Friday, December 28, 2012

The Miracle of Delays

Last night my daughter and I went shopping.  It was a very enjoyable time together.  As she was driving me home, a deer finished crossing the road.  She calmly said, "Well, hello deer!"  I said, "Thank You, Lord."  The deer had crossed on the steep hill right at a curve, so that if it had still been in the middle of the road, we would have seen it as we hit it.  Instead, we saw its hind feet kick up in the air just as it hit the ditch on our side.  I was able to see its rear end and the white under its tail through my window.  I couldn't help but think how God may very likely have intervened on our behalf by delaying us just a bit so that we did not hit it.  We had found 3 of the four shoebox sized containers my daughter needed, so had to go back to the front of the store to get a fourth.  I told her to go ahead and get one while I stayed with the cart.  A couple of seconds after she left, I saw a fourth one down the next aisle on a shelf and went and got it.  I wondered at the time why I hadn't seen it before so she wouldn't have had to go back.  It would have saved us time if I had just looked ahead.  When I saw the deer I felt wonder at the thought that perhaps THIS was why we had to be delayed.  At the time it had seemed frustrating, but looking back it seems miraculous. 
What if God has held back 99.9% of the evil that would have happened in our lives by causing or allowing delays, mishaps, arguments, etc. that seem so frustrating to us?  What if He hadn't allowed those things to happen and we hit a deer on our way home instead?  Which is worse - being later than you wanted, or hitting a deer and possibly dying in the process?
Perhaps we need to learn to be grateful for the minor frustrating occurrences in my life, for they may be the very things protecting us from disaster.
But, we wonder, why does God allow disasters in the first place?  God allows disaster first and foremost because human beings choose to make them happen.  It is humans that rape, murder, steal, etc., not God.   We have free choice and have chosen unwisely. Also, however, because we actually would be completely unfeeling without it.  If nothing ever went wrong there would be no need for hope and therefore we would not see a need for God.  This is really the crux of the issue.  We do not want to have to believe in and trust God.  We want to believe in and trust ourselves.  If we can get rid of the need for God, we are free to do as we please.  However, then we are right back to where we started, because what we want to do is sin without punishment - thus the reason we want to not believe in God.  But then things become disastrous again and we start seeking answers and come back to, "Why doesn't God?'  What a vicious cycle we place ourselves in!
"Suppose we rated all pain (and suffering) on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing the worst and most intense pain, and one describing the unpleasant, but quite tolerable.  Say, 'engulfed in flames' got a ten rating while a 'mild sunburn' received a one.  If God eliminated level ten pain, then level nine pain would become the worst.  God could reduce the worst suffering to level three, but then level three  now the worst, would seem unbearable......." pg. 330 If God Is Good. 
We tend to change our views according to what is allowed.  No matter what God does or doesn't do, our desire to be our own god will always make us criticize Him.
CS Lewis wrote, "Imagine a set of people all living in the same building.  Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison.  The half that think it is a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable. and those who thought it a prison might decide that it was  really surprisingly comfortable."
Those who have learned to trust Jesus realize they deserve imprisonment and death.  They also know our physical bodies are imprisoned more or less on this earth, so it doesn't seem so bad.  They recognize that it could be much worse, so are grateful that it isn't.  They also know the day is coming when they will be free from the effects of sin and death and look forward to that day with great joy.
Those who trust in self and believe this world to be the end all have difficulty seeing the beauty of God's original creation, because they tend to only see the devastation that has occurred instead and wonder why their hotel is so uncomfortable!!  
"I (Jesus)  will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  Matthew 16:19 
The keys are sitting there in His palm waiting for us to reach out and accept them.  When we do, our circumstances here may not change, but our view of them will and our situation in eternity is changed completely forever!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

THE Choice

I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior and Lord at the age of sixteen.  I remember the event vividly, though I could not tell you the exact date or time, though I know it was early evening.  From that time on I have hungered for more of God.  I started taking my Bible to school with me, not so I could preach at people, or even in order to testify of God's grace in my life, but simply to have it on hand should I get opportunity to read it.  I received that chance at lunch frequently, because the majority of the time I sat alone.  That is another story.
There was a boy in a math class I was taking that didn't like the fact that I was a believer.  He would tease and taunt me.  For the majority of those times I simply ignored him.  It wasn't easy.  He sat directly in front of me.  One day he turned around in his seat and asked this question (a common one with those determined not to believe) "If there is a God and He is all powerful, can He create something He cannot destroy?"  He was very smug about the question.  That smugness was rewarded, because I had no answer for him.  I wish I could speak with him now.  I would tell him the following:

