Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Faith-healing or Healing Faith?

     "I am trusting God to heal me," is a common declaration many good Christian people make when faced with an illness or disease.
     They take a stand on faith.  They trust God will see their faith and heal them.  Done.
     In going deeper into this, I find they are trusting Him to heal them miraculously, right now, no muss, no fuss.  It appears that the faith they have mustered combined with their spoken declaration is what will unlock God's healing power.   So, they stand and wait.
     Is that Biblical?  First, let's take a quick survey on how Jesus healed people while He was here.  His methods of healing are instructive.
     In John 4:46-54, Jesus is at Cana in Galilee, and is approached by a "royal official" whose sick son is in Capernaum.  He wants Jesus to come with him but Jesus does not.  Instead, He tells the man his son is healed.  The man leaves, believing what Jesus had said.  The son is found to be well, and the man realizes the healing took place when Jesus spoke the words.
     So, healing can take place at a distance.  The key here is Jesus did not have to present with the afflicted person.
     In Matthew 9, we witness several healings:  First, Jesus not only heals the man of his paralysis, but also his sins.  So, healing is just not physical, but has a spiritual component as well.  Jesus determined that this man was afflicted in both body and soul, and He choose to heal both.  The man and his friends, while trusting in Jesus, did not see the man's deepest need, and focused only on the physical.  But Jesus saw more. 
     Next, we see a woman reaching out and teaching Jesus' cloak.  She knew in her heart that a mere touch would heal her.  Jesus turned and affirmed her faith.  So, healing can be a mere touch from Jesus.  Words are not always needed.
     Then we hear of two blind men calling out to Him.  He then asks if they believe He can heal them.  They say, "Yes, Lord" and He does.  So, sometimes He first poses a question, to search the person's heart.  The fact they said "Lord" shows their willingness to believe in Him.
     Then a possessed man is brought before Jesus.  The evil that has made this man unable to speak is driven out with the most powerful words possible.  So, sometimes illness has an evilly destructive aspect to it and that has to be dealt with as well. 
     Jesus heals a blind man in John 9:1-11.  Jesus mixes mud and spit and rubs the mixture into the man's eyes.  He then tells the man to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  The man does so, and can see.  So, sometimes Jesus uses very earthly means to achieve heavenly goals.
     What is my point?  There is no single formula that Jesus used while here on earth to impart a healing.  The common denominator is the person had to have a measure of faith when facing Jesus. Having faith is essential, to be sure, because we are acting on the trust we have placed in the Savior and Who He says He is.  But Jesus responded differently because the settings where different: Some healings took place while He was among the crowds outdoors; sometimes it was in a synagogue with a smaller group; sometimes it was in a quiet room.
     But always, Jesus took compassion on the afflicted one as well as the ones who knew the patient. 
     But the method of healing was of His choosing.
     So, the person's faith did not dictate how He would heal; only that He would heal.
     Today, Jesus has a wide variety of ways to heal us. 
     When I am trusting Him to heal me, I stand on faith.  Yes, that is my part.  You see that in all of the healings where the person was in their right mind and could focus on Jesus.
      But I have to trust His method.  I have to wait on Him to find out what that method is.  I can't just stand on a formula or ritual and away I go. 
     Jesus is about our relationship and wanting me to come to know Him more deeply as a result of this encounter with my morality. He sees me in eternal terms; I see me in temporal terms.  He wants me to shift my view from me to Him.  That is why Jesus interacted with those He healed:  He wanted to establish a relationship with them before the healing.  Once the healing is over, He did not want to see the newly established relationship go likewise.  The healed person would celebrate the here and now, and lose sight of the there and eternal. 
     Today, we are faced with more choices for our health than the first century people could even imagine.  So, let's take a moment to see how this all fits in with healing and faith. 
      I fear that the reason many people are so angry at the medical profession is that they expect miraculous results.  They wouldn't use the word "miraculous," to be sure; the word they would use is "complete" or "quick" if not "instant." They go to the doctor long after they sense something is wrong; by the time they reach out, the illness is advanced and the doctor's hands are tied by the illness' progression. 
