Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lies and More Lies

The Lord detests lying lips but delights in those who are trustworthy.  Proverbs 12:22

This morning,  I woke up thinking about deception, half truths and hidden facts. Maybe it was the unfolding Ryan Lochte situation, the political lies about emails and Benghazi, maybe it was thinking about times that I have twisted a story to fit what I wanted people to believe, maybe it was thinking about friends who found out hidden truths years and decades after a situation. 

Truth always comes out.  As I have been thinking about this in my life and in my friends' lives, I have realized that lies create a vacuum.  Hidden facts, twisted stories and deception create an unevenness in relationships and a hollowness behind a facade of normalcy.  Eventually, the facade crumbles, the hole is exposed and the disconnect is  discovered.  

When I have allowed deception to grow in my life,  I hide my sin behind concern for others' feelings and a desire to not face conflict.  I find a desire to blame others, and to highlight their imperfections rather than acknowledge mine.  The well known story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 highlights this process. David's dishonesty led to Bathsheba's pregnancy and his desire to hide his unfaithfulness led to the mighty warrior Uriah, her husband's death. Though David tried to hide the truth in this situation, a short time later truth was revealed by God to the prophet Nathan. Though David repented, David's lies and deception had long term consequences in his relationship with his children including his son Absalom, his  military leaders and his kingdom. 

Recently, I have been struck by the timing of when God reveals truth. For King David and Ryan Lochte, the truth came out rather quickly. But sometimes truth takes years to be revealed. A retired minister's wife found out that her husband had been unfaithful multiple times during their forty year marriage only after he retired due to a stroke. A friend found out she had a half sister long after their father died.  Another friend found out her "godly" husband had been living a double life for two years.  I have recently been struck by the Book of Jude and the blatantness of people who come into the church with the intention to deceive and manipulate God's people.  In some of these situations  learning the truth had been decades in the making. Why had God waited?  Why had God not revealed the truth to my friends at the time?  God is truth and all knowing- Why does He allow the deception to continue?

As a believer in Christ, I hold fast to his statement, that Jesus is the "way, the truth and the life."  He will protect me from lies and give me discernment in situations that allow me to see the truth even when there is deception going on. It is important that I don't let myself be deceived, I need to be on guard and seek Truth.  The closer I get to him, the more peace I can rest in that He will protect me and take care of me.  

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Assigned Reading

School has started in our neck of the woods. Easy summer mornings have turned in to carpool and schedules. On my 10th grader's school supply was buying a copy of The Kite Runner. The teacher included a note to the parents that required signed permission for the student to read the book. Her note started with "The Kite Runner is a novel about friendship, betrayal, and the price of loyalty. It is about the bonds between fathers and sons, and the power of their lies. Written against a history that has not been told in fiction before, The Kite Runner describes the rich culture and beauty of a land in the process of being destroyed. But with the devastation, Khaled Hosseini also gives us hope: through the novel’s faith in the power of reading and storytelling, and in the possibilities he shows for redemption.” The story was set in Afghanistan before the Russians invaded it. The book contains mature content including one of the boys in the book being raped by another character, children used as sex slaves and attempted suicide by a little boy. It was heart wrenching.

Scenes of innocence lost and sacrifice have been playing through my mind since finishing the book and though this book is fiction, I been haunted by this story.  Everything around me has been filtered through the shock and grief of knowing people all over the world have experienced even worse than what was portrayed in this book.  I've watch news broadcasts about the horrific fighting in Syria and am haunted by pictures of blood covered kids pulled out of buildings, I received a note from Samaritan's Purse on the civil war in South Sudan that is tearing up that country, a Wall Street Journal article told about the thousands of boys taken by Boko Haram in addition to the hundreds of school girls kidnapped as “wives”, it seems as if pictures of refugees washing up in Greek islands have become common place, and even here in America, I sat through a presentation this week about human trafficking in my hometown. My heart is overwhelmed by the suffering that comes because people are hurtful and can be depraved in ways that are beyond my comprehension. As I am trying to figure out how to talk about The Kite Runner with my teenager, I can't help but think about the connection between sin and suffering. If you think about all the ways that people mess up, it becomes obvious that every sin causes suffering to ourselves and often to other people.

