose for us in this place in this time. All our basic human needs are met. Just as Solomon, we have all the physical requirements necessary: technology, books, desks, etc. Just as Solomon, we have workers skilled in every kind of work – teaching, encouraging, ministering, helps, exhortation, … every kind of skill (gift, if you prefer) that is needed in the accomplishment of our sacred purpose.

We are in a land of peace. Oh, and we have all the time we need!

Time is a precious commodity. It can be used wisely; it can be wasted. It can be managed or it can get away from us. But the Word says, “My God will meet all your needs from His abundant riches in Christ Jesus.” He is not likely to make the sun stand still to give you extra hours in the day, though Staff and Cadet alike have often wished it could be so. Nonetheless, what needs to be done can be done because God’s work always merits God’s supply.

III. God’s Work means following God’s instructions.

With this in mind, then, let’s hear the instruction David gave as wisdom for us. He ordered all the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon: “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the Lord your God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the Lord.” (v. 19)

A. The task of building the Temple was a shared task. Many thousands of workers would together build the Temple.  We are ALL God’s fellow workers. And it is imperative that our work be done as an offering unto the Lord: “Devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God.” Work is not a replacement for devotion; rather, it is an outcome of devotion.

B. Then the next word: “begin to build.” This is a sacred pursuit and you have ample supply of skill and material – get to it! The workers who were charged with building the sanctuary of God were engaged in the most sacred pursuit possible in their day. To build a sanctuary that would stand as a lasting testimonial to the power and majesty, glory and might of Yahweh, the God of Israel, was a supremely worthy pursuit.

C. Our calling as Officers is to build living sanctuaries. We are called to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that lives of testimony to the power and majesty, glory and might of Jehovah are raised up. Paul called the Church the “Temple of the living God” and that is the cathedral that we are building.

We know the story of the building of the sanctuary. We know that each of the workers put himself into his craft; that every individual sought to give personal testimony by the performance of their workmanship. In minor ways, perhaps known only to God, the imprint of the individual was left in the workmanship of the Temple.

Each of us leaves an imprint upon the others in this community. Each of us impacts others in ways that last.

ILLUS – Our second appointment was in Findlay, Ohio.  One of the major companies in that community was Cooper Tires. After passing inspection tests, the  inside of the tire was stamped with the name (not a number, the name) of the worker who made it.

The imprint that we make on the lives of others is likewise unseen. But I can’t help but wonder whether we would do things differently if our imprint was more permanent and visible. May God forgive me for those who walk around with unseen imprints that say, “emotional scar—left by Don Hostetler.” “loss of self-confidence – product of Don Hostetler.” Etc.

May God help me to have more imprints that read: “love of God’s Word – product of Don Hostetler” … “joy of the Lord – seed planted by Don Hostetler.”

Each one of us has a role to play in building the Temple of the living God that is the church of God in this place. Each one of us is important and none can stand in isolation from the others. The goldsmith needs the carpenter who needs the stonecutter who needs the mason etc. We work together as God’s fellow workers.

Robert Fulghum wrote a book some years ago titled “Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” To some extent, everything we need to know, we learned in Sunday School. One of the choruses we used to sing in Sunday School went like this: “If we all pull together, what an Army we’ll be. For your work is my work and our work is God’s work.”

Hear the word of the Lord: “Devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God. As God’s fellow workers, begin to build the sanctuary.”

Albert Orsborn wrote a song when he was a Divisional Commander. He felt that he had been humiliated by the Territorial Commander’s decision to reduce the size of his command. Orsborn says that this song carries upon it “the marks of the Valley of Humiliation.” He was in the hospital feeling sorry for himself after an accident, when the Holy Spirit used the singing in another room to bring him into submission to His will.

May this be the prayer of each of us::

Saviour, if my feet have faltered
On the pathway of the cross,
If my purposes have altered
Or my gold be mixed with dross,
O forbid me not thy service,
Keep me yet in thy employ.
Pass me through a sterner cleansing
If I may but give thee joy!

