Shake Off the Snake

Seventy-five unsupervised and rambunctiously excited kindergarteners sat in a circle on the concrete floor in the echoing auditorium, hands reaching out to touch the St. Helena Mountain king snake I held about five inches behind its head as I walked around their group. This lithe little snake had enough and told me so – snap – in the flesh between my thumb and index finger.

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Great – now I had an angry snake latched painfully firmly to my hand and wide-eyed children still waving “I want to grab you” hands. All I could think to do was try to shake off the stressed snake, hide my bleeding hand, and put the irritated reptile away. It worked, until five feet later when the still-agitated snake still told me I wasn’t retreating to it’s transport quickly enough and nailed my hand again.

“This isn’t the job I signed up for,” I thought as I came back into the room with a cuddly by comparison hedgehog in my gloved hands. But it was exactly what I signed up for, though I never realized when I took the job at he Zoo that being bitten was an occupational hazard inherent in inspiring Zoo guests to amazement at the adaptations in wildlife. My praise to Jesus, I came to no harm from that serpent’s two bites, and the next day the marks were as good as gone.  No other snake in the programs collection ever bit or attempted to bite me.

I never dreamed being bitten by the enemy was in the job description when I gave my life to Jesus, either. No pastor or priest ever gives the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. Beloved of God, go in peace, and now you have a target on your back,” but it’s true. The day I gave myself wholly and forever to God through Jesus, I crossed a line and took a side that makes the Devil more than slightly agitated.  The Bible describes him as a thief, serpent or snake:

The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  Revelation 12:9

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus speaking) have come that they (we) may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

How does the snake latch on to us? The devil’s venom is lies and offense: he lies about our identity, accuses us and bring up condemnation as though the Blood of Jesus isn’t more than enough to truly wash away and cleanse us from all sin, injects us with offense when someone wrongs us, and plants fear that God isn’t faithful to His promises, as though His Word isn’t powerful and God is a liar with less than overwhelmingly loving and good plans for each of our lives.  

When Peter in his first letter to the church exhorted believers to humble themselves before God, cast their anxiety on God, and be self-controlled and alert, he likened the devil to a prowling lion looking for someone to devour, and he was doing it then and still doing it now to believers. Peter doesn’t end on that note of warning, but concludes by saying, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”  (1 Peter 5:5-10)

I remembered the snake incident at the Zoo today in a rush of recognition that, of course, the devil isn’t happy that I’ve forgiven my betrayer and have continued to forgive and pray for him. I must have a huge red bulls-eye that reads, “bite this one” on my back. Well, of course we’re targets, and the more damage we do or will inflict on the devils plans through our forgiveness, unrelenting love, faithfulness, and praise to God, the more irritated and madder that “adder” will get. But then which do I want: to fall into bitterness to placate the devil and anger my Father and Savior, the Living God, or would I rather anger the devil and please, obey and honor God?

The apostle Paul encountered the devil in the exact form of a poisonous snake on the island of Malta when the ship carrying him to Rome ran aground in a severe storm.  Paul’s companion and physician Luke recounts the incident:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.  Acts 28: 1-7

And thanks to Jesus, the Devil may bite, but he can’t inflict any permanent damage on us, either, when we choose to believe the truth that God’s love is everlasting and his Word and character are faithful and true:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. .. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample on the great lion and the serpent. “BUT I’ll “shake off the snake” of accusations and fear from the lying devourer and just tell the serpent taking aim at me to “TALK TO THE HAND!” By that I don’t mean mine, but “THE HAND OF JESUS, THE HAND THAT BEARS THE SCARS OF THE NAILS” that drew the Blood that paid for my complete forgiveness and forever righteousness in Yeshua the Messiah, the conquering King of Kings.

The seventy-two (disciples of Jesus, whom he had sent out to do his work) returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  He (Jesus) replied,” I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:  Lord God, I never wanted to become a target of Satan’s anger, but being on your side means I’m not on his. I know that means he won’t be happy, BUT I know that means you WILL ________________________________________________ because YOU PROMISE TO ______________________________________________________________________. As I shake off the snake, today I tell him “Talk to the HAND who delivers and conquers, gives me authority to command you to submit and ____________________________ and who writes My name in heaven!