     Why do people wait?  I think the main reason is fear:  fear that the diagnosis will not be an easy one; that what they don't know won't hurt them; that they really aren't in control and that they will have to rely on others to help them.  The advanced condition and the doctor's limited response then justifies the person's anger that doctors don't know what they are doing.  
     Doctors for many people are the ultimate authority figure; they don't like people over them, so they view the doctor more as an enemy than an ally.
     People have experienced poor or inept care at the hands of doctors and so they feel justified in condemning the whole profession. 
     Worse still, they will go to the doctor, and then not follow the doctor's instructions.  They do not take the prescription; they do not control their diet and increase exercise; they do not stop smoking; they do not go to follow-up appointments to see how they are progressing.  They do not comply and they do not get better.  They then assume that the doctor is ignorant and that the Internet is more competent to diagnose and treat their condition. 
     In other words, people go to the doctor assuming a quick and relatively easy fix:  the secular equivalent to a miraculous healing. 
     They do relatively little but go to the doctor and expect the doctor to do all the heavy lifting of healing.
     People do the same thing with faith healing.
     They do relatively little but stand on faith and expect Jesus to always do an instantaneous miraculous cure.   When the healing doesn't come as expected or their condition grows worse, they think they need to just muster up more faith and wave it in Jesus' face. 
      May I propose a better way?  Jesus wants a relationship with us, pure and simple.  "Be still and know that I am God" is one of my favorite verses.  Why?  I have to be still--no running around and trying to fix it myself and then expect Jesus to rubber-stamp what I have done.  I have to know Him:  I must sit at His feet, drinking deeply from the water of the Word and listening for His voice.  Relationships take time and I must invest my time in Him, and not in everything else but Him.  Then I will know that He is God--not me, not the doctor, not anyone or anything in this earthly realm.  His powerful love and wisdom will be mine.
     Now, armed with His wisdom and coupled with my faith, I ask Him, "How do we proceed, precious Lord, with this health challenge?" 
     Now I wait for His response.  Remember:  I must trust Him and the method of His choosing.  
     If it's to go to a doctor, then I pray for the right one to go to.
     If it's to take a recommended medication, then I pray for peace in taking it and for positive results.
     If it's a lifestyle change, then I do what I must do.
     If it's a miraculous instantaneous healing, then I am grateful.  I will, like the healed leper, go to the priest (the doctor in my era) and seek a confirmation of His healing.  I will ascribe it to Him and let that doctor know that. 
     I am guided by His voice, to choose His method and act faithfully on what is revealed to me. I will not let fear of the unknown isolate me, while I call my stance, "faith."  Faith is not a whitewash over fear.  Fear leads to inaction; faith is rubber to the holy road:  I actively seek Him. 
     Let me share a story in closing.  When I first met my husband, he suffered from a terrible ulcer.  He took medicine for relief, and yet he was never really pain-free.  At a Bible study he started attending (where he met me) the pastor asked him if he would like to be healed.  My husband had just started going back to church and had recently reunited with the Lord.  He is very intellectual and scientific in his thinking, so you can just imagine his response to the pastor's question.  But, he was tired from the pain.  So, we all stood up and placed hands on him.  The next day, he went to his already scheduled doctor's appointment, and lo and behold, no ulcer.  It was truly a miraculous healing.
     Thirty-five years later, as I shared in a earlier blog, Clayton was involved with a series of medical emergencies.  A painful attack of a kidney stone lead him to dash to the ER.  After all the tests they ran on him, the doctor commented that his heart sounded strange.   A follow-up appointment reveal a aortic heart valve that needed replacing. 
     One year after that surgery, he had a heart-attack.  The whole time the Lord was speaking to me as we dashed to the ER:  where to go, not to panic, all was in His hands.  He was whisked to the operating table and during the course of that surgery, he suffered a stroke.   Eight weeks later, my husband came home.
     The whole time in the hospital, we were impressed with the level of care he received, all the way from the CNA's to the doctors.  Clayton cried several times, so touched by the loving care he received.  Clayton also grew immensely in a spiritual way while dependent on God's love in a very trying situation.
     Spiritual healing.  Physical healing.  It's all important to Him.
      So, it's a Person, not a procedure.  It's a Relationship, not a ritual.  Jesus healed my husband both instantaneously and over time.  But, His love shone through in both, and that is the greatest miracle of all.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


