“The will of God
is something all of us would choose
if we had all the facts.”
The Serpent of Paradise
The first week of July, we had the occasion to experience a “derecho” in two different locations. No, it is not a new fast food chain, but a sudden destructive storm featuring gale-force winds. Also known as an inland hurricane, the extremely-high straight line winds strike fiercely, uprooting hundred-year-old trees and twisting branches off healthy young trees as easily as shucking corn. It is also often accompanied by the words: “What in the world was that?”
We had just returned from hiking with our two grandbabies on a beautiful hot sunny day. Home for just 15 minutes, pulling together the children’s supper, it suddenly became so dark outside I had to turn on the lights. And then it hit. It appeared that full-grown trees were swaying to the music of the howling wind. Afraid of branches falling on our vehicle, my husband headed outside to move the car. He walked out the door and right back in. “I’m not going out in THAT,” he said. It lasted only a few minutes, and other than a few branches down in the yard and the creek looking like a wild ride at an amusement park, no damage occurred. We were without power for 12 hours; others lost it for days, and trees littered the roadway and yards like the aftermath of a wild party.
Unlike a real hurricane or even a severe thunderstorm, a derecho can strike almost without warning. That is not unlike the calamities of life, those difficulties that elude your radar and hit always at the most inconvenient times. “I didn’t see that coming.” A battery-operated headlamp and a gallon of fresh water can get you through a power-outage. Keeping deadwood trimmed can eliminate some of the damage. But spiritually, we seem to forget to do anything to prepare for what may lie ahead. The trees that went down were the ones that had not learned to flex and snapback. There was nothing to hold them down, their root systems wide and shallow.
Daily reading in God’s Word and prayer are strengths built into your soul, equipping you for what you can’t forecast. And through them, you learn to trust God in everything, even when you are surrounded by turbulence and there is nothing you can do, but pray and know “even the sea and the wind obey Him.” God is in control even in the midst of your storm.
Get to where nothing throws you. Not in a sense of blind ignorance or callous indifference, but in knowing God, sensitive to His leading, aware of His Presence, and used for His purposes.
There has been construction on our street, one of the main thoroughfares in our village. The street is blocked off halfway up the hill with a sign “ROAD CLOSED.” But it doesn’t stop us from doing what we need to do and going where we need to go. We just seek out another way.
A few weeks ago after a big storm, one could not drive more than a block or two, even on our detour, because of downed trees blocking the roadway. And so, now even the detour had multiple detours.
My habit is to get up early and read the Scriptures and pray before the day bursts forth. Well, needless to say, when the grandchildren are staying with us, I have to find another route, another way to sneak it in. They get up early. Naptime cannot be always counted on. And because I know how the day usually goes with multiple toddlers, it is more secure to prepare for the day ahead by reading at night before I go to sleep. And even so, sometimes that detour has multiple detours.
When our older girls were little – three children aged three and a half and younger – time took on a different meaning. I learned the hard way not to fight time, but to use it. LORD, reveal to me a pocket of time to spend with You. And I watched for that moment, a different space every day, but it was there.
I recently read advice on organizing one’s life. It said that we are defeated by trying to jam a foreign structure or schedule into our world, instead of working with what is already there. Get the habit established first, and it can be tweaked later.
And so with reading God’s Word every day. Work it into the flow of your day. Any which way you can. He will show you how. And you will stand amazed at how He changes your life through it.
More to be desired are Your Words than gold,
even much fine gold,
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
by them is Your servant warned,
in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19. 10-11
It is not time to be overwhelmed by evil,
but to push back the darkness,
push back the night.
God has not left us defenseless
but has strengthened us with hope in Him,
that on which to stake our lives.
but goodness overcomes.
That is why Jesus came.
Do not make your kindness random
Make it intentional.
Go out of your way to see it through.
Push back with what is good
Let gentleness make the headlines for once.
Push back with love
in word and deed.
Let His mercy and grace be known,
manifest in you.
While these things were meant for evil,
God can redeem
for tremendous good.
Do not be overcome with evil,
but overcome evil with good.
