The Princess

Princess Eve, the King’s oldest daughter, was kidnapped from the palace by an evil witch.  The Kingdom was in an uproar as a fruitless search was made of every town and village, every farm, every forest camp.  The princess was gone!

Nearly ten years later, Sir Andrew, the King’s most trusted aide, was passing through a dismal little town near the southern border of the Kingdom.  As he watered his horse at the well in the town square, a raggedly-dressed girl came to the well for water.  She was dirty and bruised and walked with her shoulders slumped and her head down, yet there was something, just a hint of dignity in her walk and her manner.

Sir Andrew called her to him and asked her name and where she lived.  She shyly replied, in the local accent, “My name is Sadie.  I’m an orphan. I belong to the wealthy man who owns the bank in this town.”  “Give me your hand, Sadie,” Andrew said.  He took her hand and pushed back her sleeve and there on her forearm was the heart-shaped birthmark that confirmed to him she was really Princess Eve!

Sir Andrew took her from the dismal little town and within two days she was back in the palace.  It took weeks for Princess Eve to become healthy again.  It took even longer for her to learn to trust, to smile, to realize she was safe now from the abuse she had suffered.

But what a glorious day it was when at last the King called a national holiday and brought Princess Eve out on the palace balcony for all the people to see!  Then, at last, the story could be told, that Sadie the slave was really Eve the Princess and that she was home, safe at last!

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  (Romans 8:18-19 NLT)

Prayer:

Father, Thank you that, in spite of our years as “orphans” and slaves, we really are your children.  Thank you for rescuing us and bringing us home.  Thanks for being so patient with us as we slowly learn to hold our heads up, look you in the eye, and think, speak, and behave like Princes and Princesses.  It’s who we really are!  Amen.

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Friend of Greg

I recently spoke on a Sunday morning at Crescent Creek Church in Lapine, OR.  The pastor, Greg Price, was away that weekend and we had made arrangements for me to fill in for him.  Jean and I arrived early to meet with the service leaders and worship team to plan and pray before the service.  After some discussion and details, we joined hands at the front of the sanctuary and a few of us voiced prayers for the morning’s service.

After the prayer, worship leader Robin, who was to introduce me before I spoke, handed me a printed copy of the service order.  I glanced at it and slipped it into my notebook so I could make sure to be ready to step up at the proper time.  After a couple of songs and some announcements, I glanced at the service order again to see where we were in the process and I noticed this line, “Robin introduce Jim and Jean Stephens – friends of Greg.”

I don’t want to make too much of this, but when I read those words they brought tears to my eyes!  Greg Price and I have been friends for a long time—our friendship tested through life’s ups and downs—and I value our friendship highly.

Most of the congregation at Crescent Creek Church knows me from past encounters, but for anyone who didn’t know me yet, they were going to suspend disbelief for a few minutes and give me a chance to say something worth hearing.  Because I’m a Friend of Greg!

In Acts 9:26-28, Barnabas, a trusted leader in the Jerusalem church used his influence to give young Saul of Tarsus an opportunity to join with the believers in spite of his past reputation.  Because of Barnabas’ influence, he was accepted by the apostles.

What an honor it is when someone extends the canopy of relationship over us so that those in their circle make room for us.  What a privilege it is when we can open doors of opportunity and acceptance for others by identifying them as our friends!

What blessings and privileges do you enjoy because you’re a “friend of” someone?  How can you extend your canopy of relationship and acceptance over others by being a “friend to” someone who’s on the outside looking in?

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Thoughts on Dr King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

For the past few years, I’ve made it a personal duty to read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” each MLK day.  It takes me nearly half an hour to read it.  Today I looked at some other sources and found a video re-enactment of his letter, along with some video clips of the issues he addresses and the audio of the letter to the newspaper written by Birmingham clergymen that prompted the writing of his letter.

This letter was written in 1963, the year Jean and I married.  It reminds me of how far our nation has come, of how far we still have to go, and of the price good people are willing to pay to find freedom.  It convicts me of the complacency that often comes with privilege.

This morning, as I read the letter again, I felt strongly to share it on social media and to share it with my daughters and their husbands.  My grandsons are only seven and five years old now, but I’m thinking that as they get older, we could and should find some creative ways to help them understand the privilege they have as white, middle-class Americans, the inequalities that still exist, and the price others have paid in the on-going fight for freedom and equality.

