Monday, July 29, 2013

God's Compassion

"The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. 
 The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works."  --Psalm 145:8-9

Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus as a healer; He was forgiving and compassionate.  Isaiah 53: 4 says, "Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." 

Jesus had compassion on a woman who was suffering in a synagogue as he preached one Sabbath, and He healed her.  This made the ruler of the synagogue very unhappy; he warned his congregation that they could be healed during any 6 days of the week, but not on the Sabbath!

Jesus responded by saying "Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him to watering?  And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" (Luke 13:15-16).

The ruler of the synagogue knew the law; but he did not know the heart of God.  We are all condemned as sinners under the law; the law is a harsh schoolmaster which convicts us of our shortcomings and makes us realize how much we need a Savior.

God's mercy and compassion are inimitable; in spite of our faults he loved us and gave himself for us."The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."  (2 Corinthians 3:6).  God cares about you.  He wants to give you grace and set you free.  

"As heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.  Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.  For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust."

One song says it so well, "When the Lord looks down from heaven to the ground, I'm no bigger than a little grain of sand; yet he knows me and he loves me, and He holds me in His hand."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Visit to the County Fair

There's no better excuse for sneaking over to the local county fair than to hear the Johnson Strings perform.  So...that's exactly what we decided to do on July 23rd.

Arriving early gave us a chance to hop over to the rabbit barn before the concert.  There were rabbits of every size, shape and color.


It appeared that some of the rabbits had a choice of either winning or having the sign below stapled under their cage.
"Ideas are like rabbits.  You get a couple and learn how to handle them, 
and pretty soon you have a dozen."  --John Steinbeck

We walked on...I'd rather raise ideas than rabbits!  The next shed featured the "open section" which was open to non-4 H members, and it was full of great ideas.  I especially liked these two horse quilts:

The person who did the quilting must have been extremely talented...I sometimes almost get a headache from sewing one quilt block!
This picture, although not a Picasso, has a very idyllic beauty.  I think the artist did a good job in matching the simplicity of the rusted frame with the poppies and butterflies.

By the time our tour of this section was completed, it was time to settle back and listen to the Johnsons.  In spite of the wind, which insisted on blowing the music off the stand, the Johnson Strings did a wonderful job, and I enjoyed each song.
My favorite was their "Easter song"--I think the title is "He is Risen."  You can listen to some of the Johnson String's music on their Youtube channel

After the concert we headed over to the sheep barn.  
Some of the sheep, whom I presume had been recently shorn, were wearing "jackets."  Others were content to enjoy the pleasant July weather.

This critter (below) was a real ham!  He kept sticking his snout through the bars as if begging to have his picture taken.
Passing the horses (which were being showed) and the cattle, we walked over to a concession counter to get a bite to eat.  I enjoyed a hot dog--ketchup only--and took a look at the photography.
My favorites are the photo of the cowboy boots and the picture of the chair with the sign that reads "A day in the country is worth a month in the city."

The chicken barn was our last stop.  

Doesn't this rooster look feisty?  The chicken barns at country fairs are usually filled with crowing roosters and laying hens; this year there seemed to be less birds, but that may be due in part to our coming at the wrong time during the fair.

Many of the chickens, including the Silver Laced Wyandottes above, looked very similar to our own. 

I would definitely recommend Iowa county fairs to anyone who needs a taste of country living.  If you're looking for good music, food, rural artwork, cackling hens, stocky cattle, or even a few rabbits to start your own rabbit farm, it's all here.  Welcome to the country!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Creativity

One place I’ve learned creativity is in the kitchen.  When my family craved apple pie and no apples were available, I learned to create Mock Apple Pie out of crackers.  When we had no lemons on hand for lemon meringue pie, we learned to make Vinegar Pie (which, believe it or not, is nearly identical). 
Harvest Festival Pie Baking Contest
via Flickr
Nothing feeds creativity like difficulties.  God, our creator, specializes in doing the impossible and creating delicious dishes out of the most unlikely ingredients.  In our most trying hours He is with us and gives us the hope, fortitude, and resourcefulness to thrive in difficult situations so we can become stronger and more mature Christians.

