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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


I went to sleep at 1 a.m. last night - which is pretty normal for me. At 5 a.m. our son opened our bedroom door, which is not normal. Light flooded in and I think I yelled... a tiny bit.
Phil had parked the van behind the car DAvid is driving and David doesn't have a key to the van so before the crack of dawn DAvid was standing in our doorway whispering, "Mom! Mom! I need the key to the van! I have to move it so I can get to work!"
We took care of that and then I fell into a light sleep before waking up at 6:30 when Phil left the house. Then I woke up at 8 but went back to sleep and slept soundly (finally) until 9:30. (The joys of being retired!) At that point I panicked because I was supposed to be at a neighbor's house by 10. So I frantically scrambled around here in order to make it on time.
When I got to my neighbor's house, he told me a friend had called and asked if he was okay - that the news had mentioned a shooting on our street and given his address.. We both kind of looked at each other and I said, "Doesn't look like anyone was shot here to me..." He said, "No, not that I know of..."
My phone started ringing - another neighbor calling - and at the same time I got a text from my sister-in-law. I glanced down at the text from my sister-in-law, not realizing it was the second one she had sent me and saw something like, "Okay. It was at the other end of your street, near the woods." ????
By this time I'm thinking: I really should have gotten up at 8 instead of going back to sleep... Brain is still struggling when apparently all the little grey cells need to be up and firing...
The bottom line is that we have about 30 or more new brick homes that have gone in at the end of our street. Most of them haven't been occupied yet although almost all have "sold" signs on them. Some houses are still going up, driveways being poured, sod still being laid, etc. It was in one of these new homes that a shooting occurred last night, the last place we would have expected it.
I don't know anything about the family who lives there and obviously feel sorry for them. But we are fine and didn't even know it happened until I started getting texts.
So that's been my morning... Had a great visit with a friend of mine who met me at the neigbhor's house - the three of us laughed and talked and then briefly prayed at the very end of our visit. Afterwards Stephanie and I drove into the new housing division and saw a Channel 11 reporter standing beside the house in question, talking into a mic while a cameraman filmed it. And that was it. I came home and checked the news on the internet to find out what was going on so if you watched the news first thing this morning or read the paper, you knew more about it than I did...

I have thought quite a bit this afternoon about what Corrie ten Boom wrote - that there is no place safer to be than in the will of God and I hope/trust we are in it. No doubt we will be praying and checking with God just to be sure He still wants us here.
I have also thought a lot about things I've heard recently from people who either have grown kids on the mission field or who are home on furlough from the mission field. Some of the things I've heard have made me ramp up prayers for their safety in areas I never even thought of as being particularly dangerous.
And the last thing I thought of is that this is the mosaic of life: joy and laughter with friends, sadness and tragedy just a few blocks down the street... Death coming unexpectedly to an older, seemingly stable resident while a house not far from us that is definitely associated with young people on drugs - that house is untouched. We may think we'll know when our time is coming but we really don't know when we'll leave this earth. We can, however, know our destination if we belong to Jesus.
So my big concern right now is: did I pass out a Christmas baggie to that house last Dec? ANd did our 2014 greeting in the Christmas baggie have a plain enough message about the gospel so that anyone could understand it? I really can't remember if we got to that house or not and that is what bothers me - that and the grief they must be experiencing today. How I pray (and ask you to pray) that they do not grieve as those who have no hope in Christ.
The truth is that the Bible says it is appointed for each of us to die some day and after death there is judgment. However, Romans 8:1 says that for the Christian, there is no condemnation. This is not a small thing.... At all.
So, yes, we need to be ready. But our neighbors need to be ready also. And if we don't tell them, who will?

Monday, July 13, 2015

When the Impossible becomes Possible...

I have been thinking about something that may look both simple and impossible at the same time: forgiveness.  

Sometimes forgiveness really is simple - no big deal.  The initial offense was not that bad.   We can simply process the incident rationally, remember times when we’ve hurt others, and forgive.

