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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Church?

One of my earliest memories of church took place in Clinton, Oklahoma. The shortest pew in First Christian Church was near the back door. The pew was just big enough to hold my Dad and my little brother and me. That is where I learned how to sing from a hymn book. Dad propped up the hymn book on one knee, and pointed to the words and sang with his usual enthusiasm. I learned that songs had verses and it is fun to sing with my Dad. I was 6 years old in 1935.

I never asked, “Why Church?” It was simply a given that my brothers and I would go to church with our parents. Many concrete steps went up to the entrance of church in Clinton and seemed to lead to Heaven. I loved the singing, the teaching and tolerated the prayers and sermons. Two years later, changed that. By then I knew who Jesus was and I wanted to be baptized. That was 75 years ago. Have I learned anything? If you asked me today, I would say, “Yes, I have learned some things and there is so much more I want to learn.”

I thought the world consisted of our little dot on the earth that we occupied in Oklahoma. It was 1939, and I saw pictures in the Life Magazine of bodies that had been straffed with bullets far from my safe corner. I didn't wonder about other children, their homes or lack of homes food or lack of food, or if they knew Jesus. I assumed that they had food, home, beds and parents. For me, tomorrow was always the expectation of another day of safety and plenty.

When I was 17, I heard a missionary talk about life in the mountains between Tibet and Burma. I began reading stories of life in China. I learned that life was tenuous in other countries. Belonging to Jesus had a high cost in other places. In church I learned some about Jesus, but the incredible wonder and mystery of Jesus was waiting for me to discover through marriage, the births of five children, losing one. Saying farewell to my Dad and Mother, my still born baby and many saints through the years.

I have had the opportunity to be in many 'gatherings' in many places. Each time we left another church family, the hurt in my heart reminded me how dear my church family is to me. So it was with the recent move. There are always so many stories of our growing together that are cut short. But the promise is a 'forever' awaits when we are reunited with the One who we delight in.

We have only begun to understand in a small part the joy of Jesus in fellowship, teaching, breaking of bread and prayer. How can it be? The wonder that God's people are God's people no matter where we are brings joy and peace. I re-read the recording of the first church to review what a church family is.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:40-47

Our God is a creator-giver of beauty. He created the earth with its luscious seasons. Just as He created His children to populate the earth. In creating us, he gave us the gift of choice. Somehow we humans want to choose our food, where we live, what car to drive, what school to attend and our friends. We also choose to rebel against giving God glory or living for Him. We want to choose our life style, ignoring our Father in Heaven. We want to choose to ignore worship and glorifying our Savior Jesus.

Have you ever come upon a scene of such beauty that your breath stops? The only way to draw more joy from the beauty is to give praise and share the beauty with someone else. That is when the joy reaches a higher plane.

The same is true when we worship God. The only way we can increase our joy is to glorify Him. We recognize the gift of life He has given and use that gift to praise him. He has given us brothers and sisters world-wide in Jesus Christ, not just in a local church, but world-wide. Our joy encompasses not just 'us' – but world-wide. And it is released in praising God and thanking Him!

The idea is that in praising God is the dynamo - the engine of a church. The sharing of praise for the price Jesus paid to gather us in. The picture of the following verse gives me an essence of our Lord....How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Matthew 23:27. Jesus waits for us to choose Him, to praise Him and to delight in Him.

C. S. Lewis has given us many thoughtful quotes, but this quote gives much to think about:“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . . The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” ― Reflections on the Psalms

Why Church? Because Church is the way to share the joy of Jesus with each other. Church is the place we learn His Word and practice His traits of compassion, gentleness and forgiveness. Church is a perfect place for sinners from generation to generation. Church is the perfect place for me.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Recently I read a sentence that intrigued me. “Every story has an end.” I recalled my class of second graders who eagerly wrote stories. At the end of the page they scrawled “The End”. It was often much larger than the story itself. I wondered, was it in relief or was it a celebration of achievement?

I recalled the stories I read in my youth. They were usually fairy tales that began, 'Once upon a time...” and ended when the princess rode off with the prince on a white steed – always living happily ever after.

Stories intrigue us. They draw us into learning, they bring adventure and a vicarious life we would never have had. Jesus taught in parables – stories with a heavenly meaning. His parables teach truths and are filled with details that we sort through and apply to our lives.

