The last week, facing the unspeakable horror of the cross, what did Jesus make a priority? Fellowship! (hanging out, socializing, or a get-together) The picture above is our little group of bicyclists at a restaurant in Missouri.
Jesus met with his friends in Bethany for a dinner party. (John 12:1-2, Matthew 26:6-7) We know Jesus showed his love for his friends in many incomparable ways, but here I picture Him as “one of the gang,” small-talking, telling jokes, laughing till his sides hurt, and, of course, listening to the others.
He also met with his closest, most intimate friend group, the apostles. That dinner is called The Last Supper or The Lord’s Supper, but to the disciples it was a holiday meal with their best friend.
Luke 22:14-15 tells us what Jesus said to them at that meal:
14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;
I love that phrase “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you.” I believe Jesus wants us to earnestly desire fellowship with our loved ones as well. We were created to live in community.
Our current circumstances have forced us to fellowship differently. But, in preparing your heart for Easter, don’t forget to “gather” with those you love. Text, video chat or Facetime, make telephone calls, visit someone through a window. You just may be a "day-maker".
Today, make a plan to "visit" someone.
I believe, too, that Jesus earnestly desires to spend time with each one of us. So fix a meal and visit with Jesus. Tell him your fears, your frustrations, your anger. Thank Him for all that is good in your life. And then, laugh with him.
Job 8:21 God will not reject a man of integrity...He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.
Usually the weeks leading up to Easter, the Lenten season, are filled with joy. Spring is arriving with early flowers echoing the Resurrection. Practice begins for summer sports. And we look forward with anticipation to new clothes, a church celebration, and time with friends and family.
But this year, the year of COVID19, there are clouds of worry, fear, and apprehension. Many of the activities we have linked with Easter have been canceled or postponed.
So, let's take a walk with Jesus on his journey to the cross. We will make 4 "stops" to read what Jesus did, and understand how that can speak to us today. Let's read again the Easter story, the story that can give us hope and joy, even in our uncertain and confusing circumstances.
Jesus chose to journey to Jerusalem even though He knew what was ahead. He faced the certainty of the cross with unswerving obedience to His Father. The crowds cheering and worshipping Him, were the same crowds that would join the throngs shouting "Crucify Him!" a week later.
STOP 1 At the Temple
Jesus in the Temple
12 Jesus went into the temple and chased out everyone who was selling or buying. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of the ones who were selling doves. 13 He told them, “The Scriptures say, ‘My house should be called a place of worship.’ But you have turned it into a place where robbers hide.”
We often hear this story called "Jesus cleansing the temple." But he wasn't just cleansing the temple, he was cleaning the people--reminding them that what belongs to God is sacred, holy, and precious, and not to be turned into opportunities for greed and sin.
We have this wonderful gift of the world slowing down. So, push away those clouds of apprehension for a few minutes and turn inward. Believers in Christ are vessels of God's Holy Spirit--sacred, holy and precious. But we are constantly in need of cleaning. May I suggest not only washing your hands today, but cleansing yourself as well. Do you need to forgive someone? Do you have some bitterness hiding inside? Are you secretly angry at someone and show it only by your attitude? What do you need to confess and change? Spend time with God, then, if you need to, make that phone call, write that email or letter, contact that person and make things right again.
Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Why did you write about that?
Do you ever wonder where an author gets his/her ideas? There is an interesting story behind Restoration at River's Edge.
My husband and I have a group of friends who ride bikes. We call ourselves OOFPA, which stands for Ornery Old Folks Peddling Along. Our slogan is "We bike to eat" and we often bike to an eating place or picnic after a ride. The group also vacations together and ride bike trails around the country.
One of our favorite places to go is the KATY trail in Missouri. It meanders the width of the state, following an old railroad bed. Although it is not paved, the crushed limestone is easy to pedal on and the trail is flat and well maintained.
Several years ago, we were on our second trip on the KATY trail, riding the portion from Jefferson City to Hartsburg. We stopped for a lunch at a small winery, and one of our group, Paul, couldn't resist buying a couple bottles of wine to go. They wrapped them carefully, he put them in his rear fender saddlebags, and off we went, heading back to our cars.
