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Let me start this blog off with a disclaimer that I do not have a problem with people being rich, as long as the money was gained honestly (and really how am I to know).  Like most people I wouldn’t complain if I had more money, but I do need to put things in perspective and recognize that compared to many in the world – I am rich.

With all of that said, I couldn’t help but “raise an eyebrow” when I read Shibani Mahtani’s article, Wealth Over The Edge, in the WSJ.Money (Spring 2013).  The author writes about Singapore being the latest playground of the uber-rich.  If you have ever been to Singapore, you know that it is a clean, orderly, and beautiful 21st century city-state.  As an Asian city it could compete with the chic found on the streets of Paris, Milan, and New York.   I can see why it would attract wealthy people from around the world.

In her article, Mahtani describes some of the excesses of the wealthy who are flocking to the city.  For example, it is nothing for these out-of-town visitors to spend $3,000+ just to get a table at an already full nightclub, where they may purchase a $26,000 cocktail that is studded with a diamond.  She points out that some of the rich young people in their 20s already own their own corporate jets (one of the jets she writes about has a basketball court and a pool).   Singaporeans have seen an increase in expensive cars cruising their streets, flagship boutiques, and yacht clubs to accommodate the wants of the uber-rich crowd.


This drink is called the Jewel of Pangaea and sells from $26,000 to $32,000 dollars.
(see reference photo credit below).

Now I get that this is their money and this type of spending is just a drop in the bucket if you are worth billions, and even millions.  I also get that it is their right to spend it however they want as long as it is legal.  However as I was reading this article three questions kept floating through my mind.

Question #1

What effect is this type of spending having on the citizens of Singapore?  Mahtani does address some of the by-product of the excessive spending.   She notes since 2009 the price of real estate, which was already precious and expensive in this small city-state, increased by 59%.  Citizens are complaining about the new anything goes culture, which is increasingly challenging the ideals and values held by Singaporeans.  And, the criminal element is increasing in what has been known as a safe and orderly city.


Multiple reflections of Singapore (see reference photo credit below)

Question #2

Will the instantaneous pleasure many of the uber-rich are participating in be the very things that leaves many of their lives meaningless?  Who better to address this question than King Solomon, a man who during his lifetime was known for his wisdom and wealth.  In Ecclesiastes he wrote about the pitfalls of wealth that can lead to an empty and meaningless life.   King Solomon expressed,  “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless… After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. …I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards.  I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees.  I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!… Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure… But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere…Those who love money will never have enough.  How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness” (Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11; 5:10, NLT).

The problem that King Solomon had wasn’t that he was wealthy, but his lifestyle removed his focus from what was meaningful.  Scripture clearly indicates that his choices not only had a negative effect on him, but also on the people he served as a king.

(I do want to acknowledge that many rich people do use their money and time to serve others.  And trying to find meaning through “things” can happen in any socioeconomic group;  matter-of-fact most of us living a Western lifestyle are probably guilty of this.)

Question #3

As I thought about this article it prompted my third question, how many of us if we had the opportunity would reach out to the rich just like we would to someone in our own socioeconomic group or someone poorer?  I must confess I probably would be more hesitant.  I need to remind myself that just because someone may be wealthy does not necessarily indicate that s/he has a life filled with meaning.  Just like you and me, the rich are made in the image of God and have the same emotional and spiritual needs and longing for a meaningful life.

As I get older and become more philosophical about contemplating life’s meaning, I believe that true meaning is found in serving others.  Having money certainly can make life easier in many ways, but if we are not careful it can become a resource that can handicaps us.  In the end, money by itself can’t buy meaning.  What can?  As a Christian it should be no surprise that I believe that the foundation of true meaning is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and following His example of reaching out and serving mankind.   Perhaps some of you cannot agree with me about my Christian beliefs, but certainly we can all work together to become wealthier people by serving others.


Siem Reap 028_2

What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.

Today’s Think Through:  What do you think contributes to a meaningful life?  What is your perception of money and meaning?

 Photo Credits


Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/adforce1/4369749617/”>williamcho</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>




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I was reading a book review of Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday.  Diamond posits that there are things we can learn from traditional societies.  What caught my attention in the book review was the example of how a society’s customs can become so entrenched even if they are senseless.

Diamond wrote that the Kaulong people of New Guinea, until 1957, practiced the ritual of strangulation of widows (it appears that it was just females who were strangled).    There was no evidence that this practice helped the Kaulong society in anyway, but none-the-less it was so embedded in societal belief that a female widow would insist that her male relative strangle her after her spouse died.  If the male relative refused to do the dastardly need, the widow would taunt or mock him about his manhood.


This raises the question, which cannot be answered in this short blog, how do such customs start?   A Liberian pastor told me a story that is a great example of how these strange customs may begin.

A number of different missionaries have served in Liberia.  In one particular instance a church was formed under the careful oversight of a missionary couple.   They not only brought their Christian convictions to the Liberians, but also worked at teaching them techniques to keep them healthy.   One of the things that the missionaries emphasized to the congregants was the importance of boiling water before they drank it so that they would stay healthy.   After the missionaries were gone (or died – I don’t know which), it became established in the church’s theology that no one could be a true Christian unless they boiled their drinking water.    After all that is what the missionaries had said they should do.

Boiling water

I laughed when the pastor told me this, and I grimaced when I read the story about the Kaulong widows.   Both stories have made me think about what customs I may have ingrained in my own personal and religious life that makes no sense at all and actually could harm relationships that I have with others.


Let me share a personal example.   I grew up in a rural area with Southern customs.   It was a given when a man came into the house from farming or any other task, he always was expected to take his hat off.   I soon learned that the removal of your hat showed proper respect, while not removing it made your character questionable.  I had seen both my grandmother and my mother correct young men who were at our dining room table when they had not removed their hats.  I can still hear the refrain, “Young man, in our house, a man always removes his hat.”

