Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels

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This is purported to be a true story by an author named Catherine Moore, found in my file. It’s longer than my normal articles, but worth the time to read. It was untitled, so I created the title above.

“Watch out! You nearly broadsided that car!” My father yelled at me, “Can’t you do anything right?”

Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn’t prepared for another battle.

“I saw the car, Dad. Please don’t yell at me when I’m driving.”

My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt. Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts. Dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him?

Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.

The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn’t lift a heavy log, he joked about it. But later that same day I saw him outside, alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn’t do something he had done as a younger man.

Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing.

At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctors’ orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

My husband Dick and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust.

Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue.

Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad’s troubled mind.

But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done. It was up to me to do it.

The next day I sat down with the phone book and called each mental health clinic listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain.

Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, “I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article.”

I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens.

Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs, all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons – too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen, a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world’s aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed.

Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hip bones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.

I pointed to the dog. “Can you tell me about him?” The officer looked, then shook his head in puzzlement. “He’s a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow.” He gestured helplessly.

As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror. “You mean you’re going to kill him?”

“Ma’am,” he said gently, “that’s our policy. We don’t have room for every unclaimed dog.”

I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. “I’ll take him,” I said.

I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. “Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!” I said excitedly.

Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. “If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don’t want it!” Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. “You’d better get used to him, Dad. He’s staying!”

Dad ignored me. “Did you hear me, Dad?” I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him.

Then, slowly, carefully, he raised his paw.

Dad’s lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.

It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet.

Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night.

I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father’s room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad’s bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind.

The morning of Dad’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog who had changed his life.

Then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.” “I’ve often thanked God for sending that angel,” he said.

For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle I had not seen before: The sympathetic voice on the phone that had just read the right article; Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter; his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father; and the proximity of their deaths.

And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.

Now you know why I titled this story “Answered Prayers and Unknown Angels.”

God bless your day!

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Two Good Friends and Faithful Servants

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 9.30.24 PMAt the end of this month a longtime friend of mine, Bill Siegrist, is retiring after 30 years of service with Texas Church Extension Fund. He was just a kid when his work at CEF began. If you don’t believe me, check out a photo from that time in his life.

Bill had previously served on the national team of Zig Ziglar, an internationally known American author, salesman, and motivational speaker. Bill’s CEF legacy will be the development, training, and motivation of CEF representatives in congregations across the State of Texas. Bill and his dear wife Pam will continue to live in Austin.

In addition, a few months from now another longtime friend will be retiring from the same organization, Texas CEF. Steve Block has served 25 years as Executive Director of Texas CEF and was duly honored at last month’s annual CEF Conference in Austin. He was a little older than a kid when he came to CEF, but still a relatively young man.

Steve had previously served in the banking industry, distinguishing himself with the use of his God-given intellect and ability to make fiscally prudent decisions. Steve’s CEF legacy will be the significant increase of CEF assets during his time of service. He and his dear wife Sandra will spend some of their retirement in Austin and some in Door County, Wis.

It seems appropriate at this milestone in the life of each of these men and in the history of Texas CEF for this article to be dedicated to the glory of God in thanksgiving for Bill and Pam Siegrist, Steve and Sandra Block.

These two wonderful women are also included because, as I’ve often said: Behind every successful man is not only a surprised father-in-law but also a faithful, patient, forgiving, loving, and godly wife. Those words are aptly descriptive of Pam Siegrist and of Sandra Block.

It also seems fitting to include in this article a few quotes about friendship from famous people:

  • There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. Thomas Aquinas
  • Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. Albert Camus
  • Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. Ann Landers
  • Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Jesus Christ

Thank you, Bill and Steve, for being my friends and for being faithful servants of our Lord Jesus!

The Lighter Side of Life

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My dear Terry received this posting from a friend, shared here for a look at the lighter side of life:

  1. My goal for 2018 was to lose just 10 pounds. Only 15 to go!
  2. Ate salad for dinner, mostly  croutons & tomatoes … actually just  one big, round crouton covered with tomato sauce … and  cheese. OK, it  was a pizza. I ate a pizza!
  3. How to  prepare Tofu: Throw it in the trash and grill some meat.
  4. I just did a week’s worth of cardio after walking into a spider web.
  5. I don’t mean to brag but I finished my 4-day diet food in 3 hours and 20 minutes!
  6. A study found that women who carry extra weight live longer than men who mention it.
  7. Kids today don’t know how easy they have it. When I was young, I had to walk nine feet through shag carpet to change the TV channel.
  8. Senility has been a smooth transition for me.
  9. Remember when we were kids and every time it was below zero outside they closed school? Me neither.
  10. I may not be that funny or athletic or good looking or smart or talented … I forgot where I was going with this.
  11. I love being over 70. I learn something new every day, and forget five other things.
  12. A thief broke into my house last night. He started searching for money, so I woke up and searched with him.
  13. My dentist told me I need a Crown. I said, “Awesome! Pour mine over the rocks.”
  14. I think I’ll just put an “Out of Order” sticker on my forehead and call it a day.
  15. Just remember: Once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed!

