In The End There Was The Beginning

Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' Acts 11:16

I'm writing this post as I sit on a bench looking out at Lake Michigan. A short while ago, the sky was awash in a watercolor sunrise. Now, the sun is above the horizon and gentle ripples on the water are crowned with glints of silver. A weathered wood pier juts from the narrow, sandy beach. It is vacant except for a flock of gulls perched like statues on its end. About 50 yards off shore, a lone kayaker paddles north. I envy him out there on the water, alone with God, oblivious to life onshore.

If you've never seen Lake Michigan, you might be surprised by how huge it is. North to south it stretches 321 miles. Its maximum depth is 925 feet, and at its widest it reaches 118 miles from shore to shore. From where I sit on the Wisconsin side, Michigan lies across the lake about 75 miles to the east. You can't see it unless you are lucky enough to experience a superior image. (If you're curious about what that is, click here.). I've never seen one, so for me the water appears to have no beginning and no end.

As I sit here, I imagine old wooden sailing ships floating by, their sails unfurled swelling in the wind. The first ones sailed on Lake Michigan in the 1600s when French trappers came to trade with the Indians. Several years ago, I sailed on the lake in a reproduction of one of those ships. We sailed east, and I watched the land disappear behind me. The ship's huge sails billowed overhead, and I was clearly aware that there was no sound except for water lapping against the wooden hull. We may as well have been in the middle of the ocean, because in all directions there was nothing but water. The very first words of the Bible came to my mind: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1-3) Sailing there on Lake Michigan, I imagined how Earth was in the beginning before you, or I, or ships or anything else existed except water and our Almighty God.

The kayaker lifts his paddle now, and for several seconds his craft glides on the peaceful lake. A silver trail glistens from the stern, the sunlight reflecting off the narrow wake. I watch and remember that sailing on Lake Michigan isn't always this smooth. The lake has a dark side. In a heartbeat it can turn angry when a nor'easter blows in churning the water and forming waves ten-feet tall. The water demands respect. Its rage has caused fear in the hearts of many an expert sailor. If you have any doubt, watch this:


"Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm." (Matthew 8:24-26) I wonder how many sailors have remembered those verses and prayed to the Lord as water washed over their decks.

Water is mentioned more than 700 times in the Bible. Often it connects life here on Earth with our Father who lives in Heaven. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read that life on Earth began when God spoke, "Let the water teem with living creatures." (Genesis 1:20) In the New Testament we learn from John the Baptist about the significance of baptism with water as a symbol of our relationship with God. Later in the New Testament, Jesus says, "Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14). If you read the Bible from cover to cover, you will discover many examples where water plays a significant role in man's relationship with God, and you will also discover this -- the story ends where it begins -- with water!

The last chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation 22, tells of "the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God." (vs. 1) Ironically, just as the first verses of the Bible mention water, so do the last. In Revelation 22:17, we read: "Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." Is this just a coincidence? Absolutely not! In this same chapter, Jesus explains it all. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."

I can no longer see the kayak. It has sailed on to a new place. I look out at Lake Michigan, and although I know that land is only 75 miles away, as far as I can see the water has no beginning or end. The sun has risen in the sky now, and like the Spirit of God it hovers above the waters of this mighty Great Lake. I am thankful for life and for the gift of living near this beautiful body of water. Most of all, I am thankful that I have tasted the Living Water that connects my life here on Earth with eternal life in Heaven.

Dear God, Your spirit is a well of living water that fills me and refills me over and over again. Your spirit has no beginning and no end. Thank you, Lord, that I have drunk from this well. Now, help me to share it with others.

Book Review: The Jesus Book

I'll begin this review by saying that The Jesus Book, published by Thomas Nelson, is a must have for your child's library. In a simple and easy to understand way, it introduces children to the life, teaching and wondrous works of Jesus Christ. Best of all, it shows Christ's love for his children and encourages them to have a lifelong relationship with him.

The sturdy, 96-page book with a padded hardcover is divided into seven sections. The first five explore who Jesus is, what he did, what he taught, when major biblical milestones about him occurred and where they happened. The final two sections answer questions children might ask about Jesus and explain how to have a lifelong relationship with him. Section pages are color coded for easy reference.

