Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Town of Sorrow

Most Bible readers are familiar with the story of Abraham who called by God out of his father’s country to journey to Canaan, the Promised Land. However, hidden in the genealogy of Genesis 11, is the story of his father, Terah, who had already brought Abraham (Abram) halfway.

This is the account of Terah’s family line.

Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth… Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan.

It was Terah who had started the journey to Canaan but he never made it. Why?

But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran. (Genesis 11:27-32)

Back in biblical times, people lived for hundreds of years. Terah was the first recorded parent who lost a child. Although I have never experienced this, it is said to be the most devastating thing a person can experience. In this case Terah lived for decades after the loss of his son, he even managed to start his journey. But he settled in a place named after his son and never moved. He was half way there, and then stopped, never completing his journey.

The Bible tells us a few simple facts and we are left to wonder. What convinced Terah to start his journey? Why did Terah settle half way there? What led him to stop? Did he give up? Did he find a town named after his son and his grief hit him afresh and was unable to move on? Did he name the town after his son because he was unable to move on?

The thing about a town of sorrow is this:
It's dry, dusty, lonely, and dead
Terah got stuck and settled in his town of sorrow.

Isn’t this what we are tempted do? Surely grief takes time to heal. Some griefs are so deep that they leave a mark that never fades. But God does not want us to get stuck in our sorrow. God knows and understands. He was there weeping with us when our loved one died. Or maybe it was a dream that was lost, or a relationship that could not be reconciled. Maybe foolish choices cost you years of your life. Or maybe you have been profoundly wounded by someone else's evil or a seemingly random event. Whatever it is, it is sad, we need to mourn the loss. We need to feel it and allow ourselves time to heal.

Losses can change our heart for the better as well. It can deepen our empathy, recalibrate our values, strengthen our resolve, come to terms with our limitations, or recognize our sin. Loss can motivate us to do great good. Sorrow can slow us down, it can deepen our joy and it can expand our gratitude for our Savior.

But let’s not decide to stop our journey and live the rest of our lives in our town of sorrow. Let’s rest a while, catch our breath, but let’s not settle there until we die. The Lord has other plans for us and that’s why we are still here.

We should take what we learned from the sorrow. It happened. It mattered. It was important, life changing even. But it can be life changing in a positive way when we continue the journey.

Let’s go follow Him. Let’s find our future, continue our path. It is never too late to follow Him.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. (Genesis 12:4)

Father, help me be like Abram and Lot, never afraid, never too wrapped up in my sorrow to follow You. Thank You for reminding me that I am never too old to be called by You. You are my future and my hope!

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Cunning

When I was a teen and young adult, I remember my mom telling me what to do – my clothes, my hair, my boy friends, my house, my children. It was so annoying. Why couldn’t she just trust me to make the right decisions? Now I have adult daughters and I understand. Loving mothers always have a better plan for their children’s lives. Or at least that’s what they are thinking.

It is the same with our men. Now that my husband is retired, I have plans for him. He won’t cooperate, as usual.

How can I get him to change? How can I get her to see this is wrong? This is the question I ask myself but it is the wrong question.

Then I read Genesis and I noticed the first sin was about a snake trying to get Eve to do what he wanted.

Genesis is a book of voices. The first voice was God as He spoke the universe into existence and commanded Adam to eat the fruit of every tree but one. The next voice was Adam as he sung a song of delight over his new bride.

Then we hear the voice of Satan, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

Satan was lying when he told Eve “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) After the eating the fruit, Adam and Eve thought they knew good from evil. They noticed they were naked and covered themselves from each other and hid themselves from God.

God never told them to be naked was evil. Maybe eventually God would have told Adam and Eve to clothe themselves. But while they were alone and with God, they could be naked and unashamed, and it was still good. God not only knows WHAT is good and evil, He know WHEN something is good and WHEN something is evil. The notion that sex is evil, it is not true. God’s first instruction to them to them was “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) Sex inside their relationship was good. He commanded them to engage in it often to fill the earth. It was our misguided minds that determined sex is always evil or always good.

The result of the fall was we decided we knew what was good and evil. The truth is we don’t know good from evil and history demonstrates this. Any study of history will reveal humans left on their own are bent towards evil. Moreover, they justify it as good.