The letter takes me almost 30 minutes to read to myself.  This video, which contains the audio of the clergy letter and a video re-enactment of Dr King’s letter is about 56 minutes long.

I hope you can find some creative ways to stay aware of our privilege of position and race and other’s pain and sacrifice and that you can find creative ways to help your kids understand and care.

See video links below:

Grace and peace,

Jim Stephens

Letter from a Birmingham Jail video

http://www.mlkonline.net/video-letter-from-birmingham-jail.html

Letter from a Birmingham Jail full text of speech

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

 

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Dog License

Buddy The Dog

Buddy The Dog

Dog License

When we went to the Post Office to check the mail today, there was an envelope in the box from the Deschutes County Dog Licensing Department.  It was the annual renewal notice for Buddy the Dog’s license.  The card inside contained all the details about Buddy’s breed (mixed), color (black and brown), size (just right), and about our contact information, and it had instructions for renewing Buddy’s license to practice being a dog for another year.

At the bottom of the form was a box to check if we were not renewing the license because “The dog is no longer in my care.”  And below the check box was a blank line labeled “Reason.”

I checked the box, confirming that “the dog is no longer in my care.”  Then I thought about the reason.

  • The reason is that when we got Buddy I was 60 and he was about a year old.  And while I was slowly (it didn’t seem slow at the time!) making my way from 60 to 71, Buddy was living a whole wonderful, happy, dog lifetime.
  • The reason is that there are some things in life you just can’t fix no matter how hard you try!
  • The reason is that after caring for him through ACL surgeries on both back legs, and making sure he had all his shots, and feeding him, and protecting him, and giving him the best life we could, he got sick with something the vet couldn’t cure.
  • The reason is that the world we live in, the real world, has light and dark, easy and hard, good and bad, joy and pain, love and loss.  And we loved him and we lost him!  (By the way, the predictable pain of loss is never a good reason not to take the joyful risk of loving long and deeply!  I promise you that!)
  • The reason is that we had to make one of the most difficult decisions of our long and happy lives and put Buddy down so he wouldn’t suffer, and then second-guess ourselves for the next few weeks even though we knew then and we know now we did the right thing at the right time.
  • You want the reason the dog is no longer in my care?  Those are the reasons!  But even I know they didn’t want a philosophical exploration of the amazing relationships that develop between people like us and our dogs.

So I wrote “the dog died” and sealed the form in the envelope and took it to the Post Office.  Then I had a little cry.

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A Walk In The Park

It was frosty early Sunday morning, when I started out for my morning walk.  From my porch the sidewalk and the path to the park looked like it could be pretty slippery so I wasn’t sure when I started if I’d walk far.  It turned out to be fine and before long I was walking along the trail in the park, missing Buddy the Dog.

I thought about how people say “Pets and other friends aren’t really gone.  They live on in our memories.”  As I walked I pictured Buddy running and sniffing, peeing on rocks and trees, completely lost in the smells and sights, the way he did in his better days, when we were both younger!

It’s not unusual to encounter another walker on my early morning walks, but today, this morning, the park and the path were all mine!  I guess I was kind of lost in thought and dialoging with God the way I do when I get quiet enough.  I was saying, “Father, I don’t know what I know!  My mind used to be full of the certainties of the young.  Now my thoughts are full of the questions of age. I’m realizing I don’t have all the answers.  But I sure have plenty of questions!”

Suddenly, the sun rose over my right shoulder and the frosty path ahead of me exploded into sparkles of brilliant diamonds!  I kept walking a few steps.  Then I stopped and simply looked.  It was incredibly beautiful.  The kind of beautiful that a camera, even a good camera, won’t capture.  It seemed like a holy moment.  Or at least that it could be if I didn’t rush on.

I said, “Father what do you want to say to me in this moment?”  Then I waited.  In less than ten seconds, this came to me.  “Keep walking.  Stay on the path.  Keep walking.  Be aware, notice the beauty.  Stop when you see it and be fully present.  But stay on the path and keep walking.”

As I stood quietly and expectantly, I began to hear the winter birds singing to the sunrise.  I felt the cold breeze on my cheek.  I looked farther ahead and the path stretched out like a river of diamonds.  I saw the cloud of vapor as I breathed.  I waited maybe five minutes, until my legs were getting cold (I was dressed to speak at church later in the morning).

Then I started walking on a path of diamonds.  The path sparkled all the way home, except for a short section that lay in shade.  But I knew the beauty was there, even as I walked in the shadows.  I also knew it would only last a few minutes.  The same rising sun that turned the frost to diamonds would melt the frost and take it all away in minutes.  But it was mine for the moment!