Best-selling author Stephen Elkins has divided each section into one-or-two-page subsections making the book easy to read and discuss a little bit at a time. Each subsection begins with a scripture reference so parents and children can easily find the story in the Bible. Biblical truths about Jesus are written in language that kids can relate to and in an amazingly concise yet thorough way. When necessary, Elkins uses simple analogies to explain. For example, when introducing the concept of salvation he writes, "Let's pretend that you have become very sick. The doctor says only one medicine can save you. Would you take it? Of course you would! Jesus is like a good medicine." Claudine Gévry's richly colored illustrations are the perfect complement to Elkin's text and will grab the attention of younger readers.


The Jesus Book incorporates several special features the best of which is a colorful timeline that looks somewhat like a trail you might find on a child's board game. The timeline leads from the creation all the way to eternity. Key events about Jesus are scattered along the way and supported by scripture verses. Several simple maps follow the timeline and prompts are included to encourage children to find places mentioned in the text. Rounding out the special features are a complete table of contents as well as an index to scripture verses, topics and names of people and places. The book even comes with a bonus CD filled with more than an hour's worth of songs about Jesus. This book is great value for the suggested retail price of $16.99, and I highly recommended it as a teaching tool for Christian parents and educators.

Please take a few minutes to visit the Thomas Nelson web site where you can view the first 19 pages of The Jesus Book. Then keep watching my blog for reviews of more great books published by Thomas Nelson.

The Jesus Book
Hardcover, 96 pages
Ages: 4-8
Written by Stephen Elkins
Illustrated by Claudine Gévry
ISBN: 1400314631

For the Love of James

By insulting the poor, you insult your Creator. You will be punished if you make fun of someone in trouble. Proverbs 17:5 (CEV)

If you follow my blog, you know that I'm a nature lover. My idea of Heaven is to be in the woods on the shore of a quiet lake. Of course, animals have to be added to that scene and, I suppose, an assortment of bugs, although I'm not a fan of the stinging kind. I credit my mother for my fascination with nature. She loved animals and anything out-of-doors. The only creatures I ever knew Mom to dislike were spiders. A big spider could send her running out of the room, but a family of skunks in our tool shed brought her joy. Go figure.

Most of the time, Mom approved of my assortment of childhood "pets." As an only child with few neighborhood friends to play with, I filled my time by chasing butterflies and seeking birds' nests. I was a tomboy, sort of. I had a cat named Rudy, a hamster named Hamlet, several nameless chameleons, a horned-toad named Fred and a fly named James. A fly! Yes, a fly. Oh, how I hate to admit some of these things.

I had an odd pastime on hot summer days. We lived in an old, Victorian-style house, the kind with cellar doors. My grandmother, who lived with us, kept the trashcans next to those doors, and in the summer heat the cans were a magnet for flies. It wasn't enough for them to buzz around the cans and land on the lids. They waited their turns to fly through the savory aroma of the remnants of Dad's Limburger cheese sandwiches while resting on the cellar doors. Sometimes, a hundred or more of them settled there, and I found that very interesting.


A nature-loving kid like me was never without a giant mayonnaise jar. A hammer and a nail from Dad's tool bench were the only things I needed to poke some holes in the lid. Voila! I had an instant bug trap. I took it with me to the cellar doors, and I played a game to see how many flies I could trap in the jar. I was very good at it. I realized early on that I had to walk slowly toward the doors and approach them from a direction so my shadow didn't fall across the flies. Flies are very smart when it comes to shadows. I also learned that instead of thumping the jar down over a group of unsuspecting ones, it was better to catch one fly at a time. There was a method to it. When the jar was uncapped and turned over, the trapped flies flew upward toward its bottom. That allowed me to catch another fly before slamming on the lid. Ah-ha! I got ya! On a good day, I could catch 20 or 30 that way without even one of them escaping.

"What are you doing?" Mom's voice was more inquisitive than reprimanding.

"Catching flies," I answered. I proudly showed her my personal best which, when flying frantically around trying to get out of the jar, somewhat resembled a tornado.

"Flies are dirty," Mom protested. She had a disgusted look on her face. "They live in filthy places, and they eat people's garbage. Let them go," she insisted. "Then come inside and wash your hands, and get rid of the jar, too."