However there are those traumatic experiences that cut deeply.  Or those prolonged experiences where we forgive and it happens again, usually with some loved one whom we want to believe and/or someone we feel we can't just cut out of our lives.  Sometimes it happens with a person who has what I call a "cat and mouse" mentality.

The cat/mouse person is good at pouring on the love but they can't help mixing the good with the bad - loving and nurturing for an indeterminate amount of time but always falling back at some point on the tools of their trade:  the silent treatment, sarcasm/belittling words, outbursts of anger that can go on for hours, attempts at intimidation, deception, and in too many cases, actual physical harm.

In those cases, forgiveness is the same as in the first case scenario -  it is an act of the will.  But because of the depth of the hurt, what is doable in the first case seems impossible in the second case.

For a minute, I'd like to turn that question around.  What if you are the person who has been the "bad guy"?    What if you are the one who “occasionally lets their temper get the best of them”? The person who repeatedly slanders others? The salesman who is mostly above board in all his dealings? (Note: another problem with forgiveness – we tend to minimize our sins while magnifying others).

Or let’s up the ante.  What if you are the wife - as an older lady once confided in me in a very sanguine fashion - who just couldn't be faithful to her husband?  The woman I knew said her husband was a good man and she knew it was wrong to cheat on him but she just couldn’t help herself.  And even as she told me, I have to say that she didn’t sound too remorseful.

What if you are the guy who swindled a handful of elderly people out of their life savings?  Or maybe you just slipped a few dollars here and there out of the company till, intending to pay it back but not really being too concerned about it because, after all, you worked hard and you deserved it.

Or maybe it’s really bad – maybe you are the guy who accidentally killed someone else while driving drunk as a neighbor of mine did when he was very young – a thing he could never erase from his mind and/or make restitution for.  The memory of it followed him to an early grave.

I wonder if we could take it a step further.  Let’s say you've committed some heinous sin against another, either over a prolonged period of time or in just a onetime event.  And now you've changed.  To put it in Christian terms, you have repented.  You've stopped what you were doing and you've started doing the opposite, either through a self-help program or through the grace of God.  (Personally I recommend the grace of God).

Can you ever truly make up for the anguish you've caused another?   What I mean is this:  you can start doing good deeds - and that's a great thing to do.  You can give money to the ex-wife you withheld support from for 10 years - and you should.   Or you can begin to "pay" for your bad deeds by giving back to humanity in general terms through great programs like "Habitat for Humanity".  

 Essentially we can make amends for some of the damage caused, but there are some things which simply can't be “fixed”.  The memories of daddy grabbing mommy and throwing her up against the wall once in a while can linger for a long time. The sleepless nights while the abandoned mom cries and wrestles with “what ifs”.  The family who visits a grave every year because of an intoxicated driver. 

We can readily see that those are heinous offenses which leave indelible scars on the heart.

For those of us who believe in God, what about His heart?

When King David committed adultery and murder, he recognized that his sin went beyond the human drama that we can easily see.  To the surprise of many who read the Bible, David cried out to God, "Against You, You only, I have sinned.   And done what is evil in Your sight.”  Psalms 51:4.

 Yet when the prophet Nathan convicted David by telling him the story of a rich man who stole the poor man's only sheep, David got it.  He knew what he had done, he knew that his sin was against Bathsheba as well as against all of Uriah's loved ones. He knew he was the rich bum who callously betrayed one of his military leaders and then took this man’s life in order to “beat the rap” that would surely come if his sin was known.  (Uriah would have been justified in leading a revolt against David and it is possible that as a military leader of integrity, he could have done it).

However when King David came before God in anguish, he recognized something deeper: that his sin was ultimately, at rock bottom level,   an offense against His God.  In other words, his sin had wounded the heart of his God as all sin, large and small, does.

DAvid had consequences to bear here on earth and they were serious.  (Note that David’s punishment fit his sin – he wasn’t told to go out into the desert somewhere and become a hermit but rather he was told that bloodshed and betrayal  would become a part of his family life.  And it did. In the natural order of things, sin begets sin.).   

 But what about his responsibility before Almighty God - how could he bear that? How could he just make his sin against the heart of God… go “poof” and simply disappear? Because again, sin is not just a matter of the flesh but also of the heart, of the soul.  And God has the biggest heart of all as well as the only pure one.

Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned…

All sin, ultimately, is an arrow, a dagger, or a sword which pierces the heart of God.   Because God is complete love, He feels that wound. And there is no amount of good deeds that we can ever do to remove that wound from the heart of our God.

So He did it for us. He sent His Son, who knew no sin – none at all – to live on earth, suffer  and die on a cross, to pay for each and every sin that we have or could ever commit.  (God didn’t just make a list of our sins and cross them out as He hung on the cross, He felt them as if they were things He Himself had done, the heat of anger or lust as well as the shame and the guilt.  He who knew NO sin became sin on our behalf.  II Cor. 5:21)

Whether our sins were (in our eyes) mere pinpricks or darts lobbed at the heart of God (I shouldn’t have said that but it’s no big deal) or whether they were heinous stabs at the heart of God, God and God alone can (and does) wipe our slate clean.  In God's economy there is nothing left that we owe or need to do in order to remove all barriers between us and His unrelenting, sustaining love. Because there never was anything we could do in the first place. 

And it is when we understand the gravity of our sin and the totality of God’s forgiveness that we are set free to forgive others. 

Or to put it another way, when we realize the enormity of what God did for us, dying for us while we were yet sinners, then we can forgive others.

Today, what is the basis of your life? Are you operating out of the sure knowledge that God loves you, will always love you, will never leave you, and has removed your sins from you as far as the East is from the West, never to bring them up against you again?  (Romans 8:1).

If so, then you can forgive.

After all, what can the one who has hurt you  do … that will make things right?  And maybe more to the point, what can he/she do that God cannot and has not already done for you?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Falling Through an American Looking Glass