     Societal change is a funny thing.  It is truly like the frog in the pot.  If suddenly the government legalized murder, we, as dutiful frogs, would jump out of that pot and protest.  But if one year we can abort babies coming out of the womb, and a decade or two later we can authorize a physician to assist an ailing elderly patient to end his or her life, and because these changes only affect a small segment of our population, we sit in the pot.
     If you had told people in the 1970's that we will end up with 57 million aborted fetuses in the decades to come, they would have said, "Oh, you're just using scare tactics."  If you had told people that counselors at Planned Parenthood someday would advise underage pregnant girls with older boyfriends to get an abortion, rather than report the fathers to the state under child abuse allegations, they would have said, "No way.  Abortion is for consenting adults who are not ready for children, or for adult women to have the right to choose."
     Now, people look at where we are in all of this, and say, "How did we get to this?"
     It's been a slow-societal boil.
     Many other pots are currently on the stove, but in this Christmas season, I would like to focus on one in particular.  While it is not as morally reprehensible as the devaluing of life on either end of the bell curve, i.e. the newborn and the elderly, it indicates another shift and one that I find disturbing. 
     I have lived long enough to see this beautiful holiday be transformed from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays," "Season's Greetings," and "The spirit of Christmas."  But, it's been a long time coming as we have sat in this particular pot.  Look on the outside of the pot and it says, "The Secular Christmas Takeover."
     I grew up in a little suburb of Santa Barbara, California, in the 1960's.  I loved Christmas time.  We hung a plastic Santa sign on the front door, decorated a tree and waited for Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought.  I read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and figured that Santa only talked about coming down the chimney.  He probably slipped in and out through our front door. (We had that sign on the front door, after all!)
     I was crushed when my older brother proudly announced that there was no Santa.  I figured that he was probably make-believe anyway, but hey, there could be a guy in a red suit flying around the world on Christmas Eve...
      What kept the message of what this holiday was really about were the Christmas carols.  I could just picture the three kings of the orient making their way to the little town of Bethlehem.  I tried to imagine the angels touching their golden harps and singing about the newborn King.  I was confused with the words "with angelic host proclaim," however.  What I heard was "with a jello host proclaim."  This was after all, the early 60's, when Jello in all its splendor dominated salads and desserts.
     We learned to sing "Silent Night" in German in elementary school.  We also learned "Oh Hanukah, Oh Hanukah" and spun dreidels.  We ate green and red Christmas cookies in class and hurried off to Christmas Break (that's what it was called--not Winter Break or Holiday Break).
     We moved to Los Angeles and on our first Christmas there, we drove up a street well-known for its light displays.  I thought it was pretty, but how it fit into Christmas and those angels was a mystery to me.
     I received a book of carols with lots of illustrations and I loved it.  Family, egg nog, going to Grandma's and opening gifts was all part of the season, but the wonder came with the music.  I fell in love with "Greensleeves" the moment I learned it in school.  I was over the moon when I discovered "What Child is This?"!    I delighted in the these haunting melodies that spoke of a distant and sacred time.  This music seem to be a kind of time travel for my young imagination.  The songs spoke of a stable, a sleeping child upon hay in a manger, a star unlike any other...It was as if I could touch the face of the Baby and hear the animals lowing when the songs were sung.
     Now?  I turn on even the local Christian station (which, sadly, is currently indistinguishable from the secular stations) and the songs are about everything and only a little about Jesus' birthday.  Walking in winter wonderlands, letting it snow, and decking the halls seem to be played over and over, interpreted by different artists from different eras.  To be fair, the Christian station plays songs that the secular stations will not play, but when I channel surf across the stations that are playing Christmas music, they all yield a common musical set list.
     The wonder seems to be hard to find.  The music talks of sleigh bells glistening, sitting by a fire, being good for Santa and rockin' around the Christmas tree.  The malls are festooned with lighted deer, colorful ornaments and lots of toys.  The card section in any given store is largely devoted to holiday themes, with a smaller (it seems with every passing year) percentage of cards depicting Jesus' birth.
     Nativity scenes on public lawns are gone.  In our little Idaho town, we still have Mary, Joseph and Baby cut-out wood figures chilling out on the lawn with an inflated Santa.  But, that is now very unusual.  When I was growing up, Christmas still was about the birth of Jesus, with all the other holiday traditions.
     Today, His birth is an after thought. 
     If you are a child now growing up in America, what would this holiday season actually mean to you?  Toys, lights, presents, family, food and fun would probably dominate your thoughts.  Jesus' birth would seem like a distant light on a hill--visible but not part of the overall atmosphere.
     My granddaughter goes to a Christian school.  She sang in a school play recently.  The play was about a man selling trees on his lot and having no interest in Christmas other than how much money he was going to make.  Through the efforts of some sweet and devoted children, he comes to accept the Lord into his heart.  The children sang songs that told of Jesus, His desire for us to follow Him and how much He loves us.
     Wow.  It touched my heart so much to hear of children singing of the wonder of Who He is.
     But what about children outside in that bigger, post-Christian America?  If children only have the culture to learn from, this Holiday Season is very far removed from that manger and that little Baby.  Sadly, the message that the angels sang is no longer heard.  Do children out there hear that Jesus was born to save us and He invites us to gather around Him? 
     I stood on the front lines watching the Christmas Takeover when my children were in school.  In the 1980's (20 years isn't a long time, is it?) my daughter was in kindergarten.  I would help out in the classroom and I especially loved it when a woman came in to play the piano and lead the children in singing.  I shared with her teacher the Hanukah song I had learned many years ago, and she was excited to have the children learn it.  During one session, one of my daughter's little friends asked the music leader if they could sing, "Away in a Manger."  The woman turned from the piano and said in a voice that could have stopped time, "That's illegal."  I was boiling inside, not only from the tone of her voice but the look on the little girl's face.
     Later I was told that our city had an ordinance that any songs referring to anything religious during this Holiday Time could not be sung in a public school classroom.  It was then I learned that the Wonder was being slowly being replaced with Ordinances.
     I loved A Charlie Brown Christmas  as a child.  But even that had to be updated, so as to not offend people with that stirring speech Linus makes taken from the very words of Matthew.
     In fact, as my kids were growing up, we didn't have a Christmas tree for many years.  We would set up a nativity scene, and on Christmas morning, we placed the Baby in the manger--He was, after all, the greatest Gift we could ever receive.
     Having lived a half-century, and seen how the Christmas Takeover has gone, I wonder what Christmas will be like 10, 20, 30 years from now.
     But when I think of my granddaughter singing about her Savior, I still have hope that Christ will be honored in the years to come.



