But I never traveled alone ….

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Hong Kong island from the Aberdeen side, 2006

Yesterday during my conversation with my long-time friends Belva and Maureen, I realized something positively and powerfully true: in the four times I’ve flown alone to Asia and back, and the one time with my younger son, I never WAS alone.

Trip # 1, crossing the Pacific roughly eleven hours after I heard the news that sent me online to book a flight, on the phone to call my friend Julia to hopefully connect with her  parents in Hong Kong,  and then hurriedly to the bedroom to pack a suitcase, I  tried to keep my  heart and mind at peace  by reading Brendan Manning’s book “Ruthless Trust.” He wrote, “ For me and many others, Jesus is the revelation of the only God worthy of trust … The promise of his (God’s) presence and the presence of his promise ….” I prayed all the way for safety and  health for my daughter-in-law  and newly arriving over two months too early granddaughter. Was I alone? NO! God’sars of promise and peace wrapped me on that flight, and HE proved his promises are faithful when 1) I easily found Julia’s mother in the airport and 2) Elsa arrived safely and never developed a serious complication in the seven weeks she was in the NICU. I counted 21 miracles on that trip! You may think  miracles are only things like raising the dead and restoring seeing eyes  to the blind, but when God arranges  three successive apartments to stay in on an island with mile-high rents and hotel room costs, a complete Thanksgiving dinner when the best you were  hoping for was turkey sandwiches at a deli, and warmly welcoming people – strangers who became friends –  in a church in Kowloon,  I call those miracles.

Trip # 2, crossing the Pacific again, this time to mainland China and Thailand, on the   I remained in good health and relative clarity of mind  despite the 35 hours without sleep. On my return trip  with what I thought was plenty of time  to  transfer in the airport  in Hong Kong, I was able to pick up my bags (which couldn’t be checked through), check them through security, go outside the terminal, go back into the international side of  the terminal, go through security again, check my bags, go through security again, and get an iced tea at the Starbucks  right beside  my gate with a whopping eight minutes to spare before  boarding  the plane!  Was I alone? NO!

Trip #3,  again to mainland China and Thailand, no issues  going, but coming back I flew from the interior to another mainland airport where, surely, there would be signs in English and English-speaking workers who could direct me to the van to get to the ferry to get across the harbor to the airport.  Uh,  wrong. I exited the terminal to a parking lot  filled with vans with nothing but Mandarin characters on them. Just as God says in Isaiah 30: 21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” And that’s exactly what happened, when God provided an airline pilot from Taiwan, walking behind  me, to guide me to the van that went to the ferry terminal. Was I alone? NO WAY!

Trip #4, the trip  that Orbitz almost  cancelled due to a  flight change by Korean Airlines, thanks to the 24-hour flu bug I caught, I was able to talk directly to Korean Air and salvage my  trip by leaving a day early, with the added benefit of staying in a hotel in Seoul to rest up, have lunch, and exercise in the hotel gym. On the way back I was  blessed with an extra day to stay with dear friends in Chiang Mai, get a  birthday massage, and hear an incredible story of God’s power and providence. Was I alone, ever? NOT EVER!

Trip $5 to mainland China with my younger son, with (again, we thought) ample time to arrive in Beijing and catch our flight  to the interior, we met  an impossibly long line at immigration, surely too long for us to get through and catch our flight. BUT a cleaning woman directed us (and how did she speak English and see our predicament??) directed us to go through the diplomaticl ine. Then when the inter-terminal train  zipped right past the terminal we needed  and deposited us at the next terminal, again Isaiah 30:21 in the form of a Chinese university professor  behind us, traveling back home (to the same city we were  heading for) from teaching in Texas, who helped us navigate security and find the train that WOULD take us  to the terminal we needed. Then when Satan broke all Heck loose at the next security checkpoint, we  still made it to the gate in time to  board  just before they closed the boarding.

Oh,Rose, why do you ever doubt God’s love and PRESENCE? I can almost  hear my eternally patient Heavenly Father saying,”Tsk, tsk, my beloved daughter, how many times  do I  have to pull your  hide out of the fire before you WILL TRUST MY LOVE FOR YOU and THAT MY PLANS ARE FOR YOUR GOOD???

 

I actually got word from God back in 2013 through an intercessor at a Healing Room – and NOT  the intercessors I was praying with – that said, “I’m trying to bless you. You have to LET me!”

