How Do You Like My New House? (Cont’d)

“I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house, ” says the LORD Almighty. – Haggai 2:7c, 9a

Last week I shared a bittersweet season in our lives, when we said “goodbye” to the house on the lake that had been our home for 30+ years and prepared to move to Louisville, Kentucky, where our oldest daughter Joanna and her family lived, and where she had persuaded us we needed to be!

Ever since Joanna was a toddler, we’ve observed how her prayers got answered. I would be frantically searching for a lost item, Joanna would fold her chubby little hands and pray, and the next thing I knew, there it was.

So, when grown-up Joanna said (or threatened) that she was going to pray we’d find a house where she wanted us to be, I was encouraged. But even I didn’t expect the call that came nine hours later as we were eating breakfast in her kitchen.

“Good morning,” said our realtor. “Would you like to look at a house in the Highlands that’s not due to go on the market for six weeks?”

(I’ll let you guess the answer to that one.)

The couple selling the house should have had their own reality show. The husband was a contractor, the wife a real estate agent, and together they flipped houses. This little house, almost a hundred years old, had all new plumbing and electrical wiring, and was in the process of getting new cabinets, cupboards, hardware, flooring, and more.

When we first arrived, the little bit of house that we could see peeked out from under at least a foot of snow that blanketed the neighborhood. The brown brick wasn’t exactly dazzling, and whatever hard work the contractor’s wife had done on landscaping the tiny yard was buried in snowdrifts.

But something caught my eye that gave me a good feeling about the place. There was an old-fashioned lamppost at the curb, wearing a little mound of snow like a winter cap. It seemed to whisper “Narnia!” I could almost picture Mr. Tumnus standing in the snow.

The moment we walked through the front door, a man on a ladder in the living room, gestured with his brush to the patch of wall he’d just painted.

“Do you like this color?” he asked. “If not, tell me now.”

Um, can we look at the house first? I thought. His presumption was a bit odd, but also a little exciting. Was the painter prophetic? Was this our house?!

Long story short, yes, it was.

Compared with what we had been living in, it seemed as small as a wardrobe, but I loved the idea of the simplicity and convenience. The fact that they weren’t finished with the remodeling meant we got to choose the countertops and the kitchen hardware. And when they were about to carpet the upstairs, we were just in time to say we wanted to keep the hardwood floors.

This house was less than a mile from Joanna’s, so she was ecstatic. I texted Ben and Kelly to tell them we’d found our house.

“Send a picture!” came the immediate reply from Ben. I hesitantly took a picture of our little brown brick house in the snow, being sure to show the Narnia lamppost in the foreground, and texted it to Ben.

For the next day and a half, I didn’t hear back.

The night before we returned to Michigan, I found myself wide awake around 3:00 A.M., my mind racing.

Why haven’t I heard from Ben? Was he unimpressed? Have we made a terrible mistake?! Sure, this isn’t our big, beautiful house on the lake, but it isn’t that bad … is it??

And the worst thought of all:

Have we missed God’s will???

I said a prayer and tried to put the matter in the Lord’s hands.

The next morning, I was reading my Bible in the car. I was in the book of Haggai, the minor prophet who lived at the time when the Jews were returning to Jerusalem from years of exile in Babylon. They had been rebuilding their own houses, but Haggai had persuaded them to get their priorities straight and set about rebuilding God’s house – the Temple.

Ezra 3 describes the celebration when the foundation was laid for the new Temple. The people gave a shout of praise … well, most of the people. The older men, who remembered the past glory of Solomon’s Temple, wept aloud, because this was not Solomon’s Temple! I think it was for these discouraged people that the LORD spoke through Haggai:

“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? (Haggai 2:3)

The LORD went on, speaking to individuals by name and encouraging them, promising that His Spirit remained and that He would fill the new “house” with His glory. I didn’t see my name there, but it still felt personal to me. As I got to verse 9, I got a chill.

“The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2:9a)

It might seem like a strange hope to take hold of – God’s glory in that humble house?

But isn’t that the way He does things – like saving ancient Egypt and the rest of the world from starvation through a Hebrew slave? Defeating a giant through an unimpressive shepherd boy?

And coming to earth in human form, being born in an obscure stable?

As I pondered the fact that God can do whatever He wants with whatever/whomever He wants to use, I had a feeling the adventures weren’t over just yet…

Prayer: Lord, help us to see Your purpose in unlikely people and places – even in ourselves, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

P.S. Wherever you are – temple, mansion, or in your prayer closet, know that if you have placed your faith in Jesus, He lives in you – you are the Temple. Enjoy His presence, “seek divine perspective,” and see what He’ll do with your life.

How Do You Like My New House?

Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong … my spirit remains among you. Do not fear. – Haggai 2:3, 4a, 5b

We had clearly entered a new season of life. Our two oldest had married, and both had moved a few times, settling in the South – Joanna to Louisville, Kentucky, Ben to Nashville, Tennessee. I had retired from teaching. Kelly, our youngest, had graduated and left the nest to attend college. Two years later she transferred from a Michigan college to one in Kentucky, at Joanna’s “suggestion.”

And now Marty was retired, leaving us with the question,

Why are we still in Michigan?

It made sense that we should move south to be closer to the children and the grandchildren that were starting to arrive on the scene. It also made sense that without a houseful of kids and their friends, we should be selling our large home. I for one did not want to spend my golden years taking care of a place that big!

The house had served us well for over thirty years, with plenty of room for birthday parties, sleepovers, s’mores and storybooks by the fireplace, Christmases and Thanksgivings with extended family, and Joanna and Ben’s friends from church gathering around the piano to sing worship songs. We’d had two weddings there, but they were not our own children’s, so it was a special place for a couple of other families, as well.

The large back yard seamlessly connected with the yards around us, where our children and the neighbors’ children would play for hours, jumping into piles of leave in the fall, building snow forts, and running down to the beach with their “boogie boards” the moment school was out for the summer. Summer afternoons would find me lying in the hammock with little Kelly, finding shapes in the clouds, smelling the “cotton candy dandelions” (peonies) we had picked, and singing our favorite songs together. We invented our own games, such as trampoline dodgeball with water balloons, or “Buddy baseball,” where I was the pitcher, Kelly was the batter, and our dog Buddy would cover the yard, playing every other position.

The beach on Lake Huron had provided thousands of sunrises. I had always told the children that sunrises were God’s saying, “Good morning! I love you! Have a wonderful day!” Some days He’d whisper it in the morning fog, others He announced it with beams of gold, and occasionally He would splash colors all over the sky, and it felt as though our heavenly Daddy had picked us up and was swinging us around! Countless memories of these ordinary mornings run together like watercolors in a beautiful blur.

Some of my favorite times were spent sitting by the lake with my guitar, singing to the Lord and sometimes hearing Him answer with a soft breeze or a dove that would sit on a branch overhead, listening for what seemed like hours.

Perhaps best of all, there were dozens of people baptized in the lake in front of our house. To hear these “baby Christians” tell how they had come to believe in Jesus and then to see them publicly seal their commitment – this to me was the greatest privilege of living on the lake.

But now it was time to downsize and move south. It was obvious where we were moving. Joanna had been by far the biggest hinter, persuader, and nagger about wanting us to be close to her…

“It was so good seeing you,” I would say at the end of each visit.

“Well, Mom,” Joanna would say, “if you lived here, you’d see us any time you wanted.”

Joanna lived in the part of Louisville called the Highlands, apparently the most desirable part of town when it came to buying a house. Marty and I would search the real estate sites for houses in that area, but when one went on the market, by the time we had packed up to go see it, the house would be snatched up.

At one point we found ourselves in a bidding war over a house we hadn’t even seen yet! We looked at each other and asked simultaneously, “What are we doing?!

Finally, we went to Louisville, camped out in Joanna’s guest room, and hired a realtor to find us a house in the Highlands. We looked at houses, apartments, and condos. A few were “close,” but the fact that they were a fifteen-minute drive from Joanna’s was unacceptable. She wanted us close enough that her children could walk to their grandparents’ house! So, the search continued. The house across the street from Joanna and Sean was up for sale, and Joanna strongly suggested we look at it. But the fact that there was no bathroom on the first floor was a deal breaker. That and the image of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and my popping in several times a day, saying, “Don’t mind me, dear, just pretend I’m not here.” (I am not going to be that mother-in-law!)

One night I was sitting in our room with my laptop open to a map of Louisville. A thousand red dots showed where houses were for sale, and they covered the map, except for one blank spot in the middle … yep, the Highlands. When Joanna walked in, I told her, “Honey, I’ve been praying, and I’m willing to live wherever God wants us – house, condo, trailer, cardboard box – but I’m looking at this map, and there’s nothing in the Highlands.”

Joanna got that tone in her voice that told me she was both defiant and close to tears. “Well,” she said, “I’m going to start praying, too! And I’m going to pray you get a house right here!” With her finger she circled the small blank spot in the middle of the map.

We should have had her pray when we started all this, because early the next morning …

(To be continued …)

Prayer: Lord, take charge of our lives. Send us where You want us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

To Judge or Not to Judge?

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? – I Corinthians 5:12

Recently “Somebody Loves Me” wrote a blog post about a believer’s dilemma when seeing someone in church dressed in an inappropriate way.

https://somebodylovesmeblog.wordpress.com/2022/06/15/reverence-in-thought-and-dress/?c=3313#comment-3313

On the one hand, inappropriate dress is a distraction from worship. On the other hand, we’re admonished to “judge not.”

