Bougainbiscus, Butterflies, Silly Songs and Jesus Loves Me

He shows up where and when I don’t expect Him!

It turned out to be just Sandy and me  yesterday, off to “hike” (definition: walking leisurely, talking about the Lord, and interacting with docents and people on the trails) at the botanical gardens and then the zoo, taking advantage of our respective memberships. We walked unintentional circles at the garden, enjoying some funny pumpkin “sculptures” like the poor guy painfully covered in cholla and a couple of gourd-os sitting at a logs only  campfire  toasting s’mores. One of the docents who struck up a conversation with us didn’t even know  the pumpkins were there, so we pointed her to, it turned out, the tail end of the pumpkin walk.

In our conversation there I shared a possibly too true insight a friend made in a Bible study group several years ago. He suspected one of the things that went unobserved and unwritten about all the times Jesus went off by himself to pray was (no disrespect intended) Jesus slapping himself on the forehead and crying out, “Oy vey,  these yutzes! Father, how am I supposed to work with these yutzes??!!” The fact that we’d steered the docent in the wrong direction only emphasized the likelihood of the Lord’s possible prayer …..

We  passed a beautiful red-flowered plant unknown to either Sandy or me. It looked like a cross between a Bougainvillea and a hibiscus, and though I don’t remember it’s scientific name, we decided it must be a bougainbiscus.  We listened to another docent manning a table of blooms, and he pointed us in the right direction to go see the butterfly pavilion, which was wonderful. Fluttering, flitting beautiful wings were all around us, and I state publicly that the fact it  takes four generations of monarch butterflies to make the round-trip migratory journey, and the great-grandparents of the returning lepidoptera aren’t around to tell their great-grandoptera where “home” is, clearly tells me there IS a Creator,Intelligent Designer, and Architect of all the wonders in the world. We wandered around trying to find our way out of the wildflower loop and drove down the road to the zoo.

More natural wonders awaited us on trails there: Komodo dragons, whose bite is venomous, so all they have to do is bite their prey  and wait for it to die; orangutans strong  enough to rip your arm off, but who spend their lives in the wild high up in trees and make “nests” in the  branches for sleeping; giraffes, and enough said about their incredible design. I truly enjoyed my two years of  working at the real zoo, after thirteen years of  substitute teaching in a very different ”zoo” setting. We encountered Hannah, one of Sandy’s friends from her church who works at the zoo while she’s attending seminary,  and since  she was being trained to drive  the  train (yes, pun intended) I told her about the songs I wrote for about ten animals the train passes. She said she’s be glad for me to send them to her.

We bought sandwiches for lunch, sat down on the benches around a shaded table, and continued sharing about some of the”God-incidences” in our lives., when an older woman pushing a young child in a stroller politely asked if she could shar our table, and we replied we were happy to share the shade.Since I know personally about the early childhood programs there, I asked if the boy was her grandson, and then told her about the wonderful breakfast programs that are an adult’s “ticket” to get up close to  some  of the animals in the zoo’s collection. I asked Paul, who’sfour, if I could sing a song for him, and commenced into, ”Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ in your muddy hole ’n’  keep your body rollin,’ warthog ….” to a tune only older adults always laughed at.

Being a bit humorous and silly seems to break the ice. Noting the cross necklace the grandma wore, I asked,”Are you a Believer?”

“Believer in what?” she replied.

I held up my own cross necklace and said,”In this.”

“I sure am!” she smiled, and a new door opened up for us to share about our  faith. Even though we are in different denominations, Jesus’ sarificial death on the cross – God Himself paying the horrendous penalty for humanity’s rebellion against God’s Holy authority and Righteousness AND love for us all – unites Christians of every “flavor.” So together we said the opening line, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible  tells me so!”

And here’s what it says:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23

BUT “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And expanding on Romans:23 “Forallhave sinnedandfall short of the glory of God, AND  ARE JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He (God) did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have  faith in Jesus.” Romans 3”23-26

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.  Romans 5: 5-11 NIV

God is Just, AND God is Love. Neither cancels the other. Only one unites them both perfectly: Jesus,Y’shua, however you say his name in your language. Jesus said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matthew 23:23 And after a long passage of “Woes,” Jesus cried out to Jerusalem with fierce love and longing to  bring everyone there into his loving, sheltering arms.

It’s BOTH Justice AND Mercy, in one perfect person to satisfy both. And how utterly amazing, relentless, selfless, pure and passionate is the heart of God who Himself teaches, leads, forgives, heals, bleeds, rises from death, justifies and redeems us!

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, 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… because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God  through him, because he  always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 4:15-16, 7: 24-25 NIV

In Jesus we can drop the censure we hear and feel from ourselves and from others, and become, in praising and thanking God for his incredible gift of love, the incense in the censer held by our Great High Priest Jesus, rising up in a fragrant offering to the One who makes us pure, loved, and joyfully pleasing to God.

The pumpkins and butterflies and orangutans  and squirrel monkeys were fun, but sharing with “Mimi” and little Paul was pure joy!

