Close Enough

Close enough

Our home in Ohio had a big bay window in the front room. Finding curtains for that thing was a challenge because it required a long curved curtain rod, which was expensive. So I busted out my creative energy and gently bent straight curtain rods to fit the curve. It worked perfectly and was much less expensive.

I hated taking those curtains down to wash them because it required two people and it was a time consuming process. But once a year, down they came and were washed and dried, and my dear hubby (who made fun of me for having to stand on a stool when he could just reach up) helped me rehang them. Then I had to readjust the tie-backs and the tops so that it all was nice and neatly balanced. Because I need balance.

But as I worked on getting those curtains perfectly spaced I remembered one of my favorite phrases, “Close enough.” I learned it from my dad, who was a carpenter. He once told me that there are many things in carpentry that do require perfection, but there are some things for which “close enough” works well. I’ve discovered that this phrase is appropriate for other aspects of life, too. Like, folding fitted sheets.

Once upon a camp-time, I chose the word “excellence” as the yearly theme for the year-round staff. We challenged each other to strive for excellence in everything we did, including how we lived our faith. The verse for that theme was, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.

One day during our weekly Bible study, we had a discussion about perfection versus excellence. Excellence means setting a high standard for yourself in everything you do and working towards doing the best that you can. Perfection means being free from flaw or defect. Excellence is the process by which one may achieve perfection. Perfection is often unachievable, daunting, often frustrating, and can cause someone to not even begin a task. Why would Jesus say that we have to be perfect LIKE GOD?! Is that not IMPOSSIBLE?

Look at that verse in context. Jesus was talking about loving your enemies. Be perfect in love. The Greek word for perfect means “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” Love like the Father. Love like the Son. Love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s often-left-off-introduction to the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13), is this: “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” 1 Corinthians 12:31b. The Greek word for excellent means “a throwing beyond.”

No, I cannot achieve perfection in love on my own. “Close enough” doesn’t work in loving others. But by striving for excellence in all things (1 Corinthians 13:7), I have set my feet on the path of the Father’s already complete and finished perfection. The only way to achieve perfection in loving others, especially those who may be my enemies, is by submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit. In doing so, I have already tapped into the finished and complete, perfect, self-giving love of the Father.

“Close enough” isn’t enough when we submit to Jesus Christ;

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:34-30

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb



25 January, 2023 10:48

Those crazy Facebook quizzes annoy me (and there are warnings about not taking them because of the threat of identity theft). “What Mexican food are you?” Which Disney character do you resemble?” “What’s your real age?” “What would be your prison stereotype?” Okay, I admit I took that one. Results were that I would be a prison leader. Fantastic. “What prison sentence would you get?” Life sentence. Well, that’s just great.

Maybe I should create a quiz. “If you were in jail what would you do with all your spare time?”

The apostle Paul spent quite a bit of time in jail. What a great example, huh? Well, actually, yea, he is. Because he was thrown in jail for preaching about Jesus. Most Jewish leaders didn’t like him; they thought Jesus was dead and gone and was no longer a threat to their religious way of life. Saul (before he was called Paul) actually was one of those haters who ran around throwing Jesus followers in prison, Acts 8:1-3.

But then Jesus got hold of him. The bright Light of the world blinded Saul, told him to knock it off, healed him, and gave him a new purpose in life, Acts 9:1-22. And the Jews didn’t like that very much either, Acts 13:44-45.

Nothing scared Paul. Not shipwrecks, Acts 27, or snake bites, 28:1-6, politicians or wealthy people, being beaten or stoned, 14:19-20; 21:27-32, being thrown in jail, 16:22-24, or even dying for his faith in Jesus Christ, 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18. You can read Paul’s own words about all that stuff in 2 Corinthians 11:21-30; 12:9-10.

First century jails weren’t very comfy; dark, dirty, and smelly are fitting descriptions. So, what did Paul do with all his spare time sitting in jail cells? He:

-Sang songs, Acts 16:25

-Told people in the jail about Jesus, Acts 16:31-32

-Wrote letters to churches that he had visited on his travels, Acts chapters 19-20

The New Testament books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are called Paul’s “prison epistles (letters) because he wrote them while he was in jail (I imagine there were probably many more that just weren’t saved). Most likely he had a lot of time to think and pray, and the Holy Spirit taught him a lot about Jesus, too. Paul was then able to pass on that knowledge to those first Christians through his writings.

