Tuesday, December 23, 2008

David Bowie and Bing Crosby

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:1-4

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Without Jesus

I heard a Christmas song the other day that lamented, "It won't be Christmas without snow." I've been guilty of that very sentiment. I wonder, do we think the same thing about Jesus? Do we think, "It just won't be Christmas without Jesus?"

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Matthew 2:1-2

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Evidence of Christmas

Barb Harwood and Nick Flatoff photos

My family and I recently had the privilege of accompanying some sisters and brothers in Christ down to Chicago to visit the Pacific Garden Mission. Some of you may have already visited this beacon of light in a hurting world, and if you haven't, I highly encourage you to go. You can check them out at http://www.pgm.org/

While there, we heard about the history of the mission and testimonies from men who are currently staying there. I say men, because 80% of the residents there are men. We then went on a tour of the new 150,000 square-foot facility, constructed just over a year ago. The mission itself has been serving Chicago since 1877. The mission is completely run on donations and takes no money from the government. They want it that way so that their main purpose--bringing souls to salvation--will never be thwarted. And salvation truly is the main goal at PGM. I was heartened to hear that they even turn away many book donations because they are not of sound Biblical doctrine.

Yes, they feed the poor: 3 meal servings a day, totaling an average of 2,353 meals per day (each one preceded by a church service). Yes, they offer basic medical care and clothing. Yes, they provide beds for an average of 850 people a night to sleep in for as long as a person needs. (all in a green certified building with lots of windows. The dorm we toured looked out onto a treed courtyard while the John Hancock building towered in the distance.) But the mission unabashedly repeats, over and over, that their purpose in all of this is to bring souls to salvation through Jesus Christ.

Many who come to PGM participate in the drug and alcohol recovery program. But even then, we were told, it isn't about "the program." It's about Jesus Christ, the Gospel and being born again. That is the true mission of PGM and they are sticking to it, with 1,384 people expressing faith in Jesus Christ last year. Also last year alone, twenty-eight people graduated from the one-year Bible program and five PGM graduates are now enrolled in Bible colleges.

Our visit also included sitting in on the live radio production of "Unshackled," which dramatizes true-life stories of lives transformed through Christ. In production since 1950, "Unshackled" is the longest running radio drama in history.

Finally, we ended our day with an evening meal in the mission cafeteria cooked by men and women who are graduates of PGM and who went on to culinary school and are now chefs. After dinner, we attended a two-hour worship service! Yes, two hours and it flew by!

As we drove home, I was so encouraged by yet another example of a herculean effort by true Christians to bring the Word of God alive through action and through the preaching and teaching of that very Word. They are proof that when you do both, everybody wins! Jesus Christ is the foundation: without Him there would be no program, no beds, no recovery, no hope, no graduation into a better life and no salvation.

I wonder how many other missions just like this go unnoticed by the world as they quietly but heroically live out the call of God. And I am motivated to apply some aspect of the mission in my own hometown.

"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." James 2:26

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Joy to the World

I've been going through boxes of old stuff, finding everything from my kindergarten report card to oodles of notes written by my best childhood friend. And then I came across my 1976 public junior high school Christmas concert program. Here's the wording on the front:

Ben Franklin Junior High Music Department presents A Christmas Concert

Underneath those words is a drawing of two church bells decorated with a bow.

I opened the program and read the listing of songs that were sung: "Who was Born," "Japanese Christmas Carol," "Christmas Bell Carol," "Christmas is Here," "English Carol Dance," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Carol of the Drum," "Carol of the Questioning Child," (acted out by a boy playing the child and three girls playing angels), "Bethl’em Lay a-Sleeping," "Cradled in a Manger," "Do You Hear What I Hear," "Joy to the World," and "Silent Night."

At the bottom of the inside of the program is the salutation, "Have a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

If the PC police had been out and about back in 1976, this concert would've never happened. Let me ask this question: are we any better off as a nation, culture or society because we removed the singing of Christmas carols from our public schools and stopped calling Christmas, Christmas? Are we better off today than when students sang these songs in 1976?

"Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: 'The Lord knows those who are his...'" 2 Timothy 2:19

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power." 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

Mark this: Black Friday fits the bill.

The people who stormed the 5:00 a.m. opening of the Wal-Mart at the Valley Stream Mall in Nassau County, New York, tearing the doors off their hinges and stampeding a man to death, loved only themselves and the chance to save a buck. They were proud, abusive, and disobedient to their parents who, I hope, at one time told them to be polite and wait your turn. They were certainly ungrateful for the employee who showed up in the early morning hours, working to put food on his table. The fact that the throng was unholy in attitude and action is without question. The fact that a man died in a rush for first dibs on a plasma TV is proof enough that these shoppers had no self-control, were not lovers of good, were treacherous, rash, conceited and lovers of pleasure. The fact that they continued shopping as the man lay dying is brutal.

