The Gift of Peace

Today’s Bloganuary question: What is the most memorable gift you’ve received?

Back when I was twenty-one, married and a mom, I was living the life of a good Christian, relatively speaking. We attended church faithfully, I taught pre-school Sunday school, we attended Bible study classes, I was part of a prayer cell, even handed out Bibles in our town.

Then one day someone gave me a pamphlet to read that made me stop and think. I got the impression that something I was allowing myself was wrong. Initially, I wasn’t so much troubled, brushed it aside as someone’s take on the scripture. I studied the verses several times looking for loopholes. Some kind of exemption for the day I was living in. Couldn’t really find one, but still… Surely God didn’t expect, in this day and age…or would He?

One day, several months later, it seems the Lord laid His hand on me –much like a parent would — and said, “This is enough.” It came clear to me that I was doing something that displeased him. I dithered over this all day and discussed it with several people, not finding peace. That evening I decided I just couldn’t give this up. I actually told God, “If this is what You’re asking of me, I won’t be your child anymore.”

For about five minutes I had a feeling of drifting in darkness, without a lifeline. Feeling the depth of my separation from God, thinking of a dismal life apart from His love and guidance. Finally I decided nothing in this world is worth that. I asked the Lord to forgive my stubbornness and told him I’d do whatever He asked, no matter what. I’d give this thing up if that’s what He wanted, if only He’d make me his child again. And He did just that. I knew I was accepted again. I received the most wonderful gift in my life: I was flooded with an indescribable peace and joy.

It was truly the gift that keeps on giving. That same peace has carried me through many things since. In Psalm 23 David says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me….” I’ve walked through that valley several times in my life, faced breast cancer in 1980 and leukemia in 2012. He’s gone with me through the valley, comforting me, assuring me that He’ll be there no matter what the future holds. There’s no greater gift than the peace of God.

Image by Pexels — Pixabay

It’s All God’s Fault!

Warning: Seriously long musing on the question,
Is God really the cruel, heartless being Christians sometimes unwittingly describe?

Job’s Comforters

Imagine: A psychotic teen filled with anger, bent on revenge, waiting outside a small school. He’s carrying an AK-47; when the children pour out of the school at noon, he opens fire.

That evening two dozen sets of parents are overwhelmed with grief. John and Jane have lost two children in this tragedy, so acquaintances come to sit and grieve with them. Some offer what they hope are comforting words:

“It must have been their time to go,” said one.
“No it wasn’t,” John protested. “They were murdered!”
But it’s all according to God’s will,” said another. “The Bible says ‘All things work together for good,’ so He must have some plan for making this good.”
“This loss will haunt our family all our lives,” Jane whispered.
“God could have prevented this tragedy, but He allowed it to happen and His ways are always perfect.”
“What’s perfect about MURDER” John retorted.
Jane was thankful when their wanna-be encouragers left. She sighed and told John, “At least they weren’t quite like Job’s comforters. They didn’t tell us it was because of some sin in our life.”

Imagine: Some drunk gets into his car, thinking he’s okay to drive home. On the way he veers into the other lane and smashes into an oncoming car. Pearl’s son, daughter-in-law, and two of their children are killed instantly.”
Later a friend offered the much-repeated words of comfort: “They say God never gives us more than we can handle.”
“Then they lie,” Pearl sobbed, “because this is a lot more than I can handle!”

Beware Quick Pat Answers

In his devotional booklet, Every Day With Jesus, Mar/April 2018, Pastor Selwyn Hughes writes: “Time and again I have sat before a weeping man or woman in whose life something tragic has happened and heard them say, “If God loves me, why did He let this happen?”

He goes on to say how Christian often struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen to good people, and they prefer to rationalize the issue rather than face it.
“I must have done something wrong and God is punishing me.” Or like Job’s comforters, “You must have done something wrong and God is punishing you.”
And if nothing else makes sense, then, “It was their time to go,” Or “It’s all in God’s will.”

The above examples of comfort offered to the grieving demonstrate ways we tend to rationalize the inexcusable, but what sort of a God are we then portraying? He could have prevented your twelve-year old daughter from being kidnapped, raped and murdered – but He didn’t.

How cruel is that? If I stood by and did nothing while some crazy killed a child, wouldn’t I be guilty of complicity? Yet we have no idea how much and how often has God spoken to this person, urging him to turn away from evil thoughts and deeds. God has never adopted the policy of striking sinners dead — or Earth would be an empty planet!

In cases of a sudden heart attack or other non-violent death, it’s easier to find comfort in the thought that “His/her time was up.” Or “Their work on earth is done.” These thoughts do work sometimes. The world’s been saddened these past few weeks by the death of the beloved Queen Elizabeth. At age 96 and in relatively good health up until her death, I think we all feel that it was her time to go.

