Category: One Focus Blog

Days of Remembrance

Every country has national holidays, many of them commemorating a special event in the nation’s history. Traveling internationally exposes me to many local holidays and I learn something new about the country I am visiting each time one comes around.

Some countries celebrate some of the same holidays but with a different twist. Halloween, for instance, a hugh commercial event for America, is only given a nod by some countries. In Poland, for instance, Halloween is observed for the children, but the real celebration is the next day: All Saints Day or the Day of the Dead.

Although All Saints Day is officially only one day, it usually lasts for several days. It is common for Polish people to take off work for a day if All Saints Day falls close to a weekend. All Saints Day in 2011 fell on a Tuesday. Many families left work Friday afternoon (so many that the congestion on the roads leaving Warsaw resulted in many automobile accidents) to travel long distances to visit with families, took the following Monday off from work, and returned home on Tuesday evening.

In most European countries, cemeteries are more than resting places for the dead. Beautifully maintained by family members (not by cemetery staff), none of the graves are overgrown or neglected. Especially during All Saints Day, when people visit cemeteries to clean grave sites of loved ones and place flowers and candles on them, many people will wander through the cemetery to look for graves which have not been cleaned. Even if they do not know the family of these deceased, they will tend to the grave and put a candle on it.

I have visited a cemetery on All Saints Day with Polish friends. The beauty of the cemetery nearly took my breath away. There are so many flowers on the graves that it is more like a garden than a cemetery. At night, the glow from candles in glass containers of various colors (thousands in the larger cemeteries) accentuate the beauty of the stone grave markers and the flowers on top of them. The cemeteries are so full of people you can hardly walk. Graves of national heroes are easily identifiable as people put extra flowers and candles around them – so many that it is hard to see the grave stone.

America is the only country I know of that works its retail people harder during a holiday. In other countries, when it’s time for a holiday, everything closes down. That literally means that if you are out of milk and bread on a holiday, too bad. You must wait until the next day. Although I learned this lesson the hard way and still gets surprised sometimes by a holiday I was not aware of, I very heartily approve of this system. Owners and employees of businesses have the day off just like everyone else. A holiday is a holiday for everyone.

In many countries I travel in, the same is true for Sund800px-Niagara-on-the-Lake_Polish_Military_Cemetery_3ay. Unfortunately, this is changing in some places, but most of the time, Sunday is a day of rest. Families get together, go for walks together, and celebrate life. Although many that observe Sunday as a day of rest don’t do it for the same reason I do (God said so), they understand the value of a special day set aside for leisure, not work.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work; you, nor your son, nor your daughter, or your male servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11).

Christmas is coming

Spending a delightful day in mid-November in London, England, it was obvious that the city was preparing for Christmas. The stores, the streets, the advertisements all reminded one that “Christmas is coming.” Particularly enjoyable was a stroll through Covent Garden Market, where the decorations were all in full display. The gigantic Christmas tree was adorned in only lights and balls of all sizes. Overhead were gigantic red balls dangling from the rooftop of the market square. A hugh reindeer made of greenery was adorned with white lights.

Throughout the city the decorations were classic – large stars lit with white lights hung between the buildings on the main thoroughfares. Store displays were being dressed in Christmas colors and packages were lying in the windows all around with a gentle reminder that gifts would be needed for father, mother, aunt, son, daughter, uncle, aunt and cousin.

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Christmas decorations at Covent Garden, Westminster (borough), London in November 2011.Editor 5807

As a Christian, I am aware that preparation for Christmas in much of the world is a secular activity. On the web and in the mail, the announcements that Christmas is coming are in hopes that people will buy their products for Christmas gifts. Many people are simply looking forward to time off from work and the family traditions surrounding the most popular holiday of the year.

Unfortunately, few are experiencing the inner reminder that without the first Christmas, there would be no Easter. Without the coming of the Christ child, His perfect life, His substitutionary death on the cross and His resurrection, there would be no hope for eternal life. Whether or not stores, streets and homes are decorated with the intent to honor Christ, the decorations can speak for themselves, just as the Bible says that the rocks would cry out if people fail to worship God.