My/your/our takeaway?  Jesus is wherever I/you/we go, and all I/you/we need to do is be open to him walking, sitting, driving, golfing, working, eating. being with us to share him with others.  That’s HIS joy! Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God! And when Jesus drops into my life with connections like this, I feel the intense, outrageous love  that he IS! Love alive, love present, love embracing, love forgiving (oy vey!) and love overcoming.

a”…BUT…” to pray today: Father God, loving Lord jesus, sometimes I  don’t  sense your love for me. Sometimes I feel all too much my “yutz-ness” and all I sense is the censure of others, BUT you promise that your love never fails and you will never, ever leave me, ,so I’m asking you to show me your love, and you get to decide how, when and where. Feel welcomed into my life to surprise me,  Jesus! In your name I pray, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening, waiting AND watching __________________________________________________________

 

 

 

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God is NOT Just a Good Idea! Take Two

 

Today is a replay. Given all the shaking and winds and waves not only in the physical world, but in governments and the political sphere, I  think I need to reiterate this thought. Thank you, Francis Chan,  for nudging me to agree with your message today! First, Francis:

 

I strongly suspect we take God’s mercy lightly. Evidently we think God sent Jesus because we deserved it. Nothing could be further from the truth. We deserved God’s wrath. He sent Jesus because HE is worth/deserved it: God deserves a people who walk in holiness and purity, fully aware of his glory, majesty, holiness, purity, splendor, reality, presence, being, and fully aware of what GRACE means, the price paid for us to come into relationship with him,with his love, BUT aligned with his righteousness. The Blood that HE shed for us is the costliest fluid in the universe, and I need, speaking for myself, to be aware of the value of that Blood.

I picked myself up off the floor this morning long enough to share this with you. I pray God’s manifest presence enters and covers your life, your day, our nation, and the world today, and yes, I have a tiny idea of what that really means and the consequences of what I’m asking: reverential fear, awe and awareness of and reverence for WHO we’ve been “messing and trifling with” to flood our lives, and our personal and corporate realignment and recalibration with HIS Word, HIS will, HIS worship.

Back to the floor ……

The check box “OTHER” has often been my answer of choice on surveys and sometimes on standardized tests when none of the choices or answers seems to fit quite rightly. When I did analogies on IQ tests in school, I could often see relationships between more than one of the answers, and I always wished those tests had a “free response” section so I could elaborate on connections I saw in multiple choices.

“For He is like ….” In writing about the passage in Malachi 2: 17-3:6, John Piper writes:

“He is a refiner’s fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire.”

“God is like …” – I read analogies about God all through the Bible, yet still I sense the need for a check box of “OTHER” when I try to grasp all of the Being of God. Sometimes in frustration I’ve wished I could step out of the skin of my humanity with all the physical limitations of my cells, amino acids and proteins, to truly behold God in all of His Glory and Presence. So far, all I’ve experienced are flashes of God’s Presence that literally made my heart skip beats, shut my mouth to any possible conversation or exclamation, and sometimes dropped me to my face on the floor.

And all those experiences did was make me hunger and long for more of them.

Somehow I sense that I the modern-day American evangelical church we have focused so single-mindedly on God’s grace, mercy and love that we have completely overlooked His Holiness, His “OTHER”-ness.

Deity is not an easy concept to grasp. We know nothing of it in our everyday lives, in the realm of the natural, and until and unless we come into a true relationship with God through receiving his Son Jesus as Savior, the only receptors/detectors we’re equipped with are our five senses, totally inadequate for grasping the HOLY.

Some religions reduce God’s Deity to human terms by claiming God “came down” physically and was sexually intimate with Mary to conceive Jesus. How we try, in our finite understanding, to bring God down to human terms we can grapple with or, worse, elevate our status to godhood! God alone is Deity, God alone is Holy, and it is nothing less than truly supernaturally miraculous that through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, God sanctifies our humanity. He does not make us smaller versions of Himself. God’s Holy Spirit comes into us to make us figuratively sanctified, cleansed and honored just as the cups and utensils in the Tempe were. In effect, God’s Spirit connected with our spirit by a means undetectable to our five senses, but very much felt within us, means God chooses to reside within our hearts and spirits as He did in the Holy of Holies in the Tempe in Jerusalem.

Do I “get it”? No. Do I believe it? Yes. Not me, not by my effort or merit. “OTHER.”

God is not in every tree, but every tree is OF God’s creative power. God is not contained (limited) in me. I am an image-bearer, but the image I carry within me because of my relationship with Jesus is a partial reflection of the character and nature of God, a reflection only of someone outside of myself.

One day, quite innocently and unaware of what an answer would do within me, I asked God to give me his heart for a person I was having trouble “loving.” I cannot humanly explain what happened, but I came into contact somehow with a love deeper, more passionate, more understanding and enduring than I had ever before experienced for another human being. “OTHER” is the only way I can describe the encounter.

Since that day I often see a beauty within people that I know I missed before. This ability did not come from me, generate from some goodness within me. I can only describe it as Holy.

I long to give this experience to others, but I can’t. Only God himself can transform so profoundly. I long for others, for you, to know God’s Presence, his Holiness. Periodically I have to take myself out of the “God is my friend” mentality that is true, but isn’t wide or deep enough to accommodate Deity in my perception., and restore God in my thinking to his Holy, Divine, Majestic place as Deity and the sole right focus of my worship and obedient surrender. I am compelled to not give in to those people who demand or expect me worship them. I can love them, but I can’t worship anyone but God Almighty.

Worship is defined as reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred; adoring reverence or regard. It is both an act and, more importantly, an attitude toward.

Perhaps today it’s time in your life to try to take in, apprehend, or at least acknowledge God’s Holiness, Majesty, Splendor, worth, Divinity, OTHER-ness.