Just a few years ago, my daughter brought home a date (who is now her husband).   I was dismayed when he did not take off his knit cap when he came into our house.   When he left I informed my daughter that a “young man in our house always removes his hat.”  To his credit the next time he came he immediately took off his cap.

Soon after this experience, I was telling a friend who is a few years older than I am about it.  She looked at me quizzically and asked if I really wanted to make the taking off of a hat an issue.   She informed me that times have changed and young men don’t necessarily take off their hats when they enter a house.  Though she did not ask, the question left hanging in the air was “Is wearing a hat in the house really a character flaw?”

I had to step back and look at my own ingrained belief and concluded that wearing a hat in the house was neither disrespectful nor a character flaw.   It was a belief that I needed to let go of.


There is nothing wrong with having customs that are a part of our family, community, or church culture.    However if a custom has no benefit, then don’t hold on to it if it will hurt a relationship or cause anyone harm.


Siem Reap 028_2

What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.

Today’s Think Through:  What custom do you have, or was imposed upon you, that became a stumbling block even though there was no benefit to it?

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/xiangxi/3890433756/”>xiangxi</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>



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As I think about what to write in this blog, I reflect back on the time I have spent in Liberia.   This is my last time at ABCU.  I am at the end of my commitment that I made to the university, and God has made it clear to me that my time has ended here.

I think of all the people I have had the privilege of meeting in the community, some I know their names and others I do not.  However, we recognize one another after my coming and going from Yekepa over the last five years.  Even though I don’t know everyone’s name, when I am out walking we nod to one another making a human connection.

My Alaskan friend, Sylvia, is at ABCU teaching this semester.  We went out for a walk the other day and she took her camera.  I thought I would share with you some of the pictures that we captured.  However, before I do let me tell you something a student said to me after I asked him, “Are you happy living in Liberia?


“Oh yes, I am happy in Liberia.  When you grow up in Liberia you learn to be happy with little.  For example if you have to burn wood for fuel, you are very happy when you get enough money to use charcoal.  And then if you are ever able to use gas instead of charcoal to cook, you feel as if you are a very wealthy man. ”

I needed you to read what he had to say before I show you the pictures, because you will see pictures of poverty – of people just trying to survive.   I don’t know if they are like my student and happy with so little.  I do know that this is how most people live in Liberia, with little hope of changing their lives.  When you live in a third world country it is hard to pull yourself out of poverty because there are so few resources.  Liberia receives aid from many countries, but the corruption is overwhelming and often the aid does not trickle down to the common person.


I know that I sound discouraged and I find myself feeling that way many times.  However the other day one of my seniors was at my duplex talking to me, he along with other education students give me hope.  He has a passion for education and doing the right thing, as do many of my students.   I believe that one of the hopes for the common person to better himself is by receiving a good education.

Right now for those who can afford to go to school, most do not have access to a quality education system.  Many public classrooms have 60+ students – even in elementary.  Teachers often do not show up on time to teach their students and have minimum knowledge in their content area.  Few teachers have their bachelor degree and in the interior may not even have graduated from high school.  Teachers accept bribes (money or sexual) to give good grades.  They receive such a low wage that they believe accepting bribes is the only way they can survive.  Either that or they work two jobs with little or no time to prepare for teaching.  Those same teachers who take bribes also may have had to give bribes to the Ministry of Education’s District Education Officer to get or keep a job.

Everyday survival becomes not merely finding enough work, but also running the gauntlet of corruption and deciding where you will draw the line, if you decide to at all.  But I digress – here are the pictures.


It is easy to spot me at P-market.  The commerce area of Yekepa.

It is easy to spot me at P-market. The commerce area of Yekepa.

On the way to the P market, the commerce area of Yekepa, we happened to meet Edward.  Edward use to work at ABCU, but was let go as most workers were when construction stopped.   Sylvia met Edward the last time she was here through mutual friends, and her Rotary Club raised money to buy Edward a pig.

Edward was celebrating a big day because his wife had just had their fourth child (four girls) that morning at 5 am.   It was now around 10:00 am and Edward wanted us to come to the clinic to see his wife and the baby.  I am thinking to myself if I was his wife and I had just had a baby, the last thing I would want is for strangers to come see me and the baby.   But off we went because there was no polite way to turn him down, and indeed having a child is a special day.

Edward takes us to see his wife and newborn daughter.

Edward takes us to see his wife and newborn daughter.

The clinic was only about a quarter of a mile from his house.  So first we went to see the adorable newborn and mother and then we headed to his house.

When we walked up to his house, Edward’s girls were doing the chores.   As soon as they saw us one of the girls went into the house and brought out a chair for us to be seated.  Liberians treat guests well.

The children are doing daily chores.  The one girl was washing the dishes.

The children are doing daily chores. The one girl was washing the dishes.

One daughter is stringing laundry on the line.

One daughter is stringing laundry on the line.

Edward took us around to the back of the house to see his prize pregnant sow and another little pig he had just bought.  We found out later that the sow had the babies, but she killed all of them by lying on them and crushing them.  Her lack of motherly instinct did not serve her well, because Edward killed her and sold the meat.  It also was disappointing for him because the death of those pigs meant the loss of future income.

Pig pen where the pregnant sow and smaller pig is kept at night.

Pig pen where the pregnant sow and smaller pig is kept at night.

As we talked to Edward a parade of singing women came toward us.  They were bringing the baby and mother home from the clinic to introduce to the neighbors.  The tired mother slipped into the house without a word, the other women stayed outside with the baby.   Neighbors came over to see the newborn.  A sense of community is one of the greatest gifts the neighbors can give to the child.

Women form a celebratory parade to bring the newborn home from the clinic.

Women form a celebratory parade to bring the newborn home from the clinic.

Neighbors coming to see the newborn

Neighbors coming to see the newborn

This lady led the parade and presents the baby to the family and neighbors.

