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SHOW ME YOU LOVE ME….

  SHOWMEYOULOVEME

Walking into the ICU room, it took our breath away to see the man hooked to seemingly every machine the hospital had available for keeping someone alive. There was the breathing machine, inserted directly into his neck in the trachea, the filtration (dialysis), removing all the blood from his body, eliminating the fluid from the it, then putting the dry blood back into the body. The body responds by saying, “Hey! I have no fluid in this!” and goes into emergency mode, pulling fluid from arms, legs, hands–wherever it can, in order to keep the blood flowing and to keep his body from filling with fluid. The IV’s were providing some nourishment–not enough, but some. Because of the throat tube, he could not speak nor swallow–only small ice chips which could run down his throat were able to be in his mouth. Talking was not possible.

By the time we left, our hearts had been wrung to the point of despair. He is not an old man, being kept alive at the whim of family, but a virile, middle-aged man, whose thinking processes are alert and high. He is aware of everything said around him, and able to interact with lip movement. It was hard to learn to lip-read in an hour, but we did the best we could.

Everyone says, “Don’t keep me alive by machines!” In this case, it is necessary. The problem? The doctors aren’t sure. His breathing, when it stopped originally, caused the family to call 911, and the rest has been almost seven months in the hospital, trying to find a diagnosis.

When we got home, I began praying “fervently.” That means you recognize God is the only one Who can do anything and man’s wisdom is wholly reliant upon Him. I prayed for just ONE doctor who would go home at night, with the thought of this father, husband, son and brother not able to move, talk, or eat, and search every book known to man for an answer–but above all, one who would seek the Healer to give wisdom.

We went back a few days later, while the doctor was in, along with several other members of a team who were changing bags, adding medication, and doing everything in their power to help him. As the doctor was leaving, a member of his family stopped him to say, “He’s nervous about what you’ve been saying; can you explain to him?” The doctor stopped at the foot of the bed and in strong, direct words said, “Don’t worry–it’s all simple [what he had been doing and saying]! Everything is looking good,” and then he explained the medication, the numbers in the tests, and more. He exuded strength and knowledge. The patient took him at his word. When he left, the family member said to us, “He’s the best doctor we could have gotten. He told us he goes home at night, and has cried tears before God, asking for wisdom for what is wrong, and how to heal him.”

My mouth fell open as I told her that is exactly, to the letter, what I’ve been praying! God had shown me in one sentence that He had heard my prayer, and was answering that one. The rest? That everything will turn out the way we want it? I don’t know yet. But God does–and He will answer in His time, and in His way.

Do you think we’re the first people to cry out to God: “God, help me to believe You are here with me! Increase my faith! God, PLEASE, show me You love me!”? No. Does it help you to know that your deepest Valley of the Shadow is one that was walked by  even King David himself, as well as countless others? In Psalm 86:16, 17, David cries out, “O, turn to me and have mercy on me! Give Your  strength to Your servant and save the son of Your maidservant. Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me!” David was crying out, “God, show me You love me!”

David went through many trials–we don’t know if God showed up on this occasion, whatever it was, or if His answer was “wait,” or “no.” That’s where trust comes in. That is where faith gets proactive, and not pew-active. That’s where the rubber meets the road. Are you going to trust that whatever He does is right, or are you going to manipulate things so that it goes your way? It always comes back to a choice for us–sometimes so hard we want to throw a tantrum, and sometimes it shows us our heart.

May we all say, “Please, God, increase my faith! Increase my trust!”

© Ed Isaacs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!

Presentation18It all began about three years ago, when a question popped into my mind, and I had no idea where to find the answer. Do things like that bother you? Today, three years later, we all have a standard comment to anything like that: “Google it.” In fact, I’ve gotten so used to writing ‘google’ that I recently tried to write a listing to sell some goggles, and misspelled it about 5 times. Eventually it came out right. But things have changed in the past three years, so the question continued to nag me. Can you think of something similar? Really drives you nuts, doesn’t it?

Mine wasn’t even a life or death question. Just curiosity. It reminded me of my mom, who was filled with an insatiable appetite to voice curious questions: we would drive by men working in a ditch; “what do you think they’re doing?” she would ask. I could list fifty pages of examples. Finally, I would just say, “Would you like me to stop and ask?” She didn’t recognize loving sarcasm. Too bad. The questions drove me crazy. (Now, I’d love to hear her ask one–so watch what you wish for).

As I was reading the New Testament those three years ago, suddenly I wondered, Why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? It’s not as if praying was a unique once-in-a-lifetime happening! It had been going on since the beginning of time. But why did they ask that? I turned to a few learned men. One answer was “Well, they were with the Son of God! Wouldn’t you want to know His thoughts on what constitutes a pray that satisfies Him?” That was in mid-summer of last year. I had been dealing with it about a year and half.

