Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Skate Key


Have you ever worn metal roller skates that you strapped onto your shoes? As a kid in the early 1960’s, I spent many happy hours winging my way along the walk at the side of our house. I didn’t visit an official rollerskating rink till I was in 10th or 11th grade.

Our metal skates were nothing fancy, just a bare-bones framework. A metal clamp gripped the toes of our shoes, two metal plates formed the platform for the soles, and a metal “heel”, with a leather strap laced through it, buckled the back to your ankle.

Whole families of kids with different shoe sizes could take turns using the same pair of skates—they were completely adjustable! The toe clamps expanded and contracted, the sole platform shortened or lengthened, and the heel strap could be loosened or tightened.

However, accomplishing all these wonderful adjustments required a “skate key”. A hexagonal loop at the top of the metal key was used to turn the nut that adjusted the length of the skate. The other end fit on the pin that tightened the toe grips.

After rolling over cement sidewalks, with the rhythmic ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk of the wheels hitting the cracks, the fittings would loosen with the repetitive jarring. If not taken care of, the parts of the skates would slip and slid or even fall off. I had my fair share of twisted ankles, skinned knees and scraped palms. Having my skate key handy for periodic adjustments assured a long and safe time skating.

As we go through life, there are times when we are like a skate that needs adjusting. Difficult circumstances, challenging situations, and our own poor choices tend to rattle us to the point that we wonder if we can keep going. Every day jars and shakes us till we feel like we are teetering precariously on ill-fitting skates.

The good news is there is a Key that can help us. Jesus has promised to be with us through every moment. (Matthew 28:20) He is the key to wisdom, strength, endurance, direction and forgiveness—and He makes it all available to us when we chose to walk (or skate) with Him through life’s ups and downs.

Adjusting a loose skate requires one to stop and apply the key. Likewise, recognizing and implementing needed changes in our lives can only happen when we cease struggling and take the time to connect with Jesus, allowing Him to guide, chasten, encourage, and comfort us.

I have found that in just ten to fifteen minutes of quiet time before I launch into my day, Jesus can alter my perspective, tighten my resolve, and adjust my priorities. Then I can skate through life, knowing He is with me always.

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Why Go To Church?


“Why are these people in church?” the pastor wondered.

From the distracted, unsmiling faces of those sitting in the pews, it appeared they would rather be in bed, sleeping; at the river, fishing; at the outlets, shopping; at a restaurant, eating; at home, watching TV, or on the golf course.

So, why are we in church? What is our motivation?

Is it guilt? We’re supposed to be in church, right? Fear? Won’t God get mad if I don’t attend? Habit? I’ve been going to church since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Why change now? Expectations? What would people think of me if I didn’t show up? Obligations? Who will take up the offering, work the nursery, or run the sound system if I skip out?

Hmmmm. . . not the best motivations for attending church.

God’s Word offers great reasons to gather with other Christians. Obedience: “Don’t give up meeting together.” (Hebrews 10:25a) Joy: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’" (Psalm 122:1) Thankfulness: “Open to me the gates of the Temple; I will go in and give thanks to the Lord!” (Psalm 118:19; Encouragement: “Come and listen, all who honor God, and I will tell you what he has done for me.” (Psalm 66:16) Knowledge: “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom [Christ] gives.” (Colossians 3:16)

From time to time my husband, who is a pastor, reminds our congregation that what we bring to church determines what take away from it. This coming Sunday, will you join me in exchanging guilt for obedience, joy for fear, thankfulness for habit, encouragement for expectations, and knowledge for obligations? Let us echo David in Psalm 122:1 saying, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the Lord's house.’”

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Balance


“I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgment, so that you will be able to choose what is best. Then you will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ.” Philippians 1:9-10

Recently separated from her husband, our daughter moved with her two sons to an apartment last weekend. The move was necessary but not something any of them really wanted. Emotional tension stressed all of them.

While Erin hoped to get all the physical stuff done quickly so she and the boys could begin to establish their new “normal”, it just wasn’t happening. Weather, work schedules, and a myriad of other unexpected happenings caused frustrating delays. Along with a mixture of anxiety, determination and defeat, Erin could feel her impatience rising.

So, rather than continue pushing, and risk losing her temper (or the boys losing theirs), she went to Walmart and bought a badminton set. For the next hour, she and the boys occupied one of the nearby tennis courts, swatting a plastic birdie back and forth. None of them were very good at it—which made it all the more fun as they laughed and joked over their lack of skills. It was the best thing she could have done. It brought balance back to their lives, giving them hope that, amidst this painful season, there could still be good times.

Isn’t balance what we all need in our lives—to somehow equalize opposing tendencies? Like a seesaw in a playground, with a child of the same weight on each side, we must balance work with leisure, personal freedom with obedience, indulgence with temperance, solitude with community, faith with works, tradition with relevance, etc. However, reaching that goal can be a challenge. At times we all feel off-kilter. How do we attain that illusive balance?

We can start with God’s Word. Scriptures offer guidance on every topic. Luke 10:38-42 gives us God’s perspective on priorities. James 1:5 is God’s prescription for gaining wisdom. Mark 12:29-31 offers guidance in how best to love. Luke 12 provides us with God’s view of earthly possessions. And those are just a few of the thousands of helpful verses in the Bible.

Looking for some practical applications of Biblical principles? Marina McCoy, in her article, Five Tips for Discerning Balance in a Busy Life, shares down-to-earth recommendations for finding healthy equilibrium.

Be encouraged! We can obtain balance!
 Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Hang in There


“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“If God is so loving, how can He allow bad things to happen to His people?”

