Where Pastors Fear to Tread

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognized whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I …” – Genesis 38: 24b-26a

As you may have guessed from the excerpt above, Genesis 38 is both complicated and unsavory. I have never heard a sermon with this story as the Scripture reference, probably for good reason. The Bible has ample passages that are more easily dissected and applicable today, enough to keep pastors preaching for decades without delving into this soap opera. But if you’ve ever set out to read the whole Bible, you’ve probably run across this story early on.

Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, took a wife from the Canaanites and had three sons with her. He got a wife for his oldest son Er, a woman named Tamar. The Bible says Er was evil, so God killed him.

In those days, a widow with no children, in danger of utter destitution, was permitted to have children through her late husband’s brother. Judah told his second son, Onan to lie with Tamar, but Onan denied her a child. God was displeased, and Onan died.

Judah promised to give Tamar his third son Shelah when the boy had grown up. But years passed, and Judah didn’t keep his promise.

Finally, Tamar, disguising herself as a prostitute, seduced Judah, who gave her his seal, cord, and staff as pledge to pay her later. After three months had passed, Judah was told that his daughter-in-law had played the harlot and was pregnant. Judah demanded that she be brought out and burned. But when Tamar produced his pledge as evidence against him, Judah declared, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her my son Shelah.”

When my Michigan prayer partner had just read Genesis 38, she commented on Judah’s last statement. Whatever my friend said went in one ear, picked up speed, and went out the other. This was one of those stories I preferred to skip over, as I didn’t know what to make of it, and besides, it was an interruption of my favorite OT story, Joseph!

I should have been paying better attention.

One evening after a service at our church, I met a pastor visiting from Washington state. We shared a lot of interesting experiences and ideas and ended up praying together. He then asked, “Can I get your input on something?” Amused that a pastor would ask for my input, I said, “Sure,” expecting he just wanted a woman’s perspective. He then told me that he’d been asked to preach the next week on Genesis 38 and had no idea what to say about it.

“Remind me what Genesis 38 is about…?” I asked, cringing. You guessed it: Judah and Tamar. As I silently said a quick prayer, I had a flashback …

My daughter Kelly and I had recently been to a Motor City Pride parade to share the love of Jesus with the participants, where we were warmly welcomed with hugs and tears. This seemed ironic to me, that these “sinners” were more welcoming than some churches I had visited…

Suddenly the Judah/Tamar story made sense to me, including and especially what Judah said at the end.

Here’s a summary of the story without specifics and a summary of how something similar is happening today: 

A widow had a need that was legitimate, especially in that day. There was a culturally accepted means to get her need met, but in the end, that means was denied her.    

Now out of legitimate resources, the desperate widow turned to illegitimate means. Her father-in-law, the very one who had failed her in the first place, heard about her actions and condemned her to death. When she produced the evidence that he was just as guilty as she was, he declared, “She is more righteous than I.”     

Understand, Judah wasn’t saying Tamar was righteous, any more than Jesus was telling us to hate our families when we choose to follow Him. (Luke 14:26) Jesus was saying we should love Him more than our families. And Judah was saying Tamar was less despicable than he was. The reason he gave was not primarily his participation in the adultery, but that Tamar was in the position she was in because he had failed her. 

FAST FORWARD TO TODAY: There are people (basically every person on the planet) with legitimate needs; they want friendship, love, acceptance, and belonging. There are legitimate ways to meet these needs, and probably the best way is to belong to a loving, accepting church. But what if the Church drops the ball? If these people are not welcomed into the church, for whatever reason – personality, race, social status, baggage, or various dysfunctions – these people aren’t going to just say “Oh well,” and give up. They’ll find what they need somewhere else, such as a gang, a cult, or the LGBT community. Then, when they have met their legitimate needs by what we consider illegitimate means, many in the Christian community will point fingers at them and condemn them as horrible people, not realizing that the reason they are where they are is because the Church has failed them. This is not to say that what they’re doing is right, it is begging the question: If the Church had done its job and loved and accepted those people, would they have turned out differently? (I’m thinking for a lot of them the answer is “yes.”)

