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Archive for the ‘backsliding’ Category

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12b)

The video, which has gone viral this week, shows a young woman verbally abusing a tall man in a winter hat on a subway. She mocks his hat, his shoes and other things as her friends and other onlookers look on and smile.

The young man does nothing for a while except stand there and take it. Having apparently had enough, he finally responds by calling her a not-so-nice name commonly used to verbally abuse females.

The woman then rolls her tongue outside of her mouth and smacks him in the head with the end of a stiletto. Reacting, he hits her with a forceful slap to her face. This action sets off a brawl on the train.

My first reaction to this episode was quite judgmental, especially toward the woman. Then I walked through a McDonald’s parking lot the other morning to grab a quick breakfast on the way to work.

This parking lot is not particularly large and is usually crowded with cars and pedestrians. Apparently some young man in a black coupe took offense at me walking in front of his car after he left the drive thru window. I knew he wasn’t happy because he let loose with some curses at me.

Of course, I responded with Christian humility. Uhhh…I wish I could say so, but the fact is I responded in kind. In fact, I was so mad that if he had come out of his car I would have been willing to duke it out with him right then and there, come what may.

Ironically, my next stop was to pick up my antidepressant. As I walked toward the pharmacy, I attributed my behavior to being off my meds for a few days. That’s probably true, but I also know there was something else at work. I just wasn’t sure what.

I have spent a good part of today reflecting on this.  My musings began with the life of Josiah in the Old Testament. He was the Israelite king who created personal and national reforms after a priest discovered the long lost Scriptures (to that time) in the temple in Jerusalem. (See I Chronicles 34).

Here is what the Life Recovery Bible says about him:

When the Scriptures were discovered, Josiah initiated a recovery program for himself and his people immediately.

It is fair to say that Josiah grew up in a dysfunctional and destructive situation. Idolatry and other forms of sinful behavior were an established norm. Josiah had to begin by discovering what God’s ideals for living were.

In time, he was able to break the cycle of sin that had ensnared Israel. He had faith, commitment to God and the courage to pursue both personal and national recovery.

Josiah began his recovery program when he delved into the  Scriptures. As a result, he is considered by Christians to be one of the more godly kings of Israel.

Another godly king, whose story comes a few pages in the Bible before Josiah,  was Hezekiah.  As was typical of ancient Israel, they were threatened by a powerful invader during his reign. Hezekiah began a large defense project he hoped would fend off the enemy. The Life Recovery Bible compares this work to that of building defenses of our own in order to live the Christian life:

Recovery involves repairing or building healthy boundaries that have become weak, defective, or torn down through abuse.

For some of us our boundaries have grown weak as we have let people walk all over us or we have let down our guard against our destructive behaviors.

Part of the recovery process involves repairing our boundaries. We can also construct a second wall of defense by developing a strong support network around us.

…..There is someone on our side who is far greater.

The lessons I learned from the Life Recovery Bible’s commentary are twofold. First, I was right to have set boundaries with that fellow in the McDonald’s parking lot. In fact, I was kind of backed up by this when my landlord told me later,”I’m proud of you.” Now, I think he was proud of my being willing to stand up for myself and fight the guy if necessary.

However, I believe that my response could have been something like this: ‘Why, my good man. Why are we upset. Don’t you see this is quite a full lot and we all have to show some common courtesy.”

The second lesson I learned from the Life Recovery Bible was that the reason I did not respond in a godly manner, other than my lack of a prescription, was due to my lack of boundaries against destructive personal behaviors. I suppose my meds are one form of boundary against them. But I lack the support network and the sort of relationship with God that would build a  further line of defense against self destruction. (And yes, I could have ended up in jail–or worse.)

Saul of Tarsus was no stranger to destructive behaviors. Unfortunately for Christians, his havoc was directed at them. The Bible says he uttered threats against them (although I am sure he didn’t do it on a subway or McDonalds since those didn’t exist at the time.)

Saul had his comeuppance, however. Acts 9 describes his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that left him blind and totally dependent on others. The Life Recovery Bible once more gives us some insight on this Scripture:

Saul was suddenly confronted with the fact that his life wasn’t as perfect as he had thought. Self righteousness had been his trademark. By letting go of his illusions of power, however, he became one of the most powerful men ever-the apostle Paul.

When we are confronted with the knowledge that our life isn’t under control, we have a choice. We can continue on in self denial and self righteousness or we can face the fact that we have been blind to some important issues. If we become willing to be led into recovery, and into a whole new way of life, we will find true power.

