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My 4 Fathers


How many fathers have you had? Were they good ones? I’ve had 3 dads in my life +1 – all of whom brought something special into my life that have contributed to who I am and what I am becoming.

My birth dad’s name was James Robert Devers. He was one of 10 children and fathered a family of 7 children, of which I am smack dab in the middle, #4 child (1 sister – the eldest, and 5 brothers). Dad was a handsome, strong, viral, 6’ 2” tall man, with sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes and a pleasant demeanor. He and my mom married when he was 22 and she was 16.

Though we lived on our own land, financially we would have been considered a lower income family; living without such amenities as indoor plumbing, a furnace, or electricity. We heated with wood and coal and lighted our home with kerosene lamps.

My dad was raised on a farm in north-eastern Virginia – you won’t find many farms in that area now because it’s mostly a bedroom community for Washington DC.  He did not graduate from high school – having quit school to work on his dad’s farm after the eighth grade. At age 17 he went to work for the railroad, doing manual labor on the “yards”, where train cars came in for repairs.

James Devers was a man of integrity – if he gave his word, he kept it. He was a hard worker, an outdoorsman. My dad taught us by his life to not be lazy. He was self-sufficient and industrious.

As he continued to work for the railroad, Dad also did odd jobs for friends, extended family and neighbors. Plus he had a large garden in the summer to help feed his family. Any garden overage was taken to the farmers’ market or given away. He was a very outgoing man, friendly to strangers – there were not many people in our town that he did not know. Dad felt that to have friends, you had to be friendly. He was optimistic, confident, and generous, especially to his girls. He was also proud and prejudiced.

He came from a stock of people who accepted bad news as a part of life. When he was diagnosed with cancer at age 64, he accepted death as inevitable – which didn’t quite gel with his optimistic nature. He lived for only two more years.

Cancer brought him to faith in Christ – as he said to me from his hospital bed – “I know who I have to trust for heaven, and it’s not me.”  And the person who led him to Christ was one that, due to Dad’s racial prejudices, would not have been allowed into his inner personal space a few years before. But God’s love does that – it takes down barriers and redefines us and our long-held beliefs.

At the time my dad became ill, I was single, living in NJ and attending a church there. My pastor and his wife had no children of their own and “adopted” me. I remember when my dad was diagnosed they said to me, “You will always have a home with us.”

So, when my birth dad passed away, I had another dad. His name was Phil and he was basically a “city boy”. He was raised as an only child in a middle income family. Phil was very different from my father, though about the same age. He was college and seminary educated, not of many words, and had a deep faith that had sustained him since youth. He was thoughtful and a good listener. He had a good sense of humor, but was not loud like my father. He also was a man of his word and chose his words carefully. He was a careful planner, financial saver, and wise investor. He was a “suit and tie man”, where my birth dad was a work pants, work boots guy, except for occasions like weddings. Phil wasn’t expressive with his affection, but he, along with my adopted mom, parented me as a young adult – shared their lives, even vacations with me and later with my husband.

My third dad was my father-in-law, Dave Alves. I think when he died I cried more than my husband did. He was upper-middle class, college-educated, and had served in the US Navy. He had risen from immigrant Portuguese status to a management position with an insurance firm. Dad Alves was a fun person. He filled a room when he entered. He was the entertainer at family parties. Outgoing, stubborn, but never quite sure of himself. He was warm and accepting and interested in kids – my husband’s childhood friends loved being around his dad.

I also loved Dad Alves because he and his wife, Betty, had adopted my husband, David, from an orphanage when he was about age 4 or 5 years old. They took a chance on a kid who had been in 10 or so foster homes in the first couple years after being removed from his birth parents by the state of Massachusetts. Dave and Betty did a good job with him.

Dad  Alves not only accepted me, but was proud of my vocal abilities and encouraged David and me in our Christian concert ministry – though not a follower of Christ at the time. He came to a commitment to Christ on his hospital bed after a heart attack. He died several months later.

All three of my “dads” contributed to what I have been and am becoming, by loving me, encouraging me in my particular ministry pursuits, validating my abilities, and modeling character traits such as:  generosity, kindness, friendliness, integrity, hard work, honesty, truthfulness, and courage to face what comes your way. They also taught me the need for listening to others, taking time for fun, and applying yourself to your goals.

But my 4th dad is the best of all – and that’s my Heavenly Father. Though I’m sure He was active in my life long before I recognized Him as “Father”, He proves over and over how very precious I am as a daughter of His. He has provided me with tools not only for this life, but for the life beyond this one. Unlike my other dads, He has promised never to leave me or forsake me. He has promised to complete the work He has begun in me, to give me wisdom for each situation, to answer my prayers, to heal me, to save me from disaster, to be with me in trouble, to cause “all things to work for good” in my life.

I don’t have to travel to visit Him, but I can have an audience with Him any time of the day or night. He listens to my yearnings, my pleadings, my supplications, my confessions, my complaints, my discouragements, my questions, my theorizing and my expressions of gratitude. His presence fills the room, especially the room inside me, more than either of my other dads. He points out my faults and weaknesses only to show me a better way and to lead me to learn to trust Him completely with my life.

