Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Struck by Lightning

     It has been very quiet on my blog--well over three months.  I am touched that my readers still come by and read, even though I have been out of action for a while.
    Let me ask you:  Have you ever seen a tree that has been struck by lightning?  It may be missing a branch, have burn marks and look as if it should not be standing.  Yet it is.  It is forever changed by its unintentional encounter with that jagged white-hot bolt.  No tree searches for such a strike from the heavens; it's a risk every day it stands tall in a field and storms gather above it.  It grows, produces seeds, watches the seasons change and yet, when the sky grows dark with iron-gray clouds, it stands:  facing down yet another storm.  Another year.  Another risk of being struck.
     The tree embraces the risk:  in a field where the soil and sun make it grow and prosper, is the same field where it can get hit.
    Life is no different.  The same life that brings us joy is the same life that can strike us down.
    On August 2nd, my husband suffered a heart attack.  We were watching a John Wayne movie on a Saturday night, and he said he had chest pains.  He had just spent forty minutes on the treadmill.
     Last summer, he had had an aortic valve replaced.  For a year, he had been the textbook patient:  he exercised, lost weight, watched his diet and as a result, he felt good.
     I thought his pain was perhaps from over-exertion.  He is 57 years old and sometimes overdoes the exercising.  But that night, he said not only was his chest hurting, but also his back and left arm.  He wanted to go to the ER--I opted for the urgent care, which is far closer.  I figured the sooner he was under medical supervision, the better.  We sped into urgent care, and sure enough, his heart was "all over the map"--to use the paramedic's phrase.  The urgent care people had called the paramedics almost immediately, after administering nitro-glycerine.  One of the paramedics walked out and told me that Clayton was loaded  into the ambulance and with lights and sirens a-blazing, away they went.
     I followed to the ER and he was already being rushed into surgery, to have a stent put into place for a clogged artery.  I waited and waited--hospital time is frustratingly slow.
     His cardiologist who "happened" to be in the ER that night (no coincidences exist in the Lord) came and found me in the waiting room.  He outlined the surgery's progress and then I heard a dreadful word:  "stroke."  He had suffered a stroke when a piece of calcium deposit in that aortic valve was bumped into,  broke away and went into his brain.  I felt the color drain out of my face.  He was now to be transferred into CICU.
      The enormity of the event was not yet evident--Clayton was awake and talking with the nurses.  He then called a friend.  Within 24 hours though, the stroke made its destruction known.  Clay's right side went quiet.  His speech slurred and he seemed to be fading away.  I asked the neurologist how far down he would go--she said the next 24 hours would tell us the extent of the damage.
      The next day, he seemed even further hampered.  He was trying to recite formulas from physics to show he was not mentally gone--he seemed to know something had gone wrong, but to what extent, was a mystery to us all.
     Finally, the neurologist said we were at the extent of the damage.  She showed us the MRI, which showed a light gray jumble against a dark gray landscape.  My husband's brain had been struck, if you will, by lightning.
     My brilliant husband--he has defended the 2nd Amendment with endless enthusiasm, even to having his work cited by the Supreme Court regarding the unconstitutionality of Washington DC's gun ban.  He has written seven books, all concerned with history, whether about black demographics in the US, about his ancestor's role in the Civil War, to why guns are an integral part of the US.  His last book changed directions:  he wrote passionately about the changes in mental health laws in our country, which have directly contributed to an increase of mass public shootings.
     He embraced the risk:  he has spoken out and has received much criticism about his positions, and yet he has stood tall, wanting this country to honor its Constitution and be more humane in its treatment of those who battle with mental illness.
     The same soil that nourished him, his passionate love of history, also put him at risk:  working long hours at a 9-5 job, only to then to go and teach, write articles, do research, write books and fly hither and yon to speak and defend his positions.
      The lightning struck.  The tall tree I call my husband was hit hard.
      He is now at home, after eight weeks in the hospital.  He can speak and think clearly--to God be the glory.  People who have left-brain events are usually bereft of these faculties.  Clayton is left-handed so his brain seems to be working around that part of the stroke.  But his right side is weak.  He can walk now with a cane and sometimes on his own.  His right arm is still quiet, and he finds that discouraging.  He is eagerly awaiting more physical therapy for a full recovery.
     We are walking along a new road.  We have been married 35 years in March, and this is one more challenge we will face together.  I thank the Lord for His nourishing presence in this time, how He has worked through those around us.  Our son and daughter have been wonderful--supporting us as they struggled with their own fears and suffering about their father.  Our grandbabies have been wee rays of light, with lots of pictures and "I love you's" along the way.  Our son-in-law has stood by wife as she came to visit the hospital and he came and joined us with love and concern.  Extended family sent cards and emails.  Our friends have come by and played chess, brought books and have offered prayers to our Father, Who has never left our side.
     This beloved tree was struck.  But by God's mercy, it still stands.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Three Gardens

     God created the heavens, the earth, all life and then mankind.
     Next, He put man into a garden:  "The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads...Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'” (Gen. 3:8-9, 15-17)

     Why in a garden?   Why not in a house?  Why not in a forest?  Why not at the seashore?  Why would God put Adam in a garden? 