The beginning of his letter to the church in Ephesus contains rich words of praise and blessing for who God is and what he has done in and through Jesus Christ, vs 3-10; how God has blessings for everyone who believes in Jesus, vs 11-14, and praise and thanksgiving for the believers in that church, vs 15-23. It is an amazing way to start a letter!

You see, Paul wasn’t sitting in his cell pouting about his circumstances, Philippians 4:11-13! No dark jail cell or thick iron bars were going to stop him from his unending commitment of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, Acts 28:30-31! Paul wrote that he was “in chains for Christ,” Philippians 1:13 and a “prisoner of Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 3:1. That was his purpose, his calling, and his goal until his dying day. Church tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome in the mid to late 60’s AD, because he just wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus.

So. What’s up with you? What’s up with me? What are my current circumstances? What do you do with all your spare time?

What do I consider more important than Jesus Christ? Popularity? My future? My job? My own wants and desires?

Are we willing to take risks so that the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ will be shared with the people we are with every day? Or anyone we happen to meet?

Is there anything that keeps me from saying, “I, Deb, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of …”?

I hope not. Jesus might have to shine a blinding bright light in MY eyes to straighten me up.

I’m praying for you.

Deb



1/19/23 Companions

Deb’s Devotions

A few years ago, I attended a leader’s retreat at Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center near Toano, VA. One afternoon I went for a walk on one of the trails. I grabbed a walking stick to fend off spider webs and to tap the ground to alert snakes that I was there and they should go away. The trail was wide, well-marked, and sunny. I walked alertly and talked to God. The trail descended slowly, narrowed, and the canopy thickened. It dipped down into a low muddy area where I had to go around a tree. I realized suddenly that I didn’t know the woods, but I did know there were copperheads. As I drew nearer to the swamp, I tapped the ground more forcefully with the stick. I grew more timid; where was I going, how long was this path, how far away am I from people, why am I here alone?! I suddenly wished for a noisy group of people to be walking with me!

Then, I saw a five foot black snake lounging by the path. I skirted around it and kept walking, but FEAR overcame me as I imagined what I might encounter next, and I decided to go back. But, I would have to pass that snake again! I walked slowly until I saw it, then really whapped the ground with the stick. It slithered off and I high-tailed it back the path, not caring about anything but getting back to open spaces!

As I got to the wide sunny part, I realized that I had been taught a lesson. Walking alone was okay until I encountered fear, then I wanted companions. Isn’t that much like my Christian journey? I can go confidently along by myself; but when life’s circumstances become challenging, I sure want companions on my journey who will provide encouragement, support, comfort, and prayer. That is part of the joy of being a member of the Body of Christ; when obstacles are encountered, my sisters and brothers are present to “be Jesus with skin on.”

Especially when there are snakes.

“So support one another. Keep building each other up as you have been doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11



Mother’s Faith Legacy

Over the last couple months, I have been compiling the many writings of both of my parents. My mother was the editor of our monthly church newsletter and would write a short editorial, which were often spiritual reflections from her life journey. Both she and my father wrote their faith testimonies and life stories. Fortunately, most of these were typed, and fortunately Bob was able to retrieve them from the floppy discs of the 1990’s! I plan to print copies for myself and my three siblings, and provide the files for us to pass on to our children and grandchildren. I am so thankful we have these stories to preserve and share.

My mother was a gifted writer and a woman of strong faith in Jesus Christ. Her reflections during the years of fighting cancer were as rich as the psalmists; fear, anger, weariness, crying out to God, faith, trust, hope and joy. I found the following poem which she had written on a scrap of paper, clearly working out the rhythm and rhyme as she scratched out phrases and words to substitute ones which were a better fit. There was no date on the paper. Mom died in June 2001. I am sharing her poem today to honor her faith legacy.

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb

God forgave me—oh! How great!

Saved me ‘ere it was too late.

His Spirit guides and sometimes hides me

From an awful fate.

Sometimes the love of God above

Seems not to reach me here.

But when I fall, on Him I call,

And then I feel Him near.

The love of God, means more to me,

Then I can ever tell.

He loves me, keeps me, thrills me, fills me,

Like a flowing well.

I cannot speak as well as some,

But this I pledge to do;

To speak to others that I meet

Just as I spoke to you.

