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?