There was not one person in that Colorado theater last Thursday night who did not truly believe that what was happening was wrong, as they cowered in terror, confronting evil face to face. There is something terribly wrong with our world. That is something on which we all agree.
Reporters have fanned the country looking for people who knew the gunman, looking for clues, as if to build the evidence of his evil nature. Surprisingly, or maybe not so shocking, is that through the years – even days before the shooting - he appeared to others as a pretty normal guy, quiet, studious, with nothing more than a traffic violation. Not so different than me, I thought.
Quite honestly, we are ALL deceived, every day, into doing what is self-centered in our motives, words, and deeds. We do it so much, we are most often not even aware of it. The rampage in Colorado was simply self-centeredness to an extreme. We typically cover and contain our self-centeredness just enough to stay under the legal radar and what is socially acceptable, so as not to appear obviously wrong or be noticed, convincing ourselves that our own wrongdoings aren’t really that bad, and after all, in a throwback to adolescence, everyone else does it. My wrongdoings don’t hurt anyone, we surmise, and if they do, well, I didn’t mean to, as if that excuses the devastation left behind. And, at least, I am not as bad as HIM. Chuck Colson once wrote about a pastor who went to visit a prison for the first time. He was very uncomfortable until a seasoned worker said, “These guys are just like you and me. They just got caught.”
I saw the gunman as he entered court yesterday, a grown man with orange hair, pathetic and deceived. How different his life could have been. How different our lives could be. Self-centeredness is ugly and hurtful in ALL forms. And it always affects others. When each of us walks away from what is good and right and just, we are walking toward what is evil, wrong, and unjust. There is no neutral ground. We deceive ourselves and then become horrified at the outcome down the road.
Last week, the alleged suspect directly impacted the lives of 71 people and, indirectly, millions of others. Everyday, each one of us does the same, for good or evil. That is how it works, the logical consequences of our actions reverberate throughout the world. Indeed, the Bible says that we even impact generations to come, children yet unborn, by the choices we make on a daily basis.
Why doesn’t God do something about evil? He did. He sent His Son to die for that self-centeredness in each one of us. That is what the gospel is, that is how grace works, and that’s how deep His love is. Every life is precious. That extreme sadness that we feel over what happened is only a glimpse of what God feels. His compassion is deeper than we can imagine.
Two of the basic questions that every worldview must answer are: “What’s wrong with the world?” And “Is there any hope?” There are millions asking those same questions right now. But the reason people ignore the subject of self-centeredness and evil is because we all have to account for it in our own lives. We all have to deal with it. And it is a little too close for comfort.
Someone once asked author G. K. Chesterton in a newspaper column the question, “What is wrong with the world?” And Chesterton answered quite simply, “Dear Sir, I am.”
LORD, have mercy on us.
“Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begin to invade the human soul this is not something that comes from God.” – Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, p. 25
that voice you hear that calls you a loser, unloved, rejected, and so weird
And God who created you says,
“You are precious and loved and I gave My life for you,”
God is teaching me to see differently
what may appear a bleak landscape.
He may not deliver me from it,
but rest assured,
He will use it
in powerful ways that I may never see,
and so, brings me to a different place
without moving an inch.
We have grown so accustomed to “what is next,”
“where does God want me to go?”
when all along, He may want me to stay
“to make His Name known there.”
I woke up the other day in a grand funk
on a sunny bright day
all looked bleak
which indeed life is
when God is not part of it.
“Out of the depths
I cry to You, O LORD.” Psalm 130.1
And when I let Him in,
all things become new.
is a mindset of paralyzing fear or dread.
And in the eyes of God,
that is sin.
Funk is one of those apples
in the garden of Eden
that poisons and paralyzes our hearts
by questioning the goodness of God.
I was deluged yesterday by the news of 71 people shot and 12 dead in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The movie-goers had paid hard-earned money to see a midnight premiere showing of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. The long-anticipated movie was described by one commentator as “incredibly violent.” And the audience flocked to the theater, some wearing costumes, some even carrying small children.
When the gunman, dressed all in black and carrying weapons, entered the theater, one survivor recalled, “I thought it was a joke or part of the show…and then I knew it was real.”