I was thankful the blogger specified addressing the problem if it’s someone you know. In such a case it might be fitting to take that person aside and gently admonish.

If, on the other hand, the distracting person is a visitor to the church, especially a first-time visitor, I would prefer to extend a welcome and talk to the Lord about that person’s appearance instead, considering the unknown situation and possible reason for being in church.

The post reminded me of a (true) story a pastor once told that has stayed with me for many years. A woman had visited his church one Sunday, dressed in a way that was what some might deem inappropriate, others might call downright “slutty.” The women of the church warmly welcomed her, while the men treated her cordially, albeit maintaining a respectable distance.

The next week she returned, dressed a little more appropriately. Again, she received a warm welcome – respect at arm’s length from the men, and this time hugs from the women.

A few weeks later she went forward to receive Christ.

Shortly after making that commitment, the woman gave her testimony at her baptism. She confessed that when she first came to the church she had been determined to dress as she always did. She had also determined that the moment anyone said one word about the way she was dressed, she was going to walk out and never come back. But that had never happened. Instead, she had been won over by the unconditional love of Christians. At this point she may have been open to receive correction from her spiritual sisters, but by now that correction was unnecessary. The Holy Spirit Himself had been speaking to her heart and had given her, among other things, the desire to present herself “in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

How I wish this story reflected the norm, but sadly most churches lean either in the direction of judging visitors and driving them away, or tolerating, even covering up sin in their own congregation, for fear of “offending” a brother or sister – especially one who is a major donor. Some churches do both.

The best teaching on this topic comes directly from Jesus, beginning with the words that have recently replaced John 3:16 as the favorite Bible verse, especially among non-believers:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Notice two things about this passage: first, Jesus is addressing hypocrisy. He warns that if we want to correct others, we’d better be doing it from a position of humility and purity, having already corrected ourselves, because we will be judged by our own standards.

Secondly, Jesus, does not say we are never to judge anyone. In this context of a fellow believer, He is saying that we must first “take the plank out of our own eye” (correct ourselves), “and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” We’re to help one another live godly lives, but prayerfully and with an awareness of God’s grace toward all of us.

In the context of unbelievers, we should recognize that without Christ we are capable of every kind of evil we see in them – and worse. Being saved doesn’t mean we are better than they are, just better off. We should seek the same grace for the lost that we have received, and being self-righteous is not the way to win them over.

Paul gives a clear guideline for discerning when to judge and when not to judge:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. – I Corinthians 5: 9-11

Once a person is saved, we should start to see the actions and attitudes of a changed life. Belonging to Christ transforms us, and although we will never be perfect this side of heaven, true believers have a desire to live for Him. One who calls himself a believer and yet willfully continues an ungodly lifestyle clearly doesn’t understand the purpose of grace. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”

The woman in the pastor’s story clearly had the fruit of repentance. What about you?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we acknowledge that without You we are helpless sinners, bound for death and hell. But You extended Your grace when You died to pay for our sins. May we never take our salvation for granted. Give us wisdom to examine our own lives before judging others. Give Your Church the grace to help one another live as You have called us to, in Your name. Amen.

Winning Without Firing a Shot, Part 2

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe … Philippians 2:14,15

I was recently sent a video in which a woman professing to be a Christian was bragging about the way she stood up for her rights. I cringed as I heard her relate her argument in a park with a police officer telling her the rules. She refused to comply, insisting the rules were unconstitutional. They may have been, (I’m not a constitutional lawyer.) but the way in which she defied this person just trying to do her job was, in my opinion, anything but Christlike.

I have heard a lot of people recently declaring, “I know my rights!” Maybe so, but I’m suggesting there’s more than one way to get that point across. We’ve all heard the snarky way. For a better way, let’s look at the apostle Paul, formerly “Saul.”

Saul was a Pharisee, a high-ranking member of the religious elite. He was also a Roman citizen with all the rights included with citizenship. He spoke multiple languages and knew both Jewish law and Roman law. If anyone was entitled to be arrogant, it was Saul. And yet we read that when Paul the convert was brought before the authorities, both Jews and Gentiles, he spoke respectfully, even to those who deserved scant respect. Here are just two examples:

When Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned after delivering a slave girl from a demon, they spent the night, not cursing their enemies, but singing hymns to God. (Acts 16) When an earthquake rocked the prison, liberating them, they didn’t declare “Told ya so!” and leave. They stayed, reassuring the terrified jailer, who was about to fall on his sword rather than face a Roman execution for letting his prisoners escape. The relieved jailer took the disciples out, fell at their feet, and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

This is the question every evangelical Christian is longing to be asked! What followed was the happiest of endings:

“At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.” (Acts 16:33-34)

The next day the magistrates decided to release Paul and Silas quietly. Paul pointed out that they were Roman citizens and had been beaten publicly and imprisoned without a trial, the “alarmed” magistrates publicly escorted them out and requested that they leave the city. (There’s no record of a lawsuit; Paul and Silas had more important things to do.)

