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TRIED BY FIRE

lightning-photo-for-free-download Our noses deep in the very popular school Science book, my children and I read “No one has ever seen the end of a rainbow.” We looked at each other and then broke out in laughter. Coming home from church one Sunday, we pulled into the driveway. There, as brilliant as could be, was the end of a gorgeous rainbow! The bad news: there was no pot of gold. No pot of anything–just the rays of the colors. The amazing thing is, about three years later it happened again. This time we were living further north in Florida, and I remember kidding the family that God must be reminding Himself that He was not going to destroy us personally!

That was an extremely unique experience, but the most amazing scene of all was a late afternoon thunderstorm. You can be aware that the sky is turning dark, when all of a sudden a clap of thunder comes, or a streak of lightning and it causes you to run for cover. We ran to the small front porch, probably about 6 x 8′, under part of the roof (thank goodness), when an enormous streak of lightning lit the sky–so tremendous, in fact, that a ball of orange fire, about the size of a basketball, rolled across the lawn, in front of our eyes. We could not believe what we had seen. Prior to sitting here tonight, I googled “lightning balls” and found that not many are recorded in the manner which the one we witnessed with our own eyes had come and gone. It was a moment of God declaring His majesty.

Seeing something so grand, so marvelous, and so unique is an awesome experience. Yet ranking right along with that–to me–is the reading of a portion of Scripture and suddenly seeing it with a whole new meaning: one which broadens the scope of God’s activity in our lives, and the verse bursts with new clarity and a thunderclap.

I have no idea if I had to name my favorite Bible book, which it would be, but James would be one near the top. I can hardly wait to meet him! I love how he takes a verse, and yet one of the words in the sentence flows into the next sentence. But in the first few verses of Chapter 1, he talks about trials or testing that comes into our lives. With this in mind, he says that we should rejoice in tribulation,  knowing this, that the testing of our faith produces endurance. Later on he says that when we have been tested, and passed (approved), we will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

I’ve long realized that our faith is not tested when we’ve earned money which will pay a bill, only to spend that money on (say) clothes, then pray for God to supply the money for the bill. Or having a flat tire–why should we NOT have a flat tire? Or a child that has caught a virus at school, where “bugs” abound? Those are not tests, just ordinary living. So what exactly is a test?

If you read further, James says that God does not tempt us to do evil; that we are led away by our own lust (for new clothes, new things–the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh or the pride of life)–and Satan knows how to tempt us, by using the bait that will get us to turn away or blame God for our problem. Just as we don’t try to catch sharks with minnows, Satan doesn’t try to tempt someone who can’t stand cigarette smoke with smoking. So what is testing? Especially testing that will cause us to quit, as the sermon from Thomas Road was preached this past Sunday (www.plowingfallowground.com, for Oct. 9, 2016)? It has to be so big that we don’t just get a trial, we get a trial that causes us to cry out “GOD! ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING? ARE YOU EVEN AWARE OF WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH? DO YOU CARE??” As Kay Arthur once so eloquently put it, it’s not so much saying “God, Are You Really There?” as “God, Are You Really HERE?” Suddenly God showed me what the testing is that causes us to leave Him–what our “bait” is that Satan can use to make us give up and leave Christianity behind.

It’s whatever we care enough about to pour our souls out to Him in prayer, asking Him to fix. Something that we love above all things. We lift up the life of our child who has a terminal illness, begging Him to spare the child; we promise everything if He will just heal the child.. or the parent, or the spouse. Perhaps it’s our home, maybe a “dream” home that we have wanted for years, and finally got, and suddenly (as my husband and I know well) we see smoke rolling out some of the windows. For a wife or mom, it’s probably her children, her spouse, her parents, her home; for a man it’s probably his children, his wife, his job and his home. For young children, it’s their parents; for older people, it’s their children, grandchildren, and health. The list is different for everyone, but in the end it is what we hold so dear that we can’t bear to think of living without it. And so we pray, and that prayer doesn’t seem to go above the ceiling. We pray harder, and lose the very thing we prayed for: that life, that home, that job, that parent. And because we’re so hurt, and our faith that God really cares is tested, we decide God is not worth trusting, not worth loving, not worth praying to. We don’t see the result from God’s perspective.

And so, we give up on God, and we quit. Totally the wrong thing to do. We’re setting ourselves up as God at that point, saying we know better what the outcome should have been. He should have loved us more. Why, look at the (friend’s)! They’ve had it easy all their lives: money, prestige, ability to buy whatever they need, especially if it’s a health problem and major medicine is involved–it’s not fair! And we pull out.