Is your church a welcoming place? Could an individual with any background walk in and be met with smiles? Or would the congregation immediately reject certain people, because they just don’t want to deal with their baggage, or because they’re needy and too much work to take care of, or even because the way that person dresses might be an embarrassment? If so, the Church has no right to condemn them when they get their needs met somewhere else.

Prayer: Jesus, Friend of sinners, forgive us for the times we’ve forgotten that we are saved by grace alone and perceived ourselves better than others. We don’t know what others have gone through, but You do. We yield all judgment to You and acknowledge our own dependence on Your mercy. Help us to pass that mercy on to others, in Your name. Amen.

DO Look Up!

“[H]ow shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?                                                                                                                                                           Hebrews 2:3

If this post seems familiar to my long-time readers, a couple of years ago I wrote a piece entitled “Heed the Warnings,” having seen an end-of-the-world-type film with Tom Cruise.

It seems the public can’t get enough of these apocalyptic movies. Today in particular there seems to be much speculation about whether world events are pointing to the end.

The latest film, featuring an all-star cast, is entitled “Don’t Look Up.” In it, Kate Dibiasky, a university student played by Jennifer Lawrence, discovers a large comet in our solar system. The comet is named after her, and she is thrilled.

But soon her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), does some calculations and realizes this huge comet is destined to hit Earth and destroy it in a little more than six months.

What follows is a desperate, humorous quest to get the word out and motivate the government to fund an emergency project with NASA, but no one seems to be taking the two seriously. (If you’ve ever been frustrated by the slowness of the government to help people, take that frustration and multiply it by a few billion.)

After managing to get on a national talk show as guests, Randall and Kate plan to spring the news on the American public, since the government clearly does not intend to. They find themselves competing for America’s attention with a ditzy starlet (Ariana Grande) and her estranged lover, who make up right on the show.

When Randall and Kate are finally introduced, they have a hard time getting the hosts’ focus away from the celebrity romance and onto the seriousness of their news. At last, unable to take any more “pleasantries,” Kate blurts out that Earth is doomed if they don’t do something, and NOW! Otherwise, “We are all going to die!” Crying hysterically, she runs off the set.

From that moment on, Kate is America’s laughingstock. Social media is full of jokes about her “losing it,” and pictures of her screaming face become popular logos on posters, skateboards, and other merchandise.

Meanwhile, D-day looms closer …

How many of us have tried unsuccessfully to pass on the wisdom of our own life lessons? (And all the parents said, “Amen!”) Like Dr. Mindy and Kate, we know that people ignore our warnings to their own peril. But screaming louder only convinces them that the messenger is crazy.

And how many of us have ignored other’s admonitions and ended up regretting it? Their shrill warnings have sounded crazy to us, so we write them off as madmen. (Indeed, there have been madmen making false predictions in the past, hence the dilemma.)

However, Jesus Christ transcends time and space. He has seen the future – He’s been there. Although His predictions are accurate, He, too, is ignored by multitudes of people. But we should heed His warnings, because He is not only all-knowing, He is all-loving. He has made the future known to us in His Word (the Bible). Some of His predictions are:

  • Wars, famines, and earthquakes will increase in frequency and intensity. (Matthew 24: 7 & 8)
  • The enemy of our souls will send false saviors, false miracles, and lies. We are to be on our guard against them and not be deceived; our only true Savior is Jesus Christ. (Matthew 24: 4-5, 11, 23-27)
  • The gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world, to all nations. (Matthew 24:14)
  • Persecution of Christians will increase (Matthew 24: 9-10, John 15: 18-25; 16: 2-3), but we must persevere, because
  • Jesus is coming back for us, (John 14:18) to take the faithful away with Him to an everlasting reward (I Corinthians 15: 51-57). * 

 In “Don’t Look Up,” Dr. Mindy and Kate’s goal is to save the planet. But God’s warnings are infinitely more important. His promises are infinitely better, the consequences of ignoring them, infinitely worse.                                        

Because Kate was right, “We’re all going to die!

