Saturday, December 25, 2010

Looking for signs of Jesus

This past week I was asked to write a prayer for the Christmas Eve service at my church. The theme? "Looking for signs of Jesus." My first idea, being a city-dweller, was to use traffic signs. But when I sat down at the keyboard to write, traffic came to a stop. I took a detour, and yielded to God's Spirit. Here's what came out:
Photo by tifs-spot via

Faithful God, on this Silent, Holy Night you gave signs that Christ was in the midst of the Wise Men, Shepherds, and others in and around Bethlehem.  The Star that led the way, the Angels breaching the veil of heaven to announce the birth of our King, and the prophecies of hundreds of years earlier all pointed the way to Jesus. Redemption for Your people had finally arrived! 

Just as the people two thousand years ago searched for signs of Christ, so do we. And we praise You, God, that You still give signs of Christ in our lives:  Majestic mountains. Powerful waterfalls. Smiles from babies and old people. Dancing. Music. Weddings. How nightfall closes today, and yields to the dawning hope that comes with tomorrow. The ways you comfort those who are afflicted, and in the ways you sometimes afflict the comfortable by your prompting on our hearts to obedience.

But the greatest sign of Christ you gave us is the Redeeming Grace that was ushered in with his birth. For You so loved the world that You gave Your one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For You did not send Your Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Father, help us to live our lives in joyful gratitude for the gift of Your Son Jesus, today and always. Amen.

May this Christmas day bring you and your families Hope, Joy, Love and Peace.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Castles of Air

When I first read the topic I thought, Castles of Air? What am I going to do with that? Who thought of that one, and what were they thinking? Well, Becky owned up to the topic. She said she had something in mind when she suggested it, but I’d have to wait to read her post to find out what it is. I’m still waiting for Becky to write, which means I’m left to figure out this “Castles of Air” thing on my own.

Through some twisting, convoluted thought path I somehow connected Castles of Air with the topic of Hope. Which brings us to the Facebook poll, “What hope of yours has been fulfilled this year?”

It’s such a peaceful feeling to reflect upon hopes that have been fulfilled over the past year. Justice being realized. First-time home ownership. Loved ones by our side. Being employed in this volatile economic climate. Going through the struggles and living to tell about it. Yes, when hopes have been fulfilled, life has a sense of completeness. Life makes sense.

I wish I could say that life for everyone I know has that sense of completeness, but it is not so. Businesses close down and jobs are lost. Justice sometimes seems unfair and wrong. Home becomes a place that doesn’t feel like home and families are broken apart. Loved ones die, sometimes suddenly. Promises are broken and trust is shattered. We may even feel despair. The puzzle pieces of your life don’t seem to make the beautiful picture it ought to. Like Castles of Air, life does not make sense.

Which brings us back to hope. Sometimes when you are in the midst of despair, when pieces don’t appear to be of the same puzzle, let alone fit, hope does not make sense. God doesn’t even make sense.

Not long ago I was asked to pray for a family in crisis. I found myself asking, “God, do you know what you are doing?” Nothing made sense. Yet the family believed God is still sovereign, and crying out in desperation to God was all they had left.

Was this family’s hope fulfilled? Tragically, no. Stunned and in shock, they were violently thrust into the vortex of grief, where nothing makes sense, and they wonder if anything ever will again.

While we're not making sense, let's go back to fulfilled hopes. When a hope is fulfilled, it often comes after  some struggle or some degree of heartache. Somewhere during the process there is a part of you that wonders at the logic – or lack of logic – of it all. Doubt threatens to extinguish faith. Grief’s cacophony seems to be an endless torment. But still there is hope.

Hope is independent of the apparatus of logic. It doesn’t have to make sense.
Hope puts faith to work when doubting would be easier.
Hope is grief’s best music. The torment does not have to prevail forever.

While it may seem wonderful if every hope we ever had were fulfilled the way we want it, would we really want it that way? That’s another way of saying Be careful what you hope for.

God does not have to always make sense to us. If He did, we would have no need for faith. God has made sense to us before, when things turned out alright for us. Although we are now uncertain about our circumstances, our hope and faith assure us that God will work our circumstances to make sense to us at a time to come in the future.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Hope is one of those things you cannot do without. Having hope will give you courage. Hang in there. Even if it doesn’t make sense.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Finding Joy

Word Search Puzzle created by

The holiday season is fast approaching. It seems like about eleven months or so ago it was Christmas, and here it is again already!The local Rite-Aid store near me replaced the sunblock display with bayberry, peppermint and cinnamon scented candles. In fact, for a week or so, the two displays were actually side-by-side, causing one to ponder, Is something wrong with this picture?

Just thinking about the month of December brings to mind many activities: family gatherings, parties, shopping, exchanging gifts, time away from work or school, road trips, celebrations ...

The Christmas season can be an emotional time as well. Anger, anxiousness, loneliness, sadness, emptiness, worry. It's no wonder some people cringe when you wish them Merry Christmas, even without the whole "politically correct religious tolerance" broughaha.