I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20: 3

Which of these titles belongs to you, my fellow human being all too often ensnared by narcissistic, selfish tendencies, desires, and expectations of others?

God is an all-consuming fire, A Refiner’s Fire. A crown of beauty. A Great High Priest. A Jealous God. A Hiding Place.. A Scepter. A Strong Tower. Alpha and Omega. Creator. King of kings. Lord of lords.

Adonai-Jehovah — The Lord our Sovereign

El-Elyon — The Lord Most High

El-Olam — The Everlasting God

El-Shaddai — The God Who is Sufficient for the Needs of His People

Jehovah-Elohim — The Eternal Creator

Jehovah-Jireh — The Lord our Provider

Jehovah-Nissi — The Lord our Banner

Jehovah-Ropheka — The Lord our Healer

Jehovah-Shalom — The Lord our Peace

Jehovah-Tsidkenu — The Lord our Righteousness

Jehovah-Mekaddishkem — The Lord our Sanctifier

Jehovah-Sabaoth — The Lord of Hosts

Jehovah-Shammah — The Lord is Present

Jehovah-Rohi — The Lord our Shepherd

Jehovah-Hoseenu — The Lord our Maker

Jehovah-Eloheenu — The Lord our God

In my emphasis on God’s love and mercy, do I forget God’s Holiness?

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes…. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Deuteronomy 10: 12-20 NIV

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Psalms 8:1

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. Psalms 29:2

Psalm 93:1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalms 95:6

Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Psalms 99:5

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4: 21-24 NIV

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6: 1-4 NIV

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.

the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Revelation 4:10-11

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and Earth are filled with Your Glory. Hosanna, hosanna in the highest!

Pray a “…BUT…” to God: Lord God Almighty, I bow before You and I confess and gladly say that You are __________________________________________________ and I am not, BUT because I belong to you and Your Holy Spirit lives in me, I am ____________________________________________________________. I want to experience You more as__________________________________________ and please, God Almighty, make me aware of __________________________________ Help me to live in greater recognition and wonder of _______________________ every day and help me to see You in __________________________________________. Help me to bear your image in this situation where I struggle to live as I know you want me to live __________________________________________________________ You ARE Holy and wholly OTHER, and I ____________________________________. I rejoice in You and Worship You! In Jesus’ name, Amen! Holy Spirit, I’m listening _________________________________________________________God is NOT Just a Good Idea

Don’t Bite the Bait of Offense! Stranger Danger! Grow Up, People!

 

IMG_1753

This black pot is key to a story of oppression, slavery, God’s providence, and miracle reconciliation! God wants to heal our land!

Satan peddles his baited hook of offense and self-righteousness, contempt and bitterness as “candy on a stick,” but IT IS POISON to your heart! Didn’t your parents tell you not to take candy from a stranger???!!! Satan is the Stranger Danger, the enemy of every one of us.! Wake up, wake up,to the true enemy of your soul!

The Armor of God
11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand.…  Ephesians 6: 11-13

In the face of the insanity going on in Charlottesville, Virginia, I lift up The God of Providence, happening across the country, and if you want to be riveted and changed by a story of Almighty God bringing miraculous reconciliation after over a hundred years, go to the website of The God of Providence and by all means, invite Matt Lockett and Will Ford to your church! What happened in Cleveland, Ohio in this photo happened at Victory Worship Center in Tucson last year, and I testify to it because I was there in the throng that, after hearing this incredible story, rushed the altar, weeping, shoes thrown off, kneeling, hands raised, crying out for God’s Divine Intervention in our nation to bring true CLEANSING AND HEALING of these ancient wounds from the enemy of ALL of our souls! Lord God help us let God’s righteous, merciful, forgiving love overcome hate! “RED and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight!” Let’s grow up into Jesus who loves the WHOLE world!

Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea, a Great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is graven on his hand, my name is written on his heart; I know that while in Heaven he stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.

Amen and Amen, Come Thou Almighty King!

Trophy BrideThis email devotional message came to me today as I was recalling how God showed up mightily for me five years ago and truly put down the  enemy’s plans to ruin a short-term mission trip:
HE WILL SCATTER YOUR ENEMIES
David Wilkerson
“This is the text in the original Hebrew for Psalms 119: “When designing pursuers approached me, who are far from thy law; then you, O Jehovah, wast near with all thy faithful commandments” (Psalm 119:150-151, Helen Spurrell Translation).
Demonic principalities and powers had surrounded David, trying to bring him and Israel to ruin. Yet this man of God testified that as the enemy drew near, he trusted the Lord to draw even nearer.
Here in David’s testimony is a wonderful promise for you and me. We can be sure Satan is out to destroy, harass and pull down all who love the Lord. He will do all within his power to bring us into a pit of despair, confusion, guilt and condemnation.
Do you have any satanic, “designing pursuers” coming against you right now? Overwhelming temptation? Financial burdens? Marriage or family problems? When your pursuers come near you with a design to destroy you, take heart, because the Lord God Almighty is even nearer. He is at your side — and if He is near you, He will act on your behalf.
 “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those also who hate Him flee before Him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God; yes, let them rejoice exceedingly. Sing to God, sing praises to His name; extol Him who rides on the clouds, by His name YAH, and rejoice before Him” (Psalm 68:1-4).
See what God has promised to do for us, if we put our trust in Him! When we give Him our worries, God will put our enemies to chase.”