All of the decorations in London did, however, remind me of the first Christmas – the coming of Immanuel, God with us. The balls reminded me of a globe – our world and the planets and stars of the universe. The Christ who was born in the nativity is the One who created the universe and our world. The trees and the reindeer caused me to reflect on how He adorned our earth with plants and animals and all that is good. As I gazed at the stars hanging over the streets, I envisioned the star that led the wise men to the Christ child. The lights everywhere – in white – made me think of Jesus, the Light of the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made…In him was life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:1, 3-4).

11 Reasons to Honor Our Veterans for Their Service

A date like this one (11/11/11) doesn’t come along too often. Not only do we observe Veteran’s Day on the 11th of November, but it was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice was signed between the Allied nations and Germany to officially end World War 1. Formerly known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, this day is a national holiday in many allied nations, honoring the members of the armed forces who lost their lives in the war.

Rightly so, Veterans Day now pays tribute to all military veterans. Those who have served in the military or are presently serving in the military deserve our thanks. Many nations have reason to thank their servicemen for their contributions, but this reflection is based on those in the branches of the U.S. military.

  1. The U.S. official motto is “In God We Trust.” Although much effort has been expended to remove God from our schools and our speech, this motto was reaffirmed this month by the U. S. House of Representatives. Some say that this reaffirmation was a needless distraction from our nation’s other problems. I, for one, am proud of the House for the reaffirmation. Whatever the religion of the servicemen and women (and they should be free to worship as they please), they do serve a country that still recognizes sovereign God.
  2. Military service is selfless. Personnel in every branch of our military sacrifice time with their families and other pursuits. They are willing to given their time unselfishly for the good of their country and their grandchildren. It costs them much to be in the military.
  3. Military members are brave and honorable people, willing to lay their lives on the line for others.
  4. Military members are worthy examples for young people. They are the true super heroes of our nation.
  5. Military members know the value and honor of teamwork. 
  6. The official motto of the United States Army is “This We’ll Defend.” That is a statement that covers all the military branches. Our nation is still free because of our veterans.
  7. The United States Navy motto is “Honor, Courage, Commitment,” a standard that should be true of all of us.
  8. “Semper Fidelis,” the motto of the United States Marine Corps reminds its members of the need to be “Always Faithful.” 
  9. The United States Coast Guard vows to be “Semper Paratus,” “Always Ready.” They have proven their loyalty many times in recent years.
  10. The United States Navy Seals know that service is not easy. They are ready for any challenge as their motto is “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”
  11. Finally, but not least because I have two sons serving in the United States Air Force, is the motto, “Aim High…Fly, Fight, Win.” “Above All” and “No One Comes Close” are still remembered as USAF mottoes. Their core values say it all (even for other branches of the military): Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do.

Thank you, sons, family and friends who have served and are serving in the United States military. I owe you a debt of gratitude for the freedoms I still have.

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Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13).

Forgetting the Cross

Some years back, my husband was a pastor in far west Texas. He led our church to hold an annual evangelistic crusade in a mountain amphitheater. Although it was difficult in that city to get new people to come to the church building, in this beautiful outdoor setting, the attendance was always very good.

A large cross, illumined by spotlights, was placed strategically behind the stage area. No one attending the services could miss seeing the old rugged cross on the hill. The cross was central in the preaching and the music. Many people were saved as a result of the crusades.

Set up and tear down of the equipment was an all day affair, involving many people and much labor. One year, when things that were to be carried back to the church had all been loaded on the trucks and the tear down team was ready to drive away, my husband heard one of the clean up crew for the amphitheater cry out, “Hey, mister, you forgot your cross!” Sure enough, the cross still stood on that hill, alone, and forgotten. My husband has never forgotten the implications of that oversight, nor have I.

For many years, I have observed preachers and churches who have forgotten the cross. No one seems to be offended with stories about Jesus, the nativity, the miracles and the parables. However, when the whole gospel is preached and the cross is included, there is a different reaction, sometimes a violent one. Preachers are tempted to leave the cross out of the gospel in order to reach the crowds. People would rather hear a motivational message loosely based on scripture than the whole gospel, with the terrible reality that it was our sin that nailed the Son of God to the cross.

