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Here at Connections, we believe in the Bible.  We affirm what it says.  So when Ephesians 2:8 and 9 says “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.”, that’s what we believe, that’s what we live by.  We cannot earn our way into Heaven.

And that’s what Martha believed, too. But let me tell you, she had such a servant’s heart that you might think she was leaning towards getting to Heaven by her works.

She participated in the Walk for Life, one of the ways our church supports the local Pregnancy Care center.

We have pictures of her when the church went to pack food for hungry kids in Africa, about ten years ago.

She helped prepare communion, back pre-covid when we had trays instead of individual servings.  I have a voicemail from her, letting my wife and I know how that week’s preparations went.

She had her own coupon ministry, where she would get coupons out of the Sunday paper and give them to people.  Not just randomly – she knew what people liked and targeted the coupons to them.

She had a deviled egg ministry.  Whenever we had a carry-in dinner at the church, everybody knew not to take deviled eggs, because sure as anything Martha was going to!

She could receive as well as give.  One time the youth of the church were distributing pumpkin pies.  It would have been around this time of year, though I don’t remember which year, but she was appreciative.  And after she had moved into assisted living, the church swung by and sang her some Christmas carols – and again, even though she was starting to lose her faculties, she was very grateful and thankful.

It wasn’t just the physical things.  After one of our ladies was in a bad car accident, the women’s group was praying.  Martha replied “Thank you for the update.  I have been praying for her almost hourly.  I have her name on my kitchen table and when I pass it I pray for her.”

I don’t know Martha’s Bible reading habits.  I’m sure she had read the passage I opened with, and I’m sure she read the very next verse, Ephesians 2:10.  “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”

And that is the Martha Downing I remember, trusting in Jesus through faith, and always walking in the good works that God had prepared for her.

I’m an Android guy, and I like customizing my phone. The stock launcher doesn’t give me enough options, so I have been using Nova Launcher. And that’s since at least 2013, and across multiple phones.

Until now.

TeslaCoil software, the manufacturer, just sold out to an analytics company. There are a lot of words in press releases about independence and not siphoning data. I also know that Branch bought them for a reason, so I assume that the data will be flowing to the analytics company, and will be sold to the highesr bidder, somewhere down the road. Unhappy about that.

So I dropped Nova Launcher and picked up Hyperion. Different product, of course, but the end result is very similar. One minor tweak is absent, and I can live without that. My data will presumably be safer going forward.

I don’t blame TeslaCoil for selling out. Doesn’t mean I have to keep on using them – that’s the price of freedom.

And then I bought the Plus version of Hyperion using Google money, which I got from answering Google Rewards surveys. So I sold information to Google to protect information from going to Branch.

There are three or four big consolidators of data. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, maybe Facebook. Lots of others (Oracle bought Cerner!), but those are the biggies. They are all sucking data from you daily. I chose to align with Google as my primary. Still use Microsoft (though not Windows 11) and Amazon (Prime has many benefits, which encourage more purchases and data gathering). I stay away from Facebook.

I also use AdGuard and multiple ad-blockers. I may be selling my information, but I’m selling it dearly.

Did you ever stop to think about stones? God did – He made them, so He must have thought about them.  And I think He likes stones, because He made a lot of them. 

Stones in the Bible have lots of uses – walls, altars, seats, even pillows.  I want to look at four stones or sets of stones – two around King David, and two around Jesus.

1 Samuel 17, verse 40.  Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.  And then verse 49: Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.   

Good for David, good for the Israelites, good for God.

Then in Second Samuel 16, King David’s son Absolom has gotten friendly with the population, and is having a revolution to take over the throne.  David is running away before he gets killed.   Verses 5 and 6: As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the family of the house of Saul was just coming out. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and as he approached, he kept yelling out curses. He threw stones at David and at all the servants of the king, though the troops and all the mighty men were on David’s right and left.   

Unsurprisingly, his military commanders wanted to kill Shimei.  David says “no”.  Verse 10: But the king replied, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses me because the LORD told him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ ”

With Jesus, the most famous stone is the one that covered His tomb after He died, that an angel rolled away when He was resurrected.

There’s some advice I’ve heard about reading the Bible, and that’s “Always look for Jesus”.  For the last stone, we’re going to go back to the Old Testament, and it will be easy to find Him.  Ezekiel 11, verses 19 and 20: I will give them integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, so that they will follow my statutes, keep my ordinances, and practice them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.   

Now that was written about the Israelites.  That heart of flesh wouldn’t last – they had to keep going back to the Temple, to offer annual sacrifices for their sin.  It took Jesus, the perfect sinless sacrifice, to make that sacrifice once and for all, to make it permanent. 

And that’s what we are celebrating now, with the wafer and the juice, that all Christians are invited to partake of.  The emblems represent the body and the blood of the One who could take away a heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh.  Let’s pray.

Father God, I thank you for the gift of Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  I am sorry for my sin that caused Him to have to go to the cross.  And I am so thankful that I have a heart of flesh because of His sacrifice.  The whole plan – giving us choices, having a payment for our sin from One who never sinned, and the Holy Spirit living within us after baptism – it’s inconceivable from a human perspective, and it’s perfect.  Because You are perfect, and You love us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

(This is not medical advice)

They say there’s a sure, permanent cure for poison ivy: eat some. And if you survive, you will never get it again. A little bit of logic informs me that if I don’t survive, I wouldn’t get it again, but perhaps that’s gauche to point out the obvious.