 I have several sisters in the Lord who have beautiful gardens.  They lovingly plant and tend their gardens with dedication, knowing they will have beautiful strawberries, melons, lettuce, cucumbers and all sorts of wonderful things to harvest as the season rolls along.  They have to know what to plant when, and they have to keep an eye on what is growing.  They have to water the plants just so, and know how much fertilizer to apply.  They have to deal with deer who want to sample their wares.  They face an endless parade of bugs.
    When I visit their gardens, they have such joy on their faces!  They pull aside large leaves and show me baby fruits and vegetables.  They eagerly talk about what is coming to fruition and when, and what lies ahead.  It's almost like sneaking into a nursery to spy on a sleeping newborn baby.  

God put Adam in a garden to teach him the fruits (pun intended) of obedience.  The garden was an embodiment of God's ordered universe:  everything would grow and produce seed after its own kind.  Adam would tend the garden but it was God Who provided everything that Adam needed:  water from the rivers to water it; the seasons arriving each year with wind, humidity and sun to help it grow; the soil from which Adam himself sprang and from which each seedling would spring as well; and Adam's two strong hands to till the soil.  Every aspect of the process was provided for and when Adam proudly picked the bounty and ate, he could truly thank God for His care over His creation.   
     God asked one thing of Adam:  "tend and keep it."  Adam needed to be dedicated and committed to the garden.  God gave him a task and He knew it would mature Adam's character.   Our character comes when we must work for what we have--we value it more.  If we are given everything, with little to no work on our part, we start acting rather entitled to what we think is rightfully ours.  
     God wanted a mature man walking in His garden, so He gave Adam responsibility.  He loved Adam enough to provide all he needed; He wanted Adam to serve Him out of love and gratitude and demonstrate that by tending the garden.
     But we know what happened.  Adam's disobedience caused him and Eve to be driven out of the garden.  The garden was now off-limits to the sons and daughters of Adam, due to sin.

But wait...let's walk into another garden.  We see a second Adam:  the Son of God, Jesus Christ. God had given Jesus everything he needed:  the power to conduct a ministry that would impact not only his generation but future ones as well.  The Father expresses His pleasure in His Son, who left the courts of heaven to walk in the streets of an exiled humanity:  "This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased."
     God gave Jesus a task: 

     "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:6-8)
      The "bounty" given to the Son by the Father was: 
     "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
(Phil. 2:9-10)
     The Father gave the Son the strength to endure the cross.  The Father loved us so much He was willing to pour all His wrath upon His Son's shoulders, even to the point where Jesus cried out, "Why have You forsaken me?"  

 The Father wanted a redeemed humanity walking in His garden--mature and responsible sons and daughters of Adam, cleansed from sin and obedient to their God. The only way He was able to achieve that was through His Son's death: "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:19-20). 
     Remember how God walked with Adam and Eve in the first garden?  Today, He is now walking with those He has redeemed, dwelling in their hearts and empowering them through the Holy Spirit.
     But a Day is coming when He will once again walk with His children, on a restored planet, in a new garden. 
     Now, let us travel to this last garden:  "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." (Rev. 22:1-5)    

The very tree that God feared would be eaten by a disobedient Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life, is now accessible.  Its leaves heal and its fruit of life is abundant.  
     In order for us to return to the garden, and walk with our Father, His Son had to walk in the Garden of Gethsemane.       

     Let us never forget what our restoration cost Jesus and let us till the soil with diligence and obedience, until that Day!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

If He Forgives, Why Can't I Forget?

     If God puts my sins as far as the east is from the west, then why can't I?
     If He forgives my sin, then why can't I?
     If He doesn't remember my sin, then why do I?
     All excellent questions.  I have been pondering this question.  It is a mixed blessing to be sure:  God sets me free of my sin with His love and forgiveness, yet I can remember every detail and shame floods my soul.  I would love to not remember.
     Satan uses my rap sheet of sin to remind me of how bad I have been/still am.  He parades all the sickening details of what I have done and delights in tormenting me in how low I stooped in my pursuit of sin.  He reminds me of the tears I have caused to flow and the hurt I have needlessly bestowed on others.  I cringed when he starts the movie called "This is Your Life."
     On the other hand, God doesn't even remember what I have done.  My slate with Him is completely clean: "'Come now, and let us reason together,' saith the Lord: 'though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'" (Isaiah 1:18)
     Perfect cleansing leads to perfect righteousness in His eyes: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
     He wants to restore fellowship with us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us.  Sin is the wall and Jesus tore down that wall.  We need to confess--that is, acknowledge what we have done.  He already knows, but He needs to hear from us:  "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)
     He hates our sin, yes, but He loves us more: "But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities.  I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." (Isaiah 43:24-5)
     Wow.  We stand in the light of His forgiveness and love, and yet...why can't we forget?  Why must the memories torment us?  Think a minute about the words of Joseph, when after his brothers sold him into slavery, he rose in the court of Pharaoh and was able to save his family from famine: "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." (Gen. 50:20) 
     Listen to the words of Paul, who like Joseph, was misunderstood, cast into prison and reviled: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28)
     So, if we remember our sins, what is the good God tries to bring forth?  What is the beauty He brings from the ashes?  How does the garment of praise feel around our bruised spirit?  How can there possibly be joy for mourning?
     Remembering our sins:

Keeps us humble about ourselves:  It is hard to be self-righteousness when we know we have fallen prey to the same sins.  This was one of the tragedies of the Pharisees:  they were so unaware of their sins--past, present and future--that they had no humility.  They were the very opposite:  arrogant and confident in their own ability to be good, they were, in Jesus' words, "white-washed tombs filled with dead man's bones."

Keeps us from judging others: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  (Matt. 7:1-2)  If we remember our failures, our faults, then we remember our need for mercy and how grateful we are for it.  We like to give out judgement but receive mercy.  Jesus is calling us to give out mercy and not forget that we have stood there ourselves in the shoes of sin.  If we do judge, then let the standard we use be exactly the same one we use for others. 

Keeps us dependent on Him:  Our sins remind us that we are weak, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:9)  It's hard to deceive ourselves about how wonderfully strong and sufficient we are when we are reminded of our sins.  At that moment, we are reminded of our need for Him, in every day and in every way. 

     Notice how not forgetting our sins affects ourselves, each others and how we relate to God.  
     Now it is true that Satan will use our sins to condemn us, leading us to be paralyzed with shame.  But, we must use the sword of the Spirit:  His Word.  Jesus rebuked Satan with the Word of God.  Why do we think we can respond any differently?  
     Next time you feel harassed, speak His word against your accuser and stand on the fact that "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4) 
     We stand on His forgiveness and grace.  As someone once said, "When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future."     
     We walk in Him with confidence:  "Be still and know that I am God." (Ps. 46:10)

As someone once said, "When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future."


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You've Not Responded to My Invitation...Why?

You are Cordially Invited to Attend a Banquet
Given in Your Honor by Our Host,
the Son of God,
Jesus Christ
Date: As Soon as You Reply in Prayer
Time: Now is the Day of Salvation
First Course:
In Your Heart
Second Course:
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Heaven
"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'
And let the one who hears say, 'Come!'
Let the one who is thirsty come;
& let the one who wishes,
take the free gift of the water of life.

Please Bring Your Heart, Soul, Strength & Mind
RSVP With Your Presence
You have received this invitation. Why haven't you responded? I, Jesus, have made you this offer and yet I haven't seen you at the Table. I have been looking for you. Perhaps we talk, or I see it in your eyes that you would like to sit down with Me, but you hold back, time and time again.

You come to church with a sadness in your eyes, and a inescapable burden in your heart. You hold back and when the service is over, you leave, not any less burdened than when you came in.

You carry My invitation in your head. You know about Me desiring to come into your heart and be your Lord and Savior. You know I died for you. You know how I love you. And yet...you hold back.

You see the Table spread out with abundance. You see the Bread of Life, My Body on the cross, broken and offered to you.

You see the cups of blood-red wine, filled to the brim with joy, for I shed My blood willingly for you.

You see the beautiful fruit of My Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, all just waiting for you to reach out and take them.
You see crystal pitchers filled to the top with the Water of Life--cool and refreshing, glinting as I, the Light of World, sparkles on it. 

You see grapes, lavishingly supplied from Me, the Vine, waiting for you.

The honey from the Rock is sweet to your soul.

You hear music sung by Me, soft and inviting, calling you. Yet...you hold back. You stare through the window and you stand on the outside, with the cold winds blowing at your back. You sigh, and walk away. You walk into the night, and soon the light from the Table is a small glow against a dark sky, as you look longingly over your shoulder.

Walk long enough, and soon, you can no longer see the glow.

Why won't you come?

Shame: You don't know what I have done--awful, neglectful, spiteful, inexcusable things. Every day the parade of the past bangs by my window, and I awake, once more, to the sound of accusation. By the end of each day, I can't remember the wording of that invitation. That's why I have not responded.

Guilt: I have broken the law. God's laws. Men's laws. I am a criminal. Who wants such a dirty guest showing up to such a beautiful Table? That's why I have not responded.

Anger: God has let me down one too many times. Unanswered prayers, broken lives, failures and defeats have made me question the Host. I know He wants me to come, but I would just sit and glare at Him. That's why I haven't responded.

Fatigue: I am burdened. I am tired. I would rather just rest. The thought of even walking into the Banquet Hall to join Him exhausts me. Let's face it: He won't notice if I don't show up. That's why I haven't responded.

Not Sure: I read about this, I listen to sermons, and yet, I don't get it. The Host dying for me? And yet, if I ask questions, I feel stupid. Everyone else seems to get it. I don't want to sit at the Table feeling stupid. That's why I haven't responded.

Too Much Commitment: Oh yes, I know what the invitation says, but all I see is being committed to something I am not sure I want to be committed to--I would have to give up my spiritual fast-food. I know it's not nourishing, but it's quick, easy and I don't want to struggle. That's why I haven't responded.

Don't Need to Come: I'm good--thanks anyway. I have my own little table, and I am content with what I have. I am in control and I don't wish to let that go. I'd have to sit with others, and I like being alone. No hurts, no disappointments, no complexity. Yes, I am hungry, but I have grown used to feeling that way. That's why I haven't responded.

Too Much to Give Up: I have a whole lot of food sitting at home. I know that if I come to the Table, I know I will have to give up those foods that I should not be eating. It's OK to flit in and out but to actually sit down and face the Host means I would have to be authentic in my faith. I grab a nibble from the Table, to keep up appearances, but I head back home, looking forward to what awaits me. I know it's wrong, but, I can't help myself.

I sent you the invitation, knowing all of this. Just coming into the Banquet Hall will be a walk of faith, especially dragging those chains so entangled around your feet. Climbing up in the chair, looking about the Table, gazing into My face...yes, it will be hard.

I am still inviting you.

Why? Because being away from the Table is even harder. Spiritually malnourished people are more susceptible to spiritual illness. They grow weaker and over time, lose hope. Come to the Table.

Is there anything I cannot forgive? Is there anyone I cannot redeem?

"Behold, the LORD'S hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear..." (Isaiah 59:1).

Is there anything that you will give up that this Table cannot supply? Aren't the things that you cling to losing their potency? If not now, they soon will, and you will be hungry.

Come to the Table.

The invitation is a standing one.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere...

     I have always been around water.  I grew up on the California coast.  I lived in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and even did a stint in Hawaii.  When I lived in LA, the ocean was only an hour away.  When I lived in northern California, it rained quite a bit and the marine fog would roll in from the San Francisco Bay in the evenings.  There was so much moisture in the air that the sidewalks would turn green from all of the mold growing in them.  Our house was near a greenbelt, where a stream flowed.
     I never started thinking about water until we moved to the high desert of Boise, Idaho.  We now live in the mountains, and although I can see the alpine line from my house, we are still in the high desert up here.   
     Every year, I see water in all its forms. In the summer, water is scarce.  All of the spring rivulets have dried up.  The foothills are dry and no snow sits atop Bogus Basin.
     In the late fall, we get rain. The cumulus clouds that form over the hills are magnificent.
     It snows with gusto in the winter.  We frequently get ice on the roads and pools of water freeze over.

     In the spring, we get tremendous thunderstorms, with rain and sometimes hail falling in abundance.  Our river runs high because of all the snow melting in the mountains.
     Water is a precious thing in the desert; the water for our house comes from a deep well, drilled into sandstone before we moved in.  This water has been collecting in the sandstone for thousands of years.  Without it, no water, no house.
     So, let's focus on water for a moment.  Water vapor is the gaseous form of water and it is invisible.  Yet it is everywhere, all around us in the air.  If the air is a bit humid, then we sense this moisture in the air.  If the air is exceedingly dry, we notice that too, as our skin dries out and we grow thirsty.    We mostly don't give water vapor a second thought.
     But, sometimes, it will manifest its presence.  We see water on the cool early morning grass--we call it dew.  On colder mornings, we see a white tint to the grass and upon closer inspection, we see water again--we call it frost.  If it warms up, the frost will melt into dew.  Where did this water come from?  It didn't rain...it came out of the water vapor that circulates in the air, and condenses into liquid water.
     But there's more.  When it gets cold in the mountains, and instead of it being bone-dry, we sometimes get an inversion and moisture is present abundantly in the air.
    Hoar or rime frost will then form on tree branches, fence posts and anywhere else it can gain a toe-hold.  The water from the air condenses out and forms frost at first and then with more moisture, the frost grows into larger and larger crystals, which look like ever-growing needles.  
 If the moisture continues, the crystals continue to grow.  The snow's surface starts looking like polar bear fur.
      Water vapor can be easily forgotten, until it manifests itself.  It is part of the atmosphere of our earth and part of the air we breathe.  In fact, on a cold day, we can see water vapor by exhaling and seeing that wee cloud in front of us. 
     God's creation has His signature on it.  Like any great work of art, we can learn about Him from what He created.  So, what does water teach us about Him?  Let's try to make a woefully inadequate but interesting analogy.
     God, like water vapor, is a subtle, invisible Presence.  He is close to us as our very breath.  Jesus is like the dew and the frost:  He "condensed" out of the Father's invisible Presence, and made God visible.  Jesus returned ("evaporated"--water as a liquid or solid returns back to water vapor) to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the water vapor we breathe in and gives us life--the very water vapor we breathe in has oxygen in it.  Without oxygen, without His Spirit--life is impossible.
     Bear with me a few more moments with this analogy.  What causes the water vapor to condense out and manifest itself?  The cold does.  When our lives drop in temperature and feel cold, lonely, isolated and alone, He condenses out and manifests Himself in our lives.  How?  By refreshing rain and by cool breezes.  He gives us hope when there is none and reminds us that He will never leave nor forsake us.
     When our lives heat up, look far out to the horizon for that small cloud that is forming.  There is enough cool air to condense out that water vapor and soon, that cloud will grow and bring rain. 
     One final point:  there is a condition that is called a "Triple Point."  This is a spot where, with the right combination of temperature and pressure, all three forms of water are co-existing and are visible.  Just above freezing, you can see ice floating in a river or lake, with water vapor condensing off the surface as fog.  So, water as a liquid, a solid and as a gas all dance together in the cold of winter.
     In the cold of our winter,the Son stays alongside us, the Holy Spirit buoys us up, and the Father hovers over us.  We have our "Triple Point" when the cold hits us.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Enough Rain, Enough Sun

     We have had a long wet early spring, and cool temperatures. As a result, the wild flowers have spring up in abundance.  Wildflowers vary in what they need to grow.  Camas needs cool temperatures and running water.  Ours grow along a rivulet that runs down from our hillside:   
A little more warmth, but with soil that is still very moist, and voila!  You get phlox:

  A little warmer, with the soil still moist, and up come the longspur lupine:
We have more longspur lupine than I have seen in a long time.  The temperatures warm up still, the rain ceases and up comes the silver lupine:
We have lots of arrowleaf balsam roots (yellow), and mules ears (white)--they outlast many of the other wildflowers, because they can tolerate dryer soil and warmer temperatures:
     Given enough sun and moisture, and the hills yield wonderful results.  Add in even more water, less desert heat, and the hills give forth even more.
      So, observing spring this year, what have I learned?
      All the seeds are there, in the ground, year after year.  You would not even know they were there.  Yet, with the right amount of what they need, they will sprout and grow.  It's not just rain and sun that they need--it's the amount.  We do see wildflowers every year; how many will be determined by how much warmth and water is available.
     Wildflowers seem to require differing amounts of moisture and warmth.  As soon as the soil starts to dry out, the early sprouters--violets, phlox, triteleia, to name a few, will be gone.  The plants that can tolerate the ever-drying soil carry on, and soon, once the desert heat sets in with summer's entrance, the wildflowers are a pleasant memory.
      Spiritual application?  We all were created to receive the Son's warmth and the living water of His presence.  That is a basic need of all of us.  Many come to know Him, and yet, seem to never really grow.  The amount of time we spend in His word, and in His presence, will determine our abundance--pure and simple.  We will have dry spells to be sure, but a sure-fire way to revive is to seek Him out--no distractions, no competing voices--just sitting in His presence.
      Now, I spent this spring trying to chase down one wildflower that has just carpeted the hillsides--more than I have seen in a long time.  At first, I thought it was Queen Anne's lace--no.  It's called hoary cress or whitetop:

      It is considered a weed.  Oh, I know what a weed looks like--not very appealing.  But, does this look like a weed?    In our high desert mountain landscape, these plants spring up and make the hills beautiful.   They are considered weeds because they are very invasive.  And yes, this year, with the favorable conditions, the whitetop is everywhere, in huge numbers.  They don't seem to coexist with any other flowers.  You will find lupine growing along violets and arrowleaf balsam roots.   Phlox will tuck in near lupine.  But once the whitetop takes over, that's all you see.
     Spiritual application?  You bet:  if we not discerning about the whitetop in our world, it will take over and crowd everything else out.  It's beautiful, at first--how harmful can it be?  Quite harmful, to be sure: once there is enough of it, it will no longer share the hillside. 
     What is your whitetop?  At first, whatever it is seems harmful enough--but after awhile, it's all we think about, do or worry about.  Our whitetop will not share the hillside with Jesus--it will crowd Him out, and His voice will become harder to hear and follow.
     Keep in His word and in prayer.  Spot check for whitetop and enjoy the blessings of His spring in your life.  Struggling with sin?  Seek out others who can stand alongside with you, and pray for you.  Keep an attitude of gratitude.  Make a list of all the beautiful "wildflowers" in your life--family, friends, a starry night, a butterfly, a smile from a baby.
     Realize that your full potential will take time in Him.  These Nootka roses and other wild roses are the ancestors of the amazing roses we have today in our gardens.  Looking at this wee lovely rose, could you imagine such potential?  We can't but He can--trust the vision that He has of you and your future.
Finally, take a lesson from a mariposa lily:  these beauties spring up after every other wildflower is gone.  The heat is on, the soil is dry and yet here they are--swaying in the hot afternoon breezes with the wild grasses. 
Even in the heat of trial and tribulation, there is beauty.  Because, even in the heat of trial and tribulation, there is Jesus.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Postscript: Why Anti-Semitism?