One of the more popular Christmas songs is "Joy to the world!" Joy. What is joy, anyway? If you're a regular reader of my ponderings, you know that when I dive into deep questions, one of my favorite resources for answers is (dun-dun-DUNNN!) a Facebook poll! (and most of you know by now that when I post a poll, it usually means I'll be using the answers in a post.) So, I asked my facebook friends and family, and some of their friends as well, the following question:

Aside from family and chocolate, what brings you joy?

Mountains. Waterfalls. Smiles from babies and old people. Fall leaves. Spring tulips. Summer sun. Winter frost. Changed lives. Good friends. Scrapbooking. Reading. Music. Being out on the water. Polka-dots. Elvis impersonators. Patches (I'm not sure I understand that one). Dancing. Living. Music. Weddings. Dancing to live music at weddings. The dog. God. Being successful with a project. Girlfriends. Laughing. A clean house. Laughing with girlfriends in a clean house.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of what brings people joy, but just thinking of a few of these is enough to put a smile on your face, if only for a few seconds. But what is it about these things that turns on the joy-button for us?

Braniac me would ask that question, wouldn't I? And I'm not going to leave you with a simplistic textbook answer, although that would be a place to start in finding one. Starting with the basic definition, "joy" is a noun, meaning "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation."

Hmm ... "an emotion ... caused by something ..." Joy is not something that just happens! Did you know that? I didn't ... Let's go deeper into the ponder ...
Joy is a "fruit of the Spirit." I learned that back in my Catholic grade school days. It's in the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatian church, "the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

So, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, pushes our buttons. I don't think anyone would disagree there. But God doesn't push our buttons for no reason, although we may sometimes think it seems that way. The passage says the Holy Spirit "produces the fruit." What? Joy isn't instantaneous? It's not spontaneous? Well, no, not always. Not all Elvis impersonators bring on feelings of joy. And be careful of the baby's smile - there may be something messy behind it.

Back to the earlier definition of Joy as the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.

emotion ... caused by something ... produced by the Holy Spirit ...

Time for another definition, this time in the form of an acronym:

JOY: = Jesus, Others, You.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27)

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Philippians 2:3-4)

Are you getting it?

Joy is the happy state that is found in knowing and serving God!

This week's blog theme is "Finish This." Actually, it was last week's theme, but I'll let you in on a secret. I didn't finish this post in time! But as I do finally finish this, I shall close with a challenge to all, young and old alike. 

As you make your way through the chaos of the upcoming Christmas season, take time to know and serve God. And repe-eat, repe-e-eat the sounding joy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


You may be wondering how the Topical Bloggers come up with the weekly topics. Actually, it is quite simple. Blogger Becky has graciously accepted the role of ringleader moderator of the group. Her responsibility is to let us know what the weekly writing should be about. To make it easy for everyone involved (and easy on herself) she forcibly coerces periodically asks the bloggers to submit several suggestions, puts them all in a hat and, by random drawing, sets the calendar for as many weeks as she has suggestions for. Some bloggers will use the topic as an actual topic. Me, the "topic" is often a prompt. For example, last week's "topic" was "Priority Mail." Well, I sort of wrote about that...

This week's topic is "I lost my list." Yep, that was an actual topic that was truly and honestly submitted. I know, because I'm the one who gave the suggestion. When the last round of topics had run its course back in August, I wrote several suggestions on a piece of paper, and, naturally, promptly lost the list. When the time came for Becky to set the calendar and she threatened me with bamboo sticks under my fingernails politely and patiently asked for my suggestions, the first one I gave was "I lost my list." And that is how we got this week's topic.

What can be said about losing a list? If your name is Eileen you might say "I lost my list and now I stand upright."

(you can stop groaning now.)

Lists can be helpful to help us remember things and be productive throughout the day. There are To-Do lists, Bucket Lists, Priority Lists, Christmas Card Lists, Grocery Lists, Honey-Do Lists, even The Book of Lists. Realtors have MLS Listings. You can make a list, check it twice, add things to it, and feel good when you cross something off when it's completed. And of course, you can lose a list, but don't let that make you feel listless.

When you're outstanding at something, you are said to be on the A-List (for example, movie stars who work well and are big box office draws make the A-List). But woe to you if you cause severe embarrassment, scandal, or are affiliated with the wrong crowd! You may find yourself Black-Listed, never to work in this town again.

If you've ever lost an important list, you know the sheer panic uneasy feeling of having to recreate the list, especially if you need to recreate it on the spot. For example, try remembering all 120 names on a Wedding Guest List! Hopefully you won't leave someone out and end up on their Sh.... Never mind - it's not a good list to be on. Not as bad as being on someone's Hit List, but still not good.

Which brings me to ponder, what kind of list does God keep? I'll tell you what I believe about that pondering. I believe that God keeps two lists: an A-List and a Hit List. The A-List (in the Bible it's called the Book of Life) is the list of who will be allowed entrance to heaven for eternity. The Hit List, well, that's everyone else. They get life in hell - apart from God's love - for ever and ever and ever. But how can someone know for sure which list he is on?

