January 30, 2009

Why Go to Church? - Janet Sketchley

How many times to we go to church for what we can get out of it? We want to be fed, or to be touched by God. Those are valid desires, but we may be surprised to discover that our personal quiet times with God, or our small group encounters, are the richest source of feeding and personal experience with God.

Do we gather Sunday mornings for our benefit alone? Or for God? Perhaps we come not for “me” but for “us” – us the body – to give a sacrifice of corporate worship and praise to God.

In her book, Making Sunday Special, Karen Mains suggests going to church with an expectant attitude: expecting to learn, but also expecting to be used of God to touch someone else. To be ministered to, and to be used in ministry.

We also go because God requires it. Our worship – our public declaration of His worth – is our acceptable sacrifice.

© Janet Sketchley, 2009
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

January 28, 2009

Delight - Lorrie

Delight's wardrobe spans the light spectrum for her moods range from pensive pleasure on grey, misty days to exuberant turquoise and gold dances at the seashore. Perceptive and alert to the moment, she sees details that others often miss - she is quick to share them with her companions. She loves being outdoors and sees nature as a showcase for God's creativity.

People love being in the same room as Delight for her positive outlook is contagious. But she has learned the pleasures of solitude and the need for time to feed her soul. Her energy level sometimes scares people for they think they will never keep up with her activities. Sometimes it seems as though Delight is everywhere at once, so dazzling that it's hard to watch her. At other times, she appears smaller and quieter, yet no less radiant.

Delight is willing to take risks and try new things - tasting an exotic fruit, tying her scarf differently, or giving a handmade card to a street person. Her collections are eclectic - words, smooth rocks, old books, model trains and recipes. She is learning to let things go rather than cling to objects and experiences out of fear of loss. She finds that God provides an unending supply of beauty in her life, that she will always have something on which to focus.

Although Delight can disappear for long stretches of time, leaving people to wonder when she'll be back, she tends to stick around most when people notice and coddle her a bit. She's not as reliable as Joy, her cousin.

NOTE: Several (like 15) years ago I read a book called The Qualities, in which character traits were personalized. A couple of weeks ago I was reading Psalm 37 and thinking about the verbs portrayed there - delight, trust, do good, etc. The thought popped into my head - what would Delight look like if she were a person - how would she act? The above sketch is taken from my journal that day. And then that writing caused an entire village of qualities to populate my mind. What a fun exercise!

Posted by Picasa

January 26, 2009

Playing Scrabble - Bonnie Way

The first move is mine. The tiles on my tray are IMQAUOR. If I had an S, I could spell MARQUIS. If I had an E, I could spell MARQUE. The first would be worth gloating over for weeks; to have used all seven letters, on a first move, with a Q in the word too… that would get me enough points to perhaps, just this once, beat my husband. But since I do not have that S, I can only dream about it, while I play just MAR in the middle of the board.

Scrabble is about knowing words, many words, uncommon words. Sometimes, I learn words that I never knew were words. For example, my husband played ZA and insisted it was in the dictionary. If you’ve never heard of it either, I’ll spare you the trouble of going to look it up. Apparently “za” is short for pizza. I’m not sure where exactly that slang is used, but today, I am having za for lunch.

It’s an addictive game, really. I never played it before I started dating my husband. I come from a family where word games were abhorred. My dad is an engineer. My two brothers like reading but are better with their hands. I love reading, writing, words. I could beat them badly at Boggle, Taboo, Balderdash, Upwords, or any other word game we had around the house. So I was relegated to playing with my best friend or with other friends on the rare occasions that we dug out a board game.

My husband grew up playing Scrabble because it was his mom’s favourite game. He’s very good at seeing patterns and playing with his options, rearranging words until he can figure out how to get the most points out of them. After a couple of years of playing with – and losing to – him, I am learning his strategies. However, every time I play what I think is a brilliant, fantastic, high-scoring word, he is still able to play a better word on his next turn. I can’t win.

His sister is a math teacher who plays mathematically. She can calculate the score of an entire word in her head faster than I can figure out what a Q on a double letter score is worth. It’s about putting the words together to form the biggest number – not for the points, but for the numerical fun of it. And so she studies the board, calculating and recalculating, while we wait and study our own letters and wonder what she will play.

I play for the words, the fun of unscrambling the letters on my tray into something that makes sense and then finding the place on the board where they will fit. My husband plays for the words, too, but he comes up with the most uncommon words. Having a linguistics degree helps him, because with that understanding of word formation he comes up with even more uncommon words. SOOTINGS is probably his record word so far. You’re wondering how I let him get away with it. Well, you can argue with him when he explains that soot is a word as is foot, and if you can have a footing then you can footings so why not sootings.