Okay, 1) I must be a slow learner when it comes to my heart catching up with God’s  truth and  2) the sons of Korah said it more poetically than I just did:

For the director of music. A maskil[c] of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.   Psalm 42:1-11 NIV

I share my all-too frail humanity with you all,  with someone else who, like me,has a hard time catching your heart up to God’s truth, to encourage you that GOD WILL NEVER LET YOU WALK ALONE! Even when you may be physically alone and in dicey circumstances, GOD IS  WITH YOU! Remember WHO  walked in the fiery furnace WITH Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He is the same today for you as he was then with them!

This is NOT just the power of positive thinking. Positive thinking couldn’t have gotten me out of any of these troubles or created any of these miracles. GOD DID!

Put your hope in God, for yes, you will yet find reason to praise Him!

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Roller Coaster Mama

 

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The Coaster Kid with California Screamin’ in the background

With chagrin I share this today. I had no idea 16 years ago when I wrote it that I was speaking prophetically to myself. Today I tell myself, “Teacher, teach thyself! Listen to and learn from the One who taught you this!”  Twice since then the floor has suddenly, catastrophically fallen out from under me on my life ride. Is what the LORD showed me decades ago still true? Yes! Is Jesus still my secure floor, my “ride buddy,” and is God’s Word the restraint I need? Yes, humbly, and yes, gratefully, God is STILL God, and I can buckle into Him alone to find security in the “Mad Mouse” ride we call life! And to myself: this ride ain’t over yet, so hang on to Jesus, Rose!

From time to time, people who have children in college or way too much time on their hands figure up the current cost of raising a child and broadcast it across the Internet.   Whatever the figure, it’s always enough to make young would-be parents scan their checking account and think twice. I’m glad I never thought to count the dollars-and-cents cost of having children, or I would have missed the bargain one e-mail pointed out: “For your investment, you get to finger-paint, play hide-and-seek, blow bubbles, catch lightning bugs, and never stop believing in Santa Claus. You have an excuse to keep reading your favorite bedtime stories without embarrassment, watch Saturday morning cartoons without shame, and wish on stars. You have the power to heal a boo-boo, scare away monsters under the bed, patch a broken heart, police a slumber party, ground them forever, and love them without limits, so one day they will, like you, love without counting the cost.”   The bottom line of all the tallies and figures is this: The best thing to spend on your children is time.

Mothers typically spend lots of time “doing” for their children: driving them to T-ball games and dance classes, decorating special cakes for birthdays and making costumes from boxes and Styrofoam for class plays, scoring for the soccer team and bringing ice and water for track season, sitting through so many piano recitals that you hear “Für Elise” in your sleep, surrendering your kitchen and your clean house to be a den mother for eight little Cub Scouts, and walking marathon distances door-to-door to help sell Girl Scout cookies. You do these things to enrich your children’s lives and give them opportunities that equip them for their future, and to let them know they matter to you. All these hours are time well invested.

From the time he was three, my older son wanted to be the first man on Mars, so we slept out in the backyard to be sure we didn’t miss meteor showers and lunar eclipses. We sent him twice and drove him once to Alabama for Space Camp. I gave up my freezer to science fair projects, saw “Star Wars” at the theater 23 times, and – before the days of one-hour developing – found a photo lab that would develop in an hour photos of the space ship model Eric had completed just three hours before the entry deadline for a “Destination: Mars” competition. Eric worked on NASA projects four summers during his undergraduate years. Then he met Emily and decided to become a linguist instead of an astronaut. His goals changed, but all the “Star Trek” sheets we bought and pizzas I made for sleep-over Science Olympiad study sessions were not in vain. Those times we invested in his life were time invested in love, and they’ve brought a great return on our investment.

So you get involved in the things that matter to your children. If you’re lucky, none of your children want to grow up to be crocodile handlers! What do you do, though, when your child wants to be a roller coaster designer? That’s right: you ride a lot of roller coasters.

Faster than a Ferris wheel, More powerful than a merry-go-round pony, Able to leap a spilled snow cone in a single bound –I am Roller Coaster Mama!

His father is at least partly to blame for this. He’s the one who cajoled me into riding “Montezuma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm when I was three months pregnant with our second son, Ethan. It was either that loop-the-loop, or the vacation when Ethan was six months old, when we unknowingly set up our tent trailer by a lovely grove of trees that turned out to be within screaming distance of a roller coaster. It ran – click, click, click, aaahh! – till one in the morning, which was about the time Ethan finally went to sleep.

