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!"

Monday, August 25, 2014

What Is My Answer?


     Yesterday I woke up with a Scripture verse on my mind.  Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often but when it does, it's just a neat experience.  The verse that came to mind was Philippians 1:21 - For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.   I hadn't been reading that passage or meditating on that verse so I accepted it as something God wanted me to start meditating on, thinking about and I did that.
     Today I realized that too often I internalize that verse as: For to me, to live is gain and to die is nothing but pain.  Don't get me wrong: dying is painful and not something I (or anyone I know) wants to do any time soon.
     But hanging onto life here and now should not be our raison d'etre; Christ should be our reason for existence and, if He is, then even though death is still  a specter to be dealt with at some time or other, it's not the worst thing that can happen to us.  By that I mean that death and sickness, as horrible as they can be, are - in God's providence - the doorway to life greater than anything we've ever experienced here on earth.
    So... can God use sickness and death?
    I know of a woman named Sandy.  I've never met her but I will someday.  She died of an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was a young woman with a small child.  Her testimony of faith, hope, and strength during that awful time led to the conversion of her Jewish oncologist, Jack Sternberg.  His wife, Marilyn, also became a believer.  And together they, their kids, and grandkids have ministered and continue to minister to many.
    I know of a woman named Joni.  Many people have heard Joni's testimony, read her books, seen her drawings, and/or heard her singing.  She has been a paraplegic for decades.  When she was just starting her journey with this handicap, she believed that God could and would heal her.  She and a group of fellow believers prayed fervently for her to be healed but it didn't happen.   Is it possible that God allows suffering because He has a reason for it?  Because He can use it for our good and to His glory?  I think Joni and her husband, Ken, would say "yes".  Has her life been easy?  Far from it.  But through her disability, thousands have been blessed.
    I know of a preacher whose wife was ill with cancer.  Three different people assured this man that God had revealed to them that his wife would be healed. The preacher believed this as well.  But his wife's condition got worse instead of better. One day the pastor was on his face, praying when suddenly he felt the Lord was asking him: if I don't heal your wife, will you still love Me and follow Me?  The man wrestled with this for a while but finally told the Lord that He would still love Him and follow Him.  The Lord then impressed these words on the man's heart: it takes more faith to believe in Me when I don't heal, than when I do.
   I've never met a girl named Hannah, although I went by the hospice where she spent her last few weeks in order to drop off something.  She also exhibited a resolute faith, actually a remarkable faith for a 17 year-old who was dying of a brain tumor.  Out of her death has come an entire ministry to families who have lost children, a ministry called While We're Waiting.   The blogs from Hannah's mom, Jill Sullivan, never fail to encourage me and I know their weekend retreats for grieving parents have blessed many.
    I do have a dear friend, Angie, who has an enduring faith and I shamelessly draw strength from my visits with her and from her blogs.  She always has something funny to say, something generous to share (time, hospitality, encouragement) and yet she is totally dependent on a caregiver and an oxygen mask for her daily existence.  No... that's wrong.  She is totally dependent on Christ who is, truly, her raison d'etre and I know personally that she is a blessing to many.
    I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.  Does God love and care about us?  Yes, most definitely.  Does He invite us to bring our pains and problems to Him? Yes, most definitely.
    But even more important than that, He invites us to enter His heart, to share His joys and His heartaches, to intercede using His prayer list before we turn to our own. (Or, even better, draw our prayer list from His list instead of trying to impose ours on Him).
    Where is His heart today?
    I know God cares about the arthritis pain I have frequently.  I don't doubt that He understands and cares nor do I doubt that He can heal me.
    But I don't think my creaking knees top His list... :)  Seriously.  When I get on my face and ask Him what does top His list, what is dear to His heart, invariably... always... without fail... He brings to mind the suffering church.
REfugee tents that have Christ is the Light of the World written on them.
    People in Iraq who, in the words of Hebrews 10, have accepted the loss of their property, knowing that they have better possessions and abiding ones waiting for them in Heaven.  People who are living in refugee tents which they have inscribed with their testimony so that planes overhead can read the handwriting on their makeshift homes and know that Jesus is their very existence - He is the reason why they live and why they are willing to die.
    People in Nigeria who, even though their church was attacked one week, go back to church the next week.
    People who, to paraphrase the words of Hebrews 11, meet in caves and holes in the ground, people who would rather be tortured than give up their faith, people who have seen the promises of God from afar but who have died without receiving all that God has promised, people of whom God Himself has said the world is not worthy to have them. And so He takes them Home and death becomes tremendous gain for them.
    For me, to live is  ________________?
    And to die is _________________?
    The people I have mentioned above have answered that question correctly.  May I do the same.
    To paraphrase the words of Paul:  to live is Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.  And to die is gain.  Nothing more, nothing less.