Yes, God can and has created something He cannot destroy - at least that He will not destroy in the sense of annihilation - completely wiping away its existence - you!  When He created you, He made you for all eternity and then He gave you a choice.  Choose life by accepting His free gift of salvation through Jesus' death and resurrection and spend that eternity in His presence, or choose death by rejecting it.  By death I do not mean the end of existence, I mean eternal separation from God.  This is true death.  Without God's presence there is absolutely zero good, zero hope, zero light, zero faith in anything, zero enjoyment, zero anything of value.  However, there is fear, pain, suffering, anger, resentment, blinding darkness, being totally alone, hatred, and any and every other evil thing you can conjure in your imagination.  These things will never be destroyed, but they WILL be contained.  God will take Death and Hades and throw them into the lake of fire for all eternity.  
Know this, Hell was not created for you - earth, which will one day be cleansed and reborn to perfection was.  Hell was created for Satan and his dominions, but if you choose to follow Satan there, that is your choice.  God will give you every opportunity while you are still alive as you know it to choose eternal life over eternal death, but once your body passes into death, you have made your choice and He will honor it - for eternity.  "The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent."  II Peter 3:9 
I will pray for you that you come to understand what I have just told you and that you turn to Him and receive His free gift of eternal life.

God created us in love, watched as we turned our backs on obedience and embraced sin as our way of life, agonized over us in love so much that He gave His own life through His Son Jesus' death on the cross and then rejoiced in our deliverance the day Jesus rose from the grave in victory over sin and death. Hell is real, but God has done everything there is to be done to keep us from having to go there.  However, He also gave us free choice.  If we choose by our own stubbornness and desire to hang on to what we want to do and believe or not believe, He will not deny us that choice.  He cries out to us every moment we are alive in this world, "Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!"  Deuteronomy 30:19
I choose life!  My prayer is that you make the same choice today.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What Christmas Is Really About

"How will we feel when the great shadow departs forever?  How will we feel when everything happy comes true, and everything sad comes untrue?  We will feel, perhaps, like it couldn't get any better than that.  But each new day will prove us wrong." 

This is the ending quote of chapter 28 in the book If God Is Good...Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.  I read it and felt deep abiding joy surface and expand in my chest as I thought about it.  Can we even imagine how wonderfully exciting eternity with God is going to be?  I think not.  We are so finite in our thought processes that we can only grasp a miniscule amount of understanding and yet that is enough to make our hearts want to explode in ecstasy!!  My heart beats faster and faster until I have no choice but to jump up and shout my love for God!!  He is so wonderful that there are many a time when I have to say, "Enough!  I cannot take in more or I will burst!!"
While it may seem that it would be fantastic to know everything, isn't the joy of exploration, experiment and discovery even more enjoyable?  Look into the eyes of a young child as they watch a simple candy cane dissolve in hot chocolate.
Yesterday, during Sunday School, my sister-in-law, Susie, gave her class hot chocolate and a candy cane with which to stir it.  I had just dismissed my class and walked in to hers where they had just finished up.  My grandson Lincoln looked at me, grinned from ear to ear and grabbed his cup.  He pulled out the candy cane and practically shouted, "Look Gramma!"  He was amazed that the candy cane was a skinny stub at the bottom where it had been in the hot chocolate.  I just looked at his adorable 7 year old face and smiled.  That simple experience of learning brought him such joy that it exuded over to me when he showed me!  This is what it will be like every day for all eternity!!  A constant exploring adventure where we will learn and expand in thought process.  There will forever be more to do and learn about and experience and each activity will simply make us love God and each other more!  Can we imagine this?  Not fully, but we can practice.  Practice always brings greater achievement, though it doesn't bring perfection here on this earth, even though it is said to.  There is always room for more and always will be!!  That excites me more than I can express.
God made us to learn, to experience and to achieve.  He placed the desire in us to always do and be better.  Sometimes we give up here, because the improvement is negligible, but when our senses and our bodies are made perfect, nothing will be negligible to us ever again.  We will sense it all, every minute learning experience will be heightened to the extent of bringing us great joy, peace, love and faith.  That is how much we are loved!  Rejoice - for Christ has come and is coming again!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Granting Permission to Fail

Divine permission is not weak, but active and strong.
We define our good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.  (Randy Alcorn - If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil)