Ecclesiastes 3:4 reminds us: “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” Laughter is good for the soul. Lighten up a little! Laugh a lot! Enjoy the lighter side of life! God bless your day!

One of the Two Certainties in Life

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Yep. That’s right. Taxes. By the way, in case you didn’t know or recall, the other certainty is death. But today I’ll talk only about taxes.

April 15 is the traditional deadline for filing Internal Revenue Service Federal Income Tax returns. This year it’s April 17. So if you haven’t done yours yet, it’s time to git ‘er done! Or file for an extension, which allows additional procrastination till October 15. But you can only delay filing your return till then. You’re still legally obligated to pay estimated taxes by April 17.

We often hear people complain about paying taxes. On the one hand, it’s not exactly my favorite duty either. On the other hand, notwithstanding imperfections and abuses, the taxes we pay support the life, safety, and freedom we enjoy in these United States. Compared with life in many other countries of the world, the blessings and benefits we enjoy make filing and payment of taxes worthwhile.

Some of the complaints most often heard have to do with the inefficiency and corruption of tax revenue distribution and expenditure. While some of those perceptions are reality, others are not well founded. The challenge is to discern which is which, a task not easily accomplished by the ordinary U.S. citizen. Accordingly, for example, some simply criticize government entitlement programs in general.

Even Winston Churchill is quoted as having said: “We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up by the handle.”

Be that as it may, at tax time I’m always reminded of the question asked of Jesus by certain scribes and chief priests in biblical times who were trying to discredit or destroy him: “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Their plot was this. If Jesus said no, he would be considered a rebel by Pontius Pilate, governor (also known as procurator or prefect) of the Roman province of Judaea. If Jesus said yes, he would be accused of supporting the foreign rule under which Jews lived.

The answer Jesus gave, while looking at a Roman coin with the image, most likely, of Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar, was: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

So as you prepare to pay your taxes every year, don’t forget about your duty, privilege, joy, and still tax deductible opportunity (if you itemize your deductions) to “give to God what is God’s.”

That’s the primary reason I’m still working past normal retirement age. Terry and I love to give, joyfully and generously! If you haven’t yet made that discovery, try it. You’ll like it! In a special way, discovering the blessing of joyful generosity prepares a person for both the certainties in life!

How will you be remembered?

Marbles

Tomorrow is our dear daughter Angie’s birthday. Next Tuesday is my dear wife Terry’s birthday. That very same date (but not the same year) is my dear Mother Elda’s 102nd birthday. Happy Birthday, sweet ladies! I dearly love each of you! I wonder how many men are blessed to observe within a few calendar days each year the birthdays of their mother, wife, and daughter!

Now to today’s topic. Recently a number of my friends have been called home to heaven. Each time a friend or loved one passes I reflect on that person’s life, recalling what I know about his or her joys and sorrows, blessings and difficulties. And I ponder for what he or she might be remembered.

Each person is uniquely blessed and leaves a mark, for better or for worse, on the people in his or her world. Here’s a story, author unknown, told by an observer of one whose life made a difference for the good of those he knew.

I was at the corner grocery store, buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly-picked green peas. I paid for my potatoes, but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas.

Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.

“Hello, Barry, how are you today?”

“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas. They sure look good!”

“They are good, Barry. How’s your ma?”

“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”

“Good. Anything I can help you with?”

“No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.”

“Would you like to take some home?” asked Mr. Miller.

“No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ‘em with.”

“Well, what do you have to trade me for some of those peas?”

“All I got’s my prize marble here.”

“Is that right? Let me see it,” said Mr. Miller.

“Here ‘tis. She’s a dandy!”

“I can see that. Hmm, mmm. Only thing is, this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?” the store owner asked.

“Not zackley, but almost.”

“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble,” Mr. Miller told the boy.

“Sure will. Thanks, Mr. Miller.”

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.

With a smile, she said, “There are two other boys like him in our community. All three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever.”

