Strict Standards: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/congmicj/cathyconger.com/wp-includes/query.php on line 751

As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

Scripture: Matthew 27:55, Matthew 28: 1-10, Galations 6:9


The Benefits of Loyalty

With all the problems with the airlines, most of them still offer those frequent flyer deals. My husband and I do a lot of traveling, mostly by air. Because we live near their hub, we have done most of our business with a particular airlines. Our major credit card is a Visa through them, which affords us the opportunity to earn frequent flier miles with every purchase we make with that card. (Whenever I am being pushed to sign up for some store credit card I don’t want, I always say, “I’d be happy to consider it if it offers air miles.” Of course that’s not the case so that takes care of that.) Our Visa airline card also allows us to check our luggage free, which nowadays saves quite a chunk of cash. Now there’s nothing special about my husband and I that gets us these special privileges, except that when you’re a frequent flyer on this airline, they give this kind of reward to anyone who flies a lot and does it consistently with them. The airlines want to train us to think one simple thought, customer loyalty pays off! And we have been very loyal customers. The benefits belong to those who keep traveling with the same people.

Long before there were airlines, some Jewish women also discovered that loyalty yields benefits, as they followed Jesus. The story comes from Matthew 27, beginning with verse 55. Here is the scene: the crucifixion of Jesus, where most of those who had been with Jesus had taken off. “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for His needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” They had followed Jesus loyally through all those journeys, all those miracles, all those life-changing lessons, and the glory of Palm Sunday only five days earlier. And now, when it looks as if all is lost and there is no reason to hang on, they are at the cross. Jesus has died. It is over. But still, as Jesus lays buried in a borrowed tomb, the Bible says, “At dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.” Still loyal when all hope seems to be gone, they are up before dawn to visit the tomb. Then, of course, something incredible happens.

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid, they shook and became as dead men. The angel said to the women, `Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell the disciples He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him. Now I have told you.‘ (Matthew 28:1-7)

Can you imagine? A violent earthquake, followed by a blinding vision of an angel. Then a huge boulder rolls away from the tomb as if it were a marble. Finally, the shock of seeing that the body they had buried two evenings before is gone! Because of their tenacious loyalty to Jesus, these women, not any of Jesus’ twelve disciples, are the ones to experience this miracle and the first to see the empty tomb.

And then the greatest joy of all, “The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. `Greetings,‘ he said. They came top Him and clasped his feet in worship. Then Jesus said to them, `Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ ” (Matthew 28:8-10) They heard Jesus speak; they actually touched His risen body! What a thrill to be the first ones to see Jesus back from the dead! I would rank it as the greatest privilege in all of human history! Those who had been His loyal followers through it all - they got that privilege. Like a passenger loyal to one airline, they enjoyed benefits that only the loyal will experience.

Because they had stuck with Jesus when there seemed to be no reason to, they got to see Him as no others have seen Him, and they experienced the unspeakable joy that is reserved for those who are faithful when it is totally dark. That is still the experience of those who will stay with Jesus through the valley, the victories, the pain, the unanswered questions, the as-yet unanswered prayers. When you do, you get to see Jesus in all His power and all His glory.

But maybe for you, the resurrection day hasn’t come yet. You’re still in the time of the cross right now, or the time of the tomb, the time where there seems to be no hope, no reason. You may be suffering from faithfulness fatigue. Boy have I been there! You’re hanging on, but it’s getting harder to keep hanging on. The Lord knows how hard it is right now so He has sent you this reminder that the greatest benefits go to those who stay with Jesus, no matter what. He has some wonderful blessings, some unspeakable joys, some tremendous rewards for you if you’ll stay faithful for just a few more miles. In the words of Galations 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” The best rewards Jesus has to give are for those who fly faithfully with Him through it all.

Prayer: I pray for those who are in the valley, not knowing if you have heard them or not, and it’s getting harder to hang on to their faith. Please Lord, speak to them. Let them know that You have heard their petition, that You know their pain, and that You are working things out for their good. I pray that they will not become weary in doing good and waiting for the proper time of their harvest. Amen

It seemed appropriate today, in light of the passing of Charles (Chuck) Colson, Christian apologist and founder of Prison Fellowship, to include some well-remembered quotations from his writing…

“The dynamism and freedom that characterizes the West is the product of Christianity’s reforming itself and moving forward culturally. … The ascendancy of the West is the story of the difference that Christianity makes, and it’s a story we can’t let our culture forget.”

“I’ll tell you one of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder I’m not doing anything today or if what I do matters. I live everyday to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, and it may just be in my prayer time, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God. Now does that make you fulfilled? You bet it does! And it gives you joy about living.”

“May the Christian church never be regarded as a special interest group. We’re here because we love our neighbor.”

“In every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create a hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world or participating with God in transforming the world to reflect his righteousness. We are either advancing the rule of Satan or establishing the reign of God.”

“The Bible- banned, burned, beloved, more widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it is more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints. Pieced together scraps of Scripture have converted whole whole villages of pagan Indians.”

“The church does not draw people in; it sends them out.”