Thank you, God for my three earthly fathers, and for being the ultimate Father for whatever “orphans” are out there, who want to be in a loving family with a loving Dad.

©2011, Marcy Alves

 

Trials and a Thankful Heart


Thankful heartI love holiday celebrations: Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day – steadily marching by in a series of remembrances of festive family gatherings, tasty seasonal dishes, decorations and lighting displays, parades and numerous holiday social events. Thanksgiving and Christmas rank the highest for me because they hold the most meaning in my life.

I was reading recently about a Thanksgiving celebration which took place in 1623 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the summer of that year Massachusetts crops were threatened by a shortage of rainfall “from the third week of May until the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat.” Fasting, rather than feasting was ordered by Puritan governor William Bradford, who recorded in his History of Plimouth Plantation, 1606-1646:

“They sett aparte a solemn day of humiliation to seek the Lord by humble and fervente prayer in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer . . . Toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to raine with such sweet showers as gave them cause of rejoycing and blessing God. Afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers with enterchange of faire warme weather as through his blessing, caused a fruitfull and liberal harvest to their no small comforte and rejoycing. For such mercie, in time conveniente, they also sett apart a day of thanksgiving.” (Reported in Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English calendar July 15, 2014)

It’s interesting that the Puritan’s trials produced humility, followed by fervent prayer, which resulted in blessings, that produced thanksgiving. Most of us would prefer to skip the first two steps: trial and humility.

Last year during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, I faced a trial of my own. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer 5 ½ years earlier and prescribed with mastectomy, to be followed by chemo and radiation. I was set to go that course when friends from several different places put me onto naturopathic treatment as an alternative consideration. For almost three years I followed a very holistic diet, exercise, and supplement regimen which resulted in a remission of the breast cancer. Then life got busy and the diet and health routine became harder to follow.

During the fall of 2012 a tumor began to grow in the same breast, and in the spring of 2013 surfaced from the breast. By late summer, there was a large tumor with periodic bleeds which were hard to stop and twice sent me to the emergency room. You may be asking why I did not seek medical treatment earlier.

Back in 2008 with my first diagnosis I had sought the Lord immediately about a treatment decision. At that time He gave me 5 specific words: 1. Don’t be afraid. 2. Trust me, I’m with you. 3. This is not just for you, but also for others. 4. Wait on me. 5. Be still and KNOW that I am God.

After the cancer returned, I began to pray fervently that the Lord would continue the healing which I had experienced those first three years. But that did not happen. Gradually through times of continued prayer for guidance, I met someone who had undergone moderated traditional cancer treatment; I sensed that this time the Lord was taking me in a different direction. I felt that He wanted me to experience His presence and healing in the more traditional approach, but to keep following His original five words to me.

I first consulted with a surgeon, to whom my primary care doctor referred me, who told me she could not operate on the tumor because it presented a stage 3+ cancer, and was of too large a diameter to afford proper healing if she were to remove it. I was referred to an oncologist, and a radiologist who had experience in the use of lose-dose radiation on such tumors, and was willing to take my case.

From early November through mid-December of 2013 I experienced five weeks of lose-dose radiation treatments, accompanied by a form of chemo pill. I began to turn the visits with the doctors and the radiation treatment sessions into times of prayer. Prayer for safety from the cancer treatments, for God’s healing hand in the cancer treatments, and prayer for anyone I met in the departments of oncology and radiology at the Paysen Cancer Center at Concord Hospital – doctors, technicians, nurses, office personnel, and other cancer patients and their families. I sensed God’s comforting presence during each visit.

The results of this trial and seeking God in it were, and are, many answered prayers: the complete destruction of the presenting tumor, a clearing of the cancer in the breast – all treatments without sickness or pain of any kind from the tumor – which I consider to be a miracle – I attribute this to God’s gracious, loving answer to my prayers and those of my family and many friends around the world.

There are other things from that trial for which I am thankful: remember God told me when first diagnosed not to be afraid? Even with the emergence of the large tumor and the sometimes severe bleeding, there was no fear – aggravation, yes, but no fear. I have been drawn into a deeper relationship with my heavenly Father, my husband, and our daughter (who, without being asked, took time off from work to accompany me to the hospital, just to be with me and to give my husband a break from the daily treatment routine). Also, many people have shared with me that my situation has caused them to trust the Lord more. Plus all the treatment bills were met, without any debt remaining!

I am thankful for every day of the life God has granted me on this earth. My husband has commented to others that he can see a deepening of my faith, a quieter more peaceful spirit. Each time I take a shower and see the scar from the tumor, I whisper a quick “Thank you, Father” to God for His loving hand on my life.