Thirty hours later, I’m still processing “Stay on the path!  Keep walking!”

 

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Self Defense

Yesterday I received an email from someone (I felt) had judged me unfairly—mis-judging both my actions and my motives. In the busyness of the day, I soon forgot the email and just got on with the things I had to do.

This morning I started thinking again about how unfair the emailer’s judgment was and how I really needed to defend myself against this obvious attack on my character and my motives.

I turned my laptop on to write the rebuttal email that I was putting together in my mind and could hardly wait the few seconds for Outlook to come up! My emotional state was ramping up and I can tell you that the email I was about to write had at least one “…and another thing!” in it! I would certainly clear myself and give the emailer reason to think twice before judging me again!

As I waited for my computer to start, I went into the kitchen to get the coffee carafe to fill Jean’s coffee cup and as I poured her coffee, I mentioned yesterday’s email and my noble plan to set things straight. Jean asked me what I would be accomplishing by my anger- and self-justification-motivated email.

As I thought about Jean’s question—about what I would really be accomplishing—I came up with this list:

  1. I’ll say some self-righteous, self-justifying things that don’t really need to be said.
  2. I’ll push the emailer toward anger and self-justification.
  3. I’ll drive a wedge between myself and the emailer and between myself and Jesus, who loves both me and the emailer a lot.
  4. My self-justifying email will provide the opportunity for misunderstanding, discord, and separation to spread in ways I can’t even imagine!
  5. My loving Father will, after the dust settles, ask me why I responded out of my ego instead of my new nature, my Christ nature.  To which I’ll reply that I’m an idiot and I’m sorry and please forgive me!  (and He will!)

I’m thankful for Jean’s wisdom and grace.  I’m thankful for God’s grace and unconditional love for me and for the people on the other side of each big or little issue that comes up in my big or little life!

I didn’t write the email!  Instead, I prayed God’s blessing on the writer of yesterday’s email and then on everyone else I could think of that I felt the slightest negative attitude toward.

So how’s your week been so far?

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Wind

This morning as I watched the trees in my yard and across the street, I made an interesting discovery, so interesting I felt I must share it with you!

I noticed that the branches of the trees within my field of vision were moving rapidly.  This movement was not confined to one type of tree, but was common to the evergreen pines and junipers and also to the partially-leafed deciduous trees.

While the tree branches were moving rapidly, I stepped out onto the porch and discovered the wind was blowing.  A strong breeze was coming from the direction of the trees just across the street from my house.

I went back inside and continued watching off and on for the next few minutes.  From time to time the branches on the trees slowed their movement and even stopped briefly.  I stepped out on the porch again and discovered that when the movement of the tree branches slowed or stopped, the wind decreased significantly and at one point even stopped altogether.

I repeated this observation several times and was able to determine that when the tree branches moved rapidly, a strong wind came from the direction of the trees.  When the tree branches slowed or stopped their movement, the wind decreased significantly or even stopped.

Therefore, I have concluded, based entirely on scientific observation and careful reasoning, that wind is caused by the movement of tree branches.

Thanks for reading.  I hope this has been helpful to you.

 

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Mother Taft’s Fudge

Mother Taft’s Fudge
By Jim Stephens

As far back as I can remember as a child, my maternal grandmother made the most wonderful chocolate fudge. It was called Mother Taft’s Fudge, and it was only made at Christmas time.

My Grandmother died when I was in my teens and then my Mom made the fudge occasionally. Mom died when we lived in the UK, but she probably hadn’t made the fudge for fifteen years at least. Jean made Mother Taft’s Fudge a few times before we moved overseas in 1984, but it’s pretty safe to say it hasn’t been tasted on earth for the past 30 years.

Jean recently found the recipe, hand-written in my Mother’s handwriting on a faded scrap from a notebook page. Last night we worked together to make the batch of fudge!

So at last, in 2013, Mother Taft’s Fudge is back! We made it for the family to share when we gather for Christmas at our house, but the way it’s going they better get here soon or it will be gone!

Here’s the recipe:

Mother Taft’s Fudge

3  6-Fudge Recipeounce packages of chocolate chips
½ lb of butter
2 cups walnut pieces
1 large jar of marshmallow
Mix all these ingredients in a large mixer bowl.