The look on her face was enough to convince me that she meant business. Reluctantly, I opened the jar and let the flies out -- all but one. In the scuttle, it had lost a wing. I knew that, ultimately, this was my fault, and I was ashamed of myself. I put the lid back on the jar and left the fly inside. Somehow, I managed to sneak it into my bedroom without Mom seeing. I hid the jar behind some books near an electric air purifier on the nightstand. Then I turned the purifier on. This wasn't because James smelled bad (as things living near garbage often do), but rather that the sound of the purifier was similar to his buzzing. Mom would never know.

If you looked beyond his filthy habits, James was a handsome fly. He had an iridescent green body that shimmered in sunlight and long, black, sinewy legs. Even without one wing, he was strong. He paraded around the jar eager to find a way out, never relenting in his pursuit of freedom. I didn't think of James as a dirty, old bug that existed on garbage. Instead, he was someone (okay, something!) that needed my help. I brought him encouragement and bits of food (Limburger cheese and any other stinky stuff that I could find). This went on for several days. Then, to my dismay, one morning I looked into the jar and James was dead. There was no advance notice that he was about to pass. He just out and out died. I buried James in the backyard with mixed feelings: regret for having caused him to lose his wing and reconciliation for having (at least in my little mind) helped him. Rest in peace, James. (Mom never knew.)

The story of James presents an object lesson, odd as it might be. Last week, I saw a photograph of a man I went to high school with. It showed him wearing filthy clothing and sitting next to a shopping cart filled with his possessions. His name, ironically, was James. I couldn't help making a comparison between him and James the Fly. Both were dirty, insignificant and ate other people's garbage. Both were in dire need of kindness and compassion in spite of the filth in which they lived.

Jesus said: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" Matthew 15:19-21.

How often we pass by the filthy among us and say, Eeew, look at that bum! Look at the bag lady! Stay away from them, they're dirty! -- On the surface, their clothing and bodies might be dirty, but underneath, like James, they're missing a wing and in need of some loving care.

The next time you see one of these, remember James the Fly. Will you stand there with a look of disgust, or will you help someone in need?

Dear God. So many are homeless during these hard economic times. Help us, please, to look beyond the outward appearance of some and, whenever we can, to help meet their needs.


Social Networking, Is It Worth My Time?

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4


I've asked myself, more than a few times, if social networking is worth my time. I've been blogging since February, tweeting since March, and a few weeks ago I joined Facebook. I like meeting new friends online and sharing my thoughts, but too often I find myself glued to the computer when I should be doing other things. Sound familiar?


Late last night, I was about to log out of Twitter when this message popped onto my screen:

On way home worried abt hubby haven't heard from him all day.. Rushing home..

The message was from a woman named Rissa. I follow quite a few people on Twitter, and to be honest this was the first tweet from Rissa that I'd read entirely. There were others, but I'd scanned through them too fast to care. As I re-read Rissa's simple 140-character message, I prayed: "Dear God, please let her husband be all right." I waited for her to tweet again. Meanwhile, I went to her web page. I was curious to find out more about this person who was nothing more to me than a name on my computer screen.

Her profile said:

I am a deaf/hard of hearing/A.D.H.D Wife to an amazing man whom I've been married to for a short while but been with for the last 4 years.. I am a daughter, sister & Step Mom to two wonderful sons & have two incredible grandsons whom I adore very much.. I am also a daughter to a wonderful King who teaches me that his grace is all I need.. each & every day..

There was a photo of Rissa and the husband for whom, at that very moment, I was praying. I was struck by the reality of the situation. I imagined myself in the car with Rissa, entering the house, discovering that everything was all right and breathing a big sigh of relief…. At least, that's what I hoped was happening. Just then, another tweet came onto the screen. This one was from Gail Hyatt whom I also follow on Twitter. She had an update from Rissa:

Please pray for @handsdance ("handsdance" is Rissa's Twitter name). She came home & found her husband unconscious. She's very scared. 911 is there. No pulse.

Within seconds, literally, dozens of new tweets popped up from people who, like me, were watching, waiting and praying. A few minutes later, Gail posted this:

Thank you everyone praying for my precious Twitter friend @handsdance's husband. It's not looking good. She's so scared.

This message set off a string of RTs (i.e. retweets; passing Gail's message along for other twitterers to see). Soon, there were many more people praying. More anxious minutes passed, and then Gail posted again:

@handsdance You are being supported in prayer right now by scores of Twitter prayer warriors. Praying for God's comforting presence.

