Archive for Anne’s Posts

Aug
16

Looking for the Open Window

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Recently a greeting card had me laughing in the middle of Wal-Mart. A man and his wife were in bed for the night when a bald old man with a long white beard and moustache came up to their bedroom window, smiling. The woman was shrieking in horror at the sight of the stalker? intruder? murderer?

The inside of the card declared, “When God closes a door, sometimes He opens a window.”

It's often said that when God closes a door, He opens a window.

It's often said that when God closes a door, He opens a window.

It reminded me all too much of myself these days. I’ve had about seven years of seeing closing doors. That’s a long time to be looking for the open window…or skylight…or crack in the wall, even. Now, behold! God appears to be at the window, and I am a bit like the startled woman on the greeting card.

For quite some time I’ve needed employment that would bring in the kind of income that would pay for my home and household expenses. I have a degree in music performance that was not going to help me now. In the business world of the 21st century, my skills as an office worker in the 1980’s were laughable. The jobs on line were all looking for my resume. What resume was that? I didn’t really have one. And I loathed and dreaded the prospect of returning to school. One run through the gauntlet of academia was enough, and then some, as far as I was concerned. So when I prayed, “Lord, you know I need a job,” it was not the same as when I was in my early twenties and needed work. I was praying for some specific conditions that would meet the needs and abilities I had now, which were very different.

This year I became distracted from my financial needs. My son has had a very difficult year so far and that took up my energy. When there was flooding in the spring, I was one of those with a lake in my basement, and many hours were devoted to repair before we could return home, and more repair afterwards. When there was finally a break in the action, I looked at my finances and realized the situation had become dire while my attention had been diverted. Now the prayers became really urgent and heartfelt. Something had to open up – now.

I want to tell you what happened before and after that prayer. God prepared me for that moment of prayer, and as I said above, it looks like the window is opening for me at last.

BEFORE:

Just a couple of weeks before the financial crisis, God brought me to a place where I could heal from the guilt of my divorce. I’ve written some things before about this wonderful moment when I finally realized that God was not punishing me. It came to a head because guilt was stopping me from believing God could have an answer for me, or blessings for me. Guilt gnawed at me when I knew that all I could do was go forward from here. Guilt even gnawed at me although I knew in Christ I was forgiven. Counselors would write evaluations of my son and mention that his troubles began when our marriage became difficult, and my heart would sink. Some circumstance would go wrong and I would think, maybe my plans fall through because of the divorce. The idea of a curse became a superstition with me.

God sent me back to the Bible to see that there was no verse that said for some sins God punishes continually even if I repent. Then I found a humorous coupon that author Steve Brown has on his website: A certificate entitling the bearer to three free sins. Laughing, I immediately knew what I wanted my first free sin to be. Then I began to see his point: because of the blood of Jesus, I don’t need a coupon to be free from the consequences of three sins. I have been freed from the consequences of all the sins I have been mourning.

“Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” – Psalm 32:5

Moreover, I am not cursed, but blessed:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” – Psalm 32: 1 & 2

PRAYER:

When I prayed for the financial help I desperately needed, I called on God in the brokenness of my situation, not awash with the guilt of my past. I could not fix it. Only He could.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

This was a huge difference in my attitude in prayer. Because of what had been lifted from me in “BEFORE”, now I believed God had forgiven me and He would be willing to bless me again. Sometimes I got anxious, sometimes I cried, but I kept turning to the hope that God would bring the answer.

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” – Psalm 62:5, KJV

AFTER:

My great friend Michelle called me seven days later. She had heard from an old friend she hadn’t seen in years. The woman wanted to know if she knew people who needed a job, who were worried that they would lose their home. She wanted to hire some people and give them professional training in her trade.

This certainly seemed to fit a lot of my prayer requests. I was someone who needed a job and whose house was on the line. The offer came through a friend rather than the route of a want ad or resume, where I couldn’t compete. The education was going to be one on one, where skills can be “caught” rather than taught. This was the way I learned music and is my favorite method of learning. I could work hours that accommodated my daughter’s transportation needs for school. As I became skilled, I could earn a substantial portion of my budget this way.

You might be expecting me to say that I then wrestled to determine the Lord’s will. And you might be surprised to learn that I can’t say I did. I have done that in years past. Instead, this is the attitude I took: I prayed, something that held answers to my particular requests appeared, I will thank God for it, and I am going through the open door to see what God does here.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21

Either 1) This is the way God has for me to ease the financial burden; or 2) I will see God teaching me something here, but in time leading me to something else.