So where is the disconnect? Why is incredible violence on the screen considered entertainment? But when it is real, it becomes a horrific tragedy?
This is truly a horrible and tragic event. But why, when we celebrate and even encourage extreme violence in movies and video games, are we horrified when it happens in real life?
Indeed, after the carnage, the young man boasted to the police as he was arrested that he was “the Joker.” He assumed with a sense of pride the dark identity of a comic book character, emulating not a noble hero of what is good and right, but a villain who was consumed by arrogant wickedness.
Continual exposure to violence fades the line between fantasy and reality. A visual image produces a deep imprint on the brain, a remembrance written in permanent marker. That is what makes movies and video games so impactful, never to be forgotten. And the extreme tragedy that happened yesterday was the result of those images taking root and bearing logical –and tragic --consequences. On the surface, it was promoted as fun and games. “It’s just a movie.” “It’s all just for fun.” “It’s not REAL.”
But this time, it was.
A dear friend of mine has been a missionary in a remote area for the past 25 years. Her experience has appeared to be rather disjointed. The things she intended to do have been interrupted by other projects, by detours, and by things far beyond her control. Her mission board has sent her to places she never intended to go …or stay. People have come and gone through the years, sometimes suddenly departing without a substitute, causing her to fill in the gaps, taking on jobs for which she has not been trained, exceeding her abilities, and most often NOT what she REALLY wanted to do. She spoke frequently about having to make herself get up in the morning, knowing what she would have to do that day. She asked herself (sometimes daily), “What in the world am I doing here?” She has been highly frustrated at times by her fragmented experience, often apologizing for her bad attitude. Her life appeared to be made up of a million broken pieces.
I received a newsletter from her recently. Very suddenly, the pieces are beginning to fall into place and snapping together. “So THAT is why I was there. So THAT is why I learned to do that. So THAT is why I was stuck in that town for so many years…” Her question marks have become exclamation points. It was all there: the perfect timing, the deep relationships she had made, the skill sets she had mastered, even the changes in the political and social climate. Her words went on and on, and JOY leapt off the page. There was a reason for every experience, whether she had realized it or not. God was working far below the surface, moving everything into place. That work for which she initially went to the mission field was good, but God was doing something far greater. He just needed her to be faithful in what He had put before her. For just the right time, for such a time as this, God engineered everything.
For the past century, the world has been entrenched in the worldview of absurdity, that there is no reason or purpose for anything. All is random, so often we hear, and it is so easy to fall into that snare. But do we forget that it is a LIE? When we are faced with what we do not understand, that does not mean there is no reason for it. “Notion your mind with the idea that God is there,” says Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, July 16). “Keep our minds filled with the notion of God’s control behind everything.”
That is not positive thinking,
but the reality of God.
His plans are always deeper than we can comprehend.
I stand myself right now in a mystery, as we all do in some form or another. And God reminds me every morning, “Work hard today. Make it count.” Nothing you do or experience will be for naught, as my grandmother used to tell me. God redeems it all. I have a quilt that she made, constructed from tiny bits of fabric, worn-out shirts and dresses, and what the world would consider rags. That which appeared to have no use at all formed a piece of artistry, all fitting together into something beautiful to behold.
Things do not just work out.
God designed it that way.
He is before all things,
and in Him,
all things hold together.
Yesterday, I saw them coming up my path, the “Ds,”
a whole busload of them.
They stopped right in front of my house,
set the parking brake,
and came pouring out,
one by one,
even Defeat and her twin sister Deceit.
I could tell it was them,
wearing their t-shirts emblazoned with sequined words
“never” and “always” and “no one cares.”
And in case I had forgotten,
they carried in their hands old newsreels
of failures and hardships and sins already forgiven.
They paraded in front of my house, seeking entry,
like distant relatives and unwelcome acquaintances.
And I recognized them for the foes they are.
“You are not my friend – don’t even pretend to be.”
“I do not belong to your tribe.”
Do not invite them in for tea.
Bolt the door and banish them.
Hold forth the Truth
from which they recoil.
And cast them to the curb
with the garbage where they belong.
