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!

 

THREE LITTLE WORDS

THREE LITTLE WORDS

“Oh what I’d give for that wonderful phrase

To hear those three little words

…Which simply mean I love you.”

This sweet song was recorded by Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys with Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1930—nearly ninety years ago, and these Three Little Words never grow old.  In fact, the words, I LOVE YOU, when sincerely expressed, are, I believe, the most powerful, meaningful words ever spoken by the human tongue.

Retiring from full-time ministry, nine years ago, was, to say the least, an extremely traumatic experience.  Transitioning from pulpit to pew was a lonely, sad time for me.

To acerbate the situation I relocated, after forty years, to my old home town and to a church where I knew no one, and no one knew me.  

I couldn’t stand the loneliness so, being the gal that I am, I quickly became involved.  It took time, but over these nine years, I have been accepted by a wonderful group of people, whom I have grown to love.  Many in this group have known each other for ninety years, so, much of the time, I still feel like the interloper—the new kid on the block.

There is one beautiful woman in the group who intimidates me a bit.  I am sure this is not intended, and that she is totally unaware. It is my own sense of insecurity that fuels the feeling.

A couple of weeks ago, a group of us were chatting waiting for time to go to lunch.  I don’t remember the gist of the conversation, but in the act of introducing me to someone, this woman put her arm around me, gave me a squeeze and said to the group, “Faye is the life of the party, and we love her.”

I’m certain no one else remembers that conversation, but it was a “red letter” day for me—one that I cannot forget.  Those unexpected words, from that particular person, warmed my heart and made me feel like I belonged.  

“I love you! We love you!”  Do we have any idea the effect these words, and other words of kindness, have upon those to whom they are spoken?

Words are not simply sounds caused by air passing through the larynx.  Unimaginable power lies in our words. God spoke the worlds into existence by the power of His word.  (Hebrews 11:3)  Words reveal our innermost thoughts and the way we view ourselves and others.

Remember our childhood rhetoric—“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”

Nothing was ever farther from the truth!  I was a fat little girl in grade school, and grade school children can be mean little monsters.  I went home in tears more than one day.

Someone has said that “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity.”  Words have energy and power with the ability to help or to hinder, to humiliate or to elevate, to hurt or to heal, to humble or to glorify.  Words can stir up the creative juices in the mind of men. Words can wring tears from the meanest of persons. Words can encourage or destroy sometimes leaving damage that lasts a lifetime.

I read the other day that words are the leading cause of death and dismemberment in global societies, and have been since the beginning of time.  Words are usually the cause of teenage suicide. We’ve all heard the stories of bullying.

I don’t remember everything said during my wedding ceremony, but I do remember my brother, who was officiating, giving this word of counsel.  “Don’t ever say anything at the expense of your spouse.  That is pure meanness.”  I have tried so hard to live by that counsel.

We are careless and thoughtless so much of the time speaking barbed words, in the guise of fun, that wound rather than heal.  I am convinced that many of us need to take closer notice of the way we speak and the effect our words have upon others.

I quote from Jodi Picault.  “Words are like eggs dropped from a great height.  You can no more call them back than ignore the mess they make when they fall.”

King Solomon wrote some very sobering words in Proverbs 18:21.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”  This truth should give us pause to think.

James 3:2 and 8, “…we all stumble in many things.  If anyone does not stumble in words, he is a perfect man…But no man can tame the tongue.  It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.”

  Psalm 19:14 is my prayer today. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.”

If my words please Him, my words will bless you!

Three little words!  “I Love you,” or “Jesus love you!”  Who in your realm of contact needs to hear these words today?

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

LOSING MY SISTER

My baby sister will celebrate her 81st birthday next Tuesday.  Those who have followed this blog for a while know that she is an Alzheimer’s victim.  I visit her every Tuesday and Friday afternoon without fail. 

Usually, I draw up a chair near her recliner and hold her hand.  The T.V. is always on with old reruns of “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie.”  We talk quietly, or she talks and I listen, ignoring the programs, which we could both recite verbatim.  

She talks incessantly without ever being able to finish a sentence or explain herself.  I can sometimes see the sorrow in her eyes as she gives up. At other times she laughs and says, “Oh, I’m just crazy or I didn’t do that right.”

Alzheimer’s disease causes memory deficits and makes it hard for people afflicted with it to stay in the current moment.  I have learned that people with Alzheimer’s continually struggle to make sense of the world in the face of their declining cognitive function, and it’s a deeply lonely and isolating experience.  So, I realize that my sister, growing more confused by the day, knows what is going on, but has no control over the downward spiral. Is she afraid?

June is always happy to see me.  At times she is very sweet telling me how much she loves me and how beautiful I am.  She still likes to joke. 

When she says, “You are very pretty today,” I ask, “Oh really?” She replies, with a twinkle in her eyes, “No, not really.” 

At other times, and lately, more often, she is engrossed with the activity outside her window living in an imaginary world.  There are people out there, people that I cannot see, some she knows and some she does not know. They are doing all kinds of interesting things.  Tuesday there was a child in the group, who does not like her.

Of course, she is hallucinating.  A hallucination can be understood as a sensory experience that is imagined.  In other words, she sees, hears, smells, tastes or even feels something that is not really there.  So far, June only sees and hears people, and she does talk back to them. If they invade her room, she tells them to go away.  “This is my house.”

These false perceptions are caused by change within the brain that usually occurs in the middle to later stages of the disease.  Hallucination is associated with a faster decline in Alzheimer’s victims. 

That fact makes me very sad.  How much longer will I have my little sister?

June is also delusional.  A delusion involves a set of false beliefs.  She frequently tells me the caregivers hate her or they are stealing her stuff or one of the men is in love with her.  I have learned that everything in her room must remain in its place. If anything is moved, she believes it has been stolen.  It’s the disease that causes these behaviors.

I am trying desperately to learn how to deal with my sister’s illness.  For this impatient, sassy gal, who is known for saying it like it is, this journey is sometimes one step forward and two steps backward.  There is no way to deal with it rationally. You cannot reason it out. Seldom do I disagree with June, but yesterday, when she said that our Mama was outside her window with those other people, I said, “No!”  Mama is not out there. She is in heaven with Ted and baby Eric waiting for you.”

“Who is Ted,” she asked.

“He’s your husband, and Eric is your baby,” I replied.

“I had a baby,” she asked with wonder, and then she was back to her friends just outside the window.

The experts tell us that caregivers and loved ones must:

Remain calm and resist the urge to argue.

            Try not to reason.

Listen and flow with the moment.

Be gentle and concerning regarding any fears.

Maintain a routine.

Use distraction.  (Doesn’t work—she will not be distracted.)

I am slowly mastering the art of dealing with Alzheimer’s, but I have discovered that I must first “Lead with my love.”  So, I go with gifts—chocolate one day and a Wendy’s Frosty the next. I feed the goodies to my sister one bite at a time.  She can no longer grip anything with her fingers. Then I hold her hand, and sometimes we sing. She still remembers the words to many of our old church songs.  Our favorite: “Jesus, Hold My Hand.”

  I am losing my sister.  With every confusing moment, she is slipping away.  To one degree or another, I have taken care of June all her life.  What will I do when she is gone? I know life for me will be much easier, but, oh, so lonely.

Before I leave, I always pray with her asking God’s protection and assurance of His love toward her.  Then, overcome with weariness, I make my way home having spent every ounce of energy I could muster, but it’s all worth it.

Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

Be good to your suffering loved one.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

GOD’S PLAN OR MINE

  Remember Jonah and the Whale?  It was the most unbelievable, spellbinding story leaving a multitude of unanswered questions in my childish mind.   Was it true? What was it like inside that big belly? Could Jonah breathe? Was he scared? Why didn’t he obey God? Did it really happen?

Yes!  I knew it really happened for it was recorded in God’s word.  That was enough for me, and yet there has been a running controversy since Jonah’s time, for upward of 2800 years.

In all the discussion, it has been determined that it is possible that a sperm whale, for instance, could swallow a man.  Sperm whales sometimes swallow squid whole, so it could definitely manage a human.

Perhaps it wasn’t a sperm whale.  It could have been some now extinct marine reptile or a dog headed sea dragon that swallowed Jonah.

  Admittedly, it’s possible he may have been swallowed by one of those sea creatures, but scientists are adamant in their declaration that he never could have survived any longer than if he were held underwater.

According to some, an alternative to this strange survival story may be that Jonah actually died—drowned in the sea—before he was swallowed.  Then God resurrected him three days later when the fish reached the shores of Nineveh. Still, others ask, “How could he have prayed in that belly, if he were already dead?  And—the argument continues.

Some now regard the Book of Jonah as a novel written with a theological purpose.

For me, miracles, rather than scientific theories, are the best explanation for Jonah.  God “prepared” a great fish.” I don’t know if He refashioned one of His existing creatures or if He made something brand new equipped with an oxygen tank able to sustain a man for three day or if He just kept Jonah alive supernaturally.  In any case, I still believe in miracles.  

However, this story is not about whether or not a fish can swallow a man.  It is about obedience to God’s will. God had said, “Go to Nineveh—that wicked city, and tell them, if they don’t repent, I’m going to destroy them.”

Jonah had other ideas.  He wasn’t at all enthusiastic about God’s plan or His will.  He hated the Ninevites and didn’t want God to be merciful to them.  He wanted God to destroy them. He was convinced he was 100% right, so he ran away, and his disobedience resulted in a wild, dark, three-day ride from the depths of the billows and waves of the sea to the quiet shoreline, and a direct route to Nineveh.  

Imagine what he must have looked like lying there on the beaches of Nineveh in a puddle of fish vomit.  After three days in the belly of this great fish, he was one scary dude! Digestive acids had bleached him white.  He was shriveled like a prune with seaweed tangled in his hair and wrapped around his neck, and barnacles growing on his head.

Jonah had no one to blame but himself.  This whole calamity originated with his attitude toward God’s will.  

I can safely assure you that Jonah’s attitude toward God’s plan took a 180 degree turn as he slide down the gullet of that terrifying being.  

Jonah 2:1 says, “Then Jonah prayed…”  He describes his helpless situation, and in 2:7, he cries, “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to you, into your holy temple.”

Do you sometimes feel that you are in the belly of a big fish?  I do! When I decide to do something on my own without asking God’s guidance or I knowingly disobey what I know to be His will, then the big fish shows up, and everything goes out of control.

I like the words to the song that says:

“Are you in the big fish?

Are you sitting in the belly of a world gone mad?

Have you turned your back on His wish, or His will for your life?

 Have you made Him sad?

Do you want to get out of the big fish?

Listen to God and follow His plan,

And you won’t be part of the main dish.

He’ll spit you out on dry land.”

 

Jonah got the message.  He still hated the Assyrians.  He still wanted God to destroy them, but in spite of that, he did what God asked him to do.  The Assyrians were saved, and Jonah learned some great lessons about compassion.

Whoever you are, God has a plan for your life, but you may not like His assignment.   Like Ford, you have a better plan, and you are convinced that you are 100% right. Your plan is superior, more reasonable, more just.  Besides, you are sure you cannot do what God asks. Let me tell you, “God intends to make you ideally suited to carry out His plan.

Will you follow His plan or will you turn your back?

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA

Today we will celebrate America’s 243rd birthday.  The 4th of July is ordinarily a fun day, a day of gladness with grand fireworks displays, picnics in the park, parades, and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Independence Day ought also to be a day of thanksgiving—a day of looking back, of taking stock, remembering how we got here—how a handful of colonists became a great nation—the “Land of the free and the home of the brave”

For me, and I believe for many others, this year’s celebration will be mixed with a sense of sadness at the climate in which our beloved nation now finds itself.  Instead of “Yankee Doodle” I catch myself singing “God Bless America, land that I love.  From the mountains to the prairies, to the ocean white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”

“God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, while serving in the U.S. Army during WW I.  However, it was only at the rise of Adolph Hitler, in 1938, that the song was made public. It was actually a form of prayer for God’s blessing and peace for our nation.  The song tapped into the national psyche offering a kind of collective prayer for the fear over threatening war.

“God Bless America” has had a long shelf life.  It was even hailed as the new national anthem, and used, through many decades, for a wide range of purposes from presidential campaigns to sporting events. Following 9/11, the song took on a new life once again signaling renewed patriotism, but I don’t know if it was ever really—sincerely sung as a prayer.

I know, of course, that this is the season for “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and Let Freedom Ring,” but for some reason, my heart is crying out, “God Bless America,” and I have been thinking about just how much God has blessed this beloved land of ours.  As turmoil and strife swirl around us today, we need to retrace the road of blessing that has brought us thus far, for God has clearly blessed America during the past two-plus centuries.

First, I think of the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower who arrived at Plymouth Rock on November 9, 1620.  Roughly half of these were Pilgrims or “Separatists” and the others were servants and crewmen. More than half of those aboard died before spring arrived.

While some would deny the truth of their purpose, this handful of people separated themselves from the church of England, escaping persecution and imprisonment, wanting to practice their religion as they chose and establish a new church  in a new world.

Perhaps for the sake of these committed Pilgrims, God chose to pour out His blessing on their descendants and their new country.  These Pilgrims became the “stepping stones” in the formation of what has arguably become the greatest nation on earth.  

When I think of the “handful” of colonists who stood against “King George III and the whole British Empire, I am convinced that we were blessed by God.  Not that God was against the British, but that He enabled our countrymen to battle through to victory to form a nation free from tyranny—a nation “Under God!”