The sweet story of the nativity has to include the horrors of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. Jesus paid for the sins of mankind on His cross. After His resurrection, He sat down at the right hand of the Father, His mission complete. The whole story of Jesus must include the cross and the resurrection.

25019718-resurrection-christ-easterDon’t forget the cross!

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said…And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (1 Corinthians 15:3-4,17-19 NLT).

Adaptation and Identification

Traveling as much as I do is an exercise in adaptation. My husband and I stay overseas often for an extended period of time – several weeks or months.

We don’t stay in tourist areas, but live where locals live. I prefer it. Sometimes there is a lot of difference between the two. I get a much better perspective.

Although my primary frame of reference is American, I am very happy to say that my frame has grown and keeps growing. Adaptation to other cultures has given me a better and broader worldview.

Since we do live among the people for extended periods, there are many things I need to discover about each new location. Will I be close to public transportation? Are schedules reliable? Do many people speak English? Can I safely walk in the neighborhoods? Are dogs behind fences or are they allowed to roam the streets? What is expected of pedestrians?

Being exposed to different cultures leads to identification with the local people. There are times I have an “aha” moment thinking, “That’s why they do what they do!” Discoveries first hand make a bigger impression than reading about the culture or hearing someone else describe their experiences.

The most surprising thing to me has been reverse culture shock upon returning to America. Things I have gotten used to overseas – great public transportation, the abundance of woods with hiking trails and cheese I can afford – I often miss when I go home. Most of all I miss my new friends.

I am often eager to return to places I have been to see my friends, but I also miss my family, home and friends in the U.S. when I am overseas.  I often wish I could be in more than one place at a time.

Jesus chose to leave Heaven and adapt to the limitations on earth for our sakes. He identified with us. I don’t have to wonder if He misses His friends because He, unlike us, can be in both places at once. His Spirit is still with us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… (John 1:14a).

Transcending the Language Barrier

God has a great sense of humor. I am never at a loss for words – unless I can’t speak the language. In ministry, my husband and I travel all over the world. I am more often than not in a situation where I cannot speak the language.

We minister often in Poland. I don’t speak Polish. We go frequently to Spanish speaking countries. I can’t speak Spanish. Although we lived in Germany, I only learned a small amount of German. We spent a year ministering in France. I don’t speak French. We have traveled to Austria, Portugal, Italy, Ukraine, China and countries in the Middle East where English is not the national language. Not once could I do what I do in America – meet people on the streets and carry on a conversation.
Although I would very much like to get to know people on these trips, I am handicapped because I can’t communicate in their mother tongue. I often give locals who want to practice their English a workout, but I would rather speak to them in their own language. I wish I had a gift for languages. I don’t.
The common denominator in all these places is that someone I work with speaks English. I must rely on her for all the information about the area, how to conduct myself, how to shop and use the transportation system, etc. For those dear friends who are gifted in multiple languages, I pray that God will especially bless them for their service. I couldn’t do what I do without them.

I am able, however, many times to get my point across without using the local language.  There are a few things that transcend the language barrier.

In a special service in Poland, for instance, I had a meaningful worship experience even though I didn’t understand a word that was spoken. What I did understand, through song, message, testimonies and tears, was a love for God and a desire to praise Him. The language barrier was transcended by the common bond I have with the family of God. His Spirit was with us all.

Music is a special language all of itself. Familiar tunes to hymns and choruses I hear in church services around the world make me feel at home and connected with the other worshippers.

I try to learn a few phrases in each language, especially “Good day” and “thank you.” I find myself repeating those expressions over and over again, sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. My mispronunciations are received with good-natured laughter.

Everyone is complimented when you at least try to greet them in their mother tongue. Occasionally, I will learn an additional phrase. In China, I also learned the expression “God bless you.” I will never forget the smiles on the faces of some of my new friends as I left and said, “God bless you” in Chinese.

Although I must be careful about how I do this, sometimes charades works. Resulting in lots of laughter, physical demonstrations can communicate.

Intentional presence makes a statement. Even among English speakers, many times, just “being there” is the preferred message of the moment. Sometimes there is nothing that can be said to remedy a situation. Presence can transcend the language barrier. Facial expressions and mere presence can communicate, “I’m here because I care.”