God, being holy, has a standard of perfection, and heaven is a place that meets that standard. But if heaven is a perfect place, how can a perfect God allow imperfect people (I'd say that's me and you) to enter without making tainting its perfection? In other words, how can something 100% perfect still be perfect if it has any imperfection in it? Even 99.9% pure is 0.1% flawed, and no longer perfect. We all do wrong things; we all have sin in our lives. Wouldn't that, by default, put us all on God's Hit List?

True, our sin keeps us from being in good standing with God, and there is nothing we can do on our own to change that. That's where Jesus comes in. The apostle Paul teaches us in the book of Romans,

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person*, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:6-11, NLT)
*even an upright person such as Eileen

It is our decision which of God's lists we are on. It has nothing to do with how lengthy your list of accomplishments is, or how short your list of errors might be. God isn't impressed with those lists. Choose to accept Jesus as Lord over your life, and you choose the A-List. Don't, and you're on God's Hit List. The playing field doesn't list to one side or the other. It's level for everybody. Simple as that.

Now to find that original list ...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Priority List or Bucket List?

This morning I went online to read and print an email that I had saved from about a week ago, an email having to do with a meeting after church this morning. When I went into my account, I found about eight or ten emails – none of them spam – that I acted upon (read and file, or read and delete). One of them had to do with a discussion with a Facebook friend, so of course I had to go there. Once logged in, I quickly skimmed over what the insomniacs of my entourage had posted overnight. Running out of time, I quickly closed down my computer and continued with my morning routine. Halfway out the door to leave, I realized I never did open the email I originally wanted to read. And by then it was too late.

Sometimes our relationships with each other go the same way. We build a friendship over time, with the promise to always keep in touch. And they’re good intentions. Plans are made to gather together, but life happens. Maybe a child gets sick. Or an unexpected bill comes up. Life progresses and we surround ourselves with a whole new circle of friends and acquaintances. Enough of these extra things come up, and keeping in touch becomes less and less important. Sadly, it appears that meeting for lunch with old friends moves from the Priority List to the Bucket List.

It ought not be so! True, you can’t always control what comes up in life. But you can control the actions you take to let people who have impacted your life that they are special and have made a difference, no matter how big or small that difference may have been. You don’t necessarily have to do something extra-ordinary. If this post brings to mind someone you have not seen in quite some time (perhaps years), start simple. A quick email, or an e-card is a good way to begin. If you (or they) are not comfortable with computer technology, then do something more “old-school” like a phone call, or simple greeting card with a brief hand-written note. Re-establish the friendship, and make the non-negotiable commitment to meet together, and follow through on that commitment. It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a reunion – something where you would feel comfortable, like a backyard BBQ or meeting for pie and coffee can be just as meaningful, perhaps even more so.

There is an old saying that goes, “Keep your friendships in repair.” To do so takes intentional effort. Some people end up making enemies instead of friends because it is less trouble. Don’t be one of those people. Cross “meeting for lunch with friends” off of your Bucket List and place it back on your Priority List. You’ll be glad you did.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Soaring and Landing

Last night was the 30 year reunion of SAHS class of 1980. When our 20-year reunion came along, I remember debating whether or not to go, since I only kept in touch with a handful of classmates over the years. I finally made the decision to go ON the day of the reunion. The deciding factor was that I had received an unexpected check in the mail which covered all but $20 of the reunion ticket. Maybe it's just me, but there was something I noticed that was kind of funny.  at the beginning of the evening everyone talked with anyone regardless of who they were. At the end of the evening, everyone broke into the same cliques they used to hang out with in high school. And since I was one of the quiet ones in school, I found myself at the end of the party sitting at a table with other quiet ones, pretty much watching every one else have fun.

This year when the reunion committee announced there would be a gathering of the Saints, I was reluctant to throw my hat into the ring and commit to attending. But since the 20-year reunion, social networking, particularly Facebook, turned the way we define "community" inside-out. I had reconnected with classmates that, ironically, I had never talked to outside of the classroom during my high school years. The same people that I could "never be like" in school (the cheerleaders, athletes, trouble-makers, social butterflies, etc.) turned out to be real people, with real situations. Many were divorced, one of them three times. Several had had major illnesses themselves, children with severe chronic illnesses, even the loss of a dear little angel. And there were many who had lasting marriages of 20 or 25 years, or more. Some with kids in college, and I'm sure some had kids in trouble. We have classmates who are in jail, and some that are very successful in their professional fields. And it didn't matter who you were, at the end of the evening people were having conversations with people they rarely talked to in school.

This week's Topical Blogger theme is "Flying Hearts." Initially, the image of a flying heart brings to mind a heart that is lifted up, allowed and encouraged to soar to new heights that it was never allowed to before. But, like all things that fly, it must come to land at some time and place. Throughout the years we've all had a crash-landing or two, where hearts have been hurt, even broken or shattered. Thankfully, there has been someone to come along side of us, to help us put the pieces back together, and strengthen the feathers in our heart-wings so we can soar once again. The people who come alongside of us are seen as heroes, even angels, who changed our lives. Our peers look at the once-broken, and see them as heroes who inspire us to fly higher than we thought we could. For the most part, the hero looks in the mirror and sees just an ordinary person, and the "heroic" thing they did was nothing special to them - it's just how they roll.