“We should always pray with as much earnestness as those who expect everything from God; we should always act with as much energy as those who expect everything from themselves.”

“We are not looking for power, … We are not looking for prestige. We are here because we care very, very deeply about the nation. … We love God, we love our neighbors and we act out of a love of God and love of our neighbors.”

“Christians need to take the lead in educating people that children are gifts, as my autistic grandson most surely is. By going down the path we’re currently on, we might one day get rid of genetic diseases, but only at the cost of our own humanity.”

“If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up – from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill.”

“The church has been brought into the same value system as the world: fame, success, materialism and celebrity. We watch the leading churches and the leading Christians for our cues. We want to emulate the best known preachers with the biggest sanctuaries and the grandest edifices. Preoccupation with these values has perverted the church’s message.”

“The pro-life agenda has no meaning apart from its being rooted in absolute truth, in self-evident truths - truths that are true because they’re true, not because somebody says they are true.”

We must be the same person in private and in public. Only the Christian worldview gives us the basis for this kind of integrity.

“I don’t think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it’s to make them holy.

“The greatest single scandal in evangelical assemblies, and I can really only speak for that, is the low regard individual Christians have for the church.”

“I learned one thing in Watergate: I was well-intentioned but rationalized illegal behavior,” he said. “You cannot live your life other than walking in the truth. Your means are as important as your ends.”

“When God wanted to defeat sin, His ultimate weapon was the sacrifice of His own Son. On Christmas Day two thousand years ago, the birth of a tiny baby in an obscure village in the Middle East was God’s supreme triumph of good over evil.”

“A government cannot be truly just without affirming the intrinsic value of human life.”

“What we do flows from who we are.”

“Moral crusaders with zeal but no ethical understanding are likely to give us solutions that are worse than the problems.”

“Christians should never have a political party. It is a huge mistake to become married to an ideology, because the greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a man-made format of how the world ought to work, and Christians instead believed in the revealing truth Scripture.”

Scripture: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
II Timothy 4:7-8 , John 17:21

A LION OF THE FAITH HAS FINISHED THE COURSE
This week Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices today with the death of Charles W. “Chuck” Colson. The Prison Fellowship and Colson Center for Christian Worldview founder died Saturday afternoon from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage. Colson was 80. I admired Chuck Colson very much and have written a rather long D-mail here about him because I think he was one of the greatest Christian apologists and servants of God we have had in our generation. Don’t give up reading because there are 6 pages! Break it up into several sittings, but do read it.

Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly, said about Colson,
“America has lost a gentleman and a statesman of the highest integrity and character. I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor who, most importantly, modeled for me how to stand for God’s truth with Christ’s heart. Chuck was an endlessly selfless man, whose love for and ministry to those in prison made him one of the great modern-day lions of the faith.”

While many descriptors apply to Colson - evangelical leader, cultural commentator, prolific author, and Prison Fellowship founder - he was once fearfully known as President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” or “evil genius” as Slate magazine writer David Plotz once described him. But while Colson was facing arrest for his involvement in the Watergate scandal in 1973, a friend gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which led to his dramatic conversion. He published the memoir Born Again in 1975 - two years after becoming a born-again Christian. The memoir was made into a film in 1978 carrying the same title. Since his faith conversion, Colson has dedicated his life to helping prisoners experience the radical transformation possible in Christ through his non-profit Prison Fellowship. For over 30 years, Colson kept the tradition of ministering to prisoners in jail every Easter Sunday. This year was the first time in 34 years that Colson did not spend Easter Sunday ministering in prison due to his hospitalization for the blood clot.

“Whatever good I may have done is because God saw fit to reach into the depths of Watergate and convert a broken sinner,” said Colson in a statement in 2008 in response to receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal from President George W. Bush. “Everything that has been accomplished these past 35 years has been by God’s grace and sovereign design.” President George W. Bush awarded Colson the Presidential Citizens Medal - the second highest honor to a private citizen - for his Christian-based outreach to prisoners, ex-convicts, crime victims and their families. The award was created by President Richard Nixon to recognize citizens “who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.
“Through his (Colson) strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society,” the White House stated in the recipient citations. “The United States honors Chuck Colson for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals.”
“His demonization in the 1970s has been replaced by lionizations in the 2000s-at least among the nation’s 65 million evangelical Christians,” Jonathan Aitken wrote in his 2005 biography. Aitken portrayed Colson as an important but flawed figure in evangelicalism, “America’s best-known Christian leader after Billy Graham.”