Since then, I have been on or listened to him recount the statistics of so many thrill rides that I can tell a corkscrew from a cobra roll and a boomerang from and out-and-back. Splash Mountain and Space Mountain don’t even faze me. I have spent five straight days in the “happiest kingdom on Earth”, and now I know it’s true that there is such a thing as too much happiness. I’ve plummeted 121 feet straight down on Superman. I rode in succession The Medusa – no floor – and The Viper – no more fillings in my teeth. I can say “linear synchronous induction motor” and sort of know what it means. I hardly flinch when Ethan exults, “It goes from zero to 100 miles per hour in four seconds!” I’ve pulled g’s, caught air, free fallen, been looped, banked, and double-helixed. I’ve hung suspended from tracks and haven’t even screamed on outside loops, with the only ill-effects – other than serious motion sickness – being a cracked rib from a wooden coaster on Mission Bay, and several urgent trips to the chiropractor.

The truth is, though, I have a love-hater relationship with roller coasters. They ceased to be totally fun to me when motherhood gave me good sense, or keener awareness of my own mortality, or a combination of all the pains in the neck, literally, I now have. Oh, I can manage anything Disneyland  or the State Fair can throw at me, but Magic Mountain is another story. I prefer steel coasters to wooden ones, because the ride is smoother, they hold you in more securely, and I’m less likely to crack or dislocate something important. Still, I did not get a warm fuzzy when Ethan reassured me that the Viper was easy to ride because it’s heartline roll – a 360 degree spin something like tumbling in a clothes drier – would rotate my body but keep my heart in the same place. It did – it started out and stayed in my throat!

Why do I subject myself to this physical and mental abuse? Because I love my son, and experiencing thrill rides is important to him. I really do want to share a part of this part of his life, so I’ve had to learn some coping – or survival – skills for riding roller coasters.

FIRST – I SECURE MYSELF TIGHTLY IN THE RESTRAINTS

 Restraints are your friends, even if they are uncomfortable. On a thrill ride, G-forces and centripetal forces propel your body in ways and at speeds God never intended them to go. This is what coaster designers and enthusiasts call “fun”. Unrestrained fun can kill you, so I snug those belts tight and make sure my head isn’t going anywhere the rest of my body isn’t.

SECOND – I BRACE MY FEET, OR CROSS MY ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE

 Part of the fun of a roller coaster, so they tell me, comes from the sense of instability and insecurity that heightens your senses and sends those “fight or flight” chemicals coursing through your brain and body. When I crest the first hill on Superman and plunge down that more-than-vertical drop, I press my feet into the floor for all they’re worth. It doesn’t make the ride safer or shorter, but it helps me feel more stable and keeps my seat in the seat. If I’m riding a suspended coaster where there is no floor, or if the floor will at some point drop away, I always cross my ankles, so my legs don’t whip wildly around on the loops and snap turns. At least it gives me the feeling of support, and I know my feet won’t be thrashing around at the mercy of centripetal force.   I watch the riders while I’m waiting in line, and I’ve seen where their feet go. My mother always told me it was ladylike to cross your ankles – but I also know that feet don’t painlessly fit in your mouth after you’re four months old, and knees are really hard to repair.

 THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Riding with a buddy on a wooden coaster is a smart idea: another body helps to keep you from slipping and sliding. I generally ride with my husband or our son, but if they want to ride in the front seat of a roller coaster, I opt to ride alone behind them, and I opt to pray. I want the Lord beside me. The truth is, even if someone is riding beside me, I still pray!   Psalm 91: 9-12 is a standby when I go to amusement parks: “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you, for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I love my husband and our son and would rather sit next to them than ride alone, but I also want as many angels as possible crammed in that car with us!

FOURTH – I CENTER MY FOCUS                                                                                                            

Here is where my approach differs radically from that of the rest of the family. The males ride coasters with analytical minds and cast-iron stomachs. They’re absolutely electrified, keeping their eye open and anticipating the snaps, loops and dives, so they can lean into the curves. They just don’t comprehend that in me, anticipation produces anxiety, and my eyes looping all over everywhere set my inner ear spinning and my stomach churning. I know that the odds are overwhelming that I will be alive at the end of the ride. Coaster designers do have to factor in maximum and minimum G’s, friction, velocity, centripetal forces, and human anatomy when they design rides. My brain knows that, but that knowledge never seems to reach my emotions and my stomach.

I have to attack my panic on two fronts. First, I’ve learned to WILL myself to think of positive truths when I ride. Yes, I am hurtling over a precipice which is, according to the park brochure, “the nearest sensation to throwing yourself off a cliff,” but I have timed this ride while standing in line, and I know the first drop takes just 3 seconds to the bottom; then it’s only a four minute ride from there to the end. That is also truth. I CAN be at peace for four minutes. I can put all those natural childbirth classes to use here and choose to relax and breathe calmly.