The South Jersey Courier Post Online reports:

"When (store employees) were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling "I've been in line since yesterday morning,"' Cribbs said. "They kept shopping."

Brutal. Conceited. Without love. Having a form of godliness (shopping for Christmas) but denying its power. Giving themselves completely over to their sinful nature. And if you don't believe in sin, then please explain what you would call this.

Matthew 16:26 asks, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?"

"Jesus wept." John 11:35

Friday, November 28, 2008

Jesus is our Hope

Thanksgiving is over and what's known as the "Holiday Season" is bearing down upon us. This can be a difficult time for people for a variety of reasons: the painful memories of a loved one who is no longer with us; a strained relationship with someone; struggling financially or physically; dreading holiday parties and gatherings, and the whole commercial shopping machine that comes with this time of year.

But there is a reason Christians celebrate Christmas. We celebrate because Jesus came into human history as a baby and grew into a man whose Words we can read in the Bible. He came to release us--now, while we live our days on earth, and later in eternity with Him--from bondage to pain, suffering, anxiety and every other sadness and disappointment known to man. Jesus knew these things too.

When noone else can feel our pain, Jesus does. When nobody else understands our frustration, He does. And only He can take us through it and out of it. He is the one who trains us up in the Way we should go. He not only sits with us in our brokenness, He makes us whole once again--even if our circumstances remain doubtful, even when relationships fall apart, even when sickness doesn't go away.

Jesus, being sent by God to die for us, has overcome the world. Because of that, someday we'll leave here and be with Him forever. But Jesus will overcome our own personal world too. Right here. Today. Now.

Let Jesus in to your Christmas. Let Jesus in to your life.

"Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." Psalm 42:5-6

"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken." Psalm 62:5-6

"And hope does not disapppoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:5

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

Monday, November 24, 2008

Removing the Shroud of Mystery

(This is Part Two of looking at how "Of Wolves and Men" by Barry Holstun Lopez shares similarities with the Christian faith)

Today I'll look at how mystery played a big part in promoting false stereotypes and blocking the truth about the wolf. While Lopez acknowledges that there is always more to learn about the wolf, and some questions may not be able to be answered, the oppressive shroud of mystery had to go in order for people to properly see, and save, the wolf.

Lopez writes, "It is one of the oddities of our age that much of what Eskimos know about wolves--and speak about clearly in English, in twentieth-century terms--wildlife biologists are still intent on discovering."

Isn't that the same approach many take to Jesus Christ? We know all about Jesus from the Bible and the historical evidence that supports it. Yet seminaries, pastors, authors, churches and individuals are still intent on ignoring, re-inventing, or creating mystery around what has been clearly spoken in English, in twentieth century translations of the Bible!

Lopez tells the experience of wildlife biologist Robert Stephenson, who, in 1970, traveled the tundra and mountain country of the Nunamiut Eskimos. Lopez writes, "It dawned on him that the wolves he was watching were not like the wolves described in the literature he had read. And the Nunamiut were telling him things about wolves that no one, no biologist at least, had ever written about--not because they were odd or singular or mysterious things, but because they were things biologists were not interested in. Or never saw."

It was only when I began reading the Bible, and found a Bible-believing and teaching church, that I learned that everything I had previously heard and knew about faith was nothing like what I was now hearing. No pastor, leader, or Sunday school teacher--and nothing I had ever previously read--had ever told me these things.

Unless we're reading the Bible under the Counsel of the Holy Spirit, we won't even begin to know who Jesus, or faith in Him, is. We can read all kinds of things in literature about Christianity; one-sided history books, and books that are nothing more than pop-psychology faith. We can read gazillions of watered-down takes on what it means to be a Christian and sentimental "such and such" for the soul books, all geared to making the publisher a lot of money. These books will say a lot that is odd, singular and mysterious. But they will ignore anything the author isn't interested in, or can't see. Thus, only a partial, or completely misdirected, picture of faith in Jesus Christ is given.

The fact that the Bible is still the number one selling book in the U.S. is heartening; I just wonder how many people are making it their foundation for understanding Jesus Christ and the Christian walk. And how many people are testing all the other books they read about the Christian faith, and all the other teachings about the Christian faith, against what the Bible says about faith?

