Tag Archives: Father

Worship Wednesday – MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine” – My Story About This Song

Photo Credit: New Release Today

The film I Can Only Imagine debuted in the Spring of this year. It’s the story of how a young man, Bart Millard, came to compose one of the most beautiful poignant songs written in recent years.

Millard is the lead singer for the Christian band MercyMe. The song I Can Only Imagine was inspired by his own faith walk and the death of his father to cancer. The lyrics express the wonder at what Heaven will be like for us when our time comes. Photo Credit: To Save a Life

The film featuring this song chronicles Millard’s early life with an angry, abusive father. Bart hated his father, and although he was sure God could forgive his father, Bart believed he himself never would.

Bart Millard: ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Was Born From a Life of Abuse – Jenny Rapson

It is a powerful story that resonates with many of us. My biological father (not this Dad) wasn’t physically violent toward me but he was emotionally abusive in his neglect and indifference toward us four children. Our older brother may have experienced worse abuse from our dad but he never talked about it. What makes me wonder is how angry he was as an adult. My brother died a few years ago, finally beginning to heal out of decades of bitterness and rage…just before he died.

This song and film, birthed out of a childhood marred by violence, remind me of how good God is and how He works healing even in the worst of situations.

My mom loved this song. I didn’t know its significance to her until right before her death in 2002. We were living overseas the year the song came out (2001, and I don’t remember even hearing it until Mom asked a friend to sing it for her, just days before she died. After her funeral, as we returned to “normal”, it seemed I heard that song every day for months. It had become wildly popular, winning two GMA Dove awards, and successfully crossing over to pop/country charts. That connection with her, day in and day out, helped me to grieve and heal the loss of the woman I loved most in the world. . Imagining her life in Heaven was very good for me…then and now.

Years later, when my older brother died, I heard the song again in an odd situation. We were visiting Dad, in the house where I grew up. My brother lived with them for many years, and I went into his bedroom. He had been gone for a few weeks at that time. There was an old-timey, pale blue box radio in the bathroom he used. I switched it on just to see what station he listened to. It was a Christian station which was strange because, although he was a Christian, he wasn’t into “churchy stuff”. The song that was playing when I turned on that radio was “I Can Only Imagine”. There…in a sacred moment, missing my brother, the Lord comforted me again…with this amazing song…and message.

Worship with me please.

I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me
I can only imagine

Yeah

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the sun
I can only imagine when all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you
I can only imagine, yeah
I can only imagine

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
Yeah
I can only imagine

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
Yeah
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
Yeah
I can only imagine
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you

I can only imagine*

Just this week, I saw the film for the first time…in the living room, lights dimmed, with sweet family. Some in my close circle of family and friends don’t rush to watch “Christian” films because, they say, they are too amateurish and trite. Not this one. Beautifully filmed, raw dialogue between Bart and his father, layer upon layer of brokenness. Then…the miracle of healing. Of God piercing through the pain and bringing beauty out of ugliness. Reconciling…first with Him…and then with each other.

See the film. Listen to Bart sing his own story of wondering about Heaven…and then let all that settle around you as it has me so many times…just the thought of what Heaven will be like…seeing my Mom again…my brother…others who have gone ahead…and especially the God of this universe…the One who saved me…the One who saved Bart’s Dad and Bart, and then the One gave Bart grace to forgive.

*Lyrics to I Can Only Imagine Written by Bart Millard

YouTube Video – Bart Millard Reveals the Origin of His Biggest Hit “I Can Only Imagine” – Huckabee

YouTube Video – I Can Only Imagine – “Forgiveness” Scene

YouTube Video – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

Worship Wednesday – How Deep the Father’s Love For us – Stuart Townend

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Worship can be a deeply emotional experience. In fact, sometimes, we lose our focus on God Himself in the midst of the singing of a familiar song. Our minds wander as memories of other times and places take us out of the moment. Not a bad thing necessarily, but…

That happened to me as the praise band at Movement Church this Sunday opened the hymn How Deep the Father’s Love For Us. I love this Stuart Townend hymn. He published it in 1995, the year we moved to Cairo, Egypt. New to us, this hymn became a standard in our family from those early days of adjustment to a new life in another country. [This and another hymn of his – In Christ Alone.]