Everyone of us is a hero in one way or another. Each one of us is a feather in our heart-wings. To the Saints of 1980, may our hearts continue to soar. May we strengthen each other's wings so we can all soar together. Hopefully all our landings will be in a place of comfort, a place where we finds acceptance, where there is a sense of home. Let us celebrate the safe landings together! But we know there will be some landings that will be hard. If that happens to you, don't go it alone. Chances are you've been an unlikely hero to someone; allow someone to be an unlikely hero to you. If it happens to someone you know but don't know well, do what comes naturally. You may unexpectedly be the hero he or she needs to fly again.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Miracle of Mercy Land

When I received my copy of The Miracle of Mercy Land by River Jordan I was not sure quite what to expect. Fiction is not my preferred genre of books. When you tie a new story to a particular time period, such as pre-WWII, and the book tends to get knocked down a rung on my reading priority list. I'll be honest – the reason I read the book was because this book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

As a young woman, Mercy Land moves from the backwoods of Bittersweet Creek where she grew up to Bay City, a nearby small town. Here she lands a job as being #2 in charge at the town newspaper. For Mercy, moving to a town of any size, be it a population of 500 or 50,000, would be a major change, having grown up along Bittersweet Creek. Suddenly Doc Phillips, the owner/editor in chief of The Banner, one night finds himself keeper of a book. Not an ordinary book, mind you. It's a book that can tell you what might have happened in a person's life, had he or she made different decisions. Why him? Why this book? And what is he supposed to do about the information he sees in it? He shares the book with Mercy, and the two of them decide to keep the book a secret from anyone else. But not before Doc orchestrates the arrival of a strangely familiar man - a man whose life could be made right by what was revealed in this mysterious book.

What I liked: The story was clearly written, and unmuddled by too many characters. Although the time period was the early 1940's, you'd never know it, except for a few references to pre-WWII headlines.

What I didn't like: Even though the book was easy to read, the characters easy to distinguish, and the story on the whole easy to follow, I never quite grasped the purpose of the supernatural book. Somehow I think the same story could have been written substituting an abandoned briefcase of hundred dollar bills and appealed to the same audience.

Would I recommend this book to a friend? Frankly, I wouldn't rate The Miracle of Mercy Land as a “must read.” This is a book that I would give to a fiction-reading friend on the condition that, after she reads it, she pass it along to someone else to enjoy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Amazon Rainforest

It's fun to be part of a group that blogs on the same topic every week, but this week - WOW - Who chose this one? "Amazon Rainforest" ... oh yeah. I picked it. And, as most people in my social circle, I don't know much about it. So, I shall do my best to write an Amazing post. Let's see where God shows up ...

Usually when we think about the Amazon Rainforest, it conjures up visions of lush tropical botanical life, brilliant colors, exotic animals, and, of course, rain, from a very fine mist to big fat drops. It also brings to mind the need for conservation of the abundant resources that God has placed there. There is so much of the rainforest ecosystem that is beneficial to the earth and to mankind: the plants with their function of cleansing the air; the Amazon river as a main thoroughfare across the continent of South America; the untapped medicinal benefits of many of the plants; the brilliant colors of the animals; the desirability of the wood from the trees, just to name a few. But even with all the rainforest has to offer, it is constantly being diminished by a ruthless enemy: Man. At first it wasn't so bad, just harvesting some acreage here and there. But the little bits do add up, and what seems insignificant at first has become an issue of global importance.

In a way, mankind is like the rainforest. Because of the gifts God has given each of us, we have the potential to make a tremendously positive impact on people's lives. Yet we are under constant attack from an enemy, Satan, who is bent on destroying our dreams and visions. Oh, the destruction doesn't seem obvious at first. A little bit of doubt here, a bit of compromise there, ... and before we know it, our concept of who we are and the fullness of what we have to offer is cut down until all we know is that we are unable to salvage what we once had.
In order to save the rainforests, we all need to be aware there is a problem, and, more importantly, a means to save it. Likewise, in order to save ourselves from the destructive power of our enemy, we must first be aware of what the problem is, and know the means to be saved from its grasp.

The problem with mankind is that we have a predisposition to give in to temptation. No matter how hard we try to be perfect, we eventually give in to one thing or another. There's a name for that: Sin. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We have all sinned. We have all done things that are displeasing to God. There is no one who is innocent. With sin comes consequences, and since we've all sinned, we all have consequences for it coming our way, and it's not good. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

What? We're all gonna die? Yes, someday we all will die a physical death. But the death spoken of here is more of a spiritual death, a separation from God's love. You see, God is perfect and holy. That means that he can't be mixed up with sinners like you and me. We were created to walk together with God in a perfect garden, but our sinful nature has tainted our rainforest, contaminating what was intended to be pure. We've forfeited paradise, and there's nothing we can do on our own to get it back.