And I am thankful for the encouragement of Scripture:

James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Peter 4:12-13  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Romans 5:3-5  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

If you are going through a trial right now, let it take you deeper into God and into faith in Him; this will result in a true heart of thanksgiving – appreciation for all that you have that is really important in life.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

Other posts on Thanksgiving:

Words of 2 Presidents:Heart of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving: A State of Mind – An Expression of Faith

Thanksgiving: A Time of Reflection

©2014, Marcy Alves

Death of a Salesman


grave markerRobin Williams was a real salesman. As an actor he convinced us to feel what the characters he portrayed were feeling. As a comedian, his facial expressions, voices, dialects, accents and insanely funny interpretations of ordinary things were delivery genius. I checked on the word “salesman” in the online Free Dictionary by Farlex. One of the definitions was, “one who sells goods, services, etc.” As I said, Robin was a real salesman. He sold us laughter.

We laughed at him in the TV series Mork and Mindy (’78-’82), Mrs. Doub­­tfire, and Aladdin; agonized with him in such films as Awakenings, and perhaps felt his personal loneliness in Good Will Hunting. We’ll always remember his iconic radio sign-on as the disc jockey in Good Morning Viet Nam. These and other film roles, as well as public comedy appearances endeared him to the hearts of many Americans and many others around the globe.

Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Good Will Hunting. He also received two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and five Grammy Awards.

However, despite his versatility and success as an actor, and his amazing comedic wizardry, Williams suffered from depression throughout his life, and also struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. Though he was gifted to make others laugh and outwardly laughed with them, there was little laughter on the inside; little internal joy to offset the dark shadow which hung over him most of his life. On August 11, 2014, Williams was found dead, after committing suicide by hanging, at his home in Paradise Cay, near Tiburon, California.

People can surmise as to why a man, who by most reports was a kind and sensitive human being, who seemed so intent on bringing laughter to others, would make the selfish decision to end the struggles of his personal life in such a grotesque way? Why not just take sleeping pills or some other quick acting drug? Why leave this horrible picture for his family and friends to grapple with? Was it to shock the sensibilities of the world so that they would take notice of those who are in such chronic depression as his life record seems to indicate? Or was it something else? In an earlier interview with Diane Sawyer, Robin said that through his life there was a voice that would pop into his head telling him to “jump”, “kill youself”. This time he listened to the voice.

What kinds of things unchained the “black dog”, as Winston Churchill used to call his own bouts with depression? Was it the pains of the world that Williams took on, or his own personal pains, disappointments, rejections, discouragements; or was it the exhaustion of human energy in his fight to survive? We do know that he had a short time ago received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.

Someone reported that Williams was a member of a Christian church. I wonder, had he heard in his church about the One who was called “man of sorrows”; the man who came to reveal to us the heart of God – to flesh-out our heavenly Father’s love for us?

This man, Jesus, also died a grotesque death – not at his own hands, but at the hands of those he came to save. He didn’t take his own life, but he did say, “I lay it down” (John 10:18). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus came to save us – the lost (Luke 19:10). To save us from what? From sin, from Satan, and from ourselves – our attitudes, our dilemmas, our perplexities, and concerns. He’s the one who said,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

I realize that there are Christians who suffer from depression; most often it is related to something specific: abuses, losses (the death of a loved one, loss of health or youth or a job) a divorce, other disappointments or discouragements. Some people get depressed out of discontentment with where life has dropped them with seemingly no way out. Others develop depression out of an unforgiving spirit and ensuing anger.

I’ve never heard of a baby being born with depression, though it can develop early on in life. From my personal observations of acquaintances who are currently or have been in depression, most have arrived there because of life trauma – sometimes a personal sin. I don’t believe that “mental illness” is an adequate explanation of depression, without tracking down the route the depressed person has traveled along the way to depression.  There are causes – often multiple causes. You can medicate the symptoms – but you can’t cure depression with medicine. However, I firmly believe it can be cured.

We are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beings – all in one. That’s why we are taught in Scripture (Deut. 6:4-5, Mark 12:29-30) to love the Lord our God with our heart (emotional), soul (spiritual), mind (mental) and strength (physical). As we surrender our whole being to Christ and take proper care of those four parts of our human self, it will affect our state of mind.

If anyone had reason to be depressed by life circumstances, it was Jesus. He was poor all of His life. His life purpose precluded marriage. He was often hungry and tired. He wept, he got angry – He had emotions. He was misunderstood and accused of having demons. The crowds that applauded Him later turned away. He was betrayed by a “friend”. His closest followers abandoned Him in His greatest time of need. He suffered an unjust death of humiliation on a public cross. Yet, while hanging on the cross He asked the Father to forgive His enemies – He didn’t hold grudges, didn’t pledge vengeance.

Don’t think it was easier for Jesus because He was God’s Son: Heb. 4:15 says

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Though Jesus experienced human suffering, He was a joyful man – little children loved being around Him.

What a salesman Jesus was! His life convinces us to live as He did. His death paid the price for healing in every area of our lives. And His resurrection guarantees delivery on the product. He offers us a gift greater than laughter – He has promised us joy.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

When we surrender to the presence of His Spirit within us, we find the ability to walk in that joy in spite of our life circumstances.

