My Daddy’s Face

“Where is daddy’s face?” asked my six-year-old granddaughter. “I can’t find him!”

The child turned over random puzzle pieces, examining the details for clues. The puzzle had been a gift created from family photos, each image represented a favorite memory.

Shrugging her little shoulders, Cassie replied, “I know he’s here! I just need to look harder.”

“Look, Cass, is this Daddy’s eye and nose?” I asked, holding up a piece. “Yes, yes, I see him!” my sweet grandchild answered.

I was reminded that sometimes I, too, have searched for my Father’s “face” among the disassembled puzzle pieces of my life. I’ve even cried out. “Where are you?” In those times of darkness, I have to trust and remember who my Heavenly Father is. Like Cassie, I need to remember to “look harder” for evidence of God’s presence, instead of fixating on the unsolved problem. It seems to be human nature to painfully focus on what is wrong, those missing pieces.

Yet we have assurance that God has not abandoned us. In Romans 8:38-39, He comforts His children. “For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ((NLT).  What an all-encompassing promise!

Exodus explains that God’s face is hidden from view because He is so holy. “But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live,” Exodus 33:20 (NLT). The Bible is explicit. God is not withholding his presence because he is an unkind Father, but He is so sinless that we could not survive a face-to-face encounter. Thus, enters Christ. He is why we can have relationship with this Holy God. Through the sacrifice of Christ, the penalty for our sins have been laid to rest, absolved, on the cross. Father God can now see us as forgiven and perfect in His sight! The gift of Christ made a way for us to be brought back into an intimate relationship with perfect Father God!

We have been given the promise of seeing Father God face to face … someday … in heaven. “And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there–no need for lamps or sun–for the Lord God will shine on them,” Revelation 22:3-5a (NLT). I will then be perfected, and though in awe, I’m sure, I will see Him clearly, face to face. As the song title says, “I can only imagine …” what that will be like.

Even when I feel like young Cassie, searching for the comfort of my Father’s face and presence, I can say with the confidence of a child, I know He is with me. Look for His presence around you. Listen for His voice, and watch for evidence in all ways. As you search for your Spiritual Father  in the middle of your unsolved puzzle, know He is near. You can encounter His presence. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you,” James 4:8 (NLT). His desire is to comfort you with great love and compassion. Look up from your despair, and He will show His face when you need it most.

His Glory and Majesty … and Me?

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” Psalm 8:1

Have you ever felt small as you looked into the night skies, stood on a mountaintop, or gazed into what seems like an endless sea from the shoreline? My human life, which is of utmost importance to me, is but an infinitesimal dot in one unfathomable universe … among many universes. In Psalm 8:3, David, the Psalmist, raises the question with this: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (NIV) 

[Enjoy listening to and watching this musical expression of Psalm 8:3 on Youtube:  https://youtu.be/6_f0aOp0EPE ]

The Scriptures proclaim His creativity in Psalm 104: 24: “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”  When I view the intricate details of nature, I am in awe. My heart is stirred at the exquisite pinks, reds, and yellows of a setting sun, at times dispersing its glory into clouds and reflecting waters.  Upon delighting in the scent of honeysuckle or a delicate rose bloom, I am humbled by God’s meticulous design. The calming song of a dove’s “cooooo-coooo,” or a lyrical human voice can lift my spirits even in turbulent times. How can I hold a newborn baby, so helpless, yet brimming with potential, and not see His works? I have only to let myself see, feel, hear, and touch what is all around me, and it becomes evident that God has allowed us glimpses of His Glory now. I can only imagine what Heaven will be as we then gaze upon the One who is the Creator!

It would take greater faith than I have to believe that my world came into being from some astonishing accident of nuclear particles. Or that the complexity of human life evolved from amoeba emerging from its watery habitat. Even the precision of the tilt of the Earth as it rotates, scientists say, is “just about right” (like perfect?) for advanced life to flourish. Such a “coincidence”?

It is no wonder that I am overwhelmed that God, The One who has formed not only my “tiny” yet miraculous life, but the whole of all universes, should care for me. “But God,” I ask. “How can you care about me?” I am but one among the myriads. My heart is so selfish. My woes must are surely fleeting and unremarkable among the countless multitudes in Your creation. And You? So Eternal, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient … all that I am not. My mind is incapable of grasping the wonder of You.