Later in Jerusalem, some Jews stirred up a riot because of Paul’s teaching. When arrested by the commander of the Roman troops, (Acts 21:27-36) Paul asked him, “May I say something to you?” The commander was surprised to hear Paul speaking Greek, having assumed he was the leader of a terrorist group!

Who could blame Paul if in the heat of the moment he had retorted, “Boy, do you have it wrong!”? Instead, remaining respectful, he corrected the record and asked to speak to the crowd. In chapter 22 we read his testimony. As wrong as these people were, he told them his story humbly, admitting that he himself had been violently opposed to “the Way,” persecuting the followers to their death. Far from chastising the mob for their error, he identified with them, telling them honestly that he “was as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (vs. 3) He told them of his vision of Jesus on the Road to Damascus, being blinded by the light, and his conversion, about Ananias, a godly believer who spoke miraculous healing to his eyes and baptized him. The crowd listened up until that point, but when Paul said God was sending him to the Gentiles, the crowd turned on him.

Wanting to appease the mob, the commander ordered Paul to be flogged. See how Paul shrewdly but respectfully addressed the situation:

As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

Then the commander said,” I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.”

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. (Acts 22: 25 – 29)

Can you hear the respect and fear coming over them? Paul didn’t have to throw a tantrum. In fact, if he had behaved like a hysterical child, I’m guessing he would have been treated accordingly.

(For other events in Paul’s life, read the book of Acts.)

History says the other apostles were cruelly crucified, stabbed, burned, stoned, or clubbed to death. As a Roman citizen, Paul had the “privilege” of being beheaded.

To the world Paul may have been a “loser,” but in God’s Book, and in Paul’s own words:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – I Timothy 4:7

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we’re selfish people. We want our way. We feel entitled, but as sinners we deserve only death and hell. And yet You showed us grace, leaving heaven to die for our salvation. Open our eyes, and help us follow Your example, treating others with the same grace, in Your name. Amen.

Winning Without Firing a Shot

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Philippians 1:27

“Don’t sign in, you need to reschedule,” the receptionist said.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked, thinking there had been some kind of emergency in the office.

“You’re late,” she stated.

“What time is it?” I asked, confused. Although I was a few minutes late, my cell phone told me her clock was fast.

Seeing an empty waiting room, I asked if there were any open slots that afternoon; “No.”

“How about tomorrow?”

“No. Monday.”

I was a little taken aback. No “I’m sorry this is our policy now.” No “I’m sorry you’re going to be in pain for another four days.” I apologized for being late; no response. Feeling not unlike an elementary school pupil sent to the principal’s office, I limped back to my car.

Is it just me, or is the prevailing mood these days rudeness, if not downright hostility? Stressed people everywhere feel free to express their irritation with no civility filtering their responses.

Social media can be a showcase for rudeness. While that particular morning the receptionist was right, I was late, being publicly reamed on social media doesn’t necessarily involve a person’s having done anything wrong. A difference of opinion will suffice. If you speak your mind, get ready to be insulted and alienated. And woe to those who make mistakes! Opponents pile on without mercy, never mind the benefit of the doubt.

I realize there are people who are 100% sure they are right, many of them professed Christians who believe that since they are quoting the Bible, God is on their side.

But does being right give us the right to be rude? Is this the way followers of Christ should conduct themselves? These internet warriors might want to take another look at their Bibles, especially the book of Acts, to see how the first Christians behaved when the Church was persecuted – and growing like wildfire. The early saints’ encounters with their opponents, both Jews and Gentiles, are profound lessons in how to conduct ourselves “in a manner worthy of Christ.” One striking example is Peter.

At Pentecost (Acts 2), the fisherman who had been intimidated into denying Jesus three times was now emboldened by the Holy Spirit. Peter stood fearlessly preaching the gospel to a great crowd of people, many of whom were the very ones that had called for Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter might have had reason to be hostile. But if you read Acts 2:17-36, you’ll see he did not berate or accuse. He did refer to “this Jesus, whom you crucified …” but he was merely stating facts. As a result, the crowd was “pierced to the heart” and wanted to know how to be saved. Peter gladly told them, and about three thousand were baptized that day!

After a miraculous healing in the Temple, Peter and John were dragged before the authorities and ordered not to preach Christ anymore. There is no record of an angry response on their part. They merely said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19,20) Although this passage acknowledges that there are times when civil disobedience is warranted, even then the apostles did not resort to childish backtalk.