For me, the key word from the good people at the LRB is “willing”.

Obedience to Christ has always been an issue with me. When I was in college I went to a conference and learned that Christ wanted to be my Lord, not just my Savior. I drove home angry, feeling I had been “had”. “No one told me about this,” I thought.  My concept at the time I think was that I only needed “fire insurance” and I didn’t think much about Jesus’s desire to change me.

I have had problems with obedience to Christ ever since. I have never learned to obey Him. More importantly, this comes I believe from not knowing why I should obey, other than that I am told to by Christian leaders. This hasn’t been enough of a motivation for me.

This morning during my reflections I came new a new understanding from the words of a  praise song I listened to. It told me  why Jesus is worthy of my obedience. It opens with these lines:

“Worthy is the,
Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song, to Him who sits on
Heaven’s Mercy Seat” (words by Kari Jobe)

The bottom line is that Jesus, by nature of who He is and His work on the Cross for me is worthy of my obedience.  How Jesus must tire of my recalcitrance. I’m even proud of my stubbornness, irascibility and curmudgeonly ways, thinking of them as an eccentric family trait.

Like Josiah, I see the importance of obeying the Word of God.  To me they are a road map for living. However, Jesus points out in the Scriptures an error of the Bible believers in His day that can be just as true of me and I suppose other believers.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” (John 5:39-40).

RC Sproul makes this point in a sermon on John 5, noting how we modern day believers still try to maintain some sense of self importance and control over their own lives. He decries the use of a bumper sticker with this message.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

“How arrogant is that,” says Sproul. “I want them to write a new bumper sticker: ‘God says it. That settles it.’ It doesn’t matter whether I believe it. It was settled long before my assent and long before I concur with the message. If God Almighty opens His holy mouth and says something, we don’t need another witness. It’s over. It’s settled.”

Sproul further explains the primacy of Jesus Christ and obedience to Him by referring to Paul’s statements to a group of Athenian philosophers:

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30-31).

This message is in contrast, says Sproul, to the current evangelistic techniques  of today which emphasize our “receiving” of an “invitation” from God.

What is needed is for me is  to “sing a new song” to Him that sits at the mercy seat at the Father’s right hand.  This should be a song of willful, happy obedience to Jesus.

Why? Because He is worthy of my obedience, and it is not an option.  Oh, and did I say “He is worthy?”

“With all creation I will sing praise to the King of Kings and I WILL  adore You.”(Kari Jobe)

I have some ideas how this obedience will translate into my daily life, but more importantly, I now have a reason for this submission to the authority of Jesus.

Filled with wonder,
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is Power
Breath, and Living Water
Such a marvelous mystery (Kari Jobe)

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“My old self has been crucified with Christ.It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Recently I have thought of the above photo as a metaphor for my Christian life. I think of myself as someone who,  after getting pummeled by trials originating from the Lord, is waving the white flag of surrender.

This metaphor unfortunately has been short lived for me. For one, I keep withdrawing the white flag and go back to fighting the Lord. Then I get beat up some more. It’s an endless cycle.

Thankfully, I think  I have struck on a new metaphor. It comes from the hit television drama NCIS.

In one episode, NCIS Director Leon Vance is the target of Riley McAllister, a former NCIS agent in charge turned arms dealer. Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that McAllister has been gunning for Vance for a long time. McAllister has been after anyone he has seen as a threat to advancement, and that includes Leon, even at a young age.

MacAllister has failed to get Vance, but at the end of a two-part episode called “Enemies Domestic”, it appears he has finally succeeded. As Vance is recovering from an assassination attempt in a hospital bed, McAllister comes into the room and reveals his true self to the director.

The turncoat reaches over and fiddles with Vance’s morphine drip, increasing the dosage to fatal levels. After doing this, McAllister leans over Vance’s face and says,”For once, can’t you just die right?”.

Unbeknownst to the assassin, Vance has a knife which was snuck into  his room by Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the NCIS supervisor who is the star problem solver of the agency. With his last strength, Vance pushes the hidden knife into McAllister’s chest, killing him within a short time.

Vance is able to push his “call” button, and as medical staff rush to McAllister, Gibbs walks in and unplugs the morphine drip, saving Vance’s life. Gibbs lays his hand on his director’s shoulder to comfort him.

I realized after hearing McAllister’s sinister words to Vance after flooding the director’s veins with morphine that in some sense they could be a metaphor for God’s message to me.