I have a feeling this isn't going to make anybody happy. But these are my thoughts on current issues:
1. We live in a republic where majority rules. I've followed the trends in current thinking and while I don't agree with them all, I fully expected gay marriage to be legalized in all states eventually by popular vote. And because I value the type of government that we have (as opposed to dictatorships, monarchies, theocracies, military juntas, etc), I am pretty much okay with that.
2. And yet... at one time our populist votes in the South upheld slavery and in the Dred Scott Decision so did the Supreme Court. And I've never been okay with that...
3. It's not a cliche to say that "tolerance" means to respectfully agree to disagree. Now it seems to have morphed into this: tolerance means that you give up your beliefs in order to whole-heartedly embrace an opposing belief and/or to embrace the logically impossible belief that all positions are equally valid. IF you have two contradictory ideas, they can both be wrong. However, they cannot both be right. Tolerance means we are allowed to hold onto and respectfully express our opinions while others are allowed to do the same thing.
4. Frankly, I wonder when we will get our heads out of the bedroom. Sex sells everything. Tires. Food. Household cleaners. Toilet paper. Cars. Reality shows (Now THERE is an oxymoron..) And now it determines our identity. (REally? What if you are celibate? Is that your identity?? Hi, my name is _______, I've never had sex with anyone so I sort of, don't have an identity... I mean, I'm not heterosexual, homosexual, transgender sexual, bi-sexual, polygamous, monogamous. I just... sort of... don't do it....)
5. While I get it that Americans deserve equal legal rights, I don't get this sappy, sentimental view of marriage and love. Has anyone looked at the divorce rate lately??? I have a good marriage and I'm thankful. But there have still been times when I could have put Phil out on the curb with the morning trash and many more times when he could have (justifiably!) done the same thing to me. The reason we have a good marriage is because we've worked hard and fought to have a good marriage.
The stuff about the honeymoon ending and about squeezing the toothpaste tube from the wrong end - that stuff IS NOT A JOKE. Marriage and parenthood are the HARDEST things I have ever done!!! Phil and I have changed each other but I can't say it's always been for the best. Hopefully more good than bad here but those bad habits have a way of rubbing off on our loved ones just as the good habits do. (I have certainly, undeniably lowered Phil's standards of perfection... )
Basically the Bible has it right - any improvement that comes from marriage is like iron sharpening iron. (Think white hot metal sparks flying from time to time as in when someone is welding steel bars together). It's not this dewy eyed picture that we get married, we blissfully enlarge each other's world view, change habits, and "improve" one another while sipping from wine glasses on the beach of life.
But even more important: when did marriage become a requirement for becoming better than we already are? Excuse me??? What about the single adults in this world?? Is there no hope for them?? Gosh, I guess Corrie ten Boom and Mother Theresa totally missed the boat - poor things never experienced fulfillment or that chance to become the "more" that they were meant to be. Which, now that I think about it, means that Elizabeth Taylor, Stephen Fry, Rosie O'Donnell, Mickey Rooney, Larry King, Kenny Rogers, and Martin Scorsese are the most fulfilled, completed, blissful people on the planet. Because if an active sexual life within the confines of marriage is a requirement for happiness... then they must, by default, lead the way...
When I was a single adult, I heard a pastor say: do NOT choose your future partner on the basis of passion. Why? Because there are 23 other hours in the day... I was a bit shocked at the time but, you know what? He had a valid point... smile emoticon
You don't have to be a heterosexual to be a Christian. But you do have to respect God's word which teaches that we are not defined by our passions but by our identity in Christ. Which teaches that He is the potter and we are the clay. Which means He has the right to set moral boundaries which we are to observe, regardless of how our hormones are bouncing around inside of us. Which means that sex is meant to be between one man and one woman within the bonds of a covenant relationship.
Those restrictions are not comfortable. You mean I can't stand my husband and yet I can't get him to agree to a divorce so... it's not okay for me to have an affair? Or you mean my wife has a chronic illness so it's wrong for me to have sexual relations with other women once in a while even though I love my wife and I don't love the other person? Or what if I have strong feelings for two guys at the same time? (Ado Annie in "Oklahoma" would get some interesting advice today, based on how we define "fulfillment" emoticon Or you mean I'm single and I can't just go sleep with whomever I want? (I remember a dear friend of mine who had just become a Christian. She'd led a bit of a wild child lifestyle prior to this. Totally new to Christianity and very honest, she once asked her mentor, "What does a Christian do when they feel horny?" (I apologize if that offends any of those old enough to recognize the slang. But I have to say, it led to one of the most interesting discussions we ever had in our single adult Bible study... Ha!)
For those who don't accept the Bible as an authority when it comes to moral issues, I don't expect you to agree with me. I do respect your right to express your own opinions and also expect you to return the same courtesy to me.
But above all, I wish that our society could get over the idea that our sex life defines us and that marriage magically conveys personal growth and fulfillment which (by implication) singleness can never do.
What a crock...
When innocent people (Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis) are being beheaded by terrorists, we can't seem to get our heads out of the bedroom. Or wrap our minds around the concept that fulfillment in life does not come from sex and/or marriage.
Personally, I wish the Supreme Court had debated and decided that every American should contribute 50.00 a year to providing clean water to people in Third World countries.
But then, that's just me... Never was good at keeping my priorities straight...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Life Lesson from a Chihuahua...