Wolves have a uniqueness all their own, and Lopez will be the first to say that the animal should never be seen as an object to be quantified--limited and capable of being fully understood. That would be arrogance. But he also warns that it should never be seen in the more humble attitude of being unfathomable. "The view from both places," he says, "gives you an animal neither can see."

Arrogance in faith leads to legalisms and obsessing over things like pew arrangement and whether or not people are raising their hands in worship. It stands in the way of unity in essentials and becomes spiritual pride. Yet a mentality that lacks confidence in the Truth of our Triune God and His Word leads to a false humility which, out of a fear of hurting anybody's feelings or stepping on anybody's toes, simply surrenders to mystery; to saying "we can’t really know." When the truth is, we can know.

In the case of the wolf, knowing has made all the difference. It will make all the difference in our, and others faith, as well.

"...my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." Hosea 4:6

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Of Wolves and Men

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the printing of the book "Of Wolves and Men" by Barry Holstun Lopez, which I just finished reading.

The book took me back to my twenties when I was a member of the Timber Wolf Alliance and went on wolf-study junkets to the great white north. There, we wolf groupies searched for wolf-scat and measured wolf paw prints in the snow under the tutelage of a University of Wisconsin biologist. (I'll write more later about how I worshipped wolves before I worshipped God!)

We never did see a wolf, however, which I quickly learned is normal. Wolves see people and "get out of Dodge" long before we even know they are there. Which breaks the first myth of the wolf: that they are brazen monsters that love to confront and attack people. Just the opposite: they love nothing more than to mind their own business and keep as much distance as possible between themselves and humans. Many other misconceptions about the wolf ran rampant until organizations like the Timber Wolf Alliance and Lopez' monumental book began challenging them and educating the public with the truth about the wolf. The result is that we now have a correct understanding of the wolf, along with healthy wolf populations, at least in the Midwest, where they were sorely in decline.

As I read Lopez' book, I couldn't help but marvel at how much the wolf and Christianity have in common, and I'll be sharing some of these insights over the next few days.

Lopez jumps in right away on page three saying, "The truth is we know little about the wolf. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine the wolf to be."

I re-wrote this statement as I see it applying to Christianity:

"The truth is we know little about Christianity/church/faith in Jesus/the Bible. What we know a good deal more about is what we imagine Christianity/the church/Bible/faith in Jesus to be."

An actress once said in a magazine interview that "Everybody has an opinion about the Bible, but very few have actually ever read it." What a great insight!

Lopez points out in his book that it wasn't just the urban and rural public who didn't know anything about the wolf; the biologists, trappers, and cattle ranchers didn't have an understanding either--what they all had was an imagining of what the wolf was like. Very few ever actually "read" the wolf. Very few took the time to investigate and get to know the wolf for themselves. The only ones who did have a correct understanding were, according to Lopez, "the people who lived in the Arctic among wolves, who had observed them for years in the wild."

Isn't that true with Christianity? It's the people who read their Bibles and who have lived among Bible-believing born-again Christians and observed them for years--not just looking at one sample of a church, Christian, pastor or denomination and making a final conclusion, or only learning about Christianity in seminary--who understand what it means to be a Christian.

People who don't take time to investigate for themselves (which was me for many years) or who have never set foot in a church have all kinds of things, usually nasty, to say about church/the Bible/Christians/God. Other people may have attended only one church or been exposed to only one denomination and, having had a bad experience, base their opinion of all churches and Christians on that one experience, often bad-mouthing churches they never set foot in and Christians they've never met. The Arctic Eskimos occasionally came upon rabid wolves, recognizing them by how they looked and acted. But they didn't conclude all wolves are rabid wolves. They knew there was a difference and how to tell the difference!

People who have never read the Bible, or who have never read it through the counseling of the Holy Spirit, have all kinds of very firm, but often false, convictions regarding the Bible. People who haven't gotten to know a true Bible-based believer in Jesus sometimes categorize all Christians as right-wing radicals because that's how their parents and grandparents classified Christians. They let their pre-conceived notions keep them from going into a Bible-based church to see if they can find something or someone that breaks the stereotype.

As Christians, we need to be the Barry Lopez’s and the Timber Wolf Alliances' of the world, getting the Truth of the Gospel out there in all its clarity and sufficiency. We need to bring Jesus--the real deal Jesus--to life for other Christians, non-Christians and ourselves through the personal study and living out of the Word, and through observing, learning from, listening to and spending time with mature Christians. In this way the Holy Spirit can break us, and others, of stereotypes and preconceived notions.