We’ve all heard these questions. Perhaps we have asked them ourselves. In the book of Job, two remarks made by the central figure, Job, in the midst of his struggles, have helped me gain answers to these tough queries: "God knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold." (Job 23:10). "Even if God kills me, I will hope in him." (Job 13:15).

I have found Job’s observations to be true in my own life. God has used conflict and challenges to teach me, to strengthen me, to mold me, to discipline me—to make me a better person. I have learned I can trust Him—no matter what.
  • Seven years of foster-parenting our daughter--not knowing from one day to the next if we would get to adopt her or she would be taken from us--helped me learn not to trust circumstances but God.
  • Seven days of our son going from bad to worse in ICU while the doctors tried to figure out what was really wrong taught me to lean on God, not humanity.
  • A diagnosis of cancer and the consequent surgery and chemo showed me that God can bring us through even our worst nightmare.
  • The heartache of watching my children make choices that I knew would end up biting them in the butt gave me a better understanding of the heart of God.

Some days I felt like the squirrel in the picture. Few people knew the fear, the anguish, the frustration, or the anger I felt while going through those trials. I wore a faith mask, put on a faith persona, until that appearance of faith became genuine faith. And in every circumstance, that faith became reality—I knew that I knew that I knew God was lovingly present, acutely aware, and actively working.

Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is so loving, how can He allow bad things to happen to His people? 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “These temporary troubles we suffer are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.”

Years later, I can see how God used “bad things” to improve and temper me. The greatest benefit has been a greater dependency on God.

Christian author, Glynnis Whitwer writes, “There’s no conflict so difficult, no moment so dark, no situation so hopeless that [God] can’t bring good out of it. Today we can choose to trust Him rather than rely on only what we can see.”

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Rose's Tea Cup


“I haven’t been feeling well lately.” Rose sighed and sank back into her chair. Picking up a nearly empty teacup with the teabag tag hanging over the edge, she took a sip of tepid liquid.

“Would you like me to brew you a fresh cup of tea?” I asked.

“Oh, you can just pour more hot water in this cup,” Rose said, handing it to me. “Would you put in a little milk, please?”

In the kitchen, I found a hint as to why Rose might not be feeling well. Strewn across the counter were dishes crusted with partially-eaten food. The sink held badly stained teacups with sugar crystalized in the bottom. When I tried to rinse the one Rose had given me, the build-up of tea deposits looked like the rings of a cut tree. How long had it been since anyone thoroughly scrubbed Rose’s dishes?

I had recently read that the grimy tea residue left in a cup, especially if you’ve added milk, can end up being a haven for bacteria. It’s important to empty the cup and wash it thoroughly. From the looks of things, Rose hadn’t been doing that. No wonder her health was suffering.

Similarly, our spiritual health can suffer when we allow sin to build up. A “little white lie” creates the need for another and another until our word is untrustworthy. Repeatedly criticizing someone can lead to resentment and bitterness that will rear up in the heat of an argument. Neglecting to read our Bibles or pray starves us of the spiritual nourishment we need to maintain a healthy relationship with Jesus.

Like the germy inside of Rose’s tea cup, that needed washed and bleached, we need to be pardoned and cleansed from all wrongdoing. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins to God, he will do exactly that—forgive us our sins and purify us from all our transgressions.

What can we do to help maintain spiritual health?
  • James 4:7 teaches, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you.”
  •  2 Tim. 2:19 says, “Whoever says that he belongs to the Lord must turn away from wrongdoing.”
  • Philippians 4:8 admonishes, “Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.”

 While only God can save and forgive us, these verses give us steps we can take to lessen temptation and prevent the build-up of sin and its consequences in our spiritual vessels.

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Keepsakes


Bronzed baby shoes! Does anyone do that anymore? Though hard to read, my name and birthdate are painted in gold along the toes of the stiff, preserved baby shoes in the picture. Way back in 1954, I wore those shoes as I learned to walk. At the time, they were supple, white leather.

After I outgrew the shoes, my grandmother followed the custom of the time and sent them away to be preserved. Though the company that bronzed my shoes are probably no longer in operation, The Bronzery continues that tradition today.

Why have a baby’s shoes bronzed? According to familytree.com, part of the reason is because the little shoes evoke nostalgia. Looking at the shoes reminds parents of when their child was small. The bronzed shoes freeze a special moment in time, and make parents think about when their baby took his or her very first steps—an obviously memorable milestone! A pair of bronzed baby shoes instantly becomes a keepsake and family heirloom.

Any keepsake—a ring, a flag, a photograph, a seashell, a pair of bronzed shoes, etc.—can help us recall noteworthy moments we might otherwise rarely take the time to think about. Life is busy for all of us. Current responsibilities tend to crowd out everything else in our minds, so a physical reminder of an important, past event is a good thing.

God often used keepsakes to help His people remember what He had done for them—tassels on garments (Numbers 15:39-41), 12 stones from the middle of the Jordon River (Joshua 4:1-9), the rainbow (Genesis 9:1-17), the Passover Festival (Exodus 12:1-13), and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29) are just a few examples.

For many Christians today, a cross serves as a memento of the most significant event in all of time and history. Wall hangings, carvings, jewelry, and other cross d├ęcor have been crafted to remind us of the price Jesus paid for the forgiveness of our sins.

Pictured is one of my favorite crosses, a gift from a parishioner when we moved from one pastorate to another. The same man had fashioned a huge version of this cross for the gymnasium of our church where, for generations to come, it will draw their focus to Jesus, whether while playing basketball, enjoying a meal, or participating in worship.

Just as bronzed baby shoes are the catalyst for a story of first steps, keepsakes of faith present an opportunity for us to share with others what God has done in our lives. What is one of your favorite keepsakes of your faith? What is the story behind it?