Will we die from a meteor? Probably not – but we might. Will we die today? Probably not – but sooner or later we will leave this life for another, and if we don’t get it right in regard to God’s truths, we will end up in the wrong place.  

For ETERNITY.

Think about it: Get it right, spend eternity in a perfect place, in perfect bliss, with the perfect heavenly Father, being the Bride of His Son, the Prince of Peace.

OR…

Get it wrong, spend eternity away from His presence, in everlasting darkness, pain, misery, and regret.                                                                                                                                                

 News, blogs, and self-help articles suggest a lot of New Year’s resolutions. But the best we can do in this new year is heed God’s warnings, and live for Him, day by day, from now on.

 For those who have never placed their faith in Him, the starting point is to acknowledge our sins, our powerlessness to help ourselves, and our need to change.  And since Jesus is the only One who paid for our sins Himself by willingly dying on the cross, the next step is to surrender our flawed lives to Him, with a willingness to abandon our sinful ways and follow Him.    

For all of us, the way to know His mind and heart is to read the Bible. The better we know God’s Word, the better prepared we will be for what’s to come.                        

 Prayer: Lord God, who sees the end from the beginning, thank You for giving us a glimpse into the future through You Word. Forgive us for all the times we have ignored Your warnings. We thank You for holding back Your judgment, giving us time to heed Your Word and repent. We thank You for receiving us as Your beloved children the moment we place our faith in You. And thank You that we can follow You confidently into the future, knowing that You’ve already been there, for You transcend time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

  * There are many, many scriptures describing the future for this world and for believers in Jesus Christ. Those cited here are just a few. To be best informed, read the Bible regularly.     

SPEAKING OF WARNINGS, for those who are offended by certain words, there is a plethora of these words in “Don’t Look Up.” I heard them as the vocabulary of stressed-out people in a fallen world, but as one reader pointed out, I should have included this warning in my original post. My apologies.

What Are You Looking at?

Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4

A few days ago, we said goodbye to the best dog we’ve ever had. “Mister Hollywood” was named by 14-year-old Kelly, and she did not allow nicknames, although we eventually got permission to drop the “Mister.”

True to his name, Hollywood could act! Kelly would point at him and say “bang!” and he’d lie down, roll over, and play dead. He could also catch bits of food in his mouth with impressive consistency.

Our daily walks were my prayer times, and if it was cold, Hollywood wore his little argyle sweater, eliciting compliments from passers-by. (He did look dapper!) On bad weather days I’d have my quiet time inside on the loveseat with Hollywood on my lap.

Summers found us walking the beaches, hiking the woods, and kayaking with Hollywood as my lookout. One day he went overboard in his enthusiasm – literally – and Marty had to pick up the dog-paddler in his kayak, as I was laughing so hard, I almost fell out myself.

Age robbed Hollywood of most of his hearing, and eventually his eyesight. When he could still see a little, he still enjoyed our walks, walking with a little spring in his step. But once the last little bit of his eyesight was gone, overnight, he became unable to walk without bumping into things, and we knew it was time.

Once at a speaker’s conference I used Hollywood as an illustration of some lessons I had learned. I was henceforth referred to as “Hollywood’s mom.”

That talk made its way into my book BARRIERS – So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?:

“What Are You Looking at?

“Psalm 37:4 says, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.‘ I happen to think this is one of the most misunderstood verses of Scripture. The standard interpretation of this verse seems to be that if you pray to God and really believe, He’ll give you whatever you want.

Really?

“I think this kind of reasoning reflects the selfish mindset of many believers today. We want what we want, so what do we have to do to get it? In other words, how do I butter up God enough to get Him to give me that house in Maui?

