Friday, December 26, 2014

Thinking It Through...

Okay... hmmm...
I believe in the Bible and it says that God created the world.
So that requires a lot of foresight, like omniscient foresight..., to figure out how to establish the world so that it continues through the millenniums.
And it would also require a lot of power as well, like as in omnipotent power in order to create the world...
And so, seriously... Is there anything about my sin that He doesn't know about or see? Past? Present? Future? As in - is there something about my sin that I've managed to hide from Him?
To the point that when the Bible says that all of my sin was paid for at the cross... there's a loophole in there somewhere, like as in a tax code several miles thick ...
Or like as in maybe the Bible actually reads: when Jesus died at the cross all my known sins were nailed to the cross but the hidden ones weren't? Or my future ones weren't... (Oh! Wait! All my sins were future back then, right? Because I hadn't been born yet...).
Or maybe He paid for this sin but not that one - the one I still cringe over when I remember it, even years later? Because doesn't He have a sliding scale - a list of various sins and how much forgiveness each requires as well as a list of my righteous deeds and how much each one earns? (Or am I confusing that with drill team and football, where you have merits and demerits? I forget...)
I mean murder can't be forgiven, right? Except Christ forgave His executors while He hung on the cross... And then there's David... But the Bible says God loved Him... So maybe God can forgive one murder but not two?
But then there's Paul who actively sought the imprisonment and execution of a bunch of people ... Oh, but he has to be okay because he wrote about 2/3rds of the New Testament... Well, maybe adultery... that's a really tough one... But not as bad as murder... And there's a prostitute in the lineage of Jesus... And then there's the woman at the well...


When God forgives, He forgives completely, fully knowing every sin you will ever commit before you even drew your first breath.
Forgiveness is not based on what you do. It is based on what He did.
When the guilt and shame of sin has been lifted from your shoulders for-ever, you can't help but love and adore the one who set you free.
If He has forgiven you... who are you to withhold forgiveness from yourself? He's unlocked the door; all you have to do is believe in Him and accept the freedom and purity that He and He alone can give.
2 Corinthians 5:21 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.



Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Poem




Thank You, Spirit of God - I AM-
For stooping to live in me.
For strengthening my inner man, 
For revealing Christ to me.
Thank You for making Christ so real,
Breathing life into my death.
The power of your love I feel,
Tenderly gracing each breath.
I celebrate that this is true:
In Christ’s death, my own is found.
This day I live by faith in You,
Who wrestled sin to the ground.
These miracles we have believed:
Raised to live in Holy God,
All things new we have received.
For this and more, thank You, God.
Ephesians 3:16-19
Galatians 2:20
II Corinthians 5:17


Three Days Before Christmas...




I feel like I celebrated Christmas today... We took some more Christmas baggies around the neighborhood - hope to finish tomorrow. For some reason I was really tired and as David and I headed out the door this afternoon, I just really didn't feel up to it. On top of that, it was drizzling rain. But we've already made up the baggies and I want to distribute them before Christmas is over. So I told myself we could at least finish the trailer park area. We prayed and then headed out.
There is something energizing about meeting people. I love seeing their startled looks when they realize we aren't trying to get them to spend their money on something. And I love how their expressions go from wary to pleasantly surprised. ANd I love it when kid's faces light up and they yell, "Merry Christmas!!"
And I am grateful that God transcends language and culture. One lady opened the door and I could see she was crying. I didn't know if she was in pain or upset. Via pantomime and pigeon English, she indicated she was sad. That was the extent of our verbal communication - we could go no further. I felt helpless - because I was... I didn't even know what was wrong.
And then I put my hands together as if praying and asked her if I could pray with her. She looked at my hands, said, "Yes", and grabbed one of my hands. The prayer was very, very short and very general in nature. She thanked me and I went back to my car.
I hated to leave her like that so I got another baggie, wrote my name on the Christmas letter in it as well as the name of a couple of churches in this area. I also hated to turn right around and knock on her door again, like an idiot. But I did and when she understood that my name was in the second baggie, she thanked me.
But this is the deal: when she opened the door the first time, she looked upset and was crying. When she opened it the second time, she wasn't crying and she looked happy. And I thought, "Okay... God just answered that prayer!"
God did something good for both of us today by letting us meet for a short time and showing us how He can cut through language and culture to go straight to the heart. And I am grateful because He could have met her need without ever letting us meet at all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Two Things I'm Thankful for....Actually Three...

 I think we all struggle at times, bar none.  Holidays often bring those struggles to the forefront.  Difficulties seem so much worse at a time when we expect to be "rejoicing".  Family is always less than perfect - some more so than others - and so holiday get togethers are frequently not the stuff of which Norman Rockwell paintings are made.  I have certainly struggled over the past few weeks - just being honest.

Two things have come back to me as I've tried to maintain emotional equilibrium.

1.  A missionary, Miss A. Weatherall Johnson whom I love and hope to meet someday in Heaven, said that while working in China before, during, and after WWII, there were times when it was impossible not to feel dispirited.  In fact, shortly after she got to China, fresh out of seminary,  Miss Johnson hit an emotional trough of despair. She went to an older missionary and shared her malaise.