"All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations." Isaiah 65:2

"A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies." Proverbs 14:5

"True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips." Malachi 2:6

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." John 17:17

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood..." Ephesians 4:25

Friday, November 14, 2008

Let our Yes be Yes

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No;' anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Matthew 5:33-37.

When I read this verse the other day it jumped out at me. I began going through my various Bibles and commentaries to see what they had to say regarding these verses. One commentary translated this as "say what you mean and mean what you say." The New Life Application Bible said:

"Vows were common, but Jesus told his followers not to use them--their word alone should be enough (see James 5:12). Truthfulness seems so rare that we feel we must end our statements with "I promise." If we tell the truth all the time, we will have less pressure to back up our words with an oath or promise."

What often happens is that promises are made to people or ourselves and not to God, which dooms them from the start. Maybe this is why I don't particularly care for weddings. There's so much pomp and ritual surrounding what is a very public stating of a promise to love one another and live happily ever after, often made in a church by people who don't go to church and don't plan on going after they're married! (For the record, my husband and I went to the altar under these very conditions). The promise itself is the featured entertainment, but is it an unconditional "yes" to Jesus? Or is it an earthly, conditional promise that says "I'll love this person as long as they make me happy." Because if it’s the latter, when showtime is over and everybody comes down off their romantic high, that superficial "promise" goes right out the window.

I also see the getting away from saying "yes" to Jesus in the trend of bringing ancient spiritual practices into the Christian worship service. In these services, a greater commitment or promise to God is made through an emotional experience; a person lights a floating candle, walks away with a stone, or repetitively chants a word or song. But Jesus is saying we don't need to do this, and in fact it can be detrimental to do this because Satan can use it to get our focus off of Jesus and His Word and put it instead on ourselves. It can cause us to believe there is special power in an object or ritual when in truth the power is in Jesus Himself (the implication being that the Triune God isn't enough, nor sufficient). The practices and rites of Eastern religions are being grafted, at an alarming rate, into what is supposed to be a time of worship and teaching about Jesus and the Bible. Satan can use these practices so that the ritual, talisman or mood becomes the object of our faith and worship, replacing Jesus and His Word entirely!

Experiential, multi-sensory based worship and faith tends to remove the authority of Scripture. Where is the mystical token we received in church when we really need it? It's in the cup-holder of the car or on top of the clothes dryer! But when Scripture is written on our hearts, we can bring it to mind in a moment's notice, allowing us to say "yes" to Jesus and "no" to Satan; Just as Jesus Himself did when he fought off the devil.

In the grocery store...during tortuously long visits with extended family over the holidays...when the teacher seems out to get our kid...when we don't see eye to eye with our spouse, boss or sister...recalling Scripture is what will get us to honor our "yes" to Jesus. This is why it is the reading, preaching and studying of Scripture in all its sufficiency, and not the taking of window-dressed vows or a weekly walk through ancient rites that needs to be our practice. Jesus wants to protect us from emotional manipulation and from going casually or ritually along with the crowd in making a promise through some kind of medium; a promise that can never stand up because it isn't a daily, unconditional "yes" to Jesus Himself.

"So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, 'Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?' He replied "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" Mark 7:5-9

"Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your 'Yes' be yes, and your 'No,'no, or you will be condemned." James 5:12

Monday, November 10, 2008

Veterans of the Korean War

Oostburg area Veterans march in the 2008 Milwaukee Veterans Day Parade Saturday, November 8. Barb Harwood, photo

In the summer of 2003, I was assigned by the Sheboygan Press to cover the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. Not knowing all that much about the war myself, I embarked on a journey that would forever change the meaning of the word "Veteran" to me.

As part of my research, I read two excellent books: "This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History" by T. R. Fehrenbach and "The Korean War: Uncertain Victory, Vol. 2" by Donald Knox, where I learned that the death toll for U.S. Service Personnel in Korea over three years (June 24, 1950-July 27, 1953) was virtually the same as in 10 years in Vietnam.

I interviewed and spent many hours with local Korean War Veterans, mainly from the Oostburg area. Tears came to the surface often as one man, a gunner on a B-24 who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement in aerial flight, relayed his stories. His wife sat in the room with us and quietly told me after the interview that she had never heard her husband share some of these things before. Most of the men I spent time with had tears in their eyes as they relayed their Korean War experience, 50 years after the fact. For these men, the war will never be over and the men they personally served with will never be forgotten. It is these men, along with all Veterans, that I honor this week.

