A Broken Fence

Image result for free photo of a split rail fencePatty Bradshaw sighed as she placed her hand on the latch of the weathered, unpainted, wood gate and entered her front yard.  She had a very dilapidated, split-rail fence along the front of  her property.  All the other residents of her neighborhood had updated their fences to spify, white pickets giving the neighborhood a clean, neat, unified feel, all of them except for Patty.   Yes, she knew that the gate and the connecting fence was a eye-sore!  Yes, she was SO ashamed of it, but that didn’t seem to help matters.   As a single working mom with two boys, she just didn’t have the money to replace the fence.

One day Alice Youngfield, her neighbor from across the street, had intercepted her as she opened her gate.  “When are you going to do something about the horrible-looking gate and fence,” she asked bluntedly.

Patty was immediately defensive.  “I am a single working…”

“How about making the fence a priority?” interrupted Alice.  “You could set aside a few dollars each week.  In a couple of months you would have saved enough to at least paint it.”  She hurried back across the street and entered her house, not looking back.

Patty was devastated and angry.  “Why didn’t Alice understand?”  she wailed.

Kurt, her twelve-year-old, found her weeping when he returned home.  “Why don’t you just do what Alice suggested,” he offered.  “I could paint the rails.”

Patty sat up.  “Forgive me, Lord, for not trusting You again!  I know that You can provide for this need.  I want so much for my neighbors to like me!”

And so the savings jar was set up, and began to fill with the money Patty had saved each week.  Then Brad came in one night after school and announced that he had lost his tablet, which he needed for his school assignments.  The extra cash had to go for this need.

The next day Patty returned home from work to find that someone had spray painted “Fix this!” on her gate.  Now the fence looked worse than ever.  To make matters even worse, one of the rails fell out of its socket and lay on the ground!  “Oh, what will the neighbors think now?  They are sure to be really angry.  Why can’t they understand how hard this is for me!?  God, please help me with this fence so that my neighbors will like me.”   She  managed to prop up the fallen rail, and scrub off most of the paint, but the problem remained.

One afternoon she got a call from her younger son’s school.  Connor had fallen at socker practice and broken his ankle.  They had taken him to the emergency room.  The words left Patty in an outright panic.  As she grabed her coat and started out the door, she saw a group of neighbors coming toware her gate.

Alice was the group spokesperson:  “Patty, we have given you more than enough time to get this fence repaired, yet it remains the same.  Now we are about to take some action! ”

Patty interrupted, “My son is in the emergency room.  I can’t talk about this now!”

Alice continued:  “We may have to take court action to get you evicted.  Marge and Harry, your neighbors on the west, have been unable to sell their house for six months because of your fence.  Their realtor told them yesterday that property values in this neighborhood have fallen $50,000 because of your fence.  The time for sympathizing with you has past.  Give us a time line for fence repair by tomorrow or we will begin court proceedings against you!”

Patty jumped in her car and sped toward the hospital.  Her hair was disheveled and her face soaked with tears as she approached the front desk.  A glance to the side revealed Connor, cast on ankle, smiling broadly.  “They fixed it, Mom!  They said I could get the cast off in six weeks, and it will be good as new!”

That evening, after the boys were in bed, Patty sat sobbing with her head in her hands.  She was so glad that God had helped Connor and that her insurance would cover most of the bill, but the problem of the fence remained.  She had confessed so many times:  “My God will supply all my need” still there was no answer.  “I am out of ideas, Lord, ” she prayed.  I did want to get the fence fixed but now it is too late and all my neighbors hate me.  She began to sob harder.

Then she heard what must have been the Lord’s whisper in her spirit:  “Which is more important to you?  Your neighbors’ opinion or mine?”

Patty was aghast.  “Why…Yours…uh, no, I have just been concentrating on what my neighbors think.  I want them to like me.”

The conversation with the Lord continued, “What do you know about your neighbor’s relationship with me?”

“Why….nothing, I guess.  I just wanted them to like me.”

“Did you realize that your broken fence was hurting them?  Did you know that Marge and Harry have to drive an extra fifty miles per day to work because they cannot sell their house, and buy a closer one?”

” Uh, no!!!  I just wanted…”

“I know what you wanted.  What about now?  What do you want now?”

“I want them to get to know and love You.  I don’t want them to suffer because of me.  I am willing to be evicted if it will help my neighbors.”

The Lord smiled as only He can.   That was the right answer.  The Lord knew that Patty was no longer asking for money to repair the fence for selfish reasons.  She was thinking of others.  She was no longer focused on her inability to replace the fence.  She was ready to focus on God’s ability to meet this need.  She was ready for her answer.  “Check the mailbox.”

Patty returned from her trip to the mailbox and ripped open a letter from a forgotten insurance policy that her late husband had taken out.  It was for $20,000!