THANK GOD and may it be so! I was just applying an online deal from Walgreens for a photo book, putting in my 2012 miraculously saved trip to Thailand, and God absolutely overwhelmed me with the reminder of HIS favor and how HE saved that trip from last-minute cancellation due to booking through Orbitz and Korean Airlines changing a flight time. Orbitz was going to cancel my entire trip just days before I left! BUT God gave me an upset stomach on Wednesday night after work, as I sat in our monthly church Holy Spirit Encounter Night service (where a friend, Judy,  I “accidentally” sat next to in the dark sanctuary  gave me $500 for the trip and 30 bracelets to give the missionary women), The next day I called in sick, and did four hours of spiritual warfare with Orbitz on the phone, who finally let ME call the airlines. Korean Air booked me in a day-use hotel, let me fly out a day early, saying it was their fault, and my trip was saved! PRAISE GOD ALMIGHTY!

Sometimes I think my heart will EXPLODE with the very real Presence of God and His Conquering Love! He is SO MUCH MORE than I can think, fathom,  or imagine! I’m writingthis, remembering, this, sharing this with you in PRAISE to lift HIM up, my unfailing Father and King and God and Redeemer and Mighty Warrior and Lord!
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
Truly God’s mercies ARE new every morning and His unfailing faithfulness to me has always been, by faithwill always be, is GREAT! Lamentations 3:22- 23, the Rose Amplified Shouted to the Heavens Version
Come thou Almighty King, help me Your name to sing!

“O For a Thousand Trucks to Sing …”

This is as close as I could come to the truck image with “OUR MOST  VALUABLE RESOURCE” on the side. “SITS HERE” wasn’t on the truck I saw, but instead an arrow pointing forward.  

 

Oh how I wish I’d seen those two trucks coming in time to get out my phone and photograph them, coming one after the other on the opposite side of the freeway. I might not have noticed them a second later, but as it was, I’d literally just finished a prayer as we were driving, asking for God’s  clear guidance and reminding myself, as well as the LORD, “God,  help me to put YOU first” when I opened my eyes to see the large words “U FIRST” on the back of the transport truck passing us, followed closely by a second  transport truck painted with the large words “OUR MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE” and a red arrow pointing forward.

No, I didn’t  chalk it up to “coincidence.” My words “you first” weren’t more than a second out of my mouth when I saw the trucks. The message wasn’t lost on me: GOD Himself is my/your/our most valuable “resource,” and it’s more  than right to put Him first in my/your/our life. I look back over my life and  think about kind things people have done for me, and I look back over events that”happened” which later turned out to be obviously God’s prior “set up” hand and provision for needs I’d have even as much as ten years down the road.

True confession, more often than not I look for goodness from other people, as though they directed the path of my life. When things don’t go right, though, aren’t we ALL, and I include myself, all too prone to immediately blame God, rather  than laying responsibility at the feet of those other people? How  in the world do I fall into the flawed mindset that good things come from people, and bad things come from God? I think I know the answer. In a devotional email yesterday, the  author made the point that yes, Adam sinned,and stood accused before God, but now that Jesus has paid the price for every sin you and I ever commit,  we stand before God covered in the righteous Blood of Jesus. Satan can’t stand before God and accuse us as he accused Job, because Jesus took our sins upon himself and paid the full price, so Satan speaks accusation against us  and accusations against God into our thoughts. Oh, the crafty, subtle lies of the Father of Lies!

I have to remind myself of the Truth, and God’s Word in the Bible is Truth:

 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  James 1:17-18 NIV

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8: 26-32 NIV

I’ve seen hurtful evil slung at me in the past eight years, more evil than I – naive girl who I was growing up into adulthood in the midst of God-honoring, kind, honest, caring  people  – ever knew existed in the world, on either side and  right in front of me. In complete honesty, I’ve cried out to God in confusion, asking why He allowed such painful, heart-ripping, gut-wrenching things to come  into my life, as though God was the author and purposer of harm. BUT this I know for sure: we live on a battlefield of the mind, with genuine evil warring against all of  the goodness that God intended and still intends to reign in, for, and through His children on Earth. At the times  I’m  feeling lowest,  thankfully I can remind myself of Joseph, thrown into a pit,  sold as a  slave, wrongfully accused of evil, thrown into prison, seemingly forgotten by God, UNTIL a confrontation with the brothers who did him intentional harm revealed a powerful purpose for God’s saving grace and goodness both for Joseph and  through him for many others:

 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.   Genesis 50: 15-20 NIV

Personally, intimately, God has spoken  so many  affirmations to me in a variety of ways in these same eight years:  waking me up to  His  words ”You’re worth fighting for” ; bringing me  word from a  woman I didn’t even know that “You are my chosen  child. Do not fear what man tries to do to you”; a slip of paper with words from an intercessor who was praying over the people who were praying with me, “I’m trying to bless you – you have to let  me”: license plates  like  the three in a row I saw in 2014 “JUSTICE” “CHRISTZ” “CHRONOS” ; the chrome words ‘Jeremiah 11” on the back of a black car in front of me last month, powerful words God gave Jeremiah about people who knowingly break His  covenant, when the only words in chrome I’d ever seen before or since on a  car were model names;  the license plate  “PS7686” leading me to these Scriptures

It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet—when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. Ps 76: 7-9 NIV

You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.