The Scriptures lay out a plan for a achieving and maintaining a healthy mind:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:4-8

 

©2014, Marcy Alves

Turn On the Light


turn on light #2

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),  and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Eph. 5:8-10

It’s interesting how the presence of light affects us. When I return home after dark, I love to see lights on in our windows; so I leave our Christmas candles in the windows well into springtime. An unlit house seems to uninviting. On rainy days at home, I turn on lights in whichever room I’m in – lots of them; otherwse the dreariness makes me sleepy. I’m noticing there are other people like me.

We host a house-church fellowship in our home every Sunday morning. And I’ve noticed something interesting: on sunny days the conversations are more animated, and attention and participation in our “Celebration” time are more enthusiastic. On dreary, overcast days the mood is more subdued; on those days I make it a point to turn on the lights in the family room where we gather.

Recently our weekly Sunday meeting day started out sunny, but a short way into our fellowship time, the skies darkened and began to pour rain. The rain started just after we had been called back from our coffee break to hear the message my husband had prepared to share. I hurried into the meeting room to turn on some lights, but David had already begun to speak. So, I didn’t get to the light at the front of the room where he sat on a stool, nor to the one at the end of the room nearest him. Not wanting to distract or interrupt his message, I quietly found a seat at the opposite end of the room.

My husband’s message was about how believers have “unveiled faces” (unlike Moses, who in the Old Testament, after he had spent time with the Lord in his tent of meeting, had to veil his face so the people would not be frightened by the radiance of God on his face). David shared that as we look at the Lord, His glory (radiance) is reflected in our faces more and more, and we begin to be changed into His likeness – to look more like our Savior, Jesus.

The darker the skies got outside on that Sunday morning, the darker it became in the portion of the room where David was speaking. His facial features were almost hidden, even though his voice was animated. He rose from his stool a few times to address the people with more animation. I noticed that the lady sitting in the chair next to me and three other people in the room had fallen asleep. It wasn’t due to the lack of vocal volume or animation; it was an important word, but they were missing the message due to the lack of physical light in the room, because they couldn’t see his face, they became drowsy in the half-light of the room . It was a living example of what a lack of light will do.

This situation triggered a thought; you might say a light went on in my head: often people can’t “see” our message of God’s love because His image is not clearly visible in us – perhaps we’ve neglected to spend time beholding Him,  or maybe we’ve let our own trials and difficulties turn our focus from God to our circumstances; in either case, the glory has faded. If the light of our Lord is not shining out from us, if people are not seeing His glory reflected in us, they will not be “awake” to our message. Our witness will be a spiritual slumber inducer – mere words without spiritual illumination.

My house has lots of windows; I love the feeling I get from all the light in my home. In an earlier post I wrote about my plastic penguin that dances in the daylight on an old green chest in front of my uncurtained dining room window. He dances most vigorously in sunlight and only rocks a little when the clouds block the sun. He does not dance at night. I’m a lot like that plastic penguin. Light gives me energy; overcast days dull me.

There are also people who energize me and others who drain me; people who give off light and people who seem to have the switch in a permanent “off” position – always complaining about something and diffusing my joy.

When people radiate the Lord, I love being in their presence; it stirs up a spiritual energy in me and also causes me to see my heavenly Father more clearly. That kind of light attracts me like a moth is attracted to our houselights at night. This is a big part of what drew me to the Lord as a young teenager – the light of Christ shining from the youth workers who spent time to reach us with God’s message of love.

If we want to be effective in bringing light into this ever darkening world, we need to be attentive to spending time in God’s presence, soaking in it; this should be a life priority, because He is the source of our spiritual light – that transforming “sonlight”.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory (radience) to another.” ESV

Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and  give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  NKJV

Spend some time with the Lord today, then get out there and show the world what He looks like. Live the message and turn on the light so people can find their way to Him.

By the way, my penguin is dancing today, and so am I.

 

©2014, Marcy Alves

 

Worship: What Is It? And Are We Doing It?


Yesterday I stopped by my husband’s office on the way to the laundry – fortunately it took no gas and only a little time because both are located in our walk-in basement.  David was online exploring the world of U-tube (or maybe God-tube) “worship” venues, some professionally done, some – well, you know, not so professionally done.  Since he knows my heart for worship – particularly with music – he said he spotted something that I should see and clicked on a video title.

I have been to many “worship services” over the years – from the red (or blue or green) hymnal format led by organ/piano and front-man dressed in suit and tie, to contemporary worship bands complete with loud-speakers, electric instruments, drums, light shows, etc., dressed in whatever they felt like wearing that day. I have had both good and bad experiences with both worship formats. Honestly, my preference is modified contemporary – meaning, I don’t mind the volume if it does no damage to my eardrums and I don’t care much how the band is dressed if their musical worship leads me into an experience with my Savior and/or my Heavenly Father.