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Fragrance? Free!

Has someone you passionately love ever treated you like an enemy? Ever sat across a courtroom facing someone you longed to give your life for, who was set on destroying yours for the sake of his or her own perceived happiness? My heart has cried out, “God, do you have any idea how much this hurts? Do you have any idea how I feel?” And then I remember in a certainty that stills my cries that yes, he does, because in answer to my first questions, he both was, still is, and did.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past three years, it’s how broken God’s heart is precisely because he ferociously loves us, we who are bent on doing things our way for our own ends and would be quite happy if he’d look the other way, or better yet, go away, and let us. As much as I love Jesus, more often that I’d like to admit I ask him (without realizing I’m doing it) to vacate his throne as Lord of Life and let me call the shots.

That’s why Jesus had to come, why there is this event called Christmas, and why it is inextricably tied to the crucifixion and the resurrection and Jesus as our King and high priest of a new covenant. In short, yes he knows exactly how I feel because he felt it.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4: 14-16.

I need to remember that truth. One year after Christmas I asked my husband to split a piece of the trunk of the aromatic fir-tree we’d admired for weeks and turn that log into a cross-shaped candle holder for us to use on our table at both Christmas and Easter, looking forward and looking backward to see both as one astonishingly loving whole, offered by a heart of wholeness who wants that wholeness for each of us.

Can a heart be both broken and whole? When it’s God’s, yes, and here is my disclaimer: in no way do I measure or explain God by my experience. Rather, I understand or at least try to make sense of my experience through who he is.

Thirty-nine years of loving someone who would turn against and reject me makes no sense. Yes, interject the concepts of co dependence and misunderstanding motives and differing love languages, and the destruction can be explained, but it still makes no sense. There is no victory, no glorifying God, no ”happily ever after” that ends any truly satisfying story – and we all want out stories to end well. I will not dishonor anyone by verbally patting you on the head and tritely mouthing, “Well, if you learned something, it was worth it.”

“Better luck next time” still sounds like second place or a limp consolation prize, and all of us want desperately to be winners. The only thing that makes this make any sense for me is if I’ve somehow come to know and experience more deeply the immeasurable love of the Heart who was rejected so I truly and eternally never would be. A friend recently told me – and yes, I did know this, though I wish I didn’t first-hand – that a rose gives off its greatest aroma when it’s crushed. From my vantage point stuck here in this time, honestly, that stinks.

This only makes sense and I only bear it if what comes from my crushing is the pure fragrance of Jesus’ love that can somehow linger as the scent of truth and validation in other people’s lives. For that I’ll taste the tears; for that I’ll be “hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed and hang on to the promise that “God, who said,’ Let light shine out of darkness,’ WILL MAKE his light shine in (my) heart to give (me) the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 6

Did God do this? Did he destroy our marriage? No, all that junk that people write so many self-help books about did. Selfishness did. Thinking of a lover like an enemy did. Can God make anything good come from it? I still fervently hope for much better than I can ask or imagine, but for starters I gladly take this essence and oil and fragrance of how relentlessly God loves me and desires relationship with me. He did, still does, and always will. Now that’s validation and deep reward, a “happily ever after” that does come true for me and for you if you let Jesus take his throne and welcome you to sit in arms that felt what you feel for the sake of  forever with you.   That’s the ending I long for: to be a winner just by letting Jesus love give me deep wholeness! 

 

With a smile I hear him say,”You want a piece of me?” and I shout ,”Yes!”

 

Your  “…BUT …” to move: Jesus, this _______________________ really stinks. You know it; you felt it yourself, BUT you felt it so that I can know _____________________________________________. Truly, make my life a Designer fragrance, and you can call it ________________________________________________________!