 This senior missionary advised her to get alone with her Bible and read for a prolonged time. Miss Johnson's pride was offended.  Didn't this woman know that Audrey had just finished a rigorous course in seminary????  But she wanted to be obedient to her supervisors so she went back to her room and opened the Scripture. It was like dust to her.  So finally in desperation she put her finger on a verse and said, "Now, Lord, You have told us that Your word is sufficient and how can I teach the Chinese this if I cannot live it myself?  I am counting on You to make Your word sufficient for my hour of need."

She began to read again and this time the Word did come alive for her.  Several hours later she looked up, shocked to see how much time had passed and pleased to know that her malaise had completely lifted! God's word is living and able to do what no other book can do. You can trust the Bible.

2.  The other lesson that has helped me came from John Piper's ministry.  When my mom and dad died in 1995, I bottomed out emotionally and waded through some deep anger towards God.  Serious doubts as well.  I was afraid to share these doubts with people in my church lest they think badly of me (pride). I didn't even want to tell my preacher lest he recoil in horror and encourage me to join another denomination... (Ha!)

So I wrote to a ministry that was out of state - waayyy out of state - like in Minnesota.  They wrote back and told me that A). If I shared my doubts and anger with my pastor, he most certainly would not be shocked.  Apparently they hear stuff like that - and much worse - all the time.  At least that is what the letter said.

B)  That if I didn't acknowledge my struggles and ask for prayer help, my faith could not just flounder but could totally shipwreck.  They emphasized that I needed prayer support and encouraged me to share my struggles with my pastor and my home church. I felt certain this was something I simply could not do.  Ever...

 The next Sunday a man who was clearly devastated stood up in church during sharing time and expressed intense anger over the way his atheistic sister-in-law had handled his brother's funeral, denying him a Christian funeral as he had requested. I don't remember the man's name or what he looked like, but I still remember him admitting to us that although it was wrong and he knew it, that if he saw his sister-in-law crossing the road in front of him, he would have no problem running over her. Wow! I'd never heard that in church before. And really that's about all I did hear that particular Sunday.

As I sat riveted in my seat, I just kept thinking, "I've been advised to share my struggles with my brothers and sisters in Christ but I just can't do that.  But this guy did it?  Could this just be a coincidence that I got the letter from Piper's ministry this week and now I've seen someone do what I've been encouraged to do myself?  I don't think so. But still, I just can't do what that guy did. No Way.  Church is where you go to look good, isn't it??"  

Well, not always....

The next Sunday I stood up and shared - not boldly or happily - but honestly and nervously - dry mouth,trembling hands,  the whole nine yards...  I didn't think to explain what was going on - just blurted out that I was doubting God, Heaven, Hell, all of it.  Yeah, Buddy... I did it.

 I remember that the pastor said something about, "Cathy has just lost both her parents within the past  three months and I'm sure she is struggling..."  I remember that some people came and prayed for me. I remember sitting down and hoping the nervous tremors would go away.  And I remember thinking., "Okaaayy... Won't ever do that again!!!!   Time to start looking for a new church... where no body knows my name..."

That was in 1995.  We stayed in that church until 2005.   The Piper ministry staffer was right:  no one was shocked and the prayer support I received from that confession was a turning point in my life. Instead of plummeting further into the Slough of Despond, my faith began to grow again in slow, minuscule  increments,   (Caveat - it you are in a church where many would look down on you for sharing honest doubts during times of pain... you need to find a different church).

This month has not been anywhere near as hard as the fall and winter of 95.  Not even close!  But it's not been a cakewalk emotionally either - and that is truly okay.

So what am I grateful for today?  Truly, deep down from the bottom of my heart grateful for right now, Nov. 25, 2014?

That years ago I learned from people far more spiritually mature than I that when you are down, you need to soak in the word. (And you will experience down times - it's not "if" but "when")  And you need to ask someone, a sister or brother in Christ or sometimes even a whole congregation (!) to lift you up in prayer.

I've done both things  this season  and God has used His word and a precious Christ-follower to lift me over some holiday memory pits - for lack of a better term.

As one dear friend has reminded me, when things look hard and the memories come, look up and focus on the fact that God is about to do something miraculous.

REally, He already has.  He's given me His word and irreplaceable friends who hunger hard and fast after Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son.  When you call out to God, soak in His word, and are lifted up by other believers, you have an unbeatable combination.

Today I'm thankful God showed me those truths many years ago; I'm thankful for His word, and I'm thankful for friends who pray.

Actually I'm grateful for three things - if you never hit the Slough of Despond, how can you ever know His ability to lift you up and sustain you in a  tough time?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Savior or Helper?

       Many years ago, my husband, who is a mechanic, had a to replace a horn on a car - the thing had quit working.  He did that at the end of the day - the customer was in no hurry - and felt the problem was solved.  Unfortunately, when he went back to the shop the next morning, the new horn was defunct as well.  It seemed like a weird coincidence to him but he ordered another horn and replaced it that evening.  The next morning, that horn was also defunct!

        At that point, he knew there was another problem, something other than the horn itself and after some searching, he found a weird electrical problem.  Apparently, the electrical snafu triggered the horn after the shop was closed and caused the thing to honk all night long until the new part was worn out!

      Years ago I read something that has stayed with me: what we see as the cause of our problem - that determines what solution we choose in order to fix the problem.  At first, Phil thought the cause of the problem was one bad part on the car - a horn that had quit working.  So that determined how he chose to fix it: he simply replaced that part.   But when two more, brand-new parts failed in rapid succession, he knew he had to look deeper and find the real problem.  Once he found the real problem, he opted for a different solution.