Am I cut out for this new endeavor? We will have to wait and see!

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Aug
13

When He is Doing Something New

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K-LOVE, the Christian rock radio station, sends me a Bible verse of the day. Last week many were about God doing new things. A couple of examples:

Tuesday was

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” – Isaiah 43:19

And Thursday brought

“For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” – Habakkuk 1:5

I thought this was pretty interesting, because in my week every day brought new things. Really new.

"We pray, and we wait, for God to move. Then God acts all at once. The landscape, and the very earth beneath us, changes."

"We pray, and we wait, for God to move. Then God acts all at once. The landscape, and the very earth beneath us, changes."

We pray, and we wait, for God to move. Then God acts all at once. The landscape, and the very earth beneath us, changes. Monday was one of the most difficult days I’ve had in a long time. God really did do something new at my house on Tuesday; before the sun was up, the feline population here had increased from two to eight. Everyone’s life changed dramatically, and not pleasantly, on Thursday. My head was much clearer Friday, but my clarity of thought gave me some jarring insights. One day was despair and the next brought relief. It was exhausting.

I tend to think that new is good. I suspect that’s a cultural attitude we hear all the time in advertising. You know, “new and improved.” Every day held something drastically new, but some of the “new” was bittersweet. Some of the “new” changed the whole playing field. I felt like one of the bad guys in Popeye, being swung over Popeye’s head and slamming onto the floor on either side. Was it good? Was it bad? It sure was happening fast. God was moving, and my kids and I (and a lot of cats) were along for the ride. And the ride’s not over yet.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him…. Romans 8:28a

But sometimes as “the good” is being worked out, it doesn’t seem like it’s good.

When I looked at the passage above from Isaiah, God was promising obviously good things to Israel: water is coming to the desert and wasteland, times of refreshing. Conversely, the prophet Habakkuk is asking God for justice against wrongdoers, and the new thing God promises him is undoubtedly working for the good, but it’s terrifying: The Babylonians are coming to conquer as a judgment. “They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence,” God tells him in Habakkuk 1:9a.

All I knew was to hold on tight to God, to trust that He had everything well in hand and He would see us through. Things might not work out as I would like them to be, but God has a plan, and He would direct.

While I feel the discomfort of all the change, what stays steady is our God. Change startles and confuses us, but the Lord is not surprised. We often say, “He’s always there.” When you yourself are in the storm you can feel like asking where “there” is. David says,

If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast. – Psalm 139:8 – 10

“There” is right where you stand now.
“There” is above you and all about you, protecting you in the storm.
“There” is beside you, waiting for you to turn to Him and let Him take care of the changes that are so frightening.

We get surprised or ambushed. We tremble or weep at the things drastically changing around us. But Hebrews says

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8

Just as we need Him every day, He is present every day, the Rock that hides us in the storm, the Rock on which we stand when change comes.

Categories : Anne's Posts, God's Ways
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Aug
02

Accepted in the Beloved

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(Any terms I use in this blog are for explanatory purposes only. If any have fallen into disuse or are now “politically incorrect”, I apologize and assure you I intend nothing derogatory.)

A few weeks ago my daughter and I stumbled upon the movie “Freaks”, new to us, but evidently something of a cult classic. Made in 1932, the actors were people with anomalies who made up the circus sideshows of the time. By using the real circus performers, the movie caused an uproar. It was removed from the market, and Britain banned it outright. Ironically these actors were not being used as “freaks” but were being themselves with a dignity and normalcy the viewing public of the time probably never dreamed they had.

I’m telling you all this because I just can’t get the story out of my mind. Generally movies explain to you who the characters are. This one keeps asking me who I am.

Where I picked up the story, Hans, a young man who is a midget, is infatuated with Cleopatra, one of the normal size circus performers. She is amused and plays along as if Hans were a toy with no real feelings. When she accidentally finds out that Hans is heir to a great fortune, her game begins in earnest. She agrees to marry her unwitting suitor.