On Fridays, we would join other internationals and a smattering of Egyptian Christians, at Heliopolis Community Church, and we would sing and pray in English. Such a refreshment to our souls as we spent most of our week, learning and using Arabic in our work and with neighbors and friends. English was our worship language.blog-international-church-worship-how-deep-the-fathers-lovePhoto Credit: CCCLux

Sweet memories of hot Friday mornings, singing with believers from all over the world, as the call to prayer broke through from a nearby mosque. Sweet memories of a oneness with each other…and with God.

Then my thoughts sprang back to the present on Sunday, as we sang this lyric:

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.

Because of what Christ did for me…for us…on the cross, I am no longer separated from God by the penalty of my rebellion against Him. The debt I built up through life is paid in one great act of God through Christ – His perfect, sinless life substituted, in death, for my own sin-filled mess…for our own. There is nothing left to pay…nothing. Christ paid in full, on the cross, for all our sins.

At what cost? Oh…we can imagine the considerable cost Jesus paid because our own flesh cringes at the excruciating pain of the cross. Yet, we also must take in, as much as we can, the cost to the Father. Such great love He has…for His own son…and for us…each one of us. The whole world, in fact.

When Stuart Townend was writing this hymn, he was very aware of the emotions that can be elicited in praise music. Just as I have described, the personal joy, refreshment, and happy memories that can be so satisfying in the experience of individual and corporate worship. His hope was to write in such a way as to help the worshiper get beyond himself and to a greater awareness of God.

“The danger now is that we are so focused on the experience our worship can become self-seeking and self-serving. When all of our songs are about how we feel and what we need, we’re missing the point. There is a wonderful, omnipotent God who deserves our highest praise, and how we feel about it is in many ways irrelevant!  I want to encourage the expression of joy, passion and adoration, but I want those things to be the by-product of focusing on God – I don’t want them to become the subject matter. I’m trying to write songs that refer to us as little as possible, and to Him as much as possible!”Stuart Townend

Hymns like How Deep the Father’s Love For Us complement our prayer life and study of God’s Word. For those friends of ours who don’t yet believe…those who say, “That’s nice for you that you believe God. I just don’t believe like you do.”…we have a witness in worship.

It is not just that we believe…what Townend describes in this hymn, reflective of the truth of Scripture, isn’t just what we believe…it is what happened and was witnessed by others – the deep love of God displayed in the self-emptying life and death of His Son. Hallelujah!

Worship with me.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.

blog-how-deep-the-fathers-love-youtubePhoto Credit: YouTube

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.*

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See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.1 John 3:1

…the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.Galatians 2:20b

*Lyrics – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Stuart Townend

YouTube Video – How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – Cover by Joy Williams

YouTube Video – How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Lyrics (with Scripture portions that support them)

The Depth of Christ’s Love: Its Cost – John Piper

YouTube Video – Story Behind the Song – How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – Stuart Townend

The High Cost of the Cross – Joe Crews

Hymn Reflection: How Deep the Father’s Love For Us – Adam Faughn

Lost Things Found – A Story and a Parable

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My husband and I love coffee. We also love to serve coffee to friends who love coffee. Over the years, we’ve collected favorite mugs – pottery mugs from Petra, Jordan; mugs with encouraging verses; favorite cartoon mugs; pretty flowery mugs for moms; mugs with whimsical animals tucked in the bottom, hiding for the coffee-with-cream drinkers. We have other every-day, minimalist mugs but these are the mugs that make us smile.

Then we lost them.

At Christmas, we bring out a box of Christmas mugs for the month of December. Our favorite mugs are then packed in the Christmas mug box until the New Year. Four Christmases ago, that box got misplaced. We looked and looked for it, after Christmas that year – scoured the shed and other less likely storage spots. We never found it.

Over time, we replaced those mugs…but still from time to time, wondered aloud about them.

Until yesterday.

I was out in a different shed (we had since moved from the house where we lost the mugs)…organizing and preparing to use or get rid of the contents of old boxes. When I got to this box that wasn’t labeled (very odd for me because I’m a great packer and inventory-maker after so many years of traveling).

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This box – this Avery label box – was one of many my mom used when she would pack up treasures at her house and store them to be given to us or shared with others at a later date. In her shed, she had stacks of these Avery boxes. When we closed down our parents’ home, many of these Avery boxes came to our houses. I still have a wave of emotion when I see them, even though we’ve also re-used them for storage of our own things.