The Sullivans


Friday, August 15, 2014

God's Treasure Once Lay in a Feeding Trough..

      No, our Christmas tree isn't up and sparkling through the living room window on this fifteenth day of August...  (Although we did put our tree up in June one year - but that is for another blog...)
      This morning I was going back through some old journal entries and I ran across a Christmas entry where I was obviously struggling.  The year was 2001.  The War on Terror had just begun and in my journaling, I wondered how several thousand families were coping with the loss of their loved ones around the Christmas table in the aftermath of 9/11.   I wrote about how words like "Taliban" and "Osama bin Laden" had previously been unknown to us but were now becoming household  terms. Little did I know...
      And then there was the economy.  Apparently it had taken a nose-dive as a result of the terror attacks and so I journaled  about how unemployment was up.  I wondered how  it  would all shake out during the holiday season and noted that while we were being encouraged to spend to shore up the economy, the uncertainty of everything made us instinctively want to save, to hoard..
     And then there was the neighborhood.  In the summer and fall of 2001 we saw several close neighbors and loved ones move away, highlighting the fact that our neighborhood was transitioning down, not up.  I am a people person and seeing several close friends move within months of each other actually caused me to grieve.  I wrote about how, when one neighbor told me she was moving, I walked home, closed the door, and burst into tears.
   And then there was family.  That summer part of our extended family had fragmented as a dear couple headed toward divorce. Acrimonious feelings were stirred up; people "took sides" and offered unwanted "advice".   Before the various parts of the family eventually reconciled with each other things got worse instead of better and, of course, Christmas was the time when this situation was at its rock-bottom worst.
  And then there was our church home.  According to my journal we had been told that unless our church finances turned around soon, there was the possibility that within six months  our congregation would have to close its doors.  This came on the heels of a church split and the news that one of our leaders had embezzled funds...  So, yes, even in our church, which we loved dearly, things were unraveling at the seams that jolly Christmas season..
   And so I did what I always do when stressed... I journaled:

    And so it just doesn't seem to be shaping up to be a great Christmas for us this year.
   In fact, it seems to be shaping up to be more like the first Christmas for us this year.  There were only three of them in the stable. It looks like there will just be three of us in our home.  Which means that frantic preparations for the perfect, traditional Christmas meal won't  be so frantic.  And I guess we'll just be forced to enjoy each other's company...
   Because we are excluded from part of our extended family, there won't be many presents under the tree.  So I guess all the ravaging of packages and all the yuletide greed of tossing one present in our haste to get to the next, will be sadly lessened.  What a shame...
   And if we give to charity organizations, since my husband's job future is a little iffy, I guess it will be not just a neat thing to do at Christmas but a slightly uncomfortable thing for us to do.  It won't be a "roasting chestnuts over the fire kind of thing" but rather an "in God we trust instead of money type of thing".  Now that's a stretch.
   And instead of blandly accepting family or complaining about those pesky in-laws, we'll have time to calculate the worth of the people who won't be at our table and to meditate on ways to mend tears in hearts, searching for the magic ointments  that can heal all our wounds:  forgiveness, humbleness, repentance, and grace.
   And we'll find those things, not under the tree, not at the table, not in the faces of family, not in the warmth of our church, not even in our own hearts which are still bruised and hurting and still, unfortunately, capable of striking out like a viper at those we love and of being struck in return.  But in a cattle trough.  In the tiny face of a baby who symbolizes all that we desperately need right now. The love that we associate with family.  The peace that surpasses all understanding and is apart from circumstances.  The sense of something permanent - Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever - in a world that has become quicksand to our psyches.  The freedom to drop our masks and come  poor, naked, blind - just as we are - to the Son of Man who healed the blind, made the lame to walk, and who became sin for us so that we might become rich in Him.
    This Christmas, for those who are away in Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf, Christ was away from His Home also.  He left Heaven to come to earth.  What a bummer it must have been, to trade the halls of Glory for a stable.  Yet, wherever He is, there is Glory.  And He knows how to prepare a feast for His children even in the presence of the enemy.  Even miles from home.
    For those who have empty places at the table for whatever reason, Christ was born in a barn because there was no room for Him in the inn.  He knows what it is like to be unwanted, to be rejected, to be shut out, to be separated from others. (Only, unlike us, He didn't have a hand in bringing the rejection about). The truth is that  He knows more about rejectioin than anyone because Revelation 3 says that He has been knocking on the doors of our hearts, hoping that we would open the door so that He could come in and fellowship with us.  Two thousand years is a long time to be knocking on doors...   Let's all be sure that He, at least, is not looking for a way inside our hearts this season - that His seat is not vacant too.
     For those who won't be setting a place for loved ones anymore because they are gone, the good news is that Christ conquered death, once and for all.  He has taken its sting away and one day even the physical aspect of it will be removed.  The grave could not hold Him. It cannot hold us either.  As Dwight L. Moody once said, "Someday you will read in the paper that I am dead.   Don't you believe it.  I'll be more alive then than I've ever been."
    And for those who hate change, who hate to see people grow old and move away or neighborhoods that were once "nice" evolve into an area of urban decay, the Bible has a word for us also.  Like the people in Hebrews 11 we are to look for the city which has foundations, the  one city which has no human architect.  The only city with permanence where, according to I Peter, we will receive our inheritance:  the outcome of the testing of our faith which will be more valuable than gold.
    For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.
    God's treasure once lay in a feeding trough.  That Treasure was then marred beyond recognition, beaten into fine blood-red gold on the cross and finally tailored to fit the human heart at the empty grave.  With it, Christmas can't be stopped.  Without it, Christmas can't be had.