     So this morning I'm wondering: do you see yourself as essentially a good, strong, capable person who just makes mistakes now and then or who just needs a little divine boost now and then when overwhelmed by life?  If so, then you don't need a Savior, you need a divine helper.

    If, however, you see yourself as a sinner, one who has a tendency to fall short of perfection in word, thought, and deed, then you'll recognize your need for a Savior - you will realize that that tendency to "mess up" is indicative of a deeper problem, one that you cannot "fix".  And so you'll turn to someone who can.

    Jesus is a Savior, not a helper.  He can fix the "short circuits" in our internal wiring and do so much more even than that.

    Until you see yourself as a sinner, you cannot know Jesus as a Savior.

   Below is the plan of salvation as it is given in the book of Romans in the New Testament.

 

Roman Road to Salvation

  1. Everyone needs salvation because we have all sinned.
    Romans 3:10-12, and 23
    As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” ... For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (NLT)
  2. The price (or consequence) of sin is death.
    Romans 6:23
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)
  3. Jesus Christ died for our sins. He paid the price for our death.
    Romans 5:8
    But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (NLT)
  4. We receive salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
    Romans 10:9-10, and 13
    If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved ... For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”(NLT)
  5. Salvation through Jesus Christ brings us into a relationship of peace with God.
    Romans 5:1
    Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. (NLT)
    Romans 8:1
    So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (NLT)
    Romans 8:38-39
    And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)

Responding to Romans Road.  If you believe Romans Road leads to the path of truth, you can respond by receiving God's free gift of salvation today. Here's how to take a personal journey down Romans Road:

  1. Admit you are a sinner.
  2. Understand that as a sinner, you deserve death.
  3. Believe Jesus Christ died on the cross to save you from sin and death.
  4. Repent by turning from your old life of sin to a new life in Christ.
  5. Receive, through faith in Jesus Christ, his free gift of salvation.


    

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A 1.50 Book Mark with a Beyond-Price Offer

I bought some things (understatement) while we were in Memphis. Christmas gifts, I promise!!! (Well... mostly...)
Ironically one of the things that has come to mean a lot to me cost 1.50. (True... I am a cheap date... A tacky one too as I found -joy of joys - a light-up Christmas bulb bracelet to go with my light-up Christmas necklace. Not kidding... But I digress...)
At any rate, I love book marks and so I grabbed a couple just before going to the check-out counter. One was a bright rose/pink color with white lettering and so I could not resist it!
Today in Sunday school I glanced at it and then kept glancing at it from time to time. The message? "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you." Ezekiel 36:26
I thought about a true story I heard years ago about how several people from different faiths were sitting in a Bible study, prepared to discuss apologetics.
When they came to the first theological divide, they decided to bow their heads and pray, asking for wisdom. The Christians, who were leading the study, were a little nervous. After a time of silence, the little circle of people looked up and as they shared, no one had gotten an answer until they came to a person who was not a Christian. That person looked up and said that he had gotten an answer. To everyone's shock he said.
"God showed me that I have a dirty heart and I need a new one. How do I get that?"
The Christian leaders were amazed - the "answer" had nothing to do with the theological point on the table for discussion but rather went straight to the "heart" of the matter - why Jesus had to die on the cross for us.
He did it so that we could have a heart transplant, so that God could supernaturally take our heart of "stone" and replace it with a heart of "flesh", of supernatural tenderness and openness to the things of God.
If the human heart could be fixed with just a little "self-help" or a little more religious effort on our part, then Jesus would never have had to die on the cross in our place. He could have just modeled a good life, left us with a do-it-yourself book, and died a natural death from old age.
This is the deal: before you can nestle next to the heart of God, He has to give you a new heart, one that will last throughout time and eternity. God's heart is eternal, pure, and holy. The human heart .. isn't. So trying to reach up to God through your own efforts (even coupled with a little faith in Jesus' nice example..) is like trying to use reel-to-reel tape technology to link up to state-of-the-art digital technology from the next millennium... Our sending/receiving set just doesn't match up to His...
Until He gives us a heart transplant..
During worship I continued to glance at my pink book mark containing this wonderful, amazing promise from God: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you...
Towards the end of the service, when people were invited to come kneel at the front or initiate a discussion with a pastor about this incredible offer from God Almighty, I could hardly contain myself.
I thought: worship should be the most amazing time in the universe because every person - every single person sitting in the pew - has a chance to receive a brand new heart right now, TODAY - if they haven't already. Every time His word is prayerfully taught, God waits in the wings, ready to do supernatural, mind-boggling, transformational, instantaneous surgery.
Seriously.
And then, as I was in the car and we were headed towards a lunch appointment, I thought, "Am I living out of my new heart or am I still trying to live out of my old nature, which is on life support...?"
Am I drawing on His strength or mine? His wisdom or mine? His righteousness or mine? His Spirit or mine? His power to love... or mine?
Soooo thankful today for a new heart, one that I can rely on now and yet will still be pulsing strong with His love throughout all eternity.
How is your heart today??

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Take a Bite Out of Evil...