Second, to keep my inner ear and stomach contents from sloshing around, I’ve learned to focus on one spot directly in front of me (even if that spot is my white knuckles on the safety bar or an imaginary spot on the tip of my nose if my eyes are closed). It’s like the way a dancer or skater spots when doing spins. Granted, these two procedures thwart the intention of the coaster designer, and the whole purpose of thrill rides, to drive me to the brink of terror and nausea. But MY purpose in riding is to contribute to quality family bonding AND get off the ride in one coherent piece, so I don’t really care that I miss half the fun.

This brings me to my last coping skill – KNOW YOUR LIMITS. I can’t bond with the family if I’m hugging the toilet in the ladies’ room. I won’t be pleasant to be around if my neck is frozen in some picturesque, but painful, pose. I ride what I think I can handle without unreasonably taxing my back, my capacity to use mind over instinct, or the angels who have to ride with me. I try to discern when to say “no,” and to say “no” without guilt. I try to recognize when I can say “yes,” take a deep breath, and trust that the amusement park is as interested in their insurance liability as I am in my safety.

Lately, I recognize this has broader practical application in my life. For mothers in particular and women in general, if you’re part of a family, or if you have relationships at all, life often resembles a roller coaster. Can anyone else identify?   Take a typical day. It’s 7:40 a.m., and I need to drive Ethan to school by 7:50, then get 45 miles across town to take my mother grocery shopping, run errands along the way to make it worth the time and gas involved, start home before 2:30 so I can use the carpool lane on the freeway, make dinner, and get to Bible study that evening with a dessert to share. But this is the day the garage door opener won’t open. No panic yet. Between the two of us, Ethan and I manage to shove it open. Mental note: drive back home to call garage door company before hitting the freeway. Pray with son and kiss him goodbye. Drive back home, make phone call, and leave a message for husband to let him know what’s going on. Remember to stop by store I don’t usually frequent to get almond butter and rice milk that Mom can’t get on the west side of town. Hit the freeway. Make it intact to Mom’s, to learn that her medical monitor just arrived and she can’t understand the directions. Help her put on the monitor, run test recording, call the monitoring company, re-write directions for Mom so she can do this on her own, take her to lunch, as it’s now noon, take her to store. Realize it’s next to impossible to start home by 2:30, so kiss carpool lane goodbye, gird my loins for battle, and kiss Mom goodbye. Drive to discount store for errand, find what I need, discover they only have two checkout lanes open and lines a mile long. Look at watch and remember that son did not take house key, so he can’t get into the house if he gets home before I do. Madly put everything back (what would Jesus do?) and dash out of store, into the freeway frenzy, to hopefully get home before son does. And so on . . . . Have you been on that ride lately?

Up, down, whip, drop, snap, loop, squashed by four g’s, panicked by those negative g’s when nothing’s supporting me, light speed through the curves– does this sound like your life, too? How are we supposed to cope positively, calmly, with roller coaster days and thrill ride weeks?   It seems to me the same survival skills I put into play when I’m riding a coaster apply emotionally, spiritually, and practically in my daily life. I’m sure none of these principles is new to you, but looking at spiritual truths through a different context helps me remember and apply them in my life. Lets’ re-examine those coaster survival skills again and see if they fit in life as well.

FIRST – SECURE YOURSELF IN THE RESTRAINTS

Most accidents on roller coasters happen when riders ignore safety mechanisms. When riders ignore the lap belt, they pay the consequences. Don’t do what the sign at the station says to do, and you will become a statistic. I am not above the law of gravity. Neither am I above the laws of God. If I live in a way that is foolish, selfish or reckless, I will certainly be thrown for a loop when life takes me for a ride. Just as there are safety systems on a thrill ride, God has given us safety mechanisms – guidelines and wisdom – that are meant to secure us and keep us from harm, especially through the ups and downs of life. Consider this advice, for example:

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”      James 1:19

What protection for the emotional well being of our lives and our families following this simple instruction gives! My hands – what I do – and my tongue – what I say – would remain safely inside the vehicle of what’s helpful and good at all times

Thrill ride designers keep safety mechanisms simple to use. If you just do the dos – one click, one pull, hold tight – you’re good to go. God gives us similar simplicity in his safety mechanisms for our lives. Jesus summed up all the commandments in two steps:

“Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 30-31

Think for a minute about what your life would look like if you just “buckled up” with those two do’s. Love holds us securely through the dips and drops in life.

“But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. “ Joshua 23:8

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful, and let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

If I’d hold fast to God and do the loving thing in everyday circumstance, my heart would remain secure and stay where it belongs when life spin-dries me in a heart-line roll. One click –love God – one pull – love others – hold on to God, and we’re good to go.

SECOND – BRACE YOUR FEET, OR CROSS YOUR ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE.