Opening this particular box, I began unwrapping…it was a mug, just like one of my favorites. I didn’t remember Mom having this mug!?! By the third “favorite” mug unwrapped, I realized this was the lost box. The box that ended up in a corner with Mom’s treasures that we hadn’t yet begun using. This lost box…found!img_9886

It was so much fun unwrapping each mug…remembering the stories and people related to them. So much joy in re-discovery. img_9888

We have all lost things…my mom used to regularly lose her glasses and we kids would search everywhere until one of us proudly recovered them – from her sewing machine table, or on the Bible by her bed, or in the bathroom… Even though the losing would make us late somewhere, the joy of finding changed “mourning into dancing“.

blog-finding-lost-things-lost-sheep-gregory-dickow-ministriesPhoto Credit: Gregory Dickow

Finding our mugs, and the pleasure in finding them, reminded me of a series of parables Jesus once told his disciples. In Luke 15, he tells about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Jesus first tells about a shepherd with a hundred sheep. When he discovered one of the sheep was gone, he left the ninety-nine out in the open, while he searched for the one. On finding it, he called his neighbors and friends together to rejoice with him over the sheep found and restored to the herd. Then Jesus tells about a woman who lost a coin in her house and turned the house upside down until she found it. She was so thrilled by recovering the coin, she threw a party for her friends and neighbors (her joy was so great).

In both parables, Jesus compares this joy to that of the angels in Heaven over the sinner who repents and is restored to Father God.

Finally Jesus relates a parable of a lost son. This young son was reckless with his life and his inheritance, ending up in a miserable state, in a far country. He finally came to his senses and returned home. His father saw him coming and ran down the road to meet him. That same joyful father ordered a feast for this wayward son who had found his way home. blog-finding-lost-things-son-choosing-todayPhoto Credit: Molly Flinkman

This same joy, throughout these three parables, was that great joy of finding a treasure lost…the same as having a relationship restored.

There are a couple of troubling elements in the last parable. The older brother, the only other brother, was angry at his younger brother’s return. No rejoicing there. It doesn’t seem to fit in these parables of joy.

Also…the coin once lost was searched for. The sheep once lost was searched for…but not the son…not that younger brother.

My husband, Dave, loves these parables. He has often used them in his teaching, when appropriate. His conclusions about these two remarkable elements follow.

This older brother that was not joyful at his brother’s return. Why not? Why was the wayward brother not searched for?

Is it possible that the brother who stayed home, faithfully working beside his father…all those years, in the absence of that other brother…was the one missing from the searching?

Think about it. When my mom lost the glasses she needed…it wasn’t like losing a son; it was just glasses. Yet, because we loved her, we all scattered to find those glasses. That father whose foolish young son left him must have grieved terribly. More than farming beside him, that older son was meant to go after that younger one…that foolish one…and bring him home.

It might have been a struggle…but can you imagine, the immense joy of both the father, and the brothers, if the two came walking toward the house together…the lost one found…by his own brother?

I’m glad we have our mugs back. Rejoicing in that.

In thinking also of these parables of Jesus, my hope is that I won’t give up when there is something of much greater value to be found…recovered…restored. What joy!

Coffee, anyone?

What Finding Things Taught Me About Lost Things – Molly Flinkman

Story Vs. Parable – What’s the Difference?

Worship Wednesday – In the Midst of Our Storms, We Have a Good, Good Father – Chris Tomlin & Pat Barrett

Blog - good good father - timesofmaltaPhoto Credit: TimesofMalta

“For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” Deuteronomy 32:3-4

When we lived in Morocco, we loved walking along the coast – along both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. There were sandy beaches aplenty, but my favorite parts were the rocky outcroppings which stood as sentinels against the crashing waves. I will never forget one time, walking with a friend who prayed aloud as we stood by the shore on a stormy day. He said, “Lord, may the storms of our lives break on the rocks of Your mercy.”

Storms come to all our lives…shocks, interruptions and losses that shake our faith and cause confusion in our understanding of good…and God. We want to explain how such things can happen in the presence of a good God. However, our attempts at explaining fall pitifully short. How can we explain our experience of that good Father in the midst of every storm? He is present, even in His silence…we lean in, and we find strong support…through every storm.

Blog - Good Good Father - godisgreatitstruePhoto Credit: GodIsGreatItsTrue

“Life is hard and God is good.” – Marshall Shelley

These words were spoken by a father whose tiny son, Toby, lived 2 minutes in this world. Toby is short for Tobiah which means “God is good”. Shelley goes on to describe more of his wrestling with Toby’s brief life in a Christianity Today article.