But can you imagine the guards at Auschwitz herding their prisoners into the gas chambers, saying, “It’s just your time to go.” Or worse, “God’s allowing this, so it must be His will.”

He Gives Us the Right to Choose

We read in the Bible that God id love, that He wants to be our Father, to guide and protect us. However, He wants to be a chosen parent, not one who forces His will on us.

Going all the way back to the Garden of Eden, when Eve reached out to pick that fruit and opened the door for sin, God could have slapped her hand. “I told you, ‘Don’t touch!’” But He didn’t.

God made his will clear then and it still stands: Mankind shall have the choice to obey Me or not.” Otherwise, in his Court of Justice, He must bring every one of us into account because we have all made wrong choices – and did it knowingly. I believe the verse that says, “God calls all men everywhere to repent,” but His kingdom is not a physical kingdom that citizens are born into, but a spiritual kingdom where all are subjects by choice.

Rather, just as He allowed Eve the choice to reach out and take something she knew was forbidden, so He allows us, all through our lives Christians and non-Christians, to reach out and take the thing we know is wrong, or harmful. To say the words we know we shouldn’t say: the lies, the scathing criticism, the accusations.

Looking back, I think of many times I wish God would have reached down and given me a slap before I said, or did, something. Yes, there was that tiny voice saying, “Don’t” but it’s so easily ignored. He allowed me to make my own choice – and suffer the consequence, the loss, the tears.

At times He does actually intervene and counter man’s will, upsetting the plans of evil people. Usually they happen when He steps in to protect His children from some harm, or lets His child know that the loving Father does care. We often call these miracles and they are happening all the time; I believe every Christian can tell you of an instance where “something told me” or they’ve been prevented from some action or heard a voice giving a clear instruction or answer.

Just one example: A Christian woman in the southern US was standing in her back yard during a wild storm, the tailings of a hurricane, when an inner voice told her, “Get out of this yard.” She obeyed, and a few minutes later a huge limb of a tree came crashing down right where she’d been standing.

Not to say God’s children will never come to harm, but sometimes we are supernaturally protected. Likewise instances like this happen to non-Christians: some little voice says, “Don’t go there.” or “Don’t do that.” The choice is left to them, to listen or to ignore.

Sadly, Christians who feel their Father forces His will on mankind, are inclined to carry this even farther. His way is right/best, so His will should be enforced on everyone, Christian or not. They may carry out personal acts of punishment – my next post will touch on this – or they get into politics and start making laws, Prohibition being the most notable fiasco.

This is our human way of keeping our fellow man in line – the legal hand-slap or lash – and it’s the only way the governments of this world have of preventing evil because they can’t speak to or change hearts. However, through the ages God has worked through the still small voice of conscience, a voice every person in this world hears.

THUNK!

Image: Ray Miller — Pixabay

Tyrant Turnaround

Sipping coffee at the table with my back to the open inside door, I was startled by a sharp THUNK. I jumped up and looked out the screen door. Just as I suspected: a bird had hit the glass and was lying beside the Welcome mat, gasping. Our cat, Angus, was heading up the steps to see about a possible lunch. I shooed him away. He knows the rules here. No Birds!

The bird, an eastern kingbird, was all askew and definitely stunned; it fluttered a bit when I stepped outside. I grabbed a few tissues from the house for padding and gently cupped it in my hands. It offered no resistance as I carried it to the flower bed and tucked it in the shelter of a shrub.

Much against his will, Angus was forced to come inside.

The kingbird lie there gasping, head on the ground, tail straight up, feathers ruffled, for about fifteen minutes. When I checked again it had pulled itself together into a sitting position. Half an hour later it was gone. Since there were no other cats about, and no tell-tale feathers, I’m sure it flew away.

I thought of a childhood song:
“God sees the little sparrow fall; it meets his tender view.
If God so loves the little things, I know he loves me too.”

This was no tiny sparrow, no warbler or wren with a beautiful song. The kingbird, a.k.a. “Tyrannus tyrannus” is a bigger bird. An acrobat when catching his meals in flight. Lordly, top-of-the-tree type. One guide calls them pugnacious. The ones in our yard live peaceably enough; I’ve never seen them bother smaller birds. But kingbirds are famous for their aggressive attacks on hawks, crows and other predators – even humans – that invade their territory.

To me its reputation didn’t matter. Here was a bird – and I like birds. I was able to help it, so I did.

Helpless little birds, gentle doves; it’s not hard to take pity on them. What about the tyrants of this world, the bullies, the belligerent, the viciously defensive? But God – so the Bible says – loves all people. No matter what our issues, He’s ready to help where He can. When we don’t thrash around and fight him off.

We can’t always see hope for change, but God knows how a lion can make 180-degree turn and become a lamb, gentle and merciful. History is full of nasty types who turned around when they met God. I think of Saul, who became the apostle Paul.