Chorus
All my work is for the Master,
He is all my heart’s desire;
O that he may count me faithful
In the day that tries by fire!

2.
Have I worked for hireling wages,
Or as one with vows to keep,
With a heart whose love engages
Life or death, to save the sheep?
All is known to thee, my Master,
All is known, and that is why
I can work and wait the verdict
Of thy kind but searching eye.

3.
I must love thee, love must rule me,
Springing up and flowing forth
From a childlike heart within me,
Or my work is nothing worth.
Love with passion and with patience,
Love with principle and fire,
Love with heart and mind and utterance,
Serving Christ my one desire.

Albert Orsborn, The Salvation Army Song Book,

Nothing to eat?

I’m proud of my children; each one has unique gifts and skills.  David, my oldest, is a Navy Chaplain stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  He shares his weekly bulletin with his Dad and me. I think his meditations deserve a wider circulation than those who get it at church on Sundays.  So, during Lent, I will share each of his meditations.  Perhaps you’ll find them as soul-searching and thought-provoking as I do.

“Every parent has heard it often, perhaps even uttering it themselves a few times: “There’s nothing to eat!” In the case of children, who may not see the variety of combinations that can be made with the available ingredients, the lament is understandable, but for those of us who can see that with a little effort there is actually plenty to eat, it’s simply laziness. Complicating matters further is our human tendency to be so focused on immediate circumstances that we become blind to the wider view around us. We lose sight of the forest behind the tree in front of us.

“It was one particular tree that obscured the vision of Adam and Eve. They were given an entire garden from which to eat anything they wanted as much as they wanted, except for one tree. And that one prohibition became their overwhelming obsession. They overlooked their abundance, transfixed by their limitation.

“The Great Martyr Saint Polycarp, however, was better than that. An apostolic and prophetic man, and model of faith and truth, St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. Already an old man when Marcus Aurelius began his persecution of Christians in the second century, the saint was brought by the Proconsul of Smyrna into the stadium and was commanded, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, ‘Away with the atheists.'” By atheists, the Proconsul meant the Christians. But Polycarp, gazing at the heathen in the stadium, waved his hand towards them and said, “Away with the atheists.”

“St. Polycarp could have looked at his present circumstances and given up, and maybe would have if he had only been able to fix his eyes on his impending death and present trial. But he never lost sight of the wider view, and when the Proconsul again urged him to blaspheme against Christ, he said, “I have been serving Christ for eighty-six years, and He has wronged me in nothing; how can I blaspheme my King Who has saved me?”

“It seems to me a peculiarly American trait to rebel against our limitations, equating such rebelliousness to virtue. “Breaking the rules” is every new product’s commercial tagline. But it is deeper even than our national tendency, it is part of our human nature. We are rebellious. We don’t like to be told what to do, and religion and the Church feel oppressive for all of their rules and restrictions until God Himself looks to us like a big, bossy-pants in the sky. We hold this perspective, however, only when we can’t see around the tree in front of us. So close, so rigid, and so immovable that we complain that it isn’t fair and ask why we can’t just move it, when all we have to do is go a different direction. Once we turn just a little to the left or right a whole new vista opens up and we can see our situation isn’t so dire. Even that tree I was complaining about a moment ago is home to a lovely songbird.

“As we prepare to enter the Great Fast of Holy Lent this Monday [Wednesday for Western Christians], we must remember that it is easy for us to get stuck by biting off more than we can chew with a fasting or prayer rule too strenuous to faithfully sustain, and then wind up staring into the fridge saying “there’s nothing to eat.” Like our First Parents we become so blinded by our restrictions that we fail to see, as Polycarp did, how much we have for which to be thankful. However you fast, the point is not to concentrate on the rules—what you will and won’t eat, because that is a limited, blinded perspective. Rather, let the rules change your perspective, even if it’s only a little bit, so that the coming limitations of the Lenten Fast turn your eyes to the wider view of God’s providence. Then, hopefully, we will see how much there really is to eat when we ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.'”

