If someone were to ask me to describe myself in one sentence, I would be at a loss to say a single word. I am just not built that way. My life has been too complex and unbelievable even to myself. I am the "miracle child" my grandfather toasted on my wedding day. I am the example that God has decided to use to show His love and power. I am the creation spoken about in Psalm 139:13 – 16 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (NIV)
The request was made, during a staff meeting, if anyone would be interested in writing a common devotion that could be shared on Monday morning devotion time or with the students in their first block classes and, as usual, I jumped at the chance. Of course, I was game! I love to write. I can do this! Immediately following I thought, “What am I doing!! Typical me, biting off more than I can chew.” But, also typical for me, I refused, in my own mind, to back down. If i say yes to something, I’m too proud a person to think that I can’t do it. So I picked one of the dates that were presented for writing and decided a date in November seemed a good thing, partly because I liked the Bible text slotted for that date and partly because I automatically thought of two ladies that fit the description of the title for that text. Shining As Starsis a fitting title for these two ladies and something I would like to eventually be, as well. So, to come to the point, I’ve decided to post the devotion here. I’ve already sent it ahead to the staff member in charge and gave her the go ahead to edit it for use at work but I’m posting what I sent in its entirety because I can. I wrote it and I want to share the two stars in my life whom I’ve never met but have meant so much to me both in my growing years and in my years as a young woman. I’ve also included a Youtube link interview with one of the ladies and links to their own personal websites so you can find out more about them.
Common Devotions for Tuesday November 12, 2012
Shining As Stars
12 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Once upon a time there were two women. Their lives were lived out in different parts of the world at different times of history but they had one thing in common. They both grew up in families that held fast to the assurance of Christ’s gift of salvation. The lives they led, the experiences they encountered and their response to these events led them to be considered by many as shining stars in the sky. Their faith did not develop in the vacuum of mindlessly following their parents’ beliefs. Their belief became part and parcel of hard choices they themselves made.
The first lady lived in the Netherlands, in the town of Haarlem. Her name was Corrie Ten Boom. She was a single middle aged woman who lived with her father and sister. As Christians, the Ten Boom family felt it their duty to help hide Jews and Dutch Underground workers from the Nazis during WWII. In February 1944, the Ten Boom family was betrayed by neighbours for their activities and arrested by the Nazis. They were all sent to prison camps. There, Corrie’s father, sister Betsie, brother Willem and nephew Christiaan died but Corrie miraculously survived and returned home. Thankfully, the Jews and underground workers that they were hiding at the time were never found by the Nazis and managed to escape a few days after the search for their hiding place.
The second lady was born in America. She was healthy and active, loved riding horses and spending time with family and friends. In 1967, as a teenager, she went swimming with her sister in the Chesapeake Bay and dove into the shallow end. She broke her neck and became instantly paralyzed. As a quadriplegic she spent the next two years in rehab, learning to live life without the use of her limbs. Her name is Joni Eareckson Tada.
Both ladies struggled with their circumstances. In Ravensbruck, Corrie struggled with a great deal of anger. She was angry at the Nazis, angry at God and angry at the pain and suffering and death that she encountered every day, all day long. She went through the pain of watching her sister die before her and learning about the death of her father, brother and nephew after her release. In the U.S.Joni struggled in the hospital while strapped to a Striker bed. She contemplated suicide, begging friends to help her end her life. She struggled with depression and anger at God and friends who tried to console her with pious platitudes.
Their circumstances never changed but their anger did and they would be the first people to admit that it was not their efforts but God who was able to release them from the despair they were in and give them a new purpose in the midst of crookedness surrounding them. Pain has not stopped for Joni. She struggled with bed and wheelchair sores, breathing difficulties and, lately, with Breast cancer. For Corrie the result of losing her family never changed. Until her death at 91 in 1983, she worked much of the time alone. But both women made a choice to use what suffering had taught them. At the age of 53, Corrie became an evangelist and wrote several books, including her story The Hiding Place. In her twenties, Joni also wrote her story, several other books, learned how to draw and paint with her mouth and began a ministry called Joni and Friends that helps people with disabilities all over the world and for both women the words of our text today resonates on a personal note.