But there's good news -- "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). All is not lost. God has a plan to restore us. We have an advocate who wants nothing more than to save us from the damage sin has created in our relationship with God, and that advocate is Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8 declares, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus Christ died for us! Remember the consequence of sin? Jesus' death took care of it for us! And his resurrection proves that God accepted Jesus' death as the payment for our sins.

Because of Jesus' death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins - and we will be saved! "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is the means by which you and I can again have peace with God, and be allowed to have everlasting life in heaven, an eternal paradise with more vibrant colors and benefits than any rainforest on earth!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Angels Among Us

The community where I live has an event the first Friday of each month called “First Fridays.” Businesses along one of the main traffic corridors stay open late, local musicians provide entertainment, and local artist exhibit their works in what used to be an old furniture store. It's quite fun (and mostly free).

Last December some friends and I went to First Fridays as a festive kick-off for the Christmas season. We dressed in Christmas attire, went to the tree lighting, had pictures taken with Santa, the whole sh'bang. But I think one of the more memorable moments was at the gallery. One of the local artists had displayed a pair of ginormous bronze wings. I thought they looked cool, but they would look more cool if they were angel wings, so we took turns with the cell phone camera, and now we have angel pictures of ourselves.

Right now as I write, it's early October, pre-Halloween. Alongside of the rows of trick-or-treat candy and costume accessories are rows of Christmas decorations and housewares, with likenesses of Santa Claus, gingerbread men, snowflakes, and angels. It seems we only see angels among us during November and December. Is that the only time God allows these heavenly beings He created to breach the veil between heaven and earth? What do they do when they're not adorning our Christmas tree? Does God pack them away in a box when January rolls around?

Thankfully, God created angels with a purpose that does not know seasonal limitations. He created them to be His messengers to carry out His business in the world. They can be here one minute, warning us, embodying God's love for us, or filling a desperate need for us, even executing God's judgment against us (as in the book of Revelation), and then be gone then next. Although they may appear visibly or be heard audibly, they usually perform their duties as invisible, yet very real, agents of God. Most of the time angels are depicted in our modern culture as young women in wispy full-length gowns and delicate wings. Personally, I don't fully buy into that image, and from what I've read in Scripture, God doesn't want us to limit them to that view either. Sure, God can command an angel to minister to us in the form of a bystander giving words of comfort to someone going through a tough time. But when it comes to protecting us or defending us from the schemes of the devil, I'd much rather have God employ angels that are more characteristic of highly trained American soldiers than three chick friends standing in front of a bronze sculpture! I would not want to begin what kind of evil and terror we would go through if God's army of angels did not watch over each and every one of us!

A discussion about angels and the theology behind them can be very long and very deep. Friends may have at one time or another considered me as an angel, but that does not make me one, nor am I an expert by any stretch of the imagination. For in-depth reading on the subject, I recommend Angels by Billy Graham (Thomas Nelson / 2000), and Angels: Who They Are and How They Help... What the Bible Reveals by David Jeremiah (Random House, Inc / 2009).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cutting Off Limbs and Gouging Out Eyeballs

Autumn is here! I think that of the four seasons, autumn is my favorite. For starters, I was born during the month of October, and celebrate for the entire month. And secondly, the flavors of autumn are a treat to the senses of smell and taste. Pumpkin spiced latte, cappuccino, even lollipops from See's tell me that Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Sweet potatoes, pumpkin bread, pecan and fresh apple pies usher in the month of December. And December brings...

Chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar cookies galore! Decorated and ready to share with friends and loved ones.

I think the one holiday treat that has the most thoughtfulness is the Gingerbread Man Cookie. The one creating it starts with a blank naked expressionless wafer shaped like a human with its arms wide open. Then he takes special care to give cookie-person its own unique personality, whether smiling, embarrassed, flirty, or gushing-lovey-dovey. And the individual cookie's personality perfectly complements its intended final recipient.

What's the best thing you can do to show your appreciation of a hand-decorated Gingerbread Man Cookie made especially with you in mind? You eat it, of course! Many people start by breaking off its limbs or gouging out its icing eyballs or plucking off its gumdrop buttons. If Gingy were cognizant of what was happening, the whole concept of being decimated, unable to defend yourself, is not something he would want inflicted on any cookie. But he – and his creator – know that without such unimaginable trauma, his purpose would not be fulfilled.

In a way, we go through the same thing as Cookieman. We have times in our lives where we figuratively have our eyes gouged out or limbs cut off. It could be a business partner embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving you with lots of essplainin to do and a Mt. Everest of debt to go with it. Or being diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer or MS. Or having a love one brutally murdered. Or a natural disaster such as a wildfire or flood, where you lose everything and are forced to start over with your life. Or worse yet, several devestations happening back-to-back, breaking you to the point where it takes every ounce of your being to cry out to God, “I can't take any more!”

In the midst of our cries for mercy, it is not uncommon for others to come along side of us. Trying to comfort us. Telling us what they would do in our position. Telling us that things happen for a reason; that God doesn't give us more than we can handle; that it'll be OK, that God is in control.