Ann Miller



Hope

One cold, snowy day in Northern Ohio at the camp where I worked, I shoveled the sidewalks. There are a lot of sidewalks at camp! The snow was about 4 inches thick but very light and fluffy so it was not very difficult, but it was hard work. While I was shoveling it began snowing again; big fluffy flakes gently falling. It did not take long for the sidewalks to get recovered in a dusting of snow. But that was okay, because it is much easier to keep periodically shoveling a walk than it is to wait until there are 6 inches accumulated!

Continued shoveling keeps the edges of the sidewalk visible, which makes it easier to see where to shovel the next time. If I wait until no snow is in the forecast before I even attempt to shovel, it is much more back-breaking and I may not have any indication where the sidewalk actually is located.

I had read Jeremiah 29:11 that morning and had been focusing on the word hope. I had turned in my resignation a few months before, and I had no idea what God had planned for me once I left camp ministry, which caused me some anxiety. I prayed as I shoveled, “Show me your path, God. Clear the way. Give me hope.”

Then I realized that seeking God’s direction is a lot like shoveling a sidewalk. If I patiently persevere in prayer, asking God for wisdom and discernment, I essentially am keeping the “path” cleared. Yes, I may have to keep asking for clarity, and the path may get covered up a bit with more questions or wait time, but with continued prayerful clearing, the edges of my journey remain visible, which means I at least know the direction I’m headed. And continuing the dialogue with God through that prayerful process, means I will not be overwhelmed and buried by life’s circumstances or by fear of the unknown.

Hope keeps me persistently shoveling sidewalks even while the snow is falling. And, hope keeps me prayerfully seeking God’s guidance, even when I am not sure what experiences each day may bring or where God may lead next. 

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Rm 5:1-5.

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb



January 1?

I’ve never been a celebrator of New Year’s Eve; I like going to bed before 11pm. When our kids were at home we would gather with my husband’s family for a meal, games, and then stay up to watch the ball drop. Some of us remember New Year Eve 1999, when the new year was named Y2K. The predictions were for a technological apocalypse because the digital clocks only recognized the last two digits of a year so would not be able to tell the difference between 2000 and 1900. Bob’s family gathered together with bottled water and flashlights, and the children were sorely disappointed when the ball dropped, the clocks ticked past 11:59pm and….nothing happened.

Calendars and clocks are human inventions, which is part of the reason why (along with the preference for sleep) I do not care much about New Year’s Eve:

“ACCORDING TO archaeological evidence, the Babylonians and Egyptians began to measure time at least 5,000 years ago, introducing calendars to organize and coordinate communal activities and public events, to schedule the shipment of goods and, in particular, to regulate cycles of planting and harvesting. They based their calendars on three natural cycles: the solar day, marked by the successive periods of light and darkness as the earth rotates on its axis; the lunar month, following the phases of the moon as it orbits the earth; and the solar year, defined by the changing seasons that accompany our planet’s revolution around the sun.” Scientific America

I rise from my slumber on January 1st the same way I did on December 31st. The day stretches before me with the same opportunities as previous days. Making resolutions just does not interest me. I am not bashing that practice at all; if those things give you energy and enthusiasm, go for it! It just isn’t my thing.

Sorry for being so cynical. Why, I think to myself, should I wait for a particular day on a calendar to work at becoming a better/more focused/changed person? Today is just as good as any day. When the sun rises each morning and sets each night (or, for those who work or are awake during the night, whatever part of the day you are awake and alert), we each have a full span of opportunity and choices ahead of us. I want to focus on this day.

And while I surely do want to make healthy choices and strengthen relationships and stay on budget and be more generous and, and, and…my main daily priority is to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Every day I commit to grow closer to Him, commit to pay attention to His Presence all around me, commit to listen to Him and respond to what He says, commit to love and serve Him, commit to love those around me and to respond to any unexpected events of a day with the grace of God.

The oft quoted portion of the verse from Joshua 24:15 is best read in its entire context in which Joshua delivered a message from God to the Israelites. God recounted all the ways he worked in their lives to deliver, rescue, and lead them to the promised land. And then gave them a choice: “Fear the Lord and serve him with integrity and faithfulness…or choose your own god to serve.” And Joshua added, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

That really is the umbrella promise, or resolution if you’d rather, for each day of my life. I can choose to serve the gods of today (name anything that dominates your body, mind or soul), or I can choose to place my trust in the Lord God Almighty. And the remarkable truth is that he will give us the strength to accomplish that commitment! We just need to ask for his strength, his forgiveness, his grace and his Spirit who promises, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

So, IF I’m still awake at 11:59 pm this Saturday night to watch the ball drop, I will thank God for his presence, power and love, and will ask for more so that I can go to sleep trusting that whatever the new day will bring, I will be ready to follow Jesus.