This lady led the parade and presents the baby to the family and neighbors.

Sylvia with the baby, the sisters, and the neighbors.

Sylvia with the baby, the sisters, and the neighbors.

After visiting for a while we said our goodbyes and went home.  We received some good news; Edward found a job working for the iron-ore company.  The company is  refurbishing some buildings destroyed by the war and making them into a business office.   After losing the pigs, this is indeed good news.  It means there will be food on the table even if it is mainly rice.

So this is life for many in Yekepa and Liberia.   One precious gift that you cannot take away from Liberians is their sense of community and helping one another.   Perhaps another gift is their ability to appreciate the little that they may have.


Siem Reap 028_2

What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.

Today’s Think Through:  What do you think?  Do you think Westerners have unreasonable desires?  Is it hard for us to be happy with the small comforts of life?



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The afternoon sun beat down on the Land Cruiser as we left to make the long arduous trip from Monrovia to Yekepa.  It was almost too late to start the 7-8 hour drive but at least it was the dry season – no rain, no mud.  The red dust of Liberia swirled around our car.  Dust so fine that it coats your nose and throat and hair, even if the windows of the vehicle are rolled up.

The first leg of our trip was only a few miles down the road.  We followed the university’s president to Red Light to pick-up frozen chicken and fish to take to Yekepa.  Red Light is a hustling, congested, 24/7 commercial market, with all types of activities including crime and prostitution.

We turned onto the boulevard, which out of shear necessity often becomes a five-lane road to accommodate the merging traffic.  Resurrected cars pulled along side of beat up taxis, jockeying for position on the road.  Horns honked, fists waved, motorcycles veered in and out of the traffic; pedestrians pushing wheelbarrows filled with goods bravely darted among the cars to get to the other side.

Entering the market one’s senses became overwhelmed with the crush of people, the cacophony of noise, and the smell of food and garbage.   The vivid color of African clothing was juxtaposed against the second-hand Western clothes that were being worn and sold.

Taxi cab maneuvers through the traffic.

Taxi cab maneuvers through the traffic.

Vendors displayed their wares under once colorful umbrellas faded by the sun.   Other sellers spread blankets down on the dirt, stood on corners, or moved through out the crowd hawking their wares.

Garbage piles were knee deep in front of some vendors emitting a foul odor as the piles baked in the hot sun.  Other garbage was being burned; the acrid smell of smoke curled up into the air.

We arrived to pick up the food, but there was no place to park so our driver maneuvered the car between the crowd and the side of the busy road.   He asked a policeman if he could park there.

“Yes, but pull up a bit.”

The president and his driver had already stepped out of their car to go into the store; our driver soon followed.  There we were three “mzunga” (east Africa word for white people) sitting in the hot afternoon sun with our windows only slightly rolled down because of concerns for safety.   Sweat rolled down my forehead and the back of my neck.  People surrounded our vehicle on both sides as they moved here and there – starring at us as if we were in a fish bowl.

Others sidled up to the car trying to sell us something or to ask for money.  A man stood, with his back to my window, attempting to entice people to buy a small square flashlight.  Over and over he shouted, “One thirty-five, one thirty-five, flash light for one thirty-five.”  Only one person stopped to look at the light, but I don’t think the person bought one.  Whether a light was sold or not probably determined if the man would have anything to eat that night.

In front of us, we watched as a policeman took bribes.   This is the way of life.

Policeman observing the crowd.

Policeman observing the crowd.

Out of nowhere a man in a red shirt comes up and yells at us, “What are you doing parking here?  You are in the way – move your car!”

The driver was gone, we had no key – no way to move the car, and where would we have gone if we could?

A policeman appeared and then two more.   About this time our driver came back and explained to the policemen that we were told that we could park there, but no one chose to believe the driver.

A crowd started to surround us to see what was going on – entertainment for the day.  Another policeman was called to come over, and the one who gave us permission to park maneuvered through the crowd and approached us.  Of course, he did not verify our story.

People crowd around our vehicle to see what is happening.

People crowd around our vehicle to see what is happening.

In the midst of the chaos, the people from the store began to load 500 lbs of rice in the back of the Land Cruiser and approximately 500 lbs of frozen fish and chicken on top.   Thrrump, thrrump, thrrump – the vehicle vibrated and the roof pressed downward each time the frozen goods were tossed up on the roof.   The police continued to argue with our driver about the violation.  More people gathered around us.   Our president came and intervened.

By now, my clothes are soaked with perspiration.

A ticket was written.

A ticket was written.

I thought to myself, instead of going to Yekepa we may be going to jail.  No bribe is offered.  A $50.00 ticket is issued and a policeman waved us away.

We slowly pulled out on to the crowded boulevard loaded down with rice, chicken, and fish.  Eight hours later, we make it to Yekepa.


(The pictures are not very big because they were taken incognito with an iPod by one of my fellow travelers.)



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The other day as I listened to a radio program, the radio host was talking about a study of soccer (football) goalies.   I found it fascinating so I decided to search the Internet to see if I could find the exact research.

What I found was that a behavioral economist at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, Ofer Azar, conducted a study on the position that elite soccer goalies took when they guarded against a penalty kick after a foul.   This type of penalty gives a designated player from the other team the opportunity to kick a ball 36 feet from the goal with only the goalie protecting the net.   Statistically this is a high probability shot for the kicker because he is so close, with the width of the front of the net 24 feet from side-to-side.  To stop the ball, the goalie has to decide before the penalty kick if he is going to stay in the center or move to the left or the right.   Azar studied over 300 goaltenders to see what choice they would make.

It is hard to stay centered.

It is hard to stay centered.


Now you might be asking why was a behavioral economist studying the goaltending actions of soccer goalies?  What Azar was really researching was why people make illogical choices.  Even though the goalies knew that the better choice was to stay centered most chose to move to the left or right side.  They did this because they would rather do something than nothing at all, even though it may not be the best choice.   The goalies felt at least it looked like they were taking action.