After I wrote the newspaper series, I attempted to get my thoughts about these men, who weren't much older when they served than my oldest son is now, down on paper in the form of a poem. I had always loved to read and write poetry. But as I wrote and re-configured the words, it became more and more ludicrous to me to attempt to put all that I'd heard from these men into a poem. Poetry seemed to trivialize everything. So I wrote something that, essentially, says how poetry--a metaphor for so much else in life--loses all meaning and purpose when held up against what the men and women experienced in the horror of the Korean War. The albeit futile vessel that follows is the end result:

No Words for Korean War

I could write of primroses and beach glass
But what would that mean to you,
a man who served 51 years ago
in the Korean Theater,
a stage of death so senseless
that nobody in the States wanted
to hear about it
or even to remember.

You were 18
fresh from a land of maple trees
and humble brick bungalows
A place where the fourth of July was marked
by flags
hanging from the front stoop
and boys pushed mowers
over postage stamp lawns.
Your life rolled out in front of you
like so many Iowa farm fields;
a life barely grown
and too young for war's threshing floor.
You found,
and lost yourself,
in Korea;
Porkshop Hill, Bloody Ridge,
crossing the river at Inch'on--
faces of boys you'd just met
blown away in front of you.
You scribbled letters home
not knowing what to say.

As fog skimmed another tranquil Wisconsin lake on a June morning
As thick white snowflakes fell softly
in neighborhoods bedecked with Christmas lights
In Korea
days of humid rain
gave way to snow.
You "dug-in" through the permafrost
to make a bed for your hour of sleep.
Back in the States
they didn’t know
and never thought to ask.

While poets waxed quixotic--
and still do--
of starry skies and pouring tea
What is that to boys and men
for whom the stars have died
and pretense is no more.

"Jesus wept." John 11:35

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Great Nation Under God

Barb Harwood, photo

This editorial written by Michael Gerson in today's Washington Post best sums up how I feel following the election:


Whether we voted for Obama or McCain, our president on January 20, 2009 will be Barack Obama. Biblically, we are called to support him with our prayers and maintain gratitude for his willingness to serve this country. I thank God that we live in a land where presidential elections can be held peacefully and men and women aged 18 and older are free to vote without intimidation. I applaud the election of the first African-American president and the ending of discrimination and racism this win signifies.

It is my prayer that we will all adhere to the words of 1 Timothy 2:1-2:

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."

May God bless the United States of America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

This is Grace

As you probably know, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was released from the Packers last week.

Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press Gazette brought us the news, and even more importantly, the grace in which KGB accepted it:

Upon his release, Gbaja-Biamila said in a statement through the Packers: "My nine years as a Green Bay Packer have been a blessing that is beyond words. I thank God for bringing me to this first-class organization and first-class community."

Gbaja-Biamila, a devout Christian, gained a reputation for talking openly about his faith in the locker room. He harbored no bitterness toward the Packers organization. "I don't know what my football future holds, but one thing I've realized is that football is more than a game -- it's about building relationships and changing lives," said Gbaja-Biamila. "One of the commitments I've had throughout my career has been to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is something that I intend on doing whether on the field or not. God bless the Green Bay Packers."

In a March 27, 2008 Marquette Tribune article, Kabeer said, "Christianity should be a verb, not a noun."

It's obvious that KGB's Christian faith is a verb, as we've seen in the grace and integrity shown not only during his years as a Green Bay Packer, but in the days following his release from the team; quite a contrast to what we often see in sports and in life, so filled with loyalty and love when things are going good, but bitterness and selfish pride when the going gets rough.

So thanks, KGB, for modeling what Paul says in Philippians 4:11-12: "I have learned to
be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Thank you for consistently walking the talk. God Bless you wherever you go from here.

"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice." Philippians 4:8-9

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Barb Harwood, photos

"The mellow year is hastening to its close;
The little birds have almost sung their last,
Their small notes twitter in the dreary blast--
That shrill-piped harbinger of early snows..."

from "November" by Hartley Coleridge

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Fear of the Lord

Many people misunderstand what it means to have a fear of the Lord. They see it as being afraid of God or punished and unfairly judged by Him. But that's not what the fear of the Lord is. The fear of the Lord is a respect for God that makes us want to please and obey Him; a respect that causes us to feel Godly remorse when we don't. This fear of the Lord is not for God's benefit--though surely God delights in His children when they follow His precepts--but it is for our benefit! Yes, the fear of the Lord is more about our well-being than God's!

