Archive | June 2012

I Remember Cheating God

Two dimes minted in 1951 – when I was three years old.


I’m still thinking about an old memory that came to mind a couple weeks ago during the women’s worship service at the county jail. I was there as a volunteer to play the piano, as usual, and participated in the whole worship experience with the inmates. One of the scriptures that we read was Acts 5:1-11 (NRSV):

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.

God took cheating seriously back in those days! I know I’ve read this story in Acts before, but this is the first time that it triggered an old memory about when I cheated God. I was three or four years old. It was a Sunday afternoon and I remember my family went to a special church service in some other town – I don’t remember where or why. I just remember that I sat in the pew between my mom and my grandma. My mom gave me a dime to put in the offering. So did my grandma. I put one dime in the offering and one dime in my little pink plastic purse. When we got home and my mother was putting my purse away she found the dime and asked me about it. I confessed. She took the dime back and scolded me. I knew she was really disappointed in me. I had cheated God.

Now, sixty years later, I realize that I got off easy for cheating God. Look at what happened to Ananias and Sapphira!

I shared this memory during the testimony time in the jail worship service. What’s so amazing to me is the clear memory I still have of the incident. Obviously, I learned as a three-year-old that cheating God or being dishonest with God is something I shouldn’t do.

What does that mean for me today? I guess it’s a reminder of how important it is to be honest with God as well as with others. I’m still thinking about what that means… Especially why that memory came back so vividly now…

One of the benefits of aging – having so many more memories to think about. As of yesterday, I have 64 years of memories bouncing around in my head. Thanks be to God!

Garden Guilt


Gazing Ball “planted” on a mound of mulch where Gary Gopher damaged the Russian Cypress last year.

Friday I worked hard. I was inspired by all the yard work some special guests did for us a week ago. Thanks, Mike and Sherrie! They spent a long weekend tackling the outside jobs I never seem to get done. Keeping up a three-acre yard takes more than three hours of lawn mowing every week – it takes many more hours of weeding, trimming, weeding, pruning, weeding, fertilizing, weeding, cutting asparagus, weeding, cutting flowers, and weeding.

The most physically demanding work I did on Friday was spreading mulch around the shrubs and plants in front of the house, especially in the spot where Gary Gopher has done the most damage to the no-longer spreading Russian Cypress shrub. I decided to “plant” a gazing ball there on top of a fresh bed of mulch – something without roots that could be damaged by Gary and his friends.

I also weeded the raised bed – my vegetable garden. This year I’ve planted green beans, yellow beans, and zinnias in the bed and cherry tomatoes right below it. (We can’t eat the zinnias, but they sure make nice cutting flowers in the late summer.) Some lettuce and parsley seeded themselves from last year’s garden, and plenty of chives and dill came back, too. Bringing the bed into a weed-free condition took me less than an hour.

St. Francis stands at the end of the raised vegetable bed between two different varieties of cherry tomato plants.

Some change from the olden days, when my vegetable gardening followed the patterns set by my parents. The garden measured 30-feet by 120-feet, the same size as our whole lot when we lived in a Chicago two-flat. In our big garden days, it took a tractor and plow to get the soil ready to be planted. Then it took me a whole day, sometimes two, to plant everything.

It was fun to plant two or three kinds of radishes, three or four kinds of lettuce, two kinds of swish chard, early and late green beans, yellow beans, purple beans, peas, and sugar snap peas (for the sweetest, juiciest crunch you can imagine in a salad). Then I planted the zucchini and other summer squash, followed by cherry tomatoes, yellow plum tomatoes, early tomatoes and beefy tomatoes. Potatoes were next – redskins, Yukon gold, and just plain old spuds. The last section of the garden was for vine plants – cucumbers, watermelon, muskmelon, pumpkins, winter squash, and gourds. If there was any space left, I planted a variety of flowers for cutting, mostly cosmos and zinnias. Some years I planted a border of marigolds all around the garden as a relatively ineffective deterrent to rabbits, chipmunks, and gophers.

Our big vegetable garden – c. 1997.

The easy part was the planting. That was hard work, but it was also a time for dreaming about all the mouth-watering vegetables we would be eating – soon! That’s when I really paid attention to whether or not “the farmers” needed rain. I waited patiently for the gentle rains to come to help the seeds sprout.

Finally, the first sprouts appeared, along with the first weeds. I tried everything to beat the weeds into submission – mulching with straw between the rows, investing in a Mantis small rototiller, investing in a bigger Honda rototiller, placing landscape fabric between the rows… I finally gave up and agreed to peaceful co-existence with the weeds. After each good, soaking rain, I’d spend several hours pulling out the biggest weeds to keep them from choking out the vegetables. That approach of periodic weeding within each row, in combination with the landscape fabric between the rows, seemed to work best.

Back in those days, my whole summer was filled with hard work and guilt – guilt that I wasn’t spending even more time weeding, pulling radishes, cutting lettuce, picking beans or peas or tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini. Or freezing more vegetables. Or giving away more vegetables so they wouldn’t rot in the garden.

Making chili to use up all the tomatoes. Every year Mim made enough chili to last all winter.