Back to David’s computer worship selection: it was a contemporary band, with a “worship leader” wearing a foot high Mohawk. I’m okay with that. He asked the crowd of people, mostly youth, to take off their shoes because they were on holy ground. Hey, that’s okay too – didn’t God instruct Moses to do the same? What came next appeared to be a really fun kid-time as the participants were instructed to wave a sock around over their heads and jump up and down and spin around as they sang, “You spin me around, Jesus.” Later the instruction came to “wave your hands over your head, like you don’t care.” The kids seemed to be having fun trying to follow these instructions.

We took time to read the comments from various viewers regarding this “worship” video. Some questioned whether it was real worship, others defended “having fun” while you worship.

The next video David clicked on (I can only assume for my viewing pleasure) was one with a woman “worship” leader shrieking out (she definitely was not singing) various instructions to the audience mixed with numerous tributes to God who, based on the volume of her shouts, might have been a bit hard of hearing. (Maybe loud shriek  is your preference, but definitely not mine.)

By the way, the first video was labeled “Worst Worship Ever” and the second was titled, “More of the Worst Worship”.

I want to weigh in here with my two or three cents.

The word “worship” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word, “weorthscipe” – weorth meaning worthy or honorable, and scipe meaning “ship”, which when used as a suffix means “the quality, condition or state of” or “the rank, status or office of”. So the act of worship is ascribing the quality of worth or honor to something or someone.

If someone is addressed as “your worship” it denotes being worthy, having excellence of character, dignity or worth.  The verb form of “worship” is defined as “to adore or pay divine honors to”, or “to reverence with supreme respect”.

You can say what you want about modern worship needing to be “relevant” to the worshiper, and defend whatever you want by saying “somebody has to reach the kids on their terms” (although I thought worship was to reach God, not people).  But – the questions which the two above-mentioned “worship” illustrations call to mind are these:  is what we are doing in the name of “worship” really to honor our Divine Creator, Supreme Being, Beautiful Savior, God above all gods, King of kings, Lord of lords, Holy God, and Loving Father? Are we teaching kids to really “worship” God? Or are we creating crowd-pleasing, emotion-stirring, fun events that have little or nothing to do with ascribing honor to the worthiness of our Heavenly Father or His Son, Jesus the Messiah?

I am not against Christians having fun – but let’s call it a fun-fellowship time and not call it worship. I personally believe that we would be totally bowled over and amazed at the worship that goes on in heaven, were we allowed to catch a glimpse of it this side of the grave.

This is not an attempt to hold up one type of worship above another – I believe that God’s heart can be just as pleased with electric guitars as with pipe organs, with loud music as well as soft music, with slow rhythm well as well as a dance beat, with a man in a suit and tie as well as a girl in jeans and tank top. But I do think that sometimes He wonders what or who we are “worshiping” – are we focusing on Him as we sing our songs or dance our dances or play our instruments.

Do we come away from our “worship” experience knowing that we have touched the heart of our Father and sensing that He has returned the touch to our hearts? Have we been more focused on the fun of the music than on the meaning of the words? Have we connected with heaven while still here on earth as we offer our adoration, our joy, our praise to our loving Father?

Got any thoughts on worship from your own experiences? Share them with me.

©2011, Marcy Alves

World News?


Do you ever wonder about the kinds of news stories that are passed off as “world news” and how much of the “world” would really be interested in those stories?

Our own “news networks” sometimes seem to search out “news stories” that impugn, demean, inflame, marginalize or demonize issues or events for strictly political purposes.

The last couple of nights we watched as one of the major news networks attempted to disqualify Michele Bachmann as a viable Presidential candidate due to her husband’s “Christian counseling” clinic’s advice offered to one or more homosexual “clients”, one of which was a ”plant” with a hidden camera. Obviously that “client” was not there to receive counseling or advice for any other purpose than supporting a “scandalous” news story, with a sole intent of undermining a political campaign.

That a Christian counselor would attempt to lead an avowed homosexual out of the homosexual lifestyle by prayer and an experience with God is nothing new. Christians have been doing that for centuries –  matter of fact, since the beginning of Christianity.

Traditional Christianity, as well as the traditional Jewish faith, has always considered homosexuality as a sexual sin – like adultery, fornication, bestiality, sodomy, pornography, incest, etc.  A gay person who sleeps around is just as guilty of adultery and fornication as a straight person who sleeps around or has sex outside of marriage.

There are Holy Scriptures from both traditions that reveal God’s displeasure with homosexuality – at least the Christian and Jewish God’s displeasure. Some references you may want to check out for support are: Leviticus 18:1-29 & Job 31:1 Old Testament; Matt. 5:28, Romans 1:18-32 & 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 – New Testament.

If a counselor really believes that a person is living in a sinful state and that God has a way out, it’s his responsibility to counsel that person toward that way out – toward healing and deliverance from that sin – not just for this life, but for the possibility of life after death.

Testimonies from many who previously indulged themselves in the homosexual lifestyle and are no longer living in that bondage prove that such counsel can be exceedingly beneficial.  Not all who are counseled to escape such a lifestyle are “harmed” by such counsel – many are set free from the nagging guilt and shame often attending such a lifestyle. (See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.)