That is the time when we should draw even nearer to God. When we should say, “I don’t understand, but I trust You that You are working things out so that it will be good.” You think I’m talking about something I haven’t lived? Wrong. If you ever feel that way, sit down and we’ll talk. I’ve been so far down I’ve had to look up to see the bottom. I’ve made a mockery of the love God showed when Jesus died on Calvary. I’ve spurned His grace, His love and His forgiveness. But by the grace of God, He has cleansed me and removed my sins as far as the east is from the west. But the sad part is, the persons I hurt the most walked away from God because they felt He had not loved them enough to answer their prayer.

It’s time we decide we are NOT going to give in, give up, or trade our faith for ashes. We want beauty. God is working the beauty out. Trust Him–He will not always do what you want, but He will always do what is best.

lightning-photo-for-free-download

 

FALLING, RISING, AND PRESSING ON!

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The school bell rang, hardly coming to a silent hum before the school exploded with children from every door. Lunch time! Some would be staying inside to eat in the cafeteria, some had brought their lunch and were allowed to eat outside, while the ones who lived near the school were allowed to walk home. The bright, warm sunshine just invited one to hurry home and see mom for a few moments.

We lived about a mile away, but I could still half-run, half-walk, long enough to make the trip quickly. Mother would have my sandwich ready, and I could enjoy a slower pace going back. The exercise felt good after sitting most of the morning.

It went just as I had envisioned: reaching home, my sandwich was ready, with milk and a cookie on the side. After a quiet time with Mother, I began the walk back to school. The first part of our “dirt” road after leaving my house was the beginning of an upward hill, then the ground became fairly level with only slight fluctuations until just before the school, where there was another slightly smaller hill. I had to do something to break the monotony, so I decided to walk the center of the road with my eyes shut. Cars came down the country road very seldom, so there were no safety issues, and this was “in the old days,” in any case!

Eyes clinched shut, I hummed a tune as I walked. Each step was sure. It never occurred to me that my “straight line” might not be so straight. Neither did it occur to me to check my path–it felt like it would be cheating if I so much as squinted. Half-way to the top of the hill, my right footstep hit air! The step was followed by my body also hitting air before landing with a thud in wet mud. I had stepped completely off the road and fallen into the fairly large ditch running along the right-hand side of the road. Unaware that I wasn’t staying in a straight line, I had been going at a diagonal as I walked; I had been sure that my steps were staying right on target along the center! The unfortunate thing was the rain we had had the night before: the ditch was not yet dried, and the mud coated my dress, shoes, and socks.

As badly as I hated to go back and face my mother, what choice did I have? Wow, I was really going to have to hurry now! Back at home, I did my best to make my blunder not seem quite so stupid; looking back, I can imagine that Mother spent quite a while that afternoon trying to get the West Virginia red clay out of my clothes. I didn’t get into (too much) trouble, but probably only because Mother knew I had to get back to school as quickly as possible.

How like modern day life that experience seems now! Even though I’ve tried to walk the Christian walk for so many years, yet I still find myself closing my eyes to God’s design, and straying off the path. In the real world, it doesn’t take much to get us off the straight and narrow, and we end up falling into a ditch. Because we cannot see Satan, we assume he isn’t bothering us, when, in fact, one or more of his demons are following us most of the time, waiting to tempt us with the best bait he can use–the one he knows we’ll respond to. What’s your weakness? Someone being nice, when you’ve had a fight at home? Someone buying the ____ (fill in the blank) that you’ve been wanting? Someone who seems to have no problems in their life, and they treat you with condescension? Whatever your button is, he knows, and will push it to get you off the straight path. And it is so very, very easy to get your halo out of the glove compartment in the car on Sunday or Wednesday, and put it on before entering church, while leaving your dirty laundry at home.

When is the last time (especially if you’re a mother or wife) you went to another room for an item, saw the washer in the side room, remembered there was a load of clothes that needed to be thrown into the dryer, then recalled the dryer had a load that needed to be taken out and folded? As you turned around with a load of folded clothes in your arms, there wasn’t much to do with them except take them to the rooms to which they should go. Entering the last room, the vacuum cleaner was sitting in the corner since you had intended to vacuum that rug; stopping to do that, and finishing, you return the machine to the linen closet, only to remember that you had started for something twenty or thirty minutes before; what was it? Now you have to retrace your steps, trying to recall what you had needed. Not that you’re off the path, but just the constant mind game of how hard it is to keep your focus on your original goal!

That’s what the Christian life is all about: keeping our eyes, as Paul says, “pressing on toward the goal, to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 NIV). We get sidetracked so easily even when we’re committed to doing the best for Christ that we can. It may be something so innocent as a busy schedule that leaves no time for devotions, or a bad driver who cuts us off in traffic; someone who criticizes our work ethic when we’re doing our best–so many things can push that button. But we need to remember that it’s very possible we are the only Bible someone else may be reading, so we need to keep our testimony as pleasing to God as possible. Proverbs 14:16 tells us that the righteous man may fall seven times, but he gets up again.

