Thursday, April 24, 2014

FAMILY MATCH GAME - 2014 Edition

We love playing  "MATCH" game with the grand kids.  Over the years there have been many variations of this simple test of memory.

 Gabby had a Princess Match Game a few years ago, we've seen animals, candy, super heroes,  etc....all kinds of things to embarrass the grown ups as the little ones "smoke 'em" at this memory thing! 

Since our family is scattered out in three states and I needed a "creative" project this week, I decided to make a BRANER FAMILY MATCH GAME to play with whatever grand we see next.  The purpose is to help family members stay in touch "visibly" with those they don't see very often because of distance, schedules, and time constraints. took a while, BUT, I edited and printed pictures to fit 2.5 x 3.5 card stock I found at the local craft store.  Two pictures of each family member were clued onto those cards. 30 cards total!  I then clued those cards onto some blue and white striped wrapping paper, making sure the stripes on the back were all going in the same direction.

The people at Staples Office Supply store laminated each one and cut them so each one had a tiny plastic border.  I insisted they all be the exact same size, no cheating in the match game you know.  IF one card was "off" it could be identified easier and be a help to the cheating, competitive spirit of the grandchild that is determined to WIN!!!!

AND we take winning a "Match Game" very seriously.  AND we (the grandparents) ALWAYS lose!

If this game is a success, and I believe it will be, I may expand to past generations!  I could add a great grandmother, a cousin twice removed, or an uncle that no one has ever heard of or met. I have some really funny old time pictures the kids would enjoy, great grandpas car, a group of women dressed as flappers, and an aunt in her first pedal car.  Perhaps I could include past pets!!  Yes, this thing could grow!!!

What a super way to pass on the family legacy, we may have the opportunity to tell some wild stories  to grandchildren ABOUT THEIR parents. That would be a fun addition!

Yes, I can see the "rules" of the Family Match Game expanding!  There is NO end to where this could go as we learn about each other!

 Yep, this is going to the family reunion this summer!

Feel free to copy my idea!!!  ENJOY!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Of all the characters documented that final week in the life of Jesus, I am drawn to the unlikely ruffian Barrabas. Other than the Son of God, of course, HE'S my favorite.

Barrabas was a murderer, thief, scoundrel and major trouble all around bad guy. And he was in prison for his crimes, awaiting his sentencing which would surely be crucifixion.  He deserved the death penalty and he knew it! I have a vision of him sitting hunched against a stone cold wall, shacked by chains, grumbling, smelling like dried blood with bits of last weeks goatburger decorating his scraggly beard.

It's not his fine upstanding character that I find so compelling!  It's not what he said, which was NOTHING.  It's not what he thought, of which we have no idea.  It's not his actions.  (No, I'm not naturally drawn to the BAD guy in the movies!) 

What I find fascinating is what he HEARD!

No doubt his prison cell was around the corner, down the tiny cobbled streets, out of sight! His life counted for nothing, there would be no reason for him to be near the center of town. The jail was always down a back alley, right? BUT, Jerusalem was no metropolis at the time. The whole area was pretty compact.

As Jesus appeared before Pilate publicly there is NO doubt what Barrabas HEARD!

You remember!  That spineless, crowd pleasing official  Pilate decided to make an offer to the angry crowed assembled that day.  He was sure it would placate them,  maybe get them off his front porch for a while. He was ready to be done with the silly Jewish conflict even though he found NO reason to condemn the man Jesus to death. He literally washed his hands of the whole mess. The  bothersome affair seemed beneath him, a waste of his precious time.

His offer?  He asked the mob mentality controlled  crowd who THEY wanted him to free that day, Jesus or Barrabas!

His  singular voice was no doubt directed toward  the crowd...."Who do you want?  Jesus or Barrabas!"

IN unison the crowed cried out loudly and angrily,  "GIVE US BARRABAS." Their fists must have been flailing in the air.

