Thank God for the fleas

There is a line in “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom that is never too far from my mind.  While imprisoned in a concentration camp, Corrie’s sister insisted that they had to thank God for the fleas.  Corrie had a hard time with that but did it a bit begrudgingly to satisfy her beloved sister.  When you think of their situation, that took a lot of faith to carry on and even thank God for the fleas.  Eventually, they discovered that the Germans did not want to enter their particular barrack because of those fleas and that is what gave them the little bit of liberty that they had to teach others the Word of God.  With hindsight, Corrie was so grateful for those fleas and for the opportunity to help others at a time when they were in such dire circumstances.

God sometimes allows ‘fleas’ in different areas of our lives.  To us they look like dirty little inconveniences, problems, difficulties and heartaches.  However, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts.  He sees things from His eternal viewpoint.  It’s in the valley of decision and difficulty that the purest metals are forged.  Our darkest days have the potential to bring the greatest growth.  No one would voluntarily choose heartache, but we are all capable, by faith, of thanking God for the fleas in our lives and then of waiting patiently for the time when (and if) He chooses to reveal the reason for them.

It’s easy to thank God for our abundance and our all too apparent blessings, but have we thanked God for the fleas lately?  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and if there are fleas in your life, remember that God loves you with an everlasting love and is always doing everything He can to bring you closer to Him.

The Trouble With Advertising

We are surrounded by a non-stop, twenty-four hours a day barrage of advertising.  As Christians, why should this bother us?  Or should it?  The purpose of our lives is to live a life of “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Advertising is a constant distraction trying to grab our attention away from the things that are real and true and instead, get us focused on the natural, temporary things of this natural world.  The whole point of an advertisement is to get you to covet something enough so that you will spend whatever it costs to buy it.

Recently, I had a ridiculous conversation with my telephone company.  I called them to ask them to stop sending me advertisements for more of their products and services.  I felt it was a waste of paper and money.  Hohoho.  How silly of me to want to save them some money.  After a long and drawn out conversation, the woman finally agreed to stop sending the offending messages and then in the same breath she said that she noticed that I qualified for a special package.  She rattled off all of the wonderful services I could get with this package faster than I could take in what any of it meant.  Then she boasted that I could even get this wonderful package for three dollars less than I was paying at the moment!  I said that if they were really intent on receiving less money, I’d be happy to oblige them and promptly signed up for the package.  As soon as that transaction was complete, she started in on something else.   I said, “Enough!” and hung up the phone.  In the end, it saved me three bucks, but I had to wonder about the sanity of these people.

Then just the other day, I had to call my cell phone provider.  For some reason I was receiving daily ads on my cell phone since the time that I had bought it.  My daughter had the exact same phone and didn’t get any ads.  I had tried several times to have these ads either stopped or blocked from my phone at different branches associated with my provider.  Nothing seemed to work.  So, I called the main number.  After punching in the usual string of numbers required to ‘access’ my account, guess what was playing as I waited on hold for the next ten minutes?  Yes, more ads.  The woman was finally able to find the cause of the ads – an app that someone had downloaded onto my phone.  Who put it there?  Not me.  It’s not a smart phone and I don’t have any data plan.  I just use the phone for calls and texting.   Anyway, the case was solved and … no more ads.

I think that for the most part, we are so accustomed to ads that we don’t even realize that we are constantly being assaulted by them.  Yes, it is an assault.  It’s a war out there to buy your business.  No matter where you are, someone wants you to buy something more.  As a  frugal Christian trying to live an uncovetous life here on earth, I think that I try to ignore it all but lately it really does feel more like a knock down drag out assault.  It takes a consciously herculean effort to ignore it.

When I go into a store, I have to almost put blinders on in order to stay focused on the particular item needed.  Some stores, especially the ones that give you carriages (imagine that, carriages in a clothing store!), seem able to persuade consumers to buy bushels of extra items even though they entered the store for just one thing.  Maybe it’s in the layout or some kind of subliminal message in the music they’re playing.

I believe that it is an issue for Christians because it keeps us thinking about natural things, natural desires.  It makes us discontent with the things that we have and creates a constant desire to always have more, more.  Most importantly it takes us away from our true purpose here on earth, which is to live the God life, the life which He put inside of us.  It keeps us from connecting with that part deep inside of ourselves that would raise us up out of this earth’s natural crust and help us to discover that we are truly children of the Most High.

