Pop Tarts® for Breakfast?

What’s the difference between a Pop-Tartt® and a thick slice of homemade bread, lightly toasted with a thin coat of real butter and a teaspoon or two of homemade strawberry jam?

Or contrast the motel “free” breakfast with its cornflakes and Froot Loops,® “maple” syrup that has never seen a tree, and somewhat dark, warm coffee with a burrito filled with scrambled eggs and ham, veggies finely chopped and salsa with just the right tang. And, oh yes, freshly squeezed orange juice. While the motel breakfast or the manufactured-by-Kellogg’s “tart” may be sufficient to get us out the door, they simply can’t satisfy the hunger that goes beyond the physical.

With salivary glands working at Mach Ten, I think I have your attention. Yes, I know that the eggs, ham, and buttered toast aren’t in the top ten of your doctor’s recommendations, but I think you get the point. Substitute any well-prepared, tasty foods of your choice for the purpose of this discussion.

Many Christians endorse and participate in what is variously called a quiet time, devotions or simply time with God. A quick internet search found the following: 17 Verses About Quiet Time with God; The Quiet Time—What, Why, How; How to Have a Meaningful Quiet Time; Thoughts on the QT. All these—and many more—are worth exploring. But let’s think briefly about another experience. Some call it reading slowly, others say meditation. Author, pastor Eugene Peterson uses words that especially resonate with me: eat the book. Here’s an example.

Each week a psalm is assigned to a group of women with whom I meet. This isn’t a study assignment, looking into the psalm’s background, author, time of writing, etc. Rather we are to read the psalm repeatedly through the week, asking God to reach deeply into our hearts, draw us to humility and gratitude, perhaps bring conviction leading to repentance. One of the women, an avid runner, writes out the verses to “chew on” during her daily exercise routine.

Here’s what happened to me recently when I repeatedly read Psalm 118: Give thanks to The Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Actually, I never got beyond the first phrase of that first verse. God is good. I love to ask questions of the text with the discovered answers—the information I glean—leading me into deeper meditation and eventual adoration. What does it mean that God is good? Of course he is righteous, without sin, unchangeable, faithful. But is that what this word good means?

To my regret, I’ve never studied Greek or Hebrew but definitions in those languages are only an internet search away. I discover that in Hebrew, that word good has at its essence “completeness, appropriateness, benefit, sufficiency.” It’s the same word used in Genesis when God looked at his creation and declared it good. Creation didn’t have a moral “righteousness” about it, rather God looked at his handiwork and declared (in our vernacular), “Yes! It’s just as I intended it to be! It is functioning properly, it is complete and appropriate for my intent.”

The questions to be asked after any discovery of biblical truth are simple: Now what? and So What? And because I’ve already written more words then should be in any blog, I shall stop here without sharing what I thought about God’s goodness as complete, sufficient and appropriate. But why don’t you “gnaw on” the word, applying Peterson’s description for meditation. What difference does it make to you that David uses this creation word (“tov”) to describe God? How important is it to you that God “functions properly” in your life? That in his character he operates in a beneficial way?

Few of us have time to have a pancakes-and-eggs breakfast every morning. Too often there’s only time for a quick hold-in-the-hand meal to get us started. (Hopefully something more nutritious than the Kellogg’s variety however!) When time permits, a nutritious morning meal is preferable. Described above is not a Pop-Tart® quiet time where the designated number of verses is read, the bookmark placed for tomorrow’s edition, or even when Oswald Chambers or Sarah Young’s thoughts are perused. This is when we take the necessary time to sit quietly with God long enough to feast together. We’re on our way to a real meal.

Leningrad 1980

LeningradSummer. 1980. U.S. Boycotts Moscow Olympics. And there we were in Leningrad,* Russia. My husband and I had applied for visitor visas because Leningrad is only a six-hour drive from Turku, Finland where we would be attending a conference. When would we ever again be this close to such a beautiful city known for its tapestry of rich history and tragic suffering?

Because our visit would be brief, we hired a “state sponsored” tour guide: lovely, knowledgeable, friendly Natasha. To help share the cost, two acquaintances—who had also attended the conference—sat in the back seat of our Ford Taunus as we drove through the historic streets, Natasha between them pointing out and describing the sites of which she was justifiably proud.

Aware of the political and religious climate in Russia and especially the tentative relationship between Russia and the U.S., we were exceptionally sensitive to the proud people of our host nation, and especially to the many followers of Jesus who bravely lived their faith under difficult conditions. We carried no religious literature (except our personal Bibles), wore no religious symbols, initiated no conversations that could be described as “proselytizing” although we freely answered any questions asked of us.