14 Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
    ruthless people are trying to kill me—
    they have no regard for you.
15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
    show your strength in behalf of your servant;
17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
    that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
    for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. Psalm 86: 2-17

 

Truth, Truth, Truth coming against all the lies, all the “but look at these nasty things  happening to you that God could have prevented” insinuating lies that I know, I know  that I know, come from the enemy of my soul, not from the Lover of my soul Jesus. The Truth is this:

A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23: 1-6
I love you, LORD, my strength. 2The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies…He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. 19He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me….To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, 26to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd. 27You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 28You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  Psalm 18: 1-3, 16-19. 25-28 NIV

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... John 10: 7-11, 14 NIV

Back to those two trucks that passed me last  week. Our most valuable resource? God Himself IS my/your/our resource and provision, God alone, God HIMSELF, God  who gave us life and who keeps us/you/me in His hands, ultimately bringing us the greatest good imaginable: eternal life with Him in Heaven where no evil,  no lying voices, no crafty insinuation  can reach us or do us harm EVER.
 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16: 33 NIV
” 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6: 31-33 NIV
Do not rejoice against me, O my enemy; for if I have fallen, I shall arise; if I sit in darkness, the LORD is my light. Micah 7: 8 NIV
So WHO is my most valuable resource? U FIRST, GOD!  I don’t know how the painful battles I’m STILL in the middle of today will conclude, BUT I do know God’s love and goodness will never, never fail me, so I pray for God’s victory and glory, His way, His will, His time, for His good purposes. Jesus  loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so! Thus I sing  (and look for ) “O for a thousand trucks to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!”
Keep  on truckin’,  God!
A “…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, help me to remember that, above everything else that I see, feel, or experience, YOU are ______________________________ People may “do me dirty,” BUT God, You promise to __________________________________________________ and in faith I ask You, out of Your mercy and love,  to show me a  sign of Your goodness this week, even today, and as I sing in the song,”Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see Jesus,” so help me keep my eyes open for ANY and EVERY way You choose to use to speak to me, in Jesus’name, for God’s  Glory. Holy Spirit, speak even now ____________________________

Franks Sinatra and Monopoly, Part 2: “Get Out of Jail Free”

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Handy to have ONLY IF you’re playing Monopoly

“I did it myyyy waaaay……”

I think my family first got a Monopoly board game when I was five or six, so I wasn’t very astute when I started playing with my brother seven years older than me. Still, it didn’t take more than one game for me to realize that it was VERY desirable to land on the square marked Community Chest when the next card in the stack was a “GET OUT OF JAIL FREE” card. Even my cool brother couldn’t talk me or schmooze me or buy me out of that card! I was no six-year-old dummy!

Okay, sixty years later, what have I learned? Most things I think I know, but I’ve learned a couple of things for sure:

  1. Life is NOT a game
  2. My life choices DO have consequences, both here and in eternity
  3. When the “board gets folded up” you can’t just walk away into eternity as though life wasn’t real
  4. There are only two places in which to spend eternity: Heaven or Hell
  5.  We all start out with an internal issue: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…. there is no one who does good, not even one…. There  is no fear of God before their eyes.” Psalms 14: 1-3, Psalms 36:1 NIV
  6. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …” Romans 3:23 NIV
  7. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23 NIV
  8.  But to all who did ·accept [receive] him and believe ·in him [L in his name; C the name indicating the character of the person] he gave the ·right [power; authority] to become children of God.” John 1:12 EXB
  9. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10 NIV
  10. BUT, and this is one BIG BUT, Jesus is NOT a “GET OUT OF HELL FREE” card, to be grabbed once and held onto in your stack while you live like hell and “Do it myyyy waaaay….” and then pop out of your stack when you stand before the Judgment Seat of Almighty God and the verdict is rendered.

“But hey,” you protest, “isn’t God a loving God of forgiveness and mercy? Isn’t he a big teddy bear of a spiritual Grandpa who will let bygones be bygones, as long as I more or less tried to be good and at the end of my life I whip out my ‘Yes, I went up to the altar and said the secret words so Jesus has to accept me in Heaven’ card?” Isn’t Jesus my  “GET OUT OF HELL FREE” guarantee?

Is that who Jesus said he was and why he came?  He very pointedly told anyone who would truly listen exactly who he was and why he came:

I and the Father are one.” John 10:30 NIV

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14: 6 NIV

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:30-35 NIV

Jesus said to her (Martha), I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11: 25-27 NIV

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14: 9-10 NIV

 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. John 10: 11-17 NIV

 Jesus answered her, If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:10-14 NIV

Now THAT is a purpose, a person, a Savior worth living for!

Does Jesus, all he IS as much as all he does, sound like nothing more than  a “GET OUT OF JAIL FREE” card to save and whip out then for there, or is Jesus the living Presence of God meant to be in your life as Lord, in every life that receives him, for here and now? John did not write, “For God sent His son into the world to excuse the world from sin.” Sin is too destructive for God to sweep it under the rug; He must deal with it, and He did, in sending Jesus to be the payment, the offering, for my sin and your sin, IF/WHEN we acknowledge that we did nothing to deserve it and gratefully receive the gift Jesus extends to us.