We have His promise that if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us the sin, and the cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). We tend to carry the sin on our back for awhile, (or a long while), yet God sees the white robe of Jesus Christ laid across our shoulders when He looks at us. We don’t have to let Satan use it against us, for if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).

Don’t let getting off the path, falling into a ditch, letting the stains of the world, or sin, cause you to quit. Get up, confess it, and God will cleanse you of it and make your relationship beautiful once again.

 

 

 

God STILL sends Love Notes!

Sillhouette of a couple

The perfect wedding. They were so in love, and it was evident each time they looked into the face of the other. They had taken time to get to know each other, become fast friends, enjoy the same simple pleasures. Life was good. Both were concerned that their marriage be built on the foundation of faith in God, and that He be, not just a figuredhead, but the true Head of their union.

Over the next couple of years they added the traditional pets: two dogs, two cats. No babies yet! Gradually work seemed to be taking more and more of his time, and the paychecks began to be larger–although they really didn’t need the extra money. She, too, worked outside the home, and evenings became their only bonding time. By then she was tired. And he was getting ready to pull an all-night shift.

He was so engrossed in doing a great job at work that he didn’t notice the time passing, and the distance between them becoming wider. Their love was still deep, but her loneliness was growing. I’ve been there myself: you know your spouse is providing for you, but they just don’t “get it” that a relationship has to be continually having investments, in order to grow. Actually, it is the very same way a savings account gets larger, in order to be ready if a tough time comes! If you don’t add to the balance, soon it becomes stagnant, and then, when there’s no activity, fees set in and the balance begins to erode, slowly, month by month. You ask over and over, “can we do something together?” and then the asking slows down… and becomes quiet, rather than cause contention.

And so it has become. This beautiful couple had a love account that was starting to get depleted–not on his side, for he was working almost double normal hours each week in order that she could have everything she wanted. But what she wanted was his presence. He didn’t get that. Eventually, on an innocent shopping trip, an old friend happened to cross her path. They talked over coffee to catch up on “old times.” He showed an interest in her life, in her loneliness, and was compassionate. (Hint: don’t ever discuss your marriage with a former flame. Never. He–being a guy–wanted to “fix it.” It’s a guy thing. It’s what they do.) He, because he wasn’t solid in a relationship with Christ, did not care she was married, just that she was lonely. She, on her side, was so isolated from friends and fun, that she was vulnerable to someone seeming to care. One thing led to another, and another.

After a few short months, it became obvious that her affections were being turned from her husband toward someone else. He, on his part, was clueless. Life had become a routine of work, sleep, a couple of hours with his wife, and work, sleep. The one day he took off had become a day to fight over his schedule, so he avoided that by sleeping extra.

It came as a huge shock when she let him know she was involved with someone else. It was, perhaps not a wake-up moment, but at least the alarm was going off. Could they seek counseling? She agreed. After all, she thought she still loved him, but she wanted her husband back, and was willing to see if they could change. It didn’t work out well. Counseling brought out feelings and resentments that put him on the defensive. What was he doing wrong? Working so she could have so much!! Where was the fault in that? He didn’t consider that women are extremely different from men. For women, it’s usually about the relationship: the harmony, the listening with true attention, the conversations below the surface, the quality time (and watching a movie together is NOT quality time–either can do that alone!), the affirmation that she is attractive and smart. She gets her strokes, usually, from him. For men, it’s about providing. And sex. Not necessarily in that order. Theirs is a life revolving around their profession first, and family second. Or further down (that’s a generalization, not always true, I understand that, so don’t email me.) He generally gets plenty of recognition from the boss, co-workers and clients.

He was torn totally out of his world, which was her! Depression, rejection, his love, his “investment” into a profession to give her everything, all of it was now like a boulder on his shoulders. They tried to work together but the fight was becoming too much. Finally, in desperation, after a few months he decided if she wanted a divorce, he would give it to her. At the next counseling session, he would tell her. He would let the other guy have what he himself prized most in life.

They met in the counselor’s office, and sat down. He had brought a list of what he was going to say, so that he didn’t forget anything important. He was ready.

The strange thing was, the night before, while he was tossing and turning, he felt God saying to his heart, “I DARE you to love her! I DARE you to love her!!” He had no idea what it meant. It did not make any sense.