We had not gone far when--clunk, clunk, clunk. The wine bottles had weighted the saddlebags down, they had tangled in the derailer and damaged it. Our pleasant ride ground to a halt. Two of the men took off knowing they could go faster, get the cars, and return for the rest of us.
Two of us rode more slowly, and Paul and his wife walked their bikes. When they passed a small restaurant along the trail, they stopped, hoping to locate a bike repair shop and call ahead to let them know they were coming. The restaurant wasn't open for business, they only served dinner, but the owner was there, and immediately was ready to help.
"Just take my truck," he told Paul. Now who in the world loans his truck to a complete stranger?
But this man did, and after they learned the bike shop would be closed if they continued to just walk, Paul took him up on his offer, loaded his and his wife's bikes, and headed to the shop. The rest of our group met them there. They were able to repair the derailer and Paul returned the truck.
We went as a group to the restaurant for dinner that night and had a delicious meal of fried chicken and all the sides, served family style. We were not surprised to learn that the restaurant owners were believers in Jesus Christ. They had certainly exemplified his teachings that day!
And I got to thinking--what if a man bought a house on a bike trail and planned to restore it and open a restaurant? Restoration at River's Edge was born. It went through a name change and many drafts on the path to publication. But it all started with a heavy wine bottle, a broken bike, and a man with a caring heart.
Proverbs 22:9 He who is generous will be blessed.
When I was small, my mom had a secret treasure. A Dutch newspaper, handed down to her from her Dutch grandparents who had emigrated from Holland, was tucked away in a special box. She would show it to me, and even then the paper was yellowed and fragile. How I wanted to know what it said! But none of the relatives spoke or read the Dutch language. That had passed with my great grandparents who died several years before I was born.
At some point, the crumbling paper came into my possession and my husband gave me the wise suggestion to laminate it. Once I preserved it, I would occasionally pull it out and unsuccessfully try to decipher the strange words.
On a trip to Texas last winter, I met a sweet lady named Gonda. She and her husband live in Canada. And then I learned she had been born in Holland. I finally asked her if she could still read Dutch and told her of my precious newspaper. She graciously offered to translate it. But how? I didn't want to mail it and have it out of my possession. It was too big to copy and send by email. So I tucked it away again.
This winter, we were returning for a week to the same RV park as we had been previously. So, as I packed the 5th wheel, I put the newspaper in a safe place.
Shortly after we arrived, I reconnected with Gonda and we set a time to look at the newspaper. Gonda and I spent two days poring over the old document. She translated the articles and I typed them in English to share with my siblings. The newspaper turned out to be a Christian paper, with the purpose of uplifting and inspiring Christians in Holland, Belgium, and America.
The front page article had the theme of Heaven. The article's author included a poem by Jan Liefde. This is Gonda's translation of the poem:
What is the Christian Fatherland?
Is it the Netherlands, is it France?
Is it the river Rhine, or where the Danube flows?
Where the wheat moves in the wind?
Where the wheat grows and the grapevine flowers?
Oh no, oh no, oh no
It is to a better land where God calls me
That is the Christian Fatherland.
Where we find the loving hand
Where we show our God our clean heart
Where Salem is built on God
Then will it be, then will it be,
The Christian fatherland is mine.
O God, my God, then will it be,
Make me poor here, make me rich there.
And then I will gaze on your Godly countenance,
That will be, that will be,
The eternal Fatherland is mine.
My poet's heart loved this poem - a link to the great grandparents I do not know yet, but perhaps someday, I will meet in the "Fatherland." And a link to a new friend who gave me this priceless gift! Thank you, Gonda!
This time of year, many of us are frantically searching Amazon, shopping malls, and sales flyers and catalogues for the perfect gift that will delight our loved ones.
When I was a teen, I was hoping for the perfect gift for myself. My wish list always included fashionable clothes, items for my horse (tack, horse blankets, or a load of hay,) and books. And my mom and dad, even with their limited budget, always managed to get a few things that were just what I wanted.