Our tour was nearly over when my husband turned to our obviously well educated new friend and quietly asked, “Tell me, Natasha, how is Jesus presented in your schools?” Without the slightest trace of defensiveness, her answer was quick and sure: “Oh, he’s a myth.” “How interesting when scholars have proven that the man Jesus lived nearly 2,000 years ago,” was my husband’s gentle response.

Conversation gently proceeded with my husband explaining his understanding of Jesus as the promised Messiah and how belief in Jesus had influenced his own life. Then Stan, seated on one side of Natasha, shared how he had argued against the reality of Jesus through intellectual means until he could no longer deny the proof he found in the Bible, eventually placing his personal faith in Jesus. Then Susan, on Natasha’s left, talked about her empty loneliness while in university, weeping with despair into her pillow each night, and how Jesus became the great Comforter and Redeemer for her.

We were now at the hotel where Natasha would leave us and Bob, glancing into the rear view mirror, observed that not only was she intently listening, but tears were pooling in her eyes. Although we had no Bible or literature to give her, we did have a few copies of the memorial article we had written only a few months earlier when our 18-year-old son died. In it were a few sentences about his own journey with Christ, the basis for his trust in Christ and his commitment to Christ. Natasha gratefully accepted the paper, very sincerely thanking us for the afternoon and for the opportunity to meet us. End of story.

Or is it? We will probably never again meet Natasha. We don’t know if she ever investigated further the Jesus we described. But I am left with these questions:

If she did one day seek out and follow the Savior, in addition to the work of the Holy Spirit, what drew her to him? How did she hear his call? Was it intellectual curiosity? Was it emotional hunger? Was it a desire to refute his claims?

These are questions pertinent to people we meet today and to be further explored in another blog. What draws people to Jesus? Is it by “falling in love with Jesus”? Inexorably drawn to his offer of peace? eternal life? grace? mercy? Do some eventually trust Christ because their intellect cannot deny his claims? Because the resurrection can no longer be denied? What New Testament examples of each/all can we find? On what avenue did Jesus walk when he came to you?

*Originally known as St. Petersburg, the city underwent several name changes, Leningrad perhaps its most widely known. Since 1991 St. Petersburg is the official title.


Rob's PaintingIt was an unusually hot day and my body temperature was also rising after a spate of weekend housework that included the bending, lifting and other body movements that produce a shiny coat of perspiration. A well earned break found me sitting in the living room where I could clearly see the painting shown here.* Psychologically the color green is known to produce a feeling of rest and equilibrium and the predominant deep green of the painting was generating exactly that in my tired body. In addition I could almost feel the cool mist from the water as it cascaded down the mountainside. In just a few minutes, I was feeling refreshed.

Recently I read the very personal letter the Apostle Paul wrote to his friend Philemon. He was requesting some “tough stuff” from his friend but before he presented the challenge, he wrote these words: Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you have refreshed the hearts of God’s people. Paul wasn’t saying that Philemon merely spoke well of God’s people. Nor that he had practiced hospitality. Nor that he was theologically correct. That word refresh means more than the “recovery” I felt while gazing at the painting. More than a glass of lemonade on a hot day. Or an afternoon nap. In its essence it means to calm or soothe. Exactly what we need when life—and perhaps people—take a toll on our resources.

Jesus used the same word when he said, Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will refresh you (Matthew 11:28). While such refreshment is freely given by Jesus, we learn from Paul that it is a gift we can also give each other.

I meet regularly with two women who offer this gift. Neither would claim the title mentor, guide or counselor. They are friends. Time flies as I sit with one at the coffee shop, sometimes relating family experiences, or sharing how recent time with Jesus has been uplifting. (Or convicting!) Another friend and I meet weekly for prayer. Our “prayer” frequently consists of conversation with each other and with our Father as we invite Him into the hour. Sometimes we weep for and over God’s people; other times our praise rings loud; often we plead for a new work of God’s Spirit. And I come away from both experiences, with two very different friends, refreshed…calmed, soothed, given rest.

On the other end of the spectrum, I walk away from other conversations that have absolutely no soothing aspect to them. Sometimes I’ve heard strident political harangue. Other times criticism of people, organizations (including the church), media or any number of similar entities cause a dusty cloud in my heart like the one hovering over Charlie Brown’s friend Pig Pen.

In a world where both print and broadcast journalism seem determined to depress and discourage—and even induce fear—NBC Nightly News has a refreshing closing segment entitled “Making a Difference.” Whether the clips are about a small child’s courage, a community’s care or a frisky family pet, the program ends with these moments that refresh. We who call ourselves followers of Jesus could learn something from NBC.