So why should such a “story” make the national or “world news” on a major network? It’s certainly not to inform or enlighten. Besides that, what does her husband’s counseling center have to do with whether Mrs. Bachmann is a qualified candidate? Such a story is a political ploy to distract and disrupt a campaign that seems to be picking up momentum.

Give us some other reason not to support a candidate – like something criminal – not a mere matter of religious belief. There are a lot of people out there who believe that those in the homosexual lifestyle need help. And while you may not agree with Mr. Bachmann’s counseling techniques, his work does not disqualify his wife.

By the way, writing this blog does not mean that I am declaring my support of any particular candidate. It is declaring my lack of support for “news” that is not really “newsworthy”. Isn’t anything else going on nationally or internationally that could be on “world news”? Guess I’ll have to go to the BBC.

What are your thoughts of what’s news worthy?

©2011, Marcy Alves

The Purpose of Pain – part 2 of 2


Pain is no fun. We all would probably choose to live in a pain-free world, which would require an injury-free world, because to have an injury without pain could result in avoidable death. But as presented in part 1, pain does have purpose and the ability to feel pain is a gift from God.

But even though pain has positive purpose, it still hurts. Human pain of several kinds – mental, emotional and physical – are interconnected – affecting each others on-set and intensity.

We all have pain in our lives. What do we do about it? We need to ask questions like the following:

  • Do I prefer the pain to freedom from the pain? For example, this may be true about those who have been emotionally hurt and refuse to forgive those who have hurt them.
  • Is my physical pain caused by emotional injury or mental pain?
  • Is this pain really necessary? Or is there something I can do about it?
  • How can I handle this pain in the most beneficial way to me and those close to me?

Several years ago I received two phone calls in the same week. The first was from a friend who had lost her husband of 39 years from an unexpected heart attack. The second call was from a friend who just lost a close relative to cancer.

Both women would identify themselves as Christians. Both women were hurting – both were wondering if and when the grief would ever end. Yet their responses to their losses displayed quite a contrast to each other.

The first woman had released her husband and her grief to the Lord. She missed him greatly, but knew he was safe in the Lord’s keeping and that she would see him again some day.

The second woman, who had lost a nephew to cancer, was also a doctor. She was   bitter and angry with God. Her statement to me was, “When I see God He will have to answer to me for what He allowed to happen.”

Did the second woman love more deeply than the first woman?  Not on your life!  Was the first woman more loved by God? No. For God is strong enough to absorb our misplaced anger and disappointment.

There are three situations where pain overwhelmed me, and I was astonished that God did not answer my prayers the way I prayed them.

Auto Accident: A few years ago I was involved in an auto accident, which was not my fault. A driver attempting to pass me on a narrow road side-swiped my car, taking off the outside of my driver-side door. I was taken to court one year later by the insurance company of the owner of the other car. The driver of that car (who was not the owner) lied in court. I had asked God to make truth triumph. But the case was decided in liar’s favor.

What do you do when you’ve been hurt by a lie?  When you lose faith in our judicial system

I’ve learned to hold to the facts:  God spared my life and the lives of the people in the other car. And God is still in control; He will deal with that man who lied. I wanted Him to deal with that man who lied “now” at the time of the hearing.  However, as I look back on that court hearing years later, I want God to deal in mercy instead of judgment.

Broken engagement: Before I met my husband, David, I committed my affections and my future to a handsome young man. I was willing to give up my own plans and aspirations for him. We became engaged. He met someone else. End of love story, beginning of pain.

What do you do when your affection is not returned – when someone betrays your trust? The natural response is to ask, “What’s wrong with me? Was I not attractive enough? Not good enough? What did I do that lost his affection?”

I remember crying out to God, “You don’t know what will make me happy.

After nights of crying and soul searching, I asked God to heal me and to pick my husband for me.  I committed my love and trust and aspirations to Him. I found out He did know what kind of man would make me happy – one who would cherish me and our relationship. That’s my husband, David.

Miscarriage:  I was pregnant for the first time after 9 years of marriage. I had thanked God for this child. I offered the child to Him.  And God took the child before I ever got to hold it.

What do you do when God takes you at your word?  “God, this child, husband, person, occupation, object, dream I give to you.”  And He takes it.

There is a song we sing at Sunday celebration which says,

“You give and take away, you give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Blessed be your name.”

I decided long ago to let God be God in my life.

You see, I know that it is not our circumstances that hinder our faith, it is our response to our circumstances that hinder our faith walk.

Current Challenge: And now I have the challenge of breast cancer. As I’ve share in an earlier post, God has led me in a different way for dealing with it. But no matter which course you or I or anyone else my chose or be led to take, there is pain involved. I have the pain of people not understanding my choice of “treatment” – those who think I’ve really lost it.

Others who question whether my faith is strong or whether I’ve done something to deserve this.