No Pain, No Gain

That phrase – no pain, no gain – has alternately either annoyed me or haunted me in my life.  Today I learned a lesson about it that is well worth repeating.  An elderly friend of mine recently opted for a hip replacement operation in spite of her advanced years and other health problems.  She survived the surgery, but instead of having hip pain, she now has excruciating pain in her lower leg (same one that was operated on) from tendinitis.  Today I stopped by to visit her after work and discovered her working with her therapists.  She was in such pain that she could not move the leg at all.  They put some ice on the leg and left for awhile so that it could take effect.  They didn’t want to give her more pain medication at that time.   After they had gone, I sympathized with my friend and we prayed a little and she told me about her troubles with the pain.  I wanted to take her pain away and relieve her agony.  She said that she had wanted to give up that morning but that the therapists wouldn’t let her.  We talked in such a vein for about ten minutes, with me offering her much sympathy and feelings of pity.

Then the door to her room suddenly opened and her daughter entered, having come 200 miles because of her mother’s post operative difficulties.  She was instantly all business.  She said, “Mom, you have to move that leg.”  She began gently moving the leg even though her mother was crying out in pain.  She said, “You have to move it yourself.”  Her mom answered, “I can’t move it by myself.”  To which her daughter replied, “You ARE doing it.”  I looked down and in fact she WAS moving the leg on her own.  Her daughter didn’t stop there.  She said, “Mom, you’re the one who wanted this operation.  You HAVE to cooperate with the therapists.  You have to go down to the gym to the therapy session tomorrow.”  She continued on and also spoke to me about her mother’s apparent stubbornness to do what the therapists wanted.

The whole thing seemed a bit harsh to me, but it started to work.  The situation brought to my mind that old saying about no pain, no gain and I realized that my attitude was actually hindering her from becoming well.  Her daughter, who is a nurse, insisted that if she didn’t start working on the therapy in spite of the pain, she would never get out of that wheelchair and in fact, if she didn’t start exercising both legs, the pain might worsen and the other leg might also start causing her trouble.  So, my friend is finding herself in the odd predicament in her elder years where the only way to get past her pain is to work through it in spite of it.

Although this seems like a tragic way to spend one’s older years, I realized that I shouldn’t look at it in that way.  It isn’t such an odd predicament at all because it happens to us throughout our lives.  It is an experience common to us all.  When I look back through the scenarios of my life, I can see that the times that were the most painful also brought about the most growth.  I learned a lot through those horrendous experiences and I am able to draw on them at times when others need some kind of encouragement in working through their own troubles.  The only way to get past the difficulties in our lives is to work through them, to maintain the struggle in spite of the pain it causes us.  We look at ourselves and see things that need to be changed.  Bit by bit, by exercising that bit of God’s nature that He placed inside of us, we begin to work through the pain and in the end it’s the only way that we become victorious.

We will stand up, but only if we fully cooperate with our divine therapist, day by day exercising our spiritual muscles.  We will walk again with God if we maintain the good fight until the end.  All things do work together for our good because they are brought into our lives by our infinitely loving Father who sees what we need so much better than we ever could.

Why does God allow evil?

God hates evil, so why does He allow it?  Since God is only good, He can only allow it as long as something good will come from it either immediately or in the long term.

After living several decades on this earth and going through many experiences, I think that I am qualified to say that sometimes we humans don’t know our upside from our downside.  Sometimes we get the goofiest ideas and we adamantly persist in the idea that we’re right.  Our goofy ideas are going to lead us into a pit.  Our kind and loving Father can only look at us in amazement and sigh.  Then He has to set about arranging situations to get us back on the real right path.  His methods at times are intended to shock us out of our stupor.

That’s a very simplistic way of looking at it, but we cannot see how to navigate our way in this dark world.  God has to constantly rearrange us.  Sometimes difficult circumstances are the only thing that will lead us back to Him.

On a grander scale, it’s the same with humankind.  We, of our own selves would ultimately destroy ourselves with our ignorant ‘knowledge.’  We use our brains for all kinds of research that ends up creating things that will kill us better.  Nowadays, we have engineered seeds, engineered everything, ‘new and improved’ things that God originally created perfect.  How can you improve on perfect?  We humans think we can.  Foolish.

