Crutches

Atheists attack Christians for using their faith as a “crutch.” Having just completed a 4,000-mile trip to visit family in the U.S., I am forever indebted to crutches.

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Not that I initially planned to include crutches on the trip. Oh, no! This Texan was going to meet family standing tall and straight in her own strength and leave the crutches at home. However, while I was born Texan, one hip must have come from a neighboring state. When we left on the trip, the crutches traveled with us. What a blessing they were!

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First, they helped me walk – especially on those long stretches through multiple airports. An unexpected benefit was preferential treatment. I never requested help. I confidentially swung along the endless corridors on metal crutches. Airport personnel, however, put Alan and I at the front of the lines and even changed our seats to the front of the plane for one flight. On two of the flights, we would have missed our connections had it not been for the hated crutches. We were personally walked through the additional boarding pass we needed and then Security by an American Airlines employee (I called him our angel since the plane was already boarding by the time we got there). Next, we were whisked through the endless reaches of airport terminals on a wheelchair – or at least – I was in the wheelchair. Without that “crutch,” we would have missed our flight.

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Visiting SeaWorld with granddaughter Dulcinea and her mom won further accolades for the resented crutches. Crutches transformed into a wheelchair which sent us to the front of long lines. It was not planned, it just happened. While I had eschewed the use of crutches on the trip and feared they would be an embarrassment – my granddaughter and her mom were thrilled at how beneficial they proved.

Alan, Fl wild

But the main benefit of crutches proved my restored belief in people’s kindness. Everywhere I walked on crutches, strangers of both sexes and every ethnicity rushed to help me. With smiling faces and sympathetic nods, they lifted and carried my bags and opened doors. With all the negative news focusing on violence and hatred around the world, what a blessing to find out that kindness is alive and operating generously.

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I’ve repented and asked God’s forgiveness for my resentful attitude about the crutches. Even though I know and believe my two favorite Bible verses, “in everything give thanks,” and “all things work together for good to those who love the Lord,” my pride took a hit from my mobility weakness. God transformed the crutchy experience into a beneficial one.

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Another favorite verse of mine has always been “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5 & 6.

So…is Christianity a crutch? Hey, who cares? Crutches rock!

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_

Truth Kills

Truth is unpopular. Tell someone they’ve put on weight, have a messy house, are wrong, or that their dog is stupid—and see how quickly they walk away.

Some 2,000 years ago, the Man Who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” was condemned to death and nailed on a cross to suffer and die. Today, Christians around the world are being imprisoned, tortured, and killed for telling the truth.

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So, too, with Scotland’s Brahn Seer. Because there are only oral, and no written stories about him, some claim that Gaelic-speaking Coinneach Odhar never existed outside folklore. As in earlier centuries, written records in Scotland in the 1600s were rare. Some historians would likely doubt the existence of the Picts, who disappeared without a whisper in the 9th century, had not the Picts left behind marvelously carved stones that thwart attempts to decipher them for lack of a written language. Because the story of the Brahn Seer and Lady Seaforth rings true to human nature, and because I’m a writer and love great stories—I choose to believe what the students at Fortrose Academy believed when they erected a stone monument to him at Chanonry Point in 1969. The Brahn Seer was burned to death in a staked barrel of tar at the point…for telling the truth.

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Coinneach Odhar worked for Kenneth MacKenzie, 3rd earl of Seaforth at Brahan Castle near Dingwall. He had acquired a reputation for possessing second sight and making predictions. When Lady Seaforth asked Odhar, he told her that her husband was enjoying sexual adventures with other women in Paris. She rewarded that truth by having him burned to death in a barrel of tar.

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He predicted the building of the Caledonian Canal in Inverness. Author Alan McKean and I took our books on a trip down the Caledonian Canal and out across Loch Ness.

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He predicted that the MacKenzies would come to ruin and their castle would be inhabited by a cow that gave birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of the tower. In 1851, a farmer was storing hay in the ruined castle. A cow followed a trail of hay up to the garret and gave birth to a calf. The farmer left them there for five days so people could come witness the truth of the Brahn Seer’s prediction.

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He predicted that when five bridges were built over the Ness River in Inverness, there would be world wide chaos. In August, 1939, there were five bridges…and Hitler invaded Poland.

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He predicted that when there were nine bridges across the Ness River, there would be fire and calamity. The ninth bridge was completed in 1987. In 1988, there was an explosion at Piper Alpha North Sea Oil Production resulting in the worst offshore oil disaster ever, claiming 167 lives, and impacting ten percent of North Sea oil production.