Thursday, December 3, 2015

A.W. Tozer's Perspective

     I have come across Mr. A. W. Tozer's salient observation about the nature of the world we live in.  He was a pastor and teacher, who lived from 1897-1963.  His words ring so true today as we look about us.
     Truth is truth and God is always willing to pour into the hearts of His servants what needs to be taught and said.  The only criterion is that the servant be willing.
     This except is taken from This World:  Battleground or Playground?   I am, in my walk in the Lord, trying to grasp the spiritual battle aspect of what the Word teaches.  Tozer's words hit me between the eyes:

     "Going back no further than the times of the founding and early development of our country, we are able to see the wide gulf between our modern attitudes and those of our fathers. In the early days, when Christianity exercised a dominant influence over American thinking, men conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other. By their very nature, these forces were opposed to each other forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility. Man, our fathers held, had to choose sides – he could not be neutral. For him it must be life or death, heaven or hell, and if he choose to come out on God's side, he could expect open war with God's enemies. The fight would be real and deadly and would last as long as life continued here below. Men looked forward to heaven as a return from the wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them.
     "Sermons and songs in those days often had a martial quality about them, or perhaps a trace of homesickness. The Christian soldier thought of home and rest and reunion, and his voice grew plaintive as he sang of battle ended and victory won. But whether he was charging into enemy guns or dreaming of war's end and the Father's welcome home, he never forgot what kind of world he lived in – it was a battleground, and many were wounded and slain.
     "That view is unquestionably scriptural. Allowing for the figures and metaphors with which the Scriptures abound, it is still a solid Bible doctrine that tremendous spiritual forces are present in the world. Man, because of his spiritual nature, is caught in the middle. The evil powers are bent upon destroying him, while Christ is present to save him through the power of the gospel. To obtain deliverance he must come out on God's side in faith and obedience. That in brief is what our fathers thought, and that, we believe, is what the Bible teaches.
     "How different today. The fact remains the same, but the interpretation has changed completely. Men think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full. his, we believe, is a fair summary of the religious philosophy of modern man, openly professed by millions and tacitly held by many more millions who live out that philosophy without having given it verbal expression.
     "This changed attitude toward the world has had and is having its effect upon Christians, even gospel Christians who profess the faith of the Bible. By a curious juggling of the figures, they manage to add up the column wrong and yet claim to have the right answer. It sounds fantastic, but it is true.
The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians. They might hedge around the question if they were asked bluntly to declare their position, but their conduct gives them away. They are facing both ways, enjoying Christ and the world, gleefully telling everyone that accepting Jesus does not require them to give up their fun – Christianity is just the jolliest thing imaginable. The "worship" growing out of such a view of life is as far off center as the view itself – a sort of sanctified nightclub without the champagne and the dressed-up drunks.
     "This whole thing has grown to be so serious that it is now the bound duty of all Christians to reexamine their spiritual philosophy in the light of the Bible. Having discovered the scriptural way, they must follow it, even if to do so, they must separate themselves from much that they had accepted as real, but which now in the light of truth is seen to be false.
     "A right view of God and the world to come requires that we have a right view of the world in which we live and of our relationship to it. So much depends upon this that we cannot afford to be careless about it."

     Ponder that.   Jesus is our Truth.  His truth sets us free.  But far too often, we choose bondage.  And Satan is more than happy to offer us chains. 
     Perhaps the greatest bondage we choose is our unwillingness to see evil for what it is and to see God for Who He is.  Our blindness is the most regrettable when we are standing at the Grand Canyon called, "Modern America":  We miss the dangers as well as the beauty. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holy GPS! Part II

     The one thing they always tell you is, "Don't panic!" 
     Those very reasonable words are said in a classroom, a training session, a manual.
     Easy, right.
     Yup.  Til the moment hits you and you are feeling that rising panicky feeling in your stomach.  Then all you can think is, "What the *&^% am I supposed to feel other than panic?"
     Yet, we've all heard it:  Panic can kill you.  
     My faith-walk-turned-hike taught me another valuable lesson:  the power of fear.
     We've all heard the Scriptures about trusting God, and not fearing.  Here are seven out of fifty that I found on a website by Christine Abraham called  
  1. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
  2. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 NIV
  3. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Psalm 34:7 NIV
  4. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matt 10:31 NIV
  5. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. Deuteronomy 13:4 NLT
  6. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT
  7. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 NLT
     I am sure you have your favorites.  But, we read such verses sitting at our computer, in church, or sitting up in bed before we go to sleep.
     I had been listening to a wonderful Bible teacher at the retreat.  What she said resonated with me.  Then I got lost in the woods.  Now, the rubber hit the holy road.
     Once I realized that I was lost, I could feel the fear starting to percolate up from my gut.  At first, by optimistically staying focused, I could keep it at bay.  But as the afternoon passed, it took more and more effort to keep the fear down.
     At one point, I thought, "I could sit down right now and have a good cry..."  True, but I resisted it.  How?  By focusing on what I had learned in the retreat and what the Bible told me about God's faithfulness.
     The worst damage fear inflicts is deafness.  When you are panicking, you don't hear the directions that are coming your way.  If you are caught in a river, and you are panicking, you won't hear what the rescue team is saying to you from the shore.  Fear deafens you with a kind of white noise that becomes louder and louder as time goes by and the situation hasn't changed.
    In fact, look at fear as having its own database, so to speak.  You start uploading all the horror stories you've heard about how badly it went for others in your situation; you think about what could happen; you lose less and less connection with what is going on, and focus more and more on the data in your head.
    The only way to counter fear's database is with another database that overrides it.  The Word is our Database.  It provides the conduit whereby God speaks to us.  If we are listening to that Database, then Fear's white noise lessens.
    I had to keep reminding myself what God promises in His Word. 
    But, I learned that it goes way beyond the "I need to think of key Bible verses to keep fear at bay."  I actually need to hear from God Himself.  Fear drowns out not only what we know of Him to be true, it drowns out His voice as He is speaking to us.
    That was my gravest (pun intended) concern:  if I let Fear talk to me, I will not hear the Father's voice.  I kept praying as I hiked; I was in constant communication with Him as I went down this path or had to turn around on that path.  Why?  Because I eagerly sought to keep my mind quiet...quiet enough to hear Him calling to me from the shore.
     I know when people say, "Yes, I speak to God and He speaks to me!" you may be looking for the "This Person's Been Eatin' Kooky Krackers Again" sign stuck to their back.  But, think about it.  God has always spoken to His people.  Adam and Eve.  Noah.  Abraham.  Gideon.  David.  Jesus.  Now, don't say, "Well, that was in Bible times.  He doesn't operate that way today.  We have His word."  Yes, we do, but hear what His Word says, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better."  (Eph. 1:17)
    Paul knows the Ephesians have the Old Testament and the various epistles in circulation, but he is praying for them to know God better.  How?  By learning from His Spirit, Who reveals Who God is.  Wisdom comes from hearing His Word, and coupled with the illumination of His Spirit, we walk into a deeper relationship with God.
    The Spirit will not reveal anything that is not in harmony with God's Word nor with the Son.  God's truth is just that:  it is consistent and pure.  So, whatever we hear, must be in harmony with His Word and His Son.
    Walking through that forest made me learn how important it was to stay quiet and listen to His words of guidance.  Fear would have deafened me; I neede to hear His gentle voice.  He didn't speak in long sentences--just a few words here and there, and I eventually made it home.
     Jesus was always listening to His Father.  He spent time in prayer, reading the Word and hearing His Father's voice.  How can we, especially in these troubled times, do anything less?  
     Finally, the first verse of Addison Road's "What Do I Know of Holy" puts it beautifully:

