Monday, February 13, 2017

Retro Post from Feb 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Tour of the House that Was...

      When we left for work Wed. morning, there was a house next door. When we came home - there wasn't.  The entire lot had been swept clean - no fence, no Crepe Myrtle tree, no rose bush, no shed, no storage building, no carport - no house. Just wide open space, a cracked concrete drive leading no where and fresh dirt brought in to make the yard even with the drive.
     But the memories were still there; both good and bad.  And certainly, there was no lack of either.  For the first 15 years of our marriage, a retired preacher, Cecil, lived there with his second wife, Thelma.  After we had our son, Cecil became "Pap-aw" and Thelma became "Granny" and they certainly lived up to their names!
     As I think about them, memories speed by.  Coming home from the hospital with our newborn son  and going straight to their house so that Thelma and Cecil could see him.  It was the first of many visits our child would make over there.  In fact, it was in their living room that David took his first steps. And it was there that he learned to wrestle with Pap-aw. Cecil had heart disease and diabetes and couldn't get down on the floor so he would pull David into his recliner and that's where they would "arm-wrastle".  It was a toss-up as to who enjoyed it the most.
    Thelma was a fanatic about cleanliness.  When David was still just an infant, she decided their old carpet had to go. I told her the carpet they had was just fine for when David started crawling; she insisted that the decision to get new flooring had nothing to do with the baby but we all knew that wasn't true.
    She also cooked for us.  Sometimes I would come home worn out and she would greet me with the words, "Come on over! I've got something for you!"  The "something" would turn out to be an entire meal cooked from scratch.  David grew up loving her homemade sweet pickles and her PBJ sandwiches - which he begged her to teach me how to "cook"...:( 
    But I guess the main memory I have is of going over about 8 in the evening to say "good-night". By this time, Cecil had moved to Heaven and Thelma was alone. So every day after school, DAvid and I would go over to check on Thelma and almost every evening, we would go over to give her a good-night hug.  As we approached the house, I would see her through the window. She would almost always be sitting in her recliner,  large print Bible open on her lap, reading.  She had had to drop out of school after the third grade in order to  work in the cotton fields so reading was tough work for her.  Yet every night, before retiring, she would move her finger across the printed page while her lips silently "sounded out" the words. I read all the time but never with the discipline and devotion that she applied to the task.  
     All things come to an end.   In  2001 she had to sell the house so that she could move closer to her daughter and to this day, I still miss her. 
     In the summer of 2001, a middle-aged man and his 19-year-old daughter moved next door. She was expecting her first child and about to be married, a really beautiful girl who was excited about the changes in her life.  She had her son in January and by May, she had abandoned her husband and her baby in order to run off with a drug-dealer.
   From the summer of 2002 until Feb. 2010, this girl cycled in and out of her father's house and we soon learned to dread her appearance next door and I'm not kidding. She never came alone and she never came without first wearing out her welcome elsewhere.  I can't ever remember a time when she or her current boyfriend weren't wanted by the police. And somehow, though it seemed impossible, she always managed to find a worse boyfriend than the one before.
   Now, the house next door was characterized by traffic coming and going  24/7, by police raids, by violence, and eventually by prostitution as the daughter descended deeper and deeper into drug use and eventually had to ply the streets of our area in order to pay for her "highs".  Over the years, the utilities were constantly being turned on and off and during the times when they were off, we were routinely asked for water, for the use of our phone, and even for electricity -during one bitterly cold snap my husband ran an extension cord over to their house so that they could run an electric heater.  Eventually, whenever I went to Sam's Club, I bought some extra food and water for them.  What else could we do?  I couldn't see them starve and Phil couldn't see them freeze so there we were.