At the marriage feast, it is primarily the sideshow folk who come and sit together at one great, long table. The bride behaves abominably, getting very drunk, putting a drug in Hans’ drink (the first step toward killing him and taking his fortune) and kissing her real love interest in front of everyone, humiliating Hans. Apparently not everyone sees, because a dwarf begins a special ceremony at the far end of the table. (This you may already know because it is the most famous scene of the movie.) He gets on the table with an immense goblet of wine and walks to each guest, giving him or her a sip in turn. In your mind’s eye I want you to see these people. There are the bearded lady and the skeleton man; a woman with no arms and a man with no legs, and a man with neither arms nor legs; other little people; conjoined twins; persons they called pinheads who had tiny skulls that caused both physical deformity and mental retardation. As the cup is offered, the dwarf takes up a strange chant: “Gobble, gobble, we accept you, you are one of us.” Obviously, as Hans’ wife, Cleopatra is being accorded the honor of being embraced by the people of the sideshow, people so few understand. But when the goblet arrives, she pushes it away, screaming that she wants no part of them. “You’re all freaks!” she cries, betraying her true feelings.

The scene won’t leave my mind, but I am now in Cleopatra’s seat. I watch these unusual wedding guests, looking with some discomfort at their missing limbs and other unusual deformities. I think of how some of them cannot care for all their own basic needs and will always need caregivers. And then the cup comes to me. Will I take the cup? Will I identify with these people as ones like me?

I thought I wasn’t prejudiced. Or at least I wasn’t that prejudiced. I’m not prejudiced against blacks, and that’s the big one in the United States, so I’m okay, right? I have a dislike of some people groups, but if I met someone from one of those, I prided myself on putting that aside and concentrating on loving the person in front of me. But if I’m priding myself for coming halfway (or less), what am I really doing? Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so proud anymore.

What happened to the Scriptures I claimed I believed? Jesus prayed,

I have given [believers] the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. – John 17:22 & 23a

And Paul tells us:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law…so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor. 24 – 27

But the truth is, when I think of being one with certain people, because of their culture or behavior, I recoil.

Author Steve Brown often writes of his conversations with the Lord. I sense something akin to that as I think of my reaction to the “freaks”:

“So it’s okay for you to look at them just to see what they look like but not accept them?”

Shame on me.

“I came down from heaven to live with humanity. What do you think that was like?”

I imagined myself looking down from a bright and perfect heaven onto the masses of humanity on earth: The smells. The crowds. The soiled clothing. The cacophony. And, as each night falls, the darkness.

More than that, there was the condition of our hearts, every last heart leaving something to be desired. You might say we all had something missing or misshapen there.

“I once shared bread and a cup of wine around a table and accepted every one of you – in your sin.”

Nothing is so humbling as Jesus telling you He already did this very thing for you, and you have been unwilling to do the same. As a believer I share in the new covenant that was made at the Last Supper. In my mind’s eye I see that goblet, Christ’s goblet, making its way around the table that Passover night, a symbol of Jesus saying, “I accept you” when we were filthy in our sin. I would gladly drink that goblet when Jesus is holding it. But I’m only holding it out to select others – not all others – even though He came for every one of them, and I know it.

Seems I have some things to work out with God. And if I ever catch “Freaks” again on TV, you can be sure that’s one movie I will never see the same way again.

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Jul
30

Self Abandoned to God

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I was looking at an Oswald Chambers lecture recently entitled, Arriving at Myself. You may know Chambers from his enduring work, “My Utmost for His Highest”, a daily devotional book. Chambers’ wife wrote down many of his sermons and classroom lectures to seminary students, leaving us a rich trove of his knowledge and wisdom. This lecture hit me because, like so much of his writings, it seemed so relevant; it was delivered in 1915 , but it could have been written yesterday.

Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers


Chambers is one of my favorite writers because his every thought brings you back to Christ. He pinpoints even subtle attitudes of secular thinking, and confronts them with truth. There you are, confronted with the words of Christ, the Godly perspective, the attitude that the Christian should have. In one hundred years the spiritual battleground has not changed so much as we think. It is just uncanny how these ideas are still around, pervading and warping our thinking.

Arriving at Myself is divided into six segments, but two of them especially made me stop and think. The first is entitled, “My Right to My Individual Self.” He explains individuality as the “husk of personality” that protects our personal life.

“But if individuality does not become transfigured by the grace of God, it becomes objectionable, egotistical and conceited, interested only in its own independence.”

We want our own ideas and our own ways from before our Christian experience to stay just where they are – but Jesus is telling us:

“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” – Matthew 16:24

Chambers wastes no words in showing up our excuses:

“We cling to our individuality like a drowning man to a straw – ‘Of course God will recognize my individual peculiarisms and prejudices.’ “

Then Chambers compares it to God’s call:

“If we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, our independent right to our individual self must go, and go altogether.”