Sitting in my favorite armchair this morning, reading my devotional and praying, when Phil came in with the newspaper and offhandedly said, "Well, it looks like the devil is winning..."
Indeed it does.
Terrorists butchering people overseas and kidnapping innocent young people. 
War and rumors of war.
Tales of terrorists trying to infiltrate our own country.
Ebola spreading like wildfire in Africa and now within our own borders.
Political accusations amid questions about how competent our experts are.
So many things going on that, yes, it seems like evil is having a field day.
And then there is the human heart...
In fact, doesn't much of this spring from the heart of man? Not ebola but maybe the way we've handled it? Like it's not serious when it's in a third world countries overseas but now that it's in Dallas, it is. Like politicians and experts pointing fingers at each other instead of stepping up to the plate and saying, "We dropped the ball and now we're changing things asap."
And then there is my heart...
Wow. I can pray and fast one day and then nurse a grudge for three days... I can sit with a neighbor and talk about the goodness of God and then fly off the handle a few hours later when someone hurts my pride. I can be super critical of someone who annoys me and totally ignore the fact that I have habits that annoy them. I can recognize that we need to "cut back" financially and then go out and buy something on impulse because "I'm having a bad day" or "because it was such a good buy." And I can even look up into the face of God, who loves me, and tell Him I'm tired of having to forgive, and love, and pray for those who have despitefully used me.
And then be totally surprised when He lovingly responds, "But, Cathy, I love you even though you have despitefully used Me..."
Evil stems from the human heart.
Mine and yours and theirs. It's just a matter of degree.
And the only answer is to get a new one.
Ezekiel 36:26 has a free give away on heart transplants.
John 15:4, John 8:31-32, John 10:4, and I John 1:9 contain instructions on how to maintain your new heart.
With every new heart, evil takes a hit and goodness wins. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lately...

     Random thoughts from my first week as a sixty something  geezer:

1.  God's presence lived in a tent (an elaborate one, for sure, but still a portable house), surrounded by whiny, frequently disobedient people.  I need to quit complaining about living in a fifty-year-old Jim Walter home in the 'hood.

2.  The older I get, the scarier it gets. Unless I remember to keep my eyes on the goal. The goal is Heaven and being with Jesus.

3.  Being busy is not necessarily a good thing.  I sort of "mapped out" my retirement days, semester by semester.  For a year and a half I home schooled my niece. When she graduated, I asked God what He wanted me to sign up for next, thinking I needed to stay busy.  I felt He responded with: keep some mornings during the week open for Me, don't sign up for a lot of things, and just concentrate on ministering in the neighborhood.  So I've gone from teaching Hamlet and Macbeth, apologetics, and global issues to sitting in my recliner most mornings, reading scripture, journaling, and trying to discern His will for the unscheduled hours in my day.  This has led me to visits with neighbors of various ages and backgrounds, helping friends and family from time to time, some prayer walking, and basically filling in the calender each week as impromptu things crop up.  I am finding that I love this.    But I also find myself wondering,  seriously, what my life would have been like had my days been ordered this way when I was younger.  Maybe we have retirement all backwards.  Not sure about that...

4.  I am sure about this.  Lack of forgiveness can forge a bond that is insidious, hard to recognize,  and even  harder to break.  Learning to forgive is the same as learning to trust.  If I trust God to handle my affairs, including wrongs that have been done to me or my loved ones, I can forgive.  Maybe not immediately when the hurt is fresh but soon enough that it doesn't become an inverse sort of shackle that was never meant to be.  From my vantage point of sixty years, I feel I can look back and see a little better (ironically) regarding some spiritual issues that caught me by surprise in my younger years - like spiritual quagmires  that were on me before I knew what was happening.

Sooo... basically the things I now value are:  having "radar" tuned (hopefully) to waiting on God day by day, having a  sin detector that is fine tuned to sniffing out pockets of bitterness and eradicating them via forgiveness, and, last but not least, having  a travel map always before me with my destination clearly marked: Heaven.  Oh, and not being whiny or discontent as I live (temporarily) in the 'hood while I remember that Almighty God was willing to live in a tent in the desert with malcontents.  Basically don't want to have to have a brass serpent hanging on a pole in my neighborhood b/c I've been grumbling, complaining, and whining...  

And, yes, I've been reading in the Tanakh lately... Does it show??




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Yes, I Was REally Surprised... :)



   