   And then there were the times when father and daughter would abandon the place temporarily and the girl's "friends-turned-enemies" would break into the house and as the dad would later lament "clean him out".  Phil and I lost track of the times the door was kicked in one summer. The dad would come by long enough to assess the damage and put the door back up but nothing stopped the thieves from coming, even when it seemed there couldn't be anything left to steal.  Finally, when they pulled the copper tubing out of the place, they were done and the dad moved back in with his daughter not too far behind him.
    And then there was the trash.  A yard that hadn't been mowed  in forever - grass knee high.  Broken furniture, dishes, debris spilling out of the back door into the backyard.  Unbelievable.
    And then a year ago in Feb., we came home to find about 10 emergency vehicles blocking our road while various agencies were mopping up a sting operation.  They netted three meth labs and one homemade bomb. The daughter had just been released from  prison a few weeks before all this came down.  Where she went after the drug bust, we have no idea.  We just know that we were so grateful that A) our house didn't get blown up. (The police said the house contained enough combustible materials to blow up our entire street) and B) that the city took over the property.
    When it was put on a list of condemned houses and slated to be torn down, we felt nothing but relief. Then the construction workers came out this past Saturday to gather whatever salvageable material they could before beginning the demolition.  There wasn't much to salvage - basically the siding and the  carport roof and that was it. But to us, it was a signal that the beginning of the end of an era was finally here.
     Once we knew it would be a matter of mere days before the house disappeared, we both had mixed feelings about wanting to go inside it one more time. It had been years since we'd walked in the living room and somehow, I kept seeing David taking his first steps from the coffee table to the couch.  The construction people had said we could go in - that they had already been through the house and didn't want anything in it -  but we weren't sure if it was the right thing to do or not.  When it was still standing Tuesday evening, we decided we'd try it.
     All I can say is that Thomas Wolfe was  right..  you can't go home again.  Once inside, even though we thought we knew  what to expect, we really didn't.  We expected trash everywhere but hoped some remnant of Cecil and Thelma would somehow remain.  What we encountered was the complete physical and moral wreckage of what could scarcely be called  human lives. We didn't linger.
      There were however, two things that caught our attention. The first were plastic looms that had belonged to Cecil.  He had ordered them through the mail and used them to make place mats.  Unbelievably enough, after all these years, they were still hanging on the wall where he always kept them. I still have the place mats he made for us and now I have the looms as well. They probably cost about 20.00 all told and I may never figure out how to use them., but inexplicably, I'm glad to have them.
    The only other object that  stood out was an old photo album.  It had pictures of a little red-headed girl, first as an infant, then as a toddler,  then as an elementary student, and finally as an adolescent.  It was clearly the  girl next door, taking milk from a bottle, holding a fishing pole with a fish dangling from it, playing on a swing, and then  looking like she was decked out for her first prom. I thought her dad might want it - although the chances are remote that we'll ever see him again.
    I don't know how things can go so wrong.  Sometimes as a teacher, when I think of the wasted life that once lived beside us, I just want to shake students who joke about drug usage. Even more to the point, I want to bring them over here and take them on a tour of the house that was. Or show them a slideshow of a red-headed baby morphing over the years into a burned-out shell of a person before the age of thirty.
   But I can't. Right now, all I can say is that surely all drug dealers smell of fire and brimstone.
   Obviously,  the razing of the house next door has evoked some powerful memories - memories that have never been far from my mind this entire week.  Like taking a mental tour of Heaven and then of Hell.   I don't want to forget the love, laughter and blessings that flowed from Thelma and Cecil.  
    And I don't think I can forget the girl who lived next door and the mess that became her life. I don't think I have that luxury.