It must go, and go altogether. For an example, look at some of the things in Ephesians 5 we are told to change that many of us don’t change because “we just are that way”:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. – Ephesians 5:3 – 5 (Italics mine)

Ouch. Ouch. I fail at both getting all these things out of my life and at replacing them with thanksgiving. I don’t make enough effort to always reflect that I belong to Him.

In college, I roomed at one time with a girl who had advertised for a Christian roommate. I came in one evening to find she was sitting at the kitchen table with a friend, both telling the filthiest sex jokes they could come up with. I took her aside in the hallway and called her on it, but she told me, “I’m a Scorpio, I can’t help it.” (Scorpio is the astrological sign associated with sexuality.) In other words, she was saying, “I want God, but He can’t have my fun, and I don’t care if you’re offended by it, either. I’ve found my excuse, and I’m keeping my individual independence.”

The next section cuts to the deepest point: “The Recognition of My Personal Self.” Its theme is Matthew 10:39

He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.

Chambers’ first sentence clearly shows what he wants us to recognize about the personal self:

We have to recognize that our personal life is meant for Jesus Christ.

But will we give it to Jesus or keep holding on to and examining the experiences, thoughts and emotions that He already knows?

It amazed me that Chambers mentions how this is the opposite of the “modern jargon” of self realization. Evidently people have been trying to look within and draw their feelings out to find the “answers” well before Transcendental Meditation and the various New Age regimens. By giving your personal self to Christ, the Holy Spirit will help you remember what you need to know and better yet, lead you toward Jesus, His love, His cleansing and real answers.

Some methods pull up too many emotions or traumas for a person to handle at one time. It can be frightening and injurious. The Holy Spirit shows you only what you can handle of the things that have been buried deep inside, in the order that you can handle it. Having experienced God’s loving, gentle healing I would never want another method. In the past I have seen a therapist – they can be immensely helpful – but I prayed that God would guide those sessions so they would not become overwhelming.

Chambers warns against using Christian service as a cover. Jesus is not just looking for our giving in service, but in giving our very selves. Chambers writes,

“The great dominating recognition is that my personal self belongs to Jesus….The point is, will I surrender my individual life entirely to Him?”

Chambers goes on to explain that this is laying at His feet not just our sins, but good things. Are our hopes and dreams subject to Him or do we keep them as our own? Are our loved ones in His hands or do we clutch them in ours? Several people in my life have died at an early age, and I have had to learn in my sorrow that they were not mine to keep.

I hope the last paragraph grips you as it did me as Chambers ends by gathering up all our difficulties in life and says that at their root, they are one and the same:

“Jesus Christ asks us to give up the best we have got to Him, our right to ourselves. There is only this one crisis, and in the majority of lives it has never been reached, we are brought up to it again and again, and every time we go back. Self-realisation must be renounced in order that Jesus Christ may realize Himself in us.”

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Jul
28

God’s Economy

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First, I’m sorry blogs were so sparse last week. My computer crashed and I was without it for a whole week. My trusty computer fixer, Ben Burnett, told me there was so much that had wormed its way into our files that it took every trick in the book to restore it. Due to his work, we are back to normal (thank you, Ben), and I am picking up where I left off.

I had looked at the account of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 to see what God is looking for in our hearts when we think about possessions. Jesus also assures his disciples that those who have left behind possessions or loved ones for His sake

“will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:29b

But He also cryptically tells them,

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. – Matthew 19:30

Then I noticed that Jesus continued on, saying,

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. – Matthew 20:1

So begins the parable of the workers. The incident, and the teaching, evidently sparked the parable to shed light on what had just happened. The young ruler couldn’t bring himself to let go of his wealth and possessions to give to the less fortunate, and he leaves. Jesus explains how greatly those who give up earthly things will have them restored. Now Jesus is giving those who remain a lesson in how God runs His economy.

The master of the story is in fact a rich man, a vineyard owner. He goes into town at dawn, and in a manner that is still in use today, he gathers up unemployed men to work for the day for a coin, a denarius. Today a denarius is worth about $20 in the USA, and it was commonly the day’s wages for unskilled labor. At about nine in the morning, what the people in Jesus’ time called the “third hour,” the landowner returns to town and finds more men to work for him. He promises to pay them “whatever is right.” Again at noon, at three, and even at “the eleventh hour,” or about an hour before sunset, he brings more idle men to work his vineyard.