We are further blessed, because our forefathers came together through much turmoil, injustice and hardship using the wisdom of the Bible, history and other cultures along with their own experiences, and fashioned the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  These God fearing men, whether professed Christians or not, accepted the truthfulness of the Bible and the authority of God embracing the basic freedom of religion and a Christian outlook on life, morality and government. Some would rewrite history in order to change these facts, but they cannot change the truth.

Today, we live in a beautiful, bountiful land able to support a large population—a country that retains incredible freedoms.  We are the envy of the world. Why do you think so many want to come here?

We are free to worship as we choose never fearing death or imprisonment because of our faith.  We are free to speak our minds, to elect our leaders, to pursue our own dreams.

  Who, in his right mind, could deny God’s blessing on this nation?

I fear, however, that we have abused our freedoms taking them as license to behave in any way we choose regardless of the hurt to others producing a generation that thumbs its nose at God.

Now we live in a divided nation having denied the blessings of God.  From morning until evening we abuse, belittle and accuse our fellow Americans.  The acquisition of power seems to be the desired goal. Never mind how it is attained.

I tremble at the thought of asking God’s blessing on this country, why would He bless us, and yet I do, because I am reminded that there is still a lot of light and salt in our world.  There is still a multitude of people who love God and are ready to stand up for what is right. “Give us another chance, Lord,” I cry.  “Please heal the division in our land, and turn us back to you.”

When I read 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land,” I am encouraged believing that God can still intervene.

“God Bless America” is at its heart a prayer for the well-being of our country, especially in these politically and racially charged times.  So, let us “humble ourselves” and “turn from our wicked ways,” and with longing hearts, sing again this prayer believing God for better days and many more “Happy Birthdays” for the “Land that we love.”  

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

     

 

MONSOON SEASON

MONSOON SEASON

Monsoon season is now underway in Arizona and the rest of the southwest. Arizona monsoons are typically experienced during summertime, July through September.  At this time of the year, there is a shift in wind direction bringing a different kind of weather. Temperatures rise, humidity increases and winds are high. Thunderstorms move through the region bringing dust storms, periods of heavy desert rain and flash flooding.

If I understand correctly, storms develop when warm, moisture-filled air rises.  As the air rises, it cools and the moisture condenses falling back to earth in the form of rain—hopefully lots of it—or other forms of precipitation.

Storms can come out of nowhere in a hurry.

Many years ago, on a hot summer day, I was driving from Phoenix to Las Angeles through the Mojave Desert.  The sun was shining brightly, the sky was cloudless, and the air conditioner was doing its job. The drive was a bit boring the barren landscape broken only by an occasional Joshua tree and countless wind turbines, but I was enjoying my brand new 1974 Oldsmobile sedan.

As I neared the Palm Springs area, I noticed that the sky ahead had darkened precipitously.  All of a sudden I found myself in the middle of a storm. There was no avoiding it. A rainstorm I might have handled, but this was one of those notorious desert sand storms.  Powerful winds had kicked up the desert sand forming a wall of dust, which blocked out the sun and lowered visibility almost to zero. I could barely see the road a few feet ahead.  

This storm had appeared out of nowhere in an instant of time.  What was I to do? The National Weather Service advice is to “seek shelter from dust storms indoors,” or “pull to the side of the road and turn off lights.”  In the middle of the desert, there was no shelter to be had, so I pulled to the side of the road, my only alternative, and waited out the storm, while the swirling, pounding, abrasive sandblasted all the paint off the front end of my new car. 

Dangerous storm conditions can appear suddenly and wreak havoc on everything in sight, and being observant isn’t always enough to avoid disaster.

However, I have discovered that storms do not only originate when the weather is hot when humidity is high and winds are strong.  Storms do not always have to do with the weather. Often, storms have to do with life itself.

We all suffer the storms of life.  They originate with a doctor’s devastating diagnosis, a failed marriage, a troubled child, the death of a loved one, or financial disaster.  

On a Saturday morning, I sent my healthy, laughing Cecil away to run errands, and in the emergency room, before nightfall, his impending death was pronounced—a sudden storm out of nowhere!

Darkness descended eclipsing the brightness, and the joy of our three and one-half months of marriage blasting away the beauty of years that were to follow.

Where do you go in that kind of storm?  Do you just pull over to the side of life until it passes by?  Where do you find shelter from such a disaster? How do you survive the unmitigated pain?

Unlike the Mojave Desert, where there was no shelter, I knew there was shelter in this storm.  So I called on God. My prayer was one of desperation. Howling like a banshee I prayed the only words I could find, “Lord, I need you.  Please help me, Lord, please help me.” Yet, in essence, I was praying King David’s prayer from Psalms 32:7 and 17:8. “You are my hiding place…Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings.”  God understood completely.  He wrapped me in His great arms becoming my shelter for the weeks, months and even years to come—until the boisterous wind abated.