Me: At the same time, I went to bed, hundreds of miles away. Usually a very-early-to-bed person, this particular night I stayed up hours beyond normal. I was agitated, and this couple was heavy on my mind. When I finally went to bed, I felt God saying “Court her! Court her!” It rang a bell, but at midnight my brain is on flat-line. I just knew the couple was heavy on my heart. I figured perhaps God was telling me to tell him that he should try to woo her the way he had done when they first met, and fell in love. Okay, I could do that. Still, something “niggled” at the back of my mind. I didn’t have many hours before I had to get up. Finally I fell asleep. My first thought on waking was “OH! That was from FIREPROOF, the movie!” Okay, I could tell him that, as well.

During church that Sunday morning I was having a tough “pity party.” I felt as though I was doing nothing for God; yes, I write, and yes, sometimes get “likes,” but was I reaching anyone to tell them God loves them? Would anyone be in heaven because I have lived? Worse, would anyone be in hell because I have lived? I could think of a couple, and prayed God would save them, but the depression had me down. I felt so useless!

The afternoon came, and I remembered the message I needed to give him. Searching for a name on Facebook, I found it, and sent a private IM. All I could do was tell what had happened the night before, add where I remembered hearing it, and beg forgiveness for interfering. I pressed enter, and it was gone. Then I noticed there had been no activity on the account for ages, and figured, “Oh, no! He won’t see this perhaps until it’s too late!” I figured perhaps there was someone I could call to get his cell number, and then I could send a text to say, Look at your FB message.

The Husband: I had my cell in my pocket when it made a funny, several note, beeping. I had never heard that before! What on earth was happening to my phone? I hit the screen light up, and saw there was a message from Facebook! Wow! I had NEVER had that happen before! The whole message that had been sent to my Facebook account–which I hadn’t been on in weeks–appeared, and I read it, astounded!

Me: Before I could even think of who to call for a phone number, probably within 15 seconds, a message popped up on Facebook: CALL ME! and the number. I did.

The Husband: As I read the message and called, I had the incredible bathing of the Holy Spirit washing over me, literally, as Romans says, “being poured out within my heart,” as I realized anew how much God loved me! Here was the confirmation of what HE wanted me to do, and here is what had taken place the week I had just lived through:

The morning of the counseling session, I had gotten to the counselor’s office, ready to offer my wife her divorce. Upon being seated, we began. When a question was asked me, I tried to answer, but my tongue seemed like concrete, and I could not think clearly. It got so bad that, at one point, both the counselor and my wife asked, “Are you okay?” I was worse than a mute–I literally could do hardly anything except grunt and LISTEN. During that session God really opened my ears, AND my understanding, and I learned more about my wife’s feelings for the previous months than I had had any clue about. I saw things from her perspective, not mine. Toward the end, when I should have said what I had come to say, I still couldn’t. And then the counselor ended the session: “I do not want either of you to TALK to each other for the next 30 days!” My wife hesitated, then said, “I don’t think that’s long enough; could we make it 40?” Yes, it was changed to 40 days!

What was I going to do for forty days?? How was I going to make it? I decided to go to a Christian bookstore and look for a devotional to get me through the weeks. As I looked at the shelves, my eyes went to the top row. There, staring back at me, was a book “THE LOVE DARE!” Remember, this was the next day after I had felt God tell me, “I DARE you to love her!” I picked the book off the shelf and thumbed through it. Only if you’ve been there can you imagine the astonishment I felt when I saw this was a workbook for a FORTY DAY assignment on loving your wife and winning her back! God was DARING me to love her! He was providing a book to work through for the 40 DAYS we were not to communicate! I walked out after buying the book, and started reading as soon as I got home.

As soon as I began, I saw the book was based on a movie I had never heard of: Fireproof! I had no idea what it was about, who made it, or what the theme was–I just knew I had to get it! I went out and rented the movie, and sat down and watched it. And wept, and wept. God’s love for me washed over me, and I could feel a tiny twinge of hope begin being fanned into life deep in my spirit. And so I began my forty day journey.

Day seven was finished, and I was working on day 8 when the message came through my phone. As I read it, I could now connect all the dots! Was I losing my mind, or had God really spoken to someone else, saying “Court her,” mentioning Fireproof, and confirming that what I was doing was His perfect will for me? The joy, the peace that passes all understanding, the incredible feeling–no, KNOWING–that God loves me personally was so overwhelming that the subsequent telephone call was a time of worship, praise and rejoicing that somehow, in His time, God would heal my heart, and hopefully heal my marriage.