Colson’s closest aide at Prison fellowship, William Nance, said,
“As I reflect, I am so thankful that I had the honor and privilege of becoming friends with this truly remarkable individual. Like no one else, Chuck had an amazing ability to spend the morning with the very least of these - prisoners rejected by their families and outcast by society, and then spend the afternoon with the president all the while feeling completely comfortable with both. I often watched in amazement as Chuck would walk into the darkest of prisons and greet a group of inmates. It was not uncommon to see a prisoner, hardened by a life of violence and depravity, dissolve into tears thanking Chuck for sending Christmas gifts to his children through Angel Tree and expressing his new found faith in Jesus. On a trip to Ecuador visiting a dilapidated, disease infested prison, Chuck dismissed the warden’s warning of immanent danger and marched into the yard to give the Good News to the crowd. Over 100 inmates, covered with open sores and filth, all huddled around Chuck and listened to every word. He stayed to shake every last hand. The last time I saw Chuck was about a year ago when he and Patty (Mrs. Colson) had lunch with my wife, Penny and I. We recounted funny stories of trips to Greece and Scotland and prison visits in Russia. To no surprise, with no retirement in sight, Chuck was focused like a laser on advancing the Kingdom through yet another worthy project. News in 1973 of convicted Watergate figure Chuck Colson’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ was met with skepticism and ridicule by many in media. But nearly four decades later - with his death today at the age of 80 - Colson’s legacy as a historic evangelical leader with a distinct prophetic voice that has shaped culture and influenced countless lives is firmly established.”
Chuck Colson was one of our greatest contemporary Christian apologists, engaging the culture with the truths informed by faith. He was also one of the greatest defenders of the fundamental right to life and of marriage and the family and society founded upon it. Finally, he was an apostle of Christian unity who took the prayer of Jesus to heart, “May they be one” (John 17:21).
Colson devoted energy to bringing Christians from all denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, together. His friend Deacon Keith Fournier, a devout Catholic, spoke about the relationship he and Colson had with Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
“Chuck and I shared an admiration for him (Solzhenitsyn). The renowned Russian spoke these words to the US Congress in 1975: `Very soon only too soon, your country will stand in need of not just exceptional men but of great men. Find them in your souls. Find them in your hearts; find them in depths of your country.’ Chuck Colson was one of those great men; a man of true Christian courage. He spoke truth to lies without any fear. He faced down the enemies of authentic freedom and refused to be intimidated. He had the ability of explaining the ancient faith in our contemporary age in a way that made it relevant to the culture. That was Chuck Colson’s greatest gift.”

Evangelist Billy Graham acknowledged Colson’s “tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ” for three and a half decades. “When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them,” Graham said in a statement, adding, “I count it a privilege to have called him friend.”
“Chuck Colson was a foremost Christian thinker for our generation,” says Lon Allison, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “In some ways, he has been to us what C.S. Lewis has been. He spoke and wrote with evangelistic passion and razor-like acuity.”

The Institute for Prison Ministries (IPM), a department of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, was formed in 1984 as a result of the shared vision of Colson and Wheaton College trustee Kenneth Wessner. IPM is a center for correctional ministry that works through networks, collaborations and strategic partnerships to provide leadership and training to those engaged in correctional ministries for the advancement of the gospel.

In 1988, IPM established The Charles W. Colson Scholarship, which provides former prisoners with a college education and life formation program that develops them as Christian leaders. To date, 48 Colson Scholars have graduated from Wheaton’s undergraduate, graduate, or correctional ministries programs.

IPM director Karen Swanson says Colson maintained connections with the Colson Scholarship program throughout the years. “Chuck would always make time to meet with the Colson Scholars when he came to Chicago,” she says. “He took his time when talking with them and was genuinely interested in them.”

“Mr. Colson is a role model for countless women and men who have been or are behind bars,” adds Colson Scholar Christopher Yuan, who graduated from Wheaton’s Master of Arts in Biblical Exegesis program in 2007. “He weathered the storms of his critics questioning his conversion, and remained true as a witness of a forgiving God of second chances. As a fellow ex-offender who has been transformed by hard time, I echo his words, ‘I thank God for prison.’”

In a 2000 address at the Graduate School commencement, Colson spoke about the influence Christian colleges can have in culture.

“While living in a world that exalts the momentary and temporal, Christians must always keep in mind the eternal and permanent,” Colson said. As servants of the Lord in society, the Christian academy is uniquely equipped to raise up men and women passionately committed to living for God in the light of his truth in every field of endeavor, passionately committed to the development of personal character and conscience that are pleasing to him.”

Colson’s cultural and political commentary reached millions of readers and listeners. His books, including his 1976 autobiography Born Again, have sold more than 25 million copies. His radio show BreakPoint reaches more than 1,200 outlets, and his Wilberforce Forum promotes Christian worldview thinking and teaching. In 1993, Colson won the Templeton Prize of $1 million for progress in religion. His award money, speaking fees, and royalties went to Prison Fellowship.

“He allowed a humbling period to define him and his whole posture to the culture,” said Eric Metaxas, who has written biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce and took over for Colson on BreakPoint’s radio show after Colson fell ill. “One of the important things about Chuck is his commitment to worshipping God with our minds. Incredibly serious about theology and evangelism, Chuck brought those things into the public sphere.”

Close friend and fellow in ministry along with her father, Ginny Dent Brandt wrote,
“The trumpets will be sounding on the other side for Charles W. Colson-not only for what he achieved as a Christian leader but for how much his character changed. His life story is one of the outstanding and best known examples in modern times of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. During the time he spent in jail, Colson had to learn many lessons in humility and penitence. Blows rained in on him. He failed to gain the presidential pardon that he had been expecting after the clemency granted to Nixon. He was disbarred from practicing law. His father died. His son was arrested for narcotics possession. But Colson gradually began surrendering to God’s will. He immersed himself in Bible reading, started a prayer group with fellow prisoners, and completed the Design for Discipleship course published by the Navigators.