“But it doesn’t say ‘butter up,’ it says, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord.’ Doesn’t that mean He is my true source of joy? And it doesn’t say, ‘He’ll give you what you desire,’ it says, ‘He will give you the desires of your heart.’ Could that mean that first He gives us the desires themselves and then fulfills them?

“I’ve found that if I delight in Him, giving Him everything I have and everything I am, He changes me. Often this means He changes my desires. Then as my heart is aligned to His, His desires become mine. Now as I pray for what I truly desire, I’m praying His will. And that’s when I start seeing Him answer!

“I’ve heard that the original word translated ‘delight’ means literally ‘to set before oneself.’ It’s like a man who sets a picture of his wife and child on his desk at work, where he can easily see it. Looking at it makes him happy, because he loves them – is delighted with them. When we go to God early in the day, we mentally ‘set Him before us,’ focusing on Him. Too many times we get it backwards. We focus on what we want. We make our plans. Then, like good Christian people, we ask God to bless our plans. And later we ask in frustration, ‘Why didn’t You bless our plans?

“I can see the answer to that question illustrated every morning at our house.

“Mr. Hollywood is a “morning dog.” This little guy loves breakfast time, because he gets his food, fun, and exercise all at the same time. Every morning I sit with his bowl at the top of our stairs and randomly send each morsel of dog chow up one hall or the other, down to the landing, or all the way to the first floor. Our little guy gets quite a workout chasing down each piece. I try to mix it up, so he’s not just running the same pattern all the time. Usually in his excitement he gets ahead of the game and runs to where he thinks the next treat is going. He’ll stand there, poised, waiting, while I throw the piece somewhere else. This has been going on ever since we started playing this game a couple of years ago, and every day I think, When is he going to figure out, he’s got to watch ME? I mean, I realize he’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, but seriously, how long is it going to take for him to learn this simple lesson?

“Well … How long is it going to take us? How many of us are running at top speed to where we think the blessings are, only to be disappointed?

“I have a radical proposal. What if we spent time at the beginning of each day delighting ourselves in our Creator – worshiping, reading His Word, talking to Him, listening to Him? What do you think would happen if we stopped second-guessing God and just let Him take us where He wants us to go?

“There’s only one way to find out.” [BARRIERS, Chapter Two]

Hollywood even made it into the epilogue:

“This morning Mister Hollywood and I were doing our breakfast routine. I tossed a piece of food down the hall, and he ran after it with gusto. I threw another piece down the stairs; he dashed down to get it and came running back up. It was then that I noticed something different.

“He was watching me this time!

“He’s finally learning.

“And if he can learn, so can we.”

Goodbye, little friend. I’m going to miss you.

Prayer: Lord, Thank You for dogs that teach us about devotion, unconditional love, our dependency on You, trust, and the sheer joy of living. I wonder sometimes if Your angels ever take the form of dogs that both protect us and minister to us so sweetly. I guess I’ll find out someday. Meanwhile, help me to keep my eyes on You and to desire the things You desire for me, that I can pray Your will every day, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


What Do I Tell My Child about Santa?

So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – I Corinthians 10:31

This is, according to one songwriter, “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many Christians it certainly is one of the most joyous times, and our attitudes should reflect that joy to the world. And yet every year there are certain controversies among Christians that seem to bring out the worst attitudes – snide comments and judgments passed on whole groups of people regarding what they might be doing to celebrate the season.

This year alone I’ve heard criticism of sending Christmas cards, putting up outdoor lights, and of course, any reference to “Santa” (a.k.a. “Satan”). Usually there are those who are eager to point out the pagan origins of many of our traditions, and I can respect that they may not want to practice these things if their consciences are bothered by them.

For others, the Christmas celebration is an example of how God redeemed a pagan holiday and turned it into something for His glory – just as He can redeem us from our old, sinful lives to ones that glorify Him.