(Me, now:) No, I haven’t heard yet what the outcome is, and am still praying that God does a miracle with this beautiful couple–as well as the others who are going through similar troubles. But don’t ever think that you are too insignificant that your Heavenly Father has no time to think of you. He is on your side, and if you are committing your life to Him, He will fight your battles. He is working to restore, to give you more than you could ask or think. And in doing so, He may even use someone else who is sinking in their own mud puddle, thinking they are useless to Him! His love notes to us, His messages of life and hope are never ending. Seek for Him, and you will find Him! Knock at the door, and He will open it, and come in! Don’t ever give up on God because someone has hurt you, or life hasn’t gone your way. Perhaps the consequences can’t be fixed, but the peace that will come in the new relationship with Him will last forever. If you’ve made choices that are not able to be fixed, let Him meet you right where you are. You say you have NOTHING to offer Him?

Remember, He made the world out of NOTHING.

An additional post script: I held back on publishing this, hoping to hear that things were turning around. A visit recently coincided with a Sunday, and this faithful husband came to the church. As I listened, across the room, I had chills as, over and over, the pastor exhorted those who were locked in a battle to not give up! It was the theme of the message, and another confirmation that God was still fighting for the marriage. The strength, the pastor said, was not going to be from the husband, but from God. The victory would be from God, and all would know that it was He who had brought it about. I pray He does.

Father, the battle is still raging for this precious couple, as well as thousands of couples within the reach of this blog. Please restore to them the joy of their marriage, the joy of their salvation, and find, in You, fullness of joy. In the priceless, matchless Name of Jesus Christ, the redeemer and kinsman of our souls, Amen!

 

© Ice | Dreamstime Stock Photos

A Look Into Hell

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The realization that the blackness was no longer consuming me was slow in coming. My eyes slowly opened and took in the bedroom, but my mind was still trapped in the screaming I had heard, and the coma was still trying to pull me back into it. I had been close to a huge arena of darkness, and although I could see shadows of heads on thousands of people, they were all screaming without stopping. Cold sweat dripped off my body, and I was so afraid. My eyes could move around the small bedroom now, but I wasn’t able to move my body yet. The screaming was starting to get fainter, and I rolled onto my right side slowly, and let myself fall off the mattress to the floor. Crawling on my stomach to the next bedroom, where the phone was, took all the strength I had, and I didn’t think I’d make it before the tiny light inside me went back out. I reached a hand up and pulled the phone to the floor. My hand shook so badly, but finally I hit the “O” and an operator came on the line. I had no breath, and my speech was so slurred. “Hos—pit—al.” She recognized honesty when she heard it, and had an ambulance on the way in seconds. “Stay on the line!” she instructed. “Where are you?” “Will–they–pump–my–sto–mach?” I stuttered.

Soon I heard a crashing as the paramedics broke the door in and ran down the hall. As the coma started closing in again I heard one EMT tell another, “Get her an IV as fast as possible!” I struggled. “I—can’t.”  They stopped. “Why??” they asked fiercely. “That’s–an–In–ter–Con–tin–ent–al–Bal–lis–tics–Mis–sile.” (ICBM, for military language.) It was over, and I was gone.

The next morning I opened my eyes. Hooked to numerous tubes, laying in a room full of beds with patients, I must have made a machine go off, for a nurse was at my bed instantly. “Oh my! How glad I am to see you! We lost you so many times last night, we almost gave up. It is a miracle you are alive this morning!”

So it wasn’t over. It was even worse than before; at least prior to overdosing, there was hope of getting out of Life. Now, even that hope was gone. I couldn’t even kill myself. If I just hadn’t dialed that operator! But having seen hell, heard the screaming going on and on and on, had apparently sparked a tiny ember that said it wasn’t the right time. Don’t ever think suicide is the easy way out–it takes tons of courage, tons of grief, and a loss of hope that things will ever be better, to go through with it. To mess it up was the ultimate loss. After that I referred to myself as the “Walking Dead,” long before any movie, book, or tv show ever used the term.

That picture will never leave me. Now we’ve just come through another tragedy in America. “Orlando/2016” happened yesterday and I had to relive the scene above, knowing many of those people may have been going into that dark, screaming hell where there are no parties. Blame is being cast as I type, and threats are being made, fingers are pointing, and division in America is rampant. Who is ultimately to blame?

Do you ever have a moment when a verse of Scripture comes alive? Oh, by the way, yes, I lived. And yes, I got my life right with the Lord. Yes, He had been with me all the time, and had never left my side. No, it wasn’t my time. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know there were more children I might have, a husband who would love me, and a church that would make me welcome. Most of all, I didn’t know that God had hung all the sins I had committed, would ever commit, and was committing, on His Son, Jesus Christ as He hung on the Cross at Calvary. And yes, I have found Him loving me all these years.