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb



The Beginning of a New Beginning

What are the signs we expect? The signs that let us know something is imminent; like the red button that pops out when the turkey is finally roasted. Or ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s take warning.” Especially when, to quote an insurance commercial, “life comes at you fast,” we seek signs of God’s presence, God’s grace, and God’s purpose. When we face what seems to be insurmountable impossibilities and challenges—we need a sign of HOPE!

Luke 2:8-15
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”

“They were terrified” can be translated literally as “they feared with a great fear.” Yet the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” You know, if ONE angelic messenger caused the shepherds to “fear with a great fear,” I can’t imagine what they must have felt when a “great company of the heavenly host”…a multitude of troops of angels…the whole HEAVENLY kit & caboodle…showed up and said, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

These are the same heavenly beings who “day and night…never stop saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” Revelation 4:8b, and “the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand, the living creatures and the elders circle the throne of God and in a loud voice say, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.” Revelation 5:11-14

I cannot think of any prophetic messianic texts in the first testament that included any information about a heavenly angelic pronouncement about the Messiah…I’m thinking that this “multitude of the heavenly host” was a huge surprise [understatement]! The veil between heaven and earth was pulled back to announce to these shepherds, low members of that society, that “NOW IT IS HAPPENING! The Prince of Peace, Immanuel, has been born! And here is your sign: He’s wrapped up snugly, with his mommy and daddy.”

The birth of Jesus Christ marks the beginning of a new beginning. When Immanuel, God-with-us, became a reality; when HOPE became flesh. The sign of the child tells us that the all-sovereign and all-knowing and all-powerful God has our human situation completely in hand.
“Now,” says God. “Now, I will fulfill my promise. Trust Me in the face of the impossible. Trust Me to set all things right. Trust Me; My Divine Love is revealed in this baby. Stand firm in your faith. DO NOT BE AFRAID.”

I’m praying for you,
Pastor Deb



Christmas Memories

One thing I do not enjoy is cleaning out my china cupboard. It’s tedious and time consuming, I always fear breaking something, and then there is the task of putting everything back the way it was; not fun. But one year when our kids were small, I noticed a layer of dust on everything, so I took on the task. As I washed and dried the items, I told the kids something about each piece.

“This was from your great grandpa and grandma Smucker’s fiftieth wedding anniversary” or “These dishes are from your grandpa and grandma Miller’s first set of china” or “This bottle contains fool’s gold that I picked up on the banks of the Kuskokwim river in Alaska when I was 12 years old.”

But when I removed one item from a shelf, I held and reflected for a few minutes. It is a rather plain looking brown glass boot from Avon; it was my father’s cologne decanter. When I was a little girl I asked him if I could have it when it was empty, and he gave it to me in my teen years and I tucked it away. After I was married my brother built me a china cupboard and the boot was one of the first items I placed in it.

As I was thinking about all that I wondered if it still smelled like cologne. On a whim I unscrewed the cap, took a deep whiff and, like the “spirit of Christmas past,” the scent instantly brought to my mind scenes from my childhood Christmases:

-There I was early one Christmas morning, sitting on my dad’s lap while we five kids opened presents. I remembered the red flannel bathrobe he was wearing and the scratchy feel of his unshaved face. I felt warm and safe.

-Another Christmas, my sister and I had to close our eyes as we entered the living room because our gifts were too large to wrap. As I peeked over my teddy bear’s head, I saw two sets of shiny new handlebars—we got new bicycles (not hand-me-downs)! We rode them in the house because it was snowing outside.

-One year I received two new dolls. One I had requested, having circled her picture in the Sears Christmas catalog. I loved her (and I still have her)! The other was a rag doll—her big green button eyes were always staring at me, and she frightened me.

-Jumping out of bed and feeling the shock of the cold, hardwood floor on my bare feet while running to wake the rest of the family.

-Begging and pleading to open just one gift on Christmas Eve.

-The Christmas programs at church and afterward all the children would receive the biggest, most juicy oranges I’d ever seen.

It had only been a few seconds since I had smelled the cologne, but my memories had covered quite a few years. I quickly screwed the lid back on the boot. As I returned it to the shelf, I marveled at how the scent of my father’s cologne from an empty glass boot could hold such a volume of memories.

I hope that we all will have opportunities to share our Christmas memories, and make new ones, with family and friends.