Yet his spiritual steps forward seemed to be accompanied by practical reverses. What he found particularly hard to bear was having his parole application denied after other Watergate prisoners, notably John Dean and Jeb Magruder, were freed. But Colson prayed on and was unexpectedly given parole in July 1975 after serving seven months of his sentence.
Born Again sold three million copies worldwide and catapulted Colson into the stratosphere of being a celebrity Christian. But by now he was sufficiently steeped in his faith to know that the label was a dangerous oxymoron, contradicting the humility that should lie at the heart of Godly witness. Colson was also blessed by spiritually wise friends who kept his feet on the ground. One of them, his young research aide Michael Cromartie, guided him towards eminent theologians who satisfied both his intellectual and spiritual hunger for the knowledge that would nourish the roots of his faith.

These theologians initially included Nicholas Wolterstoff, R.C. Sproul, Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, and Richard Lovelace. Their importance in Colson’s life was that they broadened his spiritual horizons. Narrow evangelicalism, he discovered, was not enough. He did his share of one-on-one ministry in the prisons, but he knew he must also participate in the public arena of action and debate. Inspired by the example of William Wilberforce, Colson came to believe that he must strive to understand and implement a comprehensive Christian worldview regarding life and society. As for Chuck Colson, his life sentence has now been commuted to eternal rest by a loving, forgiving God. What a joy to hear those words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For herein lies the significance of a man-not walking in the halls of power, but serving his omnipotent Creator. ”
Colson’s profile stretched into many areas above and beyond the prison walls. He continued to be a notable author publishing over 20 books since Born Again. His most successful titles include Loving God, How Now Shall We Live, and Kingdom in Conflict. He was a columnist for Christianity Today from 1985 until his death.

Michelle Vu, of the Christian Post, wrote,
“The quest for a Christian worldview shaped the direction of the fast growing ministry of Prison Fellowship. With his formidable energy, Colson led it to extraordinary achievements. With no small assistance from trusted associates like Gordon Loux, Tom Pratt, Ron Nikkel, Mark Earley, and Michael Timmis, the ministry expanded globally into Prison Fellowship International, flourishing today in over 150 countries. Within the United States, PF launched programs like Justice Fellowship (which pioneered the Restorative Justice movement); Angel Tree (which organizes 300,000 Christmas gifts a year to the children of prisoners); and the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (which has spawned at least 15 Christian-run prisons or prison units around the world; studies have indicated such facilities have significantly lower reoffending rates than secular penal institutions). These Colson initiatives completely changed the face of prison ministry. It used to be an unfashionable, underrated, and largely localized Christian activity with no national or international leadership. It is still too far down the pecking order of most churches’ priorities. But Colson gave it a profile and a passion worthy of the exhortation in Hebrews 13:3 “Remember your fellow prisoners as if you were in prison.”
Prison Fellowship currently has programs in some 1,300 correctional facilities in all 50 states in the United States. The ministry partners with some 7,700 churches and has some 14,000 volunteers nationwide. Globally, Prison Fellowship’s programs reach prisoners and their families in 110 countries.

Jonathan Aitken, Colson’s biographer, wrote,
“In recent years he has dedicated much of his time to the Centurion educational program. It raises up 100 church leaders a year through an intensive teaching course which he led.
On October 26, 2003, the lead story on the front page of The New York Times carried the headline “Evangelicals Sway White House on Human Rights Issues Abroad.” The first name mentioned in the article was Charles W. Colson. It was reported that he and others had persuaded the White House to take political initiatives towards ending the war in the Sudan, halting sex trafficking, and preventing the global spread of AIDS.

Such achievements represented an ironic full circle in the Colson life story. As a young aide to the 37th President, Colson in the 1970s steered the White House towards activities that were the antithesis of Christian morality. Yet by the early 2000s the older Colson was having a considerable influence in a wholly Christian direction on several of the decisions and policies of the 43rd President. These examples of Colson’s legacy on politics, culture, the church, and Christian ministry have only been possible because amidst the earthquake of Watergate he heard the still small voice of God’s call. He obeyed it and stayed faithful to it. As a result he has become a shining example of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the redemptive blessings of God’s grace. As many of his fellow Christians will say about him, God changed Charles Colson and used him for good. (Jonathan Aitken is the author of Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed.)

The Evangelical Elder statesman made his last public appearance in Virginia at a conference called “Breaking the Spiral of Silence,” which exemplified his life’s work. Part of a series he established known as Wilberforce Weekends - named for the 19th century British abolitionist he revered - the event focused on religious liberty, the sanctity of life and the institution of marriage.
In a Feb. 3 video message, he saw the larger issue of the threat to religious liberty. He said,

“We have come to the point - I say this very soberly - when if there isn’t a dramatic change in circumstances, we as Christians may well be called upon to stand in civil disobedience against the actions of our own government,” “That would break my heart as a former Marine captain, loving my country. But I love my God more. I will stand for the Lord, regardless of what my state tells me.”

