SWEET PEACE

 

My Mama, Maggie Lou, was married in a quiet ceremony, in her parent’s home, on Christmas Eve, 1917.

The war that raged on the Western Front, in Europe—“The Great War”—The War to End All Wars,” seemed a million miles away on that joyous occasion.

Mama went to live with her beloved Ed and his bootlegging father, on a dry land farm in eastern Oklahoma.

By her eighteenth birthday, in March of 1918, Mama was already pregnant with her first child.  Suddenly life, for this laughing girl, became serious.  She was now responsible for another life, and she awoke each morning wondering if this was the day her young husband would be called up to serve his country and perhaps die in a faraway place.

America, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, had remained neutral the first two and one-half years of the war.  However, neutrality finally became impossible considering the increased aggression of the Nation of Germany, and our close bond with Great Britain.  So America entered the fray on April 6, 1917 sending 2,000,000 American boys to the front where 50,000 of them died.

In Paris, France, on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m. an Armistice was signed, and the war came to an end.  The world was at peace!

Just after midnight, in the wee hours of November 12, while bells were still ringing, horns still blowing, and people still celebrating, Maggie gave birth to a baby boy.  Beautiful Levi!

The baby that she had carried in her womb for nine months was now safe in her arms, and there was no longer any danger that Ed would have to go to war.  Sweet peace brought healing to her troubled heart.

Peace is a rare and longed for commodity.  It is said that there are those who would give a “King’s ransom” for one hour of genuine peace.  The “War to End All Wars” was a hope never realized, for war rages somewhere in this world continually.

Many people and entities have tried to bring peace to our world.  The military can’t do it.  Diplomats have failed.  Governments are ineffective, and The United Nations is laughable for the most part.

War does not have to be nation against nation.  It is sometimes corporation against corporation or family against family, and mostly individual against individual.

Truth is, strife and discord begin at the grassroots.  I’m reminded of The Hatfield and The McCoy feud—a feud that lasted almost thirty years and has had repercussions for decades.

No one is sure, but it is said that the whole thing started over the theft of a hog.  However it started, it escalated to murder and mayhem, and the absence of any measure of peace.

I know individuals who hate to go home for the holidays, because of family infighting—so much for “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men!”

There are times when outside interference lays siege to my personal peace.  Last spring when I was rewarded guardianship of my sister, I heaved a sigh of relief believing that, aside from the annual reports I must file, I needed only to take good care of her.  However, last week, without warning, my sister’s attorney requested that I be removed as guardian.

I am devastated.  I am praying. I am crying, and just like you, I am wringing my hands, and losing sleep.   Sunday evening I was with a group of friends, who prayed with me.  Monday morning just as I was awakening, I saw the words, as on a plaque, “sweet peace the gift of God’s love.  Opening my eyes, I thought, “That’s a song.  I haven’t heard it in a hundred years, but I know that song, and the words came singing back.

When Jesus as Lord I have crowned,

My heart with His peace will abound;

In Him, the rich blessing I found,

Sweet peace the gift of God’s love.

 

Peace, peace, sweet peace,

Wonderful gift from above.

Wonderful, wonderful peace,

Sweet peace the Gift of God’s love.

 Later in the day, I read these words from Jeremiah 20:11.  “But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One.  Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail.”

 This promise is certainly a recipe for peace.

Finally, I believe, “THE WAR TO END ALL WARS” is the war that I wage within—the war that I fight against Christ and His authority in my life.  When I refuse to give Him control, I am filled with turmoil, hopelessness, and fear.  When I lay down my arms and lift my hands in surrender, the Prince of Peace comes in, and His peace remains.

The world is in fighting mode—in hearts, in homes, in our streets, in legislatures, courts, and palaces.  From north to south, east to west, we are at war, but in the middle of all this chaos, you can live in peace.

Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on You.”

God’s peace is a gift.  Give up your weapons, sign the Armistice, and fix your heart and mind on Him in exchange for perfect peace.

Your prayers are appreciated.

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD

I was going to jail.  I had never been in close proximity even to a city jail.  Now I was on my way to the State Penitentiary in Soledad, California.

The Penitentiary Chaplain, who was a friend of mine, had invited me to come preach to his inmates.  I said, “YES,” because I don’t know how to say, “NO.”

Soledad was a large prison with three cell blocks and hundreds, perhaps thousands of inmates.

Now driving down US Route 101 early on Sunday morning, my mind was full of questions.   Oh, my sermon was prepared.  My heart was ready, but my mind was in turmoil.  Why in the world did I do this?  How will I behave toward these men?  Will I smile at them?  Will I look them in the eye?  Will I pretend we are not locked up?  Will I be nervous or afraid?  Of course I had prayed and was still praying.

If I really thought about it, I knew I would be preaching to murderers, rapists, thieves, and every other kind of law breaker imaginable.  One lone woman!

I stopped at the Kiosk just outside the first chain link fence, proffered my ID, and walked through the gate that opened for me.  I was greeted by the chaplain at the second gate.  As though reading my mind, he smiled at me and said, “Just be yourself, they’ll love you.”

We entered a small chapel where prisoners were getting ready for service.  They came in their blue prison garb laughing and joking with each other.  They were friendly, shaking my hand and welcoming me.

These men were “short timers.”  They would soon be on their way home.

The chaplain sat at the piano, and worship began.  I discovered immediately that these men, who were locked behind bars most of the day, were free in spirit, for they sang exuberantly raising their hands and shouting the praises of God.  They were not required to come to service.  They came, because God had changed their lives, and set them free.

I found myself preaching to them honestly, as I would to any congregation, and, as the chaplain had advised, I was just myself.  I didn’t know how to be anyone else.