We cannot understand these things apart from God’s daily direct instruction. Eating from the tree gained nothing but the revelation that we are foolish creatures not to be trusted to be left alone with temptation for a moment. Like two year olds, we must be constantly watched and guided. Maybe that is why Revelation reveals Heaven as being lit by the constant light of God Himself, where there is no darkness, no night. (Revelation 21:22-25) Perhaps that is the only way we can know and follow truth.

Even as mothers, as women who love their family and friends, we must remember we cannot know good from evil for others. We must remember God works even evil to great and glorious good! We see in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:3-6) women whose lives are stained with sin yet their sons are in the lineage of Christ. We find Tamar, a widow who tricked her father-in-law into having sex with her (Genesis 38). We find Rahab the prostitute. And Bathsheba the wife of Uriah who had a child by King David.

How do I know what is right for the people I love? How can I tell if my way is leading them to a better life? I cannot. Instead I must pray – fill their heart with the Holy Spirit, change their heart of stone to a heart of flesh; convict them of sin and of God’s truth.

Helping people is not about my getting them to change their minds or behavior. It is pointing them to God. Only God knows what is right.

The first sin was about a cunning snake trying to get someone else to do what he wanted. Don’t be a snake.

Even as I lie awake on my bed, Father, I listen to my worried thoughts, and they are about others I feel should change. Father forgive me! I have been a snake! Help me to catch every wayward desire for others and cast it at the foot of Your cross, knowing You alone know good. I can trust You with everyone and everything I love. You know best and bring even wrong to good with Your mercy, power and grace, in Your perfect time.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Confrontation vs. Retaliation

What is the difference between retaliation and confrontation?

Retaliation is about getting back at someone because they have hurt you. In the Jewish Law, in order to keep law and order between the families and tribes, limits were set for retaliation. Exodus 21:23-25, God instructs His people, “If there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” The point was God was teaching the concept of justice, not to be too harsh but to allow for our desire for fairness. He was protecting us from the way human anger naturally devolves into “the Chicago Way” -- “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue.” (The Untouchables)

God also urge His people to take into account intent in earlier verses 12-14, “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.”

However even this is not enough for Jesus who is God’s expression of perfect love. Jesus taught retaliation was not an option in His kingdom. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (Matthew 5:38-40)

The question then becomes—do I become a doormat? Do I allow people to hurt me and say nothing? Do we allow evil to run unchecked?

The answer: choose to confront, not retaliate. We confront with intent to restore the relationship, to make peace. We enforce personal boundaries with kindness. We respectfully express our point of view. We say no and add thank you. We rebuke someone’s dangerous or hurtful behavior with empathy and tenderness. We confront lovingly and directly, face to face.

Jesus demonstrates confrontation with evil (Mark 1:23-26), with religious hypocrites (Matthew 23:13-35), with His own disciples (Mark 8:33), with personal sin John 8:11). He did not shy away from confrontation, but also did not retaliate (Matthew 26:52-53, Luke 23:34).

Like spring flowers,
relationships need tenderness
to bloom and grow
Practicing confrontation in this manner takes courage and self-control. It requires prayer because only the Holy Spirit can give us what it takes to love someone who has hurt you. Only the love of Jesus can change the heart of someone determined to make unwise, dangerous choices. Only self-reflection and humility can prepare us to confront others because our hearts are also selfish and corrupt.

Although this is the more difficult path, it is the only way for relationships to grow and stay healthy. Retaliation kills relationships. Lack of confrontation allows us to stay hurt which will eventually kill the relationship as well.

We must accept that sometimes our confrontation will not produce the results we desire. We can choose to confront, but others too have free choice and may not react as we hope even when we have been kind, respectful, and loving. Sometimes relationships can be restored but not always. We must put our trust in Jesus always who promised, “Blessed (enjoying enviable happiness, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they shall be called the daughters of God!” (Matthew 5:9, AMP)

Jesus, it is easy to type but so difficult to do in the moment. Help me to confront when necessary and always with kindness and respect. Make me an instrument of Your peace!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Cause of Quarrels

Conflict. It’s been with us since the dawn of time…

“The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” – Adam, Genesis 3:12

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Cain, Genesis 4:9

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” – Brothers of Joseph, Genesis 37:19-20

Anger is a feeling that is neither good nor bad. It is not sin. However, anger can lead us to sin when we use the strength of our anger to beat others down and push them to change according to our will. Angry mean-spirited words wound and hurt others. They cause defensiveness and angry responses. They escalate the situation.