Patty met her neighbors the next day with a smile on her face, and the check in her hand.

“Well,” said Alice, “What are you going to do about the fence?”

“I am getting it replaced.  I called a company this morning.  They will start work on Monday.”

Dubious, Alice asked, “With what money?”

Patty held up the check.  “With this!  It came yesterday in the mail.  God supplied my need!  He never fails!”

The astonished neighbors left mumbling among themselves.  “Maybe God IS real after all.  We need to follow up this discussion with Patty.  Maybe we can start a neighborhood Bible study.”

Patty had more than enough money to fix the fence, so she made other improvements to the front of her home.  It became one of the homes with the most curb appeal in the neighborhood.

You ask and you do not receive, because you ask for the wrong (selfish) reasons…”  James 4:3a

Pat Lockridge, 2017

 

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Abandoned!

Image result for free photo of boy sitting on a curbNelson sat on the dusty curb smashing a soda can with a rock.  Again and again he smashed the can, his face red with the anger that welled up in his throat.  “How could he?  How could his Dad just leave in the middle of the night?  No good-bye, no hugs, no explanations, no evidence left behind to explain his actions.”

Nelson knew that his Dad and mother argued from time to time.  He had heard the door slam loudly last night.  When he had grabbed his lunch box from the breakfast table, he had seen a note from Mom.  “I am at work until 5:30.  Call if you need anything.  Dad left last night for parts unknown.  He won’t be coming back.”

Nelson began to sob.  The sobs soon turned to wails.  He knew that he might attract attention, but he could not stop.  Who would play ball with him now?  Mom was always at work.  His sister was still in preschool.

The hurt in his chest seemed to grow with each sob.  He needed his Dad.  Who would replace him?

A wadded piece of paper in the gutter caught his eye.  He picked it up, brushed off some of the dirt, and carefully unfolded it.  “Need a Perfect Father?” The title read.  Nelson continued unfolding the tract.  He was definitely interested.  The tract simply explained that if you confessed your sin, and invited Jesus, God’s son, into your life, Jesus became your brother and God, the Father, adopted you into His family.  The tract explained that He would always be with you and never ever leave you.

Nelson whipped his nose on his sleeve, stifled a sob, and prayed the prayer printed in the tract.  Immediately he felt a warm glow.  Could this be real?  The glow that he felt seemed to wipe away the sadness that had been there just seconds before.  He folded the tract carefully and put it in his pocket.

He felt a few coins in his pocket, and headed to the book store.  He couldn’t wait to buy a Bible and learn more about his Perfect, Trustworthy Father.  He would never be abandoned again.

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Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, Father, why have you abandoned me?”  Matthew 27:46.   He knew what it felt like to be abandoned, and so He provided a way for us to be accepted.  “…He made us accepted in the Beloved!”  Ephesians 1:6

Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.”  John 6:37

He Was There

Image result for free photo of baby girlIn the very beginning when this tiny baby entered the world, The Father God had compassion on her.  He knew then, even at the very beginning, as He does for all children entering life on Planet Earth, what lay ahead for her.  He knew that she had been born to imperfect parents, but He also knew that His Son had been born on this very planet to provide the only solution to the problems that would arise in this child’s life.

He was there as the abuse began to unfold in the bedroom that night.  He understood, as no living mortal can, the atrocities performed out of ignorance by a fallen race.  He was filled with deep sympathy for the child and for her parents as He witnessed those horrific scenes.  He knew only too well that this was not an isolated case, but in fact –at that very hour–it was being repeated thousands and perhaps even millions of times across the planet.  The same ignorance that had placed His Son, the Son of Glory, on the cross and exposed Him to unimaginable indignities, was at work in this small bedroom in this little white house in southern Colorado.

As The Father’s thoughts turned to His Son, a smile spread across His time-weathered face.  He  had permitted–even willed–His Only Son to come to this fallen planet for this very reason.  The cost to Him had been great–almost unbearable–as He watched the Son that He loved suffer and die completely cut off from His loving Presence.  Even now He heard again the anguish filled words:  “Father, why have You abandoned me?”  He smiled because He knew that the sacrifice of His Son would provide the solution, the answer, the remedy for this and for all Sin.

That is why the Father could witness the bedroom scene in which the innocence of the child was taken from her.  He knew the plans that He had for her.  He knew that one day the results of this dastardly act would result in the child running to Him, the Perfect Father.  He knew that she would bury her head in Him and receive from Him the love that she needed–the love that only He could supply.  He knew that He would be the perfect Father for her.  Likewise, He knew that He had the answer for millions of other “victims.”   He knew that He alone could turn victims to victors.