Be encouraged!
Pam


 ©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A Sacred Space


Have you ever found your prayer time stale and boring? During one of these dry, spiritual times, God lead me to SacredSpace.ie, a ministry of Irish Jesuits. The writers invite us to make a 'Sacred Space' in each day, with the help of scripture and on-screen guidance.

During my holy sojourns at this website, God lovingly kneads and shapes my soul, giving me new, spiritual perspectives on what previously seemed common and mundane. He challenges and disciplines my innermost being, urging me to be honest with myself and with Him.

Dear Jesus, I come to you today longing for your presence. I desire to love you as You love me. May nothing ever separate me from You.

Cleanse me, Jesus, from the sin of discontent—discontent in my abilities, relationships, possessions—always thinking I need more, better, greater.

Forgive me for selfishly keeping Your great love and tender care to myself—for not sharing the Good News of forgiveness, freedom, deliverance, peace.

I am sorry, Father, for treating those who love me most with the least respect—not valuing their opinion, considering their feelings, or putting their needs ahead of my own.

One of our churches started a 6:00 AM prayer group using SacredSpace.ie as the catalyst each Wednesday. Despite the early hour, no one wanted to miss it. We shared our innermost thoughts, prayed for our and others needs, and encouraged each other in our walks with Jesus.

More than anything, the ministry of SacredSpace.ie has heightened my awareness of the blessings God bestows each and every day, flooding my soul with gratitude and thanksgiving.  

Thank you, God, for allowing me to feel the arms of my loved ones wrapped around me in a long, tender hug.

Praise you, Father, for enabling me to hear the chorus of birds warbling in the morning, and the wonder of discovery in the voice of a seven-year-old.

Bless you, Lord, for showing me Your hand in the tiny chickadees feasting on sunflower seeds as well as the aqua ebb and flow of powerful ocean waves.

Lord, thank you for all the culinary delights you give us—a piping hot tea with honey, a York Peppermint Patty, crispy celery with peanut butter.

How have you enlivened your prayer life? For inspiration, check out SacredSpace.ie.

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Spittin' Image

©2018 Bethany Shoemaker

“You’re the spitting image of your mother,” my mom’s friend stated.
“You all are related, aren’t you,’ the waiter at the restaurant noted. “You look alike.”
“Is this Pam or Lisa?” my aunt asked when I called her. “You sound the same on the phone.”
“Wow! I can tell you and Lisa are sisters,” a lady at the Senior Center remarked.

For years I have been told I look like my mother. And it is obvious that my youngest sister and I share similarities in our facial features, our body build, our voices, our mannerisms.

Recently at SacredSpace.ie I read, “I am created in the image and likeness of God.” The basis for those words is found in Genesis 1:26-27: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness. . . So, God created humans in his image. In the image of God, he created them.’”

Biblical scholar D. J. A. Clines, in his article "The Image of God in Man", says that we are created to be a "copy" or a "graphic image" of the Creator, a visible and understandable representation of who God is and what He is really like.

That is kind of a scary thought—full of hidden meanings and evoking great responsibility. I know what it means to be the image, likeness, or copy of my sister and mom, but what does it mean for me to be the likeness and image of God that others see?

Scripture gives us a long list of characteristics of God:
Exodus 34:6 God is compassionate and faithful.
Psalm 46:1 God is always ready to help.
Psalm 116:5 God is merciful and good.
Psalm 193:8 God is not easily angered.
Joel 2:13 God is patient and forgiving.
John 3:33 God is truthful.
Romans 2:4 God is kind.
Romans 11:33 God is wise and knowledgeable.
1 Corinthians 1:9 God is trustworthy.
1 Peter 1:15 God is holy.
1 Peter 5:7 God is caring.
1 John 4:8 God is love.

These are just a few of the many Scriptures that give us a glimpse of God—and, according to Genesis 1:27, of who God created us to be. Through His transforming power, we can become the “spittin' image” of Jesus

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Holding Hands


Ever since we started dating 49 years ago, Dick and I have held hands wherever we walk. Surprisingly, we have discovered that holding hands is a unique habit—a fact brought to our attention recently when we attended our denomination’s regional three-day conference.

Walking around the gathering areas and grounds, Dick and I held hands, leaning our heads together to talk, and sharing laughter over little things that amused us. Towards the end of the first day, a volunteer from the Welcome center approached us. She just wanted to say how wonderful she thought it was that we walked everywhere holding hands. Dick jokingly told her, “Well, I stumble a lot,” and the three of us laughed at his witticism.

“Seriously, though, it’s nice to see a couple enjoying each other’s company so much,” she said.

It’s not the first time this physical display of our close connection has attracted attention.
  • “You’re the couple we see walking around town holding hands!” exclaimed a lady we met at an ecumenical church event.
  • “How’s your husband doing?” a fellow shopper asked me following Dick’s heart surgery. “I love seeing the two of you walk down the street holding hands.”
  • “Where’s your other half?” a store clerk asked when I paid for my purchases. “You two are always together, holding hands. We don’t see many people doing that anymore.”

Truthfully, Dick and I enjoy each other’s company! We want to be together as much as possible. It never grows old—even after five years of dating and 44 years of marriage! We are one, just as God said in Mark 10:8—and holding hands is just a physical manifestation of that oneness.

What is the key to our total oneness? Our shared faith. In March of 1977, we both trusted Jesus as our Savior, and dedicated our lives to Him. That commitment to Christ set us on the same path spiritually and set the foundation for us to continue to be one in every other aspect of our lives. Holding hands simply exemplifies it.