And yet. I can know absolutely that He cares … for me … and you. We do see the beauty of His handiwork and His revelation through our senses. But, even greater evidence is that same all-powerful, creative God wants to have a relationship with me! And you! If you wonder how I know this, I can be certain because He sent His Son, Jesus, to dwell among us on this planet. He came to teach, to heal, and to make a way for me, and all of us who seek God, to have relationship with his Almighty Majestic, Perfect Father. Jesus embodies the words of Eternal Life. Jesus, the only Son of God.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1 John 4:9-11 (NIV)

“You have made them (human beings) a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. … Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:5,9 (NIV)

Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Limits: Blessing or Curse?

Being the owner and “parent/caregiver” of two adorable Bichons, I am fascinated with their behaviors. I often see an analogous relationship between their instinctive behaviors and ours as humans. Interestingly, when I put them on a leash, no matter what the length, they strain to the end of it. I tell them, “No pull!” quickly making them aware of their limits. If the leash is 4 feet, 6 feet, or 20 feet long, their reaction is the same without training and correction. They want complete freedom without restraint. So do we. It’s a primary struggle.

From the very first creation account, we have testimony that a single boundary was given by Creator God in the midst of an incredible and most perfect place – Eden. Adam and Eve had no labor, no toil, no sweat … just the beauty of the Garden God had placed them in with provision and comfort. Ahhhh … such sweet contentment. But, wait. That’s not how the story goes.

Given only one limitation, and that given for their good, the humans decided that God really couldn’t have meant what He said. Surely not, the Tempter said! The Evil One was lurking about ready to sell deception to these first human children. He also had chafed at his role of being an angelic being, desiring to be God himself. Forever being dismissed from his original heavenly purpose, he has been up to no good ever since. “Why,” he said to Eve, “God merely wants to deny you the gift of being like Him, the ability to know good and evil.” Eve reasoned that this made sense: God wanted to deny them that delicious and beautiful fruit to protect His authority and omnipotence. Wrong.

God had higher purposes for his instructions. Not only had He created these human children with free will to choose, but He also did not want them to live forever in sin. He was protecting them from their own potential wrong choices. Oh, but they chafed against that simple restraint. They tugged at the proverbial leash until they broke free and had their way. Momentary freedom ultimately led to pain, sorrow, and death.

Why, oh why, do we never see boundaries and limits as a gift, for our good and protection? When you say, “God wouldn’t give me THIS situation (you name it) if He didn’t think I could handle it,” are you sure He gave it to you? Or did you break the restraint to have your way instead of His highest and best? Or sometimes, it could be someone else’s sin that produced chaos in your life. Or it could be the condition of the fallen world splashing upon you, a child of God. Father God will see you through the storm, no matter the cause because God is love. Yet, should we examine the potential of our own failure to walk with Him before we assign God the blame?

Creator of the Universe, Father God, is also Omniscient – One who knows our choices before we do. Yes, He is also a loving, forgiving Father even when we foil His best plans for our lives. When we turn from our wayward paths, He redeems our mistakes and even uses them to bless us … when we repent.

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Winter

Photo by Becky McMillen, Baldwin, KS

The beauty of a new snowfall carried sweet remembrances that winter evening. It was so tantalizing that I couldn’t wait to pull on boots and warm gear just to experience the magic outside my window. White puffs of delicate intricacy fell on my head, shoulders, and ultimately, my feet, creating virgin footprints in the yet untouched snow. Everything in sight was transformed to a pristine state of perfection. Just hours before the drab of winter browns and grays dominated the landscape. The ugliness was made new.

As a child, I remembered the excitement of making the first footprints, first sled tracks, or even shoveling the first paths on the sidewalks or driveways. The reward of hot cocoa, and perhaps a just-baked cookie, was often part of the expectation after we’d broken into the frosty scene to our heart’s delight. Even without a fireplace, we could gather around the oven, warming our numbed fingers and toes as we waited expectantly for mother to finish the cocoa.