“When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all. So he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store.”

I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later, I moved to Colorado. But I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.

Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community. While I was there I learned that Mr. Miller had died.

They were having his visitation that evening, and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary, we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.

Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts, all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket.

Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband’s bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket.

“Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about.”

“They just now told me how much they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size, they came to pay their debt.”

“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided. “But right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath his hand were three exquisitely shined red marbles.

The moral of this story: We will be remembered not only by our words, but especially by our deeds of kindness.

Jesus said: “Whatever you have done for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matt. 25:40)

For what will you be remembered?

Resurrection!

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As most Americans are aware, this is Holy Week. The days ahead include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord, aka Easter.

Amid all the aspects of the secular observance of Easter, Christians focus on the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s an awesome story, recorded in the New Testament in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. I highly recommend you read all four accounts this week.

Lots of people will be in church this Sunday. Some are those lovingly referred to as CEO Christians: Christmas and Easter Only. Be that as it may, I hope and trust that pastors will focus not on the sporadic attendance of some but on the reality of death and our belief in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” (Apostles’ Creed: circa 390 AD)

This statement of belief in the resurrection provides hope and comfort, especially at the time of death of loved ones and friends. Earlier this week I wrote a letter to a friend whose wife passed away suddenly last week. Here are some of the words I wrote:

The author of Ecclesiastes writes: “There is an appointed time for everything  … A time to give birth and a time to die … A time to weep and a time to laugh … A time to mourn and a time to dance …” (Eccl. 3:1-2, 4) The times of dying, weeping, and mourning are not happy times.

That’s true whether a loved one dies after a lengthy illness or with no advance warning. At a time like this we echo the words of Simon Peter to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) That’s where we go at a time like this. We go to Jesus.

Many years ago his loved ones went to his grave, grieving deeply. They had lost the one who had been expected to change the history of the whole world. But he had died, as all men do, and his was a bitter and painful death.

Yet as those mourners came, by a miracle of the grace and power of God, their grief was turned to joy, their despair to faith and confidence! Jesus had risen from the dead!

Ever since that first Easter morn, believing people have come to the grave of their loved ones in confidence and trust … weeping, mourning, but not despairing, not lost, awaiting the promised resurrection of their loved one and the new heaven and new earth that lie ahead. (Rev. 21:1)

Terry and I pray that your times of weeping and mourning will be mitigated by the joy and hope that come from the peace of God that passes all understanding. We love you and thank God for you! A Blessed Festival of the Resurrection! That’s what I mean when I say: “Happy Easter!”

We’re Kidding Ourselves

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This past week a friend of mine forwarded to me a video recording of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s response to a question regarding a comment he made about school violence. Essentially, he says the multiple shootings at schools, churches, and other public places is a cultural problem and that we are kidding ourselves if we think it can be solved by a single law or regulation.

Gov. Bevin talks about the cultural shift in America in recent decades, mostly the reality that we’re “… desensitized to the value and dignity of human life.” He identifies rampant pornography, abortion, and disrespect for women as causal factors. He also mentions violent video games, where you get points for kill counts and you slaughter people.”

“We’re desensitizing people to the value of life. We see it through the lyrics of music, television shows, and movies, through the fact that the mores of this country have changed, and the fact that we increasingly want to remove any sense of moral authority from everything.”

“In a nation where over the last 40 years we’ve aborted 50+ million children and where we have multiple states with medically assisted suicide being provided by doctors, at both ends of the life spectrum we’re losing the value for life that we once historically had.”

“Young people are increasingly becoming more suicidal and depressed because of the use of social media. All this is part of the cultural issue, why homes are broken. We need people in positions of influence to step up and call people to a higher moral authority.”

“Shame on us if we don’t sound the alarm! … You want to change the mores of a nation, remove any sense of higher responsibility, and assume the government and a piece of regulation or a rule is a solution. And then we’re shocked when these things (school shootings) happen! We’re kidding ourselves!”

His response is nearly eight minutes in length but well worth watching and hearing.

Here’s the YouTube link: http://www.kentuckynewera.com/multimedia/video/news/youtube_c2674705-960f-52ed-b8d8-9d2c34d514e4.html. You can also access this video at: Governor of Kentucky.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I believe sensible gun control and increased security in schools is sorely needed. I also agree with Gov. Bevin that unless we address the core problem of what we in the church call sin, these problems will continue. If we think only laws, regulations, and restrictions will solve our nation’s problems, we’re only kidding ourselves!