For his birthday just before we got married, I went in search of a Scrabble board. Now you can get travel size Scrabble boards and the deluxe Scrabble board, which spins around so that every player has a fair view of the game and comes with a bag to hold the letters so you don’t have to buy a bottle of Crown Royal as well. After much debate I went with the simple, traditional board. Then the question was – to buy the Scrabble dictionary or not to buy it. We usually used his mom’s old Webster’s dictionary, which, while it had an ample selection of archaic words, is a little short on the more modern words. The Scrabble dictionary, however, has the added advantage of including words that would be only used in Scrabble. Like za.

January 22, 2009

Just the Right Word - Marcia Lee Laycock

I’m one of those people who loves words. Sometimes I’ll say a word in my mind over and over just because I enjoy the sound of it. So each day I open my e-mail with the tantalizing anticipation of receiving a new word from dictionary.com. The other day it was actually an expression rather than one word, and it was French, our second language here in Canada. It’s an intriguing phrase that relates directly to writers – “mot juste” – literally, word just or just word.

The meaning given was “a word or phrase that exactly fits the case, as in - The poet's concern for the mot juste nearly always makes his prose a thing of interest and beauty.”

Mot juste. I began to wonder, if I had to find a mot juste for God, what would it be? I quickly realized it would be a difficult task, perhaps an unending task. He has, of course, described Himself and perhaps that is where we should start. He gave himself many names – to Abraham he was El Shaddai, God Almighty, and El Olam, the God who has no beginning and no end. To Moses he was Yahweh, The LORD, “the God of your fathers.” (Exodus 3:14). David called him Yahweh Tsebaoth, the Lord of Hosts when he faced Goliath. When he built the temple, Solomon called him “Hashem,” The Name, and rejoiced that God had promised His Name would reside there and receive the prayers of the people. To Jeremiah He was Miqueh Yisrael, the Hope of Israel. In the New Testament Jesus offended the religious rulers by telling them to call God by the familiar, Abba, Father or Daddy.

Finding just one word for God is, indeed, an impossible task. His character is so vast, His essence so rich and deep that there could not be one word that would describe all of Him. But, as He Himself has shown us, in all circumstances there is a mot juste for God and that word will always make Him a God of interest and beauty. His character is multifaceted and His ways infinitely complex yet He constantly reveals Himself to us through His creation, His people and His word.
Perhaps His most dear name, to those of us this side of the cross, is simply Jesus, the One who saves. That is a mot juste that we can use and rely on and praise.

“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10).

Marcia Laycock is the winner of the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award, 2006, for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Visit her website – www.vinemarc.com

January 19, 2009

Missing Mom • Elsie Montgomery

She was just here
soft eyes misted in a book
laughing at the words

We rise, she needs help with her walker
“This is my daughter, Elsie”
as annoyed bones move
slowly to the lunch tables

She cannot visit now
time to eat, mouth is full
“Come back next week”
“I love you, Mom”

You were just here soft
grey curls and clean blouse
ready to explore the edges
of lost memories,
tell of your morning
shampoo and bath

You were just here, but I
came back too soon
on Sunday not Wednesday
they called, “We are so sorry”

Too late to give you
warm hugs
or spin a story
or paint your nails

You were just here
how can you be gone?
Missing you, Mom
You were just here.

I wrote this poem in 2002, shortly after my mother died. Reading it again reminds me how much I miss her, so I changed the title to reflect that aching nostalgia. Elsie Montgomery (PS. Sorry this post is late. My reminder got buried under a dinner engagement.)

Laughter - A God Gift

(Photo: Nap time with Daddy. This was taken when Trevor was three, I think.)