Thomas Gumbleton, in the National Catholic Reporter, writes, “The most important vocation in the church is the vocation of married people. If you go back to the marriage ceremony . . . we ask God's blessing on the bride and the groom because they are called to be witnesses to the love of Jesus. In other words, by loving one another in their married life, sharing that love with their children, spreading that love in their neighborhood, in their community, they are witnessing [for] Jesus.” (John 13:35)

Maybe all it takes to witness of Jesus’ love is a little hand holding. :D

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Love is a Witness


At one of our churches, Jane tagged along with her mom, Wanda to our home on Sunday evenings. Labeled as a “Young Adult Fellowship”, our group consisted of a ragtag lot of believers ranging in age from 14 to about 45. We didn’t exactly fit the confines of the usual “young adult” designation, but we got along remarkably well.

Rather than join in, Jane brought her homework and studied in the adjacent room. However, as the weeks went by, she pulled her chair closer to the archway between the two rooms, gradually spending more time listening to our conversations than studying.

Within two months she didn’t bother to bring her homework; she now sat on the floor beside her mom’s chair. Though she merely listened at first, it didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable expressing her opinions on the topics we discussed.

One evening after Jane felt completely at home in the group, Dick turned to her and asked, “Jane, what made you move from doing your homework in the other room to joining in our discussions?”

“You all care so much about each other! It’s so different from other groups I am involved with,” Jane answered. Then turning the tables on Dick, she asked, “Why is that?”

With little hesitation Dick replied, “It’s because each person in this room has realized he or she is a sinner—no one more or less than the others. And no matter how hard we try to be good, we can’t. We need Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to be forgiven and His Spirit to lead and guide us. We are all just trying to help each other understand how to live more faithfully for Jesus every day.”

“I want that, too!” Jane said, excitement tingeing every word. “How do I do that?”

Dick then explained that all it takes is to admit you have sinned, believe that, on the cross, Jesus took the penalty for your sins, and confess your faith to God and others.

That evening our group rejoiced with the angels in Heaven (Luke 15:10) as Jane committed her life to Jesus. Just as John 13:34-35 teaches, the love shown one for another in our group drew Jane in. Never underestimate the truth and the power of God’s Word!

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Burning and Shining


At Christmas, I love to sing “The Light Song” (wish I could remember who wrote it ☹ ) Here are the words:

God held the light in the palm of His hand
Then He knelt on earth and He made the light a man
And Jesus is that light, shining all alone
Like a beacon in the distance showing the way home.

The world has been dark, but tiny lights are burning.
We were lost and wondering, now to the light we’re turning.
And Jesus is that light, changing night to day
Shining in the distance; showing us the way.
Keep it burning, burning brighter,
Till the darkness slowly fades away.

When we hold the light and share it with a friend
We start a candle burning whose flame will never end.
Oh, care for the light, don’t let it grieve away.
For we have been instructed to help one another . . . to
          Keep it burning, burning brighter,
Till the darkness slowly fades away.
.
The song reminds me of John 5:35 where Jesus says of John the Baptist: “He was a burning and shining lamp . . .”

Would Jesus say that of me? If I am honest, I must admit that I often feel like I am hiding His light ‘under a bushel’. (Matthew 5:15)

Sin darkens everyone’s soul. As Christians, we hold the lantern that will dispel that darkness—Jesus, the Light. So, why do we hide this Great Light? What are the reasons why we are not “burning and shining”?

Some of us would say it is because we think shining God’s light on others relies on us, and we don’t feel equipped for the task. But the truth is, it is the Holy Spirit, not our meager efforts, who burns away the barriers between others and Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us who shines the Light of Truth into the darkness of another’s soul. Our witness is not dependent upon our proficiency, our efforts, our strength, our persuasive skills, or our wisdom! We are just the candleholder, not the candle! Luke 12:12 encourages us: “The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say."

Another reason we keep our fire for Jesus tightly contained might be our failure to contemplate the eternal consequences to those who do not find salvation in Jesus. Do we truly fathom the unlimited pain and horror that will be suffered in Hell? The Bible describes Hell quite vividly:

A place where there is gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30), outer darkness (Matthew 22:13), torments (Luke 16:23), unending sorrows (2 Samuel 22:6), eternal separation from God (II Thessalonians 1:9), burning sulfur (Revelation 21:8), no rest (Revelation 14:11), and unquenchable thirst (Luke 16:24).

We wouldn’t want our enemy to endure such torture, let alone those we love.

Perhaps another reason we hide our light is because we need to be more grounded in God’s love: “May you have power, together with all of the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:18)

If we take the time to better understand what is at stake, experience the depth of God’s love, and depend on the Holy Spirit for the words, the sparks of our faith with catch fire and God’s light will shine on all with whom we come in contact. Our hearts will be full to overflowing. Others will notice and ask us about the difference in our attitudes, our reactions, and our priorities—the perfect opening for sharing our faith!

When we share the Light of the Gospel with someone else we not only shine that Light into his/her life, but we start a chain reaction of burning for Jesus that grows ever brighter with each passing. His Light spreads throughout families and churches and work environments and friendships.

How do you burn and shine for Jesus? What excuses have you given for keeping the Light to yourself?

Be encouraged!
Pam


©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Gift of Hospitality


“Pami, come drink tea with me,” my friend Samir texted me. It is an invitation I have received on a regular basis since last July when I first met the Abdo family.

From Damascus, Syria, the Abdos immigrated to America in January 2017. They brought with them a rich tradition of hospitality. Everyone who enters their home is welcomed like family.

Samir and Nesrin have four children ranging in age from 8-18. When you enter their home, you are kissed on both cheeks and ushered in with open arms and wide smiles. And you will never leave hungry—never!

