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PAWPAWS AND FRUIT

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West Virginia: a joke for people who don’t live there, right? John Denver called it Mountain Momma, almost heaven, and its original second name was the “Little Switzerland of America.” And just to get even with all the people who make the jokes, West Virginia is one of the few states that boasts a rare tree of amazing size that produces a fruit that is beginning to be appreciated and available to consumers: the lowly PAWPAW. You’re sitting there saying “papaya, you mean,” and I’m saying, “No.” If I meant a papaya, I would have said so. It’s paw-paw, just as in grandpa. A multi- sized fruit that is shaped not unlike a figure 8, green speckled skin (when it’s ripe), and a yellow, seed infested, inside with the consistency of a banana. And if you want further proof that such a fruit exists, find a YouTube video that sings “Where O Where Is Dear Little Mary?…. Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!”

My daddy was a man who lived in the wrong era. He was a tool-maker by trade, a Hillbilly by birth, and an un-diagnosed Asperger victim on reflection. He had all the classic symptoms of Asperger’s, but was a creative genius and a tool-maker that defied the odds of not only making the tools, but designing the dies that made the tools. And then he’d make a bunch and give them to his fellow-workers! Yes, they got the patents. Yes, it bothered us. No, it didn’t bother Daddy. He could grind a tool down to less than 1/1000th of an inch, my uncle always told me.

What has this got to do with the Pawpaw, you ask. Well, if you’re raised in West Virginia, early on you learn to eat what is available, and one product was the pawpaw from the huge pawpaw tree. It grows to magnificent size, and has clumps of fruit that is almost impossible to describe: sort of like a banana, mango, and peach rolled into one, with huge black seeds layered through it. You take a bite, spit out the large seed, and keep eating.

When the time came that Daddy’s wanderlust kicked in and forced our family to leave West Virginia for Ohio, we’d make a yearly trip back to Roane County, where tons of pawpaw trees grew. Next it was North Carolina, and he’d still make the annual trip, only now he brought all he could load in the car, and freeze them when he got home. He’d eat them until the next year. No, they don’t freeze well. No, that didn’t bother Daddy. I think Mother was the only thing that bothered Daddy. Eventually the trip wasn’t enough to satisfy him–he wanted his own pawpaws. No one had ever successfully grown them in the heat of NC, as far as he knew, but that didn’t stop him. He kept the seeds and started trying to get little plants to love the NC soil, and tolerate the NC heat. After some time–and long before we knew of anyone else trying the same thing–he became the lone producer of pawpaws in Beaufort County, NC. (This was about fifty years ago, or about fifteen years before someone else decided to try it, and like Daddy, succeeded–and just as with the tools, the man became known as the father of producing pawpaws for farmer’s markets.)

Every year at blooming time, he would load his neighbors and friends down with all the pawpaws he could give away. Most people, not having had them from birth (like West Virginians), weren’t overly fond of them. Occasionally someone would find them delectable, and now, of course, it is becoming known that they are one of the healthiest of fruits. Yea for West Virginia!

The one thing I found surreal (and not able to be explained) is that he had a beautiful grove of pawpaw trees. When he became ill in the early part of 2000, the pawpaws would soon be blooming. He died on March 1, and that year they did not bloom. It was the first year since he had planted his grove that the trees did not bear his pawpaws. Although Mother kept the garden and orchard going, those pawpaw trees never bloomed again.

So what’s the point, you’re thinking. Well, if you read this whenever the mood moves me to write, it’s because God has caused some verse in my daily devotions to blink with brilliant neon lights. And so He did this morning. In Matthew, the 3rd chapter, John is baptizing, and Jesus comes to be baptized. (My daughter, when she was a little squirt, used to say “bathtized,” which I thought was quite appropriate). In verse 7, the Sadducees and Pharisees come to be baptized. John is very politically incorrect and quite intolerant so far as the opinions of today’s millennialists go, and berated them soundly: “You brood of vipers! Who warned YOU to flee from the wrath to come? Go, produce fruit that is in keeping with repentance!” As I read that, I realized that we so often are tiptoeing around the subject of someone’s salvation–and so we most often should be, I suppose–but there comes a time when behavior, if it is a lifestyle that is not causing conviction, shows us the condition of someone’s heart, and it’s okay to recognize that they are not bearing fruit that is in keeping with repentance. They are probably not, in fact, bearing any fruit. Especially fruit that would be what we would term “good.”