As a consequence, we can only see the error of our ways when our own foolishness turns around to bite us in the proverbial butt.  We can only reject evil and choose good, if we see the consequences of evil and make a conscious choice to act positively in our lives.  As a result, the consequences of our bad choices surround us.

Even people who are not religious are able to see what’s wrong and make decisions to do good.  They see the wrongs in this world and they decide that they will help out their neighbor or contribute to a cause.  A lot of good happens because someone read about trouble somewhere in the world and people want to help alleviate some of the pain. A lot of people are realizing that some things were better before technology made them more ‘perfect.’   Each one of us has inside ourselves the ability to make our own choices against the evil that we see both in ourselves and in our world.

In the end God does not so much allow evil, but rather He wonders: why do we?

Who is my neighbor? Who is my brother?

Luke 10:25 – 29 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?  And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.   And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.   But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

We all love the answer Jesus gave, the story of a  man who was injured.  The religious people passed him by and only a Samaritan man, who was considered unworthy, stopped to help.   The good book also says that God gives to all life and breath and he has made of one blood all nations of men.  He has also decided when and where they would live on this earth.  Why?  So that they would have the best chance that they could possibly have to find God.  (Ac 17:25 – 27)

So, who is my neighbor?  Who is my brother?  When we were children, in our all white neighborhood, we used to tell Polish jokes.  We also used to make fun of certain other nationalities.  Then I began to teach English to a variety of foreign people.  Over the years of my career, God has allowed students from almost every nation to sit in my classroom.  There have been multiple misunderstandings due to differences in culture, but as the years go by meeting students from all over the world has become  a treasure to me, a wonderful lifetime lesson in finding out who my  brother and my neighbor are.  Over and over I had to face the very people that I used to make fun of.  As children, we sometimes would insult one another by calling one another a certain race of supposedly small people in Africa.  Then one day I found myself face to face with a student who came from that very tribe, which is properly called the Batwa and whose people are lovely and actually not all that small.   I had to admit to God that I had been prejudiced and spoke about things concerning which I had no knowledge.

After many years of such experiences, God has allowed me to see his nature in all of my wonderful students.  At times they don’t get along.  Their cultural differences are too great in subtle ways that they don’t recognize and sometimes won’t admit even when someone points it out to them.  The Hispanics are quick to answer and the Asians prefer to wait a moment.  Is either one wrong?  No!  They are just different.  Imagine if God’s world were only like Oz, everything just green.  It would look lovely, but think of all the other colors that we wouldn’t even know that we were missing.  Our God is a great God.  We are created in His image.  His image is not just flat or one-sided.  God has an infinite number of exquisitely wonderful qualities that are displayed in His creation.  If we could begin to appreciate those differences in each other and celebrate them, we would not only get along a whole lot better, but also we would begin to know our Father and Creator.  We would become rich in our experience and wisdom.  We’d really learn to live Jesus’ words about loving our neighbor.

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

People love what they talk about.  We all know this to be true.  When a person talks about themselves all the time, it makes us feel uncomfortable because they seem to be full of themselves.  When someone talks incessantly about sports, we understand that that person really loves sports.  They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t love it.  Someone who loves cooking will undoubtedly talk about it all the time.  If we take that further, we can examine ourselves and know what it is that we love.

I have to begin with myself.  If I talk about myself all the time, I love myself and am not considerate of others.  Do I speak all the time about my work?  Do I only talk about my children?  What is it that occupies my mind all day?  What I take the time to talk about is inevitably what is on my mind during the day.  Is my mind on God?  Does God and godly things come out of my mouth easily?  Or am I talking constantly about my trips to the mall and about the latest things that I would like to purchase?

I have known quite a few different kinds of religious people.  Some spoke of God religiously, showing that they really loved religion and appearing to be religious more than God.  However, I also knew a person who spoke genuinely of God and godly issues with a very soft and humble spirit of love.  I was and am sure that person truly loved God.  It made me think about what is on my mind.  What does my mind stray to when I’m driving to work or taking a walk?  When I have problems, do I consider how God feels about them and frame my conversations with that in mind?

Life in God is always interesting.  There’s always a new revelation around the corner.  There’s always something more to be learned about life here on earth and how God leads us through our daily trials.  When my mind is on God, it comes out of my mouth.