Why did this research interest me so much, because it sounds just like me!   I am a Type A personality and I like to get things done.  If there is a problem, I want to fix it right away, and in my mind, fixing it means I need to take immediate action.  I have lived long enough to know that at times the best action is to do nothing and just stay centered.   I cannot tell you how hard this is for me to do.


What does it mean to stay centered when a problem occurs?  I think a good example of what it means can be found in II Chronicles 20.  In this chapter we read that Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, received a message that three different people-groups had formed a vast army to destroy Jehoshaphat and his kingdom.   Now if that had been me, I would have immediately started taking visible action to prepare for war to give myself and other people confidence that I was doing something.  Instead Jehoshaphat stayed centered in God.  He asked his people to stand with him before the Lord and to pray and fast.

Jehoshaphat said to God, “…We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.”

The Lord replied, “…Do not be afraid!  Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”

God then directed the people of Judah to go to the battlefield and to sing and give God praise.   As they did this the armies of their enemies began to turn against each other and Judah received the victory.

The story of Jehoshaphat is a good reminder that the bigger the problem the more important it is to stay centered in God and to seek His wisdom before taking action.   Caution, when you do this be ready for a surprise, because God might direct you to take action that seems antithetical to the situation (like singing and giving praise to God in the midst of a massive enemy army).

As much as I admired Jehoshaphat for his choice, he ends up being just like me when it comes to being consistent at staying centered in God.  One time I do a good job of seeking after God’s wisdom before I act and the next time I don’t.  If you want to know what I mean read the ending of II Chronicles 20, verses 35-37 and see what happens when Jehoshaphat decided to take action without seeking God’s wisdom.  Will we humans ever learn?


Siem Reap 028_2

What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.

Today’s Think Through:  Today’s Think Through is a poll.  The question is what best characterizes you? Be assured that if you respond I do not know who responded to the poll.

I am off to Liberia, as usual, I will attempt to post bimonthly, but if I don’t it is because we are having trouble with the Internet.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/seriouslysilly/4915117294/”>seriouslysilly</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>



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As I get older I am more contemplative about welcoming in a new year.  Perhaps it is because I have learned to slow down and give more thought to life, or perhaps I have a better understanding that life is fragile and that at any moment it can be turned upside down for the good or the bad.

Two things have come to mind as I welcome in 2013.  First is a welcome that I received last October at a church in Yekepa, Liberia and the other is I Peter 4:7-11.

 A Welcoming Spirit

One of my students invited me to attend a church with him in Yekepa.   I accepted the invitation and on the way there he told me that I would receive an unusual welcome.   With a grimace, I asked him if I would have to sit up front next to the pulpit facing the congregation, which I do not like to do.   I know it is very hard for my white face to escape notice in a Liberian church, but really I just want to be a part of the worship and not a spectacle.   He smiled and assured me that I would not.

I entered the church and my student and I walked toward the front to be seated with other ABCU students who are members of the church.  The service started and as occurs in most churches in Yekepa, an invitation is extended to a first time visitor to stand up and say your name and where you are from.  I did so, along with another woman.  Then the welcome ceremony started and what a welcome it was!

Playing the saw-saa and one of the drums.

Playing the saw-saa and one of the drums.

I and the other visitor were escorted to the edge of our row next to the middle aisle.   The drums and saa-saa were played as the women of the church danced to the back of the sanctuary and then up the middle row of the church.  The women moved to the lively beat of the music singing a welcome song.

As they danced by me and the other lady, each woman in the procession greeted us and shook our hands.

Stopping to greet me as the lady dances up the aisle.

Stopping to greet me as the lady dances up the aisle.

Moving forward some stayed at the front of the church, while others moved freely in and out of the pews.  The song and dancing continued for at least another two-three minutes with everyone in the congregation singing their greetings and shaking our hands.

A smile spread across my face because the greeting was such a joyous and beautiful welcome – as a visitor I was engulfed in a sense of genuine hospitality.

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Later I found out that only about half of the congregation was in attendance.  A young man from their church had died suddenly and many had made the trip to Guinea to go to his funeral.  As I thought about this it struck me that even though all of the congregation was mourning over the loss of the young man and had their own personal problems, they still made time and room in their heart to give us a warm welcome.

Welcoming 2013 and Wondering What Will It Bring

The thought of this warm, hospitable greeting brings me back to thinking about how I will welcome in the unknowns of 2013.    What will the year be like?  Globally will countries continue to be on the brink of economic disaster?  Will we see more young children slaughtered? How many hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters will occur?  What countries will break out in war?  What citizens will continue to die as they fight for freedom?  What will I celebrate?  What will I mourn?  How will I respond to the highs and lows of this year?

The Apostle Peter was no stranger to responding to a world that was fraught with uncertainties and danger.  In I Peter, he addressed  Christians who were being tortured and killed as they lived under the rule of Nero and who were scattered across Asia Minor.    Peter doesn’t focus on the negative, but he counsels the readers on things that they can do to live positively in the fallen world that surrounds them.

The end of all things is near.Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.  I Peter 4:7-11 (NIV)

So what can we learn from Peter about welcoming in and facing the challenges of 2013:

  1. To pray earnestly and with discipline.  God does not need our prayers, but He welcomes them.  Prayer allows us to communicate with God by unburdening ourselves and listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we seek direction.  Prayer is a solace that gives us a place to run to when we want to rejoice and when we need quiet space to heal our spirit.
  2. To love deeply, to care about others, and to show hospitality without grumbling.   These are all components of social support, which are keys to good health and decreasing stress not only for those receiving, but also for those giving.   What comfort we bring to others when we have a welcoming spirit that shows love and concern. Though some, like myself, do not have the innate gift of hospitality, we need to be alert to when God is asking us to extend ourselves to others.
  3. To use our gifts to serve others and to glorify God.  Imagine what it would be like if each time that we used our God given gift(s) that we remembered that God gave us these gifts to build His kingdom and the strength to use them.  (A note of caution: please do not confuse the use of gifts with trying to be a superwoman who moves forward on her own strength and beyond God’s calling.)