Finally I knew what I wanted to do! Each year as I read the Bible through, I try to do so with a central goal, so that the chapters do not get tedious.  But when the idea came to me, I could hardly wait for the year to end, so that I could begin again at Genesis and write down every prayer or reference to praying that was in the Old Testament. Since there was no “New Testament” when the disciples asked, there was no need to go further at that point. Eventually January came, and I got my notebook out! It was amazing. There were  prayers that were heartfelt, some that were mundane, but there were also long periods when men did not seem to commune with God. When I got to the Psalms, although I haven’t documented this yet, there seemed to be a prayer for every emotion man feels, or any need he has! All the disciples had to do, I thought, was go back to the scrolls in the temple, and they could have at their fingertips the greatest and least of all the prayers recorded in Scripture. So I still didn’t have the answer to my question.

Okay, it’s now the end of September. I’m finishing the major prophets, so I won’t be done by December. But suddenly, last night, I knew why it had been bothering me, and why–after immersing myself in the OT prayers–I was trying to quench this thirst. It wasn’t about the disciples at all: it was about me.

A month ago War Room, the movie, came out. It hit me between the eyes. In the mirror of the faith portrayed by the character Clara, my prayer life was worse than wood, hay and stubble! I was able to identify with the main character like she was my sister. Ouch! Afterwards, I wanted to see it again–and again. I bought the novel, the journal, the Bible Study book, and the personal study book. But it wasn’t until I saw it again that I realized, God wants me to make a War Room. I’ve been, as Clara says, fighting the wrong enemy! I’ve been lax and unfaithful in my prayers, and God was preparing my heart for this moment. He was paving the ground, building a foundation of the OT saints who sought Him in prayer, and at the same time men–the Kendrick Brothers–were making a movie that would stir my heart to surrender my prayer life to Him completely. It was an awesome, God-struck moment, and the wonder of it has stayed with me. That I am able to look back for nearly three years, seeing Him calling my heart toward fervent prayer, is incredible. Do you understand why? Because He wants me to deepen the relationship with Him; to trust Him to the point that whatever the trial, He’s got it; that the problems that come–and they will come–can be carried to Him and I can KNOW He has my back, my good, and is working His purpose out. It’s not just coincidence despite what man may say, but the Creator of the universe who wants a relationship with His child.

How humbling! My first thoughts, after realizing what I had seen, were “where in my house can I have a War Room”? I would go claustrophobic in my closet (we don’t have walk-in’s). And then last night it hit me, and I have a perfect small room, a perfect old desk, even a matching chair that I almost threw out! He has prepared the table before me, and it is in the presence of my enemy–and your enemy–Satan! The real enemy of our soul who has come to kill, steal, and destroy. Kill our relationships, steal our joy, and destroy our homes and children! It hasn’t been any other enemy, and yet I have fought battles uselessly. Christ has been the Lord of our home, but I tried to help Him manage. He doesn’t want or need my help, He only wants my prayers.

I pray I can let Him do it all now. What an awesome, amazing God we serve!

 

© Milos Markovic | Dreamstime Stock Photos

TUNNEL VISION OR DREAMING DREAMS?

CLOUDS

He sat down at the dining room table, feeling carefully to the left for his fork, and to the right for his knife. Gently he reached forward and touched the glass of Coke. Our granddaughter was describing the food on the table, and we were all a little unsure how to make this unseeing guest feel welcome. Within seconds, however, our granddaughter had kidded him about something that referred to his lack of sight and when he responded immediately in kind, we knew it was going to be a great time of fellowship. His sense of humor carried him through any difficulty, and if it lagged at all, she was there to make him laugh. Eventually we learned he did not mind questions, so we asked many. “What comes into your mind when someone says the sky is blue?” I asked. He said he had no frame of reference, except to conjure up an image and try to make it the “picture” that stood for “blue.” After dinner, this amazing person went to the piano and gave us a spontaneous delivery of praise and worship music. God had not given him eye-sight, but He definitely has given Brian talents that many would covet.

This past Sunday our pastor preached on vision. Perhaps not vision as a physical attribute, but the far-seeing vision that all Christians should have to see that their church fulfills the Scripture where Christ told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, telling the story of the good news that our sins have been paid for, and we can have eternal life. (John 3:16). As he talked, I realized how there is no separating the vision one has for their church, and the vision that must be internalized into the heart for daily life.