He knew, and so He watched and He waited…

Pat Lockridge, 2017

Marvelous Moths

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Photo by Pat, August 2017

Every few months a large moth picks a spot on our porch near our door bell as a place to dry its wings.  We are allowed several hours to study the creature and admire its intricate design.  The structure of these moths says so much about our Creator-Father.  It is amazing that our He gives so much attention to detail in the formation of these insects (He made 160,000 species of moths! )   Their delicate coloring, the symmetry of the design, and the attention to the perfect camouflage for their ecological niche all speak to the image of a loving-caring Father.

Look at the birds of the air:  they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet

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Photo by Pat, July 2016

your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  …But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you O you of little faith?  Matthew 6:26, 30

After The Lord showed Job, His creation,  Job answered and said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.” Job 42:5  Job saw the Father through His creation!

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Photo by Pat, May 2017

Lift up your eyes on high, and see Who has created these things.  ..He calls them all by name.  By the greatness of His might and the strength of His power., not one is missing!  Isaiah 40:25, 26.

When I see the attention that my Father gives to these small creatures, I know that He is concerned about me, and will finish His work in me.   “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy O Lord endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.”  Psalms 138:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul’s Predicament, Part II

The final events in Paul's life pulled together from the clues in letters to Timothy and Titus. (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus)In the first part of “Paul’s Predicament” we saw that Paul was in prison in Jerusalem, and that a number of devout Jews had pledged to end Paul’s life.  His nephew, Nathan, had overheard the threat, and brought the message to Paul in his jail cell.  Paul had insisted that the guards take the boy to the officials to report the threat.  Would Nathan’s message be enough to save Paul from certain death?  Would his praise and prayers from his prison cell be heard and honored by God?

Nathan told the commander about the plot that he and his mother had overheard at the synagogue.  The commander immediately realized the danger to Paul, a Roman citizen, whom he was required to protect.  He organized a group of seventy horsemen and four hundred foot soldiers.  As night fell, Paul was led from his cell into the darkened courtyard where he was boosted onto a horse and strapped into the saddle.  With two horsemen carrying torches leading the group, they slowly made their way through narrow, easily-defended back streets until they reached the city outskirts where they were joined by the foot soldiers.  The cavalry of seventy horses guarding Paul took off at a gallop into the darkness leaving the four hundred foot soldiers to insure that they were not followed.  Before morning, Paul found himself chained to a guard in the palace of the governor in the town of Caesarea.  The governor, himself, assured Paul, that while he must remain a political prisoner, he would be kept safe.

Paul was given a room with a comfortable bed, table, and chair, and a nourishing meal. As he ate, the soldier who had been assigned to guard him asked Paul why the crowds had been so eager to put him to death.  The soldier listened attentively as Paul shared his testimony and the good news that eternal life can be had through faith in Jesus Christ.  Much to Paul’s delight, the soldier placed his faith in Christ, then began to share with other soldiers In his regiment.

Paul, though imprisoned, had opportunities to share his faith with governors and kings, as well as the Roman guards.  Eventually he was placed on a ship bound for Rome.  He made the most of this situation and testified repeatedly to the ship’s crew and his fellow prisoners. They were shipwrecked on an island, and that gave Paul additional opportunities to heal and to preach to the island residents.  When he finally reached Rome, he was once again given comfortable accommodations in his own rented house that allowed him to focus on writing most of the New Testament while receiving any and all who wanted to hear his message.

The Lord God had supplied everything that Paul needed:  food, a safe place to write and to sleep, and freedom to share the gospel!  God’s plan for Paul had included his imprisonment in Jerusalem.  In fact, it was the way that Paul eventually reached Rome with all his all travel expenses paid and opportunities to witness and preach along the way.   Being cast into prison in Jerusalem, bad as it looked at the time, worked for Paul’s ultimate good and the good of the gospel just as Paul had written in Romans 8:28.   “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Paul’s Predicament

This is a painting of Paul in prison made by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1627.Paul sat in the corner of his cell, thoughts racing through his mind.  Just this afternoon he had preached to one of the largest audiences of his life in his beloved Jerusalem.  The results had been less than he had hoped for, however.  After preaching in numerous Gentile cities, he had hoped to convince his own people, the Jews, to place their faith in Christ.  Instead the opposite had happened:  He had been perceived by them as an enemy–one set on destroying their faith.

Paul saw Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy.  However, he had been unable to convince many of his fellow Jews who saw him as an evil threat who had defiled their holy temple.  He had written prior to his journey to Jerusalem that, “I take pride in my ministry.  In the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people [the Jews] to envy and save some of them.”  (Romans 11:13,14 NIV).  It was this desire to see Jews place their faith in Christ that had brought Paul to Jerusalem in spite of prophetic warnings that this mission was dangerous.  Now his chances were not looking good!