Peter’s words bring me back to the congregation at the church.   Even though they have little in the way of material possessions, even though they know the harsh reality of life will be at their doorstep this year, and even though they were in mourning the day I visited, they set aside their own needs and instead used their gifts of music and dance to welcome us with love and joy.  May I do the same this coming year.


Siem Reap 028_2

What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.

Today’s Think Through:  What are your thoughts about 2013?  Is God calling you to use a certain gift?  Has God laid a verse, a promise, or a challenge on your heart?  What will you do to welcome in and embrace the year?



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I am sure that most of us enjoy singing Silent Night at Christmas.  Even if we do not remember all of the words, the first stanza easily floats through our minds.

Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and Child

Holy Infant, so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace

But in reality was it a silent and calm night filled with heavenly peace – or is this just a figment of the song?  If you are a woman who has given birth, or a man who has coached your wife through labor, you understand why the term “labor” is used for childbirth.  It is hard and painful work that in most cases is not silent or calm.

My intent is not to cast dispersions on Silent Night, but to remind all of us that when God calls us to take a certain path it may be difficult and hard to travel.  The path may be far from calm and peaceful, but if we trust in Him, God can use us in a mighty way.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a wonderful example of this.  What God asked of Mary not only seemed improbable, but too much for a young adolescent girl to bear.   Mary, however, humbly and faithfully accepted this supernatural blessing, even though she knew it would probably mean a path filled with hardships (some of which she could not even have begun to understand).   Yet, she was willing to be God’s hand servant despite the risk.

It would be too long to write about all of the possible and real hardships Mary faced, but let me mention two – the cultural ramifications and the birth.

Cultural Ramification

Mary accepted God’s path for her knowing that she was taking a great risk and that Joseph and her family members could reject her.   According to Old Testament law, she could have been stoned to death.  But the more probable risk is that she would have been put away or become an outcast with a child to support, which often meant living the life of a prostitute.  Mary walked by faith knowing that if God called her, then He would provide.

The Birth

Can you imagine being in the last weeks of your pregnancy and having to make the hilly, 80-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on foot, by a donkey, or a cart?  Not knowing exactly when or where you would give birth.  I have been to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.   Underneath the church is the “Grotto of the Nativity,” the cave (stable), where Jesus was supposedly born.  I cannot tell you if this is the exact site, but if not, it was probably a similar cave minus the ornamentation.

The Grotto of the Nativity and the silver star is said to be the actual place where Jesus was born.  Photo credit: neilward / Foter / CC BY

The Grotto of the Nativity and the silver star is said to be the actual place where Jesus was born. Photo credit: neilward / Foter / CC BY

Mary would have given birth to Jesus in a cold, dank cave, surrounded by animal smells, and without the help of familiar women to comfort and coach her.   Something tells me that neither Mary nor Joseph would have been thinking on the night of Jesus birth that it was silent, calm or peaceful.

The Christian Life – Bliss or Risk

As I have thought about Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus, I have thought about the risk that God also calls us to take (though not so profound).  Sometimes we read or hear someone paint the Christian walk as one of bliss with little risks, but that is far from what scripture teaches us.   Instead, the story of Christ’s birth and New Testament scripture assures us that when we choose to follow God that we are choosing to walk a path that at times will be filled with difficulties and uncertainties. Paul wrote:

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that sufferings produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his life into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.                    Romans 5:2b-5, NIT

As I write this, I think of two people who are very special to me.   Like Mary, God has called both of these people down difficult paths that have not been silent, peaceful, or calm.  Yet in the dark nights of their souls, God has given them the gifts of communion with Him through prayer and scripture reading.  This has added a great depth and dimension to their lives that most of us will never experience here on earth.  Like Mary, they would say, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful for the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48, NIV).  They also would tell you that as hard as it has been for them that they rejoice in the path God has allowed them to walk because of the hope He has given to them.

The reality is the night that Christ was born was probably not the idyllic setting that we often sing about, but we can rejoice because on that night “Glories streamed from heaven afar…Alleluia, Christ the Savior was born?”


Siem Reap 028_2What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation

Today’s Think Through:  Have you ever been asked how you can believe in a virgin birth?  I think that is a fair question and my belief is based on faith and the meticulous accuracy of the fulfilling of Old Testament prophecy that were given hundreds of years earlier.

Another experience has reinforced my belief and that is spending time in Africa.  I have been going  back and forth to Africa for five years, and my eyes have been open to a supernatural world that most Westerners never experience.  My African students have challenged me, that if I believe in miracles then I also have to believe in the supernatural forces of the spiritual world.

In Africa you observe things happening that almost seem inconceivable and you begin to realize the spiritual forces at work around us.  I am saying all of this to tell you that if demonic forces have the power to display themselves in such a formidable way then God, the creator of heaven and earth, could bring His Son to dwell among us through the virgin birth.

*The title for this blog was taken from Andrew Petersen’s song, Labor of Love.



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When others behave badly to us, it should only stir us up the more heartily to give thanks unto the Lord, because He is good; and when we ourselves are conscious that we are far from being good, we should only the more reverently bless Him that He is good.  We must never tolerate an instant’s unbelief as to the goodness of the Lord; whatever else may be questioned, this is absolutely certain, that Jehovah is good; His dispensations may vary, but His nature is always the same.

(C.H. Spurgeon, as cited in The Nature of God by A.W. Pink, 1999)

This quote comes at a perfect time as I watch an individual who appears to be, whether knowingly or unknowingly, undoing five-years of work into which people have poured their lives and resources.