As I meditated this morning on 2 Chronicles 7:14, I read, “If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.” Wait. Whoa. What happened to the “God Bless America”?? This verse didn’t mention that if the lost in America get saved, He will heal our land. Nothing is mentioned in that verse about saving the lost! It’s talking about “those who are called by His Name!”  If CHRISTIANS in America will humble themselves, and pray, and seek His face…. Those who are sitting in the pew on Sunday, then turning on their R-rated movies (“I will put no evil thing before my eyes”), pornography after the kids go to bed; who think it’s okay to do things behind closed doors; who have an abuse percentage greater than the world; who gossip, covet, lose self control, who live so that the community doesn’t want to be like the church–those people? Ouch. That makes me frantic. Are we talking about everyone? Certainly not! But over and over in Scripture, Christ likens the church to a body, and if one part hurts–or sins–it affects the whole body.

How can I say, “Church, WE have let America down! It’s not the unbelievers–it’s us! We are not doing fellowship well together, serving and loving the community as we should! WE are not standing on the Word of God, under the Authority of God, and on a Mission to change the world for God! WE have become comfortable, and now our children are becoming complacent! WE don’t stand up when we should, be quiet when we should.” I myself buckled under this morning to a daughter, just to keep peace. All day long it’s haunted me. Why didn’t I tell her to stop being angry at God because He let someone make a bad choice? It’s the price of peace. Lousy reason.

Church, let’s humble ourselves! Let’s pray!! Do you know most Christians pray–if at all–only if they’re desperate? What about praying so that we are thankful, grateful for blessings, for life, for everything He does for us? Let’s seek His face! How do we do that? If you seek the face of someone you love, you spend time with them. How much time to you spend with Jesus? Let’s turn from our wicked ways! That’s those movies, tv shows with blatant sex, cursing, immorality, —you know what you’re doing wrong, and don’t need me to point it out.  If we do these things, we have a promise: THEN I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their SIN, and I will HEAL THEIR LAND! Does our land need the healing touch of God? You bet.

Then it has to start at the house of God. Today is a good time.

© Andre Klopper | Dreamstime Stock Photos

POURED OUT AND OVERFLOWING–The Aftermath!

The pick-up truck pulled in beside the bins, just another vehicle in a long line. An elderly gentleman and his wife got out of the truck, walked to the back and started taking boxes out. There were sheets, dinnerware, comforter sets, crib sets, canned goods and health products. They filled one of the bins completely full, got back into the truck and pulled off. They had smiled and nodded at the workers, but made no show of their generosity.

The large group of college students jumped out of the bus, tools in hand or tool kit, gloves and boots on, ready to work in one of the more damaged areas. They started cleaning, hammering, fixing–anything that needed to be done. At lunch they stopped for a short break, ate their packed lunches, and went back to work. Some of the students circulated among the householders, trying to find out if there were immediate needs that required priority. They weren’t pushy, obnoxious or arrogant; they were just a large group of students helping out in a neighborhood full of needs, to the best of their ability.

A group of teenage girls came from a local youth group, cases of crayons, books, puzzles and more, ready to entertain children, calming them while their parents needed to get their lives re-arranged after a tornado. The girls were sweet, caring, and helpful with the children. They had come to do a job in loving their neighbors, and were doing it the best way they knew how.

This community is like thousands of others around the nation. People who have had their lives completely blindsided, being helped by other people whose only motive is to make things easier for those suffering during a time of disaster.

The humanitarian organization was there, handing out water, blankets, food, and other essentials. They, too, were serving. They, too, were motivated by concern and love.

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You look around at the lives interacting, and see the services offered in love, see those who need love at the moment, need comfort, encouragement and physical needs met, and you have to ask–where did these people come from, the ones who are helping? They’re not military, nor paid workers–just ordinary folks like you and me, alert to a time of tragedy and how they can help. It’s love in action.

At a time in America when Christians are taking the flack for everything from reading their Bible in public to having their social media censored, these people aren’t letting it bother them. One looks at them, not trained, but helping without being asked. You look beyond where the vehicles are parked and see van after van, a bus here or there, all with church logos on them. All putting their faith into action.

Did they stop and ask those who need help if they are worthy? Certainly not! Did they bring up anyone’s lifestyle, their hobbies, their language, their race, their looks? Certainly not. These people did nothing to deserve the help, material items or love brought to them: they received it because they are made in God’s image, and the church is to love them. To show love such as Jesus would show. To perhaps cause one of them to question, “I thought Christians were hypocrites, were judgmental, and arrogant because they say their sins are forgiven! But you aren’t acting like that. Can you tell me why?”

If they, as ordinary human beings, can serve and love their fellow neighbors like that, without asking “are you worthy for us to help you,” how much more does the God in heaven love them. He doesn’t judge them by their past or their present, either. If they decide they want to believe that He is the Son of God, turn from their sins, and follow Him, every sin they have ever committed is instantly forgiven! A debtor whose debts are paid, and a bill marked “Paid In Full” hand-delivered by Christ to them.