As we all feel his loss and the tremendous hole that is left in our lives, let us remember his words - “Remain at your posts and do your duty - for the glory of God and His kingdom”–and honor him, striving to live up to his charge.

“I’ll tell you one of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder I’m not doing anything today or if what I do matters. I live everyday to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, and it may just be in my prayer time, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God. Now does that make you fulfilled? You bet it does! And it gives you joy about living.” Chuck Colson

Prayer: Lord, we rejoice that your child, Chuck Colson, is resting at your feet. We are in awe of how you turned this sinner’s life around and changed the world through him. We thank you for his integrity, faithfulness, humility, wisdom, boldness, and unfailing Christian witness. We thank you for the ministries he founded that we must carry on. We pray that you will raise up other Christian statesmen to carry the message to our corrupt generation. Amen

Scripture: “And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity.” Deuteronomy 28:11
“The blessed man is like a tree planted by the streams of water, which yields
Its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

Psalm 1:3
Malachi 3:10, Matthew 6:27, Philippians 4:19, Matthew 19:26


Worry Worry Worry

Worry. It’s an all-American behavior these days. Prosperity not so much. Just hearing the word worry makes your stomach tighten, your brow wrinkle, and your hands want to wring. But hearing the word prosperity produces feelings of optimism, security, and comfort. The opposite of prosperity is not poverty as you might think. It is anxiety. Worry, worry, worry. Most people define prosperity as having plenty of things and indeed, prosperous people have abundance. However, prosperity is not just having things; it is having enough. Poverty is not just the absence of things. A prosperous heart believes that it has enough because it trusts that the future will be taken care of as is the day at hand. A prosperous heart is not anxious. The anxious heart is worried and stingy because it doesn’t trust in God to provide. The prosperous heart relies on God because He is all powerful. The anxious heart knows that it is not all powerful and says, “Oh dear.” It doesn’t believe that this is a rich universe our God has created and there is plenty for all of us. Jesus said,
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27) The prosperous heart lives in abundance given graciously by God, even when things are not stockpiled in the garage. Prosperity is a state of mind. Louise Hay understood this when she wrote,
“Your prosperity consciousness is not dependent on money; your flow of money is dependent on your prosperity consciousness.”

“My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory” and He may furthermore meet even your wants because he is a generous, loving God. But we are not trained to believe it.
Apprehension today is so contagious. We’ve quickly learned to live in it. Take this recession. Yes, it “rained” on our sunny world because a bunch of people, living in a misguided way, made arrogant mistakes and now suddenly, everywhere around us is dread. We are being tutored to worry about everything, money most of all. Have we forgotten that God took care of us before? People have a way of forgetting that so quickly. I think that that was the reason for the Old Testament. God wanted us to look back and remember how He provided for his people. We have convinced ourselves that we don’t have enough, or if we do, that we might not have enough tomorrow. Financial woes are the cloud on the horizon. It may not be raining now, we think, but haven’t you heard? They’re predicting rain! Oil prices are up; that means oil is running out and soon we’ll have no heat! Greece and Italy are bankrupt and debting; that means the world economy is crashing and I’ll lose everything! A mammoth chunk of glacier broke off Greenland; that means hurricanes and tornadoes will destroy us and the whole continent of Africa will become a desert! We are trained by the media to brace ourselves against impending doom and soon all we see around us is doom, even though the lion’s share of us in America are wealthier and safer than 90% of the world’s people. Our hearts are clutched against a disaster we just know is coming.

Have you said this lately? “We are in hard times.” I have. But wait a minute. We have enough for today, right? “Well, yes, but what if…?” The market is unstable, but isn’t God stable, a rock that is higher than I? Food, health care, insurance is costly, but doesn’t God own the cattle on a thousand hills? Unemployment is high, but hasn’t God provided enough for us in the past? And even if these things aren’t true for us personally, we shake in our boots because “it could all change tomorrow, you know”. Come now. Hasn’t that always been true? Ask those who lived through the Great Depression. Let’s take a deep breath. What if our fearful perceptions are wrong? We’re going to be all right, “God willing and the creek don’t rise”, as they say. And God is willing! But you say, “In this economy, for us to be OK would take an act of God.” Indeed. Acts of God happen all the time and are there for the asking. Although we seldom realize it, we can count on God to act! “And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches.” ( Philippians 4:19)
Let’s talk about the money part of prosperity. Some people think of money as worldly and God as otherworldly, so they think they can’t ask God to help with money - it’s not important in His world, right? Not true. The Bible talks a lot about money. Even though God doesn’t want us to worship money, he sure doesn’t begrudge his children enough of it to get by. Often he wants to pour out blessings beyond our wildest imagination. “Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room for it.” (Malachi 3:10) God commands us to ask. But he doesn’t want us to be anxious about it. He wants us to live trusting him to provide moment by moment. Have you ever noticed how a dog lives in the moment? Dogs still wag their tails on a rainy day. If they are lucky enough to have a bone, they don’t worry that tomorrow there may be no bone. They chew it today and boy do they enjoy it. A lady named Edwene Gaines wrote,
“Our challenge and our goal is not to try to fight and manipulate a universe that wants to withhold our good. Instead, it is to accept that the good is here and to give ourselves permission to receive it.”