It was many years ago, or perhaps yesterday, that someone I knew lost all hope that life would ever change. Their “vision” for a future became blind. The tunnel telescoped to a point at the end, and they could see no further than the dot, so they took the “easy way” out. Young people are especially vulnerable to losing hope that a bright future awaits them when they wake up–and go to bed–with the sounds of angry parents cursing and screaming at each other. Because they have no control over their parents, and are bright enough to realize they could not exist on the streets, the next best thing seems to be death. It is quickly over, and there will be no more screaming. Not having had someone tell them there are many places or people who will help, they end their life. It is becoming more and more common.

I sat there, realizing that I, too, have lost my vision of hope. Not perhaps for the American Dream, but hope that I am making a difference in someone’s life. Hope in the form of passion–to care about something so passionately that a sacrifice is worth the risk. Recently I read of Kimberly Smith (Make Way Partners, “Passport to Darkness”) who has gone to the people of Sudan to rescue orphans and women who are at the mercy of men with no sense of moral values. These victims take whatever comes because they have no hope of anyone rescuing them. She is a brave woman. I have to ask myself, do I care so much about comfort, security, and ease that I would not do what she is doing? I have to hang my head in shame for I’m not sure I could do it.

The sermon became a double-edged sword. Yes! I want my church to move forward, planting churches in countries where the people have never heard that there is a God who created them, watches over them, and has sent His Son to make a way for salvation. But do I want the planter to be me? I believe so. Then I think of the grandchildren. Suddenly I understand what Jesus meant when He said, He who is willing to give up family or land [or things we think we can’t do without] to follow Him, is worthy to be called His disciple.

What will I have when I stand before Him? I pray for renewed vision to see as God sees, and not as those about whom Jesus  said,  “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” I pray that is not me.

 

© Cristian Nitu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

SANTA STEALS MY THUNDER!

santa steals my thunder

The clock was about to strike midnight. Everything was dark except for one small candle, and no sounds were heard unless you count the sweat running down a back. Even the scurry of possible mice wasn’t audible, and the falling snow outside muffled the sounds of any traffic that might be on the road. Everyone was in their “nightcaps,” in bed asleep. Finally, putting the last screw into the board and silently inserting the Phillips screwdriver, dad tightened the little dolly bed–wishing he could go crawl into his big one. There was still one more toy to be assembled and the gifts under the tree would be finished. The small Christmas plate that held a chocolate chip cookie beside a tall glass of milk was ready in its place. Dad glanced at his watch, hoping to get at least four hours of sleep before four excited children ran downstairs to see what Santa had left. He tried not to think about the money spent, the time lost in assembling toys, and just be happy that he had checked everything off their small lists.

Dad didn’t get grumpy, but as he finished his task he couldn’t help but think of the “glory” that “Santa” would get in the morning as his children saw their gifts! It’s quite unfair, he thought! They should know that he and their mom loved them far more than some “mystical” person who had attributes including flying all over the entire world in one night, delivering toys. They should get the credit for the toys! Why had they taught them this? But being tired, knowing his thoughts came from exhaustion, he put them aside, finished, and went to bed.

So, you ask, what’s the point? Every story should have a moral, right? Truthfully I’ve always hated the idea of Santa, simply because children in single parent homes are at the mercy of strangers who don’t know them, or Angel Tree gifts–which are great, of course, but how many children get nothing? How do they feel? Here it is, a hot July day, and I’m frustrating over Santa. Good grief.

My point is, often the true giver of our gifts is never recognized. How many wonderful things happen to us and we don’t stop to think where they came from? A narrow escape from a near-accident with the car; a visit from a friend; a kind word from a stranger? And have you ever thought about how many things would take off as ideas to be embellished or considered worthy of the masses if they were written in any book besides the Bible? James, chapter 1, tells us that “EVERY good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights, in Whom there is no shadow of turning.” And we call it luck, chance, or being in the right place at the right time.

An illustration in point: I have missed my mom exceedingly these past several months. Not as the person she became in dementia, but as the person I talked to most of my life. She was, for sure, my best friend. Maybe she didn’t always understand me, but she loved me, just as she loved my sister to the end. I often ask God if He will tell her I said “Hello,” and maybe tell her how much I miss her, but that I’m so happy every time I think of her happiness in the presence of the Lord. (“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8) Two nights ago I dreamed of her–it seemed like a long dream. It wasn’t a dream of her body with dementia, but the person I had known. It was a GIFT from my loving heavenly Father almost like a visit. I woke, not feeling sad that she wasn’t there, but glad that I had had a time of being “with her” in her former state.

“Oh, that’s crazy,” you might say. We dream based on things that are happening in our lives. True. But this was a “good and perfect gift” of a visit with my mom. It was wonderful to hear her voice in the dream, and see her happy in whatever situation the dream held–I don’t even recall it. All I know is, my God gave me a time of remembering my mom so that I enjoyed her, and loved her.