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

God Is not a Gumball Machine...

I wanted to share some things that I learned from Kate Bowler's book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. She studied the Prosperity movement for 8 years and wrote her book for her doctoral dissertation. The book is good but because it is her dissertation, it's a bit dry in places and somewhat repetitive as she covers all bases with various groups in each chapter. But it's still surprisingly readable - I really enjoyed it.

The study, as she put it, was not just academic for her because she was chronically ill during the last years of her research. Then, after her book was published and her health had improved, she was suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She is about 34; she and her husband have a toddler.

I learned about her through her blog entry called, "Death, the Prosperity Gospel, and Me." And I really respected her for her honesty in that article. It was short but had a huge impact on me.

One of the things that really stood out to me from her book was about how the Prosperity movement started. It apparently began as sort of a mish-mash of Eastern mysticism, positive thinking, and cherry-picked Scriptures, among other things.

What really caught my attention is that during its formative years, leaders began to delve into the names of God, delineating Hebrew names such as "Jehovah-Jireh", "Jehovah-Rapha", etc. There's nothing wrong with looking at the names of God in either Hebrew, Greek, English, or whatever. It's good to know and think about the attributes of God.

But they specifically wanted to know these names so that they would know what "buttons" (i.e., names) to push in order to get what they wanted. And that's why they began to search out the hyphenated Jehovah names.

Basically they taught that if you called on God as JEhovah-Rapha, then he had to heal you. IF you called on God as Jehovah-JIreh, then He had to fork over money or some type of material blessing. When put that way it sounds kind of crass. So I need to say that's not the terminology Kate used; it's mine....

The hard core prosperity preachers saw salvation as a legal contract that included forgiveness of sin, instantaneous sanctification, restored dominion over life and death (back to Adam and Eve before the Fall), physical healing, and material blessing.

They saw this contract as legally binding on God. If you were saved, then He HAD to heal you; He HAD to give you your requisite number of years on earth; He HAD to bless your socks off with material wealth; and He HAD to give you deliverance from any trials life might try to throw your way.

The power of positive thinking strand in all this eventually morphed into: if you say something negative such as "my cancer is not responding to treatment" or "I'm having a lot of pain" - then you lost your contractual right to healing. By your spoken words you are healed and vice versa.

She emphasized that there are a lot of variants on the prosperity Gospel movement - not everyone believes the same things. In looking for the good in the movement, she said that they do get people to work hard and they excel at having faith. The unpleasant secret within the movement is that people often feel isolated and judged when they are sick or in trouble. Essentially, when they experience their greatest need, the church is uncomfortable with them.

She said that the prosperity Gospel measures their faith and spirituality by external things which keeps the believers on a treadmill of "try harder." And that basically they are working from their desires backwards to God whereas, as a Christian, she feels we should start with God's desires and work backward to ourselves.

In her blog she said that she knew her friends and acquaintances in the prosperity Gospel would say that she lacked faith and that was why she was suddenly very ill. Some "hard" prosperity Gospel people would attribute her illness to some sin she had knowingly or unknowingly committed. Most would reason that it could never be God's will for a toddler to grow up without his mother - that the death of a mother of a young child would violate Romans 8:28 - therefore it was clearly not God's will for her to die young.

But since she was not God, she couldn't honestly say that it was best for her toddler to grow up with a mother. Because, unlike God, she could not see the end from the beginning.

I apologize for this being so long. Right after I read Kate's book, my study group started a book by an evangelical Bible teacher on the names of God. (Now my church is getting ready to start a similar study by a different evangelical Bible teacher.)

KNowing that the "names" studies - which have a lot of good in them- originated with not-so-good-scholars, some of whom lacked integrity - and was for the primary purpose of knowing how we could turn God into a gumball machine - that knowledge has kind of put a "brake" on my thinking as I've gone through this study.

It seems to me that studying the names of God - in any language - is like standing on a grassy plain that has a sudden drop off. As long as my motive is to know God's attributes so that I can worship Him better, it's all good. Even taking comfort as I call on God by different names and titles, reminding myself of what He can do, that is good too. Last night I fell asleep running the attributes of God through my mind and this morning I woke up with His names and titles still on my mind. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

But emphasizing His names (and/or how they are pronounced) so that I can demand blessings, favor, and rewards now and in the Millennium- to me that is when you have stepped off the grassy plain and will eventually find yourself struggling to get back on solid footing.

I think a lot about the ten Boom family. Corrie and Betsie were both ill in Ravensbruck. They both were severely underweight. Betsie had a heart condition; Corrie had edema. They were both healed.

Corrie spent some time in the camp infirmary before she was released - they wouldn't let her go until her swelling went down (because it made the camps look bad to release obviously ill people). Even though the infirmary was far from wonderful, she did get well enough to be released.