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While historians claim there are no written records of the Brahn Seer, his words are recorded as he stood overlooking land where the Battle of Culloden was fought in 1745. “Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad am I that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy shall be shown or quarter given on either side.”

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Another prediction was that, “The sheep shall eat the men.” As crazy and impossible as those words must have sounded in the 16th century, sadly, during the 19th century Highland Clearances families were driven from the Highlands by landowners who thought they could make more money grazing sheep. Families who had been farmers for generations were thrust into seaside villages and told to become fishermen. They knew nothing of fishing and scores of them starved or froze to death. Their croft houses on the farms were burned down behind them as they left to keep them from returning, and they were often unable to even take their possessions with them.

The Brahn Seer predicted that within a few generations, the chieftaincy of the Mackenzies would pass to a man who was deaf and dumb; all of his sons would die before he did; the ancient Mackenzie line would end, and a hooded girl from the East would claim his possessions and kill her sister. This would happen when all four of the great Highland lairds had some physical defect; buck-toothed, hare-lipped, half-witted, a stammer. It happened in the 17th century

Truth is seldom popular. Whether or not the Brahn Seer was a real person or a much embellished oral legend, truth can get a person killed. Jesus, Who died to take on the sins of the world and purchase eternity for us is a real and lasting example of the fact that—sometimes—truth kills.

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

CHRISTmas Light

Some associate Santa with Christmas. He rides into town on a fire truck and throws candy for children, or lands in a helicopter, or stations himself in malls and stores for photo opportunities.

The inspiration for these events came from a poem written in 1823, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” and a song written in 1933, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Both poem and song birthed the popular U.S. image of a red-clad, white-bearded present-bearing Santa.

However, far more populous, present, and visible than Santa – are lights. Atheists attempt to steal CHRISTmas by demonizing the friendly “Merry Christmas” greeting and insisting on “winter holidays” or “seasons greetings,” but the joke is on them. For as long as CHRISTmas lights dispel winter darkness with cheery spots of brave color, hearts will be reminded of Jesus, the Light of the world. “For the LORD will be your everlasting light.” Isaiah 60:20. And in Jesus’ own words, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” John 12:46.

The conspiracy to take Christ out of CHRISTmas is not new. Public schools began fazing out nativity scenes for children to color and replacing them with Santa on a rooftop; Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, and Christmas trees nearly 50 years ago. Christmas carols like “Joy to the World” and “Away in a Manger” were replaced with “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The anti-God, anti-Christ movement picked up momentum over the years like a bulldozer headed down a ski slope. Today, the war on CHRISTmas and Christians is real and really vindictive.

Still there are lights. Colored lights and white lights at Christmas lifting hearts and drawing souls closer to worshiping God, in Whom is found no darkness. The atheists and “anti,” “politically correct” crowd may glom on to the fact that lights proclaim the Light of the World, Jesus and outlaw them too. For it is possible to dispel darkness by lighting even one light, but when one light is shining – nothing can bring back total darkness.

And when the atheists and their followers outlaw lights for celebrating CHIRSTmas, the moon and stars will still point to Jesus, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

The Lights have it.

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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Just Ducky

Where I live – Fortrose, Scotland – folks celebrate the arrival of the swallows in the spring and sigh after them when they leave again in the fall. They keep tabs on the wild mallard duck families, excited when they spot ducklings and angry when numbers are depleted by predators. Pheasants are revered.Seagulls, however, get no respect.

Some people put guards on roofs and chimneys to prevent gulls from nesting on their houses. Kindhearted folks who feed the birds often chase gulls away from the feeders or cover feeders with wire cages that allow the small birds in and keep gulls out. Cities put up, “Do Not Feed The Gulls” signs. Dolphin-watching tourists a the lighthouse will eat their lunches in front of gulls that are politely waiting for a handout and then throw leftovers in the bin instead of tossing them to the waiting gulls. Why?

Swallows are birds, ducks are birds, seagulls are birds. Yet gulls get no respect.

Some people explain, “I hate gulls. They prey on smaller birds.” So do cats. Yet some people have cats.

Some people say, “They make a mess. I hate the mess the gulls make.” When I was a kid, we raised chickens and ducks. Ducks make messes too. So do swallows. Customers must walk around a mess in front of the door of the bank in Lakehills, Texas, because mud swallows return there every year to raise their young. They eat mosquitoes in the parking lot – but they also make a mess.

So why do folks prefer ducks and swallows to gulls? Probably because there aren’t as many of them. They aren’t common. Comparing the numbers, one might even say that swallows and ducks are rare. Gulls are everywhere.