I fully respect the right of individuals to have opinions, express them, and live accordingly. I have my own perspective, which I respectfully would like to share:

As a Christ follower, I try to form my world view from what the Bible teaches. As for things that aren’t addressed in the Bible – like greeting cards and secular decorations – I have my own personal tastes and preferences which I try to channel in a direction pointing to Jesus, whenever possible. You undoubtedly have your own tastes and traditions that can do the same. For a God creative enough to form the world and everything in it, there are probably as many ways to honor Him as there are people.

However, the more “magical” traditions of Christmas, like “Santa Claus,” present a dilemma to believers, since they have to do with the supernatural, and even matters of faith.

Christian parents for a long time just played along. I remember as a child going to church, writing letters to Santa, saying my prayers, and seeing what Santa brought me on Christmas morning. I don’t remember being conflicted, although it seemed Santa and Jesus were in separate “boxes.” (I would later learn that Jesus in not, and never has been, in a “box!”)

When one Christmas Eve I couldn’t sleep, I heard my parents carrying Christmas surprises down from the attic. (>THUMP!< “Lewis, be careful!“) The sound of my parents’ whispers confirmed in my mind what I had already suspected.

OK, I thought, that explains a lot.

My years of believing in Santa didn’t seem to harm me any. As I grew older, I knew Jesus was real, and Santa, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, et al, were myths.

Some of my peers, however, were not as fortunate, and it would seem the enemy of their souls has used their early confusion to his advantage. I have often heard unbelievers lump Jesus in with the myths, declaring bitterly that their parents lied to them about Santa and the Easter Bunny, and Jesus was just another lie.

Many parents will reason that they play the Santa game because they want to give their children the happy, “magical” childhood memories they have – or don’t have. Sadly, attributing gifts to an all-knowing, unseen person who rewards you if you’re nice and gives you a lump of coal if you’re naughty has caused some observant children to believe Santa likes rich kids better than poor kids, and gifts (translated “love”) must be earned. Santa, it would seem, is the god of conditional love and material rewards.

This year I even received a letter from an allegedly Christian ministry that wanted me to help them buy gifts to give needy children, telling them the gifts were from Santa. I had to wonder, why not just tell the children that some people who love Jesus sent them gifts and want them to know that Jesus loves them?

In other words, why not just tell them the Truth?

Tell them the true Nativity story – about the God of the universe becoming a Baby, a star pointing the way to Him, and angels announcing His birth!

(Is that not “magical” enough?!)

Wisemen from faraway lands came, guided by a star, to worship Him, and later the holy family was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of a jealous king!

(Is that not exciting enough?!)

Tell them that those who believe in Him can live forever in heaven, walking on streets of gold and worshiping the King of kings with countless other souls from every tribe, nation, and tongue!

(Is that not desirable enough?!)

When my children were little, I decided to be truthful with them when it came to the “Santa” thing. I found a treasure of a book, entitled “Santa, Are You for Real?!” and read it to the kids when they were old enough to understand it. In it, a little boy is told by some bigger boys that Santa is “fake,” and he is upset. His father takes him on his lap and tells him the story of Nicholas, the real person who lived centuries ago and was the origin of many traditions we see today.

St. Nicholas had been orphaned at an early age. He loved Jesus, loved children, and loved to give – anonymously whenever possible. There are some touching legends about him, maybe true, maybe not. After his death people began giving gifts anonymously in his memory, and rumor had it that the spirit of St. Nicholas was still at work. But the original “Santa Claus” would never have wanted to be the focus. His loving, giving way of life always pointed to Jesus, the ultimate Gift.