Every story has an ending that leaves us with a lost feeling. We want to hold another book in our hands and delve into another-world story.

Our lives are a story, a story written on our hearts and lived out in our attitudes and actions. We have a beginning to our story. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13-14. The Author has watched over us and knit us together. He planned what we will do. The Author watches over us as we begin to learn. Soon we can walk and talk. And the middle of our story begins.

We learn to listen to the Voice of the Author and to trust Him. For He is the Author and Perfector of our Faith. Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Who is the Author? Where does He begin? The first four words of the Bible answer that. In the beginning, God.... John 1:1-4, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This Author writes His love on our hearts for He knows that we are read by others about us. The Author has written love ad gentleness, compassion and patience, joy and praise on our hearts. This is His pleasure. Letting our love for others overflow is our pleasure that comes in peace.

The Author teaches us Holy Living through the middle of our story. And we give thanks to the Author for guiding our story, we find joy in each moment. We feel contentment and peace no matter what trials and difficulties we may go through. We exult in being alive with work for our hands to do. We rejoice each moment seeing the wonders God has given us – wonders not made by hands. His creation comes alive as we give thanks. The birds join our song, the wind dances, the birds sweep without fear through the skies at roller coaster speed. The flowers nod their colorful heads as we pass by. Far away, the waves of the ocean sing of His Mighty Power. Each year the green is greener. Each sunset sings of the glory of a new day coming. Each new baby is a miracle. Each hug is a gift to be treasured. No matter how we treasure gifts from God on this earth, we know there is an end.

As the years pass by, we wonder when The End to our story will be written. The Author will write The End when the time comes and we take our last breath. Is this truly the end?

No, there is more, for The End here simply spells the everlasting forever with the Author of our Story. The Author will smile as we share the best parts of my heart story that we wrote together. He will remind me of stories I had forgotten for He remembers.

On earth stories end, but in heaven your story and my story go on forever. What a promise is ours when we trust the Author to write our story here on earth.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,. the First and the Last,. the Beginning and the End. Revelation 22:13

Thanks to Donald Miller, a writer who listens to The Author, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”


Tuesday, May 14, 2013


“Red Rover, Red Rover, let Emily come over!” I was chosen. My team depended on me to make the right choice, to choose the weakest link to break. Could I do this? Much depended on my choice. Suddenly my legs felt as heavy as lead. Although I willed them to move, I looked at the sea of choices, and my feet became stuck in 'molasses'. I could hear laughter and derisive calls from the opposing team. Finally, the last thrust of energy, but I didn't break through the linked hands. Defeat. I was swallowed by the opposing team to hoots of laughter. Mortified, I held hands with my new team, but my heart wasn't in the game. Some useless 'if only's came to my mind.

Decision making and having to choose became something I avoided as much as possible. But it was no use. Whether it was 'just a game' or a life decisions, living seemed to hold many opportunities and challenges. As time goes by, the number decisions threaten to overwhelm me.

When determining my career path, I had no plan or career guidance counselor. It must have been the age (1940's) when young girls either became a teacher or married. My Dad suggested teaching. Later, after marriage and four children, I agreed with him, and I returned to college to prepare.

From the 'terrible two's' when we learn to articulate, “No!” We want to rebel against any spoken or unspoken expectation. Why? We want to order our own lives. I pondered this desire trying to understand. We want to be comfortable, loved, a bit better than others and on top of the mythical mountain all on our own. The important part of life for us is forgotten – our Creator. God created us for his pleasure to serve Him and worship Him. When we struggle for independence from God, we will never find peace in this life or be understand joy and peace. Instead of independence from God, it is when we learn who we are and accept living for God that we are blessed in many ways.

As a child, I viewed my Great Grandfather Jacob Loewen with awe. A tall man with a snow white beard with a peace and confidence were his aura. He never studied the art of decision-making and yet his life was a decision of and for serving others. Jacob Loewen, born October 5, 1855, in Russia, grew up on the green steppes of the Ukraine. At 19 years of age, he migrated to America, with three brothers and two sisters and his parents. He attended a little sod school for one month, mostly to learn the English language. When he was 20 years old, he accepted Jesus and was baptized. His interest was in tilling the soil and raising fruit trees on his father's farm. Two years later the Isaac Leppke family arrived from Russia and homesteaded across the road from the Loewen family. Justina Leppke, a buxom beauty, was hired to help with housework for the Loewen family. One day Jacob nudged his brother John, “Have you noticed what a good worker Justina is? Why don't you marry her?”

