The human mind cannot fully discern the ways of God, indeed one who would claim to grasp even a small understanding of His existence would likely be viewed with a quizzical eye. It would be as the foolishness of one lifting a grain of sand from an ocean floor, analyzing that speck and claiming then to have full understanding of the seas of the world. Profoundly did Isaiah note in 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”From my WIP Dream Shards
Because of a world full of gross evil and confusion that encroaches on all of us, it is tempting to focus on those negative and admittedly frightening elements. Rather, we should find tranquility as we recall that Jesus really is the light of the world.
I was reminded of this wonderful piece of knowledge early this morning when I arose around 5:30. Rain had begun sometime during the night, I wanted to see it, so after I opened the front drapes I turned on the yard light and the Christmas lights we have draped around the deck railing. I also clicked the switch that turned on the wreath that is hanging on our inside stair wall.
The light that shined now through our front windows was incredible. The shot above was taken through that window, not only revealing the light outside, but a reflection of the wreath–shows in the top part of the photograph. Photographers call all that unfocused light bokeh. I go along with that, but insist on adding that every fragment of light we have is because of God, for Jesus is the light of the world.
I turned then for a inside shot of the wreath on the stair wall, and saw again more light than what is actually there. In the big wreath there are only three large balls. The others are reflections, as are many of the glowing points from the twinkle lights. Neat, huh. Magic. Nature. Laws of science. God.
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12
I’m wishing you a blessed Christmas season. Relax. Remember that Jesus truly is the light of the world.
Oh, it was a stain all right, one that could never be washed away, nor dissolved, nor could any amount of explaining stop the whispers nor the guarded looks nor the snickers behind the hand. We believe she was merely a teenager when she learned of the situation. She was not married. She was pregnant. Her name was Mary and she was now stained.
The conception was of the miraculous and it was an angel who told her the implausible news. Mary tried to account to Joseph; I expect he stared incredulously at this girl he loved as she recounted the strange tale, but as much as he adored her, he could not believe. He mulled over the situation, knew he was not the father of the baby, and resolved to break the relationship. Then an angel talked to him and the angel’s story was the same as Mary’s, so Joseph believed, and together this young innocent couple lived with the stain, with the shame.
The stain was enduring and was a thing of beauty, but they didn’t know about that, only about the reproach of the pregnancy and of their daily difficulties. Little did they understand that the blood of the baby born that night in Bethlehem was of the eternal and that its shedding, its staining of the wood of Golgotha, would be that to redeem mankind.
So, the beauty of stain becomes apparent. It becomes of efficacy, of potency, so that a piece of textile subjected to pots of color and to the clacking of loom is transformed into an item of beauty and of benefit.
Strange, is it not. Rare. A lesson to be learned.
Philosophies abound. Those who are believers, those who are atheists, and even those who are agnostics all have considered the subject of whether there is a God, and most have settled on a stance. Papers and books have been published–words by the tens of thousands–arguments and debates continuously resound throughout the world. In speeches and sermons, a consortium of thought is routinely examined as rationalizations and justifications for each belief is fervently discussed.
All who read my work know I am unequivocal in my belief that there is a God. Superior, everlasting, with no beginning and no ending is God: God, who created all things.
I am convinced that even if I should be wrong–that there really is no God, no Heaven, no Hell, no life after death–I still have chosen the better way. Consider with me that if it should turn out that my life, or yours, is no more significant than that of a loved puppy or a cherished stallion, and that when we are laid into the earth, it is truly the end. There is nothing else; no resurrection, no Heaven, no God, no Hell. Even should this be so (understand I adamantly reject such thought) I am yet convinced that my belief in God and all that view entails is the preferable way and would have given me a happier, more contented and fulfilled life than has the one who lived as a non-believer or as an agnostic.