“Can’t you just die right?” He says to me. It came to me then that the Lord does not  want me to surrender;  He wants me to die.

The difference between God and McAllister is that the latter’s intentions toward Vance were malevolent while our Lord’s motivation is to save me from sin and keep me alive  for eternity.  He is in some fashion both a good McAllister and a saving Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

If I am a believer in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, I have already “died right”. When Jesus died, I died with him. This death, according to the God-inspired words of the Apostle Paul, was so that we could live a new life free from sin (Romans 6:4).

Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:5-7).

This is why my surrender metaphor doesn’t go far enough. I am waving the white flag with a hand attached to a body which still has sin as its master. My sinful “self” controlling this body  may have surrendered, but the Lord in His wisdom knows that turning my sinful self  and body over to Him is not going to free me. What will free me is the death of that sinful self.

Continuing, Paul notes that we are to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ (v. 11). The King James Version of the Bible prefers the term “reckon” to “count’. “Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ,” it says.

A synonym for “reckon” is “suppose”. I find the word “suppose” interesting in this context because one meaning of it can be, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, “to think of something as happening or being true in order to imagine what might happen.”

M-W notes examples of this meaning in use: “Suppose a fire broke out. How would we escape?” or “Suppose you agreed with me.”

I now think,”Suppose  that I agree that it is true that my old self is dead. What does this mean for my everyday life?”

It means, ladies and gentlemen, as I see it, that I do not have to sin and that I can stop sinning. Paul explains the application of this supposition that my old sinful self has died.

” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (v. 12-14)

My entire life God has been after me. Occasionally I will surrender, but that has never been His purpose.  God wants me to accept my death.

However, I haven’t trusted Him enough to do that. As a result, He and I have been at war for decades in an endless fight in the trenches that happens again and again and again. He comes after me, saying, “Can’t you just die?” and I say,”I surrender”.

God and I are talking apples and oranges. It is no wonder that I see myself in similar fashion to the beat up guy at the top of this post.

But suppose I trusted God enough to finally accept my death, to “die right this time”? What then? I am supposing the answer to that is ,”Freedom–finally.”

 

 

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I sought the Lord, and he answered me;  he delivered me from all my fears….This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles…The Lord is close to the brokenhearted  and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:4,6,18).
  

E.F. “Sonny” Dewey stands in his room in the middle of the night yelling. Is he screaming at his wife, or his kids, or some other person inhabiting his mother’s house? No, he is yelling at God.

Sonny, a Pentecostal preacher portrayed by Robert Duvall in the film “The Apostle”, has been booted from his Texas church as a result of  a power play orchestrated by his wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett). The lady has had enough of his womanizing and abuse, and she herself has taken up with the youth minister.

“If you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace,” screams Sonny.” I don’t know who’s been fooling with me, you or the Devil. I don’t know! I won’t even bring the human into this. He’s just a mutt, so I won’t bring him into this, but I’m confused, I’m mad. I love you Lord, but I am mad at you! I AM MAD AT YOU!” 

“I know I’m a sinner every once in a while, a womanizer, but I’m your servant. Since I was a little boy and you brought me back from the dead, I’m your servant. What should I do? Tell me. I’ve always called you Jesus, you’ve always called me Sonny, so what should I do. This is Sonny talking now!”

Apparently such communication between Sonny and the good Lord is not uncommon. A neighbor calls up and complains to his Momma, who tells them,”That’s Sonny. Sometimes he talks to the Lord, sometimes he yells at the Lord. Tonight he just happens to be yelling at him.” 

Sonny’s anger issues aren’t limited to the Lord, however. At his kid’s baseball game he takes a bat to the youth minister and kills him. Knowing he’s in a heap of trouble, Sonny runs.

Somehow, even in the midst of the horrible mess he has mostly brought on himself, Sonny does not stop communicating with the Lord.

Even as a fugitive murderer, the preacher asks God to lead him. Eventually he arrives  in a rural Louisiana community.

His charismatic personality attracts the locals and Sonny plants a church with an African American minister.  He looks for radio time, and when he find out he has to pay, Sonny is offered a place to stay by a mechanic he helped out earlier.

This act of kindness causes Sonny to tell God, “I’m not mad at you, and I’ll never be mad again.” 

In the bayou and on the radio, Sonny is known as  “The Apostle E.F.”.Although his ministry booms and the church grows, his new life is on a short leash. Jessie hears a fuzzy radio broadcast of his one day and calls the cops.