In Joni’s devotional Pearls of Great Price she talks about our responsibility to actively pursue the person God designed us to be. Because God has bought us through Christ’s death, He is asking us to daily step out in His strength toward our sanctification and let Him do the work of transforming our character into the perfect person we will one day be in heaven.1 In another part of the same devotional Joni speaks about how Paul’s emphasis in his letter to the Philippians is that of evangelism. As such he sees us as the ones who can point a depraved world to Christ. If we don’t become blameless and pure before other people, how else will the world sit up and take notice of God?2
Corrie talks about us as being gloves and the Holy Spirit as the hand, the one who does the job. As the glove we are to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled and the work of the hand can be done. Our task is a simple yes to what God asks so that our real life can begin. In her words, “It does not matter which human teacher is used in our conversion. It is Your [the Holy Spirit’s] working through him that is important.”3
1. Tada, Joni Eareckson, Pearls of Great Price (Zondervan, 2006), February 8.
2. Ibid, May 9.
3. Ten Boom, Corrie, Each New Day (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), p. 87.
I have not blogged for a few weeks and probably won’t be doing much blogging in the next while. I have made the decision to take some time out to focus on my own personal well-being. Due to some issues that have been put on the back burner for more years than I can count, I have decided to seek some counseling. At a later date I would like to blog about the journey involved but, for now, the difficulty of the steps needed to be taken and the personal nature, keep me from saying a whole lot other than this. I am at the beginning of the process of deciding the road I need to take to become a whole woman in Christ. One who can accept all that Christ has to offer with joy, peace, patience, kindness and a complete sense of well-being and rest in my Heavenly Father. I know this sounds ridiculously cryptic and I apologize for that. As I feel comfortable, I will say more. For now, yours in Christ, Winnie Meerse
I just finished watching the movie Shine. It’s about the life of David Helfgott, a well-known pianist who was a musical child protegé in Australia. He was brilliant as a musician but what struck me was the relationship he had with his father. There is probably a lot of creative license injected into this movie but the story depicts a boy who is pushed by Dad to prove his abilities in front of others, with strings attached. As David becomes more popular with his music, the father realizes that he is slowly loosing control of the decision-making process in his son’s musical career. At one point David is invited to study in the United States which includes living with a Jewish family close to the school he would be studying at. The family sends him a letter to tell him how excited they are that he is coming to stay with them. In that moment of hearing his son read the letter out loud to his family, the father decides not to allow David to go. He takes the letter from the American family and shoves it in the stove to burn. He declares that David has only one family, the one there in Melbourne and that is the end of David’s dreams of moving to the States to study. Of course, since watching the movie, I have learned a few more details about his life and listened to an interview with one of his sisters and understand some more of the reasons for his father’s decision but the movie does not explain that. What it does show is his father’s insecurity and David’s need to please him in his life and musical career.
After watching that scene and David’s reaction to the news, I thought of how many times we do that to our own children. We want dreams for them but they are not always the same dreams our children want for themselves. We recognize abilities and push for them but only in our own time and our own way. In fact, we often do the same thing to ourselves as well. We, as adults, have talents and dreams but circumstances, fear and a myriad of other excuses often stunt our ability to go ahead and use those talents as God has given them to us. Then, years later, we look back and regret things we never did but should have done when the opportunity rose but we let it go and took the “safer” road.
Thankfully, that’s not how our Father in heaven is with us. He sees things differently and acts differently. He also knows our potential and wants us to reach it but He also warns us that if we ever stunt the growth of the children around us, or ourselves, there are consequences. For, to Christ, our children are not really ours but His.
As I watched one of the performances in the movie I was struck by the difference between the father’s reaction to David’s success and the reaction of the audience. Immediately the verses 13-15 from Matthew 19 came to mind. Jesus was very busy healing and preaching and the disciples worked alongside, at times probably acting as crowd control. Some people placed little children on His lap so that He could put His hands on them and bless them and pray for them. The disciples started to tell off the people who had brought the children but Jesus turned around and rebuked the disciples for their attitude and reaction. He told them not to keep the children from Him and not to hinder or slow them down because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to the children. In fact, when you read the same story in Mark 10: 13-16, He says even more to the disciples. He says that anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like those children, will never enter it. Then He blesses the children and moves on from there to continue working.