“God is in control.” That means that He causes the good things to happen. He also allows hardship in our lives (read Job, chapters 1 and 2 if you don't think so). If God allowed Satan to run amok in Job's life, what makes us think God won't allow it in ours?

The whole thought of God lifting His hand of protection from my life terrifies me! But God is faithful to His promise that He is with us always. Let me give an example of what I mean.

When I was about seven or eight, my family went to Magic Mountain. There was this one ride that was kind of like a ferris wheel, but was a little different. I can't really explain the ride, but I was absolutely terrified to go on it, to the point I was hysterically screaming and crying right there in the middle of the park. Everyone else in the family wanted to go on the ride, but for them to do so would mean that I would be left alone to sit on a bench – not acceptable. I remember my dad trying to calm me, reassuring me that he would be right by my side the whole time. I finally agreed. I think I still cried the whole time, and at the end still told my parents that I never wanted to go on that ride again. Did I get mad at my parents for making me go on that ride? Yes, a little. But my dad was faithful – he was still beside me, holding my hand, keeping me safe. What loving father wouldn't do that for his child?

If you are in a place in your life where you feel as though you're being torn apart, know this:  You do not have to fear that God has so much power over your life.  Sometimes we wonder “God, what are you thinking??"  Sometimes we get downright angry with God for allowing evil in the world. And Sometimes the circumstances are a result of us making bad decisions instead of seeking His guidance and direction, with severe consequences to pay because of it. You may not sense God's presence during the worst time of your life. He is still there, with His hands graciously, mercifully extended, faithful to His promise to be with us, even if it kills Him. He will not leave you to sit alone on the bench.

In the mean time, enjoy an early Christmas treat. Have a cookie.  I made them for you!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Neighbors From Hell

Over the past couple of weeks I've written about the journey home to heaven. We've taken a winding, wandering path through life that, like Dorothy's yellow brick road, took us on many twists and turns through this world we don't quite fit in. During this long, seemingly endless journey, we have asked many questions and at times grown impatient along the way, all in anticipation of our life in heaven. And I got to thinking, Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven. I wonder, what will my next door neighbors be like?

I've lived in my share of rental property during my adult life, until about 11 years ago when my name was recorded with the County of This Big Urban Metropolis as a property owner. For the most part, I've lived in places where I had some decent neighbors. Occasionally there would be little uproars about something. I remember moving in to the townhouse we rented in T-ville. Our unit was next to the back corner of the complex. Four doors away in a unit that faced ours, a couple was having an argument. F-this, and F-that, and some other profanities and accusations... and then the kicker - the wife shouts, "GOOBER!" ... What? Did she really call him "Goober"??? Weeks later, we would see Mr. Goober standing outside, shirtless, wearing his sweatpants, holding a lit cigarette in one hand and a can of Coors in the other, shouting for his children to come home. Yeah ... he really was a goober ...

Then there was the time where the local police responded to a call in my corner at that same townhouse complex. Since it was not clear which unit the disturbance was coming from, several residents got a personal visit from Turlock's finest.
"T-ville Police Department - Can you open your door please?" 
I comply, not exactly sure what is going on.
"We have a report that there is screaming coming from one of the units."
"Well, I am watching a movie"
"What are you watching?"
(I can't believe I have to actually admit this...) "I'm watching 'Plan 9 From Outer Space.' Maybe there was some screaming in the movie?"
"But you're OK?" 
(I am willingly, voluntarily watching an Ed Wood movie, the worst movie of all time, and I'm being asked if I'm OK ... what is the proper response in these circumstances?) "Yes, officer. Everything's fine."
As it turns out, the couple just off the corner - not the Goobers - was having the argument.

Then there was the family who lived in the front house when we lived at 2124 in the city with the beach. We had our washer and dryer hooked up in the garage, but it seemed their clothes were in them more than ours were. When we brought up the subject, communication seemed to immediately break down. A few months later the sheriff officers from the next city paid a visit to the Front-House family. As I recall, it had something to do with check fraud and a couple of other charges. No one was home, so the officers "let themselves in." We started looking for a different housing situation shortly after that.

Neighbors. Sometimes you can't live with them, but in the city, you can't live away from them. Why can't they all be like Brad, the guy who lived in the very corner at the townhouse complex? He was the kind of guy who quietly lived his life, worked at his job, kept his place neat and tidy. He even offered to give up his parking place when he found out my family was coming up to visit. People like that are so easy to like.

But what if Mr. Goober is in heaven? Or the Front-House people? Will I have "neighbors from hell" on the gold-paved street where I will live? Say it isn't so!
Maybe this is part of the reason Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Oh, it's easy to love the Neighbor Brad's of the world. I'm sure not even the Goober family could find fault with Brad. But as children of God, we are called to live lives that set us apart from everyone else. That means we are to love our neighbors from hell the same as we would love Brad. 

You mean the Goobers, the Corner Couple, the Front-House Family? I have to love them too? 