I think Tony Evans of The Urban Alternative says it best:

"When you fear the Lord, you take God seriously. You give God the appropriate respect, reverence, honor and awe for His person and His position. It also means that you live your life understanding that because God loves you, He will hold you accountable for your actions. In other words, you know that God is God and you're not. Over and over the Bible promises great blessings to the man or woman who walks in the fear of the Lord. Psalm 128:1 says, 'How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.'" Tony Evans

Evans asks the question, "Do we have that kind of respect for God?" I think that's a great question! Many of us don't respect God because it means we have to submit to Him and listen to what He's telling us. We don't want to be held accountable, because that means we have to change our ways, which is often hard work. But the question I ask others and myself is, "How is ignoring God working for me, or you?" Is life really any easier by not respecting God?

Those who refuse to fear God are often the most fearful of life and death. They're fearful not in a respectful sense, but in the sense of being scared, anxious, or worried. I know this because it used to be me. Death terrified me. I obsessed over relationships. I worried constantly about what other people thought of me. In my fretting over the present, I put unrealistic expectations on the future. In all of this there was no respect, awe or reverence for anything; just a constant striving on my own part to create and control my world. I think we can agree that that is no way to live.

Is living in the fear of the Lord ever scary? Well, sometimes. Sometimes it's scary to know that God reads my mind and knows every thought that crosses it. It's unsettling to know he heard every word I spoke over coffee with a friend, and that every word wasn't Christ-like. But you know what? When I wasn't a Christian, the guilt over these things would eat me up. I knew I was a gossip, or had any number of failures in integrity. But I had no where to go with it! Talk about scary!

But God does give us a place to go with this stuff. Under His loving hand of conviction, knowing that Jesus died for these very lapses in character, I repent to Him. I commit to relying on Him so that I won't sin in this way again. He forgives me and wipes the slate clean, making me desire to work towards being more Christ-like. And I keep going to Him until together we get it right, and then start dealing with the next thing! That's something I never achieved when I lived in fear of myself and life and not God. I never achieved peace of mind. I never found right motivation to improve.

The fear of the Lord is about a trust in God and accountability to Him that allows us to live with a clear conscience and to change our ways for good. And there's nothing scary about that!

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

"But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you." 1 Samuel 12:24

"The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love." Psalm 147:11

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." Proverbs 1:7

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge." Proverbs 14:26

The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor." Proverbs 15:33

"Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble." Proverbs 28:14

"He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure." Isaiah 33:6

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

HP Pavilion Problem

Well, I've finally figured out what happened to my Hewlett Packard Pavilion laptop. It seems there has been problems with the motherboard on some of these units, so HP is going to extend my warranty (which expired in September) and fix my laptop.

Not even Best Buy (where the laptop was purchased) was aware of this problem when I took it to the Geek Squad. In fact, they basically gave my laptop back to me and said "call HP." Before doing that, however, I took it to the computer experts at Milwaukee PC in Sheboygan, who ran more diagnostics and who then informed me that they had just learned of the motherboard problem, and that I should contact HP because I'd probably get an extended warranty to fix it.

If you have an HP Pavilion laptop, you may be interested in going to
http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/document?docname=c01087277&lc=en&dlc=en&cc=us&lang=en&product=1842155 to see if you are eligible for an extended warranty. If you are having problems with the models mentioned in this link, contact HP.

Not having my computer has caused some delay in writing my blog, but I hope to keep posting while my computer is away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Got Back-Up?

My laptop died over the weekend and is now undergoing diagnostics tests by the computer experts.

A word to the wise: procrastination and computers don't mix. In other words, I put off backing up my writings and photographs and now they might be lost forever! Why didn't I play it safe and back stuff up and print out photos as I went along?

Isn't that just like life? We sail along, putting things off, thinking maybe the repainting of the house, the fixing of the car, or the long over-due doctor check-up will just go away. We'll never get sick any way, and the house and car will hold up for another year. Until we do get sick with an ailment that could have been caught early, and we notice the wood on the house is beginning to rot in places from lack of protective paint!

Spiritually, it's easy to fall into the same trap. We think "I'll read my Bible tomorrow;" "I’ll start going back to church one of these days;" "I'll devote time to prayer when things settle down." But tomorrow is just as busy as today and our church and prayer life never materializes. And then out of the blue, our life crashes. It's then we realize we haven't been backing-up our life with Bible reading, prayer and church. We have no foundation on which to stand because our relationship with God hasn't been built.

The time for me to save my documents and photos was before my computer crashed and before my hard drive may have to be erased. The time to prepare for life's stresses and tragedies is before they happen. A relationship with the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the best and only back-up to life that I know of. And that relationship works wonderfully on good days too!