At a recent picnic with the Abdos, another friend of the family and I were enjoying cold drinks while watching the children play ball. My husband and Samir were manning the grill and Nesrin had gone to the kitchen to bring out the hummus Samir and I had made earlier in the day.

“The Abdo’s are the most hospitable people I have ever met,” Shawn said.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “No matter when you stop by, they make you feel like it’s a wonderful gift for them to have you in their home. They are never too busy or too tired to visit with you. They live out Olive Garden’s old slogan, ‘When you’re here, you’re family.’”

And it’s true. This family makes you feel like you belong. No matter what they are doing—cooking, homework, studying for the PA driver’s license, learning ESL, decorating for Christmas, primping for a special occasion, etc.—you are invited to join in.

The Abdo’s hospitality is a gift from God to those who receive it. Many scriptures encourage us to open our homes and welcome others graciously—Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9. 1 Timothy 3:2 lists hospitality as a requirement for being a leader in the church.

Shawn and I agree—the Abdo’s have shown us great examples of hospitality. We would love to be more like them in this area—to genuinely enjoy welcoming others to our homes and lavishing them with the gift of our full attention, as well as a cup of hot tea and a plate of snacks, be it baklava, cookies, nuts, fruit, tabbouleh, or pita with hummus or baba ganoush.

I think hospitality could be a very effective evangelism tool—everyone wants to feel they belong. Opening our homes and hearts to others can build a bridge to the open arms of Christ.

Thank you, Abdo’s for your generous gift of hospitality.

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Pondering Our Purpose


In his book, Make Today Matter, Chris Lowney shares that psychologists have learned our “capacity to persevere” is strengthened by showing gratitude, selfless compassion, and a strong sense of life purpose.

While I nod in agreement and understanding of gratitude and compassion, my mind has snagged on that last phrase, “exhibiting a strong sense of life purpose”. Before I can live out a strong sense of life purpose, it seems to me that I need to determine what that life purpose is.

The last few days I have pondered those words—"life purpose”. What is my life purpose? Who determines my life purpose? Is it something I choose? Am I taught my purpose by my parents? my teachers?  the church? the world?

As I let those questions swirl through my thoughts, God whispered passages of Scripture:
  • “God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus, He has created us for a life of good deeds, which He has already prepared for us to do.” (Ephesian 2:10)
  • “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
  • “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

According to Scripture, it is God who gives us our life purpose—or rather, His purpose for our lives. He is the one who determines what that purpose is. But how do we figure out our specific life purpose—the purpose that goes beyond the general purposes He has given all of us, (obey Him, love Him and others, give witness of Him)?

To find the purpose God has called me to, I must be in tune with God. To be in tune with God, requires knowing Him better by reading His Word, listening to more mature Christians share about Him, by talking directly with Him, and by looking for His hand at work around us.

Perhaps the purpose God has given you is working alongside others in mission, leading a congregation, mothering children—your own and others, welcoming people to your home, teaching, organizing functions, or any of a myriad of purposes God has in mind that go beyond what we can even imagine.

Along with expressing gratitude and selfless compassion, sensing and confirming the purposes God has called us to will enable us to persevere in the face of opposition, set-backs, and self-doubt. We will truly be able to “do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13)

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Open Arms


I stood at the stove, stirring a panful of hamburger, barely able to see through the tears filling my eyes. “I just want my Erin back,” I lamented aloud to God.

During our daughter’s senior year of high school, she pushed all of Dick’s and my buttons, testing every limit we ever set. She deliberately walked a path she knew was fraught with pitfalls. Dick and I prayed and disciplined and protected to the best of our ability. I grew bone-weary of the arguments—and I cried more times than I can count. I missed the relationship she and I used to have. I longed with all my heart for her to simply run back into my arms.

Thankfully, by God’s grace, that day did arrive. Our relationship now is better than ever, due to the living faith in Jesus that we share. Our only regrets are the miles separating us; we both look forward to those times when we can physically hold on to one another. In the meantime, we hold each other in prayer.

With our history in mind, when I read Isaiah 65:2, I understood, at least on a small scale, how God must have been feeling when he said, “All day long I have reached out to stubborn and sinful people going their own way.”  (Isaiah 65:2)

God had done everything possible to help the nation of Israel, the people He had chosen to carry His message to the world. He had rescued them from slavery, led them through the wilderness, provided them with judges and kings, gave them victory over their enemies, and blessed them with growing families, fields, and flocks. And yet they weren’t faithful to Him. They didn’t obey His commandments, they worshiped statues and foreign gods—and then grumbled and complained that God had abandoned them!

And yet … He still loved them, still hoped they would return to Him … still held out His arms to welcome them back.

God’s open arms are also available for us—despite our lack of thanks for what He has done, our disloyalty, our faithlessness, and the myriad of other sins we have committed. Whether we have never trusted in Him, or we have wandered away from His embrace, God is waiting for us. He holds out welcoming, guiding, loving, forgiving arms to us, yearning with all His heart, “I just want my child back.”

“I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”
(Isaiah 44:22)

Be encouraged!

Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Is It Okay to Repeat Yourself?


“Mom, where is the Scripture that says we are only to pray about something once? The one that says we don’t need to keep praying about the same thing over and over,” Erin texted.

“I don’t remember any Scriptures that say that,” I typed back to her. It turns out that Erin got this idea about prayer from a minister we heard 20 years ago at a revival. I remember the instance. I also remember wondering what Biblical evidence he found to support his thinking.

My daughter’s question served as a catalyst to dig into what the Bible does say about praying for the same need over and over. As I researched, I actually found just the opposite to be true.