Yes. You have to love them too. For starters, God provides sun and rain for you, right? Guess what - God provides it for them too! Besides, you haven't always been the perfect neighbor yourself. Remember the time you fell asleep with your stereo turned up too loud, and the downstairs neighbor left that angry note on your door? 

Loving your enemies is part of loving your neighbor. It is part of living a life that is pleasing to God. As it is written in Proverbs 16:7, "When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him."

We pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Our lives here on earth are a training ground for our eternal life in heaven. Our lives on earth ought to mirror what life is like in heaven. God knows what it is like to love the unlovable. Heaven is full of people who used to be his enemies. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, we can receive forgiveness for our un-neighborly conduct toward Him and be in a right relationship with Him once again. God has made that promise not only to you and me and the Neighbor Brad's, but also to the Goobers, Corner Couples, and Front House people. So, love them now - they may be your neighbors in heaven!

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Are we there yet?"

Children are full of wonder. They love to explore the world around them, and often experience the world through their imaginations. I remember when I was younger I'd play make-believe games with my brother and sister. We had a swingset in our back yard with a treehouse attached to it. NASA's space program was in the news, with expeditions to the moon and back happening quite frequently, so our treehouse was our “rocketship”, the back yard was the moon or Mars or some planet to be conquered in the name of science, and our basset hound Mortimer was a space creature to be either befriended or avoided, depending on the scenario we were playing out at the time.

Role-playing and make-believe games are just one way kids experience their world. Another way they learn is to ask questions. And they have a never-ending series of questions they seek answers for.  “Why is the sky blue?” “How come it's cold in winter?” “Why does the giraffe have a long neck, and snakes don't have legs?” Their thirst for knowledge is never ending. We love it that they ask these questions, even though we often don't know the answers ourselves.

And there are the questions kids ask nearly every day. “Mom, where are my shoes?” “Can I have a snack?” My sister would wake my mom every morning and ask with sleepy half-opened eyes, “What's for bwekfast?” Mom would give her answer. Mom could have said anything, from Cap'n Crunch to deep fried pig snouts, and Julie would say, “OK,” and make her way back to bed and go back to sleep. She was content just to know that mom was there, and that we would be provided for.

But there is one question we wish they wouldn't ask so often:

“Are we there yet?”

The road trip question. Actually, you don't even have to be on a road trip to hear the incessant “Are we there yet?” from the back seat of the car. You just have to be going someplace, and it doesn't even have to be far. I heard the question from the back seat of the car on a 10-minute trip once. It wasn't in the form of “Are we there yet?” It was “How many turns until we get there?” But the meaning was the same.

“Are we there yet?” No amount of answering “NO!” seems to satisfy the petitioner. “Are we there yet?” “Five minutes more” makes the next five minutes an eternity. Why can't they ask something else, like “What makes glass see-through?” or “Mommy, who was your favorite teacher?” But nnnNNNNOOOOoooooo.... they have to ask “Are we there yet?” Doing our best to hold back our worst stink-eye ever, we patiently answer, “We'll get there when we have done what it takes to get there. But I promise – we will get there.” And when at last “Are we there yet?” becomes “We're here!” -- Oh, repeat the sounding joy!

Last week I blogged about being stuck in our own “Munchkinland,” traveling on the road to our heavenly home. Along the journey we find ourselves with many questions, such as “Why is there sickness?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “God, where were you on 9/11?” “Why is this happening to me when it's so unfair?” Even though the answers are not easy for us to explain or comprehend, God has answers for us. He welcomes not only the tough “why” questions, but the day-to-day requests too. “God, I don't know how I'll make ends meet this month, but I trust you to help me and provide a way.” “God, I know I need to have this talk with my son about what he did wrong. It's not an easy talk and I don't know what to say. Will you give me the right words?” “Can I exchange my Ruby Slippers for Nike's?” And He is faithful to answer those requests, sometimes with answers we like; sometimes in ways we don't care for; and sometimes in ways we don't expect!

“Is this heaven?”
No, it's Iowa.


“Are we there yet?”


Ahh, heaven... “Are we there yet?” No, not yet. For those who place their trust in Jesus, I promise someday the answer will be “Yes, we're here!” When we finally do arrive in heaven all of our questions will be answered. We will know what makes the sky blue, why some animals are eight feet tall while others slither on the dirt, and what kind of antics Jesus got into when he was young. We will see why we were allowed to experience hardship and suffering, and see how God was able to use atrocities for His good purpose. We will be able to explore our surroundings, not in our imaginations but first-hand. We will be able to look around us with a sense of peace and security like we've never known before, and joyfully say, “There's no place like home!”

Monday, September 06, 2010

Not until you've walked a mile in my Ruby Slippers

ruby_slippers by 323scotty via
We're all familiar with the story of The Wizard of Oz, right? Dorothy gets sucked up into a twister, and finds herself in this strange colorful land of little people singing about lollipops, wicked witches, and yellow brick roads. She is in child-like wide-eyed amazement at this wonderful place where she is treated like the hero that conquered evil and saved their civilization to live in peace another day. Yet in the midst of the endless accolades bestowed upon her, as much as the Munchkins wanted her to be a part of their world, Dorothy finds herself in a spot of trouble. As you recall, her house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and the witch's sinister sibling vows revenge on Dorothy. Dorothy, in the midst of trouble, sees only one solution:  To go home to Kansas.