      I thought the biggest surprise I ever got was when I insisted I was having gas pains or at best Braxton-Hicks contractions and instead. turned out to be on the verge of the real thing -  our son was born after a hotly contested trip to the hospital during which my husband insisted that gas pains didn't come every three minutes...
      However, it turns out that  was NOT the biggest surprise I've ever had...
     This past Saturday I had absolutely no clue that I was about to become the focal point of  a surprise birthday party.  In retrospect I can see things that should have tipped me off but didn't.  Times when my husband started to say something and then... just didn't.  The fact that I recognized one car on the parking lot where the party was to be held and walked right by another car, which I should have recognized, but didn't. The fact that after we were seated at Santa Coyote my husband worried out loud three times, saying, "I didn't time this right; we got to the restaurant too early."  Which seemed odd to me because we were just meeting a another couple  at a restaurant - people we've known for years and who are very  laid back about things like that.  Still, I didn't clue in on what was happening.
     Not even when one of the friends we were meeting asked me to walk out to her car to get my birthday present and then proceeded to look first in the trunk and then in the back seat before exclaiming something like:
     "I must be losing my mind! I was sure I put your gift in here!"
     No... she wasn't losing her mind; somehow I had misplaced mine...
     Not even when we walked back into the restaurant and instead of returning to the table where I had been sitting - to the right of the restaurant -  we were directed to the left of the restaurant, to which my friend said, "We're sitting on the right side.  Did you move our table or something?"
     The answer was:  or something...
      I cannot express how much that party meant to me, to see friends from various walks of life gathered at one table, laughing and visiting and getting to know one another.  When I think of all the work that my friend, Susan, put into it in order to make it happen or the time that others contributed, including my niece, Charity, I just don't have the right words to convey what I felt at that moment and how grateful I still am, several days later.
      Seeing everyone together, as I've said, was a highlight.  Partly because it made me realize just how blessed I am to have friends who love God, who are so different, yet who are united in their testimony of His faithfulness along their separate journeys. I've learned from each of them.
      Another highlight was having a friend there who is in a wheel chair and oxygen dependent and just happy to be there.  If anyone enjoys life and loves God, she does.  When I saw her I was amazed because I know that going somewhere is not a simple matter for her.  And yet she came.
     Another humbling thing was to see one of my friends there whose father was in the hospital, yet she took the time to come and her father urged her to do so. Another friend has the busiest schedule of anyone I know, plus a grown child at home who is visiting from overseas, yet she also came.
    But the thing I think I cherish the most is the scrap book album that my closest confederate in crime :) and the one behind the whole party idea, made for me. (Susan, I seriously owe you... forever!)   Over what must have been weeks literally she gathered pictures and written tributes from various friends and scrapbooked them in ways that I would never have envisioned.
    I think the Scrabble page is my favorite but I love them all.  (And, yes, I have gotten out of bed since then when I couldn't sleep, have grabbed the over sized scrapbook, and carried it back to bed with me so I could look at everything yet again. I love, love, love it!)
    Sooo I managed to download some of my friends pics from FB and have (finally) gotten them to load onto my blog.  (Won't even begin to mention how much I've eaten while waiting for these pics to download and then download onto the blog site and then finally download onto my blog page.  But I will say the Russell Stover dark chocolate with cranberry filling was the best... ha!)






 





Just One Little Verse...