Betsie died in the camp. Her healing came in Heaven. Of the two women, Betsie had far more faith than Corrie did.

Finally, recently I heard an interview with Miss Hellen Roseveare, a missionary doctor to the Congo in the 1960's. For five months she and others were held prisoners by some very brutal rebel soldiers. She was severely beaten (her back teeth were kicked in) and she was raped twice during those months. AFter she was rescued and returned to the U.K.,sometimes people would come up to her and say, "Why did God rescue some of you but let this poor English boy die over there? Why wasn't He good to these others too? Why did He let them die???"

She said that she and others who had been rescued would look at people like that and think something along the lines of: are you serious?? The ones who were shot were the fortunate ones!! We are still living in pain!!

In fact, right before the first rape, a soldier put a gun to her forehead and told her to proclaim their patron saint as the savior of the world. She said she didn't even have to think about it; she knew that was not right and that Jesus was the only Savior the world has. So she just blurted out that she could not say that because it wasn't true and that man could only be saved by Jesus.

At that point, being a doctor, she hoped that the soldier would go ahead and shoot her in the head because it would be clean and quick and she knew that if he didn't, what would follow would be savage, humiliating, and hard to recover from. And it was.

God is not a gumball machine. We don't know the earthly end from the beginning in our individual stories and the stories of those around us. His names are wonderful ways of worshiping Him, reminding ourselves of His attributes. But they aren't buttons we can push on demand. Or say correctly with the certainty that we'll be rewarded for how we say it.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Here's to Beverly Carter....