At sunset, the work day ends. The men who came last and only worked one hour are given a denarius. The men who have been harvesting all day take this as a sign that they will receive more, but they are paid only the promised denarius. They complain that they did the brunt of the work, but the master says to one man,

“Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? Matthew 20:13b – 15

This isn’t a satisfying answer in our way of looking at things. Shouldn’t it be “a day’s work for a day’s pay?” If it looks lopsided to us, don’t we deserve to know why? Well – no. Notice that many grumbled, but the explanation was only given to one man. Beyond knowing that the master chose to be generous, we don’t know why things worked out the way they did.

How different from the health/wealth doctrine that says if we have enough faith, we can definitely have certain rewards here on earth. God is not bound by what we expect to be rewarded with.

But sometimes we feel that God “owes” us something. Our faithfulness, we think, should have guaranteed protection against the hard times we face. We think, won’t you take a barter, God, for the healing of a loved one? We invent terms we hope we can get God to accept, thinking that we can fulfill them. These are not God’s terms. He doesn’t have to accept them. We were not saved by anything we have done, and we cannot trade our works for an arrangement with Him.

We do know, however, that He watches over and takes care of those who love and follow Him. Psalm 34:19 says:

A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all…

It’s the righteous person, cleansed with Jesus’ blood, that God promises to deliver, not the one who has made a deal with God promising to do this or that.

Another example of God’s division of wealth comes from the Old Testament: 1Samuel 30. David is not yet king, but he does have a camp of men who support him and follow him. The Amalekites raid their camp when the men are not there and kidnap their wives and children. David and the men “wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” 1 Samuel 30:4 They are outraged and pursue the Amalekites. Between their grief and their strenuous pursuit, 200 of the 600 men are completely exhausted and cannot go on. They stay with the camp supplies at the Besor Ravine as those who can keep going catch up to the raiders, kill most of them, regain their families and take plunder.

When they return to camp, some of the 400 men expect to keep the plunder for themselves. But David tells them:

“No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us. Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” – 1Samuel 30:24

I believe David is saying that all these men were following David for the same purpose, and God had blessed them all through the victory, so the blessing of the plunder belonged to all of them. I’ve wondered, too, if this was because the men who stayed behind had done all they could do, and they were not going to be penalized for that. It’s another moment when God’s economy is not our economy.

The tax collector Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree in Luke 19:1-10 to get a glimpse of Jesus over the heads of the crowd that followed Him, offered half of his possessions to the poor and to repay those he had cheated four times the amount involved. Nothing was said about that portion being unacceptable. On the contrary, Jesus says,

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” – Luke 19:9

Why was the rich young ruler told that for his heart to be right before God, he had to give it all? Zacchaeus’ heart attitude was evidently in a very different place, and Jesus treats him accordingly.

This is the reason, I believe, why the parable of the workers is tied to the conversation with the young ruler. Jesus is showing us that

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways, My ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8 & 9

We can look for and expect His blessings, but we cannot define them or control them. What we do know is that the Lord is generous, and when we see God’s generosity blessing us or someone we love, we can rejoice in it.

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Next week I am going to write a little more about the rich young ruler and God’s economy, but I wanted to take a moment out to tip my hat to the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers.  You may have seen this week that lots of Roy Rogers memorabilia was auctioned off at Christie’s because the museum that had been in the family’s hands in Branson, Missouri, closed last year.  You may not be aware who Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, were, both as celebrities and as people.

I found out because when my son was about 2 years old, my husband videotaped a documentary about Roy Rogers for him, thinking he’d like seeing Trigger.  My son fell in love with the tape, but what drew him was Roy himself.  All I could think of was, kids know who loves them, and my son was fascinated with this man as were boys and girls decades before.

Roy Rogers made musical cowboy movies with his exceptional trained horse, Trigger, and the singing group, the Sons of the Pioneers, during the mid-20th century.  He stood for fair and honest values and the kids loved him.  He made countless appearances everywhere for his young fans, including Madison Square Garden.  Dale Evans was cast in his movies and they fell in love and married, continuing to work together in movies, later in TV, and in public appearances.

The story of Roy’s own children was marked with heartache.  He and his first wife, Arlene, adopted two girls.  Then Arlene died within days of giving birth to his son, Roy Jr.   Later, when Roy married Dale Evans, they had one child, a girl with Down syndrome who only lived a year.  Dale wrote the famous book, Angel Unaware, about her life.  They adopted many more children, but two of them were also killed in accidents.

Their strength came from their deep faith in God.  Roy was more quiet about his faith, but it was he who encouraged Dale’s faith in the beginning, and she was more outspoken.  Behind the pleasant scenes of their public life, they had to put real trust in the God of the Bible to keep going.  They truly believed in the values they were imparting to their young audience, teaching kids right from wrong, to brush their teeth and say their prayers.