In daily life, that “fight or flight” reflex is not a 50/50 toss-up. I know I lean heavily toward “fight.” Flailing feet aren’t safe on a roller coaster. Flailing attitudes and words aren’t safe in life.   When I’m stressed, my foot frequently ends up in my mouth, or I figuratively kick the person next to me with hurtful, thoughtless words.   That’s why it’s wise to press into the support around us, even when life’s running smoothly, to give us the stability that strengthens peace and self-control within us. Your family will appreciate it, since the riders sitting next to you are the ones who bear the brunt of your flailing.   My family has no clue how many crazed tirades they’ve been spared when I do think to press into the support around me.

A primary source of support is – or is intended to be – our family, but I’m sure you’ve experienced that you may not be able to look to them for support when they’re part of the corkscrew.   We all need people with whom we can be genuine and open, people who will love enough to push back with truth and encouragement when we need it. We need people we can count on for practical help, too. That’s why it’s wise to make a floor to brace yourself through a Bible study, small group, prayer partner, or support group. One of the first things we did when we moved was to search for a small home group through our church. The group we’re part of is consistently there for each other with very practical help through illnesses, house repairs, picking up kids at school when a car breaks down, shoulders to cry on, victories shared, and keeping each other accountable.

Even before you look to other people for support, plant your feet firmly on the faithfulness of God . . . for :

“. . . the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.                                                                                                                                                 Proverbs 3:26

God designed us to need each other, to be needed, and to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ for each other. It’s our function as parts of the same body to support and encourage one another.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

In thrill ride terms, be a supportive floor for each other.

THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Sometimes people fail you, and the floor you trusted in completely falls away without warning. Sometimes your floor of support can’t be there in the moment to brace you – like when you’re alone in the car with just that teenager and toddler, the alternator quits, and your day spins off in a double helix.   That’s when an unfailing buddy is vital to keep you from sliding. Invite God along for the ride to keep you from cracking a rib, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – perhaps even physically speaking. God does intervene in circumstances, but more importantly for me, he intervenes in my thoughts, giving me a healthy, proper perspective that keeps me from sliding when I’m ready to panic.   God never leaves us to ride alone.

“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”    Psalm 139: 5-7

God’s presence in our lives is security, confidence, and power. Knowing God is on the “coaster” with me straightens the curves and lowers the drops – as well as my blood pressure. Psalm 16:8 is a promise to hang onto when I’m pulling G’s:

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

FOURTH – CENTER YOUR FOCUS

 Choose to think on positive truths. There are generally several things true in any situation. Increasingly I see how important it is for me to choose to focus on the truth that leads to positives like compassion, peace, and faith. I may be powerless over my circumstances, but I have power over my attitude and thoughts. Many of the stressors in my life lose their power to produce stress if I choose to relax, be flexible, and shift my focus. Just saying, “Well, Jesus, what’s this about?” instead of spouting, “What in the world am I going to do now?” actually reduces my anxiety level, and I’m sure it protects my brain chemistry as well. That has a practical effect on my body and my day.

“. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”                                                                Joshua 24:15

I can focus on the positive truth, and choose whom I will serve in my response: God, or my anxiety and agitation.

When the apostle Paul advised the Colossians to set their hearts and minds on things above, rather than earthly things (Col. 3:1-2), he wasn’t urging them to deny reality and live in some fantasy land. Choosing positive truth and re-setting your focus changes, practically, how you respond in everyday situations. Recently I was on my way to our Tuesday morning women’s study. I teach, so I need to be at church early to set up my class. I had some time, but on this day I happened to leave just as a school bus stopped a block down from our house and put out its stop sign. It was a handicapped bus, so I waited, and waited, and waited as the mother and driver loaded a child on the bus. As I sat there – choosing not to fume – I decided to shift my focus. I didn’t know a handicapped child lived on our street. I prayed for her, for her mother, for their family, for the bus driver who so patiently helps this child every day, and for the teachers who invest their lives working with special needs children. It was true that I’d sat in the same spot for five minutes, but which truth was more profitable, both for others and for myself – not being five minutes further down the road, or spending five refocused minutes in prayer? Choose to focus on the positive truth.

Set your focus on one spot that will not change. That’s the way to keep your balance and settle your insides in a loopy world. Where is that unchanging spot?