In Florida my husband and I tried many times to grow tomatoes. No matter what we did, they would start getting brown spots on the young, green tomatoes, and we would end up losing all the fruit. But the fruit of a person who claims to be a Christian, (meaning “little Christ”), is good, and bears testimony that you are in fact what you claim to be! I had not looked at it like that, although (of course) one has always known that God expects that those of us who are “grafted” into the Branch will produce fruit.

I think of my dad again. He was not someone whom I could say definitely was a Christian. I hoped he was. Mother hoped he was. But there was no fruit. Anyone–saved or unsaved–can do “civil” good (give to neighbors, give to charities, give to humanitarian organizations, etc.) but only Christians can do righteous actions that shows their heart and daily living is striving to please God with the way they conduct themselves. I never saw that in Daddy.

The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering [putting up with someone who bugs you], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You don’t even have to labor to grow these–they are a normal by-product of a healthy relationship with the Father. Can you imagine what it would be like to strain, grunt, squeeze your innards, and groan, trying to produce a fruit that wasn’t going to come?

So what kind of fruit are you producing? Do you have to make yourself work hard to show the qualities above, or are they present in your life daily? Sure, we all have bad days, but underneath all the pain, there still should be the young healthy fruit that is growing. Satan can rob us of many things: our family sometimes, our money, our time, but he should not be able to rob us of our fruit: our joy, peace, gentleness, etc.

The next time you feel like you’re not having a good fruitful day, look up the video and sing along to “Where O where is dear little Mary?” and go back to that pawpaw patch to gather your fruit. Surrender it all to the Lover of your soul, and ask Him to give you some extra Living Water!

 

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A GIFT: ARE WE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT?

As I sat down at the piano, I struggled with the notes and timing of a Fugue by Bach. My years of learning to play began with a country teacher who had a hymn book, and it was the only form of “teaching” that she knew. After a year my mom found a teacher who could teach scales and theory–not fun at all! It lasted only a few months before we moved. I was 10, and that was the total of my lessons. Still, music was my love, my passion, and my focus.

At thirteen, a little country church we attended needed a pianist, and somehow they decided I could do it well enough to accompany their singing. It never stopped from that point; every church we attended needed a pianist, and then organ was added, and later a flute, then clarinet, then any woodwind instrument. It was a fun time in my life. In early high school I liked a boy who could play extremely well. It motivated me to push myself to learn even more on my own, and yet when I entered the music store, I was embarrassed to buy what I could actually play, so I would ask for Grade 6, 7, or 8 (not as school grades, but difficulty in ability). Then I would take the piece home, and every afternoon sit down after school and learn to play the classics measure by measure.

Last night, as I watched this video from a Facebook post, I was mesmerized by the life of Derek Paravicini. If you google him on YouTube, you will find hours of videos made of his life, his ability that is beyond measure, and his disabilities. I wanted my husband to see this incredible genius (beyond genius–no computer can do what he does), and we both watched, completely absorbed in the miracle that unfolded before our eyes. When it concluded, my husband remarked, “Wouldn’t most people love to be able to play like that?” Sometimes I answer “off the top of my head,” but in this case I thought my answer through, first. (One of the few times I have thought before I answered, by the way.)

“I think most everyone would like to play like that, but I don’t think they would accept the gift with the disabilities that make that gift possible.” Derek, as you saw from the video, is blind, unable to process much connected thought, and can’t really process a trail of information; he can’t count, dress himself, fix his meals, and is completely dependent on the care given to him by others. He repeats most of what he hears in language, without understanding it. He picks random answers to questions. He is autistic, and walks with the ambling gate of a severely handicapped person. As you may have noticed, he also constantly tosses his head from side to side, probably part of the autism.

As I thought more of what I had seen, I realized the absolute analogy between Derek and my husband’s question, and my answer. If ever there has been a perfect parallel to accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and God as the Creator, it is in the life of this young man. His gift and his handicap go hand in hand–they have made each part able to function. Somehow, what he went through at birth, three months early, made him what he is today. His twin sister, by the way, died.

To put it more plainly, the gift of salvation is available to all of us: God says (John 3:16), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but has everlasting life.” We can have the gift if we’ll accept it. But with the acceptance comes other things: things that most people do not want to give up, or “handicaps” they do not want to burden themselves with. They see the glass half-empty, not half-full. They see the negatives (in their mind), and not the wonderful relationship that becomes possible.