As I watch events unfolding, I feel dismayed and wonder what is God’s purpose in all of this?   At times I sit stunned with little hope. Often I grieve for those who are being hurt the most.  And I continue to question what am I suppose to do?

I wish I had the perfect answer about what my response and behavior should look like.  I don’t…but I can tell you that God is reminding me:

  1. To focus on His goodness and power.   As humans we will always let one another down.  I might not understand why this is happening, but as Spurgeon reminds me even though God’s dispensations may vary, God is always good.  Therefore, I need to trust Him no matter the outcome.
  2. When I point my finger at someone else, there are at least three fingers pointing back at me.

    That doesn’t mean that the other person may not be wrong, but I have to look at my own attitude and how I may be contributing to the problem.  Am I helping or am I making things worse?

  3. Last week God led me to Numbers 16 where Korah, a Levite, was questioning Moses and Aaron’s leadership.  It is kind of a scary chapter because Korah and his followers ended up destroyed by the wrath of God.  What a solemn caution, when I am questioning someone in leadership I need to be careful about my own behavior.  Verses one and two read that Korah “became insolent and rose up against Moses.”   Korah was rude, arrogant, brazen and showed disrespect for leaders chosen by God.   Once again I am reminded when God has put someone in place, for the good or the bad, I need to watch my attitude and behavior.  This does not mean that I cannot voice my opinion and my concerns, but I must not be insolent.  Koran is an example that an insolent attitude clouds a person’s behavior, motives and judgement, and certainly is not pleasing to God.
  4. If God has given me a task then as a Christian woman living in this fallen world, I must do the task to God’s glory even though things may seem to be falling apart around me.
  5. Pray!  Pray for the person with whom I may disagree and pray that God will lead, direct, and bless him/her according to His will – not mine (oh, so hard to do)!  Pray  that my attitude and work will bring glory to God’s name and that I will be open to working on my own faults.

So I give hearty thanks to the Lord, because even in difficult situations  I can learn and grow as a person.  Most importantly I have hope because I can always depend upon God’s goodness.


What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation

Today’s Think Through:  What has God taught you about His goodness as you have gone through difficult circumstances?



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At 14-years-old she found herself imprisoned for a year charged with the crime of adultery.  She had been raped and beaten by her adult male cousin and because she was a female she was the one thrown in prison.

Reading Afghan Women Fear Rights Will Erode as U.S. Leaves in the The Wall Street Journal, made me change today’s blog.  

The plight of this 14-year-old girl is not surprising.  It is the same old story that has played itself out over the ages for women living in this fallen world. However, we should never give up trying to make a difference and educating the world that women are valuable beings who are created in the image of God.

Women around the world work hard to maintain their families and society.

My Conversation

As I read this story a conversation popped in my head that I had this fall with a male student at ABCU.    What makes it so significant to me is because he is a likeable young man who is a Christian.  Yet from my perspective, he possesses a questionable attitude about women that I have observed in many places in the world.

On Sunday mornings at ABCU faculty have a driver that picks us up in a van and takes us to the church of our choice.  On this particular Sunday as we road home from the service, the drive stopped and picked up a few ABCU students who were walking back from church.

While talking with the students, I asked two of the male students their perspective on an issue and then I turned and asked one of the female students.   One of the young men, who had already responded to the question, had a puzzled look on his face.  He asked:

“Why would you ask the same question to one of the female students, we (two male students) have already responded to your question.”

His question actually was a statement containing the underlying premise: if a man had spoken, you do not need to seek the opinion of a woman After all a man’s response is superior and a woman should be submissive and not respond. 

If you know me, then you know that his question was the same as waiving a red flag in front of a bull.

I spent the rest of the bus ride back to campus assuring him that a woman’s response to a question can be just as valuable and sometimes even more valuable than a man’s.   And my not so subtle premise was that as a Christian, he should make sure that he was correctly using scripture when he is asserting a male’s authority and/or superiority over a woman.

My Response and/or A Few Other Things I Would Like to Have Said

I can’t remember all that I said to the student but here are just a few points I either made or wished that I would have stated to him.

Christ Was Revolutionary

I did point out that Christ was revolutionary in his approach toward women.  He walked and talked with women, which was a cultural taboo, and two of Christ’s best friends were Martha and Mary.   I told him that some of Christ’s first spiritual truths were taught to women not men, and women were the first to know about the resurrection.   I wish that I had challenged him to re-read the Gospels noting Christ’s treatment of and discourse with women.  I also could have noted that it was women who stayed at the foot of the cross while the disciples fled.

Women’s faith serve to sustain them.


He is correct in his belief that the bible talks about a woman being submissive, but it is in the context of a wife to her husband.  Ephesians 5:21-33 states that in a marriage a woman needs to be submissive and show respect to her husband.  However, focusing just on the verses about submission can be misleading unless you read the totality of the chapter.  For example Ephesians 5:1 states that we should, “Be imitators of God…live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”   When a man treats a woman as a second-class citizen or as an object to be used and abused, he is neither being an imitator of Christ nor is he showing love.

We also need to remember that Ephesians 5 describes how we should live and treat one another, with verse 21 first raising the topic of submission.  Paul pens to both the male and female readers that we should  “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”   So often people focus on the submissive role of the wife in verse 22, but choose to exclude verse 21 in their discussion, which calls for mutual submission.

If I would have had time I would like to have pointed out to this young man that in Ephesians 5:21-33 that only four of these verses focus on the woman’s role in a marriage, while nine of the verses address how the husband should love his wife like Christ loved the church.    Christ gave his life for the church because the church was precious to Him.  I believe that we can conclude from these verses that a husband should show the same type of love for his wife.