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”   2 Corinthians 4:18

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”     Hebrews 13:8

FIFTH – KNOW YOUR LIMITS

I don’t have to take every ride. I create many of the loops and drops in my life by taking on too much, or by assuming something is my responsibility when it isn’t, or by letting myself get sidetracked (and isn’t the Internet helpful in that department?). I can choose to say “no” to some thrill rides and still be a supportive, encouraging mother. Good judgment, not guilt or compulsion, should tell me when to say yes and when to say no in life, too. What can I wisely take on? What can I let go? What SHOULD I let go? Let me name a few of the rides I’ve created:

Mind-Bender: Trying to reason with a tired two-year-old

The Enforcer: Proving to my husband I’m right about wasting electricity when he always leaves the radio on in the garage while he works in the back yard

Temptation Station: When the budget is tight and I really shouldn’t buy anything but necessities, but I allow myself to walk into Dillard’s, lured by those clearance sale signs, just to look around.

Avalanche Alley: Trying to accomplish just one more thing in the five minutes I have before I need to leave for an appointment.

Ooooh – cobra roll! Here comes a stress headache! Do any of these sound familiar? On a regular basis, it seems, I have to remind myself, “Don‘t go there; don’t even get on this one if you don’t want an argument or problem that’s more stress than it’s worth. I’m not taking this ride today.”

Sometimes , though, you have no choice. Life just drops you onto a thrill ride you weren’t standing in line for. When that happens, I need to realize I have my limits, but at the same time I also need to recognize that, for a Christian, life isn’t about my limits. No matter how scary or negative the situation, Philippians 4:13 is always in operation:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Since the limitless Jesus gives me strength for the ride and the power to love, to pray, to choose, and to center my focus on him, I can handle the coasters that circumstances put in my life. Through Jesus, I can be at peace for the next five – okay, two – okay, for the next one minute – when an upset to my life takes me on a heartline roll.

Sometimes life goes along smoothly; some days bring a little “wild mouse” like an upset schedule. My usual rides lately are “Time Bandit” and “Mind Eraser”!   But life can seat you on more serious rides. You may suddenly careen down “The Financial Funnel” when a layoff comes along. Life-threatening illness can drop the floor out from under you faster than “The Bottomless Pit.”   Life does not give you a map of the park to help you prepare for the next coaster. You don’t know when life is going to twist you through a corkscrew roll. But you can have stability, confidence, and sound perspective that will help you handle the drops and loops with peace, and maybe even with joy.

So Lord, let me be a roller coaster mama! With your help, I won’t panic, hyperventilate, lose my lunch, or scream. I’ll buckle into love for you and others – even the ones who put me on the roller coaster. I’ll look for a supporting floor of friends and groups to push into, so I don’t kick anybody riding with me. I’ll ride with a buddy through prayer so I don’t slip and slide. I’ll center my thoughts on positive truth. When it’s within my power to choose what I get involved in, I’ll be wise about my choices. When it’s not within my power to choose, I’ll hold onto God’s strength and whooeee! l believe I’ll at least survive, if not enjoy,  the ride!

(Parenthetically – God has faithfully been beside me as He was with Daniel when he faced roaring lions, as he was with David when he stood before Goliath. People may not understand the stands  I’ve taken in the last nine years when, literally, the Devil has raged and roared against me, or why I’ve chosen to stand, but I  MUST stand for and with GOD and the sanctity and truth of God’s Word if  I’m going to stand before Him at the Judgment with any integrity at all, and even then, my only defense is JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS, the Savior and Lover of my soul!

Here He Goes Again …

 

 

Waiting for the shore, and Amy, my “Dog and the log” of blogging lore.

Here goes God again, giving me a ”kiss” on my forehead. Truly, nothing can separate me/you/us from HIS love. In this post I start with God’s Word, which is TRUTH:

 

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 31-19 NLT

It started insignificantly enough, a phone call from a banker – connected by another banker at the grocery store where I, for whatever reason, chose to go two days ago to deposit a check in the small branch office there – about meeting to talk about the investment we want to make. (I just perhaps annoyingly wrote a sentence almost as long as one of the Apostle Paul’s!) I could hardly hear him over the noise of the carwash where I was waiting for my car. After all the cleaning and vacuuming, I called him back from my clean car, and God overflowed in our conversation! Dot-to-dot again! Get out your pencil and follow this:

1) He’s Christian, genuinely, not just a practicer of religious ritual once a week. 2) We both have two sons. 3) His parents were on staff of a large church in Los Angeles, and you’d know the name if I dropped it. 4) The founder of that church previously founded a solid church in Phoenix in the 80’s. 5) The solid church in Phoenix birthed a daughter church in Mesa. 6) That daughter church was the church I became a member of in 2001. 7) His mother has been active in women’s ministry for decades. 8) I have been, too, though not at her national level. 9) His mother has wanted to write a book for a long time. 10) I’ve written books with others, and one myself. 11) She lived for a time in Boston. 12) I lived in Massachusetts for four years and often visited Boston. 14) Part of her ministry is to abused women. 15) Unspoken commonality. 16) His parents now live in Prescott, Arizona. 17) He is passing my phone number along to his mother.