“May you be blessed with the spirit of the season, which is peace;

The gladness of the season, which is hope;

And the heart of the season, which is love.” Irish Blessing

I’m praying for you, Pastor Deb



Silence

A number of years ago, our extended family gathered for a weekend in a cabin in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Inside it was hot and noisy with conversation. Outside there were cool fall temperatures; yellow leaves, red poison ivy, misty and quiet.

I needed quiet and calm. I needed to listen for God.

There was very little human sound outside. In fact, my own steps and movements of clothing seemed like a loud interruption. So I sat on a narrow, winding strip of secluded road. That was where the sounds and sights greeted me.

Owls, chickadees, crows, cooper’s hawks, blue jays, flickers, pileated woodpeckers, turkeys, titmice, catbirds, chipmunks, kingfishers, chipping sparrows, spider webs, sassafras, redbuds, leaves falling, nuts dropping, goats with bells, and cows mooing. Nature can be noisy.

The hillsides were covered with trees with thick colorful foliage, but a single falling yellow leaf caught my eyes. A bird jumped from branch to limb. Tiny movements, tiny sounds.

Silence isn’t so. Is there ever silence? How can one silence the voice in one’s mind? If there is an absolute absence of external sound, the voice in one’s mind seems exceedingly loud. There is no way to stop that sound.

So, how does one guide the inner voice to whisper, to express only valuable words or thoughts? To stay focused on the purpose before one? For me that purpose is to listen for and be aware of God’s presence. But my own inner voice interrupts, makes inappropriate comments, strives to change the subject, yammers about nothing particular, and has the attention span of a five year old.

Controlling my inner voice is difficult. It’s like there are two personalities in there; the inner child who just loves to talk and have attention, and the inner adult who tries to keep control. Often the child wins, and often it is the child who learns something fascinating; the way a dew drop magnifies the veins on a leaf, the pollen-filled legs of a bumblebee, tiny yellow flowers and small purple asters in the ditch. But always, the adult is listening for a deeper meaning; where is God in the small stuff, do I magnify God in my life, am I carrying the pollen of the gospel?

Everyone decided to go on a walk; some ran, some walked, some rode. I walked but lingered behind the happily noisy group until they were far enough ahead that I could no longer hear them. Again, trying to find space to be alone with God. But if I can’t see, hear, smell, taste or touch God, with what sense do I know Him? How do I become aware of Him?

It’s got to be soul-sense; the Spirit of God within that is in tune with the Father, and who whispers to both my inner-perpetual-motion-child and my seeking-calm-and-purpose-adult. The Spirit provides the awesome sense that bestows the inner surety that when I am still and seek to draw near to God, I discover that God…is…always…near.

I pray that you can find those places to rest in God’s presence,

Pastor Deb



Music is a Miraculous Gift

I grew up in a singing household. My mother was the song leader at our little church in Pennsylvania and our family often sang together on a Sunday morning. Mom had many small song books and hymnals, which I still have. The hymnals from my life have been Life Songs #2, The Church Hymnal, The Mennonite Hymnal, and Hymnal: A Worship Book.

I was quite young when our church purchased The Mennonite Hymnal. In order to learn the new hymns, my mother held Wednesday evening hymn sings before the prayer meetings. The pianist would play along so the congregation could learn the harmonies (Sunday singing was acapella). When Hymnal: A Worship Book came out, my mother was very disappointed because there were no shaped notes which meant she could no longer read the music. She gave up being a song leader, but always loved singing.

Mom died of ovarian cancer in 2001. She was in Hospice care for her final months. There came a day when she was not able to communicate with us in words, but she could still sing. We piled her collection of hymnals and song books beside her bed and would take turns singing with her. She would join in with her rich alto and remembered all the words. It was remarkable and we all said mom was able to continue to sing about her faith in Jesus even when she could no longer talk about him.

I have been familiar with The Celebration Hymnal since 2008. I carried it and The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration when I worked as a Hospice chaplain because of the rich selection of hymns and songs that both contain. I have witnessed how music calms an anxious person, eases their breathing, and I have sung to many people as they stepped peacefully into eternity.

I believe strongly that the hymns and songs we sing shape our faith, therefore I carefully choose music for Sunday worship that fits into that day’s scripture and theme, which helps us harmonize our theology. Music is a miraculous gift from our Creator! The hymns and songs we sing become part of our faith DNA.

Let us continue to “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.” Psalm 149:1

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb