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!

 

THINGS THOUGHT IMPOSSIBLE

I was born with the wanderlust.  I inherited it from my father.  He never saw much of this world, but when he became restless, we just moved across town.  In fact, we lived in seven different rentals, in the same small town, between my second birthday and kindergarten.  We always paid the rent, so we weren’t running from the landlord.

I have seen a lot of the world and yet, at the age of eighty, I still long to fly away to some distant land to see new faces and experience new places.

When I was four years old, my father decided to move the family to Colorado.  Someone told me it snows there, and Colorado was colored pink on the map, so I put it all together and decided that the Colorado Mountains were covered with pink snow.  I was excited.

The day came when the seven of us, mama, daddy, and five kids, piled into our 1934 Buick and started across the Arizona desert towing a large four-wheeled trailer filled with our early poverty belongings.

For some inexplicable reason, my father chose the month of August for this family adventure.  In 1939, there was no such thing as air conditioning in an automobile, but not one of us died from heat exhaustion.  

Zipping along through the burning desert, at 40 miles per hour, we made good time until we turned north toward the mountains.  Yarnell Hill was our first challenge.  To my father’s dismay, the Buick balked unable to pull the weight and make the uphill grade.  Again and again, he tried to no avail.

Finally, daddy decided that he would offload part of the weight, take the rest to the summit and come back for another load.  Part of what he offloaded was My Mother, my sisters, and me.  The boys would be his helpers. 

We have a picture of my twelve-year-old sister standing in the skinny shade of a saguaro cactus. 

My Dad has been gone for many years, but I can still feel his frustration, disappointment and sense of failure as he tried time and again to find a way to get his family to Colorado.

At the end of the day, hot, tired, dirty and disheartened, we turned around and headed back to Wickenburg.  There we found a place to camp for the night.  Daddy went to a nearby grocery store coming back with supper – bread, bologna and a big bucket of ice water.

Setting the icy water down by the car running board, where I rested my four-year-old self, my father turned to other chores, and I lifted my poor tired, dirty, disappointed little toes and plunged them into that deliciously frigid bucket.  To this day, I cannot remember the consequences of my precipitous action, but there had to be some compensation for the loss of pink snow, right?

The next morning our tired and wiser family headed back to the valley where my parents were at home for more than fifty years.

The mountains defeated us.  Had we conquered the first rise, which was not much of a mountain at all, I wonder what we would have done when we reached the Rockies. 

Years ago we sang a little chorus:  

“Got any rivers you think are uncrossable.

Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through.

God specializes in things thought impossible.

And He can do what no other power can do.”

Mountains often defeat us.  Too frequently we are faced with insurmountable problems to which there is no discernible solution.  Like my father, we exhaust ourselves trying to get over, around or through the problem. 

2500 years ago, a man named Zerubabbel faced just such a mountain.  

After seventy years in captivity, he led 50,000 Israelites back to Jerusalem, where they anticipated rebuilding the temple and their treasured city.  He was no doubt discouraged when he saw the extent of the work, his feeble resources, and the formidable opposition. This was a mountain he could not cross.

In Zechariah 4:6 – 7 we read:  “…This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.  Who are you, O, great mountain?  Before Zerubabbel you shall become a plain!”   

I like the way the Message says it.  “So, big mountain, who do you think you are?  Next to Zerubabbel you are nothing but a molehill.”

You may be facing an unscalable mountain today.  Remember, it is not by your efforts, but by the power of the Spirit of God.  When you stand shoulder to shoulder with Him, that mountain is nothing but a molehill.  He can do what no other power can do.

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

BECOMING REAL

 

Cecil had some books he had read nine million times.  However, he loved them so much that he wanted to share them with me, so we often read together.  I shared with him my favorites from childhood: “The Pokey Little Puppy,” “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” and “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

One Sunday afternoon, when we laid down for our nap, I took “The Velveteen Rabbit” to bed with us and read it to Cecil.  It is a story about a beautiful plus toy rabbit that is fiercely loved by a child until most of its hair is rubbed off, its eyes are missing, it is loose in the joints, and very, very shabby.  Somehow, over time, the child’s fierce love made that little rabbit real.

I couldn’t help but compare myself to the shabby little rabbit.  Here I am a new bride at the age of seventy-seven. My hair has thinned, I have had cataract surgery, and my joints don’t always cooperate, but I do work very hard so as not to appear shabby.   I told Cecil, like the child and the rabbit, his love had made me real. His love added a new dimension to my life that I had never known before. My short comings didn’t seem to matter anymore.  

The little rabbit said, “When you are real, shabbiness doesn’t matter, and you can’t be ugly, except to those who don’t understand.”  I like that!

I learned something else from this little book.  Becoming real doesn’t happen all at once. YOU BECOME!  It takes a long time. “That’s why,” the little rabbit said, “it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”

Someone has coined the phrase, “The intimate stranger,” simply meaning that I know a lot of people that I do not know at all.  I sit near the same people at church every Sunday. We shake hands and smile.

“How are you,” I ask.  “Did you have a good week?”

“Oh, I’m fine, and you?”

“Yes, yes, I am well.

If someone asks me, “Do you know Susie Brown?”

I answer, “Oh, yes, I sit beside her at church every Sunday.  But do I really know her? Do I know what she loves? Do I know her hopes and dreams?  Do I know the problems that she has faced this week? I do not really know Susie, because she keeps all those things to herself, and I have never bothered to draw her out.

Being transparent is a risky business.  Being real makes us vulnerable to all kinds of hurts and disappointments and disillusionment.  

Many people live in masquerade all their life never daring to allow a look into the depth of their soul.  The mask is securely attached keeping our true identity a secret to everyone but God. Sometimes we even believe that we have Him fooled.

It was a child’s fierce love that made that little velveteen rabbit real.  Just so, it is love, the love of our Father God that makes us real. Can you imagine a stronger, fiercer love than that demonstrated by God, when He sent His only Son, Jesus? 

According to Ephesians 2:1, when you turn from your sins and trust in Christ as your Savior, you finally, for the first time, begin to live.  He makes you alive. He makes you real. He’s the only one who can do that.

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

This morning, as I opened my Bible to read, I wondered, “What in the world would I do without God?” He has been my life since childhood, and I am still in the process of “becoming real.” It takes a lifetime.  I sometimes see older couples, who have been together for so long that they can read each other’s mind, they can finish the other’s sentence, and they actually look alike. That’s what happens when you walk with Jesus.  You become more and more like Him, more and more real. For the “realest” you can ever be is to be like Jesus.

Ephesians 4:22-24 says that we must put off the old life and put on the new.  I like the way “The Message” says it.  

…everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go.  It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” 

This world needs to see a real you.  Remember when you are real shabbiness doesn’t matter.

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

Bionic Woman

 

Many of you are too young to remember “The Bionic Woman,” a very popular television series from 1976 – 1978.

After a skydiving accident resulting in extensive injury, Jaime Sommers’ body was rebuilt with cybernetic or electromechanical implants known as bionics.  

The word bionics is a combination of the words biology and electronics.

Jaime was given an amplified bionic ear enabling her to hear at low volumes over uncommonly long distances.  She had extraordinary strength in her new right arm—strength enough to bend steel, and with her powerful legs, she could run over 60 miles per hour.  Need I tell you? This girl became an undercover spy for the Office of Scientific Information, (whatever that is) while posing as a middle school teacher.  Farfetched! Yes, but not for long.

Bionic implants are no longer farfetched.  There is the Bionic ear (cochlear implant), the artificial heart, an I LIMB hand, and retinal implants.  These mechanical versions replace or enhance organs or other body parts. They differ from mere prosthetics by mimicking the original function very closely or even surpassing it.

Now, I am telling you all this, so you will understand when I say, “I am quickly becoming a bionic woman.”

I now have an artificial aortic valve, a pacemaker, numerous stents, an artificial right knee twice over, a new right hip, and next Wednesday, I will receive a new left knee.  

Of course, none of these are bionic, well, maybe the pacemaker is.  I won’t be able to run any faster, hear any better or even open a water bottle, and I won’t be serving as a spy for the Office of Scientific Information.  I am hoping, however, to be able to walk again without a limp, and with a little more assurance. But—I think the cane will be with me ‘til Jesus comes. After that you can find me running down the Golden Streets.

So much for the Bionic Woman!  

Regardless of the outcome of knee replacement, I have learned that my true strength does not come from surgery, artificial joints, canes or walkers.  I depend upon the God who made me. He is my strength!

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Psalm 27:1, “…The Lord is the strength of my life.”

Just so you know.  I will be in rehab, out of commission, for about three weeks, so you will have to put up with some “Oldies but Goodies.”

As MacArthur said, “I shall return!”  I’m a tough old gal, and I’m not finished yet.  My surgeon calls me “TIGER.”

Appreciate your prayers!

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!