I think there was a little concern before the auction whether that many people would still remember and care.  Would the collection be forgotten as it became split up?  No one should have worried.  Everything sold, and well above the prices estimated before the auction.  When a museum bought a piece, which meant that the item would be publicly displayed once again, the audience cheered.  At the end of the auction, the crowd broke out in the song “Happy Trails to You,” the Roy Rogers theme song.

Of great interest to all concerned was the fate of Trigger, who had been stuffed and mounted after his death.  The man who bought Trigger owns a TV station.  He says that Trigger will be on public display at the station; moreover, he plans to show Roy Rogers movies on his station with new introductions from Roy’s son so that a new generation will be exposed to these values.

At that news, a smile crept on my face.  I was imagining the Lord having a talk with Roy and Dale in heaven.  “This generation of children is not hearing the kind of messages with good values.  Through the wonder of video, you can come back and tell kids again.  Now, this isn’t without cost.  Your prized possessions from your museum will be sent to the four winds.  They will leave your family’s hands.  But you can tell thousands and thousands of children that My values are strong and solid and the ones they can really trust.”

Without a moment’s concern, God’s two choice servants who were faithful in the good and bad times during their long years on earth answer, “Do it, Lord, at any cost.”    And they saddle up their horses once again.

Were God’s purposes in the auction?  I’d like to think so.  But take a moment this weekend to dwell not on the memorabilia of celebrity but on the memorable lives of these two saints.

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Jul
16

Goodness and the Heart

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Today I noticed that two portions of the Word, the story of the rich young ruler and the parable of the workers, Matthew 19:16 – 30 and Matthew 20: 1 – 16 respectively, are meant to go together.  Perhaps you have had an astute pastor who has pointed that out to you along the way, but I’d never realized it.  Today I’m looking at the account of the young ruler.

The young ruler starts off by asking Jesus what good thing will earn him eternal life, but Jesus asks him,

“Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only One who is good.” –                                                                                                                                    Matthew 19:17a

In the accounts of this story in Mark and Luke, the ruler calls Jesus “Good Teacher,” and Jesus replies to that also that only God is good.  Jesus is the Son of God, but He knows that “Ruler” isn’t going to take Him that seriously as the story unfolds.  It tells us, too, that the fruit of goodness is definitely not innately in ourselves.  It is only gained by reflecting the goodness of God.

“For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” – Psalm 100:5

God’s goodness is rock solid and steadfast.  Ruler is just about to start thinking that Jesus’ words are not so good.

Ruler wants to know how to be saved, and Jesus mentions several of the Ten Commandments which deal with how you treat others, and adds “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which appears later on in Leviticus.   He does not confront Ruler with the commandments dealing more with our relationship to God.  Why?  Maybe because loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is one commandment no one could have possibly kept fully.  Maybe because Jesus knew Ruler was looking for something to do, or to avoid, and he wasn’t thinking of a deep love of God.

As it is, Ruler seems to feel assured that he has always treated others well, and tells Jesus that he has kept them all.  But there is more.  Jesus tells him that one thing is lacking.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow Me. –                                                                                                                               Matthew 19:21

Jesus speaks to what Ruler is interested in, his unblemished record.  But to do something as difficult as leave his life as a rich man, Ruler will have to surrender his heart to God.

Jesus wants Ruler to change his ideas radically.  His earthly treasure needs to be shared, even to the point that he would be wealthy no more.  The new treasure his heart will be set upon will be in heaven.  What he can see and hold here, and the security and enjoyment it brings, will go for good.  What kind of treasure awaits him in heaven?  He will have to trust that Jesus, as the Son of God, knows about that.

Moreover, I think the challenge Jesus sets before Ruler gives us a further clue about goodness.  God is good, not just nice.  Reflecting God’s goodness is not a show of good manners.  Ruler has controlled his behavior toward others, but it takes a complete change of heart and a trust in the goodness and protection of God to give away his possessions to the point that he gives away his way of life.

In Ruler’s case this involves money and a privileged lifestyle.  But the “riches” that hold us back may be our families, our relationships, our physical beauty or strength, our standing in our community, our advanced education.  Anything that makes us feel superior and comfortable could be our riches.  Jesus could be calling us today to put it at His feet, or if applicable, use our talents for those who have not, instead of building up ourselves.