Sonny is escorted away right after he preaches his final sermon. In “The Apostles” final scene, he is preaching at a group of inmates.

Robert Duvall’s portrayal of Sonny in the 1997 movie, which won him an Academy Award nomination, is not one of a typical suburban evangelical Christian in modern America. In “The Apostle”, we do not experience the stereotypical mega-church family cruising in their minivan and sipping lattes at the sanctuary coffee bar.

What we see is a precursor  of what would hit the media in the coming new century: the reality show. Indeed, the lives of Sonny,  Jessie and other characters in “The Apostle” foreshadow the brokenness of  many people in  America in the second decade of the 21st century, folks who still desire, nay, yearn for, a touch from Jesus Christ.

And not just a pat on the back from His hand. They hunger for a deep experience with Him, and one with power that will rocket their lives into outer space.

But they are broken and exhausted and don’t know how to be fixed and the church isn’t helping. Jesus is all the hope they have.

The life of the real American believer today is more true to the story of the average person we meet in the Old and New Testament. Those people were broken too and they needed the touch of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

What they are getting instead from today’s American Christianity in many cases is church politics and hierarchy reminiscent of the Pharisees and Sadducees,  and expectations they do not have the strength or power to meet.

People whose lives are busted into a thousand pieces may  think it is  only the church which is to blame for their  condition. They should  think again and try to get rid of that mindset.

It is not right to think of  the church and pastors in our minds like we do the government and politicians.

It would be wiser to look in the mirror. Once we get past the fact that what we see there  looks like Humpty Dumpty post tumble, and overcome our despair that we shall never be put back together again by all the king’s horses and all the pastor’s men, we would do well to grasp that we are actually right where God would have us.

Although it certainly doesn’t seem that way, He knows exactly what he is doing.

It is only in our brokenness can we comprehend that we need grace and mercy from Jesus. I may currently be walking around my room after hours yelling at God like Sonny Dewey, but he isn’t screaming back.

As Moody Bible Church pastor Erwin Lutzer notes, God has promises for us he intends to keep.

An old friend told me this weekend to think about the term ‘covenant’. In biblical terms, a ‘covenant’ is a set of commitments that God has made with his people.

Lutzer says that God’s promises to us aren’t based on our brokenness, but on his faithfulness and power. If Abraham had gone to God, he says, and posed a set of “what if” questions to Him, God’s answer in each case would be that He would keep his promises to him.

For example, if Abraham had asked ‘what if I lie again” or “what if my people have a king named David who commits adultery” or “what if my descendants crucify your Son”, God’s answer would still be the same.

“How can God talk like that”?, asks Pastor Lutzer. “Because God is not a man like you or I.”

God will not change and he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself. It is upon that that we stand today.”

In the words of an old hymn:

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.”

Like t E.F. “Sonny” Dewey, a man who was purportedly a man of God, many of us are messed up and torn apart and our pieces are spread out all over the landscape.  We would do well to follow his example and hang with Jesus regardless.

The final stanza of the aforementioned hymn says it all:

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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“Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said.’Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ (John 8:10-11)

I am taking a risk and writing on a topic that probably could create a lot of misunderstanding. My subject today is a lingerie model.

This particular 23-year old lady was a huge success in her industry. She won a contest over 10,000 other models to get a job with a world famous agency.

She rocketed to the top.

The young lady is publishing a book this spring that is creating quite a stir. It details how she turned from fame and riches to God.

That’s all well and good I suppose, but Christian males should probably be staying away from stories about lingerie models, God followers or not.

Well, perhaps to my credit (or not), I only scanned the story until I pondered whether to write about this woman.  I write for a religious-oriented media outlet and even thought of detailing her story in an article for them.

However, again I demurred because I didn’t want people to think badly of me. Besides, I didn’t know what me editor would think.

What tipped the scales regarding my thoughts about discussing her in print was when an old high school classmate posted her story on his Facebook page and began mocking her.

The lady’s story does at first glance smack of self righteousness. But it is worth looking at because of what it teaches about God.

As she related her story, the woman told how she had attended what she called a “party” at age 15. It was a church youth group actually, and there she learned that Jesus died for her sins.

She was amazed at that.

Yet, she continued to pursue modeling.  She went to New York and hung around other models, including one Christian.

She began to gain success in the modeling industry.

The young woman’s story seems to show that she was already having pangs of conscience about what she did for a living.

For example, she said that she didn’t drink or spend the night with older men like her other peers. The  young Christian model felt sorry for the girls around her who did all this but didn’t seem happy.