     The survival of the Jewish people is one of the great mysteries of the human history.  More than once have kings, nations, armies, dictators and religions sought to annihilate the Jews across the centuries.  Each time, God has preserved His own.  His children walk in a toxic world, fallen from the sin of disobedience and committed to pursuing everything that is contrary to God.  His hand has been on His Chosen and it has not, nor will continue to be, easy to be His.
     Why is that?  Let's return once more to Cain and Abel.  Abel was a visible reminder of what it means to be obedient to God's word.  He brought the right kind of offering.  God didn't somehow favor him over his brother; Abel took what God said seriously and acted on that knowledge.  Cain has the same instructions, but listened to his own logic and decided he knew what was best and acted accordingly.
     Cain could have had two reactions to watching his brother come forward with his offering:  Yes, that's right, I need to bring an animal to offer to God.  That is what God instructed us to do.  I know these are fine grains, but God wanted a firstborn of our flock.  I don't understand why, but I will obey.
     Or:  What's up with Abel?  Does he think he's better than me?  Look at that offering...we could use that sheep, not God.  God doesn't need it. Who does Abel think he is?
     We sadly know which attitude he had, and how it yielded murderous results.
     In fact, one of Cain's descendants, Lamech, will boast: to his family:
"I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,   
then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Gen. 4:23-4)
     Do you hear Jesus' commentary on this?  "Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matt. 18:21-22)
     Forgiveness is the antidote to anger.  Anger feeds revenge.  Revenge justifies murder in the sinful heart of humanity.  That is why Jesus spoke so forcefully to anger:  we can murder another person's body, yes, but also their soul with our hatred and wrath. 
     Look how far we have come in such a short time:  Cain murdered Abel in a field where no one was around, and it was Abel's blood that cried out and exposed the murder.  Yet, God in His mercy, didn't allow vengeance upon Cain, although he deserved it.  His descendant, Lamech, boasted of his killing another human being.  Lamech focused not on God's mercy, but his own logic that injury should bring merciless justice. 
     This is human history in a nutshell:  We want to receive mercy, but we want to mete out justice to those we consider deserving of it. 
     Those people who live in a universe inhabited by a Creator, Who has given them mercy and thus demands both obedience to Him and mercy for others, will, to the Lamechs and Cains, become suspect.  Why?  Those people are visible reminders that God is the highest Power, not humanity's fallen logic. 
     The people of God remind this fallen world of God's Presence, His laws, His grace and His demands for obedience. His people are a ray of light into a dark world. People don't like the light. Why? Jesus comments:  "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." (John 3: 19-20)
     So, anti-Semitism is Cain's reaction to Abel:  Who do these Jews think they are?  Insisting on one God that speaks to them and give them laws to obey?  Our laws are fine!  They work for us!   The laws of the Jews--no idols, no worship but to God alone, forgiveness and mercy--who needs 'em?  If we get rid of them, we will get rid of that visible reminder that God, not us, is in control.
     Look at how Jesus dealt with how evil people react to God's visible reminders:  “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.  The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him."  (Matt. 21:33-39).
     When evil confronts the light, evil tries to destroy it, pure and simple.  Jesus is talking about the prophets who came before him, and then what will happen to Him.  The religious leaders and the Romans, when confronted by the very Son of God, tried desperately to extinguish the Light of the World.
     The Holocaust would not have stopped with a few strategic bombings on the camps.  That's like trying to redirect a hurricane:  it's very nature is one of chaos, and no matter where it goes, it unleashes destruction.  The hatred that permeated Germany wouldn't have stopped if a few camps had been taken out of operation.  The Holocaust was a progressive fury to find the most efficient way of eliminating the Jews.  If the camps had stopped, the mass shootings and mobile killing trucks would have increased. 
     The Jewish people, like Jesus Himself, are visible reminders that God is in this world. He is not ignorant or unfeeling towards the suffering of His Abels. Their blood cries out, demanding justice. His justice will be meted out.
    But, He is also painfully aware of the Cains doing the evil, and wants them to turn from their wicked ways: "'Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?' says the Lord God, 'and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'" (Ezekiel 18:23)
     Jesus Himself endured all the hatred that the world could give.  Whenever we cry out to God and say, "But You don't understand!"  Jesus steps off His throne and takes our hand and say, "Oh yes, I do."
     Before we leave this discussion, I know many will say that anti-Semitism was largely conducted in Jesus' name.  But, that doesn't explain the hatred of the Jews by their enemies throughout the Old Testament.  That doesn't explain the Romans' persecution and slaughter of the Jews.  Christianity didn't create anti-Semitism.  It sadly carried it on. 
     But one cannot serve the Lord and hate His people.   Throughout history, that has largely been the Jews.  But, in Nazi Germany, God's people in Christianity were despised as well.   "Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach said, 'The destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the national socialist movement.'"
      "And Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg, a member of Hitler’s inner circle, stated at the Nuremberg Congress of 1938, 'I am absolutely clear in my own mind, and I think I can speak for the Fuhrer as well, that both the Catholic and Protestant churches must vanish from the life of our people.'”
     “'It is only on one or two exceptional points that Christ and Hitler stand comparably. For Hitler is far too big a man to be compared with one so petty,'” said Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi paper Der Sturmer."
Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said, 'Our Fuhrer is the intermediary between his people and the throne of God. Everything the Fuhrer utters is religion in the highest sense.'”