    I don't know what your circumstances are.  Perhaps you are weighted down, as I am, with the ramped-up, hard-to-fathom level of suffering in the world around us.  Maybe you are grappling with the death of a loved one, the advent of the dreaded word "cancer", or even physical separation from loved ones in a way that seems so unjust. Maybe your church (or fellow Christians) have let you down or your sense of security has been lessened as more and more things around you begin to change. Maybe you feel that your whole world is fragmented and "Christmas" will never come again.
   I would like to suggest that Christmas is here and now, in the hot, humid month of August.
   Because Christmas is Christ and if you will lift your eyes above your circumstances, if you will  look up in faith, you will see Him and find reason to rejoice, even in the midst of all this.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Battle Is On...

        When our son was elementary age we listened to Focus on the Family Radio Theater when we went on long trips.  We all loved the Father Gilbert series; however, a couple of the shows were recommended for people over the age of 15 because of the content of the show and so David didn't get to hear those programs way back when.  One of those programs was called Dead Air and I have to admit that it wasn't my favorite  by any means simply because it was a little creepy.
       Over the past decade or so, those particular cd's have gotten scratched and/or broken so I ordered a new set and decided to listen to them again, this time  in the order in which they were done.  Dead Air was the first in the series; I listened to it yesterday and had a different response to it this time around.
     The series revolves around an Anglican priest who solves mysteries, drawing on his "former life" as a detective with Scotland Yard as well as  his current experiences as a priest.  The first episode is a dramatic sequel to the tragic case that drove Gilbert out of police work and into a monastery many years earlier.
    The audience learns that after 15 years Father Gilbert still carries a heavy sense of responsibility for his last case, a pivotal one involving a runaway teen-age girl from a good Christian family.  He and his partner managed to track the missing sixteen-year-old  down and at that point, Gilbert had a couple of options as to how to handle the girl. He chose option A, the girl died tragically, and his life became tormented by questions of what if?  What if he had chosen option B?  Would the girl have lived?   In the monastery, he grapples with his responsibility for the death of the girl as well as with the nature of evil.  The result is a major career change.
     And now, 15 years later, Father Gilbert's first "case" as a priest begins when an anonymous (and weirdly malicious) caller begins to taunt Gilbert with his past failure.  Things, of course, quickly become complicated and while a lot of the story is a straightforward murder mystery,  there is definitely a supernatural element to the narrative as well. The caller refers to himself as "Legion" - which is a Biblical reference to a group of demons - and at times he knows things that a mere human being couldn't possibly know.
    When I heard the dramatization years ago, I  disliked the creepy phone calls and taped messages and thought the whole thing was a little too weird.  This time, for some reason, I picked up on the underlying message about the nature of evil.
    The caller explains that evil doesn't want to eradicate good because the whole focus of evil is to corrupt -if everyone becomes "bad", then there is no one left to corrupt which means that basically all the "fun" would be taken out of life for this particular villain.  I thought about why extremists and their followers capture school girls and rape them or force them into a life of sex slavery. Or why we have heard (and continue to hear) horrific stories of evil men raping women and girls in front of their fathers and brothers.  This time I got the message: evil isn't satisfied with just stealing and killing, evil also has to corrupt.