There was no reply. I was reluctant to log out and go to bed without knowing how James was. (He was James to me now, not just someone's "hubby," but a man with a face and a name.) I waited, as I'm sure others did, hoping that the outcome would be good. Then, at around midnight, we finally heard from Rissa:


Thanks to everyone who's praying for me.. My hubby is with Jesus.. Family here & my parents are on way..

My heart sank. From hundreds of miles away, I had witnessed someone die and the pain of a loved one left behind. I had also seen an enormous outpouring of love and concern as the events of the night unfolded.

The Bible says: "Pray for one another." It's a simple and straightforward verse in the book of James, a command. It's imperative! Pray for one another. Last night, we prayed. God had placed all of us just where he wanted us -- at our computers -- when Rissa let go of her husband's hand and gave it to Jesus.

Is social networking worth my time? It was last night. No matter where we are and what we're doing, God knows just where to find us. When he commands us to pray, we pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, We lift up Rissa asking that you provide comfort in her sorrow. As she goes about the difficult tasks that must come this week, stay near to her. Allow her to feel her husband's love as he stands there with you, looking down at her from heaven.

Traveling with a GPS

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27.



Last weekend, my friend and I took a short road trip. She wanted to try out her new GPS navigating system. Neither of us had prior experience with a GPS device, so that in itself was an adventure. I programmed it for our desired destination, and we were on our way.

I was happy to be the passenger. I'd brought along a map, just in case, but I didn't plan to use it unless we got hopelessly lost. Moreover, we both had a pretty good idea of where we were going. I was fascinated by the little, electronic gadget, and I settled into the passenger seat eager to find out if this GPS thing was all it was cracked up to be.

We had barely left my driveway when a pleasant female voice instructed us to turn right at the next corner. We did. Several blocks later, she told us to turn left. We did that, too. After a while she said that we should continue another 220 feet and then merge left onto the Interstate. Obediently, we followed her instructions.

As we drove for miles on the long, straight highway, the lady was silent. It was eerie, almost like there was a passenger who was eavesdropping on our conversation, but not saying anything. "I wish she'd talk," I told my friend. "They should program this thing to have conversations with you. At the very least, they could have quizzes and maybe a karaoke sing-along." My friend shot me a look. I took the GPS from its place on the dashboard and held it in my hands. A little graphic of the road showed me exactly where we were. On the bottom right corner of the screen, I noticed a small box that told how fast my friend was driving. "Do you know that you're going 70 in a 65 mile per hour zone?" I asked. There was that look again. "That's what it says here," I added, apologetically. "Maybe, there's a way to program it so the lady tells you when you're speeding." "Don't even try," my friend countered. The tone of her voice was threatening enough for the lady and me to keep still. I sat there silently staring at the little screen, all the while wanting to blurt out, "Now, you're going 75!" But I didn't.

"Approaching exit 794, one half mile," the lady said. Her cheerful voice startled me. "Merge into the right lane; then take exit 794 East." Like a lemming, my friend eased her car into the right-hand lane and took the exit. After a few more flawless instructions from our invisible companion, we were at our destination. My friend pulled into a parking spot, put the car in park and turned off the key. "Well, that was fun," she said. "It was," I agreed. Then I asked, only half-kidding: "Do you think we should ask her to join us for lunch?" We stuck Samantha (the GPS company actually gave the voice a name) in the glove compartment and headed into the restaurant for a nice, relaxing meal.

Later, as we walked back to the car, I said. "I wonder what she'd do if we disobeyed her." "Who?" my friend asked. "Samantha," I answered. "If we don't follow her directions, I wonder what she'll do." My friend's response was something like:

I couldn't wait to take Samantha out of the glove compartment and program her to take me home. Once we got on the road, I begged my friend to go along with my plan. Reluctantly, and only after I promised her ice cream, she agreed to disobey.

We hadn't traveled very far when Samantha told us to turn right. We didn't. It took her about 50 feet to realize that we had ignored her instructions. "As soon as possible, turn around," she said. We didn't. Another 50 feet, and she commanded: "Turn back!" We kept going. Samantha reminded us several more times, and then she fell silent. "What's going on now?" my friend wondered. "I don't know," I said. "The screen says one minute please, recalculating." It was only seconds before we heard Samantha's pleasant voice instructing us, "Continue straight one half mile; then turn right." She had remapped our journey from where we were (for all she knew, we were lost), and she was leading us home. "Wow," I said. "This is one amazing little gadget."