One of them was bulimic.

 

She says that although she was going to church and reading the Bible, she wanted to succeed in the modeling industry. So she posed in some racy photos. She was 16.

Then she met a handsome man  on a trip to Mexico with her parents. This man prayed before meals.

She learned he was a Christian her father knew from work. Her father was a poker dealer when was 8, but doesn’t mention if he was at the time.

Even so, she grew up in Las Vegas and all the billboards of half-naked women gave her a concept of beauty that drew her to the modeling life.

But I regress.

She met this Christian man at 18 and married the fellow the next year. She gave up her career in New York.

However, when she was given a flyer about the famous (or infamous) lingerie agency hosting a competition, her husband encouraged her to go for it. She admitted that even though she was growing in her relationship with God and was a newlywed, she didn’t think twice about “strutting her stuff” in the competition.

However, over the next two years she decided that she was being a bad influence on young girls and was convicted about selling sex.

She sent out a Tweet announcing she was quitting the modeling business. The young woman gave up millions of dollars and  even turned down a gig on an extremely popular prime time television dancing  show.

She now lives in Montana with her husband and is planning a Christian clothing line which contains modest clothes. The young lady is also releasing a book called “I’m No Angel”.

She wants to be a role model from here on out.

(“Angel” was the title given to the women modeling lingerie for the company she worked for.)

When I read the aformentioned Facebook post I replied this way:

 I agree with you  that this woman appeared to be pretty immature at the time. Her husband as well. I read the article on her. In all fairness, though, like many people who come to faith in Christ, over time she began to see that what she was doing did not coincide with her new beliefs. So whether or not one agrees with her faith, at least she should be applauded for not being a hypocrite.

What followed was a couple more mocking  posts (not at me, but at her)  and even a blasphemy. At least one woman “liked” what I had to say.

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 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;  my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:5,6).

As Christmas Day approaches, my nation is reeling from a terrible massacre of 20 innocent six and seven year old children in Connecticut by a deranged 20-year old. He also killed six adults in the school, using a military-style rifle, before shooting himself in the head with a pistol.

Five days later, the country is in shock. The usual issues have popped up, i.e. the need for gun control and the requirement that we do some soul searching about how we treat the mentally ill.

One commentator wrote that such mass killings today are prompted by three things: 1) extreme anger 2)isolation 3) too much time on the Internet.  To me this is a scary cocktail because I see all three operating in my life at times.

What is particularly troubling is isolation. As a person of faith, I find the feeling of being abandoned by God as the worst form of this.

One former pastor turned politician, Mike Huckabee,  got into  some trouble with some people of one political persuasion when he answered the question  “Where Was God?” He told his listeners in an interview that this was an interesting question since for the last few decades we have been kicking the Lord out of the public schools.

In an episode of the old TV series Touched by An Angel, Monica the angel finds herself in a situation where she too asks the question,”God, where are you? Why can’t I feel you with me?”.  She has witnessed a building blow up due to a bombing with a lot of people inside.

Earlier she had met a little girl named Madeline who was to be her assignment from God. This child was in the explosion. Monica  watches as her colleague the Angel of Death approaches the building, and her heart breaks.

That’s it for Monica. She walks away, walking down the road to who knows where. She has left her post.

As she walks, a charming man in a black sports car offers her a ride. Monica knows who the fellow is.  It’s Satan, otherwise known as Lucifer, the Devil and a host of other names.

Satan has seen his chance to knock an angel out of the heavenly realm and wastes no time tempting Monica. He is conniving, helpful and clever. Why, he understands Monica. After all, he tells her, I’ve been there.

Monica and Satan are now out in the desert, and he says to the distraught Monica,”I remember when you walked through the desert unshod,  unafraid, an angel of God.  Confident of your divine mission.”

Monica is upset, but she tells Satan she wants to be alone. He tells her that she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do. “We don’t have to be friends”, he says,”but we don’t have to be enemies.

Monica replies,”You are the enemy.” Satan’s rejoinder? “I’m not the enemy. I’m the alternative. That’ s what you’re looking for isn’t it?”

Satan even asks Monica to come work for him. “You don’t have to work for Him you know. There are options.”

Monica doesn’t want to forget God, though, as the devil suggests she do.  But Satan doesn’t quit. He even asks her where God is as she has done?

When she tells the devil that God is where He has always been,Satan asks,”Then what are you here for?” Monica answers: “Because I am hurting.  Because as much as God loves them they hate each other. Oh, they say the words and they write the books and the songs about love and they make the vows of love, but they don’t love!