This is not what I say, subject to my own personal interpretation. This is what God’s Word says, period, what God Himself spoke through Jesus and through Holy Spirit to people who loved Him and were listening for His voice:

I (Jesus) tell you, everyone who confesses Me (Jesus) before men, the Son of Man will also confess him before the angels of God. But whoever denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.    Luke 12:8-10 NIV

Anyone who ·continues to sin [or sins] belongs to the devil [John 8:44], because the devil has been sinning since the beginning. The Son of God ·came [was revealed; appeared] for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s work [Matt. 4:1–11; 12:25–29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; Rev. 12:7–12; 20:1–3]. 1 John 3:8 EXB

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people,don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4: 3-10 NIV

I can hear the protests again, “That isn’t fair! Only one way, Jesus,  to eternal life, and I can’t gain it for myself by the good things I do? That isn’t tolerance, and God ought to know that down here we’re all about tolerance, and  everybody has their own truth! That’s democracy!”

Well, sure, you are completely free to exercise your own free will throughout your life. God did give you free will, and for good reason: puppets can’t truly love or choose to obey. Puppets can’t live in passionate, loving, familial, relationship, as a child with her/his father.  BUT…   choosing to willfully, intentionally live outside of the standards God set down for humanity to live by is choosing self above God. That is called sin, and it separates us from the HOLY, Pure, Righteous, Immutable, Creator, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who cannot look on evil and smile and say, “Aw, that’s okay. Forget about it!”

What we’ve forgotten about in focusing on God’s mercy is God’s Holiness:

At the center of the universe is a God about whom the angels repeatedly cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty. Heaven and Earth are filled with Your Glory.” 

” Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,  which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:12-16 NIV

“Holiness is not found in strict rule keeping alone; it is found in our desire of the Holy One. Holiness is not new behaviors. Holiness is new affections…. Holiness is something of God, not something we gain through the way we live. Holinessis new affections, new desires, and new motives that then lead to new behavior. If I don’t see my  sin as forgiven, then my affections, desires,and motives will be wrong. I will just aim to prove myself. Tyler Braun, Why Holiness Matters, copyright 2012 Tyler Braun.

God is without sin, totally pure, totally holy, and nothing of impurity or sin can dwell near him. That’s why sin matters! Sin is destructive and brings eternal death. That’s why Jesus came to DIE for our sins!

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires… but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life,and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God … You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Romans 6: 11-18

Who preaches that nasty word “sin”  anymore? That’s an anachronism for people with feeble minds! Doesn’t everyone have their own truth to live by, what’s right for them? Besides, I’m a pretty good person…. Then my question to you is, whose standards are you using to measure your goodness by?

Do not merely listen to the word (God’s Word), and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens the the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.  James 1:22-25 NIV

“Throughout the Bible almost every sin reaches for things with some intrinsic value, such as security, knowledge, peace, pleasure, or a good name. But behind the appeal to something good, sin ultimately involves a raw confrontation between obedience and rebellion. Will Adam and Eve heed their impressions or God’s instructions? Will they listen to a creature or the Creator? Will they serve God or themselves? Who will judge what is right, God or humans? Who will see to the results? Ultimately, by taking the position of arbiter between the conflicting counsel of God and the serpent, Eve and Adam have already elevated themselves over God and rebelled against him. Here too the first sins disclose the essence of later sins. Sin involves the refusal of humankind to accept its God-given position between the Creator and lower creation. It flows from decisions to reject God’s way, and to steal, curse, and lie simply because that seems more attractive or reasonable. Here we approach the mystery of sin. Why would the first couple, sinless and without inclination toward sin, choose to rebel? Why would any creature presume to know more or know better than its creator?”  http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/sin/

I remember more than the game Monopoly from my childhood. I remember the paint stirring stick and its place in the junk drawer, and its one calmly, not angrily, calculated pop on my well-cushioned behind when I engaged in outright rebellion against my parents’ standards of speech or conduct for their children. Was that abuse? By no means; it was LOVE! How do I know that? Because 1) I have absolutely no remembrance of the infractions I committed, so thoroughly was I convicted of my wrongdoing and thoroughly hugged after each one, and 2) I did NOT grow up to be an abuser.

I also know that because, after disciplining my own sons that way, reserving the wooden spoon for outright rebellion, talking with them about what they did and why they received one pop on the popo, I let them know I loved them. The results? Two amazing men of good character, compassion, honesty, integrity, faith and love.

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,”so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy;without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12: 9-14 NIV

The scariest words I’ve ever read in the Bible are words I heard again in church a couple of weeks ago. This particular pastor doesn’t waltz  around  God’s Word, but delivers it in purity and power. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. Matthew 7: 21-19 NIV

My two boys may or may not remember Mom saying often to them when we went about daily life, finishing their homework, cleaning their rooms, or just in general doing what I asked them to do, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13: 17 ESV) My next-door neighbor once remarked that she had initially though I spanked my older son a lot, but when she became the stepmother of a boy about my son’s age and she saw the contrast in behavior between the two boys, she decided maybe I was on to something. All I was on to was disciplining my sons carefully,  not spanking at the drop of a hat for every childish thing they did, but saving corporal punishment for outright rebellion,so they didn’t fall into worse, more seriously destructive behavior as they grew up.

“Discipline your children while there is hope; otherwise you will ruin their lives.” Proverbs 19:18 NLT

I painfully remember, and have repented flat on my face before God for, an incident, not with my children, where I did listen to someone’s crying  and  withheld the strong action that, I now regret, might have changed that mind about the consequences of continuing on to “do it my waay….”And boy, have I paid a price for not doing it God’s “tough love” way.