Expressions of greetings are different in every country. They vary from a handshake to a one cheek kiss to a two cheek kiss to a bow to a big hug. Even though I try to find out what is practiced locally, sometimes I just do what is natural for me and give a big hug. I have yet to have someone chide me for this even when it is not common. Especially when I greet another woman, our eyes meet and there is a big returning smile, when I give her a hug, she returns it with gusto. It always seems to communicate.

Although I know my handicap will not be a problem in heaven, my attempts to communicate here result in a lot of laughter. God does have a sense of humor.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)

The Forest and the Trees: My Perspective, God’s Perspective

One of my favorite things to do is take a walk in a forest.  I love trees.  Being close to many different types of trees helps me notice certain features about them: their size and shape as well as the particular characteristics of their leaves. Especially during fall, this is an exercise in delight. The leaves changing colors and floating to the ground right in front of me is like watching a painting in progress – a work of art only God can create.

Taking note of the intricate design of leaves, the route of gnarly tree roots and various designs of tree bark is something that can only be done close at hand. Once I walked through a small area of a forest that had been harvested. Before reaching the site, it appeared there were no trees at all in that spot. When I got close, I found the area had been replanted. Small trees would someday grow tall, house birds, and provide shade for small animals.

Viewing the forest from a distance, such as from above in an airplane or from a car passing by, would render these details inaccessible. That view is also beneficial, however, as it gives a different and important perspective. Each tree in a forest is part of the whole. Without individual trees, the forest would not exist. Together, they are something more than they are alone.

I am often reminded that God’s perspective includes both the forest and the trees.  While my perspective is often determined by my experience, a point in time or my location, I know God does not have those limitations. He truly does have the big picture.  He can focus on the minute details of the tree and see the forest as a whole at the same time. The smallest detail is a part of His plan. His perspective includes the details of my life along with everyone else’s.

Knowing God created the tree and the forest and sees intricate details of one tree as well as the entire forest at the same time helps me cope with unknown elements of my future. No detail in my life is inconsequential in His plan. The small things in life are significant because they are part of the whole.

The trees of the Lord are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which He planted, where the birds make their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees…O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions (Psalm 104:16, 17, 24).

Connecting the Dots: An Exercise in Understanding Life

As a child, I worked with books containing several different kinds of exercises: coloring pages, mazes, crossword puzzles and connect the dots.  My favorite was connecting the dots. On the most complex pages, you could not tell what the picture was until you had completed the process of connecting dot number one with dot number two, etc. until the last dot had been connected. The resulting picture was in the background. The creator of the page had it in mind before he removed the lines that connected each dot. His aim was for the picture to be discovered after the dots were connected.

I remember some of the “aha” moments I had when I had finally connected enough dots to see what the picture was going to be, but finished the exercise anyway because I wanted to see the completed picture. I might then color it, but I often left it just as it was when the last dot had been connected because I had seen all I needed to see. The delight was in finding the hidden picture.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., gave a speech to the graduating class at Stanford University in June 2005. His first point caught my attention. It was about connecting the dots.

Steve’s story of connecting the dots had to do with his own life. He was where he was in business because of a series of events that happened, some beyond his control: circumstances surrounding his adoption as a child, his quitting college and deciding to pursue his personal interests, his being fired at the company he started, etc. All this led him to a point where he was able to accomplish certain other things. Connecting those dots in retrospect helped him see the fuller picture of why he was able to do the things he did.

He said connecting the dots is only possible when you look back on life, but when you do connect them, situations that at first seemed to be negative can sometimes lead to a positive outcome.

Connecting the dots is my favorite way to study the Bible. The many ways to study God’s word, such as verse-by-verse exposition, character analysis, theme, book study, etc., all have great value. The important thing is to spend time reading His word, asking Him to reveal His truth to you, and making the application when it has been revealed.