“Why did God create a child to live two minutes?

He didn’t.

He didn’t create Toby to live two minutes…He didn’t create me to live 40 years (or whatever number he may choose to extend my days in this world). God created Toby for eternity. He created each of us for eternity, where we may be surprised to find our true calling, which always seemed just out of reach here on earth.”

I can’t explain the goodness of God but I know it. He is a good, good Father. He has brought me through hard places; He is with me through dark nights when I can’t sleep. How can we bask in His goodness in hard times and not believe, even when our hearts are broken, that His goodness extends into the hard as well? Because of His comfort thus far in my life…and that of others near to my heart…I determine to trust Him in the present hard…and with the future.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations. – Psalm 100:4-5

What a blessing to read the Psalms and rejoice with those inspired writers who give us pictures of God present in our storms. Our hearts are also gladdened by modern-day hymn-writers who remind us of the truth of God’s goodness. Casting Crowns’ Praise You in the Storm and Just Be Held, and then David Crowder’s I Am all remind us of God’s presence with us in the midst of storms.

Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett’s song Good, Good Father gives voice to my experience of the goodness of God. I hope you are encouraged by it, in whatever the storms are in your life today.

Worship with me.

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a good good Father
It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

Oh, and I’ve seen many searching
For answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only You provide
‘Cause You know just what we need
Before we say a word

You’re a good good Father
It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

Cause You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

You are perfect in all of Your ways
Oh, You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

Oh, it’s love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

You’re a good good Father
It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

You’re a good good Father
It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
You’re a good good Father

You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways*

“This I recall to mind and therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. His compassions [his mercies] never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him.” – Lamentations 3:21-25

“Life is hard and God is good. Life is hard and God is good.” That is the meaning of Lamentations. That is the meaning of Job. You might say that is the meaning of the Bible. Life is hard and God is good…and many of you are right in the midst of proving it to be so now. At least if you would trust him, if I could persuade you that God is trustworthy in it, and if you held on to it, you would discover that life is hard and God is good.

O, that God would give us eyes to see his mercies in our lives and we would see them all the more clearly and know that they were mercies if we knew the price that he paid for them for us. He sent his son Jesus Christ into the world to die so that my guilt will be taken away, his wrath would be removed from me, and there would be a free, open course for his mercies to flow to me while he is just. Even though I am a sinner, I can be treated with mercy. That is a glorious thing that God has done in Jesus Christ. We would taste the mercies all the more sweetly if we knew the price.” – John Piper

BLog - Good good father - midspointofviewPhoto Credit: Midspointofview

Lyrics to Good, Good Father by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown

The God of Joyful Tears and Sorrow – Trevin Wax

YouTube Video – Good, Good Father – Housefires II (featuring Pat Barrett)

If This is Spring There Must Be a Tornado Somewhere – Tom Elliff

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Photo Credit: OneGirlDesignShoppe

What if Romans 8 was the only Scripture Portion You Had

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The Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches must have been a great treasure to those believers, as they continue to be to us centuries later. His letter to the Romans, written in A.D. 57, is rich instruction and encouragement in the things of God. For those who want to know God in the fullness of His glory and to faithfully follow Christ, the book of Romans is invaluable. How grateful I am that God has preserved this letter over the ages, as He has done with all His Word, for our sakes.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is worth examination, no matter what your religious (or non-religious) affiliations.  Sometimes when I read the Bible, the thought of “What if” comes to mind. What if I only had this portion of Scripture? How would it change my life? It’s dangerous for any of us to pull out bits of Scripture to order our lives without considering the whole counsel of God. Yet, in some parts of the world, the Bible is not available to everyone. There may come a day, when it might be censored where you live, if it isn’t already. It’s already precious, so to think we might not have it all, I read sometimes as if what I am reading is all I have of the instruction and character of God. Romans 8 was my focus this morning.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (verses 1-2, Romans 8) You have to look back to Romans 7 to see what the “therefore” is there for…but in case, we only hypothetically have Romans 8 in our hands, let’s focus on what remains in the passage. No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. No condemnation! What a glorious word for us who live under perceived condemnation (by self, Satan, or the world) every day. And with no condemnation comes the freedom we have in Christ. He has set us free. Amazing truth given our condition from birth apart from Him.