Let no one think whipping out the “Jesus card” at the end of life, after living according to the world’s/contemporary culture’s iffy standards, will be a “GET OUT OF HELL FREE” pass into eternal life with God. Reiterating Jesus’ words,  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven….Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” I can’t think of any more horrifying words to hear than those.  DC Comics notwithstanding, there is no such thing  as this:

So what are we to do if we don’t want to earn eternity  forever apart from God, and yes, in a literal hell?  Can we know for sure we will spend eternity with God in Heaven? Absolutely! This one thing is certain, sure, and worth placing all my hope and eternal security in: The Blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross for me, for my forgiveness and fellowship with God.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

So what can you do?

1. “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:8-10 NIV

AND

2. In Jesus’ own words: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14: 21 NIV

Let’s do it HIS way, in the here and now!

Isaiah 57:15-19New International Version (NIV)

15 For this is what the high and exalted One says—
    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 I will not accuse them forever,
    nor will I always be angry,
for then they would faint away because of me—
    the very people I have created.
17 I was enraged by their sinful greed;
    I punished them, and hid my face in anger,
    yet they kept on in their willful ways.
18 I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
    I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners,
19     creating praise on their lips.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,”
    says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

It Will Never Be “Okay”

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I sat in a room filled with deeply shattered people, and though their stories were different, their grief was the same: one loud cry of “Injustice!” Our facilitator brought up the topic of helpful and toxic people when you’re dealing with traumatic, tragic loss. Sadly, it’s the people in closest relationship  with you who can be the most toxic. They mean well, but what they have to say that sounds  encouraging and sympathetic to them rings very differently in the cavity of a needlessly emptied heart.

People look with sympathetic eyes and tell you, “It will be okay. Just move on.God has something better for you.” What those of us who’ve tragically lost someone we love  want to say – but generally are too “nice” to reply, is  the loud anguished cry I heard at the meeting last week through all the pain in the room. “NO! It  will NEVER be ‘okay’!”

Really? Have those of you offering your helpful advice ever had the dearest, most beloved,  cherished person or relationship ripped out of your life by the callous indifference, thoughtless carelessness, complete selfishness, or brutal anger or malice of another person? Would it be okay if a sniper’s bullet just took out the spouse, child, friend sitting next you in your secure home? How about your cherished dog or cat? If the blood of your child spilled across your floor, would it still be “okay” and would you simply wipe up the floor and “move on”?

No, what we  want to say in that moment –  and now I know it’s much the same whether  the loss comes from an unwanted and cruel divorce brutally ending  your marriage or through the homicide or manslaughter death of a loved one – is this: “STOP! STOP THE WORLD! Everyone,pay attention;something horrible just happened! This treasure has been taken,this life  cut short, this family shattered! Bow your head,cry out, weep with me, because this is INJUSTICE!” Frankly, the survivors feel like  the earth should stop turning, everyone in the world should drop their  “to do” lists filled with mundane, routine urgencies, and weep for at least a few minutes over the loss of somebody or someone precious and wonderful, someone whose life held potential and goodness and joy for  themselves and for others,whose absence now means  tragedy, loss, pain,and emptiness for those left behind. Stop,weep,and say, “YES,  it matters! YES, it hurts you terribly!” and allow for the very present and very real continuing sorrow. THAT is what is okay: to grieve,  to feel the hurt, to acknowledge the loss,to allow yourself to care and love  and feel the loss of love.

Trust me, survivors feel guilt and re-run  the tapes of  what could have happened to prevent the loss. Someone should have seen this coming, told me or  told someone who could intervene what he/she was saying, someone should have paid attention, stepped in,  done something, said something, intervened somehow to prevent or circumvent this tragedy.

Sadly everyone seems think it’s someone else’s job, it would be too hurtful to tell you the truth, somehow that person will turn around or get the help they need. After the fact, after it was years too late to change anything or help anything, people told me what “he” had told them or had done ten years earlier. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings  – I didn’t want to get involved – I didn’t want to upset you” was the common reasoning I heard for  the silence of my neighbors and my family and friends. Last  week we  all listened to each others’   unreported red flags  in  one horrible tragedy after another:  teachers who overlooked a student’s  sudden plummeting grades and changed behavior  but never looked into the reason, bartenders and bar patrons who watched someone drinking excessively and never asked who would be driving them home, bosses and people who looked the other  way when they should have spoken into an addicted life, no one taking seriously the mental illness or emotional dysfunction they saw in a person.

I vividly remember sitting decades ago in  a room with my elderly aunt, who had undiagnosed Alzheimer’s that her neighbors  thought was some form of mental illness. Due to “privacy”rules, she had to be the one to commit herself for observation. Really? The mental health system expects a mentally ill person to have the  sanity and presence of mind to see they need psychiatry?   Isn’t  that  like expecting a bank robber to suddenly realize,”Oops,  I shouldn’t be stealing other people’s money”? My father and I had to, gently and lovingly as we  could, tell her firmly that something was wrong with her. That confrontation was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, but after the fact, we realized she might have seriously hurt herself  or someone else if we hadn’t intervened,and more than that, she wouldn’t have received the diagnosis and care she genuinely needed. We did the right thing.