Memories

“The past is prologue” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest). This phrase has come to mind and seems to have made a nest there.  I think the reason for this is the conversations that I have had with my sisters lately.  My sister said to me recently that she had no “happy Christmas memories with Daddy, do you?” Since then I have been exploring memories from my youth. What I have discovered in the process is that Shakespeare was right in noting that the past is prologue; at least in the context of determining the choices we make. Perhaps a better way to interpret it is  the idea that history sets the context for the present.

So let me set a bit of context.  My father was an alcoholic, causing his death at the age of 40. So I immediately understood the context of my sister’s question and grieved at the thought that there were none of the happy Christmas memories that most parents want to give to their children. The memories that often tend to surface are twofold. There are the moments that are experienced like someone coming to the house to give us Christmas gifts that our “Daddy had ordered.”  These were in reality gifts from the kindness of strangers. But if I stop and really recall life with Daddy there are far more memories of his drunkenness and all the “stuff” that comes with it, like very loud physical altercations between mom and dad. Not that Daddy ever laid a hand on Mom, rather Mom’s anger often led to the throwing of things.

I was nine when Daddy died. I am a huge fan of my Mom because after Daddy’s death she went to work and used insurance money to buy a modest home so that she could provide for the two daughters that remained at home. And with a tenth grade education, working as a cook and waitress, she proceeded to provide us with a comfortable home.

Past is prologue. My past could have led to a very different future than the one I have been blessed with. As a Salvation Army Officer I have witnessed that, for some people, the negatives of the past became a problem that haunts them.  They continuously beat themselves with the bitter memories of past injuries and injustices. And then there are those who are haunted by the choices they failed to make, or the roads they have taken that have led to dead ends. And on and on… Past is prologue?

Past may be prologue but it is often how the past is remembered that determines how it affects us in the present. While walking the dog this morning I was struck by the long shadows we were casting and was reminded how the memories of our past cast long shadows over us. Memory is a powerful gift given to us by God that allows us to always recall His work and presence in our lives.  Memory is perfume from the past that has the power to cast a pleasant aroma or terrible odor.

Barbara Streisand sings a haunting song about this. “Memories light the corners of my mind/Misty water-colored memories of the way we were….Memories may be beautiful and yet/What’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget.”

Remembering and memories are not intended to paralyze us, but to free us. That has been my experience.  What my past did was to drive me to seek to have a home–free of alcohol–where there was a loving, Christian father who loved me and sought to live up to the title of husband. My past urged me to develop good memories for my family and in the doing found that those are the memories that have become my prologue.

While we cannot always turn our memories on and off at will, we can practice remembering the good things; we can cultivate a memory for what blesses us and helps us along. How sad when so much of our memories are taken up by dwelling on things of the past that we can never change. What a tragic waste when so much life-energy is drained off by our hanging onto what should be turned loose. There is a good word for us in Job 11:6: “Forget the misery and remember it as waters that pass away.”

What I have learned to do in the ongoing process of life is to  make the high moments of my life as unforgettable as possible. The noble, the good, the beautiful, have all been  entered on my memory’s roster with an indelible ink that neither circumstance nor time can ever wash away. I remember giving my life to God; I remember the first kiss from my husband; I remember the day of my sanctification; I remember the first breath each of my children drew; I remember wondrous moments of ministry when God used me for his purposes. I have experienced the truth of this musing by A.W. Tozer, “What we think about when we are free to think about what we will – that is what we are or will soon become.”

Past may be prologue, but it is only prologue; it is not the whole story.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Again I share with you my devotional blessing and testimony as written by Wangerin.

LUKE 2: 28–33 “Simeon took up the child Jesus in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, According thy word; For mine eyes have seen thy salivation Which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And for glory to thy people Israel.” The father and the mother marveled at what was said about the child.”

“WHEN I COME TO DIE—Oh, let me die like Simeon. I, too, have been a watchman, waiting for your coming. I knew the promise of your word. In your word was all my hope. But I sought to see you with my own eyes; so I stayed awake, watching, watching for your coming. O Lord, my soul waited for you more than they that watch for the morning; more, I say, than they that watch for the morning. 