On a side note: Paul’s letter to the Roman believers also often refers to the perfect unity of God (in God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son). Watch for references to the Three-in-One – magnificent “Unity in Trinity”.

“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (verses 10-11) No matter how deep our theological understanding is about life, we know that we wrestle daily with our flesh (body, sinful nature)…even as Christ-followers (not even…maybe more so). This struggle is with us until we leave this life. However, we are not alone in this. The Spirit of life (God), because Christ is in us, gives us life. Life here to choose to live according to God’s teaching and in His power…and life forever with Him. Let that wash over you this morning, Dear One.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (verses 15-17) Here we see the witness of the unity of God in three persons as Paul further explains our position and inheritance in the Kingdom of God. We are adopted into His family. We are His heirs, fellow heirs with Christ! We share in the inheritance of Jesus which is His by divine right. Yet God the Father includes us…adopts us as His children. A casual read of this will not do. It is a mind-blowing gift from God!

On a side note: I’m sure the bit about suffering registered. Suffering is inevitable for all of us. It just is, and God tries to prepare us for it through His Word (including these great letter-writers). Yet, with the suffering comes glory. We share in the glory of Christ!

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (verse 28) This is such a familiar verse, often-quoted and sometimes misquoted in difficult circumstances of life. Still the truth of it resonates so well with us who follow Christ.  God works good out of all things…no matter what…for those who love Him and for His purposes. We can take great comfort in this promise…great comfort in the One who makes this promise.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be  against us?” (verse 31) Enough said. Hallelujah!

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (verses 35, 37-39) No matter how evil the times are in which we find ourselves. No matter what the course of our lives. Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Nada. No matter the press of confusing circumstances or the prosecutorial arguments of the world or the evil whispers of Satan himself lying in our ears…God tells us that we are more than conquerors through Him and that absolutely nothing will separate us from His love.  That is the message Paul delivered to the Roman believers in this letter. They understood and clung to this message during a horrific time in history, and, one day, we will join them, worshipping the God of these great words.

This was my word from God this early morning…still resonating all these years after it was written. My life is steadied and course set on a foundation that is not shaken…thanks to a God who preserved His word for us to the present, and for as long as this world continues…as He purposes and in His love.

Romans 8 (and the rest of God’s Word) in Many Languages

Called According to His Purpose

The Preservation of the Bible

How We Got the Bible

The Father I Never Knew – On Father’s Day

I was five years old when my parents divorced. By the time I was six, my father was completely out of my life. Their divorce came after more than twelve years of marriage and four children. I won’t go into the reasons of why their marriage unraveled. Neither my mom or my dad are here to tell their side. In the mid-50’s when people divorced, there was no court-mandated child support.  In our situation, Mom worked, and until she married again years later, we lived on what she was able to provide.

This is a picture of my father – Guy Anderson Stephens. Guy Stephens

It’s the only one I have. In those years, pictures were taken regularly, even in poorer families. So why there are no pictures of my father, I cannot say. My Mom said he was a handsome man, charming. He grew up, one of three siblings, on a sizable farm and his family was well-respected in the community.

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My mother, Mildred Jane Byrd, was beautiful and smart. She was the middle child of five. The only girl. Hers was a hard childhood with the Great Depression just one of the factors making her family poor. She had great dignity in the midst of her circumstances and continued so all her life. I love my mama and feel very grateful to be her daughter and friend. When she and my Dad married, she felt confident her hardest days were over. It was not to be so.2009 April May Trip to Georgia 089

When my parents divorced, we became a family of 5. My Mom, my older brother, Robert, me, and my two younger brothers, Dwane and Wade. Wade (not in picture above) was just a baby when we drove away from the house that last day. This picture was taken later, not on that bewildering last day.

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The picture above shows us with our grandmother and cousins in our uncle’s convertible. It’s possible he was as poor as we were, except for the car. I’m holding my youngest brother. Our older brother must have felt great responsibility toward us, with Mom working long hours. I think, too, he felt the loss of our father the most acutely.

For reasons we will never know, our father didn’t stay long in our lives. Some months after the divorce, he took us to a county fair. He bought a bear for me at one of the concessions because he wasn’t able to win it. Then there was the Christmas following – that one glorious, magical holiday when he brought presents and it seemed he would always be close. And then he never came back.

He attended our older brother’s high school graduation years later, but I didn’t see him. And that was that.