A few months ago I listened several times to a radio drama put on by Focus on the Family. Essentially, it is the story of a former detective who had a disastrous case many years earlier. A case of a runaway teen who committed suicide before the detective could rescue her.
The drama opens with the detective getting a bizarre call while he's on a talk show. The caller brings up the death of Patricia, now just a closed missing juvenile case in some dusty police records but still very much alive to the former detective-turned- Anglican-priest.
Then the eerie caller says (using a smarmy, falsely jovial voice), "It's deja vu aaaalllll over again... " And it is. The detective-turned-priest learns that another teen-age girl has run away under circumstances that are almost exactly like Patricia's. How weird is that?
As the story unfolds, the nasty caller continues to "check in" with the priest at unexpected times, taunting him, goading him, teasing him, tormenting him.
Because it is a radio drama - as opposed to real life - the priest is able to find the current runaway just in the nick of time and the story ends.
Except not quite...
When the weary priest returns home, adrenaline depleted, soul weary -strange things begin to happen. The caller's voice begins to ring out through his house, describing the futility of what the frantic priest tries to do. The priest runs to the phone and the oily, unseen voice gloats: it won't help you to try to call anyone... the phone isn't working... You are aallll alone...
After a few frantic moments of trying to get to a place of safety, the priest finds himself caught in a surreal sort of evil supernatural surround sound system, while his unseen nemesis' voice becomes harsher and louder until unbearable accusations are reverberating all around the beleaguered priest.
Finally the priest begins to shout the words of the Lord's prayer and the evil voice is vanquished.
Sound hokey?
It did to me too the first time I heard it. But after tangling with someone who can only be described as evil, it didn't sound so cheesy to me the second time around.
On the second go round, something stood out to me that I'd never picked up on before. At the height of this supernatural battle between pure evil and frail, faulty, frightened humanity, the Adversary's voice crescendos until he finally blurts out his real goal - which is nothing short of destroying the human soul. He was never really fixated on the physical death of the teen-age girls - as he puts it, hurting the body is mere child's play; instead his eye was on the ultimate prize which was nothing less than the priest's soul. If he could hold the Father's head, so to speak, under the waters of bitterness, self-loathing, unforgiveness, and hatred long enough, then the priest would lose his love for God and his capacity to love mankind as well. Evil would win.
Which brings me to the real point of this seemingly pointless blog: this week we had a rather sensational murder trial going on in our city. If ever there was a show down between good and evil, I think this was it.
No wicked, taunting voices emanating from an unseen source filled the courtroom, but, still, evil personified in human form was there none the less. Unbridled arrogance, vicious slander, and atrocious poor-me-I-can't-get-justice rants were lobbed around in probably the most stately building in this area, a bastion of marble and stone which has symbolized justice for me as long as I can remember. An august place that even when trimmed with CHristmas decorations still sobers me each time I enter it.
Guilty of a horrendous kidnapping and murder, a narcissist of the first water took the stand Friday and tried to hoodwink justice, the public, and even the handful of people who might have felt some semblance of loyalty to him. IF there was anyone he didn't throw under the bus in a futile effort to save his own skin from a life sentence, I don't know who it would have been.
But this is the deal: over 50 years of her life, the victim - Beverly Carter - did well. She overcame obstacles I couldn't have; she triumphed in that she held steady, kept on keeping on, and obviously brought a lot of life, love, and laughter to others. Her smile pretty much says it all.
What she suffered in the last 24 hours of her life is horrible and I cringe when I think of it. IN fact, I could hardly bear to read about it. Definitely, I don't want to minimize her terror and anguish in any way at all. She suffered horribly for the last 24 hours of her life.
However, when those few hours are juxtaposed against 50 years of living life and living it as well as I think anyone could - it's clear that the decades far outweigh the one day.
The truth is that her suffering was short lived. The truth is that she knew her Creator. The truth is that she suffered for a short time and then moved to another locality where evil is totally unknown. The truth is that she is living There right now, today.
The truth is that the big prize in all this as far as Evil is concerned (and I'm not talking about the human pawn - or should it be spawn? - who showed out in the courtroom yesterday before being justly sentenced to two consecutive life sentences) - as far as Evil is concerned, the real contest here is, I think, for the souls of Beverly Carter's friends and family.
It took 5 or 6 minutes to brutally snuff out Beverly's earthly existence. However, the mental replays of how she suffered can go on and on indefinitely in the imaginations of those left behind.
Plus, while the family was reeling from the senseless murder of Beverly, Evil threw in some of the most vicious lies I've ever heard in an effort to smear this woman who could not defend herself. (Can we say, "despicable"?) Kidnapped. Murdered. And then pilloried to a degree that boggles the imagination.
Enough to crush the heart and soul of anyone who loved her.
Yet, from what I've seen, it didn't happen.
Apparently Evil didn't win.
The family has grieved in untold ways and is still walking a hard road even as I write this. It's not over til it's over and part of this will never be over until they eventually move to Heaven to be with Beverly.
However, almost from the moment it was learned that Beverly's soul had flown to higher places, the family has worked hard at turning the worst lemons life can hand you into life giving lemonade for the many. They have been proactive in launching a campaign to prevent this type of thing from happening to other realtors. They have been gracious under intense pressure and scrutiny. And like their matriarch, they have somehow kept smiling, even through this awful trial this past week.
Could it be that they want justice but at the same time, they don't want to be overcome by evil themselves but rather they want to overcome evil with good?
Whatever their reasons, I hold the family in highest regard for the way they have handled this long ordeal in the public eye. They have done well, far better than I think most people would have done. The way I see it - Evil has deeply wounded them but it hasn't won- obviously Beverly Carter's family can still feel, live, love, laugh - and even show mercy - under the most difficult of circumstances.
When this story comes up in the collective psyches of all who have heard about it, the family hopes that the name of their loved one, Beverly Carter, will shine forth and that the notoriety of the one who murdered her will be obscured by the sands of time.
Amen and Amen...
Here's to a beautiful lady who stayed the course and in spite of the vicissitudes of everyday reality, by all accounts lived a good life. Her smile as well as her family testify to who she was ... and is.
Here's to Beverly Carter, someone I absolutely look forward to meeting when I transition to the only City which has foundations.
Beverly Carter - may her memory - as well as the good her family has tried to bring out of all this - live long in all our minds and hearts.
Here's to Beverly... heart emoticon