Pilate's lonely voice came back at them, "What shall I do with the man called Jesus?"

The crowd, "CRUCIFY HIM!" "CRUCIFY HIM!" Those words must have echoed through those walled streets.

Did Barrabas know what was going on?  I doubt it.  He was totally detached from the whole religious mumbo, jumbo  problem.  He probably wasn't the smartest pencil in the box, either.


I KNOW what he was thinking then!! He was about to meet his maker. I wonder if he even acknowledged he had a maker!

A short time later the guards came, keys a rattling. His time was up!  He must have been scowling, ready to resist the muscular law enforcers, one last ditch effort! The survival instinct must have kicked in.

 The cell door was flung open and the chains were quickly REMOVED from his arms and legs.  They must have pushed him out the door.  "Be gone with you. You are free."

Barrabas!  FREE!  He must have stumbled into the sunshine, shielding his eyes from it's brightness.

FREE!  A convicted man....FREE AND FORGIVEN.  An INNOCENT MAN would die and he, Barrabas would live.

Why do I relate  to Barrabas?  Because he is me, and you, and every person that hears the EASTER story that accepts the God planned, substitutionary crucifixion. Chains exchanged for freedom. How can you NOT love that?

Barrabas experienced literal, in the flesh,  GRACE.  An exchange had been made, the life of the One from Galilee would die in his place.  Barrabas didn't deserve it!  But wisely, he didn't refuse it. He walked out.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014


This is IT! THE most holy time of the year for Christians. This week surpasses even CHRISTMAS.  Easter is why the baby Jesus came, you know.  It is the culmination of HIS earthly work.

Reflecting on the last week of the  life of Jesus is happening throughout Christian churches and homes.  It happens every spring and sometimes it is more meaningful than others. Those years when I take the time to stop the hustle bustle of life and truly study those last days are the best and most meaningful Easter seasons.  The details of the observation of the sacrificial lamb of God, the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Gethsemane, the arrest, the phony trials, the sentencing, the beatings, the path to Calvary, the Crucifixion must ALL be reviewed. There are some life changing elements in the story, it never gets old.  He laid down His life willingly, no one took it from Him.  AND then the victory over death we celebrate Easter Sunday is off the charts wonderful.

The whole story wouldn't be so fabulous if the tomb still contained the bones, but it is empty.  Even if you want to disregard the Scriptures, history itself relates the fact. No body has ever been found, and hundreds of eye witnesses have testified and recorded the fact that Jesus really WAS who HE said He was.

Even the skeptics that like to call him a "good prophet" lose the argument. What "good prophet" would lie about His identity, committing blasphemy,  how is that GOOD?

In our present age of tolerance, try as we might, the claims of Christianity and the claims of other world religions cannot be reconciled.  Either it's true or it isn't.... we can't make a combo of beliefs to make folks feel better about their worldview.  There is just no way to put all tenets together, shake 'em up and make it come out palatable.  Sound narrow? I suppose it is.

If we leave the argument there it's pretty discouraging.  BUT...the purpose behind HIS life was to reconcile people to their God and to each other!  Somehow we've missed that and decided to engage in a shouting match, erecting walls of differences that in view of eternity don't amount to a hill of beans.   HIS purpose  WAS AND IS ALL INCLUSIVE.  The purpose behind calling Abraham to be the unique Father of All religions and the purpose we serve today is the SAME.  Love God and reveal His character and love to the world through our behavior. 

Having just recently walked those narrow streets and paths of the very land  that Jesus walked, hearing the angry shouts of "religious" people, witnessing man's inhumanity to man, and hearing stories of deep generational pain brings one conclusion. The Message of the Holy One has been silenced in that Holy Place.

And I'm not sure the American church culture has done much better. We fight over denominational issues, types of music, types of buildings, times of services, dress code, definition of sin, etc.  And somehow the message we're supposed to be declaring gets lost in the confusion. It takes a steady, determined focus to fix our gaze on God rather than on people (us!) that get wrapped up in the non-essentials.