Satan then lets Monica observe a scene where she is a human wife and mother. This is because Monica thinks that just maybe she could love better than they can.

The devil offers her this chance. Monica is drawn to this opportunity. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be a mother”, she tells the devil.

After that, despite Monica’s protest that she is God’s and belongs to Him and that she is returning to Him, Satan continues his deceptive assault.  When Monica tells Satan that she will find God again, he replies:

“Where? At Madeline’s grave?  Year after year, century after century Monica, you watch the suffering and the sorrow.  All you can do is stand by and utter the words that sound so hollow every time you say ’em: God loves you.”

After more arguing, including a theological one about the meaning of suffering,  and more temptation to become human, Satan asks her,”How long can you go on like this? Lost between heaven and earth. You must be so lonely.”

Monica tells Satan,”Sometimes.” And as she weeps and falls on his chest in tears, she says,”Sometimes I am.”

Satan sends her off to the desert to think about his offer. He tells Monica to find a high place and when she is ready to just jump. He’ll be there to catch her.

As a viewer, I know that this is like receiving an offer from a slick used car salesman. However, as Monica walks, Satan sings to her.

The devil is known as an angel of light, and his song is beautiful and seemingly promising. Furthermore, it seemingly gives Monica dignity as the lyrics tell her that she gets to make her own decisions apart from God.

No one here to guide you

Now you’re on  your own

Only me beside you

Still your not alone

Truly no one is alone

Sometimes people leave you

Halfway through the wood

Others may deceive you

You decide what’s good

You decide alone

But no one is alone (Mandy Patankin)

Monica eventually comes to the precipice,  and Satan is there to catch her.  She utters the same words to the her Heavenly Father that Jesus did on the cross to God–“Why have you forsaken me?.

Right after this  a bouquet of Monica’s favorite flower , the lilac,  suddenly grows from a stone. Satan has told her as a human that lilacs will smell much sweeter.

However, God has just revealed Himself as the Creator of all beauty.  He is trustworthy and greater than t he ugliness Monica sees in the world.

Satan may have wooed her. But God is the better Romancer.

She is not alone in any sense. Knowing he has been defeated, Satan fades from view.

Monica asks God for  forgiveness. She tells God she wants to come home.  She is restored and returns to her duties as an angel who takes care of humans.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be abandoned.  When He  turned 12, he went to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover feast. After it was over they headed home, but soon realized that Jesus was not with them. They had forgotten Him at the feast.

After three days they found Him.  His mother said to Jesus,“Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Jesus replied, Why were you searching for me?” Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house (Luke 2:48,49)?”

Popular preacher T.D. Jakes says of this incident,”They found him right where they left Him: in his Father’s house”.  Jakes exhorts today’s believers not to forget Jesus themselves while celebrating the feast that bears His name.

Isolation is a terrible thing. It opens us up to all manner of evil and Satan’s lures. As I said, it scares me, especially if I there is a sense that God has left me.

Mike Huckabee offered viewers one other explanation as to where God was at that school during the killings. He explained that while evil was present, God was there in the presence of the first responders and the teachers who courageously protected their kids.

I too have realized where God is in my own community.  Jesus is right where I left Him. He is over there at the church in my town that I’ve been staying away from for so long. And He’s there in the pastors and people who go there.

It’s a foolish thing to walk away from God. He’s the only source of beauty and love in this sometimes ugly world.

 

 

 

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“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.  Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation,  and make me willing to obey you (Psalm 51:10-12).”

There is a trail that runs between  my town and the other major city in my area that I have been wanting to hike. As the weather this week is unseasonably cool and overcast, I thought that today would be as good a time as any.

I was even more convinced I needed to go on this walk last night. I read of a man who felt very cold in his spirit and walked back and forth for three hours dealing with it.

I did not have a very good day yesterday. It didn’t get any better  this morning.

I had not been out of bed long when our power went out. I was cranky and irritable, and it spilled out in how I treated my family. Come hell or high water, I knew I needed to get out on that trail and look under the hood.

The Hucklberry Trail  begins at a shopping mall and ends six miles later at the public library in my town.  It meanders along railroad tracks, rural roads and streams.

The trail runs through a forest. As the hiker gets closer to my  town, it runs by cornfields and pasture land. The vista becomes quite wide and the Blue Ridge Mountains come into view.