Pain has a purpose:  I am learning more deeply what it means to trust my Heavenly Father’s love.

The Scriptures ask, “When he returns, will He find faith on the earth?” My heart cries out, if He returns in my lifetime, I want more than anything for the answer to be “yes” and I want Him to find that faith in me.

Pain can turn us toward God or away from Him. It’s our choice which direction we want to take. As for me and my house, we will “choose” the Lord.

©2011, Marcy Alves

The Purpose of Pain – part 1 of 2


Have you ever had a hurt that just wouldn’t go away? It might be physical, mental or emotional, but any of the three can put you in a bad place. If I were creating this world, I might be tempted to make it a painless place. But here we are in a world that can hurt.

There are two truths I know about pain:

  • First. like a red light on the dashboard, pain tells us that something is wrong.
  • Second, the ability to feel pain is a gift from God.

What?! Pain, a gift from God?! How can that be? A leper would have no problem agreeing with that statement. The absence of pain sensors is their greatest enemy.

What does pain do for us? Several things.

Physical Pain:

  • signals danger: “Take your hand off that hot pan!” “Get away from the hornet’s nest!” “Call for an ambulance now!”
  • reveals disease or other physical complications
  • reveals emotional stress or anxiety

Emotional Pain:

  • signals psychological danger: “Get out of that relationship!” “Let go of that grudge or that expectation!” “Forgive others!”
  • measures the level of affection we have for someone, some project, or some thing;
  • reveals our self-centeredness;
  • measures how active or alive our faith is – what our trust level in God is.

Mental Pain:

  • signals need for change in our thought processes.

Mental pain can often be the cause of or feed into both physical and emotional pain;

It can isolate us and distort our view of reality. It can intensify physical and emotional pain – keeping us from healing.

The Bible has a lot to say about the need for change in our mental processes:

  • “As a man thinks, so is he.’ Prov. 23:7
  • “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace . . . ” Rom. 8:6 (One way of thinking leads to death, the other to life.)
  • “. . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Rom. 12:2

We are so intricately designed by our Creator that physical, emotional, and mental pain are linked in their effects.

Physical pain can both affect and be affected by mental and emotional pain.

Mental pain, such as depression, can have physical causes, such as inflammation.

Physical pain can create emotional pain that results in mental distress: “Why is this happening to me? Have I done something wrong? Is God mad at me? Does God love me?”

C.S. Lewis said that “God whispers to us through our pleasures, but he shouts at us through our pain.”

What is God trying to communicate to us through our pain? Sometimes I wish He would not shout so loudly.

The challenge is to relate to God in the midst of our circumstances without laying blame on Him. Pain is God’s gift; it is a red light on our spiritual dashboard which measures not only our physical, mental, emotional health, but our spiritual health, our level of faith. Is our tank full, half-full or empty?

What we say we believe and what we do in response to pain often don’t match up.

  • We say we believe in God, but we live like unbelievers — we are Christians by proclamation but atheists by practice.
  • We say God is the all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, ever-present One, but we question His sovereignty in our lives over and over again, by our ceaseless question: “Why are you letting this happen to me?”
  • Like the old Ford Motor Company slogan, we think we “have a better idea” than God’s idea.
  • We say we are creations of God, yet, we see Him as our creation, and we can’t understand why He doesn’t do things the way we programmed Him when we made Him up.

Yet, if we had never existed, God would still exist — His eternal existence is quite apart from us.  And as this self-existent, eternal One, He is not answerable to any of us.

God has not failed because He has not done things our way.

When we hurt, instead of looking for the real cause of our pain – that within us which is sick, or injured and in need of God’s healing, we look for someone else to blame the pain on – and often we place the blame for our unhappiness on God.

How do you handle your pain? I’ll share in the next installment what I have learned to do in response to mine.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Tea Bag Philosophy


Coffee or tea?

David makes a pot of coffee in the morning and drinks from it throughout the day. But I’m a tea drinker. A cup of tea causes you to slow down, to wait, to get involved in the process of brewing. And it’s hard to gulp a cup of tea – the distinctive flavors of herbal teas beg to be enjoyed. To me, coffee tastes like, well, coffee – some stronger, some weaker, but still it’s coffee.

There’s a brand of tea I drink which offers a variety of leaf combinations from plants known to offer various ministrations to the human body, such as: quieting an upset stomach, boosting the immune system, soothing a cough, cleansing the liver, etc. I drink the teas of herbs and plants that God placed here for our nourishment, health and enjoyment.

These teas are based on herbal remedies passed down from generation to generation, from a time when people lived close to the land. People who realized that we have a symbiotic relationship to the earth that we inhabit. God created the earth as a place for us to live and He created us to take care of the planet – or as the Bible says in Genesis, “to have dominion over it and subdue it.”

Anyway, one particular brand that I use has tags on the tea bags with pithy little sayings on them – some profound and some mind boggling in their combination of words that are, frankly, meaningless. I have to do mental gymnastics to make sense of the content.