Our road trip with Samantha reminds me of Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Just like Samantha had designed our route home, God has designed the routes that we should take in this life. If we follow Him, the path will always lead us home. Think about it. If we trust a GPS navigating system to direct our paths, then surely we can trust God to lead us. We can be certain that He will find us when we are lost and show us the way home. Listen for his voice. He's there in your heart, an invisible traveling companion, and eager to show you the way.

Dear God:
You are the Shepherd, and I am one of your sheep. I trust you to lead me because your wisdom is far greater than mine. You know the path that is right for me. So help me not to run on ahead of you and lose my way. And if I do, Lord, I know that you will find me and bring me home.


Book Review: The Read and Share Toddler Bible

The Read and Share Toddler Bible is the latest addition to the Read and Share ™ series of children's books written by Gwen Ellis and published by Thomas Nelson. Nestled between the covers of this almost 200-page book are 40 Bible stories created especially for very young children. A 60-minute bonus DVD is included and features amplified animated versions of 14 stories from the book.

My first impression was that this book is a great value for the $14.99 suggested retail price. Each story is very short to match a toddler's attention span. The vocabulary is simple, yet engaging: It rained and rained and rained some more, but everyone in the boat was dry. The kitties purred. The bunnies hopped. The puppies chased their tails. Steve Smallman's cartoon-like illustrations are colorful, fun and packed with plenty of details.



There are several added features directed toward parents. A table of contents includes easy reference to scripture verses, and scripture references are also shown at the beginning of each story. The page numbers have colorful tabs making it easy to find a place in the book. Best of all, each story ends with a simple creative activity that parents and kids can do together.

As I read the book, I discovered several flaws. Notably, the title is misleading. The Read and Share Toddler Bible is not a Bible, but instead a collection of Bible stories taken from the Old and New Testaments. This may be disappointing to some consumers who purchase the book sight unseen. There is no mention of the Ten Commandments or Psalms, for example, nor the Sermon on the Mount or the Last Supper. As a collection of Bible stories, the book is well done, but as a true first Bible, it falls short of the mark. The DVD is a nice bonus, although the narration moves slowly at times, and it might not interest young toddlers.

Overall, The Read and Share Toddler Bible is worthy of a place in your child's library. Toddlers will enjoy sitting on your lap, looking at the pictures while you read aloud. Older children will be able to read some of the words themselves. The stories are true to scripture and written in a way that encourages children to think and ask questions about them.

You can view a flip book preview of the book on the Thomas Nelson web site.


The Read and Share Toddler Bible
Hardcover, 192 pages
Ages: 4-8
Written by Gwen Ellis
Illustrated by Steve Smallman
ISBN: 140031464X


As a book review blogger for Thomas Nelson, I will be posting more reviews of their latest titles. Check back often to see what's new.



NEW FROM THOMAS NELSON

CLICK ON THE BOOK TO PREVIEW. VIEW THE BOOK TRAILER BELOW.
FROM BARBOUR BOOKS
I'm proud to be a contributing author to the following series of humorous devotionals.
And check out my "Kid's Bible Dictionary" and pre-teen mysteries, also from Barbour.

See all the books in the Camp Club Girls series.

See all the books in the Camp Club Girls series.
Click on the picture.
I am the author of these books, but I have not been compensated for mentioning them on this blog or linking them to the seller's website. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

By Max Lucado, Published by Thomas Nelson
Max Lucado has a unique way with words, and his children's book Hermie A Common Caterpillar is no exception. With simple text and bright, watercolor illustrations, the story of Hermie unfolds.

Hermie wonders why he looks and feels so common. Whenever he asks God why, God simply answers, "I'm not finished with you yet." Then, one day, Hermie feels very tired. He gets into his cozy, leafy bed, and he sleeps. And while Hermie sleeps a transformation takes place. When he wakes up, Hermie discovers that God has done something grand. You can guess what it is. Every caterpillar that lives to adulthood knows the end of the story.

Parents, please share this book and its powerful message with your children. We are all special because God loves us, and He has a unique purpose for our lives. Whenever we slump into feeling ordinary, we know that we have hope because . . .God isn't finished with us yet!


*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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