When Peter preached the Good News to a large gathering of people in the house of a Gentile named Cornelius, everyone there came to faith. (Acts 10). When confronted by the Jews about his “crime” of associating with Gentiles (Acts 11), Peter did not respond defensively, but as verse 4 says, he “began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened. The result?His former accusers had no further objections and praised God.” (vs. 18)

Peter could have reacted in anger. But I’m guessing the Good News was still so new to the apostle that his joy overwhelmed any defensiveness. Remembering his denial of Christ, he may also have been humbled by the fact that he was not only forgiven but even counted worthy to represent Him.

When you are falsely accused by others, do you respond with rage, or do you simply, calmly explain the truth to them, giving them a chance to change their minds?

A large chunk of Peter’s correspondence with the Church (I Peter 2:13- 3:17) is about humbly submitting to authorities when possible, and testifying “with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (3:16)

The best defense against an accusation is to show yourself undeserving of it.

Peter was eventually condemned to crucifixion, his martyrdom his final gift to the Savior he loved. There is no record of his being dragged off, cursing and screaming. On the contrary, tradition says Peter requested to be crucified upside down, believing himself unworthy to die in the same way his beloved Master had.

We may never be called to give up our lives for Christ the way Peter was – or maybe we will. But are we willing to give our lives to Him a moment at a time? Are we daily “dying to self” by maintaining a respectful attitude to everyone, even those we know are wrong, knowing that we’ve been wrong ourselves? If we’re accused of being despicable jerks, do our daily encounters say otherwise? Do we consistently stand out from the rude norm of society in our quiet confidence and peaceful attitudes?

(How easy would it be for those who know us to believe an evil report?)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You loved Your enemies, even praying for them as they were crucifying You. Forgive us for arguing, insulting, and mocking our “enemies” over disagreements, major and trivial. Help us to maintain Christlike attitudes in all of our dealings, so that we leave no confusion regarding our faith in You, in Your name. Amen

Miracle or Providence?

 “[the Lord] satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” – Psalm 103: 5

For about twenty years I ran about four miles a day, not because I enjoyed it, but because I thought it would be “good for me.” – WRONG!

By middle age I began avoiding some of my usual activities, such as tennis, because they caused serious knee pain. Still, I kept running, ignoring the message my knees were sending me.

My body started to pick up the megaphone when it became difficult even to walk without pain. I thought, Hmmm, maybe there’s something wrong here … (“Gee, ya think?!“) I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who informed me that I would probably need knee replacement surgery on both knees within the next five years.

I think sometimes we hesitate to ask God for help with a problem we’ve created ourselves. I don’t remember the words I prayed, only pain and tears.

The next day at school a fellow teacher knew something was wrong the moment she saw me.

“Annie, you’re not your usual happy self. What’s going on?” I told her what the doctor had said.

“I have a book for you!”

The next day she brought me a book entitled How I Beat Arthritis and Praise the Lord!

(Frankly, I had hoped the LORD would beat the arthritis for me, but I thanked her for it.)

The book began with the author’s “journey” from being unable to walk across a room, to being active and pain-free. Her first piece of advice was, if you don’t do anything else, Ditch the sugar. Although I thought I was eating very little sugar – a cookie here, an ice cream cone there – I accepted the challenge.

For the next couple of days, I avoided sweets like the plague, piled on the vegetables, and seasoned my food with things other than condiments with “sucrose” or “organic cane juice” hidden in the ingredients.

I was pleasantly surprised (shocked) that within two days I was walking without pain!

The rest of the book was pretty basic advice for healthy living, which I had been practicing anyway. I did increase some of the supplements I was taking and exercised with low impact activities like walking, biking, and kayaking. Cigarettes and alcohol weren’t a problem, since thankfully I had never picked up those habits, anyway.

It’s been over twenty years since that bleak prognosis, and I still have my original knees.

I don’t often give this “testimony,” because it’s not as exciting as a dramatic, instant “miracle.” But I do consider it a true healing from God, who made my body and has always known what I need. When I started to discover how to minimize arthritis pain, I was not a baby in the faith. I didn’t need God to prove Himself with an instantaneous healing, just so I could go on my merry way living the same lifestyle I always had.

As I have often told my children, and now my grandchildren, sometimes God gives us what we ask for, other times He give us something better. In this case, He gave me physical healing, but with the added bonus of self-discipline. And for someone who had struggled with an eating disorder, self-control was something I badly needed – not the “control” a bulimic teenager fools herself into believing she has, when she’s really out of control – but the healthy lifestyle of a child of God, who loves her Creator and wants to be a good steward of the body she’s been given.

These days I remain “sugar-free,” but I don’t preach it. Everyone’s body is unique, so if I give advice at all, it’s “This worked for me. You might try it.”

These days I bike, kayak, and walk with a spring in my step and gratitude in my heart. I’ll admit that when I come to a flight of stairs, I suddenly feel my age, but that’s just a reminder to thank the Lord for all the years He’s give me, and that I can still climb those stairs, however slowly.