They are welcome here no longer.
And above all the din,
I hear the voice of God Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth and me,
speak the Truth that slays all my fears:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you,
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you,
when you walk through fire
you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
…Because you are precious in My eyes,
and I love you.”
Isaiah 43. 1-4
As I was sending out a verse of Scripture today (www.worddujour.blogspot.com), I realized that I had replaced one word with another when I was writing the verse down in my journal. The verse starts, “But I have trusted in Your steadfast love…” Instead, I had written, “But if I trusted …”
When I corrected my error, I saw the vast separation between “I have trusted,” and “IF I trusted.” Oh, the difference that would make in how we live and in our relationship with God. One is a solid mindset, secure in the goodness of God, no matter what, no matter how things may appear. The other expresses regret, realizing the difference that trusting in God makes in the outcome. What would I do differently if I really trusted Him? Life would never be the same.
But IF I trusted.
The heat and humidity started its invasion early this morning. And I knew that if I was to get in a run today, well, it better be done before the blast of furnace-type heat settled in. Already by 7.30, the pavement was hot, the sun beat down, and any shade at all was a welcome respite. The humidity made me feel like I was breathing through a hot wet wool blanket. And occasionally a cool breeze would come from an unexpected place like the very grace of God.
As I passed along sunbaked streets lined with trees and houses, I ran under the shade of one massive old oak tree, its branches spreading beyond the boundaries of the yard, covering the street, forming an awning of green. And I realized that tree was planted as a seedling 60 or 70 years ago (yes, even before I was born) by a homeowner I will never know, someone who has most likely departed this life and location. But they planted, and they nurtured, watered, mulched and trimmed this tree, leaving it behind when they moved, when most likely, the tree was still so small that it could only cast a weak shadow. The person who planted could only imagine that in time to come -- someday in the future that they would never see-- this little tree would grow tall and magnificent and provide strangers a glorious canopy of shade like heaven itself.
Faithfulness is defined by the shade of that majestic tree. Planting, nurturing, watering, mulching, trimming for that which I will probably never see. May those who come behind me find me faithful, leaving behind what points them to God Himself. That little seed of kindness, those acts of grace, reaching out in love, absorbing His Word and letting it become rooted in my life – I can never know how God will grow it for His name’s sake.
The kingdom of heaven
is like a grain of mustard seed
which a man took and sowed in his field;
it is the smallest of all seeds,
but when it has grown
it is the greatest of shrubs
and becomes a tree,
so that the birds of the air come
and make nests in its branches.
When my daughter lived in town, she often dropped off our grandbaby to my delight when she needed to go to an appointment or run a few errands. When she returned, she would always say, “Thanks for babysitting, Mom.”
And every time I would reply, “I’m not babysitting. I am developing a relationship with my granddaughter.”
And so, the same holds true when we delve into the Scriptures each day: “I’m not reading my Bible. I am spending time with my LORD.”
It is all how you view that time. Activity or attachment?
Seeking to know You more.
Let us know,
let us press on to know the LORD…
And what if I did not ask the LORD today to bless me,
but that I focused my day on blessing Him?
Not “look at what I can do for You”
but “how can I bless You, O LORD?”
Not just by words,
but by my life.
And quite suddenly,
the day takes on a different agenda,
purposes deeper than I can see.
What has He put on my plate today,
who has He placed on my path,
in what situations am I knee-deep,
that I can bless Him?
With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
…He has showed you, O man,
what is good,
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6. 6,8
My internet was not working yesterday afternoon and evening, not unusual since my village is still cleaning up from a big storm a week ago. I just figured the overhead lines were still being worked on. But when I still could not get online early this morning, I knew there was something wrong. And oh, I dreaded calling my wireless service provider, knowing that I could clean my entire house in the time it would take to get a REAL person to answer the phone and help me. The oh-so-friendly-automated voice greeted me like an old friend. Please enter your account number. Residential or commercial? Long distance or internet? At one point, the computerized voice even said, “I didn’t understand you.” Really? I am talking to a computer? After several bouts of returning to the main menu and repeated options, I attempted a shortcut by finally saying the words “customer service” each time I was given an obtuse choice.