I also wish that I had had time to share with the student my own personal experience.   I know what it is like to have a husband who values and loves me as Christ loves the church.  I would have assured him that my husband is a real man, and he is secure enough in who he is that he allows me to be who I am.   I also would have told him that I know many other Christian men who treat their wives with love and honor. I would have pointed out that it is this kind of love and attitude that makes it easy for a woman to submit to and respect her husband, because you know that you are valued and your opinion is honored.

More Could Be Said

There is even more I would like to say, but sometimes I can be “to in your face” when it comes to this topic.  My prayer is that my conversation with this young man will help him think about the value of women and the contribution they make to a society.

As we arrived back at campus another young man said, “Dr. Kloosterhouse you need to get on the radio in Monrovia and talk about this.”  

I smiled at him and told him that I am not the one Liberians will listen to, but it is young men like him who need to take this message to the people.

Maybe there is hope after all.


What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation

Today’s Think Through:  What can we do to help raise young men who respect women?  And also young women who respect men?



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As you know by my last few blogs that the time I spent in Liberia this fall was filled with frustrations (though I received many a blessing from the students and faculty with whom I work).  So I had to laugh as I made my way back to the U.S. from Liberia, because it was a very appropriate ending to my time away.   At times I felt like I was on a reality TV show or at least Candid Camera. (Though this blog is a little longer than intended, I wanted to capture my adventure of trying to make it back to the U.S.)

Getting Ready to Leave

When someone is leaving Yekepa to go to Monrovia the news soon spreads because it is a difficult and costly journey especially in the rainy season.  The night before I left I planned on four of us driving from Yekepa to Ganta and then three of us from Ganta to Monrovia.  I thought we will have plenty of room because the Land Cruiser can comfortably hold five passengers.

There was a bit of a surprise on my face when I got into the Land Cruiser and there were nine passengers sardined in together.  Three of us were in the front, four in the back seat, and two people were in the back with the luggage.  I still can’t figure out how the two were able to travel all the way to Monrovia with luggage bouncing all around them.

Dr. Miamin, ABCU’s President, laughed and said it looked like a Liberian taxi, which it did.  We did drop two of the passengers off in Ganta and only seven of us traveled on to Monrovia.  The good news is that because so many of us were stuffed in the vehicle we didn’t bounce as much when we hit potholes.

 The Road

The seven-to-eight hour trip from Yekepa to Monrovia took 13 ½ hours.   There were parts of the road that were almost impossible to get through and the rest of it was  pothole filled.  The question was not if you were going to hit a hole, but which one was your best choice.

I can tell you that I was glad to be in the Land Cruiser and have our excellent driver, Emmanuel, because I don’t know how we would have made it through otherwise.  Even though I have posted a couple of pictures below, you can’t begin to see the depth of the mud and water filled holes.

The mud was up to the bottom of the Land Cruiser and so was the water.

In one spot, a truck was trying to maneuver up a muddy incline.  If it didn’t make it, there was no way that we could get around it.   We backed up because we knew that once it started up the hill it would not be able to stop and might slide into us.  We sat their praying as it swayed tipping to one side.  Finally it made it through.

The truck made a number of attempts to get up the hill. Sliding in the mud, it began to tip.

The next day, another ABCU vehicle tried to make it through but had to turn back.  A truck was wedged across the road and it took all day to dig it out.

Most Liberian’s means of transportation is walking. Not easy along these roads, but sometimes better than using a vehicle.

The Brakes

Ahhh I thought, we made it through the worse spots and now all we have to put up with are the potholes.  Little did I know that our breaks were going to go out and that we would be stranded in Gbangan sitting underneath a lean-to.   The good news is that we were able to get the shoe brakes to fix the car; the not so good news was that instead of taking a few minutes it took three hours.

Some of us are waiting in the lean-to for the Land Cruiser to be fixed. Look closely and you will see a mud puddle to the right and a cooler at the left used as business resources.

As I sat there profusely sweating, I thought to myself that I could be home sitting in my comfortable chair watching reality TV; instead I was living it.  On one side of the lean-to the mechanics (I think that is who they were) were working on an old beat-up blue vehicle.  BANG! BANG! BANG!  The echoed rattled through the lean-to along with whirling black diesel smoke as they revved up a machine to work on the car.

The blue car next to the lean-to on which the mechanics were working.

In front of us a man ran another business.  He was selling bags of water plus washing motorbikes that were covered with mud.  He evidently advertised that the bikes he serviced would be power washed.  After scrubbing the bikes thoroughly with dirty water, he turned on a small generator ran hose that pumped water out of a mud muddle and rinsed off the bike.  He and a customer were having an argument about how clean the bike was.   Really, how clean could the bike be when you are washing it with dirty water, and why argue if the bike was clean enough because once the customer took the bike on the muddy road, no one would even know it had been washed.

If you look closely you can see the power washing hose that siphons water from the mud puddle that was next to the lean-to.

In the midst of all of this a Muslim “call to worship” wafted across the air.  I happened to turn around and about a foot from where I was seated on the bench a man had spread down a rug and was raising his hand and prostrating himself on the ground reciting his prayer three times to Allah.

A small boy noticed none of the confusion as he played with a tire and used two sticks to navigate it down the road.  There I set as if all of this was an every day experience, and I guess for those around me it was.

A young boy plays with one of the tires that has come off a car the mechanics worked on.

The Flight

I am a farm girl and one of our sayings is “like a horse heading back to the barn.”  The saying best describes what I am like when I get to Monrovia; I count the minutes until I get on that plane and fly home to see my family.

On my day of departure, I left early for the airport to get there before the crowd arrived to check-in.   As we pulled in I was happy because I was one of the first ones there and I didn’t care if I would have to wait outside (it is a small airport and you can only go inside at a designated time).   As we pulled up, we were told that the flight had been canceled and I needed to reschedule for the next day.  Even though I was very disappointed I tried to have a good attitude about it.