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. – Matthew 19:22

This sad result is the reason I wondered at the beginning if Ruler understood that he was not talking to a good teacher but to the Lord Himself.  A good teacher could give bad advice, but if he knew the advice was from God, would he have been so quick to back away?

Jesus tells his disciples that parting with riches is no small thing, and they make it difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God – but not impossible.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26

Did Ruler realize that had he been willing, God would have given him the strength to make it possible?  Do we realize it in what we’re facing today?

“Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also

The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still:

His kingdom is forever.”

– Martin Luther, from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God

Jul
13

A Personal Inventory

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God’s been giving me some personal inventory-taking time.  I feel as if I stepped out of a private meeting to talk to you.  In his epistle, James talked about the danger of stepping before a mirror and then looking away, forgetting your own image.  My last two days have been one, long look.

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word reminds me of my sin?

This has involved some crying and regretting, facing loneliness and lost time and opportunities.  It also calls for the application of Scripture, because without it, we feel even more guilty and blame filled.  We tend to forget that where we stand,

there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:1 & 2

The things we’ve done wrong seem so, well, intractable.

Very little has gone well for me in a long time.  It is easy to wonder if I am cursed, if blessings and success will ever come.  My run of sorry events has its roots in my marriage and divorce twenty years later.  While I don’t want to encourage undue superstition about opening the Bible randomly, yesterday I opened to the exact page of 1 Corinthians that concerns marriage, chapter 7.  The verses that describe my situation are :

A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. – 1 Corinthians 7:10b – 11a

It does not say, “and she will live a cursed life,” or “and the Lord will punish her forever.”  The natural consequences of pulling apart a 20 year marriage with 2 children are heavy, whether or not you are a Christian.   My husband has remarried, so there is only one option for me, and it comes with its own burdens.  I believe God had me read that passage again to show me He is not laying on top of this that I must live in continued guilt and sadness, or that He then ceased to love me, or that nothing will go right for me anymore.

I have the tendency to remember my bad decisions, my reversals of fortune, the friendships that withered from close fellowship to becoming odd and strained.  I have to remember that some things have in fact gone well.  My son nearly died on June 8, but we were able to get him back from (literally) the brink.  (I’m going to be writing about that later.)  I’m still in my house.  I have met some people who have helped me immensely to do what I needed to have done.  My church has been greatly supportive.  My daughter has done fabulously at school.  In crucial ways God has met my needs.  Just because I haven’t experienced solutions in some areas that greatly concern me, mainly financial, doesn’t mean God abandoned me in all my ways.

These days are like a retreat, where I am taking time to pray and systematically put my sins under Jesus’ blood and my prayer requests in God’s hands.  I’m just making sure that’s where they are, because that’s where they belong.

Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” –

And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

Psalm 32:5

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Yesterday Michelle was kind enough to post for me on “my” day.  I got up this morning and found that she had posted for me in more ways than one.  Her message about freedom was very nearly the post I intended to write today.  I’m going ahead because I am going to look at it from a slightly different angle, and because when God says something important in Scripture you find He has said it again, even a number of times.  Maybe we need to hear this more than once because it’s so important to us right now.  I know I do.

I started looking at the whole passage of Galatians where you find the verse about the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:16 – 26.  I’ve been blogging about some individual fruits of the Spirit without looking at the bigger picture.

First, Paul has laid out the reason why his instructions are so important:  we are fighting a war.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. – Galatians 5:17

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves." Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

The war is not overseas, it is right here in front of us.  Worse, in this conflict between the Spirit and the sin nature, we feel drawn to the enemy side.  We find the list of sins nauseating when we read them, but they don’t always seem so bad when the opportunity presents itself.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. – Galatians 5:19 – 21a

Sounds awful, doesn’t it, at the moment?  Paul even trails off from naming them all.  Our enemy has plenty of temptations and enticements.  Following along with them brings dire consequences:

I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:21b

Why would anybody who lives like this be interested in inheriting the kingdom of God, I wondered.  Then I remembered those many who hear, and like what they hear, and do what they want anyway.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. – James 1:22 – 24

Have we walked away from personal inventory and forgotten what our own soul looks like?  It is an inward act of the sinful nature that is potentially more dangerous than the ones in the list above. In this war, as a soldier on the Kingdom side, I do have my orders:  stay away; flee; cast them off; push them away because they no longer have a part of you.