We should make sure that we are valued as Christians, not through large numbers, but through rare and uncommon deeds of kindness, love, and faith. As Christians, we should say with Habakkuk, “The LORD God is my strength. He will make my feet like deer feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” (Habakkuk 3:19)

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Bloom Where God Has Planted You

A clump of yellow primroses on a rock cliff caught my eyes today when I was walking. Flowers cheerfully blooming where God had planted them in spite of the improbable and impossible-looking location.

We Christians should take a note from God’s creation and bloom cheerfully where God has planted us. There are no perfect places on this earth and there are no perfect people in this life. Everyone has problems. Everyone has storms. Sometimes, the blame is on us. We make bad choices and suffer the consequences. Sometimes, a storm hits unexpectedly – sent by an enemy intending destruction. Sometimes, God sends a storm to teach us to push our roots of faith deeper into Him.

After losing everything he had on earth including his health through no fault of his own, Job was able to declare that after God had tried him – he would come forth as gold. Job claimed victory over the storms in his life and God rewarded him.

My two favorite Bible verses are: In everything give thanks and All things work together for good to those who love the Lord. These are victory-winning verses.

Thinking about those lovely primroses today reminded me of my two most recently published books, “Killer Conversations,” and “Bridge to Xanadu.” The characters in both of these books walked through storms. Instead of blooming where he was planted, the main character in “Killer Conversations” became a serial killer. Texas Miz Mike in “Bridge to Xanadu” learned to bloom where she was planted even when it was a totally new and unexpected place in her zany life.

My books are fiction, mostly mystery-romance-suspense although “Killer Conversations” is a psychological suspense. However, I’ve been through some of the same storms in my life that these characters have weathered in words. With the help of Jesus, I’ve learned to bloom where God has planted me. It’s been a hard lesson at times. Sometimes my roots have nearly slipped out of the Rock of faith holding them. Thankfully, Jesus is the Friend who sticks closer than a sibling and He never lets go, never leaves us, never forsakes us.

If your roots feel dry and unprotected during whatever problem or storm you are facing, stick them back into the Rock and bloom cheerfully. Your heavenly reward will exceed any possible earthly riches and God’s accounting is both perfect and eternal.

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0primrose

The good in Goodbye

One Meredith Wilson song in the 1962 film “The Music Man,” starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, is “Sincere.” Singing it, The Buffalo Bills lament, “where is the sin in sincere, what is good in goodbye?”

Goodbyes can be good.

This is the time of year in Fortrose-Rosemarkie, Scotland, when adult seagulls say goodbye to their young. Hearing the frantic, anxious calls of the abandoned youngsters rips my heart. The baby seagulls don’t understand why parents that have so lovingly cared for them suddenly leave and ignore their agonized cries. Big, fluffy, grey baby gulls walk along the edge of the water and sit on rooftops calling their absent parents. But this time, no matter how gut-wrenching the cries – the parents don’t respond.

I wonder if it is as hard on the parents to ignore the hurt cries of their young as it is on me. If so, they ignore the sharp, biting heart pains and distance themselves – using the wisdom God instilled in them – so the babies will be forced to exercise the feeding and flying skills that the parents have so diligently taught them. If they continued to care for their babies, the babies would continue to live on handouts and never learn self-sufficiency. A winged example of the popular cliché “tough love.”

All parents experience the hurt and learn the benefits of goodbyes when their children are still young. Goodbyes are a part of sending children to school to learn, sending them to visit grandparents and friends, sending them to summer camps…sending them away to universities, jobs, and distant locations. Without the goodbyes, children would never grow into their full potential and learn God’s will for their lives. Goodbyes can be good – but they still hurt.

The longest, hardest goodbye is when someone we love “dies.” It’s been nearly a year since my wonderful, talented son, USMC Major Luke Parker, “died” to this world. Perhaps my deep inner hurt and emptiness magnifies the anguished cries of the baby seagulls and makes me hypersensitive.

Everyone who has ever said goodbye to a loved one who departed from this world, however, has an advantage over those confused, lonely baby gulls. If we are Christians, we know that the separation is temporary. We will join our loved ones again in Heaven with Jesus lighting the way. What an awesome comfort! Death is not an end, it’s the doorway into eternity and the beginning of living a life without pain and loss.

As for the gulls…they are forced to use the life skills they have been taught. They will pass them on to their youngsters. But will they ever see their parents again? I hope so. I really hope so.

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Dare to be a…Dandelion?

William Wordsworth wrote:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils…

Why daffodils? Why not dandelions? They are both yellow. They are both cheerful. They both start with the letter D. So what’s wrong with dandelions…except, of course, that in this case – it wouldn’t rhyme.