You’ve got a friend

It is one of my life’s goals to trust God with all of my heart in spite of the troubles that beset us in these sometimes difficult days.  With Hurricane Irene bearing down on us and the weatherman doling out constant warnings of trouble, my mind has been preoccupied with worries and making preparations for the upcoming storm.  It’s important to be ready for any eventualities but recently I bought a little plaque that says, “No worries” just to remind myself that God is indeed the one to trust.

Yesterday, I watched the weather report several times and it was starting to affect me a lot.  I came out of work and got into my car.  I turned on the radio for a bit of relaxing music for the drive home.  It was James Taylor.   “If the sky above you grows dark and full of clouds, and that ol’ north wind begins to blow, keep your head together and call my name out loud; soon you’ll hear me knockin’ at your door.  You just call out my name and you know wherever I am I’ll come runnin’ to see you again.  Winter, spring, summer or fall all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.  You’ve got a friend.”

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  (Ps 46:1)  Thank you, God.  Thank you for your constant presence and your Comforter.

Time is a blessing

Time: Time is a blessing that some do not receive and yet others are blessed amply with it.  My own parents are now 90 years old and have been much blessed with time.  When they were little, the world was in a great depression.  If we could transport ourselves back to that time, we would be able to feel how people felt then.  We would see through our own eyes that the grownups then did not know how long that terrible time would last.  The only thing that they could do was to live through it and persevere.  It took faith to make it through those days.  It took faith for that generation to help those who were even less fortunate than they.  It took faith for them to know that even if they gave away some of what little they had, things would work out.  Many of that generation took huge steps of faith to make it through those days.  They sent children off to live with relatives hoping that one day they would be able to bring them home.  They continued living their lives, keeping hope as a candle alive and brightly lit in their hearts.

From that period of time, we pass on to the days when that generation was finishing high school and the world was plunging headlong into a world war.  For young people, the future is everything and yet as young people that generation did not know if they even had a future.  What kind of world would practice murder on such a grand scale?  Would all of their loved ones survive such a massive war?  Again, if we could transport ourselves back into that time, we would know that at that time, there were no answers available.  There was no way of knowing the future.  There was only hope and again, faith.  It took faith for them to carry on with their lives, to marry knowing that their young husband would soon leave to fight a war on another continent.  It took faith to hang on during those long years of separation.  Finally, the war ended, loved ones returned and hope was fulfilled, but not for all.  Somehow the world carried on and the post war years seemed like a happy respite from trouble, although even then, nothing came easily.  Faith continued to sustain the people of that era as they navigated their way through the tumultuous years of the sixties.

Through the years, nothing has ever been certain, nothing one hundred percent guaranteed.  However, faith carried many of that generation through and brought them to a lovely green pasture with a beautiful view of all of the fruits of their labor.  That is the blessing of time.  A person is allowed the pleasure of seeing his or her life dreams fulfilled and the hardships of life resolved.  Children grow up and encounter their own troubles in life.  Parents look on and hold on to their faith.  As time passes, situations work out somehow and you can see the marvelous hand of God and stand back in awe at what He has done.  Grandchildren arrive, even great grandchildren, and so the cycle continues, each generation needing to find their own measure of faith to hold them through troublesome times.  It is an outstanding blessing to live long enough to see new generations find their way, enter into constructive careers, begin happy marriages and take the first steps into their paths of life.  Yes, time is a blessing.  What a blessing at the end of a life to see life’s troubles resolved and multitudes of difficult situations resolve themselves in happy endings.

We all love stories with happy endings and faith will carry you through until you can see it with your own eyes.  However, even in the Scriptures, not everyone is given the blessing of seeing the end of a matter.  Many a servant of God could only maintain his or her faith through until the end of their part of the grand picture, leaving this world in faith, hoping that the eternal purpose would one day be fulfilled.  Sometimes we feel as though we are in the midst of Psalm 23.  “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …”  Yes, surely we have all felt that way a time or two as we walk along this road.  Faith continues on with the second half of that verse: “I will fear no evil.”  It takes faith to continue walking and fearing nothing.  The lives of faithful servants offer hope to new generations of young people, that though their times of trial are just beginning, if they just continue on in faith as the previous generation has done, they too will come to the day when they will see the fruits of their labor and see the resolution of their life’s trials.   Living examples of faith from the past are an inspiration to us and offer us a very real hope.  The cycle continues and we become those living examples, passing on the faith from generation to generation.

