Raise the Standard

In A Book of Saints, Anne Gordon tells the story of Father Maximilian Kolbe, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz in August 1941. A prisoner escaped from the camp, and in reprisal, the Nazis ordered that ten prisoners had to die by starvation.

Father Kolbe offered to take the place of one of the condemned men. The Nazis kept Kolbe in the starvation bunker for two weeks and then put him to death by lethal injection on August 14, 1941.

Thirty years later, a survivor of Auschwitz described the effect of Kolbe’s action: “It was an enormous shock to the whole camp. We became aware that someone among us in the spiritual dark night of the soul was raising the standard of love on high. Someone unknown, like everyone else, tortured and bereft of name and social standing, went to a horrible death for the sake of someone not even related to him. Therefore it is not true, we cried, that humanity is cast down and trampled in the mud, overcome by oppressors, and overwhelmed by hopelessness. Thousands of prisoners were convinced the true world continued to exist and that our torturers would not be able to destroy it.
“To say that Father Kolbe died for us or for that person’s family is too great a simplification. His death was the salvation of thousands …We were stunned by his act, which became for us a mighty explosion of light in the dark camp.”  — Bill Norman

selective focus photography of spark

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

 

To God You Shall Return

The traditional Ash Wednesday words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” might seem depressing. But in our often death-denying culture, some might find it refreshing to hear the frank statement that we can do nothing to save ourselves, physically or spiritually — that, no matter how we try to avoid sin, we can’t untangle ourselves from self-interest. How liberating, then, to know we don’t have to! God loves us as we are and sent Jesus to break sin’s power over us.

backlit cemetery christianity clouds

A pastor described Ash Wednesday as the point you can pinch in the middle of a long piece of ribbon, such that when you lift it high, the two ends — one symbolizing our baptism and the other, our funeral — meet and touch. We come from dust and will return to dust, but we also come from God and will return to God. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we’re always safe in God’s love.

The Teddy Bear Lady

Most of the people at Chicago’s Children’s Hospital did not know her name. They just knew her as the sweet elderly lady in the vivid red suit who wanted to make sure that every sick child had a teddy bear to hug and caress. She kept bringing the stuffed animals, purchased with her own money, to give to ailing children. That is why she was simply called The Teddy Bear Lady.

teddy

Her name was Gladys Holm, a retired secretary for an insurance company, who lived alone in a tiny apartment in Evanston. It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford better, although no one except her attorney and stockbroker knew she was quite wealthy.
When she died at age 86, she had a portfolio worth over $18 million. She had never married and had no heirs. Her will simply directed that the bulk of her estate be given to The Children’s Memorial Hospital. Her gift was to go to medical research so that new methods of treating sick or disabled children might be developed.
The hospital authorities were absolutely shocked by the news. No one had the slightest idea that the tall happy woman delivering teddy bears to ailing children had such wealth. As they began to piece together more of her life’s story, they discovered something else. They learned that the gifts of teddy bears were really a ruse. She gave away teddy bears to learn more about the financial resources of the families of the children. When she learned that parents did not have hospitalization or enough to cover medical expenses, she very quietly had taken care of their bills.
One wonders if Gladys Holm was simply putting into practice what the One known as the Great Physician had recommended: “When you give … sound no trumpet before you …. When you give … do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret …” (Matthew 6:2-4).
At the hospital’s memorial service for Gladys, someone had put a teddy bear on every chair.

Winds of Love

“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8

 

houses in farm against cloudy sky 

A farmer had a weather vane on his barn, on which was written “God is love.” When friends asked why, the farmer said, “This is to remind me that no matter which way the wind blows, God is love.”

When the warm “south wind” with its soothing and balmy breezes brings showers of blessing, God is love. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

When the cold “north wind” of trial and testing sweeps down upon you, God is love. “All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

When the “west wind” blows hard upon you with its punishing intent, God is love. “Whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Hebrews 12:6).

When the “east wind” threatens to sweep away all that you have, God is love. “God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19).

Perhaps you are discouraged and downhearted. If so, remember, God still cares for you. What you are experiencing has either been sent or it has been allowed by Him for your good.

Yes, no matter which way the wind is blowing, God is love.

 

–from Our Daily Bread by Richard DeHaan

The Holy Space of Love

An ancient story is told of two brothers who shared grain fields and a mill and, at day’s end, equally divided the results of their labor. But the unmarried farmer felt that his brother, with a family to support, should have a greater share. So each night, under cover of darkness, he added some of his grain to his brother’s.

Meanwhile, the married brother was concerned that his single brother would have no children to care for him in his old age. So each night he, too, added to his brother’s granary.

One night, the selfless brothers ran into each other. Grasping what was going on, they laughed and embraced. Rabbinic legend holds that on that spot — where love was freely shared — God decided his Temple should be built. Wherever people act in sacrificial love, the space between them is holy.

white love free standing letters

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” — Colossians 3:14

Reading Resolutions

photo of child reading holy bible

Every January, many Christians resolve to read the entire Bible in one year. That’s a worthy goal, but God doesn’t require us to read a certain number of verses or chapters per day. Instead, he tells us to simply be in his Word — and thus be with him — so he can grow our faith, light our path and assure us of his love and forgiveness. God’s Word is a precious gift, but we need to “unwrap” it!

F.B. Meyer offers this helpful advice for a new year of discovering (and rediscovering!) Scripture: “Read the Bible, not as a newspaper, but as a home letter. If a cluster of heavenly fruit hangs within reach, gather it. If a promise lies upon the page as a blank check, cash it. If a prayer is recorded, appropriate it and launch it as a feathered arrow from the bow of your desire. If an example of holiness gleams before you, ask God to do as much for you. If the truth is revealed … entreat that its brilliance may ever irradiate … your life.”

Praying for you a New Year of discovering the gifts within God’s Word.

Advent: Jesus’ Birth

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten Father, full of grace and truth.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has seen God at any time.  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”  John 1:14,17-18

black wooden framed decor

It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment that was like none other.  For through that segment of time, a spectacular thing occurred.  God became a man.  While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived.  Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.

God as a fetus.  Holiness sleeping in a womb.  The creator of life being created.  God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen.  He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.

God had come near.  No silk.  No ivory.  No hype.  To think of Jesus in such a light is — well, it seems almost irreverent, doesn’t it?  It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation.

But don’t do it.  For heaven’s sake, don’t.  Let him be as human as he intended to be.  Let him into the mire and muck of our world.  For only if we let him in, can he pull us out.

— from Max Lucado’s God Came Near