Julia Cameron, the author of a great book entitled, The Prosperous Heart, tells of a friend of hers who, so far in life, has made and lost three fortunes. He told her,
“When I had lots of dough, I was constantly afraid of losing it. No magic number was enough. When I was rich, I didn’t think less about money, I thought more about it. Consumed with worry about holding on to what I had, I seldom - no, I never- asked for God’s helping hand. Now, no longer am I at war within myself, wondering should I do this or that? I no longer need to “win” so I project less negatively into the future. I stay in the moment where it is peaceful. No longer needing to win, I have found what is enough and having enough, I can now wish others well. Now others sense my goodwill and they feel a lot more comfortable around me. They know I am generous (because I have enough for today and believe God for enough tomorrow) and they return that goodwill in kind. I’m not only doing well, I’m being well.”

The prosperous heart feels abundant, generous, secure, willing to risk, optimistic, hopeful, grateful, and kind. The prosperous heart is free to be a lamp, a lifeboat, or a ladder for others. It expects the best, which becomes contagious. When it is experiencing depressed circumstances, the prosperous heart doesn’t proclaim catastrophe. It declares that those circumstances must be God-given opportunities to work things out for the best. It believes that God must have better ideas and has its best interest at heart. It proclaims God’s companionship in each unfolding moment. It easily and trustingly asks, believing God is listening and that He cares! Luke 12:32 says, “It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Matthew 19:26 says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

To the prosperous heart, every circumstance bears the inky fingerprint of God.” Julia Cameron

Prosperity is the consciousness of God present everywhere.” Edwena Gaines

The influence of a beautiful, helpful, hopeful character is contagious, and may revolutionize a whole town.” Eleanor H. Porter

The prosperous heart can change the world.  I urge you to make this a creed:
I believe that God is inclined to say yes to me and if He says no, then He has a better idea.

Prayer Lord God, who is limitless and desires to bless your children with abundance beyond our imagination because of your great love, show us your will. Teach us what prosperity really is and lead us to that place of comfort and peace even as this world becomes a scary place. Amen

I have been meditating on a wonderful book that I finished recently.  The book is

The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of “Enough” by Julia Cameron.

Julia Cameron is best known for her first book for artists, The Artist’s Way.  She has an impressive list of credits in both writing and the theater.  The thesis statement of the book is that true prosperity has very little with how much money we have in the bank.  Rather, it is possessing the ability to see clearly and appreciate the truly valuable intangibles in our lives.  She says that the opposite of prosperity is not poverty; the opposite of prosperity is anxiety.  This is a 12 week workbook in which you learn to keep a morning journal every day, keep track of your spending and do not put yourself in debt, take a walk daily, and take a time out each day to notice what’s happening in your heart.  Other topics in the 12 weeks include figuring out what your core values are and what “enough” is for you, what does it mean to trust both in God and in our fellows, developing a state of gratitude, clearing away the clutter in our homes and lives, finding a community of both an inner circle of friends as well as mentors and those who build you up.  Week six is about kindness to self and to others, week seven is on forgiveness and dismantling negativity.  Week eight is another inventory, focused on time instead of money and week nine is about being generous.  In week ten you revisit the previous lessons and see how you’re changing.  Week eleven is about creativity and the final week is on creating a prosperity plan.

Whether you are an artist or not, whether or not you trust in God or not, a prosperous heart is a fundamental need in all of our lives.  I highly recommend this book.

I am so pleased that a poem and a short story I submitted to Red Cedar Review have been published in their most recent magazine!  As promised, here they are.

LUST AT THE LAUNDROMAT

by Cathy Conger  copyright 2012

Our clothes roll around in moist heat,
yours bumping against mine
in a thousand quick kisses,
then drawing apart for a gasp of air.

Wrapped as skin-tight as lovers aroused,
they cling for one moment of ecstasy
in a world spinning out of control
until a crackle of static dooms them
to another thousand farewells.

As shirts tumble around unbuttoning,
their sleeves meet and embrace B
and it doesn’t simply end there.

Silk stockings, like tendrils, entwine your long johns.
My lacy things throw themselves at your blue jeans.
Lost in passion they toss, tumble, and tango.
Not a cool breath passes between them
in this heated affair.

But then, that’s how I feel,
like anything is possible
when all our zippers are undone.