Winter in the Midwest also reminded me of chilly thrills and spills. There was the joy of riding our steel runner wooden sleds down steep hills and even streets in our small town. As a youngster, I would gleefully jump onto the back of my father at the top of the hill near our home. It seemed like “forever” to the bottom of the gentle slope beside my home, every inch of the way filled with excitement. Dad steered the handles upfront, and I clung to his broad shoulders, screaming for effect as we hit unexpected bumps along the way. Though I knew we might take a tumble, I had ultimate trust in the outcome as I held on to my dad, the one I believed could make all of life go well.

As an adult, I pulled the sleds of my own little ones and as they grew, we sledded any hills we could find when the snow fell. I wanted my children to have the same fond memories I did of winter. We became a skiing family, and that passion infused a new interest in the wintry cold. My feet ached, my fingers froze, and yet, to stand at the top of a mountain range in the Colorado Rockies was worth every discomfort ever experienced. The Creation of God before my eyes was breathtaking, and skiing was an adventurous way to be a part of such beauty.

Over time, despite its beauty, I also learned how harsh and barren winter can be. The cold season brings punishing winds, stinging cold, and danger to wildlife as well as humans who are ill-prepared. Winter can be hard to endure, and seemingly endless some years. I personally find candles and fireplaces comforting with their glowing warmth and esthetic beauty. People use various ways to cope with the restrictive boundaries of winter — remedies for relieving the itch of cabin fever or simply “snow weariness” in the dark days.

Reflecting on a deeper, analogical meaning of “season,” poets and writers have often alluded to the stages of human life. Admittedly, my years of “spring” have passed, those exciting years when everything continues to bloom and flourish in beauty and energy. Those were years of my youth in which mortal life appeared unending, full of promise and expectation, eyes on the next milestone. In the summer, I remained strong, able, and healthy with the promise of more good things to come. In the fall of life, my pace slowed, my children had grown, and I looked forward to their promises of new life and growth. Their milestones became mine vicariously. I knew my “winter” was to come, but I didn’t really ponder it. There were still plenty of projects to accomplish, friends to see, and life to live! If I let myself think about it, the final chapter of life on earth did seem not as far in the future as I once believed.

When my parents passed into eternity, I had the opportunity of holding their hands in those final moments. I stood beside my mother, realizing that I was suddenly the matriarch of the family. I felt instantly orphaned. At that moment, I could not avoid the sight of my own mortality. How many more years would I have, and how should they be spent? How would my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, direct my paths? Would I obey and follow? What purposes would my life serve, however many days, months, or years were left? Was there some significance to this winter season? Was I to glory in pleasureful activities with more freedom to play? Or was there more to this end game?

The good news is that our Creator God has provided purpose for His children in every single “season” of life, from conception to the grave — or to the arms of God in heaven.  I have learned that as long as we have breath to breathe, we have life to live. If there are physical limitations, God has provided (the potential for) spiritual wisdom, which is an even greater gift. In seeking answers for this query of how to live joyfully in the “winter of life,” my eyes were opened to a fresh perspective. Just as we began, we should end. Jesus told us the greatest commandment in the Law:” Matthew 22:37. “… ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

These words of Christ are so simple, and yet so profound. If we walk in those great commandments, we can find peace and significance of purpose that I believe all human hearts yearn to know. Undeniably, I have lived through many seasons, but I have discovered that God is my source of strength, courage, peace and all spiritual blessings … through it all, even in the unpleasant and painful trials we encounter on Earth.

I have a choice though! We all have a choice. God was purposeful in His creation, making certain that we could choose to love Him and follow His plans, or not. It’s called Free Will. Father God did not make His creation in such a way that they would be forced to walk according to His Divine Plans. What Father would want puppet children, forced into relationship like slaves? But, He promises to cover our sins like the beauty of new fallen snow when we make that choice to walk with Him.

As for me, I choose to walk in faith until He calls me home to Heaven, Eternal Life, in the presence of the One who created it all. I invite you to find that same assurance, purpose, and peace by accepting His free gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Invite Him to be the Lord of your life. If you are unsure how to accomplish this, talk to someone who is a Follower, or send a note here on the Blog and I will respond personally. By giving God the reigns of your life in exchange for a loving relationship with the Lord of all Creation, you will have everything you need for a life of blessing and purpose through even the winter of life.