    I have gone back to a Bible reading plan that is less than impressive.  I got it from someone else and it's this:  read through the Bible.  Each day read until God impresses something on your heart and then stop.  Meditate on that point and try to apply it.  If you read three chapters in one day, fine. If you read one verse, fine.  If you read the same verse for three days in a row, fine.  When you feel God is impressing you to move on,  begin reading where you left off.  Read until God impresses the next verse or phrase on your heart, stop, meditate, and  apply.  Repeat every morning.
    This morning the very  first verse I read seemed to jump up and grab my attention.  Actually the first half of the verse:   Then David the king went in and sat before the Lord...
     I wondered how I could do that -how could I, here in an eclectic, down-on-its-luck, older neighborhood in a small Jim Walter home built in the sixties -how could I emulate the king of Israel and go and sit before the Lord?  No palace.  No privacy fence surrounding our rock garden and flowering shrubs.  (No rock garden or flowering shrubs either).  Not even, as my grandmother would say, enough room to swing a cat  here in my little home.   Plus, how do I know when I'm actually sitting before the Lord?  I mean, I can't exactly see Him...
     It was a puzzlement.  So, still pondering that, I decided to finish the verse and this is what I saw:
the king of Israel, David who had slain his ten thousands in battle and who was God's anointed, said, "Who am I, O Lord God ... that Thou hast brought me this far?"   II Samuel 7:18
     And that was as far as I got in my devotional reading today. 
     Just one verse which made me question, "Who am I that God has brought me this far in my life?"
      Then I thought about the phrase that has repeatedly "jumped out" at me over the last few days, also from chapter 7:  "...and the Lord God had given him rest on every side from his enemies."  (7:1  Similar thought in verse 9 and verse 11).
     As these verses filtered through my mind, I thought about the "enemies" God has given me rest from, protected me from.
    One was my own father, who seemed to cherish me as a child but not as a pre-teen and teen.
    Another was the person and sometimes persons who ran a meth lab off and on next door over a 9 year period. 
    Another was an aggressive alcoholic who also, at one time, lived down our street, and who vandalized our property because we had reported his vicious   behavior to the police. The damage he did was minimal and within three months he was gone and we didn't lift a finger to make that happen - all we did was pray that God's will would be done in this neighborhood as it is done in Heaven.
    Another was a hunter, also an alcoholic, who lived next door and who was angry with us for a few weeks because we had taken his son in to live with us temporarily.  (We didn't know why he was so angry until he apologized later and admitted he had been abusing his son's Ritalin and was afraid we'd report him to the police).
    In each of these instances, the people who posed a threat to us never harmed us personally and their property has either been torn down and/or has been purchased by  neighbors who wanted peace and quiet on our street.
    We also had a personal enemy, someone who was slightly paranoid and who plotted and schemed against people when there was no reason for it.  But that also, over time, became a non-issue.
    Then there was my 31 years of teaching high school.  During that time I had probably 7 to 10 parent-teacher conferences that I really dreaded.  Irate parents who made an appointment presumably for the purpose of chewing me up and spitting me out, some threatening law suits and/or insisting on going higher up the administrative ladder to lodge complaints against me.
    Two involved cases where  I caught their child cheating. Their response was to come after me instead of the child. One of those parents was highly emotional to the point of being ballistic, so much so that an administrator called up to my room and asked me not to come downstairs until the parent had left the premises. No weapon but plenty of vitriol which they spewed liberally over administrators and counselors.
    Two were parents who had major emotional issues and were on the verge of suing the school because their outrageous demands weren't being met. One brought two legal advocates and a tape recorder to our conference.
     One was a mom and her new boyfriend, who was clearly a bully.  He wanted to take me to the mat for giving his girlfriend's son classroom DH for repeatedly coming to class without pencil or paper.  They charged me with stifling the students' natural urge to be generous and helpful to each other by not allowing the kids to share materials and insisted that the son be transferred out of my class. Which didn't happen because it was late May and we only had three more days left in the school year... 
     Another was a socially prominent parent whom, I had been warned, had the personality of a steam roller and who tried to bully me into changing their child's grade.  Although the conference went on for an hour amid tears and accusations, the grade remained intact and the only lasting result from it was the knowledge of how many teachers popped by my room before and after the conference to tell me they were praying for me or to ask me how it went. I was blessed.
    Who am I, O Lord, that You brought me so far, through 31 years of teaching - and yet my worst fears never  - never - materialized?   Truly You gave me rest from all my enemies, domestic and career-wise.
    I thought some more about the part, who am I?
    Who am I... really?
    When I was little I was a spoiled brat, being partially raised by my grandparents.
    As a preteen and teen I  was a skinny, introverted kid with a sarcastic mouth, glasses, and over-sized feet who came from a broken home, split asunder by incest.
    I was never beautiful, graceful, or particularly talented, popular or one who belonged.  
    And then I hit college where, in retrospect, for the first time ever, I felt I did fit in and it went to my head. I was the  "smart one" who could figure everyone else out.  I must have been pretty obnoxious and I can clearly recall times when I opened my mouth and inserted not one foot but both feet and never really knew it until much later.
    As I meditated on the question, "Who am I?" it hit me for the first time that to some I probably fell under the category of " trailer trash".  I was only one of two kids in my high school French class who had divorced parents and lived in a mobile home.  Thankfully no one knew we were on food stamps at that time...  Or that we couldn't afford to pay for garbage pick up and so we carried our sacks of trash off to public parks and put them in trash containers.  
     As I recalled those days, I was first stunned by the idea that, after all these years, I could have been considered trailer trash and then immediately overwhelmed by the sure knowledge that I was never considered to be that in the eyes of God.  That instantaneous, almost tangible assurance from God Almighty  brought tears to my eyes and gave me a new perspective on some of the people who live near us who exist on or below the poverty line (because of poor choices, as I remind myself frequently...  My former poverty was different from theirs.... Seriously???)
     And then I thought about other ways God protected me.  I thought of guys I had dated and hoped to marry, who would have turned out to be really unsuitable  husbands.
     I thought of the long periods in my twenties when I had no one to date and often dealt with loneliness and a sense that the world was passing me by, never knowing that God was preparing someone for me and that I would be married when I was 32 and he was 33.
     And I just had to ask, "Who am I, O Lord, that You have brought me so far and that You have given me rest from not only enemies/specters that I feared but also from my own wrong choices?  That You have taken me from a spectacularly broken home with tons of drama and planted me in a quiet, twenty-eight year marriage with a steady Christian man who would lay his life on the line for me?  That You have taken a candidate for the term "trailer trash" and given me, not a mansion but a real home, one planted on terra firma, one that I entered in as a bride, one where we raised our child to adulthood, and one where I am now entering my twilight years.  All this for someone who lived in seven different places between birth and the age of 15.  
       Who am I, Lord, to have always had a good career,  more than enough money,  and to have never had to repeat the shame of going  on food stamps?
      As I thought back over all the way He has brought me and protected me, tears of gratitude began to roll down my face and then I realized:  you don't need a palace or a rock garden in order to sit before the Lord. You just need Scripture - even a single verse will do;  a little quiet; and a humbled heart.  He can do the rest.
      This morning I sat before the Lord and He showed me who I am, Who He is, how great His love is, and how far He has brought me.
       I am thankful.
     
    




    

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Crazy Week... A New Day...

This has been a fractured week... I'm sure others know what I'm talking about. A week where almost nothing I planned actually happened. A week where new opportunities arose that I wasn't always sure I wanted to welcome. A week where I knew I was clinging close to my Beloved Lord and SAvior at one point in the day and knew just as surely a few hours later that I was deliberately trying to sing "I'll do it my way" . A week where I ran to Scripture, climbed in, and breathed deeply of His fragrance. And a week where I ran to sin and inhaled deeply of it's suffocating fumes. A week of intense memories, some of which made me incredibly sad and some of which made me feel incredibly thankful.
A week where I got to hold my sister's first living grandchild which was overwhelming, partly because of the promise of new life as this little one is the tip of a long, sometimes wondrous, sometimes torturous family history and yet by God's grace, she is here and her life is an unwritten page that holds great promise.
And partly because it makes me so acutely aware of what this little one's mother and siblings have endured to get to this place in their lives as adults. And partly because my sister wasn't here to hold this precious child (and might not have been able to hold her even if she was still living here on earth because of her enduring mental illness - something for which I thank God that she is now freed from).
So this week has been a combination of multiple journeys down half-buried roads as I've conversed with various people whom I love dearly and who, for one reason or another, I have failed and/or been estranged from.
In the midst of this, because I feel God has led me to do it, I have started visiting with a neighbor down the street every Friday afternoon. A man of God who is still preaching well into his twilight years.
This is the fourth time we've visited and each time we revisit the same memories of his youth and his years in the ministry. And at times I have wondered if my visits were a good thing or an interruption as he still goes and is active and has things to do. Until yesterday when he casually mentioned that he almost stopped by my house yesterday morning to let me know he'd be home in the afternoon and my heart leaped a little bit b/c his comment confirmed that God is in our little weekly confabs.... Even though my conversation is not all uplifting by any means. (I'm afraid I talked about the biggest thing on my mind right now - the one rat that evades our trap and still lives in our hydrangea bushes (horrible creature!) and, um, a neighbor who could win the curmudgeon award of the year. Yeah. That would be gossip... So, no, my visits are not saintly and my conversation not always uplifting....)
But God is in it somehow... always in the warp and woof of our see-sawing selves... grieving but loving us when we descend to talking about rats (animal and human) and cheering us on when we draw near to Him, abandoning ourselves to His love, His goodness, and His ability to take all the tangled threads of our lives and use them for our good and His glory.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Truth Just... Is