4½ cups of sugar
1 large can of evaporated milk
Mix in a large sauce pan and slowly bring to a boil. Let boil gently for 5 minutes.
Slowly pour the hot mix of sugar and milk over the mixed dry ingredients and butter, preferably with mixer running.

Mix until it begins to cool (comfortable to touch the outside of the bowl) (Use a strong mixer. This will take a while!)

Pour the fudge into buttered flat pans and put in a cool place until it sets.

Makes a creamy light-colored fudge that stays soft and moist.

Let us know if you try it and enjoy it!

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Bono: An Excerpt from Bono’s Interview with Michka Assayas

What follows is an excerpt from the book where Bono talks about Jesus Christ in an interview with the author:

Bono: My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ. Love here describes itself as a child born in straw poverty, the most vulnerable situation of all, without honor. I don’t let my religious world get too complicated. I just kind of go: Well, I think I know what God is. God is love, and as much as I respond [sighs] in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that’s my religion. Where things get complicated for me, is when I try to live this love. Now that’s not so easy.

Michka: What about the God of the Old Testament? He wasn’t so “peace and love”?

Bono: There’s nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is. I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that’s why they’re so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you’re a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules. But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross.

Michka: Speaking of bloody action movies, we were talking about South and Central America last time. The Jesuit priests arrived there with the gospel in one hand and a rifle in the other.

Bono: I know, I know. Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. [laughs] A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship. Why are you chuckling?

Michka: I was wondering if you said all of that to the Pope the day you met him.

Bono: Let’s not get too hard on the Holy Roman Church here. The Church has its problems, but the older I get, the more comfort I find there. The physical experience of being in a crowd of largely humble people, heads bowed, murmuring prayers, stories told in stained-glass windows.

Michka: So you won’t be critical.

Bono: No, I can be critical, especially on the topic of contraception. But when I meet someone like Sister Benedicta and see her work with AIDS orphans in Addis Ababa, or Sister Ann doing the same in Malawi, or Father Jack Fenukan and his group Concern all over Africa, when I meet priests and nuns tending to the sick and the poor and giving up much easier lives to do so, I surrender a little easier.

Michka: But you met the man himself. Was it a great experience?

Bono: [W]e all knew why we were there. The Pontiff was about to make an important statement about the inhumanity and injustice of poor countries spending so much of their national income paying back old loans to rich countries. Serious business. He was fighting hard against his Parkinson’s. It was clearly an act of will for him to be there. I was oddly moved by his humility, and then by the incredible speech he made, even if it was in whispers. During the preamble, he seemed to be staring at me. I wondered. Was it the fact that I was wearing my blue fly-shades? So I took them off in case I was causing some offense. When I was introduced to him, he was still staring at them. He kept looking at them in my hand, so I offered them to him as a gift in return for the rosary he had just given me.

Michka: Didn’t he put them on?

Bono: Not only did he put them on, he smiled the wickedest grin you could ever imagine. He was a comedian. His sense of humor was completely intact. Flashbulbs popped, and I thought: “Wow! The Drop the Debt campaign will have the Pope in my glasses on the front page of every newspaper.”

Michka: I don’t remember seeing that photograph anywhere, though.

Bono: Nor did we. It seems his courtiers did not have the same sense of humor. Fair enough. I guess they could see the T-shirts.

Michka: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Michka: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Michka: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

Michka: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Michka: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Michka: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you.

And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.

If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.

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The Board Room

In a large elegantly appointed corporate board room high in an office tower in the city, a group of powerful men and women are gathered around a massive oval conference table.

These men and women are there because of their skill, ability, and performance. They are the executives and managers of a powerful company. The CEO, seated at the head of the table, is a man of obvious power and authority and his very countenance radiates dignity, authority and energy. Reports are given, presentations are made and it is the aim of each presenter to please and impress the man at the head of the table.

The door opens and heads turn, mildly irritated at the interruption, as a child enters the room clutching a scrap of paper in his hand. The child begins to walk behind the chairs toward the head of the table. The CEO sees the child and stops speaking. His features noticeably soften and a smile touches his lips as the child approaches him.

“Look Daddy! Look what I made!”

The executive reaches out, lifts the child to his lap and says, “That’s great!.. I’m proud of you!”

Then the child says, “Daddy, my shoe’s untied. Will you do it for me?”

The executive turns to the men and women at the table and says, “Just a minute while I tie his shoe.”

You are that child…

When you come to God in prayer and praise, You are that child…

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

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