And we have help:  God knows the battle we fight between our spirits and the sinful nature.  “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Thank God for the hope in these next verses.  Paul proclaims decisively,

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. – Galatians 5:16

It doesn’t say, “With great and sad longing for your sinful ways, you can just eke out a victory, or a draw.”  “You won’t feel freed up, but you can pull it off.”  It says, “You will not gratify.” You can step forward and win the battle and be free, and get away from the law.  After listing the results of living by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Paul adds, “Against such there is no law.” – see Galatians 5:22 -24

Now both Michelle and I want always to stress that any command to do something outwardly flows from something inward.  You can’t just take these lists and say, “Okay, don’t do this, do that, and I’ll go to heaven.”  It leaves you still under the law, and you won’t win.  Oh, you may think you win, but there will still be sin balanced against the good works, and the good works may not be as pure in motivation as they seemed, and you need to be cleaned from all sin.   What will wipe clean the sin side of the scales once and for all?

The thing that has cleansed us, given us a second spiritual birth, and given us the power to do good things and feel free in doing them is our belief in Jesus – a belief that is so strong that we have given our lives over to Him.  When we heard His words, when we saw our sinful souls in the mirror, we did not absentmindedly walk away.  Inwardly we have made the decision to serve God.  Look at the power that God gives us in this next verse:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:24

We crucify the sinful nature.  We admit our sins and call our sins a part of all the sins Christ paid for when He was on the cross.  Now, because Jesus Christ is triumphant, we can win our battles.

The last verse in the passage is a warning:

Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. – Galatians 5:26

In other words, avoid the trap of now weighing on the scales your success at producing fruit against that of others, or concerning yourself with the size and scope of the work you are called to in comparison to others.  You just don’t know the way God is working in someone else’s life.  Throw away the scales and let God prune His fruit trees as only He knows best.

Jul
05

Forth of July

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Today’s blog is lighter than normal, in keeping with the celebratory weekend and the fact that many of us may not be revving up for work but for our vacation week.  Michelle’s had a busy weekend with friends and some fireworks that were so close they rained down ashes on her and her family.  I caught up with her this morning after the famous cup of coffee that her husband prepares.  I’ve got to find out what’s in that coffee some day.  Does it taste better if he makes it?  Seriously, I know it’s the love with which he brings it to her that makes her day.

My Third, and Fourth, and Fifth, were more quiet.  I started with some cleanup of my very needy backyard.  Ryan, one of the young men from church, is volunteering to take on the dirty work.  In exchange, he gets to throw a pool party here when the yard is presentable.  On Sunday, I substituted as the organist at a Baptist church in a village called Georgiaville.  I didn’t know there was a “Georgia” in my New England state, but we have villages called Phoenix, Arctic, and Wyoming, too.  Don’t ask me why.  Anyway, the Georgiaville folks had never met me before, and we had a wonderful time getting acquainted in the Lord.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like an exciting, patriotic weekend with parades, potato salad, etc.  But in church the pastor and others spoke about America being the greatest nation in the world, and we thanked God for her in prayer and in song.  I am impressed that at this time when I’m overwhelmed with my property, Ryan is willing to come help me out.  Giving one’s neighbor a hand is an American idea that is alive and well.

Late yesterday evening my daughter found the movie “Oklahoma!” on TV and we sat and watched.  I saw something different, something really current in the old film.  At the end of the movie Curly marries Laurie and changes careers from a cowboy to a farmer.  Curly’s moving on and adapting because he sees Oklahoma going up for statehood and his way of life yielding to farming.  I did have to fight an urge to shout at the TV, “No, Curly, tearing up the prairie will lead to the American dustbowl!”  Nonetheless, it has been so much of American culture to change careers and go forward, and I’m right now in the cross hairs of it.  My “cowboy” past is free lancing music, but to make a living in today’s world, I’m learning to write, blog, sell, and soon, moderate a website.  Now, as I think about it, this is how America always has been.  The aristocrat learned to plow the colonies’ lands.  The homebody became the pioneer trekking across the frontier.  Thirteen colonies with no “soldier class” in their social strata cobbled together an army to win their freedom.

We accept unquestionably that God had His hand on American adaptability, courage, endurance, ingenuity.  Does God have His hand on my life to do greater things with me after I scramble past the roadblocks?  We’ll have to wait and see.

So I have had a holiday that a parade or some fireworks (much as I love them) could not have given me.  I hope you’re feeling American today.  It’s our Christian outlook to yield and adapt to God’s ways.  It’s our American culture to change our ideas, or the way we earn our living, and try something new.  I hope you’re feeling it as we go on to July 6.

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