MAKING OLD THINGS NEW
by Eric Elder
If you need encouragement that God can take those parts of you which were, perhaps, once good and beautiful and useful, but have, over the years, lost their shine, lost their luster, or lost their apparent usefulness, I hope you’ll read this message which I shared at the funeral of a dear friend who passed away last week….
Eric Elder holding a quilt made by Marge Albrecht
I’ve known Marge for almost 25 years, having first met her when we moved to Gridley in 1992. I think that’s a pretty long time to get to know someone. But looking around this room, I realize that I’m still the newcomer to this party. Many of you have known her many more years than I have.
There are a lot of things each of us could share about her. I know I could share about the time when she invited my wife, Lana, to her ladies’ Bible study, which is where Marge prayed for our family as we were going through several trials of our own. I could share about when Marge took up a collection among the women in her Bible study and gave it to us when I didn’t have a job. I could share about Marge’s laughter and her positive spirit, even in the face of some of the hardest tragedies anyone can face in life: losing a spouse, losing your children, losing your health. I could go on and on about Marge, and I know each of you could, too, with your own stories.
But I’d like to focus today on one thing that Marge had a knack for doing–something which made her so much like the Savior she followed with all her heart: she had a knack for making old things new again. Specifically, she took scraps of old material and turned them into stunningly beautiful quilts.
Lana loved looking at the beautiful quilts that Marge, together with her friend Duane, made so often. Lana loved the patterns and the colors and the unique stitching on each one. Lana loved them so much that I asked Marge one day if she would make a special one for Lana–just a small one, because that’s all I could afford–but one that would be as beautiful as all of the rest. So Marge made one, and I gave it to Lana on a special occasion. We framed it and hung it on the wall in our living room where it has been for the last fifteen years.
Marge had a way of seeing beauty in things that other people would have thrown away or cast aside long ago: an old tie, a pretty blouse that had lost too many buttons, or some scraps of leftover cloth from a set of curtains. She would hold on to those scraps, still seeing the beauty in them even though they may have seemed to others to have been outdated or worn out or entirely worthless.
Then she would take them and make them into something new. Something beautiful. Something worth far more than the individual pieces.
A close up of one of Marge’s quilts.
Her friend Duane would piece together the quilt, and Marge would add some stitching–hand sewn, personalized, and with a unique pattern for each and every seam that connected one piece to another. What was once an eclectic collection of tattered and leftover scraps would become a piece of art that far surpassed the beauty of the individual pieces, whether a tie or a blouse or a curtain, even compared to their original best.
It’s a fitting analogy of what Jesus can do with our lives. He takes those things that are in us, those parts of us which were, perhaps, once good and beautiful and useful, but have, over the years, lost their shine, lost their luster, or lost their apparent usefulness. And, in His skillful hands, He redeems them. He restores them. He breathes new life into them–a new usefulness, a new worth, a new value of which far surpasses the original.
The cloth and the thread and the beads which make up this small piece of quilt can’t have been worth more than a few dollars to most people, if anything. But with the love and the care and the finest attention to even the smallest detail, those pieces were worth enough to me that I was willing to pay $100 for what Marge and Duane were able to do with them. (And I would have bought an even bigger one at the time if I could have afforded it!)
Jesus does the same. With love and care and the finest attention to even the smallest detail, He takes those pieces of our lives and makes them into something that is priceless. The good news is that Jesus is willing to do this for any of us, at any time.
But the amazing thing is this: Jesus doesn’t force Himself onto anyone. He is a gentleman. He doesn’t go where He’s not invited. He doesn’t take something from us to make it new without our willingness to give it up. He doesn’t barge through the doors of our lives. Instead, He invites, He woos, He draws each one of us to come to Him. He gives us permission to ask Him for what we need, to seek Him out, and to knock at His door so we can come in and eat with Him.
And then, like a true gentleman, Jesus makes good on His promises. He promises that if we ask, He will provide. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, He will open the door for us and invite us in to eat with Him, to walk with Him in His garden, and to talk with Him for as long as we’d like. And once we knock, and He opens that door, He never shuts it again. He leaves it open for us to come in and spend time with Him anytime, day or night, throughout our lives.
Marge is one of those people who asked, who sought, who knocked on Jesus’ door, and for whom Jesus opened that door, with a smile on His face and His arms outstretched to welcome her in. And once that door was opened, it was never shut again. Marge took Jesus up on His offer in full. She went back and forth to Jesus’ house on a regular basis, not just once a week or twice a week, not just once a day or twice a day, but sometimes every hour or two–sometimes every minute or two. Over the years, that path between where Marge lived and where Jesus lived was well worn, and I’m sure, to both of them, it seemed like hardly any distance at all.
I believe that it was out of her relationship with Christ, and because she had such an intimate fellowship with Him on such a regular basis, that this is how she was able to come to see the good in any situation, the good in any person, the good in the world around her, even when there were so many things that could have possibly brought her down.
Even a few weeks ago when I talked with her, she expressed to me that she was facing one of the hardest battles of her life. She said she had to wonder if what she was going through was real or not, because she couldn’t believe this was happening to her. Her health was failing her like never before, and the nights, she said, were especially hard. But she told me she was making it through because she just kept holding on tight to Jesus. She just kept holding on tight to the promises that she KNEW to be true. And she told the devil, on many occasions, to get lost! The nights were long, she said, but then daylight would come, and she would be able to see clearly again that Jesus was still right there with her, walking her through every step of the way.