While Jesus said in Matthew 6:7 not to use a lot of meaningless, repetitious, words when we pray, (thinking that God will hear because of how long our prayers are), I always thought He was referring to either chanting the same thing over and over or praying long, wordy prayers just to sound impressive. Have you ever been witness to this type of praying?

Being honest, there have been times when I have fought to stay focused when the person praying seemed to be convinced they had to say the same thing 15 different ways to make sure God understood. I think this is the hollow, tedious prayer Jesus was warning against.

Jesus Himself prayed about a need more than once. Matthew 26:44 tells us that Jesus prayed the same prayer three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. This instance is one of the examples mentioned in Psalm 85:13, John 13:15, and 1 Peter 2:21 that Jesus left us to follow.

2 Corinthians 12:8 shares how Paul prayed three times for God to take away his “thorn in the flesh”. Paul obviously felt some requests are worth praying about repeatedly.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow who repeatedly approached a judge to grant her rights, which he finally did. Then Jesus says, " Now, will God not judge in favor of his own people who cry to him day and night for help?" (vs. 7) Sounds to me like God doesn’t mind when we pray about a need more than once.

My husband Dick, also a pastor, believes God encourages us to pray over and over about something as a way for us to hear ourselves and refine what we are really asking. Sometimes what we pray the first time isn't in line with His will. He can use our time spent praying about the same thing to help us get a better understanding of what He wants in a situation. If He keeps saying no, I take that to mean there is something about what I am asking that needs adjusting, the time isn't right, or there is something God is teaching me through His "No."

Be encouraged!

Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Evidence


As I watched my new friend Peggy whipping together the dressing for potato salad, I heard her mumble, “I’m forgetting something in this recipe.”

She closed her eyes and looked heavenward. “Jesus, what’s the next ingredient?” she asked. “Thank you, Lord!” Smiling, she reached into the cupboard for an additional condiment.

I watched in amazement. Jesus was so real to her—present with her in EVERYTHING she did! As the afternoon progressed, I saw, through Peggy and her husband, more and more evidence that Jesus was right there in the room with us! He was so close when we prayed, I could feel His presence, too! That experience was the beginning of my walk with Jesus as a true believer.

Hebrews 11 tells us that God requires each of us to have faith in Him. The good news is that He will provide plenty of evidence for us to believe!

In a recent Quiet Walk devotional, I read these words of encouragement based on John 20:
“Thomas needed to be shown that the miracle of Jesus' resurrection was really true. God provided Thomas with the proof he needed. Jesus appeared to Thomas and said, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands. Do not be unbelieving but believing." (20:27) Jesus saw what Thomas needed and gave him sufficient evidence to believe. You don't have to be afraid of sincere doubt. That doubt can be changed. Just examine the evidence of Christ's work in the New Testament.”

As I read John 20, I realized that God will do whatever is needed to prove we can believe in Him! Look at the examples from this single chapter!
Jesus appears to Mary Magdalen at the empty tomb and reassures her He has been raised, just as He said.
Jesus appears to His disciples in a locked room to prove He is alive.
Jesus appears to Thomas and allows him to touch His wounds to prove He is who He claimed to be.
God had the Bible written so that anyone who read it could believe.

To this body of evidence, we can add the encounter several followers had on the road to Emmaus, the Ethiopian eunuch’s salvation experience in his carriage, and Paul’s conversion on his way to Damascus. God meets us where we are!

My witness of Peggy’s faith in Jesus was only the beginning of many ways God has helped me to believe in Him—my father’s salvation, an alcoholic friend’s changed life, our daughter’s adoption, and the peace we experienced in the face of our son’s kidney loss, my cancer diagnosis, and Dick’s unemployment—to name just a few.

How has God proven Himself to you? Still looking for that proof? Ask God to help you to believe according to the evidence. Like the father in Mark 9:24, your prayer can be: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

Be encouraged!
Pam

 ©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Finding God in the Sanctuary


Paws Animal Wildlife Sanctuary in Waterloo, SC rescues, rehabilitates, and releases orphaned or injured wildlife. This sanctuary is a place where native animals and birds in distress can be brought to receive the loving, wise care they need.

In Psalm 63, David is looking for sanctuary—not for wildlife, but for himself. Feeling like he is traversing a spiritual desert, David seeks not physical healing and renewal, but spiritual care.

O God, you are my God,
and I long for you.
My whole being desires you;
Like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land,
my soul is thirsty for you.
Let me see you in the sanctuary;
Let me see how mighty and glorious you are.
Psalm 63:1-2

As I read this scripture, I wondered, when David uses the word “sanctuary”, to what or where is he referring? Does he mean the part of the church/temple building where worship is conducted on the Sabbath? Or, since David spent years running from enemies at home and abroad, does he mean a place of refuge and safety, where he is protected and can recoup, rather like Paws Animal Wildlife Sanctuary? Could David simply be referring to quiet moments when he shuts out the world and draws close to the mighty, loving God who has carried him through so often in the past?

Over time, I have discovered a variety of faith-renewing sanctuaries—not all of which can be found with a GPS. Early Wednesday mornings, a small group from our church meets for 30 minutes of guided prayer and reflection before work. It is the spiritual highlight of my week. That honest and open time together, sharing concerns, questions, and God moments from the past week, acts as a sanctuary where I am refreshed and renewed in my spiritual perspective and strengthened in my relationship with Jesus.

Another “place” of sanctuary for me is in the quiet moments of the day, before my interaction with the world begins. I look forward eagerly to the hour between 5AM and 6AM. There is a hush inside and outside our home. It is a holy, intimate time—shared just with Jesus. As the new day dawns, and nature and humanity awaken, I am readied to face the day.