(Photo: Feeding time. This was taken about three weeks ago when Trevor was 26, I think.)
I'm grateful for a lot of things in this life, but I think the one thing I am really thankful for is a sense of humour. We hear all sorts of clichés about how laughter is the best medicine and how smiling releases endorphins that make us healthy and the like. You know what? I believe them. Clichés or not, I'm buying it. I have a very funny family. We love to laugh and tease. We love to make merry just because we can. Somehow it seems to unite us and prepare us. We know our limits, though, most of the time. If perchance someone crosses the threshold and offends the other we 'fess up and it is soon rectified.
As you can see by the stunning photography above, my 6'3" baby who is about to become a father this year, has a sense of humour just like his momma! There were times in his teenage years that I had to temper his teasing and put a bit of a reign on his wry sense of humour. But he has turned out to be quite a character and can be counted on to be the life of the party. The nice thing is, though, Trev can be philosophical, too and having a serious conversation with him can be just as refreshing as seeing him sitting in a high chair!
I'm glad God blessed me with the ability to laugh and a family to laugh with. Over this past year with all this cancer nonsense, laughter has been like good medicine. On more than one occasion it has brought me out of the pit of self-pity. Laughing with family and friends has made the journey more jovial and bearable. It has also allowed others to feel safe and comfortable talking personally with me, I think. Don't misconstrue...I have had dark moments. Tearful times. Moments of despair. But I am thankful that God has given me lots of teeth to show off and laughing has been a good release for me.
This is a bit of a secret right now but I do have an idea for another book once I've got my other ones settled into a potential home. I'm thinking of calling it "Cancer - No Laughing Matter...But it Helps!" I woke in the wee hours of the morning, once during my nasty chemo days and that title came to my head. I scribbled it down and it has been niggling at my brain ever since. Hmmm...
Laughter is a good tonic. God said so. “A cheerful heart does good like medicine...” Proverbs 17:22 TLB

January 09, 2009

Powerful Defender - Elizabeth Bunyan (Part 1) - Nesdoly


A few years ago, I accepted an assignment to write the story of John Bunyan for a kids’ take-home paper. Weeks of research ensued and then the writing (and rewriting) of the piece. Finally I submitted the story and it was published in Guide in 2003.

However, as often happens, the research I did alerted me to many interesting side stories. One of the most fascinating was a series of incidents which involved John Bunyan’s second wife, Elizabeth. John Bunyan tells the story himself here .

More as a writing exercise than anything, I decided to try to recreate that story as a piece of fiction. "Powerful Defender" is that effort. I have tried to keep the story as close as possible to the facts Mr. Bunyan reports, although I did invent a few characters (Jack and Martha Bludgett, for example). The story is in four parts with Part 1 below, reprinted from my blog where it was published in 2005.


"Christian's family try to comfort him"
Illustration from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

POWERFUL DEFENDER - a story of Elizabeth Bunyan (Part 1)

Elizabeth dropped another lump of peat into the stove and pulled her chair close to its warmth. The winter cold was quickly consuming their fuel. But this should be the last time she’d need to feed the fire tonight. For soon John would be safe at home and she cozy in bed next to him.

She sat down, took up again the tiny garment she was knitting and examined it. To think that in a few months, her own baby would wear it. She put one hand gently over her swollen stomach and savored the joy of the last months. Who would have dreamed, not two years ago, that the popular, outgoing, fiery but gentle preacher, John Bunyan, would choose her, shy, quiet Elizabeth, to be his wife and the step-mother to his four children? And now she was carrying his child!

Elizabeth took up her knitting again. Only the sound of clicking needles and an occasional muffled crackle from the five broke the stillness.

It was November 1660. England had been through decades of upheaval – civil war, a king, Charles I, beheaded, his heir, Charles II, exiled to France, then a ten-year trial-and-error parliament under Oliver Cromwell.

Growing up in the town of Bedford, Elizabeth had paid little attention to national politics, though they had affected her through her church. For as long as she could remember, things had been up-and-down for their dissenting congregation, the Baptist Church at Elstow. There had been disagreements between parish authorities and their pastor about things like using the Book of Common Prayer, adult baptism, even whether he should be allowed to preach. Thankfully under Cromwell’s parliament, the rules had relaxed.

As Elizabeth’s needles flashed back and forth, her mind went to her first memories of John. She had first seen him about eight years earlier when he, his wife and their four children began coming to her church. She’d admired him right from the beginning – for his tender care of his family, especially little blind Mary, for his wisdom as a deacon and, in the past few years, his passionate, piercing sermons. When he preached, you felt he could look right into your very heart.

Then came 1658. She recalled the news of Cromwell dying, rumors that a group of loyalists in London was trying to bring back the king, discussions of what would become of dissenters now. But what was vivid to Elizabeth from that year was the memory of the death of John’s wife.

How sad he had looked. Her heart had ached for him and the children and she’d wished she could do something for them. But she’d kept her feelings to herself. Over the months that followed, however, she became aware that John was noticing her.

The courtship was short but when John asked Elizabeth to marry him, there was no hesitation on her part. She knew that being his wife and mothering his children was a big job but she wanted no other. They had married in 1659 and in the months that followed, her esteem for him had only grown.