In Matthew 18: 1 – 6 Jesus has a whole conversation with His disciples about the least and greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The conversation of children comes back to the forefront. Here Jesus states that, unless a believer becomes like a little child and humbles himself like a child he/she will not become the greatest in God’s kingdom and those who welcome children in His name automatically welcomes Christ. However, those who lead a child astray are better off being thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck. As both a parent, grandparent and a Special Education Assistant in a highschool, these words are driven home to me on a daily basis. It did not take a movie to make me think of these things. I have thought of them often over the years and they leave an extra lump in my throat and twist in my stomach on those occasions when I failed to be like a child in my faith or when I fail to lead as Christ would have me lead. There are times when I said things without thinking or demanded things that were impossible for a child to give. Sometimes I forgot to love when rules were expected to be obeyed or time was short along with my temper. Sometimes I simply forgot to lead at all. Of course, God knows that, as believers, parents, teachers and leaders, we aren’t perfect people and we will make mistakes and He is gracious about those mistakes if we are repentant for them but Christ puts the owness on us to at least try in all honesty.
As for the movie, there is a final sad and poignant scene between David and his father. In it the father looks like a broken man. David has had a mental break down and spent many years in institutions and the relationship between father and son is never the same. The words of the father have come back to haunt him and the father’s dream is broken. In reading a scathing article by Denis Dutton on the movie Shine and David Helfgott himself, there are obvious licenses taken with the true relationship between father and son but the fact is, the desire to please his father still existed for David. As for David’s real life, he eventually does leaves the institution he was sent to when he had a mental breakdown. He marries for a second time and resumes his musical career with the help of his wife Gillian and close friends. As David himself says, he regains his “inner music” and becomes a successful pianist. His own dreams are realized but not without heartache and obvious brokenness which prompted the making of this film with David’s blessing.
Truth of movies and the lives of people can be hard for us to see. The life we live in is too marred by sin to always see the right as opposed to the wrong but God’s truth is clear and there is no doubt that what we do in secret or in our families is never hidden by the Father.
As I am writing my blogs I also take time to read what other bloggers have written and find that there is such a wealth of talent, wisdom and intuitive thinking that I feel very blessed and privileged to be a part of. Entering the personal lives and thoughts of others evokes a feeling of awe. I am deeply touched by the gift of thought and word that I am given by those around me. Many of these bloggers I may never meet in person because they come from different countries and different provinces and states in Canada and the United States but that has not stopped me from feeling a kinship among many of them, particularly those who are also professed Christians. For that reason, I’ve decided to start reblogging posts by other bloggers that I have been blessed by and that have caused me to get my own thought juices going with “Aha!” moments. I hope you will be inspired and encouraged by these bloggers as much as I have been.
As we drove down the road that we do not often drive, I spotted a new home still being constructed. Situated on top of hill, it had a perfect view of the reflected setting sun upon Washington's Mount Baker. "Oh, what a perfect view I said to my husband," and barely before I finished my declaration, from the back of the van, my son said, "that house has a perfect view."
Excuses. The reasons why I cannot obtain and never achieve
Never be successful and never believe
Excuses. The stronghold of my self-pity and justification for why
I have given up on purpose and refuse to try
Excuses. They keep me safe from trying and protect me crying
But inside I’m steady dying because there’s something in me that’s greater
Excuses. I know how to fail but I’m scared to succeed…
As I was driving to church this morning, I passed a bike race in progress. Instantly I wished I could ride as confidently as the people in that race. They all looked so athletic and whizzed by without effort, muscles hard at work, head down, shoulders forward and concentrating on the speed their legs could pump. I also felt a pang of embarrassment because I too have a bike but it sits most of the time in my garage. The crazy thing is, it’s not an old bike, it’s actually one I purchased this year, complete with helmet, mud flaps, front and rear lights for evening riding and a lock, in case I want to take it to the store for a quick purchase. God forbid that I should get such a nice new bike stolen the first time out! The reason behind buying a bike for the first time in years was primarily exercise but I also thought it would be a great way to enjoy the surrounding countryside. What better way to breathe in God’s beauty in nature and enjoy the peace of hearing minimal traffic and maximum bird calls from nearby trees. Oh and yes, don’t forget the majestic Mountain view that surrounds this valley that I live in.