     I'm sitting here with an (almost) toothless chihuahua wrapped in a baby blanket and resting on my lap.  She's pretty clueless.  We can bribe her (most of the time) into taking care of business in the front yard; however... she still has her "on purposes" inside the house from time to time.
    She can do a good imitation of a mule when it's raining, digging her heels in and refusing to leave the  front porch because a single drop of rain fell on her nose.  And yet  she can go right outside the side door, directly across our carport, to potty on the driveway in the same rain that is falling on the front yard and she has no problem with that.  (Can we say short term memory is, um, very short term??)
    Her communication skills are distinctly limited.  When she wants something, she does one of two things:  she either emits  a sound that is like an aborted growl or she gives off a plaintive half note of high pitched grief.  When she sees me opening the dog food each day, she does what we call her "happy dance" - circling around on the floor until it makes us dizzy (literally), beating out a tattoo of little feet on the kitchen tile so rapidly that the Shirley Temple version of a centipede could not begin to compete with her.
    She supplants Buddie, our other indoor dog who has all his teeth and outweighs her by ten pounds, by making him get off  his favorite pillow. How? She simply stands in front of the couch - all five pounds of her -  looks up at him (she has to look up to see just about anything!) and barks at him. That's it!   That's all she does!  And when he's heard enough, he jumps off the couch, gets on her cushion (which is on the floor), and probably thinks dark thoughts about the female of the species while she curls up in the spot that he has obligingly warmed up for her.    Does it bother her?  Not a bit.  She did it yesterday. She did it today. And she'll most likely do it again tomorrow.
    She hates men so when my husband or my son say anything to her, even in the most dulcet of tones, she growls at them.  And then expects them to feed her part of whatever they are eating.  Which they do...
     And no matter how many on-purposes she's had or how mean she's been to Buddie, she is always - and I mean always - confident that I'll welcome her with open arms whenever she wants to snuggle next to me in my chair or curl up on my lap.
    I don't know where the expression, "It's a dog's life" originated but it certainly didn't come from this house.
    Sometimes I look at her as she naps, scarfs food she didn't earn, happily chases the same squirrel in the front yard every day (never catches him which is good because he's bigger than her), and manages to get her way 9.5 times out of 10.
    And I wonder: between the two of us... which one is smarter?

   It's sad when a Chihuahua redefines your idea of heaven... Ha!
   But I do  have to admit that Gracie has seriously given me a better understanding of ... grace.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How Sure Is Your Footing?

      I thought I had an infinite ability to be lazy.
      Now I realize that I'm just  a marathon type of lazy person. (Oxymoron) and not an infinite slug.
      I have a dilemma.  I have had foot pain for a number of weeks now but my fear of doctors is greater than the inconvenience of the pain I'm experiencing.  I've had foot pain many years ago and finally, with some anxiety, went to a podiatrist who almost never used invasive procedures.  It turned out that I had Plantar Fasciitis and it could be handled with inserts.
      So this time around, I diagnosed my own foot problem - similar pains except this time it is in my heel instead of the arch of my foot.  I dragged out a couple of  inserts I bought way back when and wore them over time until I realized each one  was making my pain worse instead of better.
     This time around I have found that walking around in my sock feet and/or staying off of said feet causes the pain to virtually disappear. (Right now I have absolutely no pain).   But wearing shoes (with or without inserts) increases the pain to the point that I can hardly walk.  (The busy weekend I had just two days ago being a case in point).