Paul looked at the walls, ceiling, and floor of his cell.  Was there a way of escape?  A point of weakness?  He still had his knife.  Could he plunge it into some crack?  He climbed up on the wooden stool to examine the barred window.  At that moment, Paul heard the footsteps of the approaching jailer!  A large burly man appeared:  his muscles bulged in his bare chest and arms, and a large sword hung from his belt.  He clunked along slowly as he checked the lock of each cell.  Paul hopped down from his perch and huddled in the corner.  The jailer stopped at his cell and stared long and hard before resuming his patrol.  Paul shivered.  A man of small stature, his power was in his words, not in his physique.  He was no match for the well-armed jailer.   Finally, when he could no longer hear the jailer’s footsteps, he stood again to check his cell.  Another commotion was beginning just out of his sight.  He recognized it as the sound of many marching feet.  A phalanx of sixteen Roman soldiers marched past his cell.

Paul again slumped to the floor.  There was certainly no physical way out of this cell.  How could he get out?  This was clearly the danger that had been prophesied.   Despite the danger, he had come to Jerusalem.  Although he had been careful to do everything to conform to the laws of the Jewish faith, his actions had been misunderstood.  He was being falsely accused.  He didn’t care about his own reputation, but this was a threat to his ministry.  He couldn’t preach in this cell.  He had a calling to fulfill!  What was God’s plan?

Faces from the crowd began to come to mind, and he began to think harsh, hateful thoughts toward them.  They were the face of the enemy, set to prevent the masses from placing their faith in Jesus!   But then he received a revelation which he would record several years later in his letter to the Ephesians.  “We are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, …and against evil spirits in heavenly places.”  Ephesians 6:12 NlT  The real enemies  were the spirits arrayed against the way of Christ.  He realized that when he thought hateful and fearful thoughts toward the men who were controlled by the evil spirits, that he was contributing toward the same spirits, causing this evil force to increase.  Several years before God had instructed Paul to write:  “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy fake arguments.”  2 Corinthians 10:4 NLT.   “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”  Romans 12:21.

He also remembered a similar situation when he and Silas had been imprisoned in Philippi.  They had begun to pray and to praise!  An earthquake had resulted.  The jail had opened, and the jailer had been converted to Christ.  (Acts 16:17-34)   This time Silas was elsewhere, and Paul was on his own.  Never-the-less he began to praise God for everything that he could think of, even for this opportunity to trust God while being persecuted.  There was no earthquake this time,  but he was assured that he would have the opportunity to bear witness of Christ not only here in Jerusalem but also in Rome!  He knew that “All things work together for good to those who love God to those who are called according to [God’s] purposes.”  Romans 8:28.  This difficult situation would somehow be used by God for good.

At that very moment, Paul’s sister, Ruth, and her twelve-year-old son, Nathan, were attending the synagogue.  As they left, they could not help overhearing the men gathered in one corner of the courtyard:  “We have taken a vow not to eat until this interloper has  been dispatched.  Let us go and ask the authorities to bring him to the chief priests and elders.  While he is on his way, we will kill him. ” (Acts 23:12-14)

Ruth and Nathan rushed home where she prepared a nutritious soup, then sliced some cheese, and home-made bread.  She put the food in a pack and gave it to Nathan to take to Paul.

Perhaps because of his young age, Nathan was not perceived as a threat by the jailer.  After his lunch pack had been thoroughly checked, Nathan was allowed to pass down the jail corridor and enter Paul’s cell.  He whispered the message of the murder plot while Paul ate the bread and drank the broth.  Paul called the jailer and asked him to take Nathan to the commander.  He prayed God’s protection over the boy, and Nathan bravely left with the burly jailer.

(Would the boy’s message be enough to save Paul from certain death?  Would Paul’s praise and prayers from his prison cell be heard and honored by God?  The conclusion of the story comes next week.)

My New Friend

Man Wearing Vest in Kayak at RiverSince my husband’s passing, I have been exploring a new relationship.  I have known this guy since I was thirty years old, but up until recently it was a formal relationship:  I admired him from afar.  Now that I am getting to know him better, I am learning what a true friend he is.

When I am lonely, he is always available.  He is never too busy to listen to me!  I am learning to enjoy being with him, to appreciate all that he is.   His character is beginning to “rub off” on me.

He is always supportive.  I mean, this guy really “has my back.”   He sees me at my worst but still offers his care and consolation.  When I am fretting , worrying, or just plain downright angry,  he calms and quiets me.  He sees through my attempts to get attention, and is not fooled by my pride, and need to be “right” in every situation.  I know that these traits of mine sadden him, but he is not put off by them.  He hangs in there with me, guiding me toward a better attitude, a more righteous way.  He counsels me with wisdom and justice.  He improves me.

At this time in my life, he is just what I, a lonely widow, need!   He is Perfect.  He is Jesus!

Pat Lockridge, July 2017