I don’t want to attribute that to a “Santa-like” coincidence, chance, exhaustion, or anything else except the God who watches over me. Why should He not get credit for the great things He does for us?

Thank You, Father, for the gifts You give me.

Love, Your child.

santa steal 2

© Max Blain | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Jon Helgason | Dreamstime Stock Photos

LOVE IS A CHOICE…

TOWERS2The news came suddenly: mothers started running to the nursery at church, grabbing their little ones, fear full-blown on their faces. It was a Tuesday morning in September, and what we were hearing was bits and pieces–something about an attack in New York. We were in central Virginia, many hours away from NY. One woman was trying to hold herself together, for her husband had a meeting that morning in NYC. She was desperately trying to reach him. My daughter and I left the nursery once the babies were all picked up and headed for a television in the church, where the news had interrupted regular programming. Everyone was shocked speechless, some crying, some stunned. Over the next hours I can so well remember my feeling: how can anyone hate America this much?

It is said that those of us who are old enough to remember when John Kennedy was shot, know exactly where we were when the news came, and it’s true. It’s also true we remember where we were when we first heard of the attack on the Twin Towers. These moments in our past will never fade.

Recently, I was reading a news article on a well-known American family who were blind-sided by a media attack, after news that they were not perfect was made to look like something the whole family should be executed for. I read some of the tweets under the article–something I never do. As I read the venom that poured out of people’s computers, I was once again struck by the hatred that was spewing forth. Stunned and sickened, I considered the truth that, had a Christian written those verbal attacks on a  family of another religious persuasion, it probably would have been labeled a “hate crime,” and they would have been interrogated by the police. Such is our culture today. The hatred is becoming greater and greater.

Now we are watching Lincoln’s prophecy come to pass: America will never be destroyed by outside forces; when it falls, it will fall from decay within. How true his words are becoming! Having been raised in the mid 1900’s, I have seen the black/white racism from A to Z. Well, maybe not yet Z. It’s still heading there.

I was one of the fortunate ones growing up: my mom, a naive West Virginia “hillbilly,” never saw color, only character. She raised me to look at the person, not the color of their skin or the slant of their eyes. I remember in a Sunday night class in the early ’60’s making the remark, “I’d rather my daughter marry a Christian black man who worships the ground she walks on than a white man who beats and abuses her!” I can still remember the shock and disbelief on the faces of those die-hard Southern folks who sat in the chairs. Later, I was outspoken at Dr. Martin Luther King’s tactics, and recall saying, “I would do exactly what he’s doing if I thought my children and grandchildren were going to be treated the way most whites treat blacks.” I wasn’t popular for saying so.

Today we see the hate again becoming an issue between whites and blacks. Haven’t we gotten past this? Have we learned nothing from history? Strip away the skin and what do you have? God said He looks on the heart, not on the outward appearance. That, I have always believed, is why He chose a Jewish mother–so that He was neither white nor black, but of Middle-Eastern appearance. One pastor whom I love once said to me, “A lot of ‘Christians’ are going to be surprised when they see the human color of Jesus!” How true. What we need to be asking is, who is the one who is stirring up this hatred? There is someone who is at the bottom of all of it, I’m convinced.

There’s no excuse for hatred. It cannot be the heart condition of anyone who calls themselves Christian. If you hate someone because of the color of their skin, you are condemning someone made in the image of God. How sad. Sad that we treat brothers and sisters in the Lord as if they are less than we are. Sad that people of the world, whose morals equal that of Sodom & Gomorrah, condemn and judge as if they should be executed, those who are Christians but commit a sin, repent and seek healing. Hatred is a choice, just as love is a choice. As Jesus said, “If you don’t love your brother, whom you have seen, how can you love God, who you haven’t seen?”

Sin is a fact of life: Jesus tells us through John that if we say we have no sin, we lie and the truth (Jesus) is not in us. Once we accept that fact (that we have sin), we are accountable to God as to what we are going to do with it. Are we going to continue living with it, enjoy it, and judge others, or are we going to recognize our right to eternity in heaven depends on our asking forgiveness for what we do that is wrong, asking Jesus to come into our lives and save us–not that we will never sin again, but that we will have someone in our lives who has paid the debt of our sin–and run to Him when we sin again. That’s the difference between love and hate. Hate continues to hate. Love makes a choice to ask for forgiveness when sin rears its ugly head, be cleansed, and continue living with a happy heart, knowing He has forgiven again! That’s what the world does not understand, because their eyes are blind to God. That would scare me to death!

If I realized that the God who will one day be my Judge, whom I will stand before, as someone who has rejected the offer of salvation, if I KNEW that He had crossed me off His list, wiped me out of His Book of Life–it would scare me so badly I would run to Him, gasping for mercy.