Jesus got angry but He didn’t use His anger in that way. He presented His case gently, tenderly and respectfully. He asked questions. He was invitational. He allowed people to make up their own mind and make their own choices, even if it was against His ways. Even though He is always right.

Anger is a feeling that comes to all of us. It can lead us to sin or we can use it as a sign, a kind of diagnostic tool to help us evaluate our situation. Maybe we need to have a conversation with another person to express how we feel. Maybe we need to draw boundaries. Maybe we need to flee from a hostile or dangerous situation. Maybe we need to get help. Or we can yell, scream, hit others or walk out in a huff. It’s our choice.

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” – Matthew 18:15-16

Jesus gave us a clear method for resolving conflict:

Talk to the person we are having the conflict with first. Not our girl friend, our sister, our mom or co-worker. Bringing a third person into the conflict first is seldom wise because often we are not looking for resolution—we are looking for validation. We hope our friend will agree with us and say the other person is wrong and we are right. This is called “triangulation” because we are creating a triangle when we bring someone else into the conflict. Especially when all in the triangle have relationships, it creates more conflict not less. When I tell my mother about the fight I had with my husband, what happens is I make up with my husband but my mother will still be upset. It is harder to just take it to the person we are having the conflict with, but no other two people can resolve it.

For me, I struggle with the conversation I have in my head. I discuss the matter with them in my head having both sides of the conversation—mine and theirs! When the conversation does not go well, I am still angry but then I never have the conversation out loud. You can see how this is faulty logic, right? The truth is we can never accurately predict how the conversation will go! We can pray and trust God. We can be open to having our minds changed. We can at least get our feelings out in the open. It is always best to talk it out.

Jesus urges us to settle matters with our adversary quickly. How do we do that? We must be tenderhearted, kind, and respectful. We must not only state how we feel and what we think, we must ask questions. We must be interested in how they feel, what they are thinking. We must be sympathetic and assume the best, not the worst. We must remain hopeful—not merely in them, but in the ability of God to changes hearts and work all things together for good.

Sometimes talking to the person we have the conflict with does not work and there are still concerns that need to be resolved. That’s when we need to bring another person in to help and talk to both parties. Bringing a wise trusted friend or counselor into the situation could add the light of Christ to it. What is said when two people are alone or at the kitchen table in front of only the children might sound different when said in front of someone else. A third person cannot resolve our conflict but they can ask questions we might not have considered, help us think through our feelings, and help us better understand each other. They may be able to come up with acceptable alternate resolutions we cannot see because we are embroiled in our emotions.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3

Sometimes we are angry because we are selfish. That’s what James is talking about. I want what I want and when you get in my way, well then I am angry and I am angry with YOU!

It is easy to see how this can sabotage a relationship. Sometimes we must choose between what we want and the health of our relationships. Jesus holds us to a high standard, especially in marriage. His law of love tells us we can’t just walk away when we can’t have our way. Indeed, we are called to submit in humility, to value the other’s needs as higher than our own.

In the light of James’ wisdom, let us closely examine what we want and clearly define it.
  1. What do we want exactly? Why do we want it?
  2. How does what we want align with God’s Word? Does it clearly agree? Is it a little bit shady?
  3. Does our desire reveal a character flaw? Pride? Greed? Envy? Ambition for fame or power? Comfort? Fear?
  4. Is our desire for someone else? Are we trying to control someone else’s life? Remember Jesus taught and invited but never controlled others even though He was always right!
  5. Could we be patient and trust maybe God has a better timing? Maybe God has an even better idea?
  6. Can we be open handed with our desire? Could we submit to the other person out of our love for them and our desire to be more like Jesus?
Our culture teaches us to look to our husbands, our children, our parents, our boss, our friends to provide us with love, acceptance, emotional support, financial assistance, etc. What if instead we saw ourselves as ministers to them? What if we chose to offer them unconditional love, kindness, encouragement, and respect? What we if we pause and remember we are instruments of Christ’s love in the world?