“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord…” Acts 9:1 But Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and Saul did a major turn-around. He became Paul – meaning “Little” – the one who later wrote, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10

Ready to Face It?

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is READY. A very useful word that should give oodles of responses.

“Are You Ready to be Well?

The Gospels relate an incident where Jesus met a man who’d been a cripple for many years. Jesus stopped in passing and asked the man, “Wilt thou be made whole?” In other words, “Do you want to be well?”

The man was lying by a miraculous pool where an angel troubled the waters occasionally and the first one in after the turbulence was cured of their affliction. Many folks had gathered there, hoping for a cure, and this particular fellow had been lying there for years. He explained to Jesus how he could never get to the pool fast enough when the water started roiling. Someone else always beat him to the cure.

Jesus question seems very odd, but I see a number of undertones here:
“Are you ready to be well? To face the real world?”
Are you ready to leave behind all these friends you’ve been commiserating with for so long?
Will you give up the sympathy and charity of folks who pass by and start earning your own living?

There are many kinds of sickness and dependency in our world, and perhaps physical ailments are probably the easiest to say good-bye to. It may be hard to see the sympathy of friends dry up, but how wonderful to be able to move and breathe and function. No wonder people who’ve been cured are ready to sing and dance for joy.

Folks can get in a rut that’s uncomfortable or painful, but what they can see over the top looks pretty scary, too. One day a friend was lamenting her dependence on tobacco. She admitted that it was a costly, controlling habit. “It’s got your life,” she said. “I just can’t make it without my smokes.” Being a believer in prayer, I asked her if she’d like me to pray with her that God would give her the strength to quit. “No, I guess not,” she said. Either she didn’t believe God could help her leave this habit — or she was afraid He really would!

I think Jesus’ question is as relevant for us as it was back then. If medical science could come up with an amazing drug that could instantly cure people of substance dependence — replace all that dopamine the body’s lost so the person could truly start fresh — how many would accept the cure? Leave their old life, their friends? Or would the real world be too scary? As fellow blogger Martha K said not long ago, “You can’t get a person into rehab. If they don’t choose to go in of their own free will, it won’t do them any good.”

That First Step

We all have issues we put off as long as possible because they’re hard and will likely have unpleasant consequences. But finally we’re ready. We’ve circled this hill too long. Crossed the bridge emotionally dozens of times and still aren’t over. So we grit our teeth, square our shoulders and march forward.

Health issues. Quitting a habit, starting a diet and sticking with it. Undertaking a new and possibly risky treatment. Deciding what to do about your parent or child in a coma. The doctors are pressing for a decision.

Moving. All that packing and loading, unloading, rearranging! Moving away from home, having to stand on your own two feet, maybe having to support yourself financially. Moving elderly parents. Sorting out a lifetime of stuff. Moving an unwilling elderly parent. Facing the prospect of physically removing a parent with dementia from the home where they think they’re coping perfectly well. Taking away Dad’s driver’s license and/or car keys.

Tackling and finishing a project. Mending a fence when you know someone’s upset with you. Making that apology you know you should make. Backing up. And so on.

What “first steps” have you taken lately?

Seal of Approval

Are you old enough to remember this corny knock-knock type joke…
What goes “ark ark” at Christmas time?
Answer: A Christmas seal.

Even though “snail mail” is rare these days, Christmas seal are still around. The idea started in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1903, when… “a benevolent postmaster named Einar Holboell was inspired to create the stamps to help children with tuberculosis (TB).”

The Ragtag Daily Prompt word today is SEAL, which brings to my mind the thought of real seals as well as royal seals…and of course Good Housekeeping’s Seal of Approval. Did they ever use a real seal in their ads?

Googling, I discovered that the first Good Housekeeping Seal was issued in 1909. You can read about its history here According to their website…
This is Good Housekeeping’s LIMITED WARRANTY: If any product that bears our limited warranty Seal proves to be defective within two years from the date it was first sold to a consumer by an authorized retailer, we, Good Housekeeping, will refund the purchase price or $2,000, whichever is less or, at Good Housekeeping’s sole discretion, repair or replace the product. This policy covers you, the consumer, whether you bought the product or it was given to you (by the buyer). Products that bear the Green Good Housekeeping Seal have been assessed by Good Housekeeping in accordance with Good Housekeeping’s environmental criteria and are also subject to the limited warranty if proven to be defective.
Read more details here.

People who believe the Bible know there’s an all-important Royal seal God places on a believer, one that says, “This is my child.” This seal admit his children to enter those pearly gates someday.
Simplifying Ephesians 1:10-14:
“we have obtained an inheritance..who trusted in Christ…in whom after ye believed, ye were sealed by that holy Spirit of promise…until the redemption of that purchased possession…”
“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
Eph 4:30