The second service was in the main cell block, in a real sanctuary built for that purpose.  When we arrived the three hundred or more seats were filled and men stood around the walls.  The orchestra was tuning up and the choir was taking its place.  An inmate stood at the pulpit ready to officiate.  I was amazed.  This church was fully organized with a board and ushers and musicians, all of them inmates.

When I stood to preach, I said, “I know why I am here.  Do you know why you are here?” I don’t know where that came from.  It wasn’t something I had prepared, but it set the tone for the morning.  The men laughed heartily and everyone relaxed.  I talked about “Walking with God” using the story of Enoch found in Genesis 5 and Hebrews 11.

At the close of the message, I asked those, who needed God’s help, to come forward for prayer.  They came eagerly filling the front of the sanctuary.  Without hesitation, I walked down the steps and moved through the crowd to encourage and pray with them.  What a blessed time!

At lunch, Chaplain asked me, “Well, what do you think?”

“I would rather preach to those men any day of the week than to a bunch of bored church members,” I answered.

“You know,” he said, “One-third of those men are lifers.  They will never leave this place.”

Then he told me the story of the man who led the service that morning.  “John” had been a pastor.   He knew the joy of serving God.  Then he fell into an adulterous relationship.  When his wife found him out, he killed her.  Now he is a lifer with no hope of freedom.  Thank God, he has found his way home.

He had EVERYTHING going for him, and he gave it all up for a moment of selfish pleasure.

I wept when I heard that story. In fact, I squalled all the way home, 186 miles.  Actually, I cried the whole week.  I didn’t cry because these men were being punished for their lawlessness.   I cried because John had given up EVERYTHING for NOTHING.  I cried because I realized, “but for the grace of God,” I could be in the same situation.  “That could be me!  That could be you!”  Don’t fool yourself.  None of us is immune.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Again, in James 4:6, “…God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”

The undeserved grace of God is a gift like no other.  No pleasure, great or small, is worth the forfeiture of God’s grace.

“…‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.”

AMAZING GRACE!

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

What A Waste

It was early morning, and I was bouncing around in the back of a huge truck on my way to the city dump, in Calcutta, India. (The city is now called Kolkata)  I have sent tons of garbage to the city dump in my hometown, but I have never been there.  So, why in the world—why would I get up before sunrise to visit a dump?

Actually, this site, where 4,000 tons of new waste is dumped each day, is known as Calcutta’s Garbage Mountain, and it has become, for some twisted reason, a tourist site.  No wonder!  The dump covers sixty acres and is ten stories high.  It is permanently on fire from the combustible waste deposited there, and no one tries to put it out.  A fetid, unbearable stench hangs heavily in the air.

Amazingly, in 2016, Calcutta received an award for impressive waste management.  I dare say that the 30,000 miserable souls that live permanently on or around the garbage heap are not impressed.

Many of these garbage residents are rag pickers or waste pickers.  One can find almost anything there including dead babies, smuggled chocolates and medicine, money and even gold.  These souls spend their days sorting through the “yuck” picking out recyclable stuff and burning rotting bodies.

When Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in 1971, the population of Calcutta grew from one million to eight million overnight.  (Current population is fourteen million.)  The city had no provision for such an influx.

When engineers were asked for a solution, they replied, “Raze the place and start over!”

I was in Calcutta for the first time in 1980.  The sights I saw and the experiences I had sear the mind and make faint the heart.  Never before had I seen such abject poverty, such suffering.  Multitudes lived on the sidewalks sheltered only by a cardboard lean-to.  They drank from the gutters, and at dusk, they lit their charcoal burners to heat tea and prepare what meager food they had.  All over the city black smoke filled the atmosphere and settled on everything in sight.  Beggars were everywhere.  A trip to the market drew a throng of little black-eyed boys begging to be hired to carry parcels.

I was there for ministry, but I ashamedly admit that there were days I was reluctant to leave the house.  However, on that early morning, in 1980, we were on our way to “Garbage Mountain” not as tourists or to see the sites—we were there to feed the hungry.

The line had already begun to form before our truck came to a halt at the designated site.  It was all very orderly.  In single file, the line of women and children snaked through the wasteland as far as the eye could see waiting politely for the one nutritious meal they would have that day.  They came with their tin cups and other containers.

Each one was given a cup of milk and two substantial whole grain pancakes.  I don’t know how long we were there or how many people we fed, but after awhile they were gone.  I imagined they had found a quiet place among the rubbish to enjoy, perhaps, the only meal they would have that day.

I asked why there were no men in the line.  I was told that, if the men were fed, there would be no motivation to find work.

Our faithful, longtime, missionaries worked tirelessly.  They had established a thriving church, an elementary school, a feeding program and a hospital in Calcutta, and in every place, in every way, they preached the good news of Jesus Christ.  Yet, from a distance, stacked up against eight million “waste” people it seemed so little—too little.

The trip to the dump hung over me like an albatross.  I thought about those emaciated children gladdened by a cup of milk, and I wondered whether or not I had made any difference at all while I was there.

In reflection, I thought of the widow in Mark 12: 42 (The Message) “One poor widow…put in two small coins—a measly two cents.  Jesus…said…this poor widow gave more than all the others…she gave extravagantly what she could not afford—she gave her all.”

The “garbage dump” people around us are seldom lovely and appealing.  Sometimes they are utterly repulsive.  But in Matthew 10:31, Jesus, who cares when a sparrow falls, declared that the least person is worth more to Him then many sparrows.

Jesus asks us to look at the need around us.  He asks to give extravagantly, even what we cannot afford—to give our all.  In fact, Luke 38 (The Message) says, “Give away your life…giving, not getting, is the way.  Generosity begets generosity.”

You may feel that “your all” is not very much, but just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, He will multiply your “gift” and make it more than enough.

Giving “all” brings bonus and blessing.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!