"The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock." Matthew 7:25

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." Luke 6:46-49

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Get Bailed Out, then Party

This story by Andrew Taylor of the Associated Press is making headlines this morning:

WASHINGTON - Days after it got a federal bailout, American International Group Inc. spent $440,000 on a posh California retreat for its executives, complete with spa treatments, banquets and golf outings, according to lawmakers investigating the company's meltdown.
AIG sent its executives to the coastal St. Regis resort south of Los Angeles even as the company tapped into an $85 billion loan from the government it needed to stave off bankruptcy. The resort tab included $23,380 worth of spa treatments for AIG employees, according to invoices the resort turned over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The retreat didn't include anyone from the financial products division that nearly drove AIG under, but lawmakers still were enraged over thousands of dollars spent on outing for executives of AIG's main U.S. life insurance subsidiary.
"Average Americans are suffering economically. They're losing their jobs, their homes and their health insurance," the committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., scolded the company during a lengthy opening statement at a hearing Tuesday. "Yet less than one week after the taxpayers rescued AIG, company executives could be found wining and dining at one of the most exclusive resorts in the nation."

For the full story go to

The minute I read this article, the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18 came to mind. In the parable, a servant of the king could not pay what he owed the king. The king ordered the man, along with his wife, children and personal belongings, to be sold to repay the debt. The servant, however, fell on his knees and begged the king to be patient, promising that he would pay everything back. The king “took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go” (18:27).

The parable goes on to show how the servant who was forgiven his debt turned around and did not have the same compassion for someone who owed him money. Instead of forgiving as he was forgiven, the servant had the debtor thrown into prison.

In this parable, the servant did not go out and throw a big party, spending money he claimed not to have. But he did hold someone else accountable where he himself was not. And that's exactly what AIG did, and, apparently by their recent actions, plan to continue doing. By throwing this lavish party just days after being forgiven, i.e. "bailed out," they celebrate and make merry with money they claim not to have, showing no compassion whatsoever for those suffering financially, and indicating that it's back to business as usual...self-centered greed and no accountability, quickly forgetting how much they've been forgiven.

I guess to AIG, $440,000 is just peanuts, a drop in the bucket, nothing to get wigged out about. But I wonder, how many times was a "mere" $440,000 looked at this way before it all added up to 85 billion?

"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" Matthew 16:26

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Leave Politics out of Church

Some pastors recently broke the provision in the tax code that prohibits tax-exempt non-profit organizations from endorsing a political candidate: they endorsed a candidate from the pulpit.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently did a survey in which it found that:

"While a strong majority of Americans support religion's role in public life, a solid majority also expresses opposition to churches coming out in favor of particular political candidates. Indeed, an August 2008
survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that two-thirds (66%) of the public opposes churches and other houses of worship speaking out in favor of one candidate over another."

The survey found this to be the case regardless of whether someone considered religion to be very important to them or not at all important, and regardless of denomination or church affiliation.

I would have to put myself in that same category. Does that mean Christians are not to be involved in the political process outside of church? No. I believe that volunteering to work in a political campaign, putting up a yard sign, running for office, or discussing politics over the dinner table with family and friends are all okay for Christians to do. In fact, we must be informed voters and we must always vote. I believe public service is a gift from God, as is the interest some have in following, writing about and teaching politics. Like anything, however, it must be kept in check so that our political passion doesn't overtake our relationship with Jesus Christ and the applying of God's Word to our lives.

And therein lies what I see as the biggest risk of politics in church: the nature of campaigns and partisanship are such that it is very difficult to be involved with them and not sin. As I watch the debates between presidents and vice presidents, all I can do is think about how each candidate will be held accountable before God for every word they utter, either in person or in advertisements. All of us will be held accountable to God for the words we say.

There isn't a lot of speaking the truth to begin with in campaigns, much less speaking it in love, as Ephesians 4:15 calls us to. And there is much bearing false witness against each other (Exodus 20:16). The morning after the debates, pundits expose how the candidates from both parties misstated facts, exaggerated, or got their opponent's record wrong.

The other temptation that lies in wait to trap us is that of mockery and pride. We mock the opposing candidate and haughtily point out their every fault. We think we are so much better than Joe or Jane Candidate on the opposing ticket and that I, Joe or Jane Citizen, have all the perfect answers! We believe our candidate thinks exactly like we do and will do everything we want or expect him or her to do. And while we're busy taking pride in ourselves and our candidate, Satan uses that pride to breed hate for the other candidate and all who support him or her.