Hell is not going to be a party. But stomping on the mercy, grace, and love of Jesus–when it was still a possibility in your life–is a choice only you can make. Before it’s too late.

 

IMPATIENCE: A LESSON IN JUDGING!

dogwoodimpatienceWaking up, stretching, yawning… all of a sudden you ask yourself, “Where am I?!!” Then it all comes flooding back: the telephone call, the quick packing, the trip, and you’re waking in a motel room. You glance outside and see flowers. Everything looks beautiful. But something is missing. What is it? Then reality hits you: someone you loved has left the earth. You will leave here in a couple of days, and go back home, with only memories.

We’ve all gone through a similar experience, haven’t we? Perhaps not that, but close. I recall coming out of a Belk store many years ago (when my mind was sharp!!), and with all the Belk stores laid out the same, for a moment I had a true panic thought, ” What city am I in?!” Too much traveling, too much change, too quickly.

And so today I “wake up,” not having been asleep, but the fog from the concussion is leaving and I am able to function close to normal. Perhaps not at 100%, but enough that this page is now being written–the outcome of weeks when the mere thought was ‘too much.’ Been there? Overwhelmed by a thought of taking on a task? Yeah, me, too.

S0, congratulations! You are now back on track, you say. Who knows? Is there really a track? I know God showed me a lesson this morning, which is the first in weeks. Not that He hasn’t been there, just that I’ve been too far down to care. Does that shock you? Yes, Christians get there. Just like non-believers. Just like you, maybe.

And so God showed me a piece of my heart this morning: life has changed this year! Do you know there’s a “syndrome” for everything?  Look up RHS–it’s a syndrome. I’m a victim. After a lifetime of being at home, raising kids, mowing yards, keeping the house clean, blah, blah, blah, my husband retired. (Retired Husband Syndrome). It should be RSS, because it can/is the same for husbands who have worked from home and then the wife retires. So far I have yet to meet someone who cannot relate, man or woman, when this happens. Love has nothing to do with it. Space has everything to do with it.

Suddenly, there’s someone in your space. You’ve been alone–or with kids–and were used to noises, and identified them mentally, and categorized them. Now it’s a new set of noises. There’s no “quiet time.” He says, “But I go to McDonald’s every morning for breakfast!” Sometimes he says he goes so he can have bacon, other times he says it’s to give me time when I’m by myself. Either way it’s the same, life is interrupted. Picky, picky, picky, you’re thinking. Your time will come. Believe me.

I notice so many changes, being with him constantly. He’s retired… that means no schedule, very few commitments, very few real responsibilities except of his own making. Yet his driving is beginning to create ulcers in my stomach. If someone is in front of him at the drive-thru window, move quickly. If the person at the red light doesn’t go, he fumes. Turn right on red, for crying out loud, it’s the rule in almost all states! I’d rather we took two cars.

I need to go to the post office; when? Who cares? Well, he just wants some idea. I don’t care, as long as it’s before 6 o’clock! Want to go to the gym? Sure? When? Who cares, you’re retired! No, Mr. Impatience wants a time. Why? I’m the one working!

He has taken over the grass cutting, which is good, since I began a hobby from home that has become a monster that is eating me alive. I want out. I dream of running away, but did it once and it created billions of problems I never want to see again. I dream of getting a job outside the home, but couldn’t make the pay I need. I just want out of my present dilemma and there are several ways it can happen. And so every day I beg God, please, let me out! I almost got out by death (that should have showed me right there He’s not ready for me), I’ll take terminal illness (would I really?), just GET ME OUT. And He hasn’t. Not yet. So my impatience grows and has become a tangible, breathing, living force in my life, driving down the joy, peace, and all that. All because I’ve gotten myself in a pickle I am helpless to get out of.

As I was pouring my first mug of coffee this morning, I suddenly saw my constant beseeching God to do something, and please, do it now, as the same type impatience my husband displays behind the wheel of the car. Other drivers are out of his control. My work is out of my control. He wants them to move NOW. I want God to fix my problem NOW. Don’t you hate it when God shows you your own heart? I do.

What to do? Everything. Confess that the things that are driving me up a wall with my husband are things that are in my own heart toward God. Realize my husband spent his whole life working for the money to let me stay home and raise kids–now he deserves his time. Trust God to move in a way that I will recognize is best when it happens. Trust Him that He has my back, and will give me strength. Trust Him that if He can SPEAK words–or THINK them–the world comes into being or a person is healed, then He can change my circumstances if it’s the best thing for me at this time. Trust—don’t fear. Perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18), and FEAR IS TORMENT. Yikes, do we all know that?