The young woman who eventually came on the line asked me the same questions as the automated voice. She then began asking diagnostic questions, obviously being read from a printed list in front of her. She had me climbing up and down my staircase watching what the modem was doing, what kind it was, what model number, what happens when you …? She had me enter selective codes and delve into the mysterious realm of software settings. The technological infant in me was getting nervous, afraid that I would somehow erase the hard drive. She not so quickly surmised that the problem was not the network, but my computer. “Somehow the computer is not connecting to the wireless network,” she said in the same words I told her 45 minutes before. “Maybe you need to talk to one of our computer specialists,” she suggested in a voice that made me ask “how much is this going to cost?” I declined her offer and hung up, realizing now that I should have interrupted my husband at work in the first place or called my computer genius daughter.
I opted to call my daughter. “My wireless isn’t working,” I said.
“On your keyboard, there should be a little icon that looks like a radio tower,” she said. “Click that.” And immediately, I was connected.
I had wasted forty-five minutes of my life, wading through complicated technological procedures, and all I had to do was click a single button?
And in my daily life, how many times do I waste valuable time and effort going through the gyrations of doing things MY way, making things a lot more difficult than they need to be, and not seeking the LORD’S guidance until I have made a mess or traveled totally the wrong way? A little prayer at the onset of my day or situation or dilemma can open up my eyes and heart and mind to the most fruitful solutions. “Reveal Your day for me, LORD.” A single click or a 45 minute detour?
“All you have to do is ask.”
If any of you lacks wisdom,
let him ask God,
who gives to all men generously
and without reproaching,
and it will be given him.
It was right there all along. I had passed the intersection a hundred times, and I had never noticed it before. I didn’t know where it led, just another meandering country road heading deep between the hills. I had left it alone, unexplored, until this week. And it took me by surprise. On advice of some of my daughters and literally running short of time one day, I ran the path not taken. I wove along a black ribbon of asphalt through fields and past neat cottages with well-loved gardens and scenic red barns worthy of painting. Around each bend and over the crest of every hill, I confronted my fear of snarling unrestrained “yard dogs,” who lurk in the shadows beneath front porches eagerly anticipating the furious pursuit of anything that moves down their road, including a lone defenseless runner, bad dogs just having a little fun. That paralyzing panic was dissipated when on the course I saw only one pathetic little dachshund tied to a chain and a large black hound resting in the sun who didn’t even bother to lift his head. I heard roosters crowing, startled a small brown cow hiding himself in the coolness of a culvert, and yielded to the occasional pick-up and tractor that shared the roadway. The drivers greeted me with a Tennessee wave, a single index finger raised just slightly above the steering wheel. Each day that I ran this new route, I ventured a little further down the road, past yet another white clapboard Baptist church, pushing myself up the hillsides, and basking in what little shade the trees offered. It was a beautiful glimpse of God’s creation. And I had never known what I was missing.
What else am I missing? What paths are not on my radar, what roads go unnoticed, how much does familiarity blind me and bind me to the usual, what delights in life do I miss because I live as if adventure doesn’t exist, enslaved by puny thinking and afraid of fierce dogs that don’t exist?
I woke up in the middle of last night by a crowd of foes overwhelming me by their banners of despair and gloom, speaking deceit in loud voices of things outside my control and taking advantage of dormant worries that are always willing to jump in the brawl against me. And before I could head down that path, thinking wildly “oh dear, what can I do?” God planted another thought in my mind, NOT a cry of despair, but “LORD, show me how to navigate this situation. Reveal Yourself to me, YOUR way, whether a paved road, a path through the woods, or even into the thicket of the unknown where I have never dared to tread.” Sometimes the way to deliverance is straight through, face to face with what we fear, but never has to be done alone. I can struggle on my own, or I can seek His help in working through it, tapping into a different path of His own making, He who makes what was previously invisible now quite obvious, step by step.
And like that little country road, He reveals to us that which is new – new ways of looking at a problem, new grace in a tough relationship, new eyes to see solutions to which I was blind, a new heart to love others, a new mind to think Christianly about all things, new paths to enlarge my borders or to fulfill what is already set before me. And it may be that which is right in front of me all along.
Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make Your way straight before me.
I ran today for the first time in about a week, due to a slight issue with my ankle. As I had the opportunity to run my favorite nature cove in the mountains, I don’t think crutches could have held me back this morning. Sunlight cut through the branches of the trees overhead, and it was as if I was running through the most magnificent of cathedrals. I love this time to stretch my muscles, absorb the radiance, and breathe the cool breezes of a mountain morning. About a half mile into my run, I heard the thunder of feet behind me. Within seconds, I was surrounded, passed, and left in the dust by a large group of teenage cross country runners, like a stream rushing past a rock. They ran effortlessly, their muscles so fresh, their laughter floating in the air. I appeared to be running in place. But I took great solace in noting that I was probably as old as some of their grandmothers.
Music played on my ipod, but it served only as background music for my thoughts. Running gives me the freedom to think. letting ideas and prayers and solutions rise to the surface, emerging from backburner status to the forefront of my thoughts. Sometimes it is enough just to slide into cruise control, enjoying the scenery. But almost always, something appears on my radar -- a story, a crazy idea, prayer for someone I haven’t thought about for awhile, or a bear or two. And sure enough, about halfway into my run, God put someone on my path. We ran the hills and chatted, a father of four, some of whom were part of that cross country team. Everyone has a story.
And God reminded me today why I run. Because there is always something deeper to what I do. There are other purposes at stake whether I am running, going to an office, or taking care of things at home, a working on my heart or a measure of understanding, an opportunity to encourage or to share the love of Jesus in palpable ways. So, the most profound thing that you do may not be that important presentation you slaved over, but the conversation you had beforehand with someone with a broken spirit. It may not have been that well-executed classroom lesson, but listening to the tears or dreams of a student after class. Scrubbing a floor on my hands and knees may not appear significant at all in the grand scheme of things, but it is the mindset of being willing to do whatever God puts on my plate today, even if that greater purpose is never realized in this lifetime. God is using you.
There is purpose in all things,
deeper than I can comprehend.
I have only
to follow Him into it
and do what is before me
with all my heart
He takes care of the rest,
those things below the surface
that reverberate throughout eternity.
For I am doing a work in your days,
that you wouldn’t believe, if told.
As I sat over coffee early one morning last week, little birds sang a delightful chorus outside my open window. And then, suddenly, all I could hear was CAAAAWWWW!! CAAAWWW!! Two black birds sat in the trees and complained loudly, invading the peace of the morning, slicing though the gentleness of a new day, setting my heart on edge.
And I thought, whoa, I hope that I don’t sound like THAT! Like a loud, complaining crow? Not a great way for anyone to start the day.
As I used to say to our girls when they would say something harsh or unkind, “What is a different way to say that?”
Speak the truth, yes, but always in love, wrapped in grace.
At the end of the day, I saw yet another black bird fly into a neighboring tree, bellowing his annoying cry of complaint through the summer air. I had enough of that. “You will not take up residence here,” I thought outloud. I clapped my hands sharply three or four times to chase it away. And not one, but SIX, of the birds flew out of the surrounding trees, rapidly out of sight and sound. And in the ensuing days, they have not been back. Those cries of despair and complaint can be banished from becoming permanent and annoying members of our households or personal lives. It doesn’t have to be that way. But it takes deliberate action to keep murmuring and harsh words from landing and nesting there.
Of all the teachers our children had through the years, the kindness of one is far distinguished from the rest. Mrs. O’s first-grade classroom was orderly and happy. The children responded immediately and willingly to her requests. And she never raised her voice. Gentleness prevailed. When I asked her how she did it, she replied, “Velvet over steel.” Her firm expectations were coated in grace and love and a kind quiet voice. She knew that force and harshness only stir up anger, stubbornness, and trouble. She also knew that she set the tone for the classroom. She could not expect the children to respond, if she was always reacting.
Morning sounds reverberate throughout the day.
And it starts with me.
…and the teaching of kindness
is on her tongue.