Some of God’s “miracles” in the Bible can be explained by natural laws. Even the parting of the Red Sea happened after a strong east wind blew all night. (Exodus 14:21) An act of God doesn’t have to break the laws of nature – the laws He set in place. Sometimes it’s divine timing.

Why did the Red Sea “happen to” part just when the Israelites need to cross? Why did it “happen to” flow back just in time to drown the Egyptian army?

And why did I “happen to” encounter a fellow teacher with an answer the very day I needed it?

This is called Providence.

I have seen few miracles, but I have experienced Providence all my life. I only need “divine perspective” to recognize and praise God for it.

Prayer: Lord, You can do anything, any time You choose. Help us not to be lazy in our prayers, when You want us to partner with You in bringing about the answers we seek. Thank You for giving us knowledge and the power to use that knowledge for our benefit and the benefit of others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

A Lot Can Happen in 50 Years

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:14

A couple of weeks ago I attended my 50-year high school reunion.

At the opening luncheon I enjoyed a long and animated conversation with an old classmate. At the party that evening I saw her again and said “Hi!” She looked surprised.

Ann! You haven’t changed a bit!” she exclaimed.

I laughed. “You mean since the luncheon this afternoon?” She looked surprised.

“There was a luncheon this afternoon? Huh! I must have missed it.”

I was a little taken aback, but then realized we’re approaching that season where short-term memory loss can start. That was a little scary to me.

Equally scary was seeing a classmate walking with a cane, another who’d been brought from the nursing home where she’d lived for several years, and another who had lost her vision three years ago. There were a number of cancer survivors, one who had survived a brain aneurism, and numerous widows. This was not only scary, but deeply inspiring. In talking about their lives, where they had been, the adventures they had had (Old people have much better stories than young people.), every one of these ladies spoke with the same bubbly enthusiasm I remembered from school. We just looked different.

I didn’t realize how different until the slide show.

Grainy photos of innocent-looking kindergartners, mischievous grade school students, awkward middle schoolers, cocky high school girls ready to take on the world, and teachers no doubt long departed brought laughs and fond memories. Then snapshots of sports, plays, dances, graduations, weddings, babies, mothers-of-brides, grandchildren, and past reunions all flew by in a matter of less than an hour. At the end of the show, the lights came up and everyone cheered and applauded the photographer-classmate who had pulled it all together.

Even writing this now, I have tears in my eyes. Where did fifty years go? Was I the only one acutely aware of the brevity of our lives?

“Life is fleeting.” I know that’s a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason. Young people hear old people warn them that they will blink and be old, and the young people roll their eyes, mumble “Yeah,” and think, That’s what they always say. (At least I know that’s what I thought.)

Early the next evening, a group of us gathered to pay our respects to the classmates who had passed on. Beside the bench that was our class gift to the school was a concrete column displaying the names of departed classmates on small placards; someday it will have all of our names on it. I played the harp, we sang a hymn, a classmate gave a brief devotional, and we prayed in unison the “prayer for graduates” we had all memorized in school.

At the final party the next night, my peers and I were rocking out to the classic 60’s and 70’s songs played by fellow classmates’ retro band. (One 18-year-young man, there to help haul the sound equipment, stood looking amazed – and amused – at the stamina of these “old folks.”)

There seemed to have been two themes of the weekend:

I.) Age is not a deterrent! Even with disabilities that tend to come with aging, we can still live full lives, especially when dedicated to the One who created us and apparently isn’t finished with us yet. Even the gal with short-term memory loss was the life of the party. Aware of her impairment, she nevertheless enjoyed living in the moment, chatting and laughing with the rest of us. As I visited with the classmate who had lost her eyesight, we talked about our love of audiobooks and made recommendations to each other. Unbeknownst to her, she’s inspired me to stop procrastinating, get my novel Counselor off the shelf, and make it into an audiobook so she and others like her can enjoy it.

2.) Life is short! Time is short! There’s been a lot of talk lately among Christians about the “last days” and whether the end is coming soon. But for any one of us, the end could be today. As I read the names of the classmates on the pedestal by the bench, I knew some of them were believers in Jesus Christ and are now with Him. As for the others, I don’t know. As I wrote my page for our “second senior yearbook,” I was aware that reading my “letter to my younger self” might be the last chance some of these ladies have to know the gospel, put their faith in Jesus, and secure their places in heaven. I pray the Lord plants those words where they’re needed.

In case you missed it …

Don’t waste another moment. Whatever your age, if you don’t know Jesus, or you’re not sure, I urge you to get to know Him today! (Read the gospel of John in the Bible, especially chapter 3.) He holds the key to abundant life here and eternal life afterward. (“Afterward” is sooner than you think.)