   The weird caller also says something that really arrested my attention:  the goal of evil isn't just to maim and kill - in the caller's words, those acts are "child's play".  Instead, "Legion" goes on to gleefully talk about how the object of evil is to accomplish so much more than just physical harm - its ultimate goal is to destroy the souls of men and to eradicate faith.
   And I understood something in real time: the atrocities in Iraq are meant to destroy faith, to maim and cripple souls - that's why the physical crimes are so heinous.    A five-year-old child isn't shot; he's hacked to death in front of others.  And the souls of those watching in either horror or in satanic triumph are seared. Memories are corrupted. Hearts are inflamed with a desire for revenge (or for more blood lust) and whatever faith the on-lookers have is in mortal danger of being abandoned  altogether or corrupted into something that scarcely resembles the pure faith which emanates from God and is rewarded by Him.
    Towards the end of the radio narrative, Father Gilbert has an interesting conversation with his secretary. He asks if evil can  possess a person. She asks if he means like in the movies and he says no, implying that essentially he's talking about something more subtle than what Holly wood likes to portray.
    The secretary replies that men possess the power to do evil but evil powers cannot possess men.  The program clearly sides with Father Gilbert's growing belief that evil powers can possess men, destroy their hearts and minds, and then use those victims to destroy others.
    When David was a child, I wouldn't have agreed with that assessment. And it's not my faith that has brought me to see evil in a different light; it's having taught scores of kids about the Holocaust (which I assured my first classes would never be repeated again because men would never forget the horrors of WWII...), about the killing fields of Cambodia, about the genocide in Rwanda, and, well, you get the idea...
    Now, as I near my seventh decade, I not only believe evil powers can drive humans to do inhuman things (in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, North Korea...) but I understand what is at stake: nothing less than the souls of men and the faith of human beings.
    And I've written all that to say this:  for the survivors of the atrocities of the ISIL the real battle has yet to begin.  We need to pray that for those who do survive this horrible time, that their faith will not falter and evil will not win, that evil will not overcome good in individual hearts, minds, and lives - because that is what is ultimately at stake here in this current battle between good and evil, between God and Satan.  Evil doesn't just want to rob and kill, it wants to rob humanity of its soul and that is something we are obligated to pray against.
    May we lift our suffering brothers and sisters up in Nigeria as they anguish over their abducted children. And may we do the same for the innocent who are suffering in Iraq and Syria.
   May the things that break God's heart break ours.   And may we be found faithful to pray earnestly not only for  physical protection and provision for people in the Middle East and parts of Africa but also  for God to redeem the souls of men in peace from the battle that is probably only just beginning for many survivors.

Psalm 55:18-19aNew American Standard Bible (NASB)

18 He will redeem my soul in peace [a]from the battle which is against me,
For they are many who strive with me.
19 God will hear and [b]answer them—
Even the one who [c]sits enthroned from of old— Selah.

Iraqi Children in Amman celebrating Easter

Arabic symbol for Christian that terrorists paint on the outside of homes in Iraq, earmarking them for persecution.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

To Live Again...