Even though dandelions have medicinal uses and are harvested for food, they are listed as a noxious weed in many jurisdictions. My neighbors hate them and cast disparaging looks at our yard when the cheerful yellow blooms pop up and wave at them in a friendly manner.

Multiple internet sites offer advice on how to kill or get rid of dandelions. They are considered a nuisance in residential and recreational lawns and in agriculture. They get blamed for economic damage because they infest crops worldwide.

Pilgrims brought dandelions to New England from Europe in the 1600s, and planted them for health benefits which included curing scurvy, a condition caused by a lack of vitamin C. Because dandelions are hardy, they survived. Because they are aggressive, spread easily, grow anywhere, and are highly visible – the once revered flowers are now hated.

Children love dandelions. What magical fun to blow on a dandelion and watch white fluff somersault through the air on wind currents – tiny circus performers catching a moment of freedom and life in celebration. I still love blowing on dandelions. (I don’t do it when the neighbors are watching!)

Fortrose, Scotland, threw off winter gloom and followed a bright parade of golden daffodils this spring. Except the ones captured by cameras and memories, they are gone now. Now, the land has rolled out folds of green and gold tartan as dandelions march staunchly into the battle for continued survival.

Christians need to be like dandelions – not daffodils. We should be aggressive on the side of right. We should spread the Good News about Jesus’ love and eternal life everywhere we go. We should bloom where God plants us. We should be hardy, even when we are met by ridicule. We should catch the breath of the Holy Spirit and celebrate Jesus as freely and joyfully as dandelion fluff in a whirlwind.

Instead of daring to be a Daniel, like the children’s Bible song, we should dare to be a dandelion.

I think I just encouraged myself to go out and blow on some dandelions in front of my neighbors. I may or may not be back…

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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Why Winter?

Here on the Black Isle of Scotland, everyone is rejoicing now that the sun is staying visible longer and snowdrops are pushing timid white heads up to look around while royal purple crocuses snap to attention along the sides of narrow lanes. Winter is fleeing, following the freezing breath of snow and ice into last year’s memories.

Some people hate winter. I’ve always hated winter. I hate being cold. I used to mix cement and build with rocks in 100-plus degree temps in south Texas. Ironic that I should now live in Scotland where it rarely makes it to 70 degrees even in the “summer.”

Winter brings cold temperatures that kill people, animals and plants; traffic-snarling storms; massive banks of snow that must be moved, and increased heating costs. So, why winter?

Psalm 74:17 says that “God made summer and winter.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Winter provides a Sabbath for the land. Most people get at least one day a week off work to rest. Rested employees are less likely to have accidents or get sick. Manufacturing equipment that shuts down for at least one day a week is less prone to malfunctions. Jesus said that people were not made for keeping the Sabbath to please God, but rather, that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of people to give them rest.

I had a lovely rough collie named Scot in the southern U.S. Scot visited nursing homes. He made friends with everyone and everything he met including deer, a wild rabbit, a feral cat, a baby bird, a turtle, a possum, cats in the neighborhood. He was so friendly that even small animals were unafraid of him. Scot got protothecosis; there is no treatment, no cure, and it is 100 percent fatal. Dogs in Scotland don’t get protothecosis. It’s too cold for the cannibalistic algae. Nor are there mosquitoes, fire ants, venomous spiders or a plethora of other aggravating and dangerous insects. This is a winter land. Winter provides surcease.

Tulips must be kept cold to burst into energetic flames of spring color. Peach trees need numbered winter days of extreme cold to ensure a plentiful summer harvest.

Like God’s creation of nature, our personal lives cycle through seasons, from joy to despair, from busyness and fullness to emptiness and boredom. Why winter? Sometimes it takes a cold, barren winter wilderness experience to turn our hearts fully to God. To make us appreciate the benefits He daily loads into our lives. If every step of our path through life was lined with fabulously blooming flowers, we would quickly turn aside to grass.

Before we lament the winter wilderness experiences in our lives, we should read about history’s first recorded Christians in Acts 5:40-41. “They called for the apostles and beat them…and the apostles departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name.”

These early Christians rejoiced in winters – trusting that earthly hardships were short and nothing to be compared to the eternal blessings of Jesus.

We should enjoy spring and let the winter go – but when it comes around again – we should embrace it like an old friend who is walking us into the kingdom of God.

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What Puzzles a Monkey?

Stately Chilean Pines hide away in the Scottish Highlands not far from where we live. They are also called “Monkey Puzzle Trees.”

Monkey Puzzle Trees were brought to the UK as ornamental trees in 1850. Seeing one of the intriguing trees for the first time, a person purportedly said, “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that.”