Today I attended a funeral. It was a happy occasion. Happy? you say. Yes, happy. Oh, there were tears, and I know the family of Brother Kendrick are suffering deeply with inexpressible grief, and that the dull ache his leaving has ripped into their hearts is heavy tonight. Even so, even for them, there was happiness today at the funeral in Bakersfield, CA. For we are believers. We believe in Heaven and we believe in God. Heaven is a real place, and tonight Brother Kendrick has escaped the suffering of this world and is present with God. It’s a good thing to believe that. It is comfort. It is of such joy that today when hundreds of us sang hymns of the church, coupled with the sadness of our loss, there was a definite spirit of rejoicing.
Yes, it’s a good thing to believe in God, in the Bible, and in Heaven. It’s a good thing to share these beliefs with dozens and hundreds and thousands, so that when we are together–even as we huddle about a casket–we smile, and sing, and look into the eyes of our friends with that knowing, faraway look. One day . . .one moment . . . for each of us . . .
Not long after we moved into our home here in Crestline, our dear next-door neighbor, a gentleman now in his ’80s, said to us one day as we entertained him in our home. “I envy you.” He smiled as he looked at both Jerry and me. “I’m not a believer. I wish I were. I envy your faith.” Somehow Bill–an agnostic–understands that to believe is the superior way, the way of peace, of joy, and of happiness.
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He was alone. The night hours arrived; the man looked about for a spot to rest, saw a likely place, and stretched himself on the ground. He would spend the night here. Quickly he fell asleep, and then began the dream. It was a majestic dream, one that would forever change the life of the young man. A tall ladder set in the earth extended into the heavens with angels flitting up and down. At the very top stood the Lord who spoke to Jacob, “…I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac…”
It was a strange place for such an encounter, an unusual setting, and when Jacob had settled himself onto his stone pillow that black night, it is unlikely that he was anticipating a remarkable visit with God Almighty. Indeed his later words in the text indicate his surprise at such an occurrence. For in that solitary wilderness on the road to Padanaram as he made the trek to find a wife, God shook Jacob’s world with the startling words:
“And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
“And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”
Genesis 28: 14-15
No doubt with a jerk and with a pounding heart, Jacob woke from his sleep, the vivid dream reverberating in his head: He sat upright to declare, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.” I didn’t know God would be here, had no idea. He looked about at this most unlikely of places, where little thought or idea of God’s spectacular presence would be anticipated, stunned at the vision, at the promise.
What a lesson is ours today. It may be in a youth service with a tender-faced boy who struggles through his first sermon or in a Sunday school class or around a dinner table or on our couch in a dark hour before dawn or in a hospital waiting room or in a mid-week Bible study group that doesn’t seem at all spectacular—it may be in any of these simple places where God will visit us, where He will draw us aside, and where He will whisper into our ears the Promise, the Plan.
Let us be aware. Let us listen…for we too may walk away and say with Jacob, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.”
Jerry and I arrived home last night around 10:30. In the morning, before 10:00, Jerry had gone to the church for a meeting; I had gone with Melody as she met with an attorney. When we were finished in the law offices, Melody and I went to the church where I sat in on the last part of the meeting where Jerry and Mike and Brenda had engaged with a person representing government funding grants and other options which we are hoping will develop into financial aid for our burgeoning Christian Intervention Program. Melody had received disturbing news from the attorney, so we talked more about that, then at the Red Onion had lunch with her. We went home for about two hours, during which time, Jerry drove out to George and Michele’s to check on them. By 4:00 we were back at the church preparing for the night’s activities; CIP, Ladies Bible study and Men’s Bible study. New people came to register for the program, people called with questions and to say why they would be late, or would not be there at all. A mom had left a message on the answering machine: Thanks for working with my daughter. She won’t be available for 20 days. She’s in Kingman. (The county jail is in Kingman.) A young man came to register, but because of the hours found he could only attend the Tuesday night sessions and would start next week, but as I continued to talk with him, tears welled in his eyes, and I knew God was talking to him. We stood together; a young man in his 20s with a stud in his upper lip, and I. He would leave and return for class on Tuesday, but first, I suggested, let’s go in the pastor’s office and pray. He sat on Jerry’s brown leather couch and we prayed. He sobbed. “I’m from a gang-banging family,” he told us, “and I’m tired of it.” He bent over, his forehead resting in his hand. “My brother is the chapter leader of the Skinheads in the ______________area. I have three children; my girlfriend just had twins, and they are not mine.” He wept so much his eyes were now red, and before he left, he extended his hand across Jerry’s desk. “Thank you. Thank you for your time.” A young woman came in with her father in tow. “He needs to register for your program.” Jerry was counseling another church couple in his office. Because of so much activity in the office, I was late now to pick up someone who needed a ride. “I’m on my way,” I spoke into my phone as I headed out the door. Sessions finished, few people lingering: I fired up our new Hammond, we turned on the PA, and Mike and I jammed for a few minutes, his red drums aflame. The person I had picked up for class ambled onto the platform, thumbed through the songbook, and said, “Let’s do this one.” Night’s end: Jerry and I dropped off the student I had picked up and, at Black Bear, we met Job and Eliana–our newly weds–for food. Goodnight at 10:30.