     So yesterday I sat around all day long.  And virtually no pain last night or this morning.  My husband (patiently) listened to my detailed recital of all my foot problems over the weekend and my comparative ease yesterday and made this suggestion:  why don't you cancel your activities for a few days, stay off your feet - since that makes the pain go away - and see if your foot will heal?
    Cancel my activities?
    It's not like I'm overbooked here.
    I'm retarred and I don't even garden...
    Besides, I don't want to cancel my activities.  ONe day sitting on my duff is fine but two or three or four?  Plus, there are at least three things I feel I HAVE to do this week - they can't be put off.
    But if severely restricting my activity works and I don't have to go to a surgeon (um, doctor) then ...   I wrestled with that decision this morning and finally canceled activities for today (although maybe not for tonight!).
    But I didn't like it.  Two weeks ago I put almost everything on hold because I was sitting with a sick in-law for several days.  Now it's my foot.
    Call me "Unreliable".
    Call me... um... "Old".
    But then it hit me - maybe there is more to this than just what I can see.  Maybe... just maybe... God wants me to be still.  (So I can finish confessing all my uncharitable thoughts over the past couple of weeks while I was playing temporary caregiver?  So I can better put myself in the unlucky person's place who was temporarily dependent on me for a few days?)
    I know that God has a purpose for everything He allows or sends our way.  (I don't think He sent this foot problem my way - I think overeating, lack of exercise, standing on my feet for 30 years in the classroom, and the natural aging factor sent this "gift" my way). But still He can use whatever situation I find myself in.
    So last night I sat up until 3 a.m. - it's hard to sleep when you've done nothing all day long - and I read for a couple of hours in the book Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace.  Mr. Wallace was the one who led the conference this weekend that I was privileged to attend.
   And now I have time (!) to read his book.
   Mr. Wallace is well-educated, articulate, and sharp.   He has worn many hats in his lifetime but his primary career has been that of a police detective.  He worked his way up from an officer on the beat to homicide to a cold case detective.  Cold cases are murder investigations that have been unsolved for years and/or decades.
   In the numerous cases he has worked, he has found that DNA has not been helpful. Sometimes DNA even works against the detective by eliminating all the known suspects, leaving the police with no other avenue to explore.
   By the same token, a murder case of twenty years ago can be so "cold" that there are no witnesses around to interview when the case is being re-examined.   No new scientific data to shed light on the case?  No old eyewitnesses still around to talk to?
   How can you solve a case like that?
   In his book, Cold Case Christianity, on his website, and in his blog,, Mr. Wallace shows the average person how to apply cold 
case detective  skills to evaluating the reliability of the Gospels, the authenticity of the
 eyewitness accounts of the life of Christ, and  the information concerning the resurrection
 of Christ.    Using examples from cases that he has worked as a detective makes this a
somewhat different  and fascinating   look at an old story through a new lens.
  I highly recommend his writings and hope to share what I am learning through this blog.
  The most important thing in life, in my opinion, is to know that your world view is resting 
on solid footing, in step  with all the reasonable facts that are at our disposal.
   Ironically one foot problem =/ is giving me time to secure my religious footing amidst
 a world  full of deception.  And that is no small thing!
  As Paul wrote back in the first century: in everything give thanks!  So today I am 
thanking God for foot pain,  forced inactivity, and time to reflect.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hymns and Funeral Home Fans...