Need encouragement? Go to http://www.trbc.org, and listen to the sermon for Sunday, April 19. Besides being a blessing on trust, you’ll hear Charles Billingsley sing “A Midnight Cry,” and yes, we’ll all be going home. Praise God–no more of this world’s garbage and impatience.

Father, You who loves me with a love I don’t understand, forgive my impatience as I beg You to lighten my load; give me strength for the race that is before me. Thank You for showing me that my impatience is no different than that of my husband, and no sin is greater than another–they’re all wrong in Your sight. Help me remember these lessons, Lord. And thank You for the resurrection power You’ve made available to all of us. Amen

 

Photo © Steve Sharp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

WIDENING MY PATH…

ROADMOUNTAINThe road was against the mountain on the left, but on the right it went down hundreds and hundreds of feet, with nothing to hold a car back from going over the edge. There was only room for one car, but Daddy still hugged the right hand side–more to scare me than because he had to. I sat as close to the door on the side toward the mountain as was possible, hoping to balance the car toward the mountain–just in case. I just knew that any second we would go over the edge, down those hundreds of feet to the ravine at the bottom, and never be heard from again.

Coming back was no less frightening. When Daddy’s business was finished, we would come down much faster than we had gone up. The turns were called “hairpin,” named after the quaint bent piece of thin metal that kept a woman’s hair in place. Daddy used to say it was because you could see the back of your car as your front was going around the curve. Like childbirth pains, you hardly were out of one curve before heading into the next one. Once he saw tire tracks going straight. He stopped the car and we got out, and–huddled together–looked over the edge. There, caught in trees way down the mountain, lay a large truck. Was the driver still alive? Could he have gotten out? We had no way of knowing. Telephones were just being invented, and one had to go into a town to send help.woodenfootbridge

Daddy wanted to teach me courage, I guess. It didn’t work. To this day West Virginia mountain roads scare me to death. They all had names: Dovel Holler, Piney Ridge, Boone’s Trail. But the narrow, winding roads were nothing compared to the footbridge that connected my Grandma’s house with Daddy’s sister. He would go across, then stand at the end, holding on to the (excuse for) sides. “Come on,” he would say; “you can make it!” I couldn’t. Fear took up residence inside me that made me break out into sweat. It was horrible. I could feel the bridge sway, and trying to stay away from the broken boards as I took a step was a challenge. Without a doubt he thought he was teaching me to trust him. I don’t know why the lessons didn’t take, but when I got older, I transferred the same lack of trust to God. I could have the faith that He had gone to a cross for me, but I didn’t know that He would have my back all the days of my life–even those that I messed up worse than anyone in my family had ever done before.

Somewhere along the line, one has to wrestle with the truth. I am constantly challenged to walk a footbridge with God at the other side saying “Come on, My child, I’m right here.” And I have to decide, if He’s big enough to speak the world into being, out of nothing, and big enough to speak life into existence, is He not big enough to honor His promises to care for me? But look what He let me go through, you say. You’re right. He did not make us puppets on a string, for where would be the quality in a relationship like that? He lets us sin if we choose, even though the consequences will be so big they may choke the life out of us. But He has promised so much more if we try to live as He desires us to. Did you know He will WIDEN THE PATH?

I would have been so much more confident if my daddy had said, “Sit right there while I make this road twice as wide!” Or, “Stay right there while I lay 2x6x8′ boards on this footbridge, so you don’t have to worry!” But he didn’t do that. But God does. II Samuel 22:37 tells me, “You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip!” He is taking care of us, enlarging our paths, so that we don’t have to worry about falling! Awesome thought! The next time I think I cannot walk the path He has for me, like Daddy did, I will try to remember that MY God is capable of widening the path, so that I don’t have to worry about falling off. He just wants my trust, and desires that I know He will be there for me. Recognition of who He really is, and that He still cares for us, is an awesome, amazing, unfathomable concept to process with our finite minds! May we do so with confidence in His promises!

Father, I so often forget to consciously remember that You spoke the world into being, that You healed the sick, released the prisoners, and are still doing so today. Help me to trust You, to remember that You are not a man like us that we can figure out, order around, treat like a genii, but You are the God of the universe Who is trustworthy yet loving, just yet merciful, and waiting for us to call on You. Amen

THE WORTH OF A SMILE

worthofasmile2

Chaotic frenzy: that is the best definition that fit the situation we were in! San Francisco, California, the seventh largest airport in the U.S., teemed with people representing nearly every nationality on the face of the globe. In the large passages that led to the hundreds of gates, very few were in a state of calm. It seemed nearly everyone was running for a gate, trying to make a mad dash to board the next flight. Some were running, some merely walking at a fast pace, others were getting on the moving walkway (and still walking fast!). Some were shouting at each other as they expressed impatience, fear of missing a flight, or enduring the final straw caused by a child who saw no need to be in a rush. All were making their way to or from the entrances or exits of their chosen airlines, hurrying to another destination. Only a small percentage were moving at a normal pace.