I know this because I've been guilty of this very thing. Personal pride in our party or candidate breaks up families, friendships and, I believe, would break up congregations if politics were added to the pulpit. There are very few people in this world, I've found, who can have a calm, non-partisan discussion when it comes to politics.

And that is why I believe we should not let political campaigns and all the sin they tempt us with to enter into our sanctuaries. Better instead to do what the Bible calls for when it says "Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). We need to test our political candidates and their record against the Bible and the values and precepts it teaches, remembering that our candidates will not be in line with Scripture on every count. So we need to decide, some say, for the lesser of two evils. Or we decide, others say, for the candidate who most closely stands for Christian values. That is the responsibility of every Christian.

While we may want to privately seek the Godly council of Christian friends and leaders as to how we can be a Godly voter, none of us should be waiting for our pastors to tell us who to vote for. And all of us should be discussing who the next president will be with the person who counts most: God.

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity." Proverbs 11:2-3

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Planned Parenthood Under Investigation for Fraud

I applaud the scrutiny being given Planned Parenthood. Never a fan of this organization, it has always given me pause that tax dollars support them. This is the main thought to take away from the article, which states that:

"Ray Ruddy, president of Gerard Health Foundation, is leading the call for a federal investigation. He says, unlike other federal contractors, Planned Parenthood does not have to bill the government at cost, but is able to bill at what they call "normal and customary rates."

So why the special treatment for Planned Parenthood, and who has been overseeing this so called "normal and customary rate?" Apparently nobody, until now. If we're going to give tax money to Planned Parenthood, they need to be held accountable just like everybody else.

Read the short article here:

"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" Matthew 16:26

Monday, September 29, 2008


Barb Harwood, photos, taken September 25, 2008

"And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease..."
John Keats, "To Autumn"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lycra, Church and the Holy Spirit

It was the summer of 1989, and I was on a cross-country bicycle trip with about 100 other cyclists. One morning, somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, I was tooling along down the road by myself when I heard singing in the distance. I came around a bend and saw a quaint country church, the kind you see on postcards. Bikes belonging to some of my fellow riders were parked outside, so I, too, stopped and entered the church. What I saw is something I had never encountered before or since: the all-black congregation was on their feet, wiping their brows on this very hot morning and singing as one big gospel choir.

I stood in the back with the other cyclists because nary a vacant pew was to be found. There we stood: four white bikers wearing Lycra, bike gloves and very sweaty T-shirts in a black Baptist church. Not a questioning head turned. Not a look was given. A few nods and gentle smiles greeted me as I entered. But mostly, nobody seemed to notice we were there. Out of rudeness? No! Out of sheer occupation with worship!

It was a foursquare church with a few polished wooden pews, a simple pulpit and windows that opened to the flaxen fields beyond. The hardwood floor creaked under the passionate swaying of the congregation. The entrance door, held open with a door stop, didn't distract the kids at all; they clapped and praised God along with parents and Grandparents. Every now and then an inspired soul declared "Yes Lord" and "Amen" as if their life depended on it.

Why was it that, at age 26 and a church dropout, I felt comfortable for the first time in church; in this church? I, a complete alien in Lycra, in a church unlike anything I'd ever witnessed, among a people I had no experience with, didn't want to leave. I wanted what these people had. Now, almost 20 years later, I believe it was the working of the Holy Spirit through these people and through me that made me feel more than just comfortable. You could say that God was definitely in the building and for the first time, I heard His voice.

Today, there's a group of about 50 God-praising, God-fearing, sin-acknowledging, God-loving, God-worshipping, God’s Word-reading and God-saved people, probably still singing in the hills of Pennsylvania, who will never know how their faith one day back in 1989 was a witness to a lost soul. And it all took place in a tiny sparse church, large with life and lit with the sun of a summer Sunday morning.

Paul said:
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction." 1 Thessalonians 1:4

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Welcome to my new location. When I first arrived here, I named the blog Revelation215 after the verse Revelation 21:5 which says:

"And he who sat upon the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.'"

But then somehow I lost the domain name, and had to give this space yet another new name! (I'm updating this on Nov. 18, 2008). Anyway, this is a new location for a blog which began on the Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers Wismoms website, a site targeted to the interests of moms. There I wrote about parenting, marriage and faith from a Christian perspective. Wismoms changed to MomsLikeMe and dropped the bloggers. Now that I'm on my own, I'm not sure what direction this blog will take, but it will not be specifically geared to moms. It will be about faith in the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and I'm going to let God lead me where He will. Therein lies the fun, learning and adventure!

My prayer is that "Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's son, in truth and love." 2 John 1:3