For those of us who have loved Him for years, we have found Him faithful. He has never left us, never moved away–through the hurts from the world, through the evils that have occurred because the world truly is full of evil, through the bad times and good. He has carried us, held our hands, snuggled us closely while we wept, and carried our burdens. Is life always easy? Absolutely not. But the advantages of being a follower of Jesus Christ–and having a relationship with Him–is so overwhelmingly in our favor that it’s hard to understand someone rejecting Him. He is good, He is faithful, even when we are not. How much more can you ask?

Don’t get your eyes on people who fail you, for there will always be those, both inside and outside of a church building. Get your eyes on Jesus, knowing He will love you through it all. But He’s not a Genie to be used only when you need a favor–He’s the holy creator of the universe, the One Who spoke the world into existence. He has plans and a purpose for you, if you’ll trust Him enough to take His hand. Just do it.

 

© Angela Farley | Dreamstime Stock Photos

FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE..

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The clock said it was a little past 2:30 p.m. Almost time for the grandchildren to get out of school, but it was really getting overcast. I hate to have them out in a storm anytime, even just running for their daddy’s car. The weather was acting crazy, and yet the forecast had been for storms along the coastal area, several hours to the east of us. Still… The wind began picking up, and soon the rain started. I looked at the clock again, 3:15. The kids would be safe in the car–or maybe running for it. Why didn’t I think to turn on the radio? Because it’s not a normal part of my day, that’s why. I went back to work at the computer just in time to hear a storm take over. Wow! Water gushing, wind howling.. but I still didn’t connect the dots. 

It wasn’t long before emails started coming through: Route 460 closed. Tornadoes in Appomattox, Concord, Red House. Destruction everywhere. Power out. The feeling of reality didn’t hit, because we had been on the storm’s edge. I couldn’t put pictures with what I was hearing. In a little while a pastor-friend called; he had heard we had a generator, he had his grandchildren, and no power. Come and get it! He did. We wished we had had a hundred to give out.

Today, in the aftermath of twenty-four hours ago, the destruction is like any place where a tornado has left devastation and destruction in its wake. Homes demolished, cars wrecked, trees down–only if you’ve been in one, or been through an area immediately following a tornado can you picture what the reality looks like. But what a picture it is!

Do the homeowners have to worry, while they are adjusting to their lives being turned upside down, that thieves will come in and vandalize their homes? Probably. This is today’s world. Riding by, you feel the helplessness and lack of control to “fix” everything. But then… you start seeing with eyes that are really open, not just topical observation at the mass destruction. You begin looking more closely. Look! Those people had … and you find yourself looking deeply at the inner lives of those who lived in some of the homes. Things they would not have exposed to the world in a normal time. Things that would embarrass them, or cause them to be ashamed. Oh, not all, of course! Just “some.” But to those people, it was the baring of their souls—this showing to the world what was inside their home, which they could keep hidden on any given day. Now it was exposed for all to see because some part of their exterior had been torn away.

And yet… does it take a rocket scientist to realize that, with God, all of our lives are like that? We are thinking we have the outside looking great: we’re dressed right, our hair is in place, nice shoes, nice car. We go to church or meet together, and are we glad they can’t see our thought life, our inner heart, our motives? But what if some of that exterior were stripped away and suddenly everyone could see those thoughts, those motives? Would they know some may covet their money? Or their car? Or perhaps her figure? Or their power? Or fame? Does “so and so” pick up that they are barely tolerated, wishing they’d move? What happens behind those closed doors of the outside shell?

Yet, just as the world could now ride by those homes and see right into them, so God looks right into the closets and crevices of our lives, and nothing is hidden from Him. Yet so many go through life acting as though everything is private, and no one knows anything. He is the only One who matters–He will be judging everyone eventually, whether anyone wants to believe it or not. There is nothing in our dirty, wind-blown, tornado-ridden heart that He does not see and know intimately.

How ashamed we should feel, right? He loves us so much, and wants, as He said, to “gather us as a mama hen wants to gather her little chicks, but [we] would not.” Like our parents wanted to do but it embarrassed us. Ahh, we need to confess every sinful act, every sinful thought, and anything that would hurt our relationship with Him, and run into His arms, asking Him to be Lord of our life. Let Him be the Father He has promised to be. Let Him be our Guide and Shepherd and Savior.

In the joy of that type of relationship, we won’t have anything to be ashamed of when our lives are opened before Him.

Serving Two Masters….

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Attitude is everything.