Prayer: Lord, Your Word says our lives are a mist that quickly disappears. Teach us to make the most of our days, be assured of heaven, and take as many people along as we can, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I Need a Break

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. – Proverbs 15:1

For the next 40 days, maybe more, I will not be on social media, so any of you who are, please don’t take my lack of response personally. I am simply tired of seeing so much anger – anger that steals joy, weakens immune systems, alienates friends, starts feuds and wars, breaks up marriages, damages mental health, and in other ways is counterproductive.

Please don’t think I’m sticking my head in the sand. (That posture leaves other parts of the anatomy in a vulnerable position.) I do realize that there are horrible things going on in the world, and no, I am not ignoring them or saying they aren’t important. Many horrendous things I can do nothing about So why wreck my health and add to the burden?

However, there are other things that I can and should do something about, I just don’t think that “something” is to rant about it on social media. When I see these rants, I am tempted to either (1.) join in the rant and escalate the anger, or (2.) argue and escalate the anger. It’s a lose-lose situation.

If I see racism, rather than posting a self-righteous rant on social media, I should volunteer in an organization that helps people of color better their lives. This may take the form of health care services, tutoring kids, or starting a sports team, crafts class, or drama troupe to channel energy in positive and productive ways. At the very least, I could invite a friend of a different race to have coffee with me and share our thoughts for a couple of hours.

Instead of railing about the lack of respect for women, I should go and do something respectable.

Instead of blasting the politicians I don’t like in a tweet, I should find one that’s doing something good and tell people about that person in private conversations when everyone is calm and open. I should contact that person, saying that I am supportive and praying for him/her. (Being a politician can be lonely.)

Granted, these kinds of approaches don’t grab the widespread audience a Facebook rant might get, but in the long run, I do think they bring us closer to a solution, instead of throwing gasoline on the fire. I have never seen anyone have a change of heart because of a clever attack, name-calling, or emotionally charged accusations.

As always, I will respond to emails, texts messages, and comments on my blog posts. But please, be nice.

Prayer: Father, You have always been gracious to us, not treating us as our sins deserve. As Your people, help us to treat others not only in the way we want to be treated, but in the way we have been treated. You have reached out to us in love, how can we not do the same for one another? Give us gracious, patient, and understanding hearts, in the name of Your Son Jesus, the personification of grace. Amen.

CAUTION – SIGNS & WONDERS

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.” – Matthew 24:23-25

I was sent a video yesterday of a strange occurrence happening in the skies over Jerusalem. Whether the imagery and the sounds were real or fabricated (People can do just about anything with video these days.), it was indeed intriguing. I also found it a bit eerie. The person who sent it to me declared with great excitement that prophecy was being fulfilled! I had to wonder, Which prophecy? When I asked, he responded, “Jesus does what Jesus wants. It is the signs and wonders!”

I had to wonder, a sign of what? Usually when Jesus does something, it means something. The lack of a specific message in this weird phenomenon made me hesitant to jump on the signs-and-wonders bandwagon.

Because of the way things are going these days, I have been revisiting the Scriptures regarding the Last Days – the final days before Jesus’ return to earth – and it does seem possible we could be heading toward the end. But as believers we need to exercise caution. I don’t recall a prediction of this recent sign specifically, although the vague prophecy of “wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (Joel 2:30, quoted by the apostle Peter in Acts 2:19) might include this one.

Nevertheless, Jesus warned His followers multiple times to be cautious in the last days, because there would be many false prophets and false messiahs, performing false miracles. Just because something appears to be supernatural doesn’t mean it is. And even if it is, we can’t assume it’s from God, especially when Jesus told us to watch out for them.

The apostle John admonished us, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1) Revelation 13, reminiscent of the prophet Daniel and his dreams, foretells the rise of a “beast” that will be given power by a “dragon.” This beast will appear to suffer a fatal head wound and be healed. Because of this “miracle,” according to John’s revelation, men will be seduced into worshiping both the beast and the dragon.

All these warnings are disturbing, especially considering the kinds of things happening today. One thing that gives me comfort is the phrase, “if that were possible,” implying that the Lord will not let His children be deceived. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. Are we availing ourselves of that promise? When we read about the latest “miracle,” the latest sign, conspiracy theory, or the latest teaching at a well-known church or organization, are we testing the spirits? Are we like the ancient Bereans, who when they heard the gospel searched the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul was teaching them was true? Their healthy skepticism was not criticized, but rather it was written that “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians.” (Acts 17:11)

I am not saying we should stick our heads in the sand and disregard the news of the day – “if that were possible.” I am saying that as always, and now more than ever, our main source of truth should be in the Scriptures, and we should prayerfully read them every day. What is being taught today will be either confirmed or denied based on the Word of God.

This post is a bit shorter than usual. I am headed for my 50-year class reunion, 51 years after graduating. (Last year’s reunion got postponed.) By the time this is posted, I will be in St. Louis with former classmates, some of which I haven’t seen in 51 years. It will be a time to get reacquainted and “catch up” with one another’s lives. And if you have read me for any length of time, you know what I’ll be sharing. 😉 I hope to have some good stories to tell when I get back.