I don’t know why I am still shocked by the sin and suffering in the world.  Many years ago, after reading through the Bible a couple of times, I realized every person in the Bible except Jesus messed up.  Romans 3:23 puts it this way, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.” (NLT)  Some people messed up really badly through murder, incest, adultery and idolatry.  Others’ sins were more subtle like pride, envy or deceit. One of the most common failings of kings in the Old Testament was the failure to tear down the high places; this was a sin of spiritual complacency, of not wanting to rock the boat and not assuming their spiritual responsibility.  The ways that I have hurt people and have neglected to assume spiritual responsibility are extensive.   
Amir, the main character spends much of the novel trying to atone for his pride, cowardice and complacency.  His failure to act created a chasm between him and his Kite Runner, Hassan.  Our sinfulness has created a chasm between God and us.  People all around the world have devised religious ways of atoning for sin. Their faithfulness to burn incense before a statue, to go to the temple, to complete Jihad, and follow every rule in their religion becomes a way to compensate for the hurt we cause ourselves and others. The goal of these actions is to create enough good to outweigh the bad. Since it is impossible to know if we ever do enough to balance out the hurt and harm we cause ourselves and others, the striving for atonement never ends.

This is a vicious never ending cycle unless it is broken by the perfect sacrifice.  In Christ we don’t have to sacrifice and atone for our sins; He did it all.  This is explained very clearly in 1 Peter 2:24 which says, "’He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’" Jesus carried every sin with him to the cross.  His wounds and suffering atoned for our pride, anger, envy, deceit, incest, murder, idolatry, selfishness, complacency and every other hurtful thing we have done or has been done to us. 

The amazing thing about Jesus’ sacrifice for us is that while we were still sinners he died for us. (Romans 5:8) Jesus carried every burden and grief to the cross because He knew that people will never be good enough on their own strength.  He suffered so that no matter what we do, we don’t have to.  He paid the price so that we would be free.  Free to worship, free to live, and free to enjoy life in abundance.

Take a minute to thank Him for his sacrifice, rejoice that you are set free and give him glory for his amazing love.  “For God so loved the world that he sent His only son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Just What You Need for Two Quarters

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ephesians 1:3

I love a bargain and several years ago, I hit the jackpot for two quarters at our local library book sale. Finding The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship in the pile of books for sale brought back memories of my Mom reading it to me and the amazement I felt as the story unfolded before my eyes.  Fifty cents later, this book now sits on our bookshelves tucked between Dr. Seuss and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Recently, I was telling my friend Pam about this book as we were marveling at how God brings friends into our lives that we can bless and who bless us at just the right time.  

The Fool of the World is based on an old Russian folk tale and tells the story of a young man, the Fool, who though he was neglected by his family, decided that he would marry a princess. The Czar had offered his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who could bring him a flying ship. 

Early in his journey he met a hungry old man; though the Fool only had crusts of dry bread and a flask of water, he willingly shared his food with the old man. Before the meal the Old Man proclaimed, "Let us eat what God has given." Reaching into the bag for their dinner, the Fool miraculously found soft white rolls and cooked meats. After a delicious meal, the old man explained to him how to make a flying ship ending his instructions with this important advice, "Be sure to give a lift to everyone you meet."  

As the Fool went on his journey, he picked up an amazing assortment of individuals. One man could listen to all that was being said in the world, the second man he picked up could step across the world in a single step, next they picked up a man who could shoot a target thousands of miles away. Later in the journey, the ship picked up the Eater and the Drinker, individuals who had an insatiable ability to eat and drink. The last two passengers were a man who carried a lot of wood that turned into an army of soldiers and a man who had a bundle of straw that could change summer into winter.  When the fool got to the palace, the Czar was not impressed with the simple peasant who showed up in the flying ship.  To prevent his daughter from marrying a peasant, the Czar came up with a list of absurd tasks that no one would ever be able to accomplish, like getting the magical water of life, eating a huge meal of twelve oxen, drinking 40 barrels of wine, chilling a glowing hot bathhouse and raising an army of soldiers. Amazingly, the motley crew of misfits the fool had picked up along his journey to the Czars' palace had the exact skills need to accomplish the impossible tasks set before him.  In the end , the Fool and the Princess fell in love and "she loved him to distraction."