Rags

by Cathy Conger   copyright 2012

When school starts this fall, Rags’ house will be gone.  That’s what it says in the Daily Tribune.  Of course, few people will notice.  As it is you can barely make out his saggy, old house behind all those thick pines and tangled weeds.  Funny, too, because it sits right in the center of town and not twenty five feet from the front doors of the junior high school.  Hundreds of students walk by Rags’ place every day and lots of parents park in that block after school to pick up their kids.  I’1l bet nobody knows Rags is in there.
That’s not to say that no one has ever seen old Rags.  I expect that if you asked around town, most folks would tell you they’d seen him lots of times.  But it would be hard to find more than a couple who’d actually ever talked to him.  Rags is forever coming or going on this old, blue Schwinn bike with balloon tires and a rusty basket.  He’s real bony- looking and always wears raggedy, basketball sneakers, an old, brown cardigan sweater and Bermuda shorts.  What makes most people stare is his hair and that beard.  Did you ever see those cartoons of a man who’d been locked in chains in a dungeon, forgotten for years until his beard was grown to his toes and his bones stuck out through his skin?  Well, that’s just what Rags looks like.  He wears an old  knit cap now and then, but his long white hair and beard still flow in the wind as he pedals along.
I see him at the public library now and again myself.  He seems to like mysteries a whole lot, judging by the number of detective books he checks out.  One time he balanced so many books in his bicycle basket that I followed him for six blocks just to see how he did it.  It was amazing.  Not a single wobble.  I was so impressed by it that I mentioned it that night at supper.  Daddy scolded me for treating the man like a freak.  He said his name was not really Rags and that I should know better.
Naturally, I know nobody would actually be named Rags.  My best friend, Mike, and I made it up after we studied To Kill a Mockingbird in school.  In the book there was this strange character named Boo Radley who lived in a spooky house and never talked to people, just like our Rags.  We thought he ought to have a peculiar name too, so we came up with Rags.  Even Mama says he’s a curiosity.
My daddy is a doctor in the emergency room of our hospital and he has seen Rags there from time to time I guess.  But it wasn’t until the terrible cold snap last January that anybody paid him any mind.  The thermometer hadn’t risen above -30̊ for ten days in a row.  Schools were closed and cars that wouldn’t start were abandoned in odd places all over town.  A person could honestly get frostbite just going out to the mailbox.  I mean serious cold!  Well, it seems that Rags’ neighbor, Ralph Polk, became concerned, which he admitted only happened once in a great while.  But seeing no sign of life next door, and this being such dangerous cold weather, he bundled up to go check on Rags.  He trudged up the unshoveled walk to Rags’ rickety porch and banged on the broken screen door.  No answer.  He hollered and banged some more.  Still nothing.  Seeing as how it was too blasted cold for proper manners, he decided to go on inside anyway.
The door opened fairly easily, considering the ice around the jamb, but stopped halfway, butting up against something.  Mr. Polk eased himself through sideways and adjusted his eyes to the dim light.  “Unbelievable” was what he told my daddy it was.  “Unbelievable!”  There were stacks of newspapers and magazines floor to ceiling in every square foot of the first floor.

A narrow path had been left clear to get to the kitchen.  Mr. Polk told my daddy it smelled like something had died in there and he was steeling himself to come across Rags’ corpse any minute.
When Mr. Polk kicked aside all the empty soup and tuna fish cans in the kitchen doorway, there was Rags.  He appeared to be half dead, stretched out on the kitchen table- obviously the only open space in the house to lay down.  One leg was wrapped in an old dishtowel.  A burned down candle and a half- eaten can of baked beans sat next to his hand on the table.  He was sort of bluish, but still breathing.  There was no heat and no electricity.  Mr. Polk said it must have been that way for years and Rags had apparently made out OK until this severe cold snap.  Mr. Polk couldn’t rouse him, but he unwrapped the towel from Rags’ leg.  “Nearly lost my breakfast, Doc” he told my daddy. “The leg was totally black and rotted.” There should have been plenty of bugs and creatures around because of the filth, but there weren’t.  Mr. Polk said it was probably too cold.
That’s where my daddy comes into the picture.  Mr. Polk dashed home and called the ambulance.  They say it took two extra policemen to move enough magazines to clear a path wide enough for the stretcher.  My daddy was on duty in the emergency room when Rags arrived and he said it didn’t look good.  Rags’ temperature was nearly at the bottom of the thermometer!  But they warmed him up and bathed him properly and cleaned out the rotten leg.  Daddy saved Rags and even most of his leg.  Nobody seemed to know if he had friends or family and Mr. Polk sort of felt he’d done all he was up to doing, so Daddy called the social worker.  After a time in the hospital, Rags was taken to an old folks home and seemed happy enough to go I guess.  We wanted to go see the inside of that house but Mama said “disgusting” and forbid it.
When the cold wave passed and we went back to school, we saw yellow police tape all around Rags’ property.  By summer there was a “condemned” sign out front.  Not too long ago, I asked my daddy what causes a man to stop living in the world.  He said he didn’t know but that hard times make even the nicest of folks do strange things and that we should be glad that Mr. Wheeler has a nice place to stay and people to care for him now.
Here in the paper is something interesting, though.  Next to the “Notice of Demolition” is a picture of Rags taken a long time ago.  The caption says his name is Francis Garrison Wheeler and he was an actuary for fifty years, whatever that is.  I keep staring at that picture trying to add a beard and wild hair to it to make it look like Rags, but I can’t do it.  The Francis Garrison Wheeler in this picture has a college professor look about him and I wonder. When did Francis become Rags?
Anyway, they’re going to tear down old Rags’ house.  It’s a shame really.  Maybe we could’ve gone in and cleaned it up nice and Rags - I mean Mr. Wheeler - could’ve moved back in.  That corner will never be the same, which is OK I guess, because all the mystery has gone out of it anyway.