Tough financial situations and illnesses can be very painful.  Sometimes we are hurt by what others say or do.  Other times, it's our own actions, words, failings, or stupidity that hurt most.  I can forgive others, but sometimes I have a hard time forgiving myself.  But God wants us to go on.  He wants us to follow Him.  He wants us to work with Him, as He creates brighter futures for us.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand why we need vinegar and soda crackers in our lives instead of lemon juice and apples, but the good Lord knows what we need.  He sees the future—and knows that sometimes if we're given what we want instead of what we need we could end up soaking (instead of tossing) our apples in lemon juice and the finished product would be the tartest pie ever (I’ve been there and done that).

We must trust Him that “all things work together for the good of them that love God” (Romans 8:28), and use His creative spirit to enjoy our lives with the ingredients available.

Christ promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  His Spirit gives us life and strength.

So when life gives you nothing but soda crackers, make apple pie.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Des Moines Chess Camp 2013

The 2013 Des Moines Chess Camp was an event I looked forward to for months.  I helped teach last year and  chess coach Hank Anzis of Marshalltown (who introduced my family and I to tournament chess 8 years ago) invited me to instruct at the Des Moines Chess camp again this year. 

I prepared my demonstration games a few months ago and spent Wednesday evening printing and reviewing them.  Thursday morning we drove to Des Moines.

The other teachers were Frank Li and former Iowa Chess Champion Jose Gatica.  Julia, the nurse, was there to help with any medical needs the children might have. About 30 children signed up to attend.  This year the camp was held at the John R. Grubb Community YMCA.  

We arrived at about 9:30.  Hank was already there, Jose arrived at about the same time, and Frank showed up a few minutes later.  I got my notes ready, and the children started arriving for classes which would begin at 10.  Hank took the beginner students (about 12) to a smaller room to teach on openings and winning with 2 queens.

I started the more advanced class with the brain warm-up below (taken from one of my dad's games):

White has just moved Rb6.  He thinks he has the advantage of pinning the knight,
 but he has fallen for a mating trap.  Find mate in three.

Answer: Qxf2+ Rxf2 Re1+ Rf1 Rxf1#

 I then taught on my two demonstration games, focusing on bringing rooks to open files, giving bishops and knights plenty of "elbow room," the dangers of pins, the importance of not passing opportunities, examining checks, keeping the initiative, and  never leaving pieces unprotected.  The students were very polite and attentive, and I was very glad to have Jose there to help explain when the students proposed variations which strayed from the lines I had considered.

After the two games I gave the children a chance to vote on whether to do one more demonstration game or play practice games.  The result was a nearly unanimous consensus on practice games, so we played chess till it was time for lunch break.

  From 12:30 till 2:00 Jose taught tactics to the beginners and Hank taught the advanced class about threats.  Frank and I watched the backs of the classes for disruptions.  One of the students in the beginner class (a 5 or 6 year old) couldn't understand the lessons and started crying.  I wasn't sure what to do with a crying child, so I was glad Papa was there to give some pointers; we took him out of class and gave him personalized lessons/ practice games.  It ended up being quite enjoyable and the student had a good time.

At 2:00 it was time for the tandem simul.  All the students sat or stood at rows of tables, and Jose, Frank, and I walked through each making a move.  It's hard playing chess when you play one out of every three moves in 20+ games!  Frank, who played the first move in each game, kept it exciting by playing 4 different openings.  I dropped a piece on one board, and though we occasionally got into some bad positions, we managed to win every game against the students.  

An hour and a half later, we let the children play more practice games, and at around 4:00 their parents came to pick them up.  We stayed to do some clean-up, and were delighted at how much less messy this year's group was than last year.  (Clean-up was done very quickly--last year there were crackers, crumbs, chess pieces, and wrappers everywhere!)
Papa and Charity had come with me, so we drove over to the capitol building.  We parked quite a ways from the building, and had a long walk over the roasting sidewalks. As we went through security, we were told we only had 10 minutes before the capitol closed to visitors.  We hurried in to take a look at the dome and take some photos, and then walked back to our car and drove home.