Anyway, I’m in day 10 or 11 of fighting the latest round of poison ivy. For the record, I don’t like it. Haven’t reached the point of ultimate frustration, but I can understand people who want to get rid of it permanently.

I flew back from Arizona overnight Tuesday into Wednesday. Then I did a deployment Thursday night into Friday.

Saturday I tested positive for Covid.

Thanks, government (meaning me)

I felt like I’d been run over by a truck – headache, muscle aches, coughing, runny nose. I don’t like working overnight, but I usually bounce back better. So I tested, and now I have a reason for feeling bad.

My second infection. First was right after Christmas a year and a half ago. Then I missed New Year. This time I’ll miss Memorial Day.

I’m seeing a trend, and I don’t like it. Any of it.

I don’t believe Costco would do this. But from an email today

And I imagine the backstory being “Boss, what do you want to do with these leftover Foosball parts?”.

I get it – the world moves much faster, breaking news has to be there first, and there’s always time for a correction afterward. But oh my, the editor didn’t make a first pass at this one.

The story is about the high cost of getting internet service to a remote house.

Her son, Garth, 28, was prepared to one day sell his family’s home for generations because of poor service.

No, please. Garth is a better salesman than that. The house is not being sold for generations. How about

The home had been in the family for generations. Because of Spectrum’s poor internet service, her son Garth was prepared for the possibility he may have to sell it one day.

Not perfect, but thoughts are together instead of being jumbled in a bag of a sentence. Not trying to shoot the reporter nor the editor. Trying to get news organizations to practice English.

My Mom died seven weeks ago today. I was able to fly to Arizona and see her before she passed, talk to her, pray with her. 

And then I lived with my Dad until the memorial service last weekend, and flew back this week. 

Part of what I did with my Dad was technical stuff – setting up a new computer and new cell phone, getting a new printer and house phone. Part of it was deciding about my Mom’s stuff – clothes, books, craft things. 

And part of it was getting the house livable. 

When I got there, the fridge was full. Open the door and it was solid. Not shaky – nothing fell out. But nothing could go in. 

I knew that wasn’t right – two people cannot completely and usefully fill a fridge. I’m not going to give details, but after I got done, there was room in the fridge. Space on shelves, visibility to the back wall – it was beautiful. 

But how did it get like that? My Dad had a couple rough months, with my Mom in and out of different hospitals in different cities. The fridge just didn’t rank high enough in his list of priorities. I get that. 

But I also know that time passes and things go bad no matter how busy you are – and it gets worse the busier you are. 

So we are at the time of communion. 1 Corinthians 11:28 says “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” This is talking about your own fridge, your own stacked-full shelves and drawers. Don’t remember that special dinner from two months ago? See it for what it is – old, spoiling leftovers. Don’t hang onto a thing if it isn’t doing anything good, if it isn’t good. See things with new eyes, with Jesus’ eyes. Every time of communion, every prayer, can be a fresh start. Let’s pray. 

Father God, thank you for the encouragement, for your redemptive power to make all things new. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Quick test – what percentage increase is 800 compared to 400? No trick question.

My hometown TV station is using some funky math to come up with 79%. I don’t understand it, and they aren’t real specific about the numbers, but

You gotta be impressed. I’m dumbfounded. But I ain’t dumb.

From https://www.wcpo.com/news/state/list-ohio-bmv-releases-rejected-vanity-license-plate-names

With my Mom’s passing, there is an immediate reaction on my part to turn everything about her into something to be venerated, something holy. The numbers surrounding her final days – time of death, heart rate, breathing rate. The last recipe she gave me. Her projects that were in process.

This is the first time I have been through a great loss. The avoider part of me wants very much to get into the details – build that time-line of when she was in and out of the hospitals. I could spend years looking for missing details – while ignoring the details of my own life, my own grieving.

This is not meant to belittle her or her death. She was a wonderful woman, very strong, a creator, loving, caring. She was unique (like we all are). She liked lighthouses. She baked Christmas cookies like no other. She wasn’t perfect, but she was my only mother.

She showed me the way to Christ. I remember as a cynical teenager, I walked down our driveway and found her kneeled at the back bumper of her car, praying. I remember being awed that she was serious about this Christianity stuff. And those prayers didn’t stop.

She was greatly into crafts. Basket-weaving was a specialty – she gave classes, sold her baskets at craft shows (and donated the money to charity and missions), and knit scarves (again donating proceeds). One of her last projects is a mystery. She had gathered Halloween cards my brother and I had received from our grandparents. Unsure what was going to happen with those,but the cards were on top of the working pile.

To bring this back around, I’m interested in what that project was. But I’m not going to research what it could have been. Not going to look at her browsing history to find the how-to. I took pictures of the cards, shared them with my brother. And I know it was motivated by love.

The numbers don’t matter – she passed from congestive heart failure. The hospice nurse told me that she was following a textbook path towards her death. If there were minor variations along the way, so be it.

And I really felt the need to enshrine that recipe. From her hospital bed, in a video call, she told me about a sweet potato / apple / maple syrup recipe. Now understand she had never made it – this wasn’t a family favorite. She didn’t have the recipe, and told I could find it on Google. (potentially this one) But I was ready to decree that we absolutely needed to have this every Thanksgiving, because – Mom.

But I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, recorded in Matthew and Luke: “Let the dead bury the dead”. She made a big difference, in many lives. But she’s gone. David’s “But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” in talking about his infant son applies. And “we grieve, but not as the world grieves”.

My Dad said “life goes on”. Not flippantly or irreverently, but truthfully. Do not forget, but do not live there.

Cherry bonbons

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