Eventually, the trail curves and goes under the bypass and onto the campus of the local university. It continues by the football stadium, which houses the local idol worshipped here on Saturday afternoons. I am only half joking : ).

As I began my walk, I begin to search my spirit for muck. I asked God to reveal it.

I have been particularly frustrated by my current unemployment. I can’t seem to find a job good enough to fit my skill set and support my family.

I recently turned down a job offer in Asia and other opportunities elsewere in the States because I felt like God had led me to return from my overseas post and stay put where my family lives.

I determined before I left this overseas assignment that I am needed at home, and my own walk with Him would benefit from the fellowship at my church. The Lord seemed to back this up in speaking to me from the Scriptures.

In returning home, I believed I would best be “seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)”. The “bargain” with God (if you will) is that  He would meet our financial needs. Yesterday I was wondering down deep in my heart where God’s end of  this deal was.

I told my wife this morning that I felt like the Lord was sqaushing me. Indeed, I had read a verse earlier in the week which pretty much told me that. He is mashing me like a piece of clay these days (Isaiah 45:9).

I am hopeful that God is actually answering my prayers in this process. While my situation is not easy, I am trusting that perhaps He is remaking me for new purposes that will glorify Him.

There is Scriptural precedent for God doing this. He once  remade the whole nation of Israel. He led Jeremiah down to a potter’s house to give him the object lesson:

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said,“Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.”  So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel.  But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.  Then the Lord gave me this message:  “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. (Jeremiah 18:1-6).

Hiking down the Huckleberry Trail, I was taken by scenery that reminded me of the legacy from which I came. The railroad track reminded me that my father once earned his living working on trains.

The small park which memorializes the coal mine that used to be there also made me look at my bloodlines. My grandfather was a coal miner a a  good part of his life.

Thus, God affirmed the goodness of work to me by noting how my grandfather and father worked to provide for their loved ones. A good man leaves behind a legacy to his kids of industrious labor. My patriarchs surely did that for me.

The Scriputes  also illustrate through  Jesus’s Jewish ancestors what it means to give our children a legacy.  Abraham and Rahab left behind a godly heritage for the Son of Man. They were models of faith combined with action (James 2:21-25). 

The trail not only gave me teaching from my heritage. It also put into my mind that there are dangers out  there which can destroy me.

A man walked by with a dog. From afar, it seemed to be loose and perhaps menacing. Then, as man and pet came closer, I noticed the leash.

God brought to mind that Satan is out there ready to devour me. However, God will rein him in if I do what He tells me to do, which is to resist that beast (James 4:7).

However, the Lord had more than the externala for me out there this morning. He got down to business by having me look at my own heart. One mess in  there is my battle to be bold in sharing the gospel.

I saw a man about a hundred yardd ahead of me. I thought I should try to catch up to him and share about Jesus, but it was inconvenient. I didn’t want to be bothered.

In addition, I wondered why I was motivated to share with this man out of guilt. Where was the joy of knowing Christ that made me overflow with excitement at the prospect of telling this man about Him. “Oh, wretched man that I am”, was the message in my soul at that point. 

The trail was also prone to temptations. A scantily clad woman jogged by. I thankfully only glanced her way, but I was reminded of  a dependency that I know I have which can wreck my soul if I let it: lust.

I was aggravated at that woman. “Why, doesn’t that woman know that she tempts me and subjects herself to predators on lonely stretches like  this!”

I also was teed off by the bikers who kept coming by from behind and warning me of their presence. (“On your left!).

I jump out of my skin when that happens and have had a pet peeve toward bikers all summer. I was humbled when I saw that along the way a billboard revealing the park rules which REQUIRE bikers to warn pedestrians as they come upon them.

Thus, the Lord  gave me a new item in my messy heart to deal with out on the path: a critical spirit. As with my other known sins, I confessed them and obtained God’s forgiveness and cleansing (I John 1:9).

Yes, the walk today was a “flush and fill” operation. I am hoping that a lot of the trash heap in my life was swept away by bringing it before God to clean up.

I’m also desirous that the garbage in my heart was replaced with the blessed Holy Spirit. I surely need His presence and leading in the days ahead.

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“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe (Psalm 4:8).”

It’s hard sleeping this time of year. I live in a Nordic country which is currently experiencing “white nights”.

One former colleague posted the sunrise and sunset times in her hometown above the Arctic Circle on Facebook yesterday. There was about 45 minutes in between these events.