The next day, I arrived at the airport with three other women from Samaritan’s Purse (SP).   All of our tickets were from Monrovia to Accra to New York.  As we were waiting in the lounge we noticed that our tickets had the same departure time from Accra to NY, but had different flight numbers.  I then heard a gentleman say that he had received an e-mail that those who had my flight number would have a seven hour layover in Accra.    I asked several agents if this was the case and was assured over and over that we were all leaving Accra, Ghana at the same time.  Then one agent said that our flight might leave one hour later, which made sense.  Finally one young Delta agent found me and told me that indeed we would have a seven-hour layover, even though it was not indicated on our ticket.

Right before we landed in Accra I asked the flight attendant who was going to explain where we were suppose to go once we deplaned in Accra.  She said:

“Oh no, you are not to get off of the plane. All of you will take this plane to NY.”

I then explained everything to her.  She went to get clarification from the head steward.  The steward said we would get an explanation before we got off the plane.

No explanation. 

As I walked off the plane I ask a flight attendant what we were suppose to do.  She said an agent would be waiting for us at the door when we entered the airport.

No Delta agent was waiting.

An SP lady and I were two of the first off the plane and were wandering around the airport asking where we should go.  Thank goodness there were English-speaking people (Ghana is Francophone).  They directed us to transit.  As we went through transit we were once again patted down, our belonging searched, and then were sent to Gate 4.

At Gate 4, we were told that we needed to load back on the plane we had just exited.  I explained everything to the security lady.  The lady replied:

“They were just waiting to see if there would be room on the plane, you can reboard.”

I then went through my 6th full pat down and search.  As the SP lady and I walked toward the door to board the airplane another agent looked at our ticket.   She said:

“You can’t get on this plane, this is the wrong flight number!”  

Once again I explained what happened and asked to speak to a supervisor.  She curtly responded for us to have a seat and indicated when convenient that she would get a supervisor.  By now I knew that would not happen so I didn’t listen to hear and went back to talk to the security lady that sent us through.  She told me that she would call a Delta agent.

By this time, the rest of the people who had deplaned and had the same flight number as we did had arrived at Gate 4.   I told them that a Delta agent was coming to talk to us.  About 15 minutes later he showed up.  We spotted him and gathered around him and he yelled:

“Why didn’t you do what the man told you to do?”

This was not a particularly smart thing for him to do, because by that time we were exhausted, frustrated and in “mob mentality.”   In one loud voice we yelled back:

“There was no man who told us to do anything!”

Thank goodness we didn’t lose any more control other than to raise our voices.  (Though we did have one crazy woman and another passenger with us who had literally got in a flight on the plane from Monrovia to Accra, but that is another story for another time.  Though I must confess that it did cross my mind to turn that woman loose on the Delta agent.)

After about 10-15 minutes of going in circles with the agent, he said that Delta would get us hotel rooms for the night.  All of us would need to give him our passports and he would then get transit visas for us.

We looked at him like you have got to be kidding!

1)   We did not trust him to take our passports.  Delta had been so incompetent so far that we thought we might never see him or our passports again.

2)   It was now past 11 pm and we had to be back to the airport by 3 am to catch a 5 am flight.  By the time he processed our visas, we would have no time to sleep at the hotel (little did we know that we would have more time than we thought).

All but three of us requested to stay in the Sky Priority lounge because the airport basically closed down overnight.  He finally said yes.  I asked for food vouchers but he said the lounge had food.  It did but there wasn’t much.

At 3:30 am the next morning our group walked to Gate 4 to get ready to finally load the plane to NY.   By 4:00 am no Delta Agent had yet showed-up to start taking us through security and load the plane.  To make a long story short, I asked a young woman working at the information desk three different times to please call a Delta agent to come explain to us why we were not flying out at 5:00 am.   She was very nice and accommodating and was just as frustrated as we were.  She called three times and the last time she handed the phone to me to talk to security to try to see if they could get a Delta agent to talk to us.

No surprise, no Delta agent ever showed up to explain what was happening.

Finally around 6:15 am someone showed up at Gate 4 and we took off around 7:00 am to NY.  By this time most of us had been awake for at least 24 hours and had a minimum of another 12 hours in front of us.  All of us would miss our NY connections and some missed important occasions such as a wedding.

I thought to myself, if this were a movie script no one would believe the incompetence and complacency of the Delta agents that we encountered in Africa.

The Daily Reality of Life

So, it was quite the trip home.   Even as frustrating as it has been, I still would never give up the time I have spent in Liberia and the adventures I have experienced.

I also am reminded that things could always be worse and the world can be a challenging place no matter where you live.

I am so thankful that I am not flying into NY this weekend.  Because of all of the flight cancelations, I can’t imagine how hard it will be to make it from Monrovia to NY.  I have a feeling many passengers will be stranded for days in Monrovia and Accra.

While I was in Liberia the running of the generator and having electrical power was an issue. I held my breath every time the generator quit, hoping it would restart.   As I write this blog, the winds are high in Michigan due to Hurricane Sandy and many have lost power around us.  We loss power for a couple of hours and I have to admit it was hard, I was so over not having electricity.  However, I know the loss of power for a couple of hours is a a minor inconvenience when you think about all of the problems the people on the East Coast are experiencing.

Once again I am reminded that when you live in this fallen world concerns for safety can happen anywhere.  I happened to live in the area of Michigan where the interstate shooter has struck at least 24 times in the last two weeks and still has not been caught.   It can be a little scary driving on an interstate wondering if someone might shoot at you.

A bullet hole is shown on a car door following a shooting near Interstate 96 in Michigan. (KABC Photo – taken from http://abclocal.go.com/)

The True Reality

Yes at times it may feel like I am living a version of “reality TV.”   However, my true reality and existence is found in God, and He is the one in control no matter where I may be or what may happen.

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.      Revelations 4:11 NASB


What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation

Today’s Think Through:  No think through today, but you are welcome to post a comment or a question.