“I've already picked me out a wife,” John retorted. “Why don't you marry her?” Good idea! (Decision accomplished!)

Some weeks after his 23rd birthday, Jacob made his intentions public in church. After the close of the long Sunday morning German sermon, December 1878, the minister announced those wishing to be married should please come forward.

Jacob arose from the men's side of the church and Justina from the women's and they met at the altar. Justina, in an elegant black lace cap and shiny black sateen gown while Jacob wrestled with a stiff white shirt collar. At the conclusion of the ceremony, that included many fervent prayers in the German language, Jacob and Justina were pronounced man and wife. Jacob marched back to the men's side and Justina slipped back among the ladies. They moved in with his parents until the babies began to arrive. Jacob found ways to serve others – setting broken bones and tooth pulling – aside from tilling the rich prairie land. His 'dental' career began when his mother complained of loose teeth, which he pulled to ease her trouble. The word spread, Jacob Loewen was a 'tooth-puller'. People flocked to him and teeth were extracted minus anesthesia with a pliers. One day little boy, Henry, fractured his arm. In the absence of the one settlement doctor, Jacob set the young boy's arm. He also practiced Swedish message. Soon many flocked to Jacob for broken bones, pains and aches.

Medicine was hard to come by, so this dentist-farmer-doctor took to apothecary work as well. He brewed fats, herbs and spirits into medicines and ointments which became in demand locally. He dried rain worms on the tool shed roof, extracted fats for salves, simmered goose-grease and sulphur. Justina did not complain of the stench for after all, these were gifts from God! In his earlier years, since there were few undertakers on the prairie, Jacob Loewen took care of that job. He prepared the bodies for burial by packing ice (when available or cold sand when it wasn't) around the bodies until the funeral service would be held.

Jacob's home became a haven for visiting missionaries and clergy. The long oak dining table always had room for one or more added to his nine sons and four daughters. He was concerned for the cause of education despite his shortened time in school to learn English. He also led singing in the Mennonite church. He learned to read Ziffern, numbers instead of notes in the musical score, a system he used in America when he directed the church choir.

Jacob Loewen was never too busy to begin breakfast by reading a chapter from God's word and prayer. The meal ended by singing a well-known hymn. He always showed interest in his children and 60 grandchildren. (He was also interested in his great grandchildren – as attested by a memory I have of visiting with him as he sat at his roll-top desk. His blue eyes twinkled as he slowly rolled the desk open and handed me a round white peppermint imprinted with “XXX”.)
Jacob died at the age of 86 with the title 'Prairie Patriarch' and the honorary title of Doctor. Jacob and Justina celebrated 62 years of married life in 1940. Each Loewen Family Reunion is a time of remembrance and appreciation of this 'Prarie Patriarch' by the family that gathers.

Jacob's life shows prioritized decisions of service and faith in God. No time was spent in making lists of brainstorming options or determining the steps of critical thinking or a studied approach to life's difficulties. He trusted God for leading in his life. Many years after, his grandchildren and great grandchildren and those with more 'greats', learn about this man and are inspired to become this era's life of faith and service. For Jacob Loewen's pattern of living for God can become ours.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Psalm 85:10-11

Once we choose to serve our Lord, we are chosen and our path is decided. No matter how many side-paths beckon us, we walk securely in our Lord. Even when we are unable to see the next step, we trust in the One we have chosen to follow.

I was chosen to serve/ I was chosen to love/ I was chosen to be/ To belong to Jesus above.” (eac)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love. II John 1:3


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

M is for....

Mother taught me a song to sing for Mother's Day at church when I was 8 years old. The lyrics meant little to me then, but as the years go by, a different picture of Mother comes to my heart. When I was little, Mother was my sustainer and teacher. From her I learned so many lessons of life. Lessons that continue to be repeated and expanded. Lessons that rooted in my heart.