Our church sanctuary, where we gather every Sunday for worship, is a time and space set aside for shutting out the pull and push of the world to focus on our holy and powerful God. For me, the occasions when I feel rescued, rehabilitated, and released by what happens in church is when others share their “But God. . .” moments during praise time.

Like David, we all need to "see God in the sanctuary"—wherever that sanctuary might be. Where do you find spiritual sanctuary?

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lessons from Children

photo by Bill

“Uh-oh. There’s a group of school kids headed our way,” I whispered to my husband Dick as we stood watching the otters at the Brookgreen Gardens zoo. “These critters will hide for sure.”

We savored our last few minutes of quietly watching the otters lazily swimming in the stream  and lounging on the bank. Both seemed completely oblivious to our presence.

We were soon surrounded by about 20 children under age seven, all clamoring to get to as close to the wooden rail as possible. They loudly exclaimed in wonder when they spotted the slick furred animals.

Imagine our surprise when the otters, rather than retreating to their hidden den, started performing! They swam as close to the kids as possible, diving and leaping with abandon. And each time they surfaced, they checked to make sure the children were still watching!

Dick and I just looked at each other in wonder. The otters certainly didn’t react the way we expected. They loved the children!

Later, we meandered down a path indicating barnyard animals ahead. Although it was nearly one o’clock in the afternoon, we could hear the rooster in the chicken enclosure crowing.

“That rooster’s timing is a bit off,” I said with a chuckle. As we got closer we heard several little boys trying their best to imitate the “Cock-a-doodle-do”. The rooster loved it! He was answering the children! Again, it was not the reaction to the children that Dick and I expected.
Dominique Rooster


Later, as we talked about our zoo visit, Dick said, “You know, it reminded me of when the people brought children to Jesus. The disciples thought He wouldn’t want to be bothered and rebuked the ones who brought them. They were surprised when, instead, Jesus welcomed the kids and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” (Matthew 19:13)

Adults often see children as the ones who need teaching, but Jesus saw them as teachers and examples. In Matthew 18, we read how Jesus called a little child to stand among the people and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself, like this little child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. . . “

Matthew 21 tells us, “The chief priests and scribes were indignant when they saw the wonders [Jesus] did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked.

‘Yes!’ Jesus answered, ‘Have you never read the Scripture (Psalm 8:2) that says from the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise?’”

I admit, there have been times, especially when my children were still at home, when I have dreaded a child’s presence (that of my own children or the children of others), ignored his/her behavior, failed to consider what they were thinking, or dismissed what they said. According to Jesus, by doing so, I have most likely missed out on valuable spiritual and life lessons from God.

Our experience at the Brookgreen Garden Zoo taught me I should express my always appreciation. The children’s exuberant enthusiasm for what they saw actually pleased the animals and prompted them to perform even more. Wouldn’t we get the same reaction from people if we let them know we noticed they did a good job?

What has God taught you through a child?

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Dear Watson


We are on vacation this week. Dick and I are looking forward to the time to relax and re-charge before our upcoming move. I will miss our cat Watson though. He is never too far away from me, whether I am folding laundry, sleeping, or even running the vacuum (yes, he likes to have the vacuum run on him!) I want to share a story with you about Watson, that was published in I Love Cats magazine, along with Watson’s picture on the cover. He is one very special cat.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Williams. The biopsy shows cancer,” the surgeon said. “You have a couple of treatment options, but we want to get started right away as this is an aggressive form of cancer.

Stunned, I suddenly found myself scheduled for surgery in ten days, followed by an appointment with an oncologist to discuss chemotherapy. My husband Dick and I held hands and walked to the car in silence.

We took things a day at a time. God’s people prayed, and October 13th I happily completed treatment and began regaining my strength.

During the four months that I underwent chemotherapy, our cat Baxter exhibited more and more episodes with his heart. We had known for several years that he had a heart murmur, but his symptoms were increasing significantly. Selfishly, I prayed I wouldn’t lose him during that time. I didn’t think I could stand the heart-break.

Three weeks after my last chemotherapy treatment, Baxter passed away in his sleep. It was as if he were holding on just for me, and now could finally let go.

I wasn’t sure I wanted another cat—or any other pet for that matter. Loving and losing wrenched my heart. Yet, our house seemed so empty and quiet with no one to greet us when we came home or to snuggle with us on the couch.

I started looking online at the local rescues. Dick wanted a young cat that we could train to walk on a leash and to ride in the car without getting stressed.

During a trip to our nearby SPCA, while Dick checked out the kittens, I visited with the adult cats. A volunteer was walking around with a cat in her arms. He was huge, had medium length hair, and was a total love bug wrapped in luxuriously soft fur. Trouble was, he was no kitten; he was eight years old. According to the shelter’s intake report, he had been a stray for five years.

I asked to hold him and walked around the room carrying him. He gazed at me with the most, soulful, wise eyes I had ever seen. And his purr rivaled the vibration of a passing freight train.

Watson was everything I needed in a cat at that moment—an armful of comforting love who welcomed my kisses with a contented squeeze of his big, beautiful sea-green eyes and a gentle pat on my chin from his huge paw. An old softy, Dick set aside his kitten-dream and consented to take the older cat home with us.

I have never fallen so hard and fast in love with a pet. Watson fit into our household immediately—it was like he had been ours since his birth! He brought us much laughter with his obsession with running water, his ability to contort his body into the most uncomfortable-looking positions and fall asleep, and the way he loved to lay on his back directly under the ceiling fan, front paws reaching back over his head, his back legs stretched out straight. I couldn’t resist rubbing his downy belly.