So, why is it sitting in my garage, unused? Well, lets just say that after I hopped on it for the first time, I realized why I had not ridden a bike for so many years: pure, unadulterated fear, fear of falling, fear of looking stupid, fear of getting a concussion and fear of suddenly swerving into a car or heading straight for the ditch. You see, I’m not the most nimble person. Already as a young child, I was considered quite the klutz. If I wasn’t tripping over raised curves, falling off chairs and up or down stairs, I was sticking my leg with paper scissors, by accident of course, or cutting my fingers while trying to help peel potatoes. I could see my Dad visibly wince every time he saw any sharp object in my hand. Also, I never grew out of the problem of learning to walk in a straight line. I just had no proper eye/hand coordination or balance and being left-handed in a right-hand world exasperated the difficulties. Can you imagine how much worse I am when I get on a bike? It took me until I was nine years old before I could finally ride a bike without falling to one side or the other. Skinned knees and bumps on the head were common. For all these reasons I have a major fear of having to balance on anything. So the bike sits for inordinate lengths of time until I get the nerve up to try once again to go for a bike ride. I wipe the sweat off my brow and will myself to breathe deeply and slowly in rhythmic motion as I hop onto the seat with shaking legs and clenched hands on the handlebars.
I thought about all that as I drove and my mind automatically linked my palatable fear of biking to the Bible lesson I had read just yesterday on the book of Jonah. Following Priscilla Shirer‘s study guide, Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted, I read about Noah (Gen. 8: 18-22), Gideon (Judges 8:22), Jonah (Jonah 1: 1 – 3) and Cornelius (Acts 10: 30 – 48). All four men had been called by God to do something specific. Two of them, Noah and Cornelius, listened and obeyed without question, but two did something different. Jonah took off the opposite direction from where he was ordered to go. You don’t even read about him arguing with God or having any conversation about his job. He just bolts. That means, initially we aren’t even sure if he bolted out of fear so much as out of protest, a flat refusal to do what God wanted. Somehow though, I do think there was a lot of fear involved, even if you don’t read about it until later.
Gideon, on the other hand, is a whole different story. His fear is obvious and comes out from the very beginning. Boy, do I relate! When God sends an angel to give Gideon his working papers, the angel finds him hiding in a winepress threshing wheat because of the trouble the Israelites were having with the Midianites. The angel greets Gideon as a mighty warrior and tells him that God is with him. Instantly Gideon balks and points his finger at God. Regardless of Gideon’s reaction, the angel keeps going and gives Gideon his assignment. Now come the “but” comments. The first, “but sir” is followed by “why” questions and accusations, why has this all happened, where are the wonders of God and it’s all God’s fault because He abandoned them. The second “but, Lord” is followed by Gideon’s protest that he can’t do it. He’s not equipped and he’s too weak. Neither protest works with God and that leads to one last try by Gideon. He wants God to give him a sign. Again, God does not bat an eye at all the hullabaloo. He just tells Gideon that he’ll wait until Gideon comes back with the offering that is part of the sign Gideon wants from God.
My first reaction to reading this is, “Are you kidding me? How can you be so stupid, Gideon? You’re talking to God.” Then I realize I had better zip it since I do exactly the same thing to God as Gideon did. In my fear, I balk, I point, I question and I dare to ask for signs. Even when I do obey, it is often with shaking knees, clenched hands and teeth and desperate prayers, complete with false promises, requests for signs and general begging and pleading. Amazingly, in all this, God keeps His patience with me as He did with Gideon because He knows what we are capable of, even in our weakness.
For that reason, He keeps calling us and I believe He knows ahead who will answer without question or fear and who needs that time to think and reason and plead first. You see, that’s the strange thing about us as human beings. We don’t all react the same way and sometimes we don’t even know ourselves how we are going to react when we are called to do something. There are followers of God like Cornelius and Noah that obey without question and no fear, at least we don’t read about any. Then there are followers like Jonah who say nothing at all. They just go the opposite direction in protest and flatly refuse to do the job. There are Gideons like the judge and people like myself, who have such a healthy respect for fear that we question everything before we move where God wants us. Last, but not least, there are people like the apostle Peter, that jump in the water with both feet without thinking at all and then become fearful when they look at the waves and suddenly realize where they are and what they are doing.
In all this we have a patient God who understands us and our fears. He loves us and forgives us when we screw up. He listens, gives us time to talk, think and repent and return to a relationship with Him. He pulls us out of the water, admonishes us when we need it most and gives us the tools to answer His “Divine intervention” and He does it all without compromising who He is and who we are in relation to Him. Then He waits for us to do our jobs.
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