The yelling, the “trying to be heard” scenario brought a cacophony of voices with so many languages it was overwhelming. Never have I seen so many diverse people in my life! To hear English spoken was to hear a bit of “home” in an area where one felt as though English–not Latin–might be the forgotten language! Few people looked at anyone as they scurried their way: their gazes were locked straight ahead, with a single-minded focus that in itself held many lessons.

We had arrived from our flight across America, from a comfortable size town where friendliness is taken for granted. As we passed the myriad of people, overwhelming is the best word that comes to mind. Not because of the tremendous crowds, but because of the lack of connection between those hurrying to and fro. Eventually I noticed a small, elderly woman of Asian descent sitting on a bench in the passageway. For some reason our eyes connected and I gave her a smile. She smiled back, shy but willing to communicate through language barriers to the heart. It was a good two seconds out of the day. And so I began my trek of seeing how many would meet my eyes, and share a smile. Perhaps the number wasn’t huge, but it was still that thread of crossing lines that divided socially, economically, racially, and nationalities. It was satisfying to know that underneath all the unknowns of someone else’s culture there was a thread that can bind us all together if we let it: a smile.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but there was a lesson here that struck at my heart. We are not a bunch of haphazard, unfeeling “homo sapiens” placed on a planet to endure until the day of our death. We all have common things that matter to each of us, whether it’s a family, children, money worries, food or whatever, but sharing a smile is a moment out of time that brings our lives together. It can create unplanned but gratifying moments in our day of otherwise staying within ourselves.

Perhaps it’s the reason people are willing to go to other countries to serve those whom they don’t know, whether it’s through the churches, government organizations, the Peace Corp, or as individuals. The slight connection of a smile becomes a desire to make the lives of others better–not better as in money, but quality. Quality where they don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from as we teach them to fish, or as we dig water wells so they don’t have to walk miles for a bucket of water, and so much more. When you see how much the elderly women ache in their shoulders and backs from the years of carrying heavy water pots, grain, or food on their heads, you hurt in your own body, as they do in theirs. The small five or six-year old’s who have to carry their little brothers and sisters are not building strength alone–they are creating the beginning of lives who know the burden of work from the time they are little.

So maybe a smile is not something that really matters to you. But you have one deep inside you, and it might–just might–bless some stranger  today if you give it away. It costs you nothing but a second of your time, and may be the only smile they get today. Pass it on!

Lord, I know I often go about my business with a single-minded focus, my mind of the list of tasks that need doing, and I miss the opportunities to share a smile. Please forgive me, for I know You did not lose any of those moments of connection, and looked with compassion on all You saw while You walked the earth. Help me to be mindful that my second greatest responsibility is to love my neighbor, and it can start with one smile. Thank You for Your love, Lord. Amen

REFLECTIONS OF REFLECTIONS!

reflection

It was so easy to tell this was a house where Death had come. There were numerous cars lining the country driveway, most with out-of-state license plates. People were coming and going, obviously bringing food and seeking to help. The elderly man who had passed away was several states removed from the place of his birth.

Not long before the viewing on the evening before the funeral, the doorbell rang. On the stoop stood two middle-aged men, dressed nicely, wearing somber expressions. I looked at their faces, and immediately said “I don’t know who you are, but you are obviously near relatives of my father!” The resemblance was amazing, to be a generation removed.

It reminded me of a time when our youngest son was less than a year old. A visitor at church had dropped off his little daughter, and entered the sanctuary. After the service I heard someone greet him, and as he spoke, he added, “I don’t know anything about that baby boy in the nursery, but I can tell you, that was his father up in the choir!” He was right.

That type of comment makes one realize that as we go into the world, calling ourselves Christians, people look at us but do not know us at all. Yet when they see our face, can they tell that we belong to God? We should have such a close relationship to Him that it shows in our face. In Acts 4:13 Peter and John were preaching, and confounding many. Luke writes, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they [Peter and John] had been with Jesus.” The association was obvious in their faces.

Proverbs 13:20 reminds us how important it is that we choose our friends carefully: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.” It is our testimony and our reputation that is at stake when we run with fools. God is not glorified, and Christ is not honored. One apple, the Bible says, will rot the whole bag! One potato, left in that plastic bag on the floor, will soon ruin the good potatoes that it touched.

This new year has hardly begun, but it’s not too late to get a relationship with God back where it should be. If you’re afraid to set the alarm, pray that God will wake you 15 minutes early, so you can read His word before leaving for work. And when He does, since you have prayed, get up, get your coffee or Coke, and spend some time with Him.