Immediately, Watson became a champion lap cat and constant companion, wanting to be with me wherever that might be—making the bed, cooking supper, or working at my computer. We took picture after picture of him—riding in the car, “helping” me bead bracelets, sitting on the warm clothes in the dryer—and posted them on Facebook. Our friends and family loved keeping up with the antics of our new cat.

Within a week we scheduled a routine vet check. We informed the vet tech that Watson’s breath was very stinky and he had an odd habit of grinding his teeth. I figured he needed his teeth cleaned, just like my last two cats did when they reached his age.

I was stunned when the vet said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Williams. Watson has a growth under his tongue that appears to be a squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is treatment resistant and surgery isn’t always an option.”

Feeling like a boxer had delivered us a one-two punch, Dick and I left the office with an appointment to bring Watson back in a few days to be sedated in order to get a better view of the growth.

An hour after we delivered Watson to the veterinary hospital, I received a phone call from the vet. “Pam, I think while we have Watson sedated we should remove the tumor. I am fairly certain I can get good margins around the growth. There is a very good chance this will prolong his life. Please consider it. I can’t not try.”

I immediately gave the vet the go ahead. Eight hours later, we picked Watson up and brought him home. In four days he was eating his regular dry cat food and playing with abandon! No one would even know he had surgery!

Over two years later, Watson continues to both entertain and love on us—a perfect combination. We may have walked into the shelter with our own ideas of what cat we wanted, but I feel God knew which one we needed—and which one needed us. Watson and I have bonded, perhaps in part, because we have defeated a common enemy—cancer.

Blessings!
Pam Williams

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Peace and Forgiveness

Merli Sarnosky Park, PA
Photo by Pam Williams

Merriam-Webster defines Peace as:
  1. a state of tranquility or quiet, as in freedom from civil disturbance
  2. freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
  3. harmony in personal relations
  4. a state or period of mutual concord between governments
  5. a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or enmity
Everyone longs for peace, no matter which of Merriam-Webster’s five definitions we choose. Though we wish for them all, in actuality, peace, on many levels, seems quite illusive.

I recently read excerpts from Go in Peace, by Saint John Paul II. He shares keen insight into finding peace: “Real peace rests on mutual acceptance and a capacity to forgive from the heart. We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is sometimes the only way out of situations marked by age-old and violent hatred.”

I don’t think I made the correlation between peace and forgiveness before reading those words, and yet, it makes perfect sense. Peace and forgiveness are inseparable partners.

Asking forgiveness requires that we be truthful with ourselves and others. Asking forgiveness demands humbly acknowledging our own failures and shortcomings. Neither of these is easy; but both are necessary for inner peace, as well as peace with others.

“If a brother or sister has something against you, go and be reconciled to them.”
(Matthew 5:23-24).

Granting forgiveness is just as hard. To rise above past hurts and injustices, calls for strength only God can give. However, by being truthful with ourselves, we realize we aren’t perfect either, enabling us to extend forgiveness and receive peace.

“Be kind to each other, sympathetic,
forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ.”
Ephesians 4:32

Peace with others begins with forgiveness. Most importantly, forgiving others begins with our own forgiveness from God. If we want peace in our hearts, we need God’s forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed. Thankfully, God offers us that forgiveness freely and simply when we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All we need to do is ask Him (for more information); He will forgive us—and we will have peace with God—the greatest peace of all.

“Now that we have been put right with God through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:1

Be encouraged!
Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Letting The Word Sink In


Growing up, my family attended St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. By the time I was in elementary school, I had the liturgy memorized. The words flowed out of me flawlessly, with no thought required on my part. I could mutter the phrases while simultaneously reviewing in my head what homework I still needed to do or daydreaming about my afternoon plans with friends. Unfortunately, I never allowed God to speak to me through the oft-repeated words.

In our mid-twenties, my husband and I finally tuned in to God’s voice. We asked Jesus to forgive us for our sins and committed our lives to serving Him. Dick felt God calling him into ministry and over the next ten years completed all the schooling required to be ordained.

My aunt and uncle were still members at St. Luke’s. One Sunday during a time when they were without a pastor, my aunt asked Dick to fill in at their church. He readily agreed.

It had been years since I had even heard the Lutheran liturgy, let alone recited it myself, so I followed along in the hymnal. Though the words of the service were exactly the same, I had changed. They now struck a chord deep in my soul, expressing genuine, profound repentance. I suddenly was aware that the liturgy was directly from Scripture!

The Bible says that God’s Word will not fail to do what God plans for it. (Isaiah 55:11) Part of the Lutheran liturgy quotes Psalm 51:16-17 and remains firmly fixed in my mind: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”

As I let the words from the liturgy sink in, God’s Spirit made me aware that, at times, I was still having trouble trusting them. After letting God down in some way, I would try to regain His favor by “sacrificing” things like ease, money, or “stuff”. I attempted to make up for not responding as I should have, or for behaving in a way I shouldn’t have. In truth, those “sacrifices” never counteracted or substituted for doing what God desired in the first place.

Can you relate? Have you ever made promises to God, or offered a “sacrifice” of sorts, in the hopes that a situation will miraculously turn out better? The truth is, we all fall short, let God down, and fail to follow His lead.

So, what does He ask of us when we sin? Leaning on the Scripture found in the Lutheran liturgy, we are assured that God welcomes a contrite and broken heart—a sacrifice everyone can bring! John 1:9 reaffirms this truth for us. "If we confess our sins, God forgives them and cleanses us from everything we have done wrong." Admitting we have sinned, and wanting to turn away from that sin, is all He asks.

Be encouraged!

Pam

©2018 Pamela D. Williams