So, after telling my children about St. Nicholas and his giving ways, I explained that all the hoopla regarding “Santa Claus” is just a fun game we play at Christmas in St. Nicholas’s memory. The main focus of our celebration – especially in the songs we sing and the gifts we give – is always on Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for turning godly people of the past into idols, myths, and superstitions. Give us divine perspective to stay centered on You, even in this season of so many distractions. Show us how to live out the truth joyfully, not judging others, but being examples of pure faith, exuding Your love, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Perspective: the Nativity as Spiritual Warfare

The reason the Son of God came was to destroy the devil’s work. – I John 3:8

“… born on Christmas Day/To save us all from Satan’s Power …”- “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Traditional Christmas carol)

When I was in high school my favorite activity was choir, and my favorite event was the Christmas program. For years we sang, among other things, a set of carols by Benjamin Britten. One of them was truly unique – I mean, who sings about spiritual warfare at Christmastime?

(WE did.)

“This Little Babe” approaches the topic of the Christ Child as a picture of God’s assault on the kingdom of darkness. This tiny Baby in the manger is the Commanding Officer of God’s armies, leading legions of angels against the devil and his demons.

The lyrics, like the Nativity story itself, is packed with ironies. They point to the awesome power of the seemingly helpless newborn Infant:

“This little Babe, so few days old is come to rival Satan’s fold; / All hell doth at His presence quake, though He Himself for cold do shake/ For in this meek unarmed wise/ The gates of hell He will surprise.”

The melody is intense, in a minor key, meant to be sung forcefully. While one would usually expect a song about a battle to be written for male voices, this one is for high voices – women, girls, or possibly young boys. (Our choir was made up of high school girls, and we sang it with gusto!)

While one might think of songs of warfare being accompanied by drums, cymbals, and trumpets, the only instrument accompanying these female voices is a harp.

The arrangement of the song creates growing intensity. The first verse is sung in unison, the second verse in a two-part round, the third verse in a three-part round, with no refrains in between, like waves of armed reinforcements charging over the hill to join the battle.

The voices come back together as the song reaches a crescendo, “My soul, with Christ, join thou in fight – “ and they end in unison, admonishing the audience to “foil thy foes with joy.”

All that content is packed into a song less than two minutes long!

I recently heard this carol for the first time in decades, and it struck me how profound the message is, unlike the usual songs about Santa, toys, snow, and rockin’ around the Christmas tree. Even songs about the sweet little Baby in the manger, the gentle beasts, shepherds, wisemen, and angels singing, might lull us into forgetting that a war is being waged daily on the battlefield of our minds. This little Baby came to set the prisoners free, and that involves defeating the kingdom of hell that has held us in bondage to sin for so long.

Just after the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, God prophesied to the serpent that the offspring of the woman would ultimately defeat him – “He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 No doubt the serpent (Satan) remembered those words down through history – and now, in the little town of Bethlehem, He had arrived!

Jesus, the offspring of the woman, with no human father, had come. Even as He lay sleeping, a tiny newborn, Satan’s doom was sealed.

So, while we’re singing songs about the cute little Baby, let’s not forget who He was, is, and always will be – the God who came for us then, fights for us now, and is coming back to complete His triumph over evil. And on that day, His victory will be like this carol – short and swift, forever separating the kingdom of heaven from the kingdom of darkness.

Which side will you be on?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we celebrate Your coming to earth, we thank You for the love You had for us. We are in awe of Your willingness to leave Your home in glory and be born as one of us, suffer in our place, die to pay the penalty of our sins, and rise to life again to show us the eternal life that awaits all those who love and follow You. Help us not to be distracted by the trappings of the season, but instead to have hearts and minds set on You, for it’s in Your name we pray, Amen.

Here is one performance of this truly unique Christmas carol – enjoy!

Can You Stand Some Good News?

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people!” Luke 2:10

I am one who absolutely loves to deliver good news. I love the look of surprise and delight on the face of the recipient, even if the good news has nothing to do with me. I’m not looking for credit, I just like watching people being made happy.

But sometimes, especially lately, I get a less than delighted response. Sometimes the person I am telling good news will, in fact, get angry with me. Now I‘m the one who is surprised, and not pleasantly. (Has that ever happened to you?)