      When we violate the first commandment, to have no other god before God, we allow evil to spark and burn into conflagration.  
     The Holocaust humbles us to remember our depravity and our need for God and His saving grace.  Abels can become Cains very quickly and yet, because of the work of His Son upon the cross, Cains can become Abels.

The quotations are from Ray Comfort's book, Hitler and the Bible.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Conclusion of My Question About the Holocaust

     Last time, we sadly witnessed the blood-soaked ground and the lifeless body of Abel in a distant field, and heard the callous comment from Cain:  "Am I my brother's keeper?"
     Isn't that the paradigm for every brutality that has been enacted since that day?  The hatred of one person/country/group for another person/country/group...waiting for the right moment and then...murder. When the guilty are confronted, no remorse is offered, just a callous excuse:  I am not responsible for what happened...I was just following orders...I was angry and the person deserved it...I was doing what I thought should be done.
     Those excuses and their variations have echoed down from that blood-soaked field to this day, with millions of Cains acting with hate-filled hearts and millions of Abels dying with stunned cries on their lips.
     Now:  why didn't God intervene?  Should He have warned Abel?  Should He have allowed Cain to trip and fall, smashing his head and dying, thereby keeping Abel safe?
     Sadly, Cain inherited an evil nature from his father, Adam.  Cain was not the master of the sin that crouched at his door, as God had warned him earlier.  Sin now had him and would have his descendants forever.  In fact, hatred is the single most devastating manifestation of sin in human lives.  Hatred is what we use to justify our actions.  Cain hated his brother for obeying God.  Cain the, over time, felt more and more that his brother was deserving of death.  In the end, he felt justified in killing his brother.
     Look at how Jesus sees anger: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Matthew 5:21-22).
    Do you see it, in light of what happened between Cain and Abel?  We can all agree murder is wrong, but what about the "murdering" of someone in your heart?  Most of us would never dream of walking up to someone and murdering them.  But hatred, nursed over time, dehumanizes the person, and slowly but surely, hatred's poison destroys our ability to rationally think about that person.  Anger, demeaning others with judgment and name-calling, will lead to overt action.  Jesus seems to be saying if you want to master the sin of hatred crouching at your door, then don't even allow anger to reside in your heart.
     The heart is truly the heart of the matter:  look at what resides in our heart, the legacy of Adam's disobedience to the very words of God:  "And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:22-23).
     Jesus warns us of what can emanate from our hearts, and did you notice that the first on the list is, "evil thoughts."  
    So, let's ask the question:  Why didn't God intervene in the Holocaust?  The Holocaust is the murder of Cain and Abel writ large.  Hatred, nursed over centuries, found its release in the policies of the Nazis.  God has repeatedly warned human kind in His Word the dangers of hatred.  In a sense, it is a fruit that we must not eat or the consequences will be devastating.
     We blame God for letting the Holocaust happen, not too dissimilar to Adam blaming God for his disobedience.
     Our First Parents listened to the logic that they would be like God, knowing good from evil.
     We now listen to the logic of our hearts and sometimes we do good, but mostly, we do evil.
     Sadly, the Christian Church has been a major purveyor of antisemitism.  Many Christians have claimed to love God but hated the Jews, but God's word speaks to that.  You can't love God if you hate your brother: "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen" (1 John 4:20). 
     God, in confronting Cain, exclaims, "What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10).  God is not deaf to the cries His murdered children.  If every sparrow that falls to the ground is known by our Father, then every cry from every prison, every gutter and every gas chamber is heard.  God, surveying the long march of evil deeds throughout our history and its continuance to this day, still asks us, "What have you done?"
      Let me humbly offer two ways that I see He did intervene: He sent His Son to redeem the hearts of men, to recreate them and to write His word on their hearts--our only hope is a reformed heart in His image, if we are to be our brother's keeper.  Secondly, with no guarantees of success, men hit the beaches on June 6, 1944, bring an end to the evil that was Hitler's Third Reich.  I once heard a Holocaust survivor say, "I know what the Messiah looks like.  He was black and He was white."  Those were the colors of the two GI's who opened the doors to the barracks at Buchenvald and freed this then nine-year-old boy.
     We cry out to God, "What are You doing?"
     He looks at us and says, "I am asking you the same question."


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why Didn't God Intervene in the Holocaust? Part IV

Now we will trace humanity’s journey from the garden to the larger world.  We are also observing the trajectory of evil and how it manifested itself in our earliest history.  Before we follow our First Parents as they make their way in the world, let’s review what their disobedience brought in to creation.  