Friday I woke up very tired, but after a nap and sausage egg McMuffin on the way to classes, I was ready to go!  I taught Hank's threat lesson to the beginners until shortly before lunch while Jose and Frank taught the advanced class.  During lunch break, Papa told me that he had been working out in the gym which was situated between the advanced and beginner class rooms.    I decided to give it a try.
 
I easily lifted this 30lb weight above my head and the 40 lbs (18 kg) wasn't that hard either but...

This one was a bit harder *wink.*

  I decided it was time to get back to teaching chess; I'm not quite prepared to be a muscle man...I'll have to leave that to Papa.  

Lunch break was over, so while Hank taught the advanced class and Jose taught the beginner class I watched one or two children who were tired of sitting down.  At 2:00 it was time for the bughouse tournament.  I consider bughouse one of the funnest variants of chess--I've played over 4800 bughouse games online--so when Hank asked me if I'd like to partner one of the younger students to play in the tournament I was delighted.

My bughouse partner Jacob and I
The first game, Jacob had a little trouble remembering to press his clock, but he quickly caught on and before long we were blitzing much faster than our opponents, giving us opportunities to sit/stall when needed.  It was clock move and many of the children were careless with their kings, providing a plethora of opportunities for sac-n-mate or simply taking the king.  We met our match when we ran into Frank's team and the other team below who both beat us once. Still, we tied for 3rd place!

  Hank gave a certificate to every child and then we posed for a group photo before everyone left for home and we started working on the clean-up.
(Unfortunately only the not-so-serious photo turned out well)
Comparing this camp to last year's, the only thing I disliked was that the location was not as spacious as the location last year, and there were many people coming and going.  On the other hand, most of the children seemed better behaved this year (credit and gratitude to the parents). The beginner class was also smaller than the advanced class which made it easier to teach than last year when we had a small advanced class and a large beginner class.

Overall the camp was very enjoyable for me and, I believe, all who attended.  I know I learned, and I hope all the students did too.  Many thanks to Hank Anzis for inviting me to join in the fun!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Today in History

(Hubert Robert, The Fire of Rome, 1785)
One thousand nine hundred forty-nine years ago today (64 AD) the Great Fire of Rome began.  Three districts in the city were completely destroyed and seven others were seriously damaged; only four districts escaped the fire.

Some claimed the emperor, Nero, started the fire, though modern scholars tend to believe the fire was accidental.  To diffuse suspicion, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians.  

Christians were tortured and killed by hideous methods.  Some were fed to dogs and wild animals, some were crucified, and others were burned as lamps to illuminate Nero's garden at night.  

Today, think of the early Christians who suffered the cruelest tortures for the name of Jesus.  Are you living a life worthy of being called a Christian?

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, 
let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,
 and is set down at the right hand of God."  --Hebrews 12:1-2

Sunday, July 14, 2013

With God Nothing is Impossible

"With God nothing shall be impossible."  --Luke 1:37
     
The book of Numbers tells the story of the 12 spies Moses sent into the land of Canaan.  The spies saw a land more beautiful than they could ever have imagined, a land that flowed with milk and honey.  It was the land God had promised them.  

But the current inhabitants were giants and the cities were walled.  The spies returned to camp and told their friends, "We be not able to go up against this  people, for they are stronger  than we."  Caleb and Joshua disagreed.  Caleb said, "Let us go at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it."  Caleb knew that with God on their side they were stronger than the mightiest armies.  They were able.

Unfortunately, the Israelites listened to their "unable" friends and marched in the desert for 40 years.  Not until all the soldiers (except Joshua and Caleb) were dead, were they permitted to enter the promised land.  By that time, Caleb was 80 years old, but His faith in God did not waiver.  He said, "Give me this mountain...if so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them [the giants] out."

God is pleased when we have faith to climb the mountains before us, and if we trust Him, he will prosper our efforts.  Don't let setbacks and enemies discourage you, or you will wander in the wilderness like the Israelites.  God is not the author of confusion; he wants to give you strength and peace.  He is able!  We may be weak, but He is strong!  