Case in point: A little less than two years ago, the nation was warned that a deadly disease was invading our country. The news predicted grim scenarios where people would be dropping like flies, and once-healthy people would fill intensive wards, gasping for their last breath. It seemed it was only a matter of time before each of us would be stricken.

The phrase “Follow the science” started being tossed around, and it sounded like a good idea. I am not a scientist, but I am married to a PhD engineer, a man who follows the science daily. And to him, “science” is data. When a dramatic story hits the news – usually something anecdotal designed to tug at our heartstrings or make us break out in a cold sweat – his response is to say coolly, “Show me the data.”

So I looked at the data early on, and I was immediately reassured to learn that this “deadly virus” had a survival rate of over 99.9%. That sounded like great news to me. I also learned that many, many people with this virus had little or no symptoms, and once they had recovered, they had natural immunity for some time. So, the available data pointed to a much better picture than what we were being presented on the nightly news.

I wanted to encourage people with the science, hoping to see looks of relief on their faces. Often, though, they would instead get visibly angry. I was accused (directly or via sarcasm) of not caring about people who were dying. Rather than being a bearer of good news, I was seen as insensitive and heartless.

For the record, I do care about those who have died or lost loved ones to the virus – I have prayed for many of them. I also care about those who have died in plane crashes, but I also know that with the millions of flights that daily reach their destination safely, the chances of dying in a plane crash are very small. Consequently, if someone next to me on a plane is visibly terrified, I will try to reassure that person that chances are excellent that we’re going to be just fine.

I haven’t tried to share statistics lately, but now that there is another item in the news that seems to be terrorizing people, I’ve got to share the good news I’ve heard.

This could even be an answer to our prayers, but are we paying attention?

There is a new “varrient” on the horizon, originating from South Africa. This varrient is reportedly spreading much faster than any of its predecessors.

[The predictable response: *instant panic!*]

But let’s mute the panic button for a moment. My husband, “show-me-the-data” Martin, was listening to a broadcast the other morning that presented all the statistics (data) from the past 24 hours, and the doctor presenting it seemed genuinely happy! Of course, I started to eavesdrop. 😉

According to “Dr. Campbell” on YouTube, this varrient has, in fact, extremely mild symptoms, if any. And the fact that it spreads so rapidly is actually a good thing! According to Dr. Campbell, at the rate the varrient is spreading and replacing the other most recent varrient, South Africa should reach herd immunity in a very short time. (Herd immunity is the state where the majority of a population has immunity to a disease.)

This is GOOD news, folks!!!

But that night on the American nightly news the anchors were, as usual, speaking in ominous tones, predicting widespread disease and more measures that might have to be taken, “for our protection.”.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been in a prayer meeting and heard someone pray for an end to the p@ndemic, … I could go to a really nice restaurant for dinner. Could it be that God is answering our prayers before our eyes, and we’re so busy panicking that we can’t even see it, much less appreciate it?

I don’t know what I can do, other than try to spread the good news, and try not to be overwhelmed with frustration at the people who angrily refuse to receive it, because they are “following the science.” (Really?)

And now, on a more important topic, here’s the BEST news of all!

God loves you! Just think, the One who created the whole universe loves and cares about you! And while the “bad news” is that we’ve all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), making us ineligible for eternal life, God has always known we’d fall short, and He has prepared a way of escape for us!

“The wages of sin is death.” We all have earned the death penalty for the sin we’ve committed, but Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, loved us enough to take that penalty on Himself, allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross He didn’t deserve. As Someone who is 100% innocent, His death paid for our crimes, so we can be forgiven and accepted by God and inherit eternal life! If we accept His gift, it’s ours! (Merry Christmas!)

We who follow Jesus have better things to do than live in fear (or frustration). Let’s keep spreading good news, especially the Good News. Some people may get angry with us, call us names, accuse us of anything and everything. But others may respond with joy and eagerness to accept the gift. Whether they accept or reject our message is not our responsibility. Jesus said “go and tell,” (Matthew 28:19) and we should be doing that and leaving the results to Him.