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Fight to the Finish

Thoughts from II Cor. 10:3-5 as well as James 4:7, Eph. 6: 13, Philippians 4:4-8, II Cor. 2:10-11

1.       As the cartoon character said, “This is WAH-UR!”  In other words, we are living on an active battlefield.  A Nigerian friend once told us  that Americans were too casual about religion, that in their country supernatural manifestations were fairly common and people had no problem believing in the supernatural realm. They understood that in a war the first casualties are fence-sitters so most people in her native region planted themselves on one side or the other:  Islam, Christianity, or tribal religions.  Very few acted like religion was something they could take or leave. (When we knew our friend, she had a Masters degree from Princeton, she now has a PhD in statistical research from Penn State University but she is still very proactive about her faith).

2.      Fleshly weapons are about as effective in spiritual warfare as a popgun would be in the Red Zones in Iraq. To me, fleshly weapons include all the human tricks of the trade when trying to get our way with God and man.  Depending on our own intellect instead of leaning on God.  Verbal manipulation. Emotional manipulation. And towards God, legalism – as in, “if I do X, X, and X… then the Almighty has  to do Y for me…” 

3.      Our enemy (with our compliance) is an engineering expert.  He specializes in building fortresses in the human heart/mind.  Fortresses (bastions, citadels, strongholds) are large buildings which are designed to withstand attacks. We can’t breach them but God can.  (It’s kind of neat to know that He has divine bunker buster weapons.  However, I digress…)

4.      Since we are in a war, we need to be prepared.

A.       I know this is sort of Mickey Mouse info. but the first thing we do is, um, report for  duty.  As in, we show up.   As in, we raw recruits acknowledge (submit, swear fealty to) our King.  Fresh off the farm, we hesitantly wipe our muddy shoes on the manicured grass, leave our muzzle loaders at the back entrance to the biggest, state-of-the-art, palatial structure we’ve ever seen, and humbly walk inside, awe stricken, and not sure how all this is going to work.  Think Norman Rockwell painting.

B.      Having put on humility, we hold on to it tight-fisted as if it were our only defense against the elements, twisting it like a battered hat in our stained hands.  We hang on to it because to do the opposite – to clench our pride in both hands - is the same as handing our rifle to the enemy while saying, “Ah, I’ve got this!  He’ll never shoot me!!”  Essentially pride makes us think we’re hot stuff while at the same time it transforms us into a bunch of spiritual Barney Fifes.

C.      We make sure there are no budding strongholds in our own hearts.  (The Bible calls this confession/repentance.)  In other words, it’s hard to fight the other guy when the enemy is, at least in part, us.    An effective prayer someone shared with me is:  Lord, show me if there are any lies I am believing.  Help me to admit it if I have opened myself up to deception.

D.     Ditto for grudges and/or withholding forgiveness – might as well lay out a welcome mat for the devil with the words, “Tromp all over me” written on it if you won’t forgive or can’t quit nursing a grudge. (The mind can have instant replays ad nauseam.  Trust me on this…)   II Corinthians 2:10-11

E.      We ask God to “suit us up” in the armor He provides, which is the only armor that works.  We may not be enamored of it because we can’t see it or touch it, but then we can’t see or touch our adversary either.  And the truth is that we understand the need to dress against the elements, yet we often go rushing into a Red Zone without being appropriately attired.  I mean, do soldiers in a danger zone just wear whatever they want?  I’m not sure but I think a chem suit is a little more troublesome to put on than a  panama hat and Bermuda shorts but still…  ( Eph. 6:10 -18)  

F.       We read, know, memorize, and handle accurately the entire manual.  We don’t pick and choose the parts we like. We don’t gloss over or twist the things we don’t like.  We don’t make the manual say things it doesn’t say. And we don’t dismiss the hard parts by rationalizing: well, that’s for the other guys. I probably won’t need that, that’s not me…

G.     We pray (wield) the Word as the Spirit of God leads us.  Different blades, um, verses, for different situations. 

H.     We go forward to battle carrying the shield of faith.  Which hopefully we’ve asked God to activate before we go charging out to dodge the flaming arrows the Adversary  pelts (on some days bombards) us with