The Bible tells us there will always be a minority of God's people, holding down the fort, trying to love and forgive as Jesus did. I cherish those people in my life and in my church. The church, with all it's imperfection, is STILL the only place of HOPE and UNCONDITIONAL LOVE for ALL.  

It's a really good place to be this week!  HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! 

That is profound! And demands a response. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ISRAEL - KIVU Holy Land 2014


The sun rises over the Sea of Galilee and leads one to believe that Israel is one of the most peaceful places on earth. It is not!

This "journey of a lifetime" lived up to its name. It was our second trip to the Holy Land, the Promised Land, the State of Israel, having crawled all over that place several years ago. This time we received a totally different kind of education and experience.  It was an eye-opener!

March 28, 2014 we made our way to NYC and joined our fellow travelers. It was a mixture of teens, parents, leaders, family and old people!  ("Old people" was determined to be anyone over the age of 40) What a fabulous group! We grew to love each one dearly. They are imprinted on our hearts.

The question is asked, "What was your favorite part or spot?"  The answer? "There was a new one each day."

The front end of the trip was the usual sightseeing, awe-inspiring visits to the Holiest sites in all the world.  By a minor miracle we were able to visit the Dome of the Rock, the high holy place for all Muslims. We visited the Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea, St. Peters home, Jericho, Bethlehem, Shepherds Field, Herodium,  the Dead Sea, the Wailing Wall, the Garden Tomb, the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,  and MORE!

We took a family picture I will forever cherish.  (Honeybuns, me, Andy and Hays) at the Mt. of Olives. Zechariah 14:4

We learned and performed Jewish dances on the deck of a wooden boat floating the Sea of Galilee and shared laughter with our new friends. Some brave souls tried the mud pack at the Dead Sea and others tried to catch huge fish in the Jordan River.

It was perfect and such typical activities on a pilgrimage never get old! EVERYONE should experience these places at least once in their lifetime. Seminary students should be required to visit the places of the Bible BEFORE they think they can teach anyone anything. Scripture understood through the eyes of the Middle Eastern culture changes EVERYTHING!

THEN!  Our KIVU leader Andy Braner announced that the rest of the trip was going to be different. An understatement!  We would turn our attention from Biblical history, geography and wonder to relationships with the people of modern day Israel.  Relationship were to become our priority! We were going to now "WALK the WALK of Jesus."

WOW!  That's when the new education for us began.

You see we left the US with long and deeply held ideas about what was going on "over there."  We have studied the scriptures in depth for YEARS and have embraced every command, promise and prophecy. We have traced the lineage of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac and know what God said about those boys and His plan for each of them. (Each would be a great nation, one as wild as donkeys!)

  We support the nation and people of Israel unequivocally! We love the "chosen people" and look forward to their future. Their Godly mission has been removed until the "times of the Gentiles" and we understand that.   We pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the future purpose of God for the land. We support the Biblical map definition and can quote the chapters and verses. (The State of Israel is the size of New Jersey and is the most controversial sliver of dirt on the planet.)

I have also read the Koran, or at least the version printed in English. I understand the tenets behind that very dark and threatening document that most Muslims have never read.  It is not a peaceful religion but there ARE many peaceful people, living in an ancient culture we American's will never (or should) embrace.

So what happened?

We  visited with people, asked questions and saw things we had no idea existed.

For the first time we purposely visited people that live in the land that are NOT Jewish.
 Imagine the culture of the US before the Civil Rights Act of the 60's.  There are thousands of innocent people suffering greatly at the hands of politics, local and international.  There are people hated, disregarded as human and treated worse than we treat our pets. Their crime?  They lived and  rightfully owned land and businesses BEFORE 1948.