Early this morning, I sat in our living room and thought about yesterday and how wonderful it was, and how I love God and His work, and how I delight in being at His house. I turned in my Bible to Psalm 84.
1How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
2My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
3Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.
4Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.
5Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
6Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
7They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
8O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.
9Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
10For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
12O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
In a bit, we will go again to the beautiful, magnificent house of God. How blessed I am.
“But Mom, you and dad are doing the best you can. Don’t worry about the rest of it.”
The statement had evolved in a conversation with my youngest son, Andrew, during which I spoke of worries around not doing everything that needs to be done here in our mission church in Lake Havasu. I knew he was right, for I often console myself with that very understanding: God sent us here to bring in this work, and He knows us, knows our ages, our inadequacies and our few abilities.
God. No one like God. Why He seems to find pleasure in taking small things, sorry places, weak, inept and unfit people to effect powerful and magnificent work. It’s a rather good move on His part, this God of mine, for when He uses such circumstances and such people, it is God alone who receives the glory. For none dare say the accomplishment springs from the people who scurry about with books and phone calls and Bible studies and sermons and music and remodeling and hospital visits and counseling and…
This lesson was jolted again into my thinking when I read the following story this morning.
Sometimes your biggest weakness can become your biggest strength. Take, for example, the story of one 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.
The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move.
“Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”
“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied.
Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.
Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.
This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened.
“No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.”
Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.
On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”
“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grap your left arm.”
The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.
Author unknown Source: Inspirational Stories
As I finished reading the story, I thought immediately of the great Apostle Paul, and reaching for my Bible, I turned to the well-marked scripture in II Corinthians 12:9. A couple of verses above this Paul had spoken of a problem he had–perhaps an illness or a disability. He talked to God about the situation and in verse 9 tells of God’s response. Love it!
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Isn’t that the greatest thing. Through my weakness, my disabilities, my meager and pathetic efforts, the power of Christ rests on me!
Michael has a friend who is so devoted to her church that Michael describes her as “maybe the most religious person I have ever seen.” She is devout, a staunch Roman Catholic. A few days ago, she received the Holy Ghost as evidenced by speaking in tongues. This past weekend as several people sat about talking, her husband told how standing in a Catholic church, his wife began speaking in tongues. So did several other people around them.
It happened this way, as I understand it. It had been announced that a certain priest, touted as a faith-healer, would hold a series of meetings called “missions.” It was during one of these services that he called for the entire congregation to leave their seats and come stand around the front of the church. As this startled group did so, he suddenly sprang onto a piece of furniture (my understanding is that it was an altar) and began loudly speaking in tongues, and at one point encouraged other people to speak in tongues. It was then that Michael’s friend began speaking in tongues, as did others around her.
“It makes me nervous when people speak in tongues,” said one of the group this past weekend as Mike, his friends and family sat about, and the husband told of this experience he observed.
The woman who received the Holy Ghost spoke. “It made me nervous, too.”