Once I learned how to write, I would send him letters (at his parents’ farm) – telling him the news of his children.  For a couple of decades I wrote, imagining my letters helped him stay connected with us, maybe lessening his loneliness for his children.  He never wrote back.

The last letter was to announce the birth of his first grandchild.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but after that, I didn’t write any more.

Years later, after many more births of grandbabies he would never know, I talked to him once on the phone. Someone told my mom that he was in a nursing home and not well. I called him, thinking we could visit together…one last time. As we talked briefly, he thought I was my mom. Too many years had separated us. I did not make that visit.

Guy Stephens Memorial Service (3)

The funeral home leaflet said so little.  It was sent in a note to my mother after the funeral. We did not go.  His death seemed to have happened to some other family. He would be grieved by those who knew him. His parents and siblings and others – these were his family…strangely, we were not.

The longing to know my father and the rest of that family passed with the years apart. As far as we knew, he nor his family (original or remaining) ever tried to communicate with us over these more than 50 years. Until recently.

His last surviving sibling died this Spring. Aunt Pauline. And we have been tracked down, so to speak. Two weeks ago, I spoke for the first time in all these years to a cousin. She is the executor of Aunt Pauline’s estate and we are remembered in her will. I will meet her this week. She remembers meeting my Mom nearly 70 years ago,  when my Dad was courting her She commented on how beautiful and tall she was. What a kindness this may turn out to be.

To finally close the gap on all those years of not knowing that family…my other family. It may be that I won’t really learn much about this father, but I am continually learning more about the Father I have in God. He has never left me. This is one of His countless tender mercies.

[From the leaflet from my father’s funeral]:Guy Stephens Memorial Service (2)

In the Digital Age, the Family Photo Album Fades Away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Faces of Temptation – Out of the Desert

2005 March -- Trip to Desert 459Tempted

For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. – 1 John 2:16

Jesus was tempted but he did not yield.  The stakes were huge.  In that 40-day desert experience (Matthew 4:1-11),  he was confronted by the three torments of the human soul – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  In the heat of the desert, Jesus forged his resolve to wholly obey his Father.  It’s in the wilderness that a Savior is revealed.

So when I’m tempted, what does that look like?

The lust of the flesh temptation too often comes to me in the form of food – lots of it and often.  I could list foods like a young single woman could list the things she wants in a husband.  A love affair with food is a pretty shallow experience.  These days you can get away with calling yourself a foodie provided you’re rail-thin.  For me, that has never worked out.  There are other lusts of the flesh I struggle with like wanting time to be my own…wanting to be able to while away the hours on my own interests, or hitting the snooze alarm umpteen times, or just dozing in front of rerun after rerun.  It’s tempting to satisfy my flesh, but there’s no purpose in that…nothing lasting.  I’m thankful that Jesus didn’t turn the rocks into bread, even though he was genuinely, earnestly hungry.  In a manner of moments, once he held off Satan’s tempting, angels ministered to his needs.  God is also right there with me in the tempting…I can choose a  better path.

The lust of the eyes temptation, for me, focuses on what I’d like but don’t have – like money to travel the world over.  It’s wanting what I perceive others have – like closer friendships…or a maintenance-free thinner body…or a family that wants to hang out all the time.  It isn’t really all about me, but the lust of the eyes seems to call to the stuff that I think I deserve…should have…whatever.  Such an insatiable thing, self!  Jesus didn’t believe Satan when he tempted Jesus to just bow down to him and all on earth would be his.  There’s wisdom in that for us.  Having all the things or relationships I want, and the focus be on me, will only cause more hunger….more…more…more…  When we bow down to self, it’s vain worship, and we are never satisfied.

The pride of life temptation is thinking of ourselves as higher than we are.  Eve believed the Serpent (Genesis 3:1-5) when he told her she would not die if she ate the fruit forbidden to her by God.  In fact, Satan told her she would become like God.  Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself down to his death, and watch the angels come to his rescue.  Jesus was quick to tell Satan not to tempt God.  When our ambition or even our desire to want to be useful to God tempts us to despise our current situation, this is pride of life.  God is sovereign and He will work in us in whatever our station is at the time.  In the Kingdom of Heaven there are no second-rate assignments, no step-children.

We are going to be tempted…but we don’t have to yield…unless we yield to God instead, where there is true satisfaction of whatever longing we may have.  He is enough.

What temptations take you into the desert?  How does God bring you out?