All I Have is All He Is

The Word in the middle of silence. The Word in uncertainty and no clear path. The Word in pain and grief. I hate to admit it, but so many times I have cried out to God that I need more than scripture; I need a visible sign of his hand at work in my battle. But there have been no signs. Oh, there have been apparent breakthroughs that turned into closed doors, promise stolen, and plenty of those. Friends see visions, have dreams, receive miracles . . . but not me. All I have is God’s Word from verses that have leaped out to me.

Is that enough to sustain me/you in the deadliest battle and hurricane-strength storm? Maybe that’s what I’m here to learn. I don’t know for certain, but maybe why I’m here is to tell someone else going through Heck that God’s Word IS enough. Right now I’m listening to a live worship CD “Let Your Healing Flow” with an inspired prophetic song/word from Andre Ashby: “My word is sure, and it will stand forever and evermore. My word is sure and it will not return void unto me, for I am a faithful God and I see your need. And I’m drawing near to you, I’m drawing near to you to touch you, to heal you, to make you whole. My word will stand forever. Come boldly unto me, come boldly to my throne of grace, for my grace is sufficient for all you need. Come boldly unto me, come boldly, for I will prove myself to you, I am a great big God. There’s nothing too hard for me, there’s nothing that I cannot do. I am all you need, and I’m here for you.”

And he’s all I have. I have no power to change my husband’s choices, his stubborn selfishness and hard heart, his rebellion against God, newest betrayal and full-speed-ahead hardened will to divorce. All I have is God’s Word that I have been praying and confessing over communion every morning for the past year. BUT I know that Jesus is the Living Word, that he is his word – who he is IS his Word – that God watches over his Word to perform it:

The LORD said to me, ‘”You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” Jeremiah 1:12

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth . . . so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55: 10-11

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the LORD more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. Psalm 130: 5-6

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Almost every moment of every day, as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I am aware of my complete helplessness to change my circumstances and the heart and mind and will of my beloved husband. BUT I am not falling into the void, even though I feel like it many times. Even though the word some days seems like the thinnest thread I cling to on the edge of a bottomless abyss and I can feel the winds of destruction swirling up from the depths, YET my life is not determined by my husband’s choices, so says my God’s word:

The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. BUT the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Psalm 33: 11

I am God, and there is no other . . . I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. Isaiah 46:10

Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

And the word tells me this much of God’s will for sure: rejoice in the LORD always and in everything give thanks. He promises to be my shield and sword (Genesis 15: 1 and Deuteronomy 33: 29) and he will fight the battle for me (Exodus 14:14 and 2 Chronicles 20: 15,17)

Not much from me, but much from the Word today. All I have to give you is all I have to live, hope, trust and rejoice in: God’s Word is God himself, and he cannot and will not deny it, no matter what my circumstances look like and no matter who wars against me. God is love, his love endures, and the purposes of his heart will bring me victory somehow, some day, some way, for sure.

So I will bless my enemy and pray for the one who bitterly abuses me, because God’s word tells me to, and I know the Spirit will pour out upon my husband every spiritual blessing and weapon against deception from the coals of the altar of Heaven, where Jesus lives as the great high priest to speak and decree and make intercession and send his living word for him, and for me, too.

Does that give you something to cling to? I hope so. My greatest praise to God and the greatest work of my life may just be trusting in his Word and living in the peace, hope and victory it brings, and encouraging some other grieving heart to do the same. Whoever you are, I love you, and I pray for victory for you, too.

A ” . . . BUT . . .” to move: Jesus, all I hear is silence, all I see are closed doors and looming defeat, BUT you are your Word, and you promise to deliver on your Word when I confess it and cling to it. Because I know you don’t lie and you don’t dishonor your Word or your people who believe it, I will hang onto this thread knowing that your Word is stronger and more powerful than hammered steel. I will trust you, even when it doesn’t look like I should, and I will rejoice in all you are. Amen!

You own ” . . . But . . . ” to move: Jesus, I feel desperate, lost, without hope, BUT I trust that you _________________________