5.       What happens as we suit up, study up, pray up?   Almighty God tears down and disintegrates speculations as if they were newspapers left out in the mud and the rain.  Incidentally,   “Speculation” means reasoning, hypothesizing, guessing, reading between the lines, and/or as one dictionary said, “doping things out”.  (Not kidding). IF we or someone we know spends most of their time speculating about things that can’t truly be resolved, that’s a pretty good tip off that the battle is on.  Our commander wants us focused; the enemy wants us distracted by fruitless speculations, knowledge that puffs up, thoughts that feed our intellectual pride but in the final analysis are essentially futile.

6.      Once speculative thought is cut off, its offspring goes by the board as well: any lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God folds up like a house of cards because the foundation has been destroyed.   Note:  speculative thought can lead us away from God entirely, in which case human reasoning becomes our god.   But it can also lead us into pseudo Christianity, where we remake the God of the Bible into our own image instead of vice-versa.  Pseudo Christianity can present God as anything from a benevolent, never-say-no, sweetness-and-light Santa Claus to a ritualistic, nit-picking, judgmental legalist. 

7.      Nature doesn’t like a vacuum and neither does the spiritual/mental world.  Once hostile territory has been taken it has to be rebuilt and maintained.  In II Corinthians 10 Paul refers to this as taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ – our end game.  The Bible makes it clear that our thoughts are going to be dominated by one side or the other.  It hardly makes sense to be on the victor’s side and then go back under subjugation to the one who would destroy us.

8.      Finally, if you don’t know what thoughts are “keepers” and which should be deadly discards, Paul gave  us a handy check list and I think we’re meant to use it…   Frankly, although it may be heresy to say it, I think we need to use this check list even in regard to Christian radio, t.v., and internet – all of which I love but some of which is filled with speculation and inflammatory, emotional rhetoric which smacks of the enemy to me.  Just sayin’….

Anyway, here is the checklist to use regarding anything we routinely listen to, watch, read, and/or hang around (as in friendly conversation…).

o   Is the input I’m receiving True? (Dead on target, literal, verifiable, honest, correct as opposed to incorrect, false, insincere, counterfeit, wrong.)
o   Is it Honorable? (Straight forward, trustworthy, sincere, unstained as opposed to deceptive, devious, dishonest, irresponsible).
o   Is it Right?  (Appropriate, justifiable, merited, equitable, scrupulous as opposed to imprecise, inaccurate, evil, fraudulent, improper).
o   Is it Pure?  (Authentic, plain, out-and-out, unalloyed, unadulterated, clear as opposed to cloudy, confusing, embellished, uncertain, tainted, vague.)
o   Is it Lovely?  (Pleasing, exquisite, classic, sweet, attractive, amiable as opposed to disagreeable, insignificant, ugly, unhappy, unpleasant).
          Are the things you are reading, listening to, watching, absorbing, and singing centered around behavior/people/events that have a good reputation? Are examples of excellence?  Are worthy of praise?

We have a stealthy enemy who is spying, strategizing, seducing, fighting, regrouping, and counter attacking all the time.
We have a commander who has given us:   
ü   Instructions on how to prepare for battle.
ü   Vital intel on our enemy
ü   Supernatural armor which can enable us to stand firm.
ü  Divinely powerful weapons which the enemy cannot withstand.

This spiritual Capture the Flag is really a deadly game of Capture the MInd – ours and others – by breaching enemy strongholds and bringing every thought captive to Christ. The goal is to avoid becoming a P.O. W. of Satan and the only way to do that is to become servants of and warriors for Christ.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Formulaic God...