The child climbed into the car’s back door, but refused to get in his car seat. Usually this wasn’t a problem, but this particular day he decided he wanted to stand right behind Dad, holding on to the head rest. “Sit down!” Dad raised his voice at this second warning. The look of rebellion on the child’s face told the father that it was not going to happen today. Is there anything that exerts more will power than a 3-year-old who doesn’t want to do something? His chin jutted out, and he stayed standing.

Dad put the car into park, got out, took hold of his son, and with necessary movements put him in the car seat, snapped the buckles and got back into the driver’s seat. As he pulled out of the parking space his son yelled, “I may be sittin’ down on the outside, but I’m still standin’ up on the inside!!”

It seems to meet that I’ve been standing up on the inside a lot lately. Christmas has come and gone (but will be here again soon, for sure), and I morph into Scrooge during that time. I fight the materialism with everything I am, but it does no good against all those sweet faces turned toward me. My attitude needs a major overhaul after the holidays. I probably wrote the same thing last year.

But in the midst of all the bad attitudes, the chaos, the trials (already!), the crises (already, note the plural!), and the hurt feelings, God spoke to my heart. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the Creator Who “spoke” the world into being (John 1). As I turned to my Bible this morning, I began reading and verses I’ve read hundreds of times “lit up.” That’s God, speaking.

These were the verses that were prepared for me to be reading , the next set of verses on a morning “ritual”—not one of those “put your finger in a passage and read it” type thing. But as I read the verses “You cannot serve two masters; for either you will … love the one and hate the other…You cannot serve God and [the world]. Matt. 6:24).” Years of teaching came across my mind, God and the world… God and money… and then suddenly God shone His light directly upon those verses into my heart, and I knew He was telling me these verses can go much deeper than what I have heard all my life, and how much I needed to hear Him alone.

You see, it’s been a struggling week, one of those Stress Level Ten weeks, one where I felt caught in a conflict between an adult child and my husband. Nothing–nothing!–comes between a momma and her child (or should) no matter how old they get. A momma bear and her cub is a great analogy. Another–which I experienced a lot of years ago–is a cow and her newborn calf. I have been torn, taking up the offense of my child, and mad (as only a wife can be) that my husband would have allowed this situation. But then, God spoke to my heart.

He turned the light bulb in my mind onto the passage, and I saw, a Mother cannot serve her adult child and her husband if there is conflict. It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. The truth is, the situation is out of my control and I can’t make them both happy. I can’t change anything, can’t go back and re-do the offense, can’t “fix it.” But if I keep on with my warring attitude, I will end up “hating” one and “serving” the other. But that isn’t God’s best. He made us one in marriage, and to split that unity and go against my husband is wrong, and becomes sin, and He made my child “leave the parent” when they became one with their spouse. Yuk. Yikes. Double yikes.

I also saw that “two masters” could easily be me–with all my desires to control the situation, to control what had happened, to make everything okay again (because I hate confrontation, and disunity)–and my husband, who had done what he thought to be best in a situation where, he felt, there would be no winning. He knew ahead of time it was going to cause friction, and he wisely chose to do what was best for me, rather than for our child. I needed to CHOOSE to love him. Lesson Two.

Two masters, He spoke to my heart, is always a potential in a marriage: if you and your spouse are not dedicated to seeing that you are in agreement with discipline (one of the areas where the most combat is initiated), you are causing your child/children to choose which of you to “love/serve” and which to hate. Lesson Three.

This dredged up a long-ago illustration when we four–dad, mom, son, daughter–got in the car to leave church. Our son turned to me, asking if we could stop by the local ice cream shop and get cones. I said “No.” He got a tragic look on his face and said, “Mom! I didn’t mean to ask you, I meant to ask Dad!” We went. They had learned which questions to ask which parent. To food, I usually said no; Dad said yes. After this we also made (and stuck to) rule #783: if they asked one of us, the answer was set in stone (unless extenuating circumstances dictated otherwise), and they could not ask the other parent. Good rule, even for today.

Be sure you are not serving two masters: yourself and your spouse. Or, your child and your spouse. Or… anyone but God.  Even then, you have to be vigilant that you do not present a second master to yourself. God only is the First and Last in our lives, and He only holds the keys to family unity, love and working out stressful problems when we look to Him to watch our backs. He alone is holy, praise His Name.

Has the situation gone away? No, but my attitude is adjusting, and I see both sides. I also have confessed, and am sorry for the “tantrum” I threw when I first found out. God is in control, I have no doubt at all about that, and my repentant heart can now be worked on. It will be okay. This hasn’t come to stay, but has “come–to pass.” I’ll be grateful when it’s passed!

 © Andrew Taylor | Dreamstime Stock Photos