 They have been displaced permanently.  Have you ever heard of a PERMANENT refugee camp, one that houses generations of people?  These people have never lobbed a bomb, shot a gun or thrown a stone at anyone. They cannot drive on roads that would take them to work in a convenient timely manner, they have to drive hours around.  They cannot freely leave their designated prison, their children will never see the Sea.  THOUSANDS walk through  many security check-points daily, often stopped at the whim of a young passionate guard for hours in the hot sun.  Pregnant women are turned away from access to a hospital while their husbands are allowed through. Their homes have been razed or locked, their orchards destroyed.  Water is cut-off regularly, electricity too. Gas prices are higher on their side of the wall, food cherished. They are continually systematically harassed. They are given NO permits to build anything on their own land and if they try it is quickly destroyed.

NO ONE wants them! 

We visited Jewish settlements as well. We learned that the Biblical map is not as an important an issue for them as it is American Christians.  Fear and anger reigns.  The mistrust of others  is deep, complex and understandable.  The Holocaust Museum reminds everyone of the slogan "never again."

The wall separating people is real, concrete, barbed wired and extensive. The wall has no doubt stopped the bus bombings and suicides we used to see frequently in the newspapers.  Jewish families come from all over the world and are paid to build homes in  areas owned by Palestinians, their lovely homes and lifestyles subsidized by the government. The flag is raised and their neighbors are urged to get out while they can. When gestures of giving up land for peace are realized, the results are not positive and once again "divide and conquer" becomes the norm.

We visited in lovely Palestinian Christians homes, ate at their tables and heard their stories as well. They too must live in the boundaries established.  When we asked them for their idea of a solution, the reply was,"Jesus."  The very city where the Prince of Peace was born is surrounded by a wall. As one friend stated, "baby Jesus is in prison." And HIS voice of love is drowned out by louder voices of anger and hatred.

Because we all  carried the cherished blue American Passport we were able to go everywhere we wished to go, staying away from areas where rockets red glare. But, the places we went the latter part of the week had NO other American tour buses.  I came away wondering why there is a deliberate hiding of the reality of the horrible situation.  Perhaps supporting tourism is paramount to sharing truth.  And tourism is critical in keeping things afloat.  The typical American tourist NEVER sees what we saw and if ever informed would NEVER support this  type of man's inhumanity to man.

The pendulum has swung, the bullied has become the bully.  What do we do with that information?

The Bible tells us and we believe that as times goes by the conditions on this planet will worsen, so we should not be surprised.  BUT, it also tells us that the purpose of being God's child is to love HIM above all, and LOVE THY NEIGHBOR as thyself.  Wasn't that the message all along? For the Hebrews? For us?  Love Him, then show the WORLD who HE is by our behavior. 

The citizens of the Holy Land have diluted the command to a LAW.  A law they are finding impossible to obey.  Have we?

I had a special conversation with a 40 year old Muslim man. (How great is that? ME? Just a simple granny from Oklahoma) He convinced me that he hates no one.  He shared with me with tears in his eyes how his life has been torn apart, his house locked up so he cannot live on his own property.  He works and pays very high rent for an apartment for his family in a part of Jerusalem approved by the officials. He is NOT free to come and go as he pleases.  I asked him what would "fix" this situation.  His reply, arms stretching wide and with a moan in his voice, "I want them (the government) to just leave me alone to live my life."

Oh, my.  The desire for freedom truly is planted in the heart of every man by GOD.

International Peace Talks continue! I'm not sure the American mind can even begin to conceive the mind of the people involved in this mess. The problem is ethnic, religious, fear, pride, and a terrible history on both sides of the conflict.  I certainly don't have simple answers to such deep complex pain.

I supposed what I do have is a renewed determination to LOVE GOD AND LOVE OTHERS. And when appropriate tell them about the Prince of Peace who is the ONLY one that can help that  type of love become a real possibility in my own life.

And now that I think about it, that WAS the KIVU purpose all along, wasn't it?