To be a Christian, they say, you have to follow all sorts of rules! You have to give up so much! You have to do this, and do that, not do this, and not do that. Actually the rules are only two: 1) Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength, and 2) love the people around you more than you love yourself. Only two. But those are each big.

If I love God and love people, I don’t want to hurt Him or them. I don’t want to do something that will bring shame on the Savior who paid for my sin. I shared with someone Monday, my license plate reflects a large Christian University. As I drive, I’m constantly reminded that if I cut people off in traffic, ride their bumper, or drive defensively, it reflects on the university, and the fact that it is “Christian.”  So I constantly watch how I drive.

That is how we live our lives. If we love God above all things, we want to please Him. If you had a perfect parent (which God is, as He made us in our mother’s womb), would it delight you to please that parent? Of course! And it would wound you if your actions humiliated them, and brought shame to them. Reading the Bible, which is God’s book left to us directly from Him through chosen men, gives us all the knowledge we need in order to grow in faith, love and the desire to know Him better each day. In return, He adopts us as His child, and He promises never to leave us, to carry our burdens, to have a plan and purpose that is much bigger than we can ever know, and to love us unconditionally.

If we love those with whom we come in contact more than we love ourselves, we will do what is best for them at all times, putting their needs before our own. For example, we don’t sleep with someone outside of marriage, because that is not loving God (He said do not do that), and it is not doing what is best for the other person; it is bringing shame on what Christ did for us on the Cross, and can hurt the other person in many ways. We don’t become drunk because we are told not to in the Bible, but God knows that we might say or do something that could hurt someone else, in action, or provide an excuse for them (if they can drink, and they call themselves a Christian, I can drink, too. But what if they can’t handle it?) We must love people so much that our concern is for their good.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (which almost everyone knows), a man is robbed and beaten and left for dead. A “preacher” comes by, and walks on the other side; another religious teacher comes by and also hurries past; then a derelict comes by. He gets the man out of the ditch, cleans his wounds, and takes him to a hotel, where he asks them to take care of the man until he returns. He pays for the man’s room, care, and food, and says he will absorb any other cost when he returns. That is our example of treating those with whom we come in contact. If we can help them in some way, through our words or actions, we do so because we love Jesus.

So yes, we might want to play like Derek. We might want the “fire insurance” of not going to hell when we die. But we don’t want the handicaps: we don’t want the Christian restrictions. It is only those who see that the “handicaps” are what makes the gift so perfect that are willing to accept the gift. Not easy–if anyone tells you that following Christ is easy, they are deceived and don’t know the Scripture. “In this life you will have tribulation,” “If anyone desires to follow Me, he must take up his cross daily,” and many more. But it is so worth it. No one can understand the peace you have as you go through the storms, knowing that if (IF) He wills, He can tell the storm to be still; that you can trust Him in the storms because He is watching that you don’t drown. And if you drown, it’s okay. He is going to bring good out of it, for others. That’s where trust comes in.

How would you explain the world to Derek in a manner he can understand? You can’t. He could never understand the complexities that we live with and grapple with every day. How do we explain God? We can’t. “His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.” You trust Him to take care of you, just as Derek trusts his teacher to take care of him. That’s how we view God: that He will take care of us, and we don’t worry about it. Do you think Derek worries about whether Adam will be there for him or not? No. It probably has never occurred to him.

What a beautiful picture of faith. And a sad picture of why those who want nothing to do with Jesus turn away from the gift.

Video: YouTube

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.

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STUCK ON A GLUE BOARD?

CLEANINGGLUEOFFACATWHATELSE It all started when my son put “Mittens” outside. Compassion in needed areas is my strength and ill-placed compassion is my weakness. He chose to leave “George” in, so Mittens had to go, and my ill-placed compassion kicked in. One house cat is enough. (His quote). I couldn’t stand the thought that a cat that had been treated like family was now outside. “Bring her down. I’ll take her.” A minute went by, and my common sense kicked in. “Is she litter-box broke? Does she shed?” Yes and No. The right answers.