A Word Fitly Spoken

Recently I went to a family reunion for my parents’ 90th birthdays.  About a month after that we went to a family wedding on my husband’s side of the family.  Giving each event a perfunctory glance, one might say it’s all about food, flowers, music, cake, cookies and a lot of chatter.  However, there is so much more going on.  The Scriptures encourage us to get together with the family of God.  Why?  These experiences with my natural family made the answer abundantly clear to me.

On the surface, a white bridal runner, home made Italian cookies piled high on the dessert table, luscious carrot cake with ivory frosting, champagne toasts and many clinkings of glasses while the young couple reward us with a kiss.  But beneath the white roses (with just a hint of pink), wishes of congratulations and happy smiles runs a current of issues: hearts that ache due to broken relationships.  Faces marked by rivers of tears now slightly dried from their recent rivers flowing down.  Hearts bruised from life’s fiery trials, looking for answers, praying for hope.

Amidst all of these hidden hurts, a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Pr 25:11).   We have in our hearts and tongues the power to heal a heart and give someone hope.  A measure of friendship lessens the depth of the creases where tears have worn deep crevasses.  One young life looking for direction, another looking for hope.  Even a quick prayer costs me nothing but my time and yet the results are enormous.  How can we know of these situations if we don’t get together with our brothers and sisters?  When we see each other, so much is going on.  Where the threads of our relationships have been torn, they are being stitched back together.  Patches are sown over places made bare from the daily wear and tear of life.  Restorations and connections are happening even under the surface.  God is not idle.  If we give Him just a bit of our time and effort, He’ll run with it and stretch it out to last a lifetime.  Especially in difficult times, much is accomplished.

Hebrews 10:25  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Why does mankind allow evil?

There is a generation of God’s wrath.  By looking at the day’s headlines, we could surmise that this generation is it.  Hoodlums, hooligans, just looking for an excuse to create mayhem.  However, God’s wrath is an appearance.  God Himself is like liquid love.  His love is like a mother bear roaring after those that might harm her precious cubs.  We associate wrath with anger, but God is incapable of the kind of anger we see as humans.  His wrath is His burning love.  His only desire is to help further our life in God.  Every single thing that God does is for our benefit.  Therefore, His apparent wrath can only manifest if we force it and if it will in some way benefit mankind.  The tipping point, where evil is overwhelming the good, is coming to a head, perhaps forcing God to step in and do something to save the righteous that remain.

A lot of people wonder why God even allows evil.  But the true question seems to be, why do humans allow it?  For thousands of years, God has been so patient and kind, waiting for mankind to understand just a few basic ideas of practical living.  Love God first.  Do unto other people what you would have them do unto you.  Take care of your earth because it is the gift of God to feed you and to heal you.  Be kind to all of God’s creation because He made it and therefore it’s good.  There have been a few who understood and lived His life while they were here on earth.  Many of them were horribly persecuted by those that didn’t want to live that same kind of life.

Basically we have screwed up so badly.  We can’t just point the finger at youthful hooligans and say that they are the problem.  They are more of a symptom than the core of the problem.  Every area of human life is in a shambles: religion, government, education, agriculture, justice, family life.  The list is very long.  Can you think of any area of human life that isn’t in total disarray?  I can’t.  Oh yes, there are exceptions here and there, but the major part of our civilization apparently cannot be recovered.  If we don’t fix it, we force God out of His heavens.  We force Him to come and fix what we won’t.  Isaiah 64:1, 2 says: “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at they presence, as when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make they name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!”  If He has to come down and fix things, He will come with flaming fury.  If we force His hand, He will come “with ten thousands of his saints to execute judgments upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds … (Jude 14, 15)”

God’s heart of liquid love is broken because of the hurt being done to innocent people.  His heart aches for someone, or someones, to start a revival of basic human decency.  He has never left anyone without any hope.  There will always be the story of Jonah.  Ninevah was to be destroyed, but they repented and our holy and almighty God changed His mind and did not destroy them.  In Malachi, He ends the Old Testament with this warning: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”  It is a dreadful thought.  A study of God’s curses show that He is exquisitely precise and righteous.  In the modern vernacular, He knows how to nail you.  However, in the warning is also an exceptionally bright promise.  If the heart changes and fathers and children once again love and respect each other, then, like the great city of Ninevah, we can touch the heart of our awesome Father and He will turn away His anger for “the curse causeless shall not come.”  (Proverbs 26:2)