I made You promises a thousand times.
I've tried to hear from Heaven,
But I talked the whole time.
I think I made You too small.
I never feared You at all, no.
If You touched my face would I know You?
Looked into my eyes could I behold You?

    If you haven't heard His voice, perhaps you have been doing all the talking. 
    Listen.  Someday, your life may depend on it. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Holy GPS! Part I

     Last time, I told you of a prayer walk at a retreat in the mountains that turned into a Faith Hike.  The whole time I was out there in that forest, I was thinking how this was an enormous lesson from the Lord.  I kept saying to myself, "What is the Lord trying to teach me in all of this?"  Here is what I gleaned--I will never forget my time in that forest.  My prayer is that I never forget what He taught me.
     No map, no compass, no GPS. Up in those mountains, I became a true modern, post-Christian person, making my way through the forest of this age. “Make your own trail” sounds so alluring, so appealing to our “Yeah, I’m an individual” kind of mentality. I go where I want, do what I want, say what I want and at the end of the day, It’s All About Me. Who needs a map, anyway?   It was exhilarating to be up in the forest, following paths and yet being so free.
     But over time, with the trails destroyed by new logging roads, me with no water, and a sense that I was getting lost, that "Hey, I'm free" was slowing being eclipsed by "Hey, I am lost, I think."  Exhilaration was giving way to fear.
     Isn't that the way it is today?  In our exhilaration of tossing out all the old notions of morality, and saying, "We are free from such unenlightened thinking!" we are equally experiencing niggling doubts about this all working out.  People have a deep sense that all is not well these days; the solutions range from more government to no government; hide out in the hills or take to the streets; care for the planet or care for yourself. 
     These ideas work for a while.  My hike was "working" for a while.  I was moving.  I saw the trails.  It wasn't dark yet.  I hadn't seen any wild animals or sketchy people.  Yet, somehow, what should have been a walk under an hour had now turned into almost two hours.  I saw houses I hadn't not seen when I started; I saw a lake I didn't even know existed and I was increasingly aware that my walk was no longer pleasurable. 
     For centuries, Christians have seen the Bible as a divinely inspired guide to navigating through life. It tells of sin, our need for salvation and how Jesus Christ came and died to set us free. It tells of how His resurrection power enables us to live the life we are called to live; it states emphatically that we cannot do it on our own. It tells of God’s faithfulness to His people, and to us.
    Yet, today the Bible is denigrated by believers and non-believers alike.  Its prohibitions seem to antiquated and hostile to modern life and modern thinking.  
    We are now running into things that were inconceivable twenty years ago:  Gay marriage is now legal.  Polygamy is seeking the same recognition.  Many couples are seeking to legitimize incest.  The family is now a fluid unit, with moms and dads coming and going.  Younger and younger people--children--are having sex, viewing pornography and trying to make sense of it all.  Kids are killing adults, and kids are killing kids.  Suicide rates among the young are staggering. 
    As a culture, we may, in an off moment, wonder, "Wow, we didn't see that coming."  No, we didn't.  Why?  Because we are not consulting the Road Map.
    But isn't that Road Map a hindrance to people's self-esteem?  Let me give you an historical example.  Britain, in the 18th century, wanted to send its criminals to the colonies in America.  They argued that the new climate and new surroundings would reform them.  Ben Franklin shot back a suggestion to the British government:  Fine, you do that.  We will send to you , in exchange, our rattlesnakes.  Put them in Hyde Park and see how well they reform there.  
    My point?  A rattlesnake is a rattlesnake.  D'uh.  But what if you don't know that?  What if you have never encountered one and think that rattling sound is an invitation to pet it?  How do you learn what a rattlesnake is?  You find a authoritative source and identify it with pictures and descriptions.  Now, you know.
     What if those reptiles books are seen as discriminatory to younger readers, who need to embrace the planet's creatures equally?  A shark is as valuable as a zebra; a rattlesnake is as beautiful as a butterfly. 
     We teach and warn our children based on knowledge that guides us to live discerningly in this world. 
     So, if the Bible is viewed as an impediment to modern living, how do we discern right from wrong?  Even the idea itself of "right and wrong" is up for grabs if we do not have a standard whereby to make that judgment.  The Bible identifies what a "rattlesnake" is:  sin.  Sin may blend in well with the modern environment but woe unto you if you get too close.  Its "venom" will course throughout your system and paralyze you, rendering you unable to react to the changes going on around you.
     Children today have no real basis for living.  They are an accident of evolution; they really don't matter in such a huge universe; the planet they are on takes precedence over them; families are collapsible structures, meant to house what only works for the adults in their lives. 
     Yes, the modern person may say, children are free to be who they are.  Sounds lovely, doesn't it?  To an adult, maybe.  But can you hear those kids asking, What does my life mean?  What is my purpose?  Why am I even here? 
     The forest was lovely at first as I was walking.  But over time, it took on a darker hue. 
     Our society has taken on a darker hue.  We have 9/11.  The Boston Marathon.  Columbine.  Sandy Hook.  The list now goes on and on.  Self rules the day.  No other standard except, Hey, that makes me happy!  
     Look at the world we are  handing off to our children.  We pursue the self, not the Spirit.
     I had to rely completely on the Holy Spirit to guide me in that forest.  His words echoed what the Bible says about not fearing but trusting God; that He will never leave nor forsake you, and He will guide you in all your ways, just cling to Him.  Those promises, brought to my mind from the Lord, guided me and sustained me. 
     The Spirit's guidance brought me to a door.  That door, opened up by that sweet couple, got me home.  Jesus is our Door, and He will lead us home.  He gave us His word and His Spirit to be our holy GPS. 
     It is to our peril if we as individuals and as a culture ignore the Map.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