The past week and a half have been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
I don't like roller coaster rides at theme parks; I certainly don't like them in real life where there is no ticket taker with a measuring stick to ensure that you are tall enough to be allowed on the ride in the first place.
This morning I am so thankful, even buoyed up by the sparkling new day outside, the gorgeous sunshine after days of overcast skies and intermittent rain. I am grateful that this day is open for me to do whatever I want to do; that I don't have to cope with my sister-in-law this morning (and she with me!)
And yet....
I have gained some wisdom and it's this: the curtain will be raised on the next act in my sister-in-law's life sooner rather than later and it won't be good. Today is, I believe, just a small intermission in the drama of her life and consequently in the drama of all our lives.
The doctor took her staples out yesterday so she insisted on going to her house to resume her normal life. But she was seriously dehydrated Tuesday night and still running a fever when Phil took her home yesterday so how normal can her life be?
She lives by herself although she has neighbors who try to watch out for her. Over the past week or so, we've seen her take too much medicine and not be aware that she was doing it. We've seen her consistently eat almost nothing and drink almost nothing - some days a small container of yogurt, half a cup of black coffee, and half a can of TAB and nothing else until supper time where she would eat a little more but not much.
Yet for the most part, she is lucid and able to control her own affairs. She is the older sister and the dominant personality in the family. And she has long prided herself on being the master of her fate, the captain of her soul - although she would never put it that way.
But that's what it boils down to. No matter what topic arises in conversation, she has seen a documentary on t.v., heard about it on the radio, and/or read a book about it. In the past whenever she held forth on a topic, she was usually right and had info none of the rest had at our fingertips.
She was witty, beautiful, and outgoing and to some extent still is. (Part of the reason she wouldn't eat much was because she knew she wasn't getting much exercise and she didn't want to gain weight) She also has a generous heart and a will to help others - she has blessed quite a few people in her home town.
But her wit and wisdom have turned into self-serving monologues that tend to keep others at arm's length. And at this point, she is captaining her ship right onto some serious shoals and we know it's just a matter of time before either she calls us and is forced to ask for help again or someone else calls us on her behalf...
And, seriously, how do you navigate your own ship from this world to the next when you need help accomplishing the simplest things and you are perhaps a little too dependent on pain meds without realizing it?
Don't we need a Savior?
The sweetest time that I have had throughout this past week and a half came last Friday night while I was sitting in the car waiting for Phil to take care of a little task for friends who were away for a few days. There in the stillness of the night, just as I was about to become impatient, God met me.
I don't know how else to put it. One minute I was starting to fret and the next hymns from my childhood just started running through my mind - songs I haven't sung in years.
Silly songs like "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam..." smile emoticon
Childhood songs like "Jesus Loves Me," and "The B-I-B-L-E, Yes, That's the Book For Me!".
Girl's in Action (G. A.) songs like "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations."
Campfire songs like "I Have Decided To Follow Jesus."
And hymns that I associate with my grandmother's little country church (where the singing was less than stellar as I recall smile emoticon Songs such as: "There Is Power in the Blood," "Rescue the Perishing," and "Christ Receiveth Sinful Men."
This morning as I sat with my open hymnal, those old hymns plus words from a more  "citified"  hymn spoke to my heart:
Be still, my soul! the Lord is on thy side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul! thy best, thy heavenly Friend, thro' thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
"Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain.." (Be Still, My Soul)
Years ago I acquired a BSE, an MSE, and six graduate hours above that. I have spent most of the years of my adult life promoting education and reading every book I could get my hands on. I have enjoyed all types of music - especially the modern choruses. And I don't know that I have ever valued the "old-timey" hymns that my grandma sang enthusiastically off key while fanning herself with a Funeral Home fan in a swelteringly hot country church.
Until now...
This is the bottom line: throughout the lows of these past 12 days, it has been those old, long discarded, "corny" hymns of humid summer Sundays and mosquito- ridden week night revival meetings that God has used to minister to my troubled heart; it has most definitely not been lessons learned at a professor's knee or facts gleaned from my honor's paper or all the books I read during my post graduate summer seminar on world cultures - as interesting as those things were.
No. The truth is: we are not masters of our fate nor are we captains of our souls. How can we be when we gradually lose the ability to recall and/or master the simplest of tasks?
The Bible has it right: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73:26)
Today I am so thankful that I learned this truth at my mother's knee and heard it warbled off key ad nauseam in my grandmother's small church where harmony was not at a premium but gritty faith was.
Please keep praying for my sis-in-law.
Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.
Sing it o’er and over again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him, for His Word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.
Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Heaven with Him I enter in.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