“I heard it said among the disciples: “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see”—and I wanted so to be blessed! It was your voice among the disciples, saying: “For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it”( Luke 10: 23–24). 

“I myself, I had heard. Sermons and personal declarations and the assurances of many believers, I had heard. But I had not seen. And I yearned, O Lord, to see your salvation. 

“I prayed, ‘Come!’

“With the Spirit and the Bride I prayed, ‘Come!’

“Since I was him who hears, I thundered, ‘Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.’

“Such was my Advent thirst and all my hunger: ‘Come.’

“And then you did, O Lord! You came! 

“My Advent has been fulfilled in Christmas, and I see you! 

“Again this year that great and mighty wonder—a Virgin bearing an Infant—has seized my heart with its glorious love. You came into the world. You’ve come into my world! You came once, surely: two thousand years ago. But that has caused your coming still, daily, daily, morning by morning, for people like me. 

“And so I celebrated the feast of your Nativity this year with the softer passion of gratitude, and that—the gratitude itself—was proof of your presence” (Wangerin, Preparing for Jesus).

Almighty God, my Heavenly Father, “Thank You for the way You answered my prayers for Your guidance and courage. I’m amazed at the thoughts You placed in my mind, the desires You planted in my heart, and the willingness You produced in my will. You have given me what I asked: wisdom beyond my understanding; standing; knowledge greater than my learning; discernment ment more penetrating than my analysis; vision that outstretches my fondest expectation. 

“Now I’m ready to face a new year without fear. I press on with Your assurance for the future, ‘Fear not! I am with you.’ That’s all I need to know!” (Lloyd John Ogilvie)

First Day of Christmas

I love the writings of Walter Wangerin and have been enjoying his book during this advent season, Preparing for Jesus. And today I feel led to share this day’s reading. Prepare to enjoy and be blest!

LUKE 2: 16 “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.”

WE ARE THE SHEPHERDS who run: from the fields to the stable, from the night to the morning, from our labors to the Lord. 

We are the ones who run this year, too, as in every year past: 

From toil and our daily chores, we run to the comfort in Bethlehem. 

From our obligations and responsibilities, we run to the strength of Immanuel: God’s strong arm among us. 

From our fears of loss and instability, from the anguish of troubled finances, from poverty we run to the treasure that will not tarnish nor ever diminish, the baby’s eyes like coins in our purse, the baby’s eyes eternal. 

From our obscurity; from the darkness in which we live our lives, unacknowledged, inglorious; from our truer condition as “no one, people that are not” we run to the Son of God, who knows each of our names, and who will call us by our names, and whose very call will empower us to follow. 

From sorrow we run to joy.                                                                                                                     From hatreds we run to love.                                                                                                                 From antagonisms we run to peace.                                                                                                   From sin we run to the Savior.                                                                                                              From death we run to life.                                                                                                                       From sickness we run to the healer. 

O child, we kneel before you. We have no gifts, neither the gold of riches nor the frankincense of holy aroma, nor the myrrh of salve and embalmment. We must ourselves be the gifts we bring to you. Jesus, we offer our bodies as living sacrifices; let them be holy and acceptable to you. 

Son of Mary and Son of God, we worship you. There is no one more worthy than you. In you we see the mercies of God. 

O Word by which the whole Creation came to be, we come to you in rags and tags and unembarrassed, because you, too, have chosen not royalty nor wealth nor power but the lowly existence of shepherds. Swaddled and laid in a manger, you are like us. We yearn to be like you. 

O little Jesus, sleep. Sleep while we kneel and watch over you in a dim light this Christmas too. We honor the woman that bore you. We admire the man that adopted you. We maintain sweet memories of those who brought us, like Mary and Joseph, into the stable to worship you during our own Christmases past. But you are the one we praise. You are the one whom we trust. In you we rest. In you we place our faith. Forever and forever, you are the Christ—and you are our Lord forever. 

Hush, mother Mary; we’ll watch for you.                                                                                                           Sleep while your baby is sleeping too.     

He is a lamb both tender and young,                                                                                                                     We will be shepherds to shepherd your son.