This morning’s philosophical offering was, “The other person is you.” Okay, what? Obviously, I am me and you are you –  each unique in our make-up, with private thoughts and feelings and beliefs and histories. But perhaps there is a sense in which I need to think of the other person as “me”.  Jesus taught us to “treat others as we would like to be treated”. Given their circumstances, how would I most likely benefit from or respond to what kind of treatment? which choice of words? which tone of voice?

The Bible further says that in our treatment of others we should be “speaking the truth in love”. Some people like to speak the truth to others, informing them as to how they got where they are what they should do about it. But that love part can get tricky. That’s where we need to rely on the Spirit of Christ who lives in us. God is love. Even as He disciplines His children, the platform He operates from is love. When love is your character, your very nature, you cannot operate apart from love. You won’t treat one person with love and another with disdain.

Hey! There are people who tire me with their complaining and endless talk, their finger pointing or excuse making, their self-focus and self-pity, their seeming inability or lack of desire to change. But there is no excuse for unkind treatment from me. I don’t think Jesus would shut them out.

So getting back to the morning tea bag – I was thinking that this week my focus will be to attempt to see the other person as a human being like me; with the same needs for affirmation, encouragement, healing, provision and someone to love them and speak the truth to them out of that love. Because it’s the truth delivered in love that sets people free.

So what’s on your tea bag tag today? And how does your life philosophy compare to that of our Creator? Are you living more out of the tea bag tag, or out of the character of your heavenly Father?

©2011, Marcy Alves

Do You Want to Be Healed?


It was a time of celebration in Jerusalem, a day of feasting for the Jewish people. Jesus went up to participate. He stopped by a public pool called Bethesda, which is near the Sheep Gate entrance into the city. There were five covered colonnades that surrounded the pool providing shade in which a large number of invalids lay on pallets.

There was a folk-belief at that time that an angel would occasionally come down and stir up the water in the pool and that the first person into the pool would be healed.

Several of the Scripture translations say in the Gospel of John, chapter 5, that there was a multitude of blind, lame and paralyzed lying there in the portico. Among them was a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. We aren’t told why Jesus noticed that man among the large number of disabled people.

Jesus asked the man a strange question. At least I think it’s strange. He learned that the man had been in this condition for a long time and asked him: “Do you want to be healed?”

Why would Jesus ask that question? If Jesus were to ask me, “Do you want to be healed?” I would say, “Duh, of course. Why would I not want to be healed? Wouldn’t anyone who is ill or invalid want to be healed?”

Not necessarily. But why not?

Some sick people have learned to live with the illness and are used to others taking care of them. They may not be able to imagine a life of wellness with all the responsibilities that go with being well.

Perhaps their illness is used to get attention or to manipulate and control others.

Maybe it’s pay-back for some grievance or wound in their spirit from a spouse or family member or some other person.

Or the invalid may be full of self-doubt and insecurity. It’s easier just to be this way, depending on others to provide personal care and make decisions that seem impossible for them to handle.

Even asking God for healing is untenable for some who are ill. They are be too proud to ask God to heal them, or uncertain that He is capable of healing them, or doubt that He would even want to.

Others believe it is humble to accept illness as God’s will.

Or as we learn later about the man Jesus confronts, their illness may be due to personal sin and they feel unworthy of God’s attention.

It’s obvious that the man at the Pool of Bethesda does not know who Jesus is, perhaps because his public ministry had just begun. The man does not directly answer Jesus’ question; he tells Jesus that he has no one to put him into the pool when the angel supposedly stirs the water.

Even with his indirect answer, Jesus has compassion on the man. Jesus has already gotten His assignment from His Father, God. Remember Jesus said that He only did what He saw the Father doing? (John 5:19)  And He only spoke what His Father commanded Him to say? (John 12:49)

The passage says nothing about the invalid’s faith, or the faith of anyone near him. The man does not even ask to be healed – he just expresses his need and his position of helplessness.

Jesus does not say, “You are healed.” He says, ”Get up. Take up your sleeping bag and walk”. What confidence His presence must have radiated! The man did not argue “What do you mean walk? Didn’t you hear me say that I can’t walk? Can’t you tell that I’m an invalid?”

I believe the lame man read compassion in Jesus’ eyes and sensed authority in His words. Power was released as he obeyed Jesus’ command. He was healed in obeying that voice. He stands and rolls up his bed and walks.

It was only later that Jesus finds the man again and warns him: “See, you are well. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” This leads us to consider that the man’s invalid condition may have been brought on by his own sinful actions. But even so, Jesus heals him and gives him a second chance.

This passage in John 5 also points out that even invalids sin – sickness does not cure the human nature of sin. But the Son of God heals both sin and sickness.

What a Savior we have!! Even if the mess our life gets into is our own fault, God forgives, heals, sets us straight and warns us away from further danger.

So how about you? Do you want to be healed? Of sickness, of sin, of bad character, of anger, of addictions, of self-righteousness, or selfishness and self-centeredness? Let’s dialogue.

©2011, Marcy Alves

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