The biggest thrill of your life should be that you hear someone say, “That man has to be a Christian–he looks just like what I’ve imagined Jesus to look like!” Wouldn’t that be something wonderful?

Father, You truly are our father. When we’ve had earthly dads who have disappointed us, we have sometimes given those attributes to You. Or when things didn’t go the way we thought, we blamed You. Help us to see through the pain and troubled times that You are a constant companion, loving and kind, doing the best for us. Help us spend so much time talking to You, Father, that we begin to look like You. In Christ Jesus, Amen

© Arnon Ayal | Dreamstime Stock Photos

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

HUNTING

The woods were so frightening! Was that a giant black widow in the web above my head? Maybe a bear was behind the tree, or even a skunk. The loaded gun felt weird tucked under my right arm and balanced with my left hand, and knowing it was ready to shoot caused me fear also. I had always heard that Indians could walk so softly that no one could tell they were in the woods, so I tried my best to make no sound. Behind me, in single file, my grandpa and grandma were also walking quietly. My grandpa must love me a lot, I reasoned, to take me hunting for the first time in my life, and let me lead the way! If I got off the trail at all, he would whisper a quiet encouragement to guide me left or right, back to the trail. I didn’t have to look back to know he was there; for one thing, he was my Grandpa and would never leave me alone in this fearsome place! For another, his quiet words of command to stay on the path, though like a gentle whisper, were evidence that he was there. I didn’t know which was greater, my fear, my excitement, or my pride.

That happened more years ago that most anyone who reads this can conceive, yet I can still feel that experience as though it happened yesterday. I was maybe eight years old, but he gave me such a gift that day as he did what no one else had ever done: he showed he trusted me to handle a gun, lead our way, and listen for his voice.

Now, so many decades later, it is the end of another year and a time to look back at this past twelve months. Did you walk an unknown path, knowing your heavenly Father was behind you, never leaving you, or did you doubt His faithfulness? His still, small voice is a command to our heart if we are about to get off the path; did you listen for it? Sometimes it is a red flag of warning if you don’t want to listen–it probably means you want to do you own thing! Did you act in a manner that He found faithful to His wishes? If so, you have done well.

Some days I feel like that eight-year-old, ready to take on the world. Other days, I feel a hundred and twenty, dreading to put one foot in front of the other! But one thing I know, every day has something to teach me. There is not a day that goes by that I do not discover something new. And because of that, I can look forward to 2015 knowing that I still have so much to learn: so much about Jesus, so much about  myself, and so much about what my purpose is in living. He has plans and a purpose for me, Jeremiah wrote, and I find it only by being in the center of His will.

You may be thinking, not me. Nope, not after the mistakes I’ve made. Not after the way I messed up last year. Not after the sins I committed, when I flagrantly yelled at Him, “Let me do this on my own!” Yet Isaiah 57:15 tells us, “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.'” There is such hope for the backslider! All you need is a humble spirit of sorrow for what you did when you got off the right path, confess it to Him (1 John 1:9), and you are forgiven! You can start 2015 out with a clean record! How much better can it get?

Do  you have goals for 2015? It seems only once in a great while that a “New Year’s Resolution” is actually kept for the year. But a goal, ah–that’s different. That’s a commitment to stay on the path that God has for you, so that you can be more like Him. What does that look like, to be like Him? Do you actually hunger and thirst to be righteous? Do you want to let others go before you? Do you mind if someone gets credit for  what you’ve done? Do you let someone else have the last word? Do you love others more than you love yourself? Yikes. That stabs. Do you keep the church’s sticker off your back windshield so that if you cut someone off in traffic, they won’t know which church you attend? My license plate says “EL EWE.” LU. I know that no matter how I drive, someone is going to recognize that I am associated in some manner with a certain university and church, and that God’s reality in my life shows in my driving. Ouch. It causes me to drive better, I will say that!

So what about 2015? Can we make some commitments that we will handle this year better than 2014? That we won’t waste as much money, perhaps eat healthier to keep our temple in better condition, that we’ll treat our family as we treat our boss, etc? We could fill up a dozen pages. But let’s go back to a few posts to the “Do Not Fear” and pull out the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord with all that we are, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. We can reduce our huge list to two things. And we can trust Him to be behind us every step of the way, whispering if we start to get off track, and loving us. What a God to walk with in the next year!

Holy Father, how we fail You, but how faithful You remain! Your word tells us that even when we are unfaithful, You stay faithful to us. You are willing to save anyone who calls on You, but how can they call unless they hear? And how will they hear unless we tell them? Give us boldness and courage to know You have our back, have ordained our path, and are accompanying us ever step. We love You, Lord. Thank You for the cross. Amen