From Prayer Walk to Faith Hike!

     Recently, I went on a retreat with my daughter’s church.  The theme of the retreat was “Breathe.”  The idea was that what we take in—inhaling God’s forgiveness and grace--will provide the strength we need.  We are then to exhale—serving Him and others. 
     The speaker, Desiree Wiles, first spent time on discussing the absolute necessity of having the Bible as a foundation.  She called the Bible our Compass, our Map, our Light, our Mirror.  She undergirded all of her references with many scriptures. 
     As I sat there listening, I realized how devalued the Bible is today. 
     Later I joked (only half-heartedly, really) that today’s modern Bible would be a brochure.  My daughter piped in and said it would say, “Jesus loves you” and “Don’t judge others.”  One page would say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”   The final page would say, “God wants you to be happy.”  So true. 
     Quick, easy with no demands…that’s how moderns want the Bible to be.  If they even want it at all.  Desiree emphasized the Bible’s role in showing us who we are and where we need to be.  It equally informs us of God’s power available to us, enabling us to live life in the power of Christ.  
     So, after the morning session, and Desiree’s message of how precious and necessary the Bible truly is, I decided to go for a hike.  The retreat center was in the mountains of Idaho, about two hours from Boise. 
     I live in the mountains.  I live about one half hour up in the mountains above Boise.  I walk the gravel roads all the time.  I love to go out for an hour or so on what I call my “prayer walks.” 
     I walk and talk to the Lord about everything, out loud and free as a bird.  Occasionally, I have an audience.  I have looked up and on a hillside, stood a deer, staring at me with ears cocked.  I have quickly passed a skunk, waved to a porcupine, and sang loudly at some cows who decided their grazing was more important than moving out of the way so I could continue. 
     I love praying in the mountains and I am so blessed that I am able to do so. 
     So, taking a walk up a mountain trail seemed natural for me.  I had a map that came with the registration package.  I even asked the manager earlier that morning how long the trail was.  He said it was probably about three-quarters of a mile, but because he always traveled it by ATV, he wasn’t really sure.  No problem.  I walk that and even more all the time.  I was excited and away I went. 
     Now join me on my walk. 
     I feel prepared.  A little ways up, I realize I should have some water.  Nah…I’ll be fine.  I will probably be only a half hour or so.  The trail’s name is the “Boundary Trail,” which, according to the map, goes in a horseshoe shape up into the mountains, and will bring me back to the retreat center.    
    So, away I go.  It is early afternoon, about 1:30 as I set out.  
    I recognize the ropes course area, for I had come to this center seven years ago with another group.  I pass the wall climbing area.  I take in the beauty of the fall leaves and the quiet.  I notice that the poison oak has turned bright red (“If leaves are three, let it be”) and the quaking aspens and birches are a lovely golden yellow.  The mulleins still have a few flowers on them.  A lot of shattered white granite litters the trail, and flecks of mica shine like glass nestled in the soil. 
     Now the trail turns up.  I notice a fence is down, and its wires are across the trail. I think nothing of it.  I step over it and go up. 
     As I ascend the trail, I hear one of my favorite sounds:  high winds though pine trees. I hear the creaking of branches.  Needles float down on the breeze, adding to the ones that have already fallen.  Scattered pinecones speak of trees yet unborn and a few small pine trees are making that  promise visible. 
     I keep going higher, following the trail.  I come to a flat area and I assume this is the top where the trail will curve around, taking me back down.  No.   I walk on the flats for a while and then I come to a logging road. 
     A what? 
     The logging road, rather recently created, has obliterated the trail.  I think about walking the road for a while, but I don’t feel at ease doing that—logging roads take you up, deeper into a forest.  I am seeking to go down. 
     I find the rest of the trail on the other side of the road.  Easy-peasy. 
     ATV tracks are everywhere.  Obviously, this is where the manager goes in his ATV.  I must be doing this right.  
    It leads me up.  I am praying the whole time—intercession, adoration, praise.  But I have this little niggling feeling I am lost, but I ignore it and press on. 
     I see some huge boulders coming up.  Beautiful, rounded and old, I think about how the ribs of this mountain are showing.  I compose a poem in my head about the ribs of the mountain, how it lives and tells its history in its rocks.  The trail is well worn.  I picture people coming up here, sitting on the rocks and praising the Lord. 
     I start to head down…finally! 