The Ring: My Legacy and Inheritance

I tugged open the drawer of my jewelry box, my emotions awash with memories. The night my mother slipped into eternity, I slid her wedding band onto my finger, feeling the weight of its significance. Yet, I would learn even more from this ring in the years to come.

My father had a beautiful platinum wedding band made for Mom after many years of marriage. Having wed during The Great Depression with no money for extras, this diamond studded ring was Dad’s thanks for her being there through the good seasons and the bad.

Dad had been a frequent top salesman for his company, and for that distinction, he had been awarded “pins.” Almost annually, he was presented with a new recognition pin, often adorned with one tiny diamond to symbolize his success. Dad simply tucked them away in a drawer year after year. When the time was right, Dad suggested they have a jeweler make a new wedding band, using his tiny diamonds to cluster around a slightly larger stone. She chose her setting, and the ring was soon made to their specifications.

After my mom passed away, my husband queried, “Do you want to have it resized so you can wear it?”

“It’s so much more like my mom than me,” I countered, dismissing his idea. Mom was an attractive brunette who dressed with flair, and enjoyed splashy costume jewelry, perfectly accessorizing her outfits. Those pieces always looked wonderful on her. Me? I tended to be more of a minimalist who donned the same yellow gold necklace almost daily.

“Well, we could have the ring reset if you’d like,” my husband encouraged.

I felt guilty even contemplating the thought. It was as if it were a sacred extension of my mother. So, it sat, undisturbed in my jewelry box for three years.

Then one day as I studied the Scriptures, I came across Psalm 139:13-14 once again. “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it,” Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT).

A sense of freedom welled up in me as I contemplated her ring with new insight. Just as mother and I were distinctly different, this precious ring symbolized not only my parents’ legacy, but our distinct uniqueness. “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand,” Isaiah 64:8 (NLT). The Lord saw me before I was born, and He knew each of us as He formed us.

I thought of my mother and how dissimilar we had been. She used to laugh saying, “Where did you come from?” because we were nearly antithetical at times. We were mother and daughter, biologically linked, yet as different as we could be. Bound by mutual respect and love, shared family history, and a love for God, we loved each other–despite our contrasting traits.

Instead of guilt that I would destroy something of my mother’s, I saw how symbolic it would be if I did change the setting. Father God is not surprised that we are distinctively different beings, and Mother’s ring is a constant and beautiful reminder of how uniquely He created each of us. Today I wear “our ring,” though now the small diamonds are set in a simpler band of yellow gold. Now it represents all three of us. I believe my parents would both approve.  Their legacy of life and faith has shaped who I am, built the foundation of my life, and I will be forever grateful for this inheritance. But, I am not my mother, or my father. I am an extension of their lives, a unique creation made in the image of God–and this is no surprise to my Heavenly Father.

Do I Have Significance?

I still remember how proudly my grandma would show me off to her friends whenever we’d come for a visit. She would spin me around to the admiring audience, and say something like, “Look at all those blonde curls … just like her daddy’s.” Of course, my daddy was her little boy all grown up, and Grandma was pleased as punch that I had his blue eyes and platinum blonde hair.

I have pondered why this experience always made me feel good. Of course, I admired my father. In fact, I loved him dearly. I looked like my father some would say, and that signified that I was his girl. I later grew to understand that these encounters provided a sense of belonging, an identity. With an unusual family name, we seemed some way peculiar, or set apart, but that also contributed to a distinguishing identity.

So who was this little girl with the blonde curls and unusual surname? As I matured, I had many questions about who “she” was, and whether her life bore any significance. I had confidence in my parents’ love, and as an added blessing, they instilled in me a hopeful, yet naïve belief, that I was capable of doing anything I put my mind to. That was all positive nurturing stuff. But, I needed more than that. Life doesn’t pour out continual blessings, and in times of discouragement and loss, I needed more to help me navigate through the tumult. Knowledge that I belonged to my family was not enough.

My mom faithfully taught me from Scripture about our loving Creator God. So why did He create humans anyway? Was He lonely, or did He have unfulfilled needs? It always seemed logical to believe God didn’t require anyone to satisfy His existence. After all, how could an infinite omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God need anything? When he completed making the world in all of its splendor, “… God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” Genesis 1:31 (NLT). He didn’t need people to keep him content. No, to the contrary. God is creative by nature and love in substance.  “…let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God … But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love,” 1 John 4: 7-8 (NLT).  So, he created us by His love so that we could also love.