Scripture: Psalm 139:13-16

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

The last few weeks have been quite an ordeal for me. As most of you know, I have had the challenge for over 25 years of living with an often painful chronic illness that so far has no cure, fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia and it’s close cousin, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which I also have, are not life-threatening although sometimes I feel as though that couldn’t possibly be true. The severity of the illness waxes and wanes unpredictably. Most of the time I can lead a normal life and then one day, I can’t. It’s sort of like trying to plan a picnic. Picnic plans go along great guns until the day comes and it’s pouring rain. Then it’s on to Plan B. I’ve learned in these past 25 years that a fulfilling life means keeping on planning picnics and be prepared to cancel or go to a variety of Plan B’s!

Anyway, this past winter has been a struggle with some persistent symptoms I wasn’t happy with. I developed depression, pain in the hips, knees, and ankles, gained an abnormal amount of weight, fluid retention in the feet, and constant headaches. I thought the Caribbean cruise my husband and I had planned for the end of March would be the medicine I needed. Just before we left, I experienced unusual fatigue and muscle pain. I wasn’t sure I had the energy to even go on the trip, but we made it to Florida and boarded the cruise ship. Despite the luxurious tropical conditions and relaxing entertainments, I felt myself growing weaker. By the time we got home, my pain was almost unmanageable, my joints swollen, my neck stiff and my mind hazy. One minute I was freezing and the next hot as an oven. I was sleeping round the clock. I don’t mind telling you that I was frightened. My rheumatologist was a little baffled but ordered a full blood work-up and X-rays of the most painful joints. The following day, just when I thought I couldn’t take much more, the doctor called with news I couldn’t quite believe. He said nothing was particularly abnormal except that my vitamin D3 level was “dangerously low”. “Big deal,” I thought. But it turns out that it’s a very big deal. I soon learned more about vitamin D than I’d ever known. This seemingly ordinary vitamin plays a major role in our health.

Vitamin D3 plays a major role at the cellular level, regulating insulin resistance (weight gain/loss) , supporting the immune system, balancing mood (depression, anxiety, irritability) , preventing inflammation, maintaining cardiac health, helping with control of body temperature, preventing fatigue, regulating calcium absorption, and maintaining bone health. Known as the “sunshine vitamin”, we normally get enough from the sun and foods that contain the vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency in children with growing bones results in a crippling disease called rickets. In adults, particularly post-menopausal women, it can cause a host of problems like I have. Most of us, especially those of us who live above the 40th parallel, don’t get enough sun to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. As we age, vitamin D absorption decreases. And once our level gets low, we cannot eat or sun ourselves back to normal. My vitamin D tank had dropped to empty and it was playing havoc with my body. I am now taking massive doses of D3 (over -the-counter D3 tablet is 1000 units and I am taking 50,000 units per week) . They also gave me a week’s worth of prednisone for the inflammation which has really helped.
[Note: Vitamin D and D3 are fat-soluble vitamins, that is, they are stored in the body rather than water soluble vitamins that are excreted through the kidneys. That means that taking too much can lead to toxicity. Having your blood level tested is the only way to know if you are deficient.]

After two weeks of rest and taking the medication, I am starting to feel much better, although I will need to take the high dose supplements for several months before my vitamin D level will be up to normal. But I expect to see daily improvement. Monday I start water therapy to get my muscle strength back and, of course, I am trying to get outside in the sun as much as I can. I can say, “Praise God! There’s an answer and I’m climbing out of the pit!”

Do you know what I’ve been thinking through all of this? I’ve truly been in awe of the way the human body is made and functions. As I read about all the biochemistry involved in keeping the healthy body running, all the intricate balances of hormones, enzymes, and cellular chemicals that are involved just with vitamin D, I am amazed at God’s hand that created me! How could anyone study human anatomy and physiology and not see the hand of an omnipotent, brilliant Creator? Just the function of the brain alone is overwhelming. In my nursing education, I was constantly amazed that we humans have as few illnesses and malfunctions as we do, considering how complex and delicately balanced our bodies are. There is no machine ever built that compares. I am so thankful that God revealed to my doctor what was wrong (and that He taught the scientists how to make vitamins!)

The Psalmist said, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Psalm 139: 14

This passage reads beautifully in The Message translation as follows:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God-you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration-what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
Psalm 139: 13-16

Don’t ever be tempted to take your body and it’s health for granted!

Prayer: Lord God, my Creator and great Physician, I thank you for making me, for healing me, and for giving doctors a peak into how your creation works. I thank you for my husband, who has walked patiently and lovingly through this illness with me. I pray for those who right now need what you have given me, a diagnosis and a treatment for their illness. Amen