Often, when I am reading God’s word, I notice the repetition of a word or a concept and start connecting those dots. For instance, when I was reading through the letters the apostle Paul wrote, I started noticing similarities in his prayers. The result of that study was a book: The Prayer Driven Life. Paul’s prayers included prayers of blessings, thanksgiving for the saints, praise and thanksgiving to God, petitions to God on behalf of the saints, and benedictions. I never would have discovered those groupings of prayers had I not connected the dots that flowed from Romans through Philemon.

Connecting the dots of God’s word is exciting to me.  Many of my Bible studies have started that way. Connecting the dots between His word, history and current events makes sense. Reading the Bible is as currently relevant as reading today’s newspaper. Connecting the dots between His word and the events of life takes the focus off myself and onto His plan.

Steve Jobs was partially right. We connect the dots in our own lives by looking backwards. Christians, however, have an advantage: one of faith and trust in God who has a plan. The resulting picture of our completed lives was already in our Creator’s mind before we were ever born. His plan connects the dots of our past and present with our future. As I watch the picture He created unfold, I know I can trust the Creator to do all that is right.

My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:15-16).

Playtime, Love and You

Being a grandmother brings back memories of time spent with my own sons when they were preschoolers. Then, as now, time was more plentiful than money; however, being forced to be creative in our playtime was, and still is, a good thing. Especially with an unfavorable economic situation, parents and grandparents are sharing tips that have worked for them as they help their children enjoy life without spending much money.

Children love to work with their hands. Give a child time to play in a sand pile with old margarine tubs, kitchen utensils (sifters, spoons, etc.) and he can create anything – forts, farms, trains, churches, or just plain mud pies.

When my children were small, unless we had to go somewhere, I didn’t worry about them getting dirty. On nice warm days, they could water the dirt and have extra fun with mud. This kind of play is not only fun; it also develops small muscle coordination and imagination. Playing outside makes them more aware of all the good things God has created for them to enjoy.

Just as children love to play in dirt and sand, they enjoy play dough or clay. I found homemade play dough lasted much longer than the purchased kind. They simply used cookie cutters and plastic items with the play dough.

A lot of throw away items hold charm for a child: old clothes, bits of wood (with no splinters), old wooden spools, spray can tops, plastic bottles (not pill bottles), and boxes of all sizes. Uses are limited only to the imagination of the child. Children love to create something of their own. One of my grandsons is especially good at making something out of practically nothing.  I am always looking forward to seeing what he has created.

Most important of all is time a parent or grandparent spends playing with his child. What a child wants and needs is the love and companionship of his parents. I am so proud of my sons and their wives as they are taking advantage of every minute they have with their young children, recognizing that time with them is precious.

Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children (Proverbs 17:6 NLT).

The Miracle of Adoption

In September 2008, my son and his wife felt God calling them to adopt a child – preferably a girl.  They have two terrific natural born sons, so they are in the minority of people who choose to adopt. Since most couples adopt because they can’t have children any other way, my son and his wife did not request a newborn. Wanting to keep the existing birth order in their family, they did ask for a child under three.

Anyone who has been through an adoption process or is related to someone who has knows that adoptions are expensive and enormously time consuming. Deciding to adopt a child makes a bold statement. Parents (and in some cases, siblings) are willing to pay the price to adopt a child.

In their case, two adoption agencies (the first one didn’t work out), much money and three years later, the day finally arrived. With all the hiccups in the process, one blog entry of my daughter-in-law’s was “God has a plan, God has a plan, God has a plan.”  Today, we know what that plan was.

In September 2008 Olivia’s birth mother was in her first trimester. After giving birth to Olivia seven months later (March 2009), she left her on a doorstep where she was found and taken to a foster home.

The referral from the agency came just after Olivia’s second birthday in March 2011. As soon as we all saw her picture, we knew why God allowed the delay. Everyone instantly knew that Olivia belonged to our family. She was not even born when they started the process with the first agency.

Olivia will know she is adopted. She will know that she is loved and wanted. She will be told that she was longed for, chosen and considered worth any price that had to be paid so she could be part of the family.

God wants, longs for and choses to adopt those who accept the sacrificial gift offered by Jesus Christ. He paid the highest price for each child of His: the life and death of His only begotten Son.

To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God…God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (John 1:12, Ephesians 1:5 NLT).