God has promised wonderful things for His children. Don't cower from the challenges before you.   Don't let the enemies of your soul keep you from the Promised Land he has prepared. Say like Caleb, "Give me this mountain."  It is your right to claim the promises of God in your life.  

The Bible says, "My God shall supply your every need."  Claim that promise.

Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you; I will be with you always."  Claim that promise.

The Bible says, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly."  Claim God's blessing in your life.

"If God be for us, who can be against us?"  
Have confidence in Jesus, for with God all things are possible.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Confidence in Jesus Christ


"Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; 
make thy way straight before my face."  --Psalm 5:8

The psalmist, David, was hunted; his life was in danger.  He had many enemies.  But he had confidence that the Lord was a shield for him and that the Lord heard when he prayed.  He said in Psalm 3, "I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about."  The Lord was his shepherd.

We need to have confidence that God will see us through the little problems in life as well as the big ones.  We need to exercise our faith on a day-to-day basis.  Before David fought Goliath, he fought a bear and a lion.  Every time he had a difficulty, he trusted in God.  His faith grew so that when it came time to fight the giant he could testify that God had helped him kill the lion and bear and the Philistine would be like one of them.

Whatever your problems may be today, whether your enemies are temptations, worries, or fears, face them, fight them, and trust in Jesus Christ to lead you and be your sword and shield.  If you want to be a giant-slayer for the Lord, you need to face the "lions" and "bears" in your life and overcome them through the power of the cross.

"Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.  One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.  For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock."
--Psalm 27:3-5

That "rock" is Jesus Christ.  Trust in Him.  It doesn't matter how hard the winds may blow or how torrential the rains are, the Rock of our Salvation stands unmovable.  If your life is built upon this rock, you will stand firm in your trials through His everlasting grace and power.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A World of Cats

Welcome to the world of cats!  Do you have one? I have three.  But imagine having 122...or rather don't... *sneeze*!  

One hundred twenty-four cats eat 40 lbs of cat-food in three days. Add litter expenses and the cats' total food and board  comes to over $19,500 a year. Then add the vet bills (all the cats have to have their shots and be fixed or spayed), and a person's yearly salary could be spent solely on cat-care! 

One hundred twenty-two is the grand total of cats currently residing at the Greenbelt Human Society in the little town of Alden, Iowa.    The Greenbelt Humane Society is managed by dedicated volunteers and financed mainly by donations.  Last year 113 cats were adopted due to their efforts.

The senior member of the cat kingdom here is Nero, who has lived at the humane society for 6 years--since he was a kitten.

 Below are a couple of the many kittens, and Frank and Dean--cats who were left in a box on the humane society's doorstep in 2006 as kittens.  Their owner was later hit by a car and killed; the cats were returned to the humane society where they have lived for the past two years.


Lillian Braun once said, "Cats never strike a pose that isn't photogenic."  However, a couple of the cats here certainly tried...
I caught this kitty yawning--from the looks of his teeth, mice should beware!
Ozzi (above) is quite the character...who wouldn't stay still for a good shot!

"Is this better?"  Yes, there's a beautiful white cat!

Mitsy and her son Tidbit (above) are 2 of the few handicapped cats the shelter provides a home for.  They came from a 5-cat household; Mitsy can only see shadows, and Tidbit was born without eyes; but that doesn't keep him from being extremely playful!

My favorite of the cats is Harley.  She is extremely affectionate  (my basis for cat-merit). The first time I visited, she didn't ask for my attention, she took it!  I was standing near a plastic tub, which she jumped on, stood on her hind legs, and reached her paws around me to give me a cat-hug!  Believe me, I was surprised--that was a first...   This time she jumped on my lap without hesitation, and  I got my daily dose of cat affection (and fur!)
Tricia and Harley

"Dogs come when they're called; cats take a message and get back to you later." ~Mary Bly
For some cats, this is true...very true, but the cats at the Greenbelt Humane Society are not looking to ignore you or just take a message.  They're all hungry for attention, love, affection, and a good home.
Meet Skippy, one of our very own farm cats!