God... Are You serious....?????

They say confession is good for the soul.

This is the deal: I fell in love with the Bible study, What Love Is...(as everyone knows by now.) So when I finished it in early March, I immediately started right back on session 1. (As everyone knows by now...) And I loved it just as much as I had before!!! Week one and week two and the first three days of week three were great! Uplifting beyond words! Just like before!
But then...
The workbook and the Scripture didn't change but life did....
Suddenly a relative needed help while recovering from a nasty fall and subsequent surgery. I'm the only one in the family not working so I didn't hesitate to volunteer.
I knew everything would be a little different but it would only be for a few days; plus I'm a loving kind of people-person - so I really had no doubt that I could do it. I understood that the "patient" thinks my personal beliefs are unenlightened and that it's her job to educate me. And it's pretty obvious that she thinks she has the low down on every topic under the sun. (But I know she doesn't ... because, actually, I do... And since we hardly see eye to eye on anything we can't both be right.) And I knew that she was a bit demanding and not prone to express appreciation- although I'm sure she feels it. And I knew that she has a tendency to talk non-stop for,,,, well... hours at a time. But it would only be for a week or two at the most so while I wasn't jumping for joy over the temporary assignment, I wasn't too worried either.
In fact, looking back I can honestly say that the things that did cause me unease were mechanical issues such as how we would manage the bathroom thing. Or the eating thing. Or the being woozy-headed while walking thing. Or the re-bandaging the wound thing.
But I always fell back on this thought: it's only for a few days so how hard can it be?
Well, it's this hard: by the end of my third day of cheerful, selfless,loving care giving ( /= )I was literally wondering whose head I should beat against the wall - mine or hers... You may think I'm kidding but I assure you that I'm not.
And during the day before that, after one particularly testy and prolonged monologue where I received unwanted instruction on everything from A to Z, I opened my Bible Study workbook only to get this message: lack of love for a brother or sister is a sure sign that you are not in fellowship with God.
And I just wanted to look up at the Heavens and yell, "God! Are You SERIOUS???? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do you KNOW what I'm having to put up with??? And besides that, SHE STARTS IT !!! EVERY SINGLE BLINKING TIME!!!! I DON'T BRING UP THE CONTROVERSIAL STUFF!!! AND I SURE DON'T EVER GET TO FINISH IT ... BECAUSE I CAN HARDLY GET A BLOOMING WORD IN EDGEWISE!!!!"
However, I didn't yell (out loud anyway). Instead I finished day four's lesson because I didn't want to fall behind...and took some aspirin...
Amazing how quickly a Bible passage can lose it's luster...
The next day's lesson was, truthfully, even worse. I opened my workbook and this appeared before my mutinous eyes: Jesus told us that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for someone else.
Seriously?? Lord, I am contemplating laying HER life down... not mine...
However, I quickly realized that it was okay because this passage would apply to someone who was in a war zone or a robbery or something like that and therefore was not likely to happen.
I resumed my lesson and the author got to me, as if she had been reading my torqued little mind. Basically I encountered words to this effect: if we just look at that verse in John as if it refers to our physical life only, we've missed the point. Having to die physically to protect someone is not likely to happen to most of us. Plus physical death is actually easier than laying your life down day by day in little ways and large ways for the sake of others.
I cried. Not a lot but enough to show me where my heart was. Tears of self-pity. Tears of wounded pride. Tears of selfishness.
Not repentant tears and not confessional tears.
I came face to face with my own heart and immediately looked away. Soon afterwards I went home (venting all the way), proceeded to eat chocolate (by the barrel full), and watched a movie (Jane Austen).
This morning was beautiful and the patient was sleeping so I sat outside on a screened-in porch, surrounded by the delightful music of birds in spring. I didn't have an excuse not to do my Bible study so after some procrastination (where I nursed my grudges from the previous days) I opened up my workbook (with some trepidation) and read this:
"You may be in a place where the Lord is calling you to lay your life down for another in a specific instance. If this is you - even if it seems like the most insignificant of ways - respond to God about what He's asking of you."
Well...I did...
My response took up a closely written page - I couldn't even begin to fit it into the answer space provided on the workbook page so I didn't even try. Ha!
And then I read the next question:
"You may need a deeper understanding of the love that God poured out on you. You'll never love others if you haven't first grasped His love. Spend more time asking the Lord to open your eyes to the way He's poured His love out for you."
"You'll never love others if you haven't first grasped His love..."
Okay, Lord, please open my eyes and show me Your love that you have poured out on me...
And this is what He showed me: this current trial was a lavish outpouring of His love...
I cried again. This time with repentance and gratitude. While He continued to open my eyes.
He showed me that it was His plan for this unpalatable task to clash with the very lesson I was working on at this exact time in this exact week,month,and year.
Not because He hates me (or my long-suffering in-law) but because He wanted the words on the printed page - guidance in truth and instruction in how to both receive love and give it away - He wanted those words to move from my head to my heart.
And because He wanted me to see the paucity of my own ability to love so that I would discard my pride and reach out for a deeper in-filling of His.
That's it. He just wanted to pour out more love on me and my pride was preventing Him from doing that. So He put me in a situation where pride had to go out the window.
Now that I've been a caregiver for a whacking four whole days, I can honestly say that I don't know how stuff like this ever works on the strictly human level - I tried and just couldn't make it happen without gritting my teeth and/or wanting to do bodily harm to the one I was supposed to be loving.
But now I know how it works on the supernatural level: you admit you stink at selfless loving. That's the first step. Then you ask Him to fill you up to the brim with His supernatural love until it just slops over onto those around you. That's it: step 1, step 2. He does the rest. (Note: you don't ask Him - through gritted teeth - to give you more love for the one who is driving you crazy - which is the way I had been going about it).
By the way, I highly recommend the Bible study - What Love Is... by Kelly Minter.
I just thought I'd mention it in case I haven't told you already...