But my days were also filled with eating lots of really good fresh vegetables that I’d grown myself, with a little help from God. I guess Mim helped a little, too. She like to dig the potatoes. She also froze a lot of the vegetables for us. And, every year she made many batches of chili to freeze to use up the wheelbarrows full of tomatoes I harvested.

About ten years ago, Mim convinced me to sow the garden with grass seed instead of planting rows of vegetable seeds. She said we could get all the vegetables we could possibly eat from the farmers markets all around us for a lot less work and guilt. I agreed – but it’s not true. I can buy lots of fresh vegetables, but they’re not as fresh as the green beans I pick myself just before I cook them. And no cherry tomato I buy at a farmers market will ever be as sweet and juicy as one I pick off the vine and pop directly into my mouth, still warm from the sun.

Today’s vegetable garden, fully weeded.

So, my compromise is the raised bed planted mostly with vegetables and herbs with just a few flowers. It’s easier on my back and my guilt. A few weeks ago I raked the soil, added a little fertilizer, and planted the whole thing in less than an hour. The beans and zinnias are growing nicely.

On Friday, after weeding the bed, I went into the house to pour myself a glass of iced tea. As I looked admiringly out the kitchen window at my two short rows of 10-inch tall bean plants, I watched a rabbit hop across the lawn and patio, leap onto the step I use to climb into the raised bed, and jump right into my garden. He ignored the self-seeded lettuce and went straight for the leaves of the bean plants. He knew what was good! I grabbed my camera and ran after him. I got a blurry picture of his escape.

In the olden days, I didn’t mind sharing my huge garden with a few rabbits and chipmunks, but now that my garden is so much smaller, I’m much more selfish. I guess I’ve exchanged guilt for selfishness. Fortunately, God’s still working on me.

Randy Rabbit nibbling the leaves off a green bean plant.

The Beauty of Nature – Does it Remind You of God?

I took this picture this morning after a light rain shower. Every rose bush at Whispering Winds seems to be competing for attention this week – to show off how beautiful God has made each one.

Last week God drew my attention to the beauty in nature – in order to draw my attention back to God. What prompted all this mental and spiritual activity? It was the following passage in the devotional book Jesus Calling:

My world is filled with beautiful things; they are meant to be pointers to Me, reminders of My abiding Presence. The earth still declares My Glory to those who have eyes that see and ears that hear.”
[Jesus Calling, © 2004 by Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson Publishers,  p. 165]

The beautiful things we see in nature “are meant to be pointers to Me…”

Sometimes it works. When I see a goldfinch perched on top of a thistle on the roadside, or when I look at a rose bush completely covered with bright pink roses, sometimes I think, God really does beautiful handiwork. Many song writers have had the same thought. That’s why they have written songs like:

These short Asian Lilies promise many more bright orange blooms to come. Look at all the buds!

  • For the Beauty of the Earth
  • Morning Has Broken
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful
  • This Is My Father’s World
  • How Great Thou Art
  • His Eye Is on the Sparrow
  • In the Garden
  • Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
  • Majesty, Worship His Majesty

And hundreds more. When we see, think and sing about all the beautiful things God has created, we get a glimpse of God.  “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” [Psalms 19:1 NRSV]

The best smells of summer come down-wind from a mock orange tree in full bloom.

God has filled the world with beautiful things – from bright goldfinches flitting along the roadside to red-winged blackbirds cawing to each other in the wetlands; from bright orange Asian lilies to the sweet fragrance of mock orange blossoms. Now is just about the easiest time of the year to think about the beauty of God’s creation.

Next Sunday afternoon, June 17, everyone is invited to Whispering Winds for a hymn sing. We’ll sing whatever hymns you want to sing – but I’ll “prime the pump” with songs about the beauty of God’s creation – like the songs listed above. We’ll gather together in the living room and sun room about 3:00 and sing for a couple hours, with breaks for homemade cookies and lemonade or iced tea as needed. Even though we’ll start our hymn sing with hymns about the beauty of God’s creation, come prepared to request your favorite hymns whatever they are. We have plenty of songbooks, and if we have the music, we’ll sing whatever songs you request.

My dad is in the center, with my mom next to him, and surrounded by their grandchildren. The picture was taken in 1986 at a family gathering to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

The day of the hymn sing is Father’s Day. My dad would have loved coming to this hymn sing. His favorite part of going to church was singing together with everyone. He usually slept through the rest of the Sunday morning service, but he was always wide awake to sing the hymns. He especially liked “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” I can still hear his voice singing it loud and clear, even if he had just come out of a deep sleep.

If you’re planning to join us Sunday, please call (608-212-6197) or email me (MarianKorth@Gmail.com) so I have an idea how many batches of cookies to bake. But if you decide at the last minute to just show up, that’s fine, too. We’ll be delighted to see you.

 

Cookies and lemonade will provide the nourishment to keep us singing.

 

 

How do you talk with God?

My mom and me looking pious for a program in church about 1955.