Perhaps this is Monsoon Season in your life.  The storm was so unexpected, but now you are living in the middle of it.  What do you do? Where do you go?

Psalms 46:1 tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  

In Psalms 31:3 and 61:2-3, David cries, “For you are my rock and my fortress…Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For You have been a shelter for me…”

Face it.  You cannot weather this storm in your own strength.  Run to God! Take refuge in the rock that is higher and stronger than you, the rock that is higher and stronger than a category 5 Hurricane with winds up to 157 miles per hour, a rock that is higher and stronger than anything that will ever come against you.  Take shelter in Him. There is life after the storm!

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

A DIVINE EPIPHANY

Early yesterday morning, riffling through the meager offerings of reading material at my Doctor’s office, I found an outdated “National Geographic.” Flipping through the pages in search of something to while away the time, I came across an article titled “One Strange Rock: 13 Things that make life on earth possible,” written by Manuel Canales, Matthew W. Chwastyk, and Eve Conant.

They wrote:  “Earth is well equipped as a planet and ideally placed in our solar system and galaxy to support life as we know it.  …thanks to a fortuitous set of conditions…”

In that brief moment of time, I experienced a divine epiphany—a new revelation, a new understanding, and appreciation of something I have always known and believed.

I have never questioned the Bible account of the creation of this world and everything that exists—our universe and all else that may be out there in far-flung space.  I believe what Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

However, I never considered the thoughtful, careful, and calculated way in which God did His work on that first day of creation, and the days to follow.  I never thought about that necessary “fortuitous set of conditions,” and the fact that mankind has always been in view.  I have been guilty of talking about how God “flung the worlds into space,” as though He was saying, “There you go, land where you will.”  No!  His work was much more deliberate than that.

The “Big Bang Theory,” purported to be the origin of creation, is widely discussed by both science and religion, and accepted by much of this world.  This theory says that billions of years ago all the mass and energy and space itself was packed into a microscopic cosmic “egg.” The egg exploded and over vast periods of time, that imprisoned energy cooled down and turned into all forms of matter as we know it today.  Everything in this vast universe grew out of a tiny “egg” or “hot spot” billions of times smaller than a particle of an atom.  No one knows where the “egg” came from.  It was all an accident.

According to academic definition, The Big Bang qualifies as a myth.  No one has any proof that it is true.  It is no more than a theory.

Scientists try to understand how things happen in our world, but their theories are not absolute nor are they complete, and are continually changing to explain new found facts.

Now!  What about that “fortuitous set of conditions,” which sustain life on our Planet Earth?   Think about these astonishing facts.

Unlike other planets, we are able to recycle carbon dioxide keeping Earth warm enough to support life.  We also have an ozone layer to block harmful rays.

Earth teeters as it spins around the sun, but we have a big moon that stabilizes our wobble.

Earth’s varied topography supports many life forms.  

Our magnetic field produced by Earth’s core protects us from most of our Sun’s damaging radiation, and solar flares.

We are situated safely away from the gravitational pull of the larger planets, and we are just the right distance from the Sun for water to be liquid on our surface.

There are relatively few stars near our Sun reducing risks to Earth.  Our Sun is a stable, long-lasting star, just the right size.  Larger stars don’t live long, and younger ones are unstable.

The authors say, “Luckily, Earth is an ideal place for its inhabitants to thrive.”

I say, “Luck has nothing to do with any of this.”  None of these conditions just listed are coincidental.  Tell me how an accidental explosion billions of years ago could produce our beautiful Earth and place her in such an ideal position, in contrast to the other planets.

There is a reason Genesis 1:1 says, “God created the heavens—the universe, our galaxy, the planets known and unknown, all the stars including our sun, and anything else that is roaming around out there in space—and the Earth.”  He created the heavens AND the earth.

“…and the Earth,” placing it in a perfect location gifting it with ideal life-sustaining conditions.

So what will it be, The Big Bang or our Creator God?

Someone has said, “The explanation that demands the least amount of assumptions is usually the correct one.”  To believe in creation only takes simple faith.  Seems to me that believing in God requires far less faith than it does to believe that anything as spectacular and perfect as our Solar System came about accidentally.

I will never again think about God and His creation without considering the care and detail, which He exercised when He provided this wonderful planet and the universe in which it resides.

Isaiah 40:28 says, “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.”

Again in Isaiah 65:18, “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create…”

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!