Meanwhile, here’s a post about my page in the new yearbook, one of the features of this year’s reunion:

Blessings

Annie

Prayer: Lord, as we wait longingly for Your return, help us not to be led astray by the enemy’s various attacks and deceptions. Help us hide Your Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11) and stay clear-minded and self-controlled so we can pray. (I Peter 4:7) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Kill It!

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8: 34-36

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” John 5: 6


Last Sunday my daughter and I saw the theatrical production of C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce,” performed by the Fellowship for Performing Arts. Having read the book decades ago in college, I had been looking forward to seeing it performed on stage.

The premise for the storyline was that souls in hell were allowed to visit heaven, and if they chose to live there with God, they could stay. If it sounds too good to be true – it is. By the end of the visit the vast majority, for various reasons, expressed most adamantly that they did not, would not stay, and they boarded the bus to go back to their eternal home.

As usual, I was intrigued by C. S. Lewis’s imagination. I knew Lewis didn’t believe this was what hell was like, but it was a portrayal of a dream illustrating spiritual truths at play on earth.

Just as hell was depicted as a giant bureaucracy in The Screwtape Letters, hell in The Great Divorce did not fit the traditional description. Instead of endless flames and smoke and physical agony, hell in this production was a dreary, dimly lit place with perpetual conflict. Every time new people arrived, they couldn’t get along with their neighbors and would move farther out. Thus, hell was constantly expanding, with no meaningful human relationships.

The characters in the story were all different from one another, but I’m guessing you’ve met them.

Two of the travelers didn’t even board the bus. Instead, they got into a fist fight while standing in line and stormed off.

When the others arrived in heaven, a well-known artist found she couldn’t deal with the fact that in heaven she wouldn’t have the fame and status she’d had on earth. For her, the thought of being equal to everyone else there was unbearable, and she opted to go back.

A priest, who seemed to think himself intellectually superior to heaven’s humble Christ-followers with their simple faith, couldn’t handle the fact that he wasn’t allowed to come to God on his own terms, create his own version of Him, or depersonalize Him. He left in a huff, unable to let go of his ego.

A woman who had pined for her lost son since his death, was asking, begging, then demanding to see her boy. When she was told she needed to let go of him first, that God was to be first in her life, not her son, she dug in her heels and became increasingly hostile. She broke into a rant, accusing God of callousness and cruelty. It was explained to her that her son had been taken away because her obsession with him was not good for her, and she needed to trust God and put Him first. Doing so would have allowed her to reunite with her son without making him her god. Refusing to relinquish her idolatry, the self-righteous mother became more and more enraged, until she stormed out, declaring that she wanted nothing to do with the Lord. – She preferred a loving God!

Other mortals came and went, each rejecting the true God, each refusing to open their eyes to what they were missing and let go of their own notions of what God and heaven ought to be. Each stubbornly chose to turn down eternal life rather than come to God on His terms.

Finally, a man entered the scene with a red lizard on his shoulder. He impulsively petted it, talked to it, and listened to what it was whispering in his ear. An angel told him if he’ll turn over the lizard, he could stay in heaven. Reluctant, he kept holding onto the creature. Time and again he almost handed it over, but then it would whisper something to him, and he would shrink back from the angel and continue to dote on the creature. And when he learned that the angel wanted to kill it, horrified, he clung all the more tightly. He agonized, longing to stay in heaven, but seemingly unable to relinquish the “pet” he was enslaved to. The struggle grew in intensity, until finally, near hysteria, he gave it over to the angel, who threw it onto the ground, where with a little explosion it was reduced to a red blob on the floor. The man screamed in horror.

But then, something marvelous happened.

In its place there rose up another creature, a beautiful horse. The man then mounted it, and together they galloped up the mountain – “further up and further in,” as it’s described in The Chronicles of Narnia.

C. S. Lewis painted a clear picture of the powerful hold sin can have on us. Today we use a different word, but “addiction,” is just another word for slavery.

When we have sin, sin has us.

Many people struggle unsuccessfully for years with what the Bible calls “besetting sin.” No matter what kind of self-help methods they try, they remain enslaved to it. Mere “will power” is not powerful enough to set them free.

There’s only one way to break the power of sin, and that’s to love God more than the sin. Give it to Him and let Him kill it. If we have been attached to that sin, when it dies it may feel as if a part of us dies with it. But as Lewis described, in the place of that sin we surrender to Him, He will bless us with something infinitely better, something we can’t see now, because the sin – the counterfeit – has blinded us to what will give us true joy.

What’s your lizard?

Prayer: Lord, teach us to hate sin as much as You do. Help us to give it to You to be destroyed. Break our attachment to it. We want to be truly free. In Jesus’ name, amen.