The other day I was stopped by a woman who asked, "How much longer are we expected to listen to that?!"  She was speaking about a crying child who desperately wanted a toy.  She went on to tell of how her daughter brings her children to her to receive discipline.  In my mind I was thinking, "And there is the root of your complaint."  I managed to get in, "We live in a different world now," before she launched into a rapid fire diatribe on parents needing to give their kids something to cry about.  I tried to say more, but instead received an apology for dumping on me and then she walked away.  What I wanted to tell her was that the reason parents react differently to their children today is they are scared.  They fear having family services called on them for beating their child, when they actually simply spanked them.  People have even had them called for verbal abuse, because they corrected their child in public and this is considered embarrassing.  The fact is, if you are in a store with toys, chances are there is going to be a crying child somewhere trying to get its way.  Children have an innate sense of what they are going to be able to get away with in public.  The mother of the above child may have been putting up with him in public, but what happened when they got to the car or home?  I was grateful she didn't give in to his cries.  That would have made matters worse for her in the future. 
If it were possible, I would teach every parent the trick I learned from Dr. Dobson of  placing your arm around the child in a loving embrace and gently grabbing the muscle attached to the nerves in the child's upper shoulder and slowly squeezing until they give in and, while doing so,  whispering in their ear that they need to stop or there will be consequences to pay when they get home.  My boys, who are grown men now, jokingly tell people that that particular nerve in their neck is dead due to all the squeezing that took place.  Truth is, it is funny that after the first couple of times I barely had to squeeze at all.  Simply placing my arm around them let them know what was coming and they behaved - most of the time.  They were never embarrassed,  everything was done quietly and they didn't have to suffer further discipline, which was nice for me as well.  The real bonus was there was no real anger.  It was too humorous to see the expression on their faces when I placed my arm across their shoulders.  After the first time or two, their eyes would increase in size, they'd look at me and grin and say, "Okay, I'll stop," which of course made me smile inside and out.
As a parent, I wanted to know everything I could about rearing my children in a godly manner, so I read Christian books on parenting and compared them to Scripture as I went along.  One of the greatest things I learned was - Divine permission is not weak, but active and strong.  That quote is from the book above, but can be applied to our parenting as well. 
We are representatives of Who God is to our children.   Permission to fail is necessary for growth.  It is not a weak attribute in a parent to give their child the choice to do so, because the consequences are, I believe, harder to bear for the parent than the child.  When telling our children, "If you don't stop, or don't obey (etc.) there will be consequences," we are giving them opportunity to disobey and fail.  However, we are also holding out the opportunity for obedience and success.  When they choose disobedience, if we don't follow through with our promise, then we have taught them, "we are liars, sin is fun and there are no consequences - so go for it!"  When we do follow through, it must be done out of our hatred for sin and great love for them and our desire for their deliverance from it that motivates us or we are teaching them to "get even."  Yes, parenting is hard work, but well worth the effort!!
We define our good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.  This is something I am still learning.  It is an ongoing process. That I am still learning it is evident in the fact that I still complain at times when things don't go "my way."
The day I remember that "all things work together for the good of those that love God and are called according to His purposes," without fail will be the day I wake up with Him in eternity.  We are all those little children crying in the store for the toy we want.  God is our parent Who lovingly reaches out and makes us uncomfortable by squeezing that nerve.  He whispers in our ear and we need to listen closely.  If not, we must remember - God always keeps His promises!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Emotion of Music

"The system of truth is not one straight line, but two.  No man will ever get the right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once."  Charles Spurgeon

When I read this simple statement a light bulb went off in my head and it flashed the word "music" over and over again.  I think there are more lines than two.  I believe God is so complex that those of us who love and adore Him will spend all eternity searching Him out and learning more and more about Him each and every moment.
Music flows through my veins.  My daddy played guitar and violin (or fiddle, as he called it) and he could sing.  Momma played piano by ear and still sings beautifully, as all who really know her will tell you.  All my siblings and myself love to sing, and some of us play musical instruments, mostly piano, but I am the oddball who plays flute.   I married a trumpeter who has a gorgeous voice and now two of our three children work in the music industry - one teaches vocal and the other instrumental music, in the same middle school building no less.  Our oldest son has won karaoke competitions as well, though he is a businessman rather than musician.  I write all this simply to confirm that I do indeed bleed music. 
The one part of music that has always intrigued and astounded me is the conductor and his/her ability to read a musical score in order to direct each part.  If you have never seen an orchestral score, here is a single page I copied off the internet, so it is free for the viewing:

An orchestra conductor "reads" this as a whole and will immediately stop the music the moment one part is not played as written.  Where I would have perhaps two sheets of paper in front of me with only my part on it, he/she may have 50 pages of the same piece written as above and must view the piece as a whole.  I have to concentrate to play one line at a time while they are seeing the entire score and can pick out my slightest mistake!!  I marvel at this!!
There are harmonies in each piece that play beautifully and there are clashing parts that make us cringe, but they are all there for a purpose - they make us feel and understand what the author of the movement was trying to convey - joy, anger, amusement, frustration, etc. 
We must remember in this life that God is the Author of our lives and He sees every piece as a whole, just as the conductor sees the score.  He knows when things will harmonize and make us happy, when they will clash and make us angry and frustrated, when they will mesh so closely that we aren't certain what we are feeling until much later and when they will make us want to cry for their beauty or their agony.  If we are His we can trust that the music, though it has many difficult places to play through, will always turn out to be a blessing to those around us listening.  We can also trust that He will bring the music, not to a complete end, but have it eventually join in with the chorus of eternity with all the saints that have gone on before us. 
I was asked once if music always makes us feel emotion.  I believe music defines emotion when there is no other way to express it. 
"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  'Praise the Lord!'"  Psalm 150:6