Jesus desires us to have peace. Peace with God, already settled by His blood, and also peace with each other. As we follow the Prince of Peace and trust in His truth and love, we will find peace.

Beloved Jesus, may everyone who hears these words be encouraged and strengthened to follow Your perfect teaching and find peace. May it begin with me.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Living Life Well

This year my Mom turned 90 years old. Certainly this is a gift from God. No amount of clean living and vitamin supplements can guarantee you to live to 90. But if you are going to live that long, Mom is showing us how it is done.

I remember many people warning me, “don’t get old” but not Mom. Oh she has some health struggles and aches and pains but she never lets them get in the way of real life. She is always going to meetings, luncheons and trips with the several clubs she belongs to. She recently joined the chorus. She is constantly redecorating her home. Recently while she was planning her next decorating project, Frank said to me, “When is she going to stop? She acts like she is going to live forever.”

And I replied, “So far, it’s working for her,” and it is.

A few years back we discussed when a woman should let her hair go gray, as both of us have hair as white as snow. I asked when she would let her hair go gray, at age 80? Or at age 90? At the time she said 90 but I guess not. 
   
Yes, I am inspired by Mom’s example. She is going to color her hair, apply her makeup, slip on her high heeled shoes, wear her red dress, attend every party and eat the dessert until Jesus calls her home.  

But even better than her outside beauty and vitality, is what is on the inside of Mom, in her heart. With Mom, we were always confidant of her love. It was never because of what I accomplished, whether I agreed with her or not, or if I was being naughty or nice. Mom loved me because that was her way. She loved us because love came naturally to her. She forgave us because that was what love demanded.

Our pastor recently talked about raising children and how we have them for only 18 years. Mom would disagree. Mom said once you are a mother, you are always a mother and never stop teaching, encouraging, giving to and serving your children. And that’s what Mom did for her children, grandchildren, and now great grandchildren. Her one regret is not having more of them to lavish her love on.

Thank you, Mom for showing me how to live and love life to the fullest. May Jesus help me to be just like you when I grow up.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Babe, the God-Hero

Christmas Morning.

My life totally changed 31 years ago. I woke up that Christmas morning and the nurses brought me a beautiful baby with a red cap in a large Christmas stocking.

And then six months later, You came, Beloved and invited me into Your love. You change everything.

2000+ years ago You came in the dark of night, to a far-away land, hidden and yet in plain sight. Humble, poor and helpless, yet mighty and glorified.

A Babe lying in a manger.

But You would not stay hidden, You would come out of hiding to heal and teach and serve. You would die for us and be raised because death could not hold You. You brought peace and yet also a battle that still rages.

You are invisible again, except through us, we must proclaim You.

Christ is the Lord! Oh praise His Name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

We must not give up our hope in You to heal us, our family, our nation, our world. You will continue to build Your gathering of followers and the gates of hell will not prevail against us!

You will prevail, our Jesus, God-Hero, Prince of Peace!

Give us courage to continue to praise and proclaim Your Holy Name, Your Kingdom, Your Peace! 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Asleep on the hay

Precious Baby Maya and Gio 
Away in a manger, no crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head
The stars in the sky look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay

You left Glory to be lain in a pile of hay. You trusted a poor teenage girl and a young man to carry You, feed You, bathe You, care for You in every way.

You could have came to us in any way You wanted but Your choice was to become a poor helpless baby born before indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and cell phones.

You were God. More powerful than a hurricane. Wiser than anyone who ever lived. Holy and perfect in every way. Yet You laid it all down, left it behind and trusted Mary and Joseph, knowing they were frail and flawed.

You are more precious than the thousands of dollars I carried clutching in my pocketbook last week to pay cash for the car repair. More precious than the big party I fretted over as the last guests called requiring the altering of my carefully crafted seating plan. More precious than the millionaire houses that burnt in the recent raging fires. More precious even than the sweet sick friends I am praying for, although they are so very precious to me.

So precious, Holy God, Savior of the whole world and yet You trusted Your very life to them. You entrust Your gospel to us.

Why can’t we trust You then, dear Beloved? You showed us how to trust. Let me remember You did it first, You did it for us. You trusted us when You knew we could not be trusted.

Let me trust You because we know we can.

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)