She especially admired his zeal as a Christian. He was so inspired by his love for God and compassion for unsaved countrymen that many a night, after working all day as a tinker, he’d walk miles to neighboring towns or to homes in the countryside to share his faith with many or few. It was just such an invitation that had taken him to Samsell this night.

He should be home by now, though, Elizabeth realized as she put down her work and strained to hear his footsteps. But the only sounds were the sighing of the wind and the bark of a dog. What was taking him so long?

His recent words came to her: Since the king has been returned, they are clamping down on our meetings. One of these days I’ll be arrested.

In her imagination she saw a constable grab him by the collar, cuff his hands, drive him to prison with a club. She gave herself a shake. This would never do. After all, it was a long walk from Samsell back home to Bedford.

"Please God, bring him home safely," she prayed.

She got up and checked the stove. There were only glowing embers. She’d best go to bed.

When she finally got to sleep, she slept fitfully. She had a dream about John and awoke feeling terrified. Sleepily she reached for him but when he wasn’t there she was instantly wide awake. Something had happened to him!

Mid-morning the next day, the three youngest children crowded around Elizabeth as she answered a knock on the door. Jack Bludgett from their church stood outside.

"Bad news, I’m afraid," he said to Elizabeth. "Thy John’s been arrested."

"Why? By whom?" Elizabeth felt the room spin around her. She put little Joseph down and grasped the door frame.

"It’s Justice Wingate," he explained. "It seems he’s had his eye on John’s meetings for a while now. They sent a constable with a warrant after John last night. He was taken just as the meeting got underway."

Elizabeth felt like she would be sick. She hung onto the doorframe as a cramp gripped her stomach.

"Art thou alright?" Jack asked.

"Ma, what’s wrong?" Five-year-old Beth who was clutching her skirt, stared up at Elizabeth’s ashen face.

Jack caught her just as she was about to crumple onto the floor and carried her to a bed. Far away she heard him explain to Mary, "Thy Ma has fainted. Can thee take care of the little ones till my Martha comes?’

Copyright 2005 by Violet Nesdoly

January 07, 2009

A January View - Pamely Mytroen

The beginning of a new year is like standing on the top of a hill. We can look back at where we’ve come from and look ahead to a new road. If we look back, what do we see?

Do we see trails that we started but never finished? Do we see broken down fences that we never repaired? Do we see a blight on the pasture land that we caused by neglect?

What does God see when he looks back on our past year? There is one thing he’s looking for. He is not looking for a paved path, a healthy growing pasture land, or plump livestock. He is looking for an attitude of the heart. When God looked back at King David’s life, he did not remember his adultery, his murderous actions, or his lies. He remembered his broken heart and his repentant spirit when Nathan the prophet confronted him.

God valued the sorrow of David’s heart more than anything else he accomplished during his 40 year reign. He did not remember his sins nor his great feats of kinghood. He remembered his tears.

Every king that ruled after David was compared to David. King Solomon, though the most wealthy and wise man of all history, had his kingdom torn away from his hands because he did not follow the Lord completely as his father David had done. How had his father David followed the Lord completely? By repenting.

God brought disaster on the house of Jeroboam because he did not follow God with all his heart like his servant David had done.

“You have not been like my servant David who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes.” God spoke this to Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14:8

"His heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been.” God said this of Ahijah King of Judah in 1 Kings 15:3.

It seems that as God reviews our life, he will not look at our lists of accomplishments and our good deeds. He will not check off our goals that we accomplished or the New Years resolutions that we maintained. Nor will he point a shaking finger at our lies, our gossip, our fears. He will search out an attitude of repentance. He will close his eyes and breathe in, and hope to fill his senses with an aroma of brokeness and humility.

When God looks back on New Years Day, he only looks as far as Christmas Day. He’s looking for a heart of humility like the one found in the stable. When he looks ahead, he only sees as far as Easter. He listens for the sharp retort of nails being pounded into our sin. He aches for us in the cry of release as we surrender our lives to the cross, and He longs to sing with us on resurrection Sunday.

God’s view is complete. He can recall every word we’ve spoken, and review every action our hands have done. But he chooses to see only one thing – Jesus and his humility; Jesus and his obedience, and his perfect offering on the cross. He lays aside his gavel and smiles when he sees our submission to His Son, just like he viewed David with eyes of mercy.

January affords a backward and forward view. Let's remember to see our lives through God's eyes.

Pam Mytroen