Did you catch all that? What part of this is “simply a banking coincidence,” and what would the odds be that this IS just coincidence? Boy, Holy Spirit, the pneuma of God, Ruach Elohim, keeps “blowing up my raft” as I float on still storm-tossed seas. I do pray I’m passing the final shoal and nearing the calm shore, BUT glory to God that He’s keeping me a float!

The song goes, ”Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise,” so I’m hereby keeping my part of the promise! Blessed be the name of the LORD!

No, I have no clear clue what this will yet be about, but God is in it, so I’m in! Jesus gets to steer this canoe still, and boy, I had no idea I was prophesying over my life when I spoke that analogy in a women’s ministry meeting (at that daughter church) and yes, often teachers have to learn in real life lessons what they teach others! Okay, God, I DO believe it: YOU are my pilot, my stern (as in rear) paddler, the one directing this raft’s passage. Help me ship my paddle and rest as YOU steer – and You know what a challenge that is to me when my mind goes a mile a minute and I think I know where I’m headed (but I can’t see around the bend as YOU DO!).

So true confession today, like many of you, I have a hard time emotionally letting God have HIS way in my life even though intellectually I know His will for me is good, regardless of the waves and winds and floating logs (and floating things – I won’t use the slang term – my kids found in the waters lapping a beach in Asia) the enemy stirs up in my circumstances. I guess if I’m that much of a target for the enemy, it MUST mean I’m doing something right for Jesus and His Kingdom! I quote Jim Dennison of the Dennison Forum on that hard question of why God allows us freedom to choose and why He allows us to choose evil if we desire: “But I do know that he redeems all he allows and that he is love. The less we understand our Father’s ways, the more we need to trust his heart.”

Dear brothers and sisters,  when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

Believers who are  poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1: 2-16 NLT

And mixing my metaphors, the words of Jesus about managing trouble:

20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Matthew 13: 20-23 NLT

 

May it be so, LORD Jesus, that this storm I’m still in scatters seed as far as Your wind of the Holy Spirit can take it, and may it land on good soil to produce good fruit, Kingdom purposes in lives who come to know YOUR endless love for them!

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Lord, whew, in my own life I’m in the middle of ______________________ BUT You promise you will never leave me or forsake me, so I’m asking You to show me Your love and heart in a tangible way today, and I know You don’t begrudge me asking to see Your Goodness in my life! In fact, I’m trusting that my asking pleases You! In Jesus’ name, amen, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening _______________________________

 

 

 

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

Shake Off the Snake

FOX 10 me with snakeI had no idea in 2012 that I’d be on the TV news in more difficult days than when this photo was taken. Dusting off one from my blogspot posting days, and yes, the serpent is still trying to get me to bite on offense, but I won’t take his bait or, prayerfully, let him envenomate me with accusations and lies, both of which I’ve had to “shake off” with truth in the last month. My words come back as reminders to me, and I pray they minister to you. Um ….  when we gave our lives to Jesus, this battlefield IS what we ( most of us naively, unknowingly) signed up for.

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.

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 a betrayer and have continued to forgive and pray for his salvation. 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 devil’s 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 God’s Word and love are true and faithful:

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 who writes My name on His hand and heart in Heaven! In Jesus’ name I  shake off the snake and the lies that I _______________________ andI embrace God’s Truth that I AM the Lord’s beloved!  Praise God,amen!

God doesn’t “grade on a curve”…

Reunion 3

Grade school and high school buddies, decades later, still friends ! And yes,Thea, I’m glad ,too, the school photo is blurry!Thanks, “Mo,” for sharing it.

I still shudder when I remember the day in seventh grade when our teacher handed back math test papers, handing the papers for all the row to the first person in the row. As the boy in front of me handed the stack back, my paper now on top, he loudly proclaimed, “Ooooh, Rose got an 85!” The whole class echoed his “Ooooooh!” as though I’d done something dreadful, an unimaginable, unspeakable horror. Never mind that he didn’t announce HIS grade to the class, nor did any of my classmates; all that mattered was that I didn’t have a perfect score.

I cringed, sighed, and knew one “B” wasn’t going to impact my semester grade that much. For those of you who laugh at the nerdy characters on the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” let me shed some light for you. Gifted students deal with other people’s expectations of their perfection, or near-perfection, ALL the time, and often base their sense of self-worth, validation and value on meeting the expectations of others. Does that sound like a weight you’d like to live under?