And she kept holding tight to Jesus, right to the end. When she took her last breath here on earth, she took her next breath in heaven, and I am sure–I am positive–that nothing in this life could have fully prepared her for that first breath of heavenly air.
Knowing Marge, if she were here in person, she would be the first to say, “Oh, you can’t imagine what it’s like here! Come, please come! Don’t let anything stop you! Not the pain of your past, not the problems of your present, not the fear of your future. Whatever it takes, do whatever you can do to come! You’ve got to try this! You’ve got to be here! You won’t want to miss it!”
And, knowing Marge–and the well-worn path between her place and the place where Jesus lived–she had experienced bits and pieces of heaven right here on earth many, many times. I am sure she prayed these words from the Lord’s prayer more times than any of us could count: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s an invitation for God to send a little bit of heaven down here to us on earth. That’s where she found her comfort. That’s where she found her strength. That’s where she found her redemption.
Marge had written some words on a piece of paper that she kept in her Bible, words from one of the Psalms, plus some words of a simple poem. Above those words, she had written a title: “My Daily Prayer.” From Psalm 19:14, she wrote:
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
And as for the poem below it, she wrote:
“Lord, grant me grace throughout this day
To walk the straight and narrow way.
To do whatever in Thy sight
Is good and perfect, just and right.”
Marge lived by words like these–and not just these, but on every word that came from the mouth of God. They gave life to her. And they can give life to you.
If Marge were here, I am confident she would say, “Come! Please come! Please don’t miss out on what Jesus has to offer you, both there on earth and here in heaven with Him forever. Ask Him for what you need. Seek Him and you will find. Knock on His door, and He will open it wide–with a smile on His face and His arms outstretched to welcome you in–always, at all times, and forever.
“Bring to Him every piece of your life, not just the good bits and the shiny bits, but the broken bits, the worn-out bits, the seemingly useless bits. Let Him redeem and restore each of those bits, too, so they can become even more glorious than they ever were, or ever could have been, even when they seemed to be at their best.” Then Marge would say:
“Jesus really can make all things new. If you could see me now, you would know that it’s true!”
And for those who have already put your faith in Christ, I am sure Marge would say to you: “It’s all real! It’s all true! Never doubt. Never give up. Never stop coming to Him with all that you need–and you, too, will receive what you need from His hand. You, too, will find. You, too, will be invited in, again and again, with a smile on His face and His arms outstretched to welcome you in–always, at all times, and forever.”
I could end my message right there, because there’s enough in what I’ve said so far that would be truly good and useful. But I wouldn’t want you to leave today and not know why I believe Marge would say each of those things.
I believe it, not just because the Bible tells me so–although it certainly does and its words are trustworthy. I believe it because, like many people throughout the ages–some of whom wrote their stories down and recorded them in our Bibles–I, too, have seen through that thin veil between heaven and earth from time to time myself. One of those times was just a few years ago. It involved Kirk, Marge’s dear son and one of my dear friends, who went to heaven before she did.
I had a glimpse of heaven that day, a day when Marge needed some help. She had a new freezer coming, and she needed help to unload the frozen food from her old freezer into some coolers so it wouldn’t spoil while she waited for the new freezer to arrive and be installed. I had a number of things already on my schedule that day, with three kids at home who needed care and work for my ministry that I needed to get done. When people call me for help, I ask God if this is something He wants me to do. I want to be helpful when I can be, but I also know I have a limited amount of time in every day. But if God says, “Yes,” He wants me to do something, I try to do it if I can.
On this occasion, when I asked God what I should do, it was Kirk who answered me! He said, “Eric, could you help my mom out today? I wish I could be there to do it myself, but I can’t. If you could be my hands and my feet and could help my mom, it would mean so much.”
Hearing from Kirk that way, I couldn’t say no. I called Marge and said, “Yes, I can do that.”
I went over to her house and helped her unload her food into some coolers. It wasn’t hard work, I told her. It just wasn’t on my schedule for that day. But I told her what I felt Kirk had said to me. She teared up and replied, “Thank God! That’s an answer to my prayers.” She was sincerely thankful for my help, but she was also sincerely thankful for a message from her son in heaven, who, after all these years, still loved her and still cared for her like no time had passed at all.
Marge is right there now with Kirk, as He, too, loved Jesus and had made a well-worn path to the place where He lived many times. And like Kirk expressed his love to his mom that day from heaven, I am 100% certain that Marge still loves and cares for each one of you. She would want me to tell how very much she loves and cares for you how much she has thought of you and prayed for you over the years, and how very much she longs for you to be with her one day in the place where she is now. Fully redeemed. Fully restored. Fully made new again, in every possible way.
Always know she loves you very much, even now, just as Christ loves you–with no hint of guilt, no threat of condemnation, not a shred of shame for what you’ve done. She sees the you that God created you to be–a beautiful quilt in the making–because she sees you with the eyes of Christ.
She loves you always, no matter what. She always has. She always will, at all times, and forever.
Just like Jesus.
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