     The way is steep, so I grab a branch and turn it into a walking stick.  The wind blows through the trees, and the boulders fade into the distance.  I come to another logging road, but I find the other half of the trail easily.  I am on my way down.  So I think. 
     The trail seems to follow a rivulet, long since dried out.  I wonder, is this really the trail?  It’s headed in the right direction, so I keep going.  The quaking aspens are everywhere, and their yellow leaves litter the trail.  I love that shade of yellow.  I think how soon all of the leaves will be on the ground, and how they provide a covering on the seedlings that have to endure the snow before spring.  
     Then the trail (if this really is one) stops at a meadow.  The dried grass goes back into the quaking aspens, and behind them are more pines.  I am—dare I say it—lost.  But, I have the Spirit with me, and so I pray what to do.  I decide to go back the way I came.  A solid hour has gone by and I sense that whatever trail was here has been marred by the making of logging roads.  I make my way back up, using my stick to steady me.  
    I have no water.  It is hot.  The way is steep and I am in a higher elevation.  So despite my opinion that I am fit for such walks, I am breathing hard and my heart is loudly thumping in my chest.  OK, Lord, where do we go?  I see the boulders up ahead and makes my way back to them. 
     A few minutes later, I am sitting on a boulder, breathing even harder, and feeling my heart pounding in both my chest and in my head.  The Lord counsels me to sit down.  Desiree’s words about deep breathing come into my head, and in order to calm my respiration rate down, I do some deep inhaling and exhaling.  It helps but only a little bit. 
     The other boulders seem further away, but only because I am getting tired.  I ask the Lord for strength to continue.  We go up and finally I hit the level area where the rocks reside.  I want to lie down, but I figure I am on my way back, so I press on.  
     I see what appears to be the trail and it leads down.  I decide to take it, because even though it’s not the part I came up on, it goes down quickly, and that’s how I would like to go!  The trail leads down to another logging road.  OK, I use the road this time.  I drag my stick as I walk, leaving a drawn line as I go.  I figure if anyone looks for me, they will see this line and follow it.  I hear an ATV in the distance and wonder if the manager is looking for me. 
     No.  Wishful thinking. 
      I continue on and decide as I approach yet another bend in the road, leading to who knows where, I need to go back.  I am adequately keeping the fear down, and I keep praying for guidance from the Lord.  I come back to the trail that leads back up to the boulders, and up I go.  
     I am thinking that I cannot take too many more climbs upwards.  I am growing tired, thirsty and hot.  The trees continue their song.  Earlier I thought of a worship song about trees singing praises to the Lord, and now I hope the Spirit using them to urge me on.  I think about how Jesus compared the Spirit to wind, and pray I am hearing Him and not me. 
    The sun is lower in the sky, but it is still hot.  I am once again on the flats, and I come to a place I remember where there are three possibilities to go.  One path has grass on it—implying it’s not used very often.  I remember having noticed that before, but am I sure I didn’t use it before?  I decide to try it, feeling a peace that it is where I need to go.  I huck my walking stick away into the grasses, grateful that I no longer need it.  
     I soon come across houses.  Houses? 
     I am as surprised at them as I was with the logging roads.  They were none too inviting—a rope stretched across the trail with a “No Trespassing” sign didn’t feel like a handshake and a “Come on, you can use our phone” kind of place.  The cabins were nice, but I am from California and my deep fear of strangers come to the fore.  I battle with the “Why would God lead me into danger” versus “I need to be responsible and not put myself in danger” and decide to be cautious. 
     I will go back to that junction and take the other path. 
     OK, Lord, got it.
     I walk back.  I see the path that took me to the boulders and the meadow.   I look behind me and see the trail I just came from.  There is only one choice and away I go. 
      I look for my shoes’ distinctive footprint, and I don’t see it.  Suddenly those aspen leaves and needles seem a little hostile to reading a trail.  The trail looks vaguely familiar, with the trees close by with bright green moss growing on their old decrepit branches.  I remember seeing the blue spray paint on some of the trees—marked for felling I suppose. 
     I am going down.  I see more fallen fences and a shotgun shell.  I see a sign naming a trail deep within a gathering of trees.  It is another trail.  I am desperately trying to remember if this is the trail I went up earlier.  Much earlier. 
    I do come across the first logging road that I encountered.  Whew.  Thank you, Lord. 
    I am on the right path.  Until I come to some different houses. 
     Houses?  What? 
    They look nothing like the retreat center.  They are summer cabins.  No one is around and although they are beautiful residences, I feel rather lonely. 