That’s something I’ve been trying to learn ever since I was a little kid. I remember the first prayer I ever learned: “God bless our food. Amen.” I said that prayer and then my brother and sister said the Norwegian table prayer, and then we could eat. My mother never had the patience to teach me the Norwegian prayer.

In kindergarten, I learned the prayer I still use before meals, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.”  When my sister (eleven years older than me) went away to college, my mother dropped the Norwegian prayer, and whoever was at the table recited the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer. It was easier for everyone. And, I guess that prayer let God know we appreciated God’s providing for our physical needs even if the words were English. The prayer didn’t have to be in Norwegian.

As I grew older, I sometimes thought that we should say a more mature prayer like visiting ministers or missionaries would sometimes say, something like “Our Father, thank you for the food that Thou hast provided, and for the hands that have prepared it…” When I was asked to pray in front of guests, I sometimes tried to say something like that, but was never quite sure I was saying it right. I hated to be asked to do the prayer. It didn’t feel like I was talking with God with that kind of prayer. I was doing a ritual for the approval of the guests around the table.

My bedtime prayer was always more spontaneous. Typically it was something like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for keeping me safe today and for giving me a good day. Take care of mother and daddy, Nancy and Danny, grandma…” and whoever else I was thinking about that evening.

In Sunday School and confirmation classes, I learned that my prayer should include several sections: praising God, thanking God for specific gifts to me and those I love, praying for the needs of others, and lastly, praying for my own needs. My bedtime prayers got longer, more inclusive, and more structured.

But praying before meals and at bedtime didn’t really cover all the times I felt I wanted to talk with God about something. Inevitably, there were moments of crisis when I wanted to pray to God for help or protection – like needing to do well on a particular test in college, or walking alone on a street in Chicago when I sensed someone was following me. That’s when I really wanted God to hear me, and I wanted to have God reassure me that I wasn’t alone.

As my understanding of how to talk with God continued to develop, I discovered that music was an amazing way to communicate some of my thoughts and feelings to God, and to gain new insights into what types of communication were possible with God. One old gospel song that helped me envision what my relationship with God could be like was “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles.

I come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses;
and the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share
as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
and the melody that he gave to me
within my heart is ringing.
Refrain.

Over the years, music has become one of the most meaningful ways for me to visit with God. I don’t sing, but I take a hymnal, sit down at the piano and pray the words as I’m playing the music. I can spend hours having a conversation with God through the hymnal.

A few years ago I came upon the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I’ve mentioned this book several times in this blog. It’s a book of daily devotional writings, with each day’s entry written as though Jesus is talking directly to me. Scripture citations are listed at the bottom of the entry as proof that the Bible really does say those things. This book has been very helpful to me in making my conversations with God true dialogs rather than just me stating my immediate concerns. Here’s today’s entry.

Welcome challenging times as opportunities to trust Me. You have Me beside you and My Spirit within you, so no set of circumstances is too much for you to handle. When the path before you is dotted with difficulties, beware of measuring your strength against those challenges. That calculation is certain to riddle you with anxiety. Without Me, you wouldn’t make it past the first hurdle!

The way to walk through demanding days is to grip My hand tightly and stay in close communication with Me. Let your thoughts and spoken words be richly flavored with trust and thankfulness. Regardless of the day’s problems, I can keep you in perfect Peace as you stay close to Me.

James 1:2; Philippians 4:13; Isaiah 26:3

I know I’m not alone in wanting to know how to have a conversation with God, because the disciples also asked Jesus how to pray. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus told them, “… whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Then Jesus went on to say what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.”

So what prompted me to write about talking with God today? Saturday I participated in a centering prayer workshop at Whispering Winds. Prior to this workshop I had a vague understanding that centering prayer was a Christian form of meditation, somewhat similar to the meditation practices of eastern religions. Saturday’s workshop was led by three leaders who had been trained by Contemplative Outreach, the organization founded by Fr. Thomas Keating in the 1970’s to develop methods of reviving the contemplative dimension of the Gospel. (More about centering prayer and this organization is on their website www.contemplativeoutreach.org.)

In the workshop we learned practices to help us quiet our mind and sit silently with our eyes closed for periods of 20 minutes or longer. At this point, I’ll have to admit that I’m somewhat intrigued by centering prayer, although I’m not about to say it’s the “sliced bread” of prayer. The process of sitting still and emptying our minds of distracting thoughts so that God can fill us is suggested by the Psalm that I have always loved reading, “Be still and know that I am God.” [Psalm 46:10]

One of the key messages from Saturday’s workshop was that as we continue to develop our own personal relationship with God, prayer – or communication with God – takes on many forms, not just one. I can still say “Come, Lord Jesus…” and know that I’m including God in our mealtime. I can pray for my friends and family and others as I understand their needs. I can worship God and ask for help in my life by spending time at the piano with a hymnal. I can read the Bible in a variety of forms to hear God speaking to me. I can go for a walk and hear what God has to say through the songbirds and the rippling brook just down the road from Whispering Winds. And, I can sit silently in a straight-backed chair with my eyes closed for 20 minutes of centering prayer.

God wants to talk to me – and you – just as much as we want to talk with God. We have a lifetime to learn all the ways to do that.