*by Rob Ehle, c. 1977

“I’m Changed Because of You…”

Words not spoken as part of a wedding vow. Nor were they token phrases spoken lightly. These were words uttered by a mature colleague at a farewell for a young musician who has been on the church staff for a mere two years. His musical talent is exceptional. His ability to lead others into worship unquestioned. For a variety of reasons, this young man is moving on to new endeavors and at his farewell reception the usual…and this UNusual…tribute was offered.

“I’m changed because of you???” A man in his sixties said this about a youth in his twenties? A man whose musical resumé is filled with hundreds of original compositions said this about a colleague, in many respects, just beginning?

It’s one thing to say that a person has influenced your life. Or that lessons have been learned from another’s teaching. Or that the way someone has walked with Christ has been a model to emulate. But to have been changed because of another person?

While thinking about these words and doing a bit of non-scholarly research, I came upon an article by Robert S. Siegler: How Does Change Occur: A Microgenetic Study of Number Conservation. Muddling through only the first four sentences proved that this had little to do with the change I was thinking about. Then I found these Yahoo! answers: Change happens because the situation calls for it… Change happens because of a need… Change occurs because it must…

Upon “googling” the question “How do people cause change?” the first ten answers discussed global warming and the eleventh addressed Causes and Effects of Stress! Not exactly what I was looking for.

While I can’t find scholarly research to prove my point (though biblical examples abound), I believe that one life is changed by another as the Christ who lives within is seen and then imitated by another. When we allow Christ to have full—and ever fuller—control, his life, through the work of his Spirit, shines through to produce an effect in others. Or as one friend describes it. “That person absolutely oozes Jesus!”

“To be a disciple is to be a slave of Christ… The radicalism of this demand often feels a world away from the ordinariness of our normal Christian habits and customs…”* I wonder if it’s this slave-of-Jesus mentality, seeping out of our lives when we’re least aware, that produces change in people around us? What if we each asked God to strip away anything in our lives that doesn’t look like Jesus so we can become life changers? Or is this life changing price too steep? Too out of the ordinary? Too radical?

*Author unknown

Sit. Stay.

Park BenchSit. Stay. Those are the words that trickled into my heart the other morning as I sat on the bench in our backyard. I’d read a chapter in a “Christian” book (ever wonder what makes a book “Christian”? is the cover baptized before pages are inserted? the binding blessed by the manufacturer? Just wondering…), then another chapter in a tome not so described. The morning was still, the grass dewy damp, the blue sky cloudless. It wasn’t as though my To Do list didn’t have items screaming to be crossed off. Certainly I should be busy about something. But the whisper remained: Sit. Stay.

Members of the ministry team to which I belong recently participated in one of those “what’s-your-personality/lifestyle/work style” analyses. Not much new was revealed in my case: along with other insights that won’t exactly make front page news, my colleagues saw that I work best alone, that I am logical and realistic, and that I work to “get the job done.” While reflection and contemplation top the list of characteristics, I also chafe at the discipline that it takes to sit—and sit still—long enough for contemplation to produce fruit.

Why is it that we hand our biggest rewards to those who visibly accomplish the most? Why do we honor those whose lists have everything crossed off at the end of the day? We are privileged to receive newsletters (sometimes called “prayer letters”) from individuals involved in Christian ministry and in them we glimpse great Kingdom work being accomplished. I must admit that sometimes I’m exhausted by these faithful people who seem to work 24/7 without breaks, leading four Bible studies a week, speaking consistently before groups large and small, attending church-related functions, counseling those in need. (Maybe some of you think that about me?? 😒)

Then there are the letters from one woman who works in what is commonly called a “secure” country, letters filled with gems she’s gleaned from reading a particular psalm. Or how she discovered a deeper understanding of the character of God while walking on the beach. Or how face down on her bedroom floor she poured out her craving for peace in the midst of conflict, joy in the midst of trial. And, oh yes, there was a short paragraph about several young women who had just begun their new lives with Christ and how my friend is pouring herself into them. Mm-m-m-m, a connection?

Sitting still isn’t easy. The other morning it took nearly an hour before my mind settled, my “do” personality quieting so my “be” personality could emerge, my squirming body resting. But finally the squirming stopped, settled quiet seeped into my soul and I heard only the birds and saw only the sky.

My heart cry is to know God. To know him more deeply. To know him so well that I hear his slightest whisper. Into my heart that morning came these familiar words: “Be. Be still. Be still and know. Be still and know that I am. Be still and know that I am God.”

I need more sitting time, more staying time on the bench.