My grandmother celebrated Christmas with us, too. She had been widowed young, and after the sale of their farm, she rejoined the workforce. She must have thought too many years had passed for her to teach again, and she took jobs as a live-in assistant for the elderly. She barely made enough to cover her own expenses, but she wanted to give each of her three children and ten grandchildren a gift. So, she bought plastic lacing and spent hours braiding it around wire coat hangers.
We knew every year exactly what we would get from Grandma. The only surprise was the variety of colors. I hope I was gracious when I received them, but I certainly can't say I was delighted.
My grandmother has been in Heaven for many years now, but I wish I could tell her how wonderful her gift was. I still have sixteen of these hangers. They never break, they hold clothes securely, and they take little room on the rod. For fifty-plus years, my dressy blouses and sweaters have not slid off or gotten creases from the hanger. How many gifts that you received as a teen are you still using?
I am now the grandmother myself, shopping for the perfect gift for seven grandchildren. Maybe I should just get some wire coat hangers and plastic lacing.
As you are unwrapping gifts, don't forget to say thanks for the most perfect gift of all - a Saviour, wrapped in swaddling clothes. A very blessed Christmas to you!
This isn't my story, but I believe it is one that every American should read. He was my father-in-law, Paul Lawrence. He was very young here. He enlisted at the tender age of 15. He lied about his age, and they took him. He was eager to serve his country, and perhaps to see a little of the world.
About three years later, his mom received this telegram.
This is his story, written after he came home to Des Moines.
The “Death March” Across Poland
by Paul Lawrence
At four o’clock on the morning of February 21, 1945, our German guards routed us from our bunks in the prison farm at Rummelsberg, near the Polish border and informed us that we were to be marched from that place, our destination unknown. There were ten of us Americans who had been captured and had spent our days since at long hours of hard farm labor. Although our captors worked us hard and our fare consisted of turnips and potatoes and weak soup for the most part, the trial which was before us was to be more harsh and inhuman than we ever dreamed of.
We had no overcoats, overshoes or anything that is necessary for protection in that climate. I was thankful for a good pair of U.S. Army shoes, and a jacket that helped me keep going. We only had one blanket apiece to protect us from the freezing night air we were to experience sleeping on the frozen open fields. We marched on an average of 23 miles each day our column constantly swelling from numbers of other prisoners added along the line of march.
As we progressed on this march the weather became bitterly cold, often dropping to fifteen or twenty degrees below zero, with the addition of rain, snow and sleet, which soaked our clothes and shoes. Then came night with its terrible penetrating cold and many of our men froze their feet, being unable to dry their socks or shoes and being herded out into open fields to sleep or occasionally allowed the shelter of a barn. Of course no fires could be built as allied aircraft would have immediately bombed us.
As daylight appeared, we were aroused by German guards and forced upon our aching feet, to resume the march. For sustenance we had one meal a day consisting of 3 pieces of black bread (about 8 oz.) and two small cooked potatoes. Added to the lack of food was the scarcity of water. We were soon exhausted from such treatment, but a single complaint brought a curse or blows from a rifle butt from our guards. soon men began to fall exhausted or unable to longer stand on their frozen feet. Gangrene set in, so we improvised slings to carry some of our comrades, but we couldn’t carry them all and as our captors relentlessly drove us at increased speed to keep us from falling into the hands of the victorious Russian army, men fell by the roadside and lay in the ditches and we never saw them again. I saw four men die one day from exhaustion and lack of food and medical help.
The American soldier somehow manages to keep up his morale. Even in the midst of this living, walking death, there were some who managed to carry along a guitar and their singing and playing buoyed up our spirits. I think the grandest morale builder was the sight of American bombers and fighters ranging the skies over us. Sometimes they machine gunned our column, not knowing we were prisoners and we would have to scatter for the roadside ditches and lay there while American bullets kicked up the dirt around us.
The days and nights finally merged into a sort of horrible nightmare. Often I wondered as did so many of us, could I make another mile? We staggered along impelled only by a grim determination to live. So passed these terrible days of marching until at last we arrived at a German airport near Hamburg on April 1, 1945. Here we halted and our captors tried to force us into labor battalions to repair the badly bombed airport. We stuck by our rights, as prisoners of war are not compelled by military law to perform such labor. The Germans retaliated by starving us with one bowl of turnip soup each day and quartering us at night in exposed positions so that we got no rest from the nightly air raids on this airport. We were reduced to skin and bones. My weight dropped to 135 pounds, but many were much worse off than I. During the day the American bombers visited us and searched for the hangars and blew great holes in the runways of the airport. The ground fairly rocked from the terrific concussion. Tons of loose dirt almost buried us alive. Then at night the big British Lancaster bombers took over. They would remain over the target often as long as two hours and sometimes they dropped big four ton block-busters. They really did make a noise. I have seen them lift boxcars into the air like match boxes, and the damage to everything in the vicinity was terrific. Many of us were wounded by flying fragments of bombs.
On the sixth of April we were again on the move. This time our guards marched us harder and faster than before, because the Americans were getting closer each day. Our captors informed us that any stragglers or anyone attempting to escape would be shot as spies. Our treatment made us desperate so my buddy and I planned to escape in spite of certain death we knew awaited if we were caught. We made our escape at ten o’clock on the evening of April 10, 1945 and lay hidden for four days. At night our desperate hunger drove us to forage for food which we found practically unobtainable. We ate anything we could find, even a frozen turnip was a delicacy.
As soon as we could, we resumed our search for the American lines. After five days and nights of hiding by day a skulking the forests and fields by night on the fifteenth of April, in the morning, we sighted an American tank. We lost no time in identifying ourselves and I confess that the joy of deliverance was too much for our shattered nerves and worn bodies, and we cried like babies. From then on our troubles were over, and how we did eat! And then we began the best part of all--our journey home.
Of course, he is a hero. He was recognized and received a Purple Heart. But in my opinion, he is also a hero for what he did afterwards. He came home and got the job that he worked at until retirement. He married Peg and they were together for 60 plus years until death parted them. He raised three children, all exemplary citizens, community members, and parents themselves. Although he carried the scars of his wartime experiences for all of his life, he never complained. He did his job, provided for his family, and became a man any of us could (and should!) admire. Well done, Paul Edward Lawrence. Thank you.
God works every day through believers to implement His design for His Kingdom here on earth. Sometimes we are not aware of His plans unfolding. Then, other times, we are allowed a miraculous glimpse of the heart and mind of God as His will is accomplished through our humble efforts.
Such was the journey of a simple little story, Shepherd of eSwatini.
In 2016, my husband, Gary and I traveled to the tiny country of eSwatini (formerly called Swaziland) to visit the first Hope for Life Children's Home built by Pour International, an organization we supported.
We fell in love with the beautiful people of eSwatini, especially the children. We visited two carepoints--a place where children can get an after-school meal. I noticed the lack of books there. We had brought books with us to establish a library at the children's home, but those were not written for or about the children of eSwatini.
Even before we left Africa, I knew God was leading me to write a story. I interviewed Babe Elliot, a kind, older man who patiently answered all my questions about his country and its people.
I chose the 23rd Psalm as the foundation and told the story of Sandile, a young boy who cares for his family's goats in eSwatini. When his grandmother reads the beautiful words of the Psalm, he compares God's care of him to his caretaking of his goats. He concludes with joy that God is indeed his shepherd.
Scott and Marcia Borg, the founders of Pour International and missionaries to eSwatini, helped me to get my words translated into siSwati, the native language of eSwatini.
But the story had no illustrations and I knew no artists--certainly none who would donate the considerable time and work for a book that was intended for children living in 3rd world poverty.
I shelved my little story and Gary and I left for a winter trip south. While camping in Louisiana, a fellow camper noticed our Iowa license plates and introduced herself. Kris Grover and her husband lived in Elkader, Iowa.
Our two dogs, Molly and Maggie, enjoyed each other's company and Kris and I walked them and chatted. I learned she was an artist.
The morning we were leaving the campground, Kris appeared at our door with warm coffee cake and a project she was currently working on. The canvas was a torn paper collage showing Jesus cradling a lamb. The sweet, contented expression on the lamb's face brought tears to my eyes. Kris told us she called the painting, "The Good Shepherd."
Gary and I told Kris that when she finished the painting and we were all back in Iowa, we would purchase it.
Two months later we met and I received the beautiful finished canvas of "The Good Shepherd." I had brought with me a copy of my story, Shepherd of eSwatini and I asked Kris if she would consider doing illustrations for the book.
She didn't say "yes" immediately. She knew it would require a tremendous amount of work, and it involved doing things she'd never attempted as an artist. But God kept nudging, and finally Kris agreed.
The process wasn't smooth and easy. Kris struggled with some of the details of the drawings. One lovely image wasn't culturally sensitive and had to be changed. She suffered a dog bite on her hand and was unable to work until it healed. When the pictures were complete, the process of formatting for publication frustrated both of us.
We never gave up. And now Kris and I present our small part of God's Kingdom work, Shepherd of eSwatini. The book is written in both English and siSwati and 100% of the proceeds of books sold will be donated to Pour International to support the Hope for Life Children's Homes.
There are now three homes where twenty-two children thrive. I hope sometime in 2020 to be able to hand out books to the children in person.
The book is available on Amazon.com.
It's just a simple wooden pole. I bought it years ago on a trip to the Smokey Mountains. Handcrafted by an artist in the heart of Appalachia, it caught my eye and I bought it. At home in Iowa, I didn't use it much. On our mostly flat and paved trails, it didn't seem to be needed.
But on the mountains of Virginia, this stick was a steady companion. The majority of the hikers on the Appalachian Trail used modern trekking poles. However, I had one hand occupied with Molly's leash, so this worked very well for me.
My hiking pole was helpful on the uphills, hauling my out-of-shape, slightly rounded body up the steep slopes. I also used it on the downhill, helping me balance and make my way around boulders. In areas of fallen leaves or overgrown weeds, I employed it to make sure there were no snakes lurking. And I even swung it in front of my short-legged hiking companion to remind her that dogs needed to "go behind."
In our walk with Christ, we need a "hiking pole" as well. Prayer is what hauls us up the mountains, helps us maintain balance in our lives, and can even alert us to danger on the trails.
Too often, we are like me walking on the trails in Iowa. Things are not so tough, and we leave prayer in a corner of the garage.
Don't wait for the steep inclines in your life to resort to prayer. No matter what trails life has you on right now, don't step out with your hiking pole of prayer.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
Beginning September 8th, I hiked the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Forest, a dream that was years in the making. Here are the wrap-up statistics:
3 women - my friend, Leigh, who accompanied me days 1-11, my friend, Angela, who was there for days 10-13 and me
1 dog - Molly
2 shuttle drivers - my husband, Gary, and Leigh's husband, Shaune
13 days of hiking - 1 day of rain, 2 foggy mornings, 10 sunny days
112 miles hiked
22 mountains, 2 rocky knobs, 3 unnamed hills
3 bears - all in the area of the campgrounds
5 snakes, including a dead rattlesnake on the road
Countless deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and birds, and one critter only Molly spotted and jerked the leash from my hand and went for her own romp on the AT.
38 insect bites - for some reason the bugs preferred me over my friends
4 blisters - on my feet. Leigh and Angela each had at least one.
132 bottles of water
12 miles on the longest day, day 13
33,818 steps - most in one day
It was the most difficult thing I have ever done. And I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Or at least after recovering for a week or two.
This one is for the OOFPAs (Ornery Old Folks Peddling Along) - my group of bicycling friends. I took my last training hike on the Great Allegheny Passage, a rails-to-trails bikeway. Molly and I walked about 2 1/2 miles out and then back and I spent most of the time trying to figure out how the OOFPAs could make a summer bike trip to Pennsylvania.
The weather was perfect. And so was the trail.
I overcame my fear of high bridges to take pictures of the river. It was sparkling clear - no mud bottom!
Of course there were wildflowers everywhere.
A glorious walk in the woods!
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.