     I've been angry with God.
     I'm not proud of that fact; just acknowledging that it exists.
     I'm reading the book, C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity.  I'm not reading it because it's about C. S. Lewis - I confess that Lewis and I have barely a nodding acquaintance... ha!  (Translation: Lewis's writings are waaaaayyy over my pointed little head!)  
     I'm reading it because it's written by Paul McCusker, the same man who wrote many of the radio dramas for Focus on the Family, which happens to be one of my favorite things to listen to in the car right now.  (Seriously beats the heck out of talk radio, which can be crazy, and audio books, which can be monotonous).
     In the McCusker book, the author writes about Lewis's take on human pain and suffering - a very real issue during WWII when bombs were falling and people were dying right and left.   Lewis taught what most orthodox Christians believe: that pain has benefits for the Christian, conforming us to the image of Christ being among them.  But he adds  that pain is called pain for a reason - the reason being that it hurts!  And he admits that he would gladly crawl through sewers in order to avoid suffering.
    Wow!  Me, too!  I could easily become a sewer rat in order to avoid suffering!
     But Lewis goes on to conclude that how we feel as we go through the bad stuff doesn't affect the truth one iota. If we come through it with flying colors, testifying to an amazing peace through it all, that's great.  If, however,  we come through it like a whipped animal, riddled with doubts and anger, that's okay too in this regard:  neither stance changes what is.
     This is the deal: however our suffering pans out, whatever we feel or however we react during the trial - our experiences neither validate nor change the  truth. Truth just is.  Our exceptionally good experiences in the midst of suffering don't prove that God's word is true. By the same token, our exceptionally bad experiences during trials don't  make the Bible's teaching on trials go bust and break into a million pieces.
 
 Pain hurts and our experiences down here are not always palatable, to put it mildly.  Theology is not a spiritual bottle of Mercurochrome. (For those who aren't old enough to remember what that is, back in my childhood it was, quite simply, the miracle medicine that my grandmother used on us kids as if our appendages were peeling fence posts and Mercurochrome was the best paint money could buy.)
     Sometimes we get angry.  And sometimes that anger comes to rest on  God Himself.   As I said, I've been there.  There is never an excuse for being angry with God - He doesn't owe us anything.  And, yet, He understands that we are but dust.  In  the form of Jesus, He walked this earth, experienced pain and suffering, and knows exactly how fragile our psyches are, how twisted our thinking can become in the midst of suffering.
    Instead of ditching us when we pin our angst on Him, He takes the wild, heartbreaking ride of suffering and anger right along with us.  Whether we feel it or not, He keeps His promise never to leave us and to ultimately bring good out of it for us - if not here where we can see it, then in Heaven where we'll never see anything else.
   As Dr. Charles Stanley says, when we drag our tortured hearts to God and say something like, "God I can't stand You!" He just hugs us a little closer and continues to love us.
   And that, regardless of how we feel in any given moment, day, or year, is the truth.
   



   
   

 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Even for Wimps, There Is Grace....