In my location farther south it isn’t as bright,but it’s close. The sun officially sets between 22:00 and 23:00 and rises again about 3:30 am. In between is twilight and perhaps about 45 minuted of darkness.

It’s hard enough to sleep in this kind of environment unless you have good curtains or eyepatches. But it’s even worse when your heart is troubled.

I will be unemployed in about three weeks and I am looking for work. Having to write and talk about myself so much to strangers, especially professional ones, is nerve wracking.

Although I have a lot of strengths on a professional level, I haven’t been perfect. In fact, my recent history includes a failed work experience.

 There are all kinds of details I will leave out here. Also, I do not intend to use this space to argue my case or assign blame. Let’s just say that things did not end well.

This makes it difficult when I go to apply for similar jobs as the one I had. When they ask to speak to my supervisor at this place of employment, I inwardly cringe.

I have no choice but to give them a name. I then know that my prospects with the employer I am currently talking with aren’t good.

 So, there’s a lot of stress right now. I really don’t care what time it is because I just sleep when I feel like it. (As an educator my schedule is pretty flexible in the summer.)

It’s easy in my situation to beat myself up over this whole thing.  People have expectations and sometimes you don’t meet them.

Author and pastor Bill Merritt tells of his own experience where he almost lost his job. He notes that talent isn’t enough anymore.

Merritt says that people want you to actually be able  to relate to them. They want you to ask questions and be interested. They want you to be nice.

“Imagine that!”, he writes.

“Nice” was not always my forte on the job I left badly. I think I did an excellent job there, but I could have handled relationships better. As a result there is an irreparable rupture between me and this company.

My apology was not accepted. Subsequent correspondence to this organization has gone unanswered. 

I’ve improved some since then. However, as noted above joblessness is hovering and I don’t have much going on, and this failure hangs around and occasionally surfaces. 

It is hard to recover from personal failure. This is true in the workplace and at home both.

When you fail people don’t trust you. They get mad at you.  Not only that, you get mad at them, especially if you feel as if your treatment is unjust.

You lose fellowship and friendship. What to do?

Well, as a Christian I know that it’s not a good idea to quit on God.  If I stick with Him, He will stick with me. 

However, if I abandon God, He will abandon me. It’s my choice (II Chronicles 15:2).

I noted above that when there is a relational fracture in the workplace that the parties get mad. I notice that God tends to get mad when people don’t treat Him with respect, too.

The Psalmist tells leaders that they had better submit to Jesus, or else!  Destruction is on the way when our Lord is ignored, rejected or rebelled against (Psalm 2:10-12).

The Psalmist says that God is an honest judge. He gets angry at the wicked every day and takes action against them (Psalm 7:11-13).

So, what’s my part?  Well the Psalmist tells ME if I want to sleep at night that I should:

-submit to Jesus myself (Psalm 2:12b);

-control my 0wn anger and trust God (Psalm 4:4,5);

-pray for God’s active protection and action against my enemies (Psalm 3:1-4,7);

-ask God to take care of my reputation (Psalm 4:2,3);

-ask God to rescúe me from the mess in my heart and out there in the world (Psalm 6:1-10).

This last point is especially  profound. Until last night I thought of God as someone who would come in like the calvary to perform his rescue. I didn’t see Him as someone who stuck around the garbage dump I’ve created in my heart and life.

However, it occurred to me yesterday evening that Jesus is down there with me in the junkyard. He is there waiting patiently for me to acknowledge Him while I sit in the stench.

This thought reminded me of an old booklet from my youth. Robert Munger wrote a short story called My Heart Christ’s Home which was popular at the time.

In this piece Jesus is invited into a man’s home. Room by room he begins to set the man’s house in order.

Eventually, the man realizes he can’t keep his house clean and asks Jesus to do it. However, Jesus tells the man that He has no authority there: He is just a guest.

The man turns the deed of the house over to Jesus. From then on, the man is just the servant in the house and Jesus is master.

I learned last night that Jesus is not content to stay on the outskirts of our lives. I had forgotten this and didn’t think He wanted to be down there in the muck with me, but He does.

Yet, the Psalmist says He does. He wrote,”For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God”. (Psalm 7:9)

When we give over ownership to Jesus, we can sleep soundly. David found this out. He wrote:

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side (Psalm 3:5,6)

When Jesus enters the trash heap, it is not His intention to let it stay messy. He intends to clean it up, if I let Him.

If I do, I think I will sleep better despite the white nights. I will have the assurance and peace that He is there to take care of my messy heart and the rest of my trashy life out there.

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