With twisted, interlocking branches and broad, sharp needles, it might indeed prove difficult and puzzling to climb one of the trees.

Monkey Puzzle trees mainly serve as distinctive focal points for gardens. They have edible seeds, but it takes up to 40 years for the trees to produce seeds. While they are labeled “hardy,” Chilean pines can not tolerate exposure to pollution.

Monkey Trees share parallels with Christian life. Consider a popular cliché, “God works in mysterious ways.” When bad things happen in the world and when bad things happen to good people, even Christians are puzzled. We are often asked by a disbelieving world to elucidate the inexplicable. Jesus told his disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.” (Mark 4:11) That mystery, according to 1 Timothy 3:16, is “the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among unbelievers, Believed on in the world, Received up to glory.”

While we understand that Jesus left Heaven and lived on this earth as both man and God so He could die for our sins and be raised from the dead victorious over sin and death, it still puzzles us when bad things happen to good people. Perhaps the best answer is found in a poem written by an anonymous author:

Not until the loom is silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Will God unroll the pattern

And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful

In the Master’s skilled hand

As the gold and silver

In the pattern which He planned.

Without pain and sorrow, would we appreciate joy? Without hardship, would we enjoy comfort and success? Without the shadow of death casting itself over our lives, would we live each day to the fullest? Would a lack of opposites turn us into apathetical, ungrateful people? That’s a puzzle. God holds the connecting pieces.

Like Monkey Puzzle trees, Christians should produce seeds in our lives: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Just as it takes years for Monkey Puzzle trees to produce seeds, it takes time for believers to produce Christian fruit.

Like Monkey Puzzle trees, we should be hardy. We are instructed to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3)

Finally, we should be as sensitive to soul pollution as a Monkey Puzzle Tree is to environmental pollution. We must guard what we see and hear. Philippians 4:7 instructs, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.”

A Monkey Puzzle tree might puzzle a climbing monkey, but as Christians – we should not allow unforeseen and unexpected tragedies and trials to puzzle us. We may not be wise enough to know the answers to all lives puzzles, but we know Jesus. He holds the connecting pieces.

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Gateposts

Here in Scotland, a rock mansion was built in 1790, complete with ornate stone gateposts.

After he inherited it, owner James Douglas Fletcher spent an enormous amount of his wealth creating “a mansion to supersede all others.” Rosehaugh premiered as an elaborate four-square, three-story, 60-room showplace of unbelievable opulence, built with the finest construction materials, and filled with valuable furnishings from around the world. The mansion to supersede all others was completed in 1893. A mere 66 years later, the mansion was demolished. Today, 121 years later, all that remains of Rosehaugh are two ornate stone gateposts leading to nowhere.

That’s a good warning to us. We build our lives every day. Are we building something permanent that will remain when we leave this earth, or are we building grand and eloquent gateposts to nothing?

It is not wrong for Christians to have and to spend money. The Bible encourages us to work. It promises that in all labor there is profit. It tells us to work with all our might. It affirms the right of Christians to get paid for working. “He who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope…the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:10-14)

If we work and are rewarded financially with a good income, we should have the freedom to spend what is left after God’s tithe on whatever will benefit us in this life so we can continue to be productive. But how wide is the gap between what we really need and what we build? Are we building to impress others, or building gateposts in Heaven?

Once I lived under a bridge in the back of a pickup truck, painting signs for meals and washing myself and my clothes in the river – even on the coldest days of winter. I had little, but I had everything I needed.

Once I lived in an open-ended garden center. I had no bathroom facilities, no kitchen facilities, no air conditioning in the 100-plus degree summers and very little heat on the 16-degree winter days. I took showers with the cold water in the garden hose and slept on a lawn chair mattress on top of three wooden planks. Toads, birds, a wild cat, and other critters came in and out to visit. I had everything I needed. I had Jesus.

I’ve been without things that most people view as necessities, but I’ve never been poor.

“The blessing of the LORD, it makes rich.” Proverbs 10:22.

Jesus encouraged, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20, 21)

As commanding as it was in its time, Rosehaugh is gone. Two stone gateposts stand as reminders that not even an enormous amount of wealth spent on things in this world can secure them or make them permanent.

Jesus is the only foundation for eternal life. Living for Him is just as possible under a bridge or in a derelict half-shell of a building as it is in a palace or grandiose showplace like Rosehaugh.

Jesus was born in a stable. His first visitors were poor shepherds, hated and despised by the wealthy. We have a God that cannot be bought or sold for money; One Who only accepts the freewill offering of our hearts.

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