     OK, Lord, what next? 
     He causes me to look at one cabin that looks well-tended.  I will knock on the door and ask to use their phone.  My fear lessens as I believe Jesus is guiding me to this house.  
     I walk up and knock on the screen door.  No answer.  I open the screen, think I hear a voice, and then knock on the door.  No answer.  Why did You bring me here, Lord?  I am feeling rather confused and just a tad angry.  Then I look down and spy a water hose.  A water hose! 
     I then follow the hose and it goes down a hill, over to a shed, about fifty feet away.  I tug on it and lament I will have to drag it up the hill to use it.  
    Holy Spirit to Rhonda:  Unscrew the house and drink from the spigot.  
    Whoops.  Sorry Lord. 
    The water is cool and refreshing, but it tastes funny.  Uh-oh.  Satan, who hasn’t really had a chance to weigh in, drops the “Oh, you’re gonna get sick from drinking bad water” into my head.  I wrestle with “Why would the Holy Spirit take me here to drink bad water?” and Satan retorts with “Better than no water at all.  Just wait till you get sick, and have to look for a bathroom!”  
    I have to silence this, for my fear is impeding me from hearing from the Lord.  I walk up a paved street and look at the names:  Meadow View Drive and Ridge Drive.  Ridge Drive seems more promising.  I figure it will connect with the main road that will take me back to the retreat center.  I am thankful to be out of the forest but I keep asking, where am I?  
    I look up and see a street sign with a name that I vaguely remember connects with the main road that goes to the retreat center.  I walk up and no, it is not that name. 
    The Lord is urging me to keep walking.  I had to grab another walking stick earlier and now I pitch my stick into some brushes and walk down this paved road.  A sign in the other direction says, “Dead End,” so the choice was easy.  
    I now see a lake.  A lake?  What?  Where did that come from? 
    There’s no lake near the center; again, I ask, where am I?  The Lord’s response?  Keep walking.  But Lord…Keep walking.  
    The houses I pass are clearly empty, and I grow sadder with every step.  Then I see a lovely house that faces the unknown lake.  A white pick-up sits in the drive way, and the garage door is open, with another car parked in it.  
    Go knock on the door.  
    Lord, are you kidding?  I am such an idiot!  I don’t want to embarrass myself. 
    So I keep walking.  
    You can knock on that door or you can keep walking for who knows how long.  Your choice.  
    I stop and look around.  It does seem to be the only house with anyone in it.  Two hours have almost gone by.  Is my daughter sick with worry?  Are people wondering where I am?  Why am I so stupid?  Where am I?  
    Pride aside, I walk down the driveway, hoping that a guard dog doesn’t come bounding up to either play with me or kill me.  
    Whew.  The front door is open.  I knock on the screen and a wee dog comes yipping up.  An elderly man comes to the door.  I apologize to the man, and ask him where Trinity Pines is.  
    He looks flummoxed.  (Where have I walked?  Montana?  Utah?)  As he is trying to figure out where that is, a sweet lady comes around the corner and says, “Oh, I know where that is.  You come back, dear (to him).  I will take her.”  
    I am so blessed.  I introduce myself, and tell her about my adventure.  As we climb into the white pickup, we are chattering like old friends.  She tells me of their needing to move because they are getting too old to take care of the place; her husband’s diabetes; their summer place in Parker, Arizona, where General Patton’s tank school is located and how every year, they go down to watch the tanks.  Some are even driven by vets who trained at that school and fought in World War II.  
    I tell her of my husband’s stroke, and how our lives changed within a few moments, with both of us taking retirement.  She is sympathetic and so kind, and all I could think was, oh, how good sitting down feels!  
    We drive a good twenty-five minutes.  I notice that the road we turn on is the retreat center’s road, but we still drive quite a while.  I picture myself having tried to walk this.  Would I have gone the right way when I finally come to this road?  If I had let my pride lead and not the Lord, how many more hours in the hot late afternoon sun would I have walked?  
    I see a sheriff’s car and wonder if he’s looking for me. 
    Finally, I see the center.  I am exhausted but keep chatting to my new friend.  I direct here to the parking lot and tell her several times what a blessing she is.  As I get out of the truck, she lovingly says, “Next time, dear, take a sandwich and some water.”  
     I walk back to the cottage where my daughter is still napping.  The ladies are all out and about.  No one knew of my adventure or noticed how long I was gone.  
    But He knew, and I realized a deep truth:  Sometimes you hear the message and sometimes you live the message.

 Next time:  What did I learn from this?

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