Flash forward to Calculus 102 in college and the soul-shaking day I got back another test paper, this time with a horrifying 69% on the top. My psyche rapidly started crumbling, until the professor put the grading scale on the board, and I realized I’d made an A. I breathed sigh of relief, though I still didn’t feel good that I hadn’t mastered 31% of the material. If the bulk of the class scored a failing percentage, evidently neither the textbook nor our professor had adequately explained the material. That was one day I was VERY grateful for the concept of grading on a curve, determining letter grades based on the highest achieved class score.

I suspect we’d all like to think God Almighty “grades on a curve” when it comes to standing before His judgment throne, and we’d like to think we’re good enough, love-able enough, to earn God’s love and grace on our own merit. That just tells me how insecure in ourselves and in trusting God’s lavish love for us – not based on our performance, but on how HE sees us and who HE says we are TO HIM in Christ!

After all, God does say in Hebrews 9:27  “It is appointed for men once to die, and after this the judgment.” Notice in this sentence the facts that 1) everyone dies – that’s truth; 2) we only get one “shot” at life, “ONCE to die”; 3) death is not the ultimate end, “and after this…” ; and 4) we all will face God’s judgment.

Here’s the other sobering fact: God doesn’t “grade on a curve.” God is Holy as well as loving, and we can’t ignore or deny God’s holiness.

“I am the LORD, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King.” Isaiah 43: 15

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Exodus 15: 11

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? Psalm 77: 13

For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. Luke 1:49

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Habakkuk 1: 13a

“You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you,…” Leviticus 22: 32

But the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. Isaiah 5:16

But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1: 15-16

Uh, you ask, isn’t God expecting too much from human beings in asking us to be holy? And what IS the standard for holiness, anyway? I certainly don’t do the evil things some people do. As a friend said to me one day regarding an issue in his life, “If that’s the worst of my sins, it’s not so bad.” In other words, isn’t it good that I’m better than a mass-murderer? Won’t God cut us some slack like my Calculus professor and grade on a curve?.

Jesus raised the grading scale on what God considers right living: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5: 26-29 NIV

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” James 23: 10

The eternal grading scale is actually pass-fail, but it takes 100% to pass

“From the holiness in God’s character we can understand His righteousness and justice. The man who does evil sets his will against God’s will and against the principle upon which He conducts the universe. Such a man has placed himself where he must either turn back and forsake his sin or take the inevitable consequences of resisting the purpose which God is fulfilling.” Henry T. Sell

Jesus said: For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. John 5: 21-29 NIV

“NOT FAIR!” we shout. Hey, I’ve blown it just like you have, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” (Romans 3:23) sin meaning to “miss the mark,” and “all” means me, too, so I’m NOT here judging and condemning you. I AM here to share some incredible truth with you: you aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, and no way you blow it can ever end God’s deep love for you.

It wouldn’t be fair, UNLESS God Himself made a way for us to pass, to in effect score 100%. God did exactly that in sending Jesus to draw us to God’s love and grace, to die on the Cross and rise again to eternal life, not for wrongs HE had done but for every wrong you and I have done and ever will do. He gave us, you, me  the grade Jesus earned! You aren’t made right with God because of anything you do, except for one thing – receive his free gift of salvation and righteousness through confessing your inability to be perfectly righteous and receiving God’s gift of Jesus’ 100% ability!

God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us (a complete offering to atone for sin), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

“… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3: 23-26 NIV

In offering himself in Jesus as the One complete 100% payment for sin who could make you perfectly 100% right with himself, the holy God completely satisfied both his holy righteousness and his relentless love for mankind! God values you SO much, sees so much beauty and worth in you that HE HIMSELF made a way for you to be completely righteous. The world had never before or ever since seen such incredibly powerful, passionate, relentless love!

For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57: 15

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. “By His stripes you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 5-9 NIV

God doesn’t grade on a curve; thankfully God grades on Christ’s Cross! And you get an A!

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Holy God, I know and confess that I’m a sinner, yes, a sinner, and I’ve blown it, missed your true standards, in many ways large and small, BUT what they were doesn’t matter to you. What matters to you is what I choose to do with your gift of perfect forgiveness, grace and unmerited love to me through Jesus, so I say _________________________________________________________________! And now I want to live out of that gift, live the good, upright, wise and loving choices you enable me to do through your Holy Spirit living inside of me, So Righteous Father God, I ask you to help me daily __________________________ and, as I need to, daily confess my sins and come back to knowing I’m completely forgiven when I do. In Jesus’ name, thank you! Holy Spirit, help me to listen __________________________________________

 

SaveSave

“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 ____________________________