      Recently I took a trip by myself that was supposed to take three hours.  Instead it turned into five hours thanks to  4 different areas of construction that I had to inch my way through.   By the time I had been cramped in the car for four hours - long past the expiration date on my arthritic joints - I was tired. Tired of traveling. Tired of hurting.  Tired of sitting in one position for hours at a time. (Yes, I took small breaks along the way but they didn't help much).
      I remember one moment when, as  the sun was going down, I was driving through a beautiful stretch of mountainous terrain - and I love mountain scenery, I really do.  But at that particular instant in  time  I might as well have been driving through the dust bowl; the scenery just spoke of my isolation from all that was familiar and comfortable.  Frankly, everything in me at that point wanted to give up the quest, get off at the nearest exit, find a place to park, bawl like a baby, and, of all things, call my husband and ask him to come get me!  I'm not kidding!
     Thankfully I had just enough sense left to be able to recognize how idiotic all that would have been.  I reminded myself that I had almost reached my goal, that to turn back now would be totally crazy, and would, in all likelihood, end with me driving back over the very same terrain I had just covered, causing me more of the pain and exhaustion that was now kicking my posterior (so to speak...ha!).  Even with my mental faculties obviously dwindling by the minute, I knew there was no way I would ask my poor husband to drive out into the boonies to "rescue" me just because my knees hurt and I was tired!!
     I mentally gave myself a shake and resolved to keep going, forcing myself to think about the hotel that waited a mere hour away (if there were no more road construction mazes to navigate!).  A place complete with a bed, a shower, and a pool where I could work off some of the stiffness in my joints and relax!
   I also self-talked myself into remembering why I had started out on this journey in the first place (which now seemed like a completely insane thing to do...)   I was going to a Christian conference in order to hear a speaker whom I had long desired to meet, a woman whom I considered to be one of the heroes of the faith, a woman who had buried her murdered husband ( a pastor in Iran) back in 1994.  A woman who had raised their 4 kids by herself, immigrated to the U.S.,  and who had started her own ministry in an effort to comfort others.
    In light of all that this beautiful Christ follower, a lady named Takoosh Hosvespian,  had done, who was I to pull off at the nearest exit so that I could sit in my car and whine, "I can't do this anymore!" - when I was less than an hour away from a form of luxury that most of the world never knows?
    Shaking your head by now?  If you aren't, you should be!  What a wimp I was!
    Yet even for wimps, there is the all-sufficient grace of God...    I'm so thankful!!  Aren't you??   I prayed and He answered.  The moment passed and I drove on to my destination without any mishaps.  When I called my husband later, it was only to tell him that I was fine.  I loved the conference, got to talk to Takoosh, and enjoyed my time away from home.
     My example is real -  granted it's a silly one but it was very tangible to me at the time.  I shared it for one reason - to illustrate the fact that many times we are tempted to throw in the towel, turn back if you will, just when our desired goal is almost in sight.  Why is it that the last stretch of our journey often seems the hardest?
    I don't know.  But I think this is one of the main things that the book of Hebrews is about: a warning not to turn back, a word of  admonition as well as encouragement to tired souls who are ready to toss in the spiritual towel.
    Their suffering was palpable.  They had been at it for a while and it had cost some of them everything except the actual shedding of blood (which they knew was likely to come later on).  Possessions, community, family - all of that had mostly gone by the board.  They were part of a new religious sect that banked everything on Jesus as their Passover Lamb, their only High Priest, their one shot at Heaven and  eternity.  They had left behind the comfortable and the familiar - things that the writer of Hebrews would call dead works that their consciences had been cleansed from.  In short, they had embarked on a journey based not on the  works of their fathers but on sheer, naked faith in a humble carpenter/preacher who had taught revolutionary ideas for three years, been executed as a despised criminal, and who had then risen from the dead - sometime back before their day.
     In one of the most famous passages in Hebrews, chapter 10:32 - 12:3, the writer is basically saying:
      You have already come so far by faith!  Can it be that you've now  forgotten how hard it was when you first started out?  Don't you remember?  When you were first saved, you suffered. A lot.  Part of the suffering couldn't be helped. As a Christ follower, you came in for things that were publicly humiliating - false accusations designed to shame and discredit you - accusations heaped on top of tribulations - physical ordeals, afflictions, possibly even tragedy.
      But some of your suffering could have been avoided. Yet you chose not to duck the difficult. When given the option, you openly aligned yourself with your fellow believers who were rotting in prison.  You showed sympathy for them and thus became guilty by association. For that choice, your property was confiscated.  Everything you had inherited, everything you had worked for - gone!  And yet you accepted it, not resentfully but joyfully!
     Don't you remember?  You started this journey of suffering and faith with joy!
     How could you do that?  Think back!  When you first started out travelling by faith, you knew - you really knew - that you had something on down the road that was worth suffering for!  Possessions waiting for you that were way better than anything you had here on earth!  Property that could never be stolen from you!  An inheritance that would never rust, decay, or be confiscated! And a family consisting of multitudes of saints, a myriad of angels,and crowned by the presence of God Himself!
    And then the writer goes on to give them a practical list of things to do:
    1.  Look back at how far you've already come!
    2.  Look forward to what is waiting for you!
    3.   Set your watch by the nearness of the Lord's return for you!  You want Him to be happy to see you, don't you?  Don't you want a joyous reunion instead of a tail-tucked-between-your-legs type of homecoming because you dropped out of the race at the last quarter mile?
    4.  Meditate on the lives of  the heroes of faith who have gone before you! They had long, hard roads to travel but they made it by keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith! The same God who enabled them to cross the finish line and receive their rewards can do the same for you!
   5.  Evaluate what you are about to throw away! Instead of chucking your confidence in God, toss out the things that are weighing you down! Kick off the sin of unbelief! Move forward by faith!
   6.  Above all - focus!  Keep your eyes on Jesus!  Remember that He was able to get past the shame of hanging on the cross by focusing on the joy that He knew was waiting for Him.  Part of that joy is... you.  Knowing that His sacrifice would save you, equip you, and be enough to bring you into His heart, His Home, His family - and  not just somehow but triumphantly!

    Along the journey of faith, we are faced with all kinds of easy outs.  The writer of Hebrews was saying, don't go back to the old sacrificial system built around the blood of dead animals and the rituals that the Pharisees counted on.  You have something better here - infinitely better!  Keep on faithin it when you are tempted to turn back!  The end of the journey will be worth it all!!
    Our exits won't look exactly the same as theirs. But they'll be posted along our spiritual journey just the same.  When we are tempted to pull off the rugged highway of faith and/or do a total 180 turnaround, we can work our way through steps 1 - 6 and hang on. In faith.  For the joy and the rewards that are set before us.  For the Savior who  waits to welcome each of us Home with open arms and the words, "Well done!"