By 6 o’clock she was getting acclimated to a new house. In real terms, that means she was sniffing everything that she walked by, after rubbing her then-furry body up against everything. Yuk. I had forgotten how fastidious I’ve become. I watched her like a hawk (or like she would watch a mouse) for the slightest excuse to back up on my decision. Did I mention impulsiveness is one of my several hundred besetting sins? This was done with no forethought.

One tall plastic storage box later (so a hole could be cut in the top and she could still kick her litter, without it going over the tall sides. Balderdash. She managed to displace a cupful the first time she used it), one $20 box of non-clumpy (ha) litter, 1/2 giant bag of cat food, a scratching post (which she did not use) (even once), cat toys (which she did not play with) (even once), and a pet bed ($13) (which she did not use) (even once) later, she was still going into places I haven’t cleaned in thirteen years.

Okay, so I forgot about the glue boards, except for a dash between my brain, going at warp speed. Two full days go by, and she decided to take up residence in the bay windows, where she could look longingly at the birds flying nearby, and probably have a heart full of evil desires, and who knows what other thoughts going through her mind? All I know is, the glue boards didn’t go through mine. They are thin, placed underneath pieces of furniture in case a small crawling critter comes along. Who even gives them a thought? A mischievous cat, that’s who.

The first indication something was wrong was late on the 2nd night–or maybe the 3rd, they start to run into each other at our age–when my husband (who had been very good about the whole “we’ve now got a cat” news) heard a loud screech, howl, scream that got louder each second: “MEEEOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!” He looked in the general direction of the mayhem in time to see a glue board stand up, with no face and no arms, only a lower body standing on hind legs. She was stuck. Apparently the tantalizing sight of crickets, spiders, or whatever, was too much temptation, and who would know the nice white, shiny surface would never let her go?

Fortunately, my lifelong habit of early to bed-early to rise syndrome saved me from hearing the wails that went on over the next half hour. However, it was hard to miss the glue board the next morning, coated with fur. I wasn’t sure if I was looking at the cat or a glue board. Do you ever have a moment of guilt, knowing something you COULD have done would have saved some real trouble? That’s how I felt. I had even entertained the notion of picking up the glue boards. For about one second. When she first arrived.

Last night, as I lay in that wonderland between falling asleep and actually being asleep, I realized there had been a deep spiritual lesson there (you knew that, if you read this very often. I know, right?) I saw people–us–you, me, those we love, those we can’t stand to be around, and others, “stuck on our very own glue board.” How can that be? Well–what do you find that controls you? Something you can’t put away from you, no matter how hard you try? An addiction? A job that you hate going to every day, and you’re totally stuck on that particular glue board? Perhaps you’ve moved up the rung, so to speak, and now your salary is such that taking a new job–even one you would enjoy–would mean a big pay cut. Maybe it’s your marriage, your family, your status in life, and nothing you can do will change that.

Did you ever think about walking into a room in a house that is not lived in, and saying “Let there be furniture!” and immediately the room is filled with gorgeous pieces of your favorite decor? Impossible, right? Of course it is. Yet you know the One who stepped out into space and spoke (SPOKE, John 1) the world into being. He is not limited by your circumstances, your past choices, your lifestyle, your marriage. He is willing to say “Come to Me,” and you can run to Him, throw yourself on His mercy, and “behold, old things are passed away, all things become new!” Sounds to good to be true, doesn’t it?

The change from that glue board where Mittens was stuck was not in her ability to free herself. It was in her ability to cry out to someone whom she knew would come and “save” her. And he did. Did it hurt? Definitely! Her fur lining the glue attests to that. But she was free in the end, and had a choice to stay away from any such-looking things again, or put herself right back in the same predicament. You do, as well. Your circumstances won’t change overnight, but if you are willing to put Christ first, to hunger and thirst to be the kind of child He wants you to be, He will take care of your life, and turn it into something beautiful. There’s an old saying, “You take care of the things that matter to God, and He will take care of the things that matter to you.” Great saying.

So–call out to Him to get you off your glue board. He’ll set you free (“and you shall be free indeed”), and turn you into a new being. It won’t always be the way you expect it to be, but if you trust Him with your life, it will be better than anything you ever could have imagined. Even when it goes wrong (and it will), when He seems to turn a deaf ear (but is listening intently), when He says NO (or at least it seems that way)–just wait. The best is yet to come.

Try Him–He’s faithful!

 

FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE..

tornadoonrichm,ondhighway

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.

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

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.