I  attempted the same intervention many years later  with another loved one, but sadly, that person needed to see the dysfunction, but because of  dysfunction, refused to see or admit it. That story had a tragic ending, a deeply hurtful injustice. God  himself spoke that to me,and though I’m glad God knows it, still that doesn’t diminish the pain. So weep with me,  hold me, rage with me at the injustice, tell me you’ll be here for me tomorrow, but be courageous enough to be here for me three months or  three years from now if that’s how long my  grief lasts.Walk with me. Take me on a picnic, BE  with me in real life if you truly want to help my healing, but  don’t ever judge me for feeling, for crying, or tell me  to cover my scars in your presence so I don’t upset  anyone. Don’t tell me I need to be the nice and thoughtful person mindful of the feelings of others  when someone has dealt me a malignantly ugly harmful, unkind blow. Rather, look into the ugliness of  genuine, tragic loss and marvel that I’m brave enough to  still be alive.

Angry? In my own  situation, when two psychologists and a  psychiatrist didn’t  see his disorder, despite me telling the truth of what  I’d live in, angry? When a pastor saw disorder in the man and simply labeled it ”demons” and gave no direction to help or counseling resources? In a lesser injustice,was I angry when teachers passed on my neighbor’s daughter, struggling pitifully in math, because they “thought” her Hispanic last name meant she had issues understanding English, yet she only spoke English and I saw in one ten-minute session with her that she had no idea of the number line in her head?  You bet I feel angry! You bet survivors  feel angry, but friends and society expect us to be the “nice”  people who “suck it up” and act like  we’re okay when we are anything BUT okay  with the injustice we’ve suffered.

WHY MUST  WE KEEP SILENT? WHY MUST WE HAVE NO VOICE? Does hurting someone else’s feelings matter more than the wrong of taking someone’s life? The wrong of destroying a family and shattering lives?

We know we  have to forgive. Forgiveness is a gift I give myself, to set my own heart and mind  free from, and see I’m not the one to bring, the justice I want and need to right the wrong, but don’t ever think  it comes cheaply or easily. Forgiveness  costs me,  big time, but it’s the price of my freedom from bitterness.  For me as a Christian, forgiveness is the example  Jesus gave, the command – not just the suggestion – to forgive seven times seven IF the one who wronged me repents and asks for my forgiveness.

“If your brother sins,  rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  Luke 17:3-4

And if the one who wronged me doesn’t repent? I’ve felt the sting of no remorse. The disciples replied to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” I still have to find a way to forgive, to give the anger and hurt over to Jesus, handing him the broken glass to turn into “sea glass” in the ocean of his love, for him to redeem somehow,  to bring beauty from ashes and  meaning from senseless tragedy.  I have to pay the costly price of giving up my right to true justice. For those going through an ugly, unwanted divorce, the only true justice would be true heart-felt reconciliation. For homicide survivors, the only real justice would be their loved one back alive and whole again.

“Just move on”? YOU try it after tragedy, and only then do you have the right to tell me and others  to. Till then, look me, or look your friend or family member,  square in the eye and  tell me/them you can’t imagine how much it hurts.Tell me/them  you’ll be there. Tell me/them  you won’t walk away even when I/they spurt some ugly tears.

No, I can’t “just move on.” Neither could any of the people in the room last week, and the counselors  recognized that hard truth. For us,the survivors, it would have been less painful if we had died; there would have been a welcome end to our grief and agony. No,we don’t need to be committed to an institution: we need to  be understood, heard, wept with, our feelings of loss validated by the people who care about us. We need “the system”  to work quickly  and justly. We will always carry the scars the wounds, and no, my friends, don’t tell me to put on a happy face as “makeup”to cover my scars so YOU don’t have to look at something “ugly.”  In truth, it isn’t “ugly” – it’s the beauty mark of genuine love.

When my father died after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s, we knew he was free from a terrible disease and, because he loved Jesus as Lord and Savior, Dad was with his Creator, God, King, Lord, Savior, and truest Friend. Same thing when my other passed away 14 years later. She was free from pain of arthritis and vascular dementia, home with Dad and her parents and siblings at that big reunion potluck, and enjoying the blessings and bliss of eternal life with Christ in Heaven. Closure. But truthfully there is no closure with sudden, tragic or traumatic death. There is no real closure with divorce, no “acceptance” except the hard reality that we will have to learn to live with the injustice and the pain and loss. Christians have the certain hope of God’s eventual redemptive justice, though it may well not be the kind of justice, the wrong-righting that we wanted to see. Still, we hold our hands up to receive our ongoing healing and blessings from a good, good Father. Till then, allow us to feel, walk with us, and help us  go forward into  the life we have yet to live, the purposes we can yet find, with our beautiful scars of love.

Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31: 7-8 RSV

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me,  spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:10-14 NIV

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49: 15-16 NIV

I remember singing the song “Lonesome Valley” at church camp. We changed the lyrics a bit to reflect a better truth than the song originally speaks, a truth that the verses above proclaim.

“Lonesome Valley”

You gotta walk that lonesome valley
And you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

Jesus walked this lonesome valley
And he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.

Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley
You don’t go there by yourself
For now there is One who walks beside you
You needn’t  walk it by yourself.

You must go and stand your trials
You needn’t stand it by yourself
For now there is One to stand beside you
You needn’t stand it by yourself.

 

Amen, Lord Jesus, walk beside me,  stand with me, carry me  when I can’t go another step, be my light on  the dark path  ahead of me, be  the voice of comfort in my days of pain, be redeeming love in my life, put my broken pieces back together and bring me out into a new, beautiful hope and victory that only YOU can bring.