She has three loyal friends, her ever-faithful Toto, and perfectly fitting Ruby Slippers (ever notice Dorothy never complained about her feet aching from skipping in heels on brick paving?). She also has a gnawing awareness that she does not belong. There was a portal into this place; surely there must be a portal out, right?

Dorothy's story is a work of fiction written to appeal to the child-at-heart in all of us. But the basic elements of the story are not so far-fetched if you think about it. We are all in a place where we feel valued and loved. There are people who look up to us, and people on whom we depend to help us move forward in life. Yet in the midst of the love-fest we find that we have this gnawing awareness that, like Dorothy in Munchkinland, we don't belong in this world.

You can't stay here, but you can't go home. Ever feel that way? I know I have. Family life hasn't been so warm and fuzzy lately, and as a result, I've been honing my avoidance skills. Don't get me wrong – progress is being made in the issues, but there are times when it feels like an eternal limbo of sorts. In the mean time, I might hide out at a friend's place, or at a place where I can use my laptop so I don't have to deal with the unpleasantries. I can't stay away forever though. And I can't go home because, well, it's not home. Sometimes it's just the place I go to end my day and start the new one. I'm stuck in a Munchkinland of my own, wondering if home will ever be warm and fuzzy again.

Jesus spoke of a young man who also thought he could never go home again. It is commonly known as the story of the Prodigal Son. The son asked dad – more like demanded – his inheritance, and then left home. After wasting all his money living high on the hog, he went to work at the pig farm, slinging swill to the swine and sweeping up after them. It didn't take much time to realize that he couldn't stay there any longer, and if he went home it wouldn't truly be home. Or so he thought. He quits his job as pig-slop guy and starts the miles long trek home in his mucky workboots (or whatever they wore back then), resigned to living out his days in the Biblical equivalent of Munchkinland because, after all, he traded the warmth of home for cold hard cash.

If these stories end where I left them, they would be dismal stories indeed. But those who are familiar with my ponderings know that God always shows up. He does not like to see people wandering aimlessly lost. We are much too precious to Him for that. You see, we may feel like foreigners in Munchkinland, but when we place our faith in trust in Jesus, we are fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household. More than that, we are sons and daughters of the living God! We are not forever doomed to our present world or our present circumstances. The road will come to an end, and we will be greeted by the Father reaching with open arms open wide, saying, “Come in – this is your home!”

Ah, there's no place like home ... Until then, where can I find some Ruby Slippers like Dorothy's? It looks like I have some more miles to go, and my shoes are making my feet hurt!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39, NLT

Imagine that you love someone so much that you would do anything to be with that person for all eternity. But you watch that person make decision after decision that draws him away from you. What can you do to show how deep your love is? 

You give things - events - of extraordinary beauty. You show him ways of how life should be - better than the way his life is now. You even give step-by-step, how-to instruction on what it takes to be with you. But he still doesn't see that you love him so greatly. And he is not making any changes in his life to try to reconcile. You get frustrated. You try tough-love ... consequences for his actions. It hurts you to have to do it, but the separation between the two of you hurts more. In fact, you would rather die than spend your life apart from him.

Then it strikes you - that's exactly the message you need to convey, before it's too late.

"I love you so much that I would rather give my own life away than to face it without you."

His life continues to spin out of control. More and more, day by day, he is blind to how you feel.

Until one day, it happens.

The one precious to you has hit rock-bottom. HIs future - his very life - depends on how he responds. He needs help, now more than he ever has. But he needs more than what he can get from his family; more than sexual pleasure, more than a high, more than a bottle can give him.

He's heard that YOU can give him what he needs. But dare he - can he - believe it?

"I've died so that you can have life."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he thinks, "No one gives a second thought about me. Who in their right mind would? I'm one of the lowest of the lowest people on earth."

"I love you," you tell him.

"If you love me, then why did you allow all this sh*t to happen? You say you love me, but I just don't see it."

"I died for you."

He gives you a look that says, "Yeah. Right. And the Tooth Fairy lives next door to Santa Claus."
He turns his back on you.

But you still love him. Even though it tears you apart inside. You love him as much as the very day you created him. You continue to woo him. But he never softens his heart to your call.

Finally, the day comes when his life on earth is over, and he begins eternity. But he never knew you, even though you unfailingly loved him.

Eternity. He could have had it all ... the fellowship with you in paradise. Splendid, magnificent beyond anyone's wildest imagination. You chose the nails so he could share it with you. You endured the cross and showed him you would rather die the worst possible death than to live without him.

But he chose otherwise, and in doing so, condemned himself to eternity in hell. Eternity separated from the one who loved him all along.

He will never, ever enjoy your presence. But even though the powers of hell can separate him from your presence, your love for him hasn't changed.

Oh, how it must break your heart to love someone so deeply and know that he will be separated you for eternity.