As many know, a man was murdered Wed. night down the street from us. Last night my husband was working on a car for a friend and he told me he was going to stay with it until he got it done and that it was going to take a while. I knew that meant it could be really late before he got home and it was - well after midnight.
During the day I wasn't frightened by the news that someone had been killed on our street; only shocked and saddened. Last night with darkness all around, I told myself I felt a little uneasy. When I heard Phil's voice over the phone at ten til 1 saying, "I am almost home", I started silently crying. And that was when I knew I was more than just sad, shocked, and/or a little uneasy. I was scared.
Then at about 2 a.m., 5 or 6 firetrucks, with sirens blasting, roared past our bedroom window and turned onto a nearby side street. And we wondered whose house was in danger, was it serious, and, in light of Wed. evenings events, was it just a fire?
Just a fire? As in: just a house possibly going up in flames due to natural causes is, um, a relatively benign thing... comparatively speaking...
This morning I woke up early, unable to go back to sleep, feeling old, under par health-wise, and defeated by life in the 'hood.
But just last night I sat in front of my computer sort of bug eyed, listening to a speaker tell me that all I have to do is say to sickness, credit card debt, stress, and/or any type of affliction:, "Grace! Grace!". He assured me that if I did this, all my troubles would vanish. I sat there for a few minutes, mesmerized by this message, waiting for the speaker to whip out a top hat, wave a wand over it, and yell, "Rabbit! Rabbit!" only to see a bunny come hopping out of it. With gold bars in its paws.
When I ex-ed out of the sermon, maybe I felt a tiny bit superior to the people in the audience who were commanding their credit card debt to go away? I don't know. I hope not.
Because, honestly, the first thing I journaled this morning was: I sooo started out this day wanting to manipulate God with all my heart, mind, and soul, wishing I could make Him appear like a genie out of a bottle to do my biding.
As this sentence flowed from my heart onto my paper, I realized I was basically wanting to say "Jump" (respectfully of course) and hear God reply, "How high?" Talk about wanting to make a spiritual bunny hop out of a religious hat....
Almighty! Form-u-laic! God!!!
Is there such a thing as a formulaic God? /=
If so, which formula is the right one?
If I pray hard enough, long enough, with the right words, posture, Scripture, and faith...then I'll get what I want.
IF I meet with the right people, say the right words, study the right translation, and follow the rules, then God will have to bless my flesh.
If I avoid the wrong people and eschew the wrong foods, entertainment, fads, and places, then God will confer great honor on me.
IF I give to the poor, post spiritual memes on FB, listen to inspirational music, and serve worthy causes, then ...
(Or do I follow the high road and expect nothing from God here on earth in the way of physical blessings because to never be disappointed is the same as being blessed?)
As these random (and, yes, terrible) thoughts went through my mind, I opened my Bible and read through tired eyes:
"Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building... [they]said to them, "let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God..."
"But Zerubbabel and Jeshua... said to them, "You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God..."
"Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel..." (Ezra 4:1-5)
Not everyone who says, "Lord, Lord" and espouses a predictable religious formula is seeking God. On my down days when I'm wishing God would magically appear and do my biding because I'm "doing the right things and life is too tough" - that includes me.
There will always be enemies and sometimes they are us. Not just people who are openly hostile to God. Not just people who appear to have successfully bagged God and put Him in a box. But people like me - who get tired at times and just feel with all their heart, mind, and soul that just once they need God to show up and fix everything!!! Sometimes I am my own worst enemy, spiritually speaking.
But the book of Ezra doesn't end with chapter 4, verse 5. The Jews were discouraged. They were stymied. The enemy was winning. They needed something from their God. And He did indeed give His downtrodden people help. However, it didn't come in the form of instantaneous freedom from all opposition coupled with an instant, super-sized, magically produced temple. Instead He gave them the ability to go on, He made a way for them to keep building, and He empowered them to carry out His will - which was not necessarily synonymous with their own will on every. single. God-given day.
I believe that God gave me that Scripture this morning to remind me that He is building, He is working. Even in the 'hood. And that when we feel tired and discouraged, He may perform a miracle. But He may just also enable us to put one spiritual foot in front of the other. When the work is done, He may reward us Here or He may wait until we are There. Either way, it's okay.
Formulaic God?
IF there is one, I haven't found Him yet.
And I'm alright with that.