      It hasn't happened in a long time, thankfully, but last night I woke up at 3 a.m.  Wide awake, knowing instantly that I'd be alert for a while and that rolling over and going back to sleep was not going to be an option - at least not for a while.
      I thought about something I had read earlier, excerpts from a book called, Now You See Me... by Kathy Sanders.  I don't know Kathy but I saw her many years ago on television. It was April 1995 and Kathy was unknowingly being filmed while she frantically searched for her two grandsons, Chase and Colton, hoping against hope that they had not died in the bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma.
      They had.
      Their bodies were recovered and in that instant, Kathy's life was changed and so was that of her entire family.  Her twenty-three year-old daughter had lost her two pre-schoolers.  Her husband would lose his faith and then, two years later, he would die of pancreatic cancer - believing that the stress of losing Chase and Colton brought on his final illness.
      Both Kathy and her husband were dissatisfied with the information that came out in court concerning the Oklahoma bombing. Both believed that the federal government didn't do a thorough investigation and failed to bring to justice everyone involved in the bombing.  They wanted answers and would go to great lengths to get those answers.
     Glen used the last two years of his life to search for the truth regarding the bombing.  His search didn't give him peace, yield the answers he was looking for, or preserve his faith in God.  Kathy went on to contact both Terry NIchols and Timothy McVeigh, the men who were convicted of the bombing.  Timothy never responded to Kathy and never showed remorse before he was finally executed.  Terry did, however, respond to Kathy and they eventually formed a friendship.  She began contact with him and maintained it for two reasons:  she wanted Terry to reveal information she felt he was hiding about the bombing.  And she wanted to obey Scripture which says that we are to forgive our enemies, pray for those who hurt us, and do good to them.
     She didn't get the information from Nichols that she wanted.
     But in praying for him, forgiving him, and reaching out in love to his family members, she did find peace.  Hope.  And the will to live again.
     Last night as I lay in the dark for over two hours, trying not to disturb my husband who had to go to work this morning, Kathy's story kept coming to mind, along with some verses.
     Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding...   Proverbs 3:5
     I felt I understood Kathy Sanders' passion to ferret out the truth behind the malicious murder of her young grandsons.  I also have a desire to analyze and to understand things that stress and/or hurt me.
     Last night, however, the words of Proverbs 3:5 seemed to glow in the dark, almost as if they were dancing in front of my eyes...
     Lean not on your own understanding...
     The truth is that leaning on her own understanding and the understanding of others didn't bring Kathy peace; faith did.  And the outworking of her faith required something that was humanly impossible: the forgiveness of the ones who blew up her little grandsons.
     I heard a woman from Iraq, Takoosh Hosvespian, speak on this same subject two weeks ago.  Her husband was killed 20 years ago, martyred for his faith, waylaid by men Takoosh knew, men who stabbed her husband, Haik, over 25 times in the chest.  Their indefensible act left  her a single mom in a hostile country trying to raise four children on next to nothing.
     Takoosh wanted revenge for a long time.  I can understand that also.
     However, one day a Christian sister in the Lord gently confronted her with the words of Jesus - if you want to be like your Father in Heaven, you must forgive, you must pray for those who hurt you, you must bless your enemies.
     Takoosh said she was torn between wanting to get even with the murderers of her husband and with wanting to obey her Savior.  She wrestled for a bit and then chose to obey by saying prayers for her enemies but, as she put it, with her mouth only, not with her heart.  For a long time, all she could do was mouth the prayers of forgiveness, of blessing, for the men who had left her a widow.
    Over time, however, the words began to flow from her heart and, like Kathy, Takoosh found peace.  Hope.  And the will to live again.
    As I lay in the dark last night, thinking about these things, it seemed to me that I could see refusal to forgive and and  the subsequent bitterness stretching out like an onerous metal chain with huge links, shackling Christians who have been snared in the throes of an unforgiving heart -opening up a pathway to all things that are apart from God, to all things that are lifted up in opposition to God, to all things that are diabolically opposed to the peace of God.
   I have read that bitterness opens us up to all things that are ugly.
   Having experienced bitterness and an unforgiving heart myself, I believe it.
   It's hard to forgive. Partly because it's painful to acknowledge how deeply we have been emotionally mauled by family, friends, enemies,ourselves, and/or even fellow Christians. If we don't acknowledge what really happened to us, we can't really forgive it.  How can your forgive something that to one degree or another you deny?
   To forgive takes time; vulnerability; honesty; raw, painful obedience; and above all, the power of God.
   To withhold obedience and forgiveness - if allowed to go on long enough - eventually can rob us of everything good.  Even our faith. It can open us up to spiritual deception and lead us into erroneous decisions of all kinds. It's a chain that can link us to atheism, agnosticism, or even a form of godliness that denies the power thereof.  It can fog our understanding and cause us to unknowingly blaspheme God by our actions which may be at variance with our words.
   Maybe this is why Jesus taught us to pray:
  And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors... Matthew 6:12
  Not because God is a softy on justice  - He established governments for the purpose of administering justice on earth and He has promised complete justice in eternity future.
  But because God doesn't want us to have a direct connect to all things that are apart from God, to all things that are lifted up in opposition to God, to all things that are diabolically opposed to the peace of God. Instead He wants us to trust Him and that type of trust is, apparently, at variance with our own understanding.  We can lean on our own understanding, pin our hopes on justice, and eschew forgiveness... Or we can trust God.
   Why does He ask us to forgive?
   Because He wants us to live again...  Truly.
Chase and Colton Smith

Kathy Wilburn Sanders in 1995

Kathy Wilburn Sanders today

Pastor Haik Hosvespian

Takoosh Hosvespian