M Is for the Many things she gave me,
Although mother gave me many life-sustaining gifts, but the greatest gift had to do with living a spiritual life. Did she think it 'took'? The rebellious and impatient spirit of mine must have been difficult for her to endure. She taught me the importance of truth and love, giving cheerfully and openly, nudging creative reminders for obedience and order, appreciation and thirst for beauty. She taught me to see God's love all around me. Once she exclaimed over the delicate beauty of a flower. I asked, “What's so pretty about it?” She explained that the fragile hue, the shape and the design were all created by God. The flower itself was a growing miracle, and the process was created by the Almighty God. Since then I have marveled at the tiny details that our Magnificent God creates, not only in nature, but also in our every day lives.
O means only that she’s growing Old.
Mother, so self-assured and capable, that my Mother growing old came as a complete surprise. I took her presence and abilities for granted. I believed she would always be. When she became ill and her 'exit-lane' was obvious, I began to grieve through all the stages of anger and tears. It was difficult saying goodbye, so I didn't. That last afternoon, I simply read Psalm 37, one of her favorites to her until she could no longer hear.
T Is for the Tears she shed to save me,
The tears she shed, she never shared with me, yet I knew that her heart grieved over the error of my ways. Even when she was ill she reminded me of the way of the Lord through scripture. One day I vented my impatience in dealing with work. Mother quoted, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12
H Is for her Heart of purest gold.
How often I saw self-sacrifice as Mother poured herself out for others without complaining. She traveled the 2nd and 3rd mile, always doing more than expected. She shared the gifts God had given her in baking fragrant cinnamon rolls, sewing a dress for a friend, making a stage-prop airplane for an elementary play for her son, raising and giving away flowers from her garden to the elderly, teaching Bible Study lessons around her dining table, playing the piano for weddings and funerals and the organ for church services. Always Mother shared her love with her family and others. Nothing was too large or too small, and always she put her whole heart in the task at hand. She was dependable, available, gracious and loving.
E Is for her Eyes with love light shining,
Her three children understood clearly the love-light in her eyes. So clearly that when we acquired a new Jersey cow, we recognized that same love Mother had in the cow's brown doe-ful eyes. Searching for a suitable name – we knew it had to be Daisy! Mother didn't seem to relish sharing her name with a cow. But it seemed fitting to us – Mom gave and the cow gave! Mother had learned the secret – the more love you give away, the more it grows.
R means Right and Right she’ll always be.
Mother had all the answers as we grew up. We questioned her often, but always accepted her word as the way things should be. We may have tried to circumvent her 'right-ness' at times, but we came to understand to this day that our Mother was chosen just for us.
When I was 4 years old, I refused to submit to well-deserved punishment. Mother knew just what to say, “Then Dad will spank you when he comes home.” Using Dad's razor strap I spent the intervening hours until his arrival, spanking myself. The punishment I gave myself and the anticipatory punishment clouds my memory. Did Dad really spank me later? Mom was right! I was punished.
Put them all together, They spell MOTHER. A word that means the world to me.

It has been fifteen years since I gave my Mother a Mother's Day Card or send her flowers, I remember her with tears of joy and know that without her Faith in Jesus Christ, she would not have been the Proverbs 31 Woman that she was for me and my two brothers – Jim and Gene.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your hear.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:3-6

How did my Mother know how to be a Mother? One of her books of poetry contains a verbal testimony to her Mother, Anna Loewen Suderman. The first line of the last stanza stands out as the secret of being a loving Mom.....And as for me, I praise my Mother's God!
To My Mother.
When all the evening chores were done, I heard
my Mother read God's Word before she said,
“Be sure to say your prayers and go to sleep.”
I heard my Mother softly sing to me
of angels winging by to keep their watch
when God turned out the light on one more day.

I saw my Mother weep when children hurt,
and watched her dry their tears, I saw her kneel
in prayer because of my rebellious heart.
I saw her hand knead dough to keep us fed
and water garden flowers to feed her soul.
I saw how God blessed her and that blessed me.

I felt my mother's pride with conflicts won
but when I never tried, her disappointment
weighed a ton. I often felt her arms
about me when I needed guiding help
I felt secure and safe within her love –
through her, somehow, I felt in touch with God.

I sense my Mother's stubbornness when hills
she had to climb were steep and temper flared.
Although at times humanity raged on,
I sensed a sweet submission, God's way won.
She found His peace serenely leading her
across the golden shores when day was done.

And as for me, I praise my Mother's God
until my final faltering breath has ceased.
This earth may keep my lumpy piece of clay
when angels wing my soul toward heaven's home.
Anna Daisy Siemens