As a kid, I marveled that all the random people the Fool picked up turned out to have just the skills and resources that he would need to complete the impossible tasks necessary to win the princess. Not only was the Fool blessed because of their uniqueness but they were blessed by sharing their gifts with the Fool. As a grown up, I can look at my life and see how God has put people in my life who have empowered me to complete tasks that I could have never done on my own.  I was blessed with supportive parents who helped me and gave me a strong spiritual foundation. He brought passionate teachers and a wonderful 4-h agent to develop and challenge me. He provided friends like Pam who had knowledge and resources that I don't have. I am so grateful for the stranger who set up a college scholarship so that I was able to have an amazing education and make friends who bless me to this day. He opened doors in my career that are amazing. I can now see how He provided just what I needed, often through a journey that was years in the making. 

As I look at my life, I can see God's hand guiding my path, introducing me to just the right person, making a way when there appeared to be no way and solving impossible problems.  Just like the Fool, on my own resources  I have only a couple of pieces of dry bread but God has turned them into an amazing opportunity to bless others. Just as miraculous as a flying ship, God has given us everything we need, we have access to his unlimited power and resources, though our knowledge of him.  I love how 2 Peter 1:3 says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."  

Share this with others and let me know how God has blessed you through the seemingly random people and opportunities He has divinely brought in your life.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rough Waters and Hard Times

He leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:2

I am writing this blog while hanging out at a whitewater rafting center on the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee. My husband and son are braving the rapids while I am hanging out at base camp. I decided to remain onshore because rafting is hard work. Many years ago, I blithely climbed aboard a whitewater raft and thought I would be able to float down the river.  I was wrong. Rafting equals paddling. It is hard.

While I chose to sit out this particular adventure, there have been times in my life when I made things a lot harder than they had to be. One critical time was when I was a teenager. In my early teens, I realized I pretty much knew everything about God.  I couldn't understand why my mom, who was well over thirty years old, kept reading the Bible and going to church.  By age 14, I had completely hardened my heart and had decided  I knew more than the Creator of this world and my parents, who obviously didn't know as much as I did since they still needed to go to church and ask God for help. I was confident that my way was better and I didn't need God. Since I was determined to carry all the burden, it was a lonely, miserable four years of doing things all by myself. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus promises that if we walk with him our yoke will be easy and our burden will be light.  But since I wanted to do it all on my own without God, everything in my life depended on me and my effort. In my quest for control, I had made my life much harder.   

Carrying a huge load reaches a point that goes beyond making you stronger and begins to completely crush you.  All the things that I couldn't control, didn't know and had messed up overwhelmed me.  I realized I needed God and I didn't know everything but He did. God had used my limitations to softened my heart to His infinite abilities. The softening process wasn't easy.  It makes me think of the process of tenderizing meet.  You pound it till it gets really soft and malleable.   

I have friends and relatives who have also chosen a hard path. Watching my loved ones as they stumble along breaks my heart. In their need for control, they keep insisting that their way is better.  They have made their lives incredibly hard.  Not only are they carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders but they as they continue to harden their hearts, I know they will continue to face the tenderizing process, a process that is designed to break you and bring you to your knees.  Amos 4 shows how God uses this tenderizing process on Israel. It has haunted me since I read it a couple of weeks ago. I can't get it out of my head. I was struck by the list of things that God had inflicted on Israel so that they would turn to him.  
Amos 4:9 says, "I struck you with blight and mildew;
    your many gardens and your vineyards,
    your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”declares the Lord.   
This verse is about God taking away their sources of wealth. Other verses in this chapter talk about God sending conflict, death, destruction, plagues, drought and starvation; all this was so that the people would return to the Lord.   These are hard verses. 

A lot of people struggle with the idea that a loving God would purposely bring this type of suffering on His people.  To better understand this: imagine how a parent might punish a rebellious teenager who had wandered down the wrong path. First, they might lose their phone or be put on restriction; but if the problem continues, some parents have signed their kids up for scared straight programs hoping an  intervention will prevent an actual incarceration. Big problems require tough measures. God's ultimate goal for all of us is for us to know him and bring him glory. just as sometimes the most loving thing that a parent can do is punish their rebellious child so that the kid doesn't continue on the destructive path, God will bring hard times into our lives to get us to the point that we cry out, "God I can't do this anymore. I need your help. Please lift this heavy burden off of me." Just as he helped me, He will pick up the paddle and lead your loved one by calm waters. He will restore their soul and lead them in paths of righteousness for His namesake.