     Death enters in to stay:   Adam was instructed by God directly:  “…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:17)  Not only would will Adam and Eve die, their spirits will die as well.  The covering for their sin required the death of innocent animals.  The blood poured from a multitude of sacrificial animals as we travel through the Old Testament.  This blood was a visual reminder of how death was not part of the original creation and how blood must cover sin, to restore fellowship between a holy God and His fallen children. 
     Not only will disease and old age take away the lives of Adam’s descendants, but Adam and Eve witnessed the death of their son.  The first act outside the Garden was murder.    
     Toil enters in to stay:  The earth was abundantly fruitful until Adam sinned.   
     Before Adam:  “and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface…” (Gen. 2:6).   
     After Adam:  Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” (Gen 3:18)  Thistles and thorns dominated the landscape and no longer would the earth gladly yield its harvest to man.  Famine stalked the land; poor harvests meant death for many people.  Death came to plants as well:  blights, rusts, and molds withered and destroyed them.  The ground itself was “cursed” because of Adam’s sin.  Adam’s descendants will live precariously from it, never sure if the harvest will suffice. Death will always be one bad harvest away. 
     Pain enters in to stay:  Eve will scream in childbirth, so that even in the giving of new life, her cries will be a stark reminder of sin and its curse.  Her descendants’ babies will occasionally die.  Husbands will stand helplessly by as some wives bleed to death after labor.       
      Eve will be “ruled over” by her husband, and her descendants will walk under the controlling hand of the men in the world--stifled, suffocated and sometimes killed.  Some men will rule with love.  Some will rule with hate. 
     Displacement enters in to stay:  Humans sense this creation is not quite right.  We have an ancient memory of a golden age, a time when the planet didn’t seem so hostile to us.  We have been trying to get back to Eden since the day we left.  We are wanderers and try to desperately recreate home.  We feel unsettled as a species, always searching for security and safety.  Adam and Eve wandered and their descendants did so as well, ever restless in spirit.      

Adam and Eve’s Family
     We meet Abel and Cain.  Both are toiling:  Abel manages the flocks and Cain tills the soil.  The death of sheep provides food and clothing to Adam’s family and the earth’s abundance comes only from work: “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LordAnd Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Gen. 4:2-5) 
      Interesting.  Abel is honoring God by bringing Him the best from the flock—the firstborn.  Look at the faith this takes:  I give the firstborn to God with no guarantee that second-borns will appear.  I am trusting God and His goodness to bring forth multiple generations and thus the firstborn is His.  If nothing appears after that, then I am still honoring God. 
     Look at Cain, however.  He is the firstborn son, and clearly knows what he has to do:  bring an offering. (If the younger brother knows this, surely the elder knows it.)  What does he bring?  Not the first fruits, but “some of the fruits of the soil.”  “Some”--not the best, not the first of the harvest, but “some.”  Cain, like Adam listening directly to God, was instructed on what to do directly by his father. 
    Cain, listen to me:  Yes, we toil, but what is yielded first belongs to Him as an acknowledgement that this is His creation and He still provides for us, even though we don’t deserve it.  We deserve only thistles and thorns, but He still allows the cursed soil to bring forth grains to mill, berries to pick and kale to pull.  We are blessed even in the midst of the curse.  So, don’t forget:  Give the best to God and trust Him for the rest. 
     The next thing that entered into creation to stay was rejection of God’s very words:  Cain, like his father, heard what he should do and yet chose to disobey.  If God looked “with favor” on Abel’s offering but not so on Cain’s, then clearly Abel was being obedient and Cain was not.   Cain followed his own logic and thought his offering was acceptable. 
     We create our own version of how things should be, rebelling against God’s very words.  The serpent’s words of “Did God really say?” will echo throughout our history, leading us to create thoughts and actions we approve of and that consequently we will act upon. 
     Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:6-7) 
     Listen to Me, Cain:  I know that your offering seems right to you, but I have expressly told you what to offer.  Your brother’s is living proof of that.  This logic, this rebellion, this sin, will destroy your relationship with Me.  Like your parents, who could eat any fruit but one, you can make an offering aligned with My instructions, and I will continue to fellowship with you.  Ignore My words and sin will consume you.  Hear My words and you will walk in freedom.
     Result?  Did Cain run and get the right offering?  Did he decide that fellowship with his God was the most important aspect to his existence?  That God’s very words were life and he wanted to remain in that life?  No.
     Now murder entered into creation to stay.  Cain lures Abel into a field for the sole purpose of killing him.  The Garden of God’s presence was replaced with a field of dirt and spilt blood.  The wet grass of the Garden showed God’s footprints as He passed.  The field of dirt will show two sets of footprints and then only one.   
     Cain’s response will echo chillingly throughout our history:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Our First Parents’ sin was against God Himself; their descendants will sin against God and each other.  
      Listen carefully to the first cry of a mother of a murdered child.
      Look ahead and see the Holocaust reflected in that blood-soaked dirt.    

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