An end of the year letter for 2012

This is the letter I will be sending to family and friends this year:

I started to write an end of the year letter a few weeks ago.  I even got several paragraphs written.  It has all become rather meaningless over the last few days in the light of the heart-wrenching tragedy being experienced by other families in Connecticut right now.  So, I hope you won’t mind if I send you a few paragraphs concerning some of the thoughts that come to mind over this tragedy instead of a letter about my life and about what my kids are doing these days.  We’ve been busy this year, we’re all fine, and that’s about it.

And God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  Genesis 2:7

It is the breath of God that came into Adam on that day and the same breath that continued to breathe through Adam’s children and grandchildren on down through all the following generations.  Without that breath of life, he was just a lump of dust.  It’s the same with us, his many times great grandchildren and that makes us all the children of the living God.  So, what gives?  The events of this year, and especially the events of the past few days, make us pause and reflect on what on earth is going on.

You could say that there are many causes.  You could blame assault rifles and violent video games and the absenteeism of working parents who are too busy to take care of their children or to teach them the values that they themselves were taught, or were supposed to have been taught.  However, the fact of the matter is that many of God’s children either don’t know or have forgotten who they are.  They are not living like children of an awesome and loving king, God.  They’re living like derelict bums.  That is the tragedy.

It is as if the world has taken on two natures.  Part of humanity seems to be speeding towards God, hoping to find Him more each day, but increasingly more numbers are enticed by the glitz of a worldly life and are as a result speeding in the opposite direction, becoming more unlike Him every day.  To become more like God, one becomes more beautiful and more brilliant and if that’s true, then the opposite must also be true that those who are heading in the wrong direction are becoming more and more insane and hateful.  We can see that in the news on a daily basis.  Perhaps that is the meaning of “the valley of decision.”  We must all go through it and decide for ourselves which way we will go.

We have been greatly blessed in our family to have our parents and children and grandchildren finding God and seeking after Him.  We have discovered the immense power of prayer and how things absolutely change because of it.

Over the last few days, I can see how God grieves for the innocent lives snuffed out meaninglessly by one so selfish and callous.  Some call such people disturbed and say that there could be a personality disorder.  We have experienced a relative with what may have been called a “personality disorder,” but he didn’t pick up a rifle and shoot people.  In fact, through the power of prayer, he spent his last years on earth a happy and well liked person.  Prayer can do that.

This nation and this earth are in their valley of decision.  We need to turn our prayers to our greater family, the brothers and sisters with whom we share the same breath of life.  We are all brothers and sisters and it’s so sad that our brothers would hate us enough to want to kill us and more importantly that they would hate their own eternal Father.  They have no clue how much He longs for them to turn back to Him.  Above all, we need to maintain faith: faith that God will lead us if that’s what we’re praying for, faith that we will continue on this path, and faith that our children will find a way to reject this world’s evil when their day comes in that valley of decision.

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision …  Joel 3:14

So, may we all spend this season joyously in that we know who we are, gratefully because we know who it was that saved us, and yet a little bit more soberly since we know that there is yet so much lacking both in us and in our country.  Let’s pray that we all in our nation and our brothers and sisters in other nations will humble ourselves as it says so beautifully in the Scriptures:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14

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.

Drought in the Midwest

The nightly news is replete with information about the record drought this summer.  It’s important to watch these stories because the reporters cover the story from a variety of angles. You can see many of the ramifications of such an historic summer.  As you watch the different segments of the story, it gives you ideas on who and what needs prayer.  The farmers, most definitely, but also the poor animals who are hungry and hot, the cows and the chickens.  Many professions are affected besides the farmers, including river boat pilots on the mighty Mississippi and other businesses that depend on it as a resource of some sort.  There is much to pray about this summer.

At the same time, we have to consider why this is happening.  Scripture tells us that the land is full of adulterers (it is) and that because of swearing the land mourns and the pleasant places are dried up (Jer 23:10).  In our modern world, our whole lifestyle is adulterated.  Even our crops are adulterated.  Scientists engineer the seeds that are sown in the ground and the companies that own the engineered seeds make sure that only their seeds are used.  God knows that the seeds were perfect and pure before all of the engineering.  He sees the bigger picture that the engineered seeds are not good for our bodies.  What is He to do?  He loves His creation but we are destroying, not only ourselves but others and the land with us.

The fertilizer required to maintain these engineered crops is running off into the ground water and in its turn is destroying the river that it runs into.  The mighty Mississippi carries this pollution into the Gulf of Mexico and vast regions of this beautiful body of water are now dead zones.  What is our Father to do?  You could say that instead of a green thumb, we have a black thumb that destroys everything that we touch.

God loves His creation the way He created it.  If you were God, what would you do to get the land to return to the way it should be?  So far, everything that mankind has tried hasn’t worked.  No one takes the naysayers and the protesters seriously.  Therefore, God HAS to send a strong message to the ones who are the most instrumental in its destruction.  What if the drought in the Midwest is actually a blessing?  An intial thrust of change in the way things are done?  God is certainly drawing attention to this most critical area of our country and showing us the value of this rich farm land.  We need to return it to its pristine beauty of only a few short centuries ago.  It is entirely possible to reverse what we have done to the land.  God always gives us a way out.  He tells us multiple times in the Old Testament that if we turn our hearts to Him, He will hear and heal our land.

God’s way is the perfect way.  His garden was the perfect one.  We can turn back the clock of destruction by turning back to our Father and letting His way be true.

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?