It does not surprise me to hear people say that observing someone speak in tongues makes them nervous, nor am I surprised to learn that Mike’s friend who herself spoke in tongues was made a little nervous about the experience. Why am I not surprised? I am not surprised because when a person receives the Holy Ghost, and as evidence speaks in tongues, God has inhabited that person, has moved into their very soul. It is humbling to contemplate. Now, I know God is everywhere–even filling the universe–and long ago, I learned that some aspects of God are not easily described, but I press the point that when one receives the Holy Ghost as I have described it is a life-changing experience. It is glorious and impossible to recount.
Jerry preached in a Phoenix church yesterday, necessitating a guest preacher at our own church. After Mike and I lunched with him and his family and Mike was driving me home, he remarked about the thrust of the sermon, and how it was opportune and fitted exactly to our congregation. “He did not know our challenges or particular situation, Mom,” Mike said. “Yet, almost his every word was directed to our needs.”
It’s amazing; I think of it often. God–the very God–He who created the heavens and the earth and all therein, looks about, sees our needs and moves among us. Into the mind of the preacher, He impresses the words the congregation needs to hear. Into the heart of one sincerely longing for Him, He pours His spirit, and suddenly that one is speaking in tongues. Amazing and yes, somewhat frightful…Why? Because it is holy…because it is supernatural…because it is of Another World.
It’s a subject that has been heavy on my heart for a long time, so much so that I am now dealing with it by writing a book: The subject? Backsliding. I’m not yet sure of the title, but have laid out the book and have written already a fair amount.
Certainly the book may change as I go along, but for now, I have designed it to be written in this way:
I. Introduction (including a significant dream)
II. Causes of Backsliding
III. How to Avoid Backsliding
IV. Backsliding in the Bible
VI. Price paid by backsliders even after they return to God
VII. Resolution of the dream
VIII. Merciful restoration
I’ve decided to share my progress with the book in this column; hope you’ll read with me, and if you have suggestions, I would love to hear them.
Beginning of Chapter 3 CAUSES OF BACKSLIDING
Closely aligned to this chapter is the next in which we talk of ways to avoid backsliding, for within the warp and woof of avoiding backsliding must be observed the cause of backsliding. I’ve chosen to differentiate between these adjacent chapters in this way: In this section the focus will be on those persons who surround, attend, and minister to those who stand a chance of backsliding, which, in the broadest sense, is anyone who is a child of God. For once a spiritual birth has taken place, backsliding is possible. Indeed, as miserable as it is to acknowledge, there is great likelihood that a falling away—a slipping back into the world—will occur.
The prime in prevention of backsliding will always rest with the individual Christian. Ultimately, I am responsible for my decisions; my advancement or regression, my growth or withering, my discernment or ignorance, my backsliding into devilry, or my flourishing as a child of God. I reckon with the fact that when I stand before God, I will answer for my life. I fear I cannot blame my husband, my pastor, my church family, my childhood deprivation, or my family curses. I tremble at the thought. Conclusively, I am pressed to insure my own salvation. I am responsible for my final end.
Having said that, however, it cannot be disputed that a significant sum of human nurture—taking into account every aspect of his being, including his soul—comes from others. It is authentic, then, to conclude that family, friends, the church and the pastor share some responsibility for the success or failure of every person for whom some oversight has been given.
This chapter will look into that piece of the backsliding issue, certainly with no intent of faultfinding or fixing blame, but rather as part of an honest search for those tools that will effect the saving of every soul possible. From time to time this thought beats through my mind: Is it believable that someone will be eternally lost because I did not effectively teach, pray, inquire, solicit, or generally care? Did I feel a nudge in my spirit to lift a phone to my ear, to schedule a lunch, to lay a hand on a bent shoulder—and ignore all? Not a pleasant idea, nor one on which to linger.
So, although the cause of backsliding and how to avoid backsliding stand on the same line, I’m assigning a difference. In this chapter we will discuss how we as a body can help prevent our family and friends from backsliding.
“Outward comforts can no more fill the heart than a triangle can fill a circle.”
“There is as much difference between heavenly comforts and earthly, as between a banquet that is eaten, and one that is painted on the wall.”
Thomas Watson died in 1686, yet his words ring true and riveting this morning. It is only of the heavenly that we are satiated; only in the Spirit do we find complete rest.
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