I was astonished to learn that God chose to create human life IN HIS IMAGE. Realizing I have significance because the Creator of the Universe made me in His image is a grounding discovery, an “aha moment” of truth. I can have an eternal purpose in a relationship with this loving God. He even made sure my relationship would never be cut off by my own rebellion, “sin,” incompatible with His perfection. Revealing Himself to us through His Son Jesus – Immanuel, “God with us,” God invites us to accept His forgiveness when we have wandered off to have our own way. We are offered the gift of this priceless relationship when we come, ready to step into an identity with our Abba Father. We will be a “peculiar people,” set apart from the culture in a distinguishing way. We should then bear God’s image of love, and shine His light into the darkness.

Imagine the importance each human life holds! “Love,” Himself, made you in His image! Human life is set apart – God did not breathe His spirit into the rest of creation. Go celebrate your sacred identity and live confidently as a child of God, the One true God. This is significance.

 

The Lesson of the Dishcloth

 

My longtime friend and her husband came for lunch one day, visiting from out of state. Anne bounded in the door, effusing hugs and giggles with her signature enthusiasm. We hadn’t seen each other in person for several years, but as friends and sisters in Christ, we shared a history that spanned a few milestone-filled decades.

Anne handed me a small gift bag made of colorful fabric and ribbon-tied with flair. At her request, I emptied the contents onto the kitchen counter. Most of the items were practical, yet thoughtful goodies, including a devotional and carefully printed Scripture verse. My eyes fell to a curious piece of knitting, a small rectangle of dark green yarn. Explaining how she was just learning to knit, Anne proudly held up her first project, a dishcloth, she announced. As she dangled the stitching between us, two irregular and sizable holes became evident–not a lacy design for effect. As a knitter, I recognized these holes as mistakes, places where stitches had been missed or dropped from her needles.

“I don’t know how those holes got in there!” she announced with apparent surprise. I joined Anne’s infectious laughter and thanked her for her thoughtfulness in sharing her first efforts. We went proceeded to the dining room with our husbands for food and fellowship.

All too soon, it was time to part. After final goodbyes and our friends drove away, I reached for the small swatch of knitting once again. I felt a tenderness of emotion as I stood holding this small patch of yarn. I wondered why. It was only a dishcloth. A flurry of insight washed over me as quickly as I had questioned my feelings. Then I understood. This simple gift represented so much more than my eyes could see.

Anne had entrusted me with her handiwork–despite its flaws. Would I have taken that risk, or would my pride have overruled? The Bible tells us, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, Colossians 3:12,” (NLT). I had witnessed my friend’s spiritual fruit in action.

Tears bubbled up as I reflected on how Anne had trusted me … trusted me with her flaws, her imperfection. She didn’t ask for my approval of her knitting accomplishments. No, this small green square of knitted stitches was a reminder of our long-held friendship, a journey not without its own trials and breaches of understanding. Just as Laban declared in Genesis 31:48: “This pile of stones will stand as a witness of the covenant we have made today,” (NLT). I knew the dishcloth stood as a witness of our covenant relationship. Though it was not perfect, as neither of us were, we were bound together in Christ’s love and forgiveness.

The Lord continued to layer His truths onto my heart. What joy that we can come before the Heavenly Throne as imperfect products, flawed by sin, while our Heavenly Father sees us through the filter of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes,” Ephesians 1:4 (NLT). When we ask for forgiveness, despite our “holes,” our sins, Father God cherishes us as His children. Indescribable grace and mercy! “He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins,” Ephesians 1:7 (NLT).

It became clear that this little dishcloth was much more than it would appear. It represented the way God has shown us to live in relationship with one another in the Body of Christ–the humility, trust, and love. It also shouted grace, mercy, and forgiveness, highlighting the loving Covenant with Father God. I knew then that this washcloth would not be used for washing dishes, but for teaching me how to live. Who would have imagined so much truth could be woven into a simple hand knitted washcloth?

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes,” Ephesians 1:4 (NLT).

Joan C. Benson

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Hope, Peace, and Purpose

When considering how to live, this Scripture verse provides me purpose and hope.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4:6-9