Prayer: Father, forgive us for dwelling in fear and complaints. You have given us the gift of life, and even more, the gift of Your life, to save our souls. May we not waste another moment wallowing in the lies of the enemy. Help us to spend our lives reveling in and sharing the Good News of Your love, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Sharpening the axe

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and He will establish your plans. – Proverbs 16:3

“Give me six hours to cut down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

When I was on the board of an emerging Christian school, we had many, many things to discuss: electing officers, articles of incorporation, applying for tax-exempt status, mission statement, by-laws, hiring an administrator, teachers and staff, writing applications for these positions, writing student applications, curriculum, textbooks, ETC. I remember seeing the long agenda filled with things I had never done before and didn’t know if I could even understand what all that was. The first thought that came to mind was, What were we thinking? We can’t do this! The other board members seemed no more experienced or knowledgeable than I was, and yet this was the group the Lord allegedly had raised up to get His school started.

At our first meeting, with the night’s agenda looming over us, we began with prayer.

Correction: We began with silence. Awkward, extended silence. Finally, one of the board members spoke for all of us, and it was more of a groan than a prayer.

“Oh Lord, I feel SO inadequate…”

At that moment I thought, We’re going to make it. We were beginning at the right place, admitting that there was no way we could get this done. It was going to have to be God‘s doing.

At first we met several times a week, and meetings went until about 1:00 A.M. We had much to accomplish – like getting a building! – but we always began with about 30-40 minutes of prayer. Much was accomplished, but summer was passing quickly. After a while, we prayed “briefly” before the meetings, and one night the chairman said, “We have so much to do tonight, let’s just open with a quick word of prayer and get going.” After a “word” of prayer, the meeting continued with what seemed like a million complications, and by the wee hours of the morning, next to nothing had been accomplished.

This did not mean prayer wasn’t happening. I can personally attest to many sleepless nights and “prayer walks,” giving the school to the Lord, and at the end of the summer, we had everything we needed with the minor exception of a building. Then, at the last minute, a little Baptist church in a neighboring town approached us, having heard of our plight, held an emergency meeting, and decided unanimously to let us rent their building.

The school board met with their church board to decide rent, legalities, satisfying the fire marshal and building inspector, moving details, rules for use of the building, utilities, calendar, special events, shared equipment, who got keys to what … another L-O-N-G agenda.

But first, we prayed.

One by one the board members of the church and the school prayed fervently for God’s will to be known, for open, obedient hearts, for every child that would attend the school, for every teacher, administrator, staff member, and volunteer, for the families, for harmony between the school and the church (for the enemy to be prevented from dividing us) …

As the prayer went on … and on … God’s presence filled the room with a feeling of warmth, love, and unity. When we finished praying, I had tears in my eyes. Looking at the clock, I thought, This’ll be another late night. – We had prayed for over an hour and a half!

But after prayer, miraculously, we got everything worked out in about 30 minutes. Apparently, while it takes forever for us to get anything done on our own, God works fast!

A couple of years later my friend Kelly was also on the board, so I was no longer the only female voice. Kelly and I were prayer partners, and we knew that the less we felt we had time to pray, the more we had to pray.

Kelly recalls one night after our principal had resigned unexpectedly and a few other crises had arisen, there was a sense of panic. The men wanted to dive right into the “business” part of the meeting. Kelly and I were saying, “NO, we need to pray!” And as the men went right on talking, I took a stand... I think.

[For the record, I do not remember doing this, but Kelly swears it happened.]

As I got tired of saying “We need to pray!” and the men went right on without us, I got out of my chair, knelt on the floor, and just started praying. (According to Kelly) I think she knelt with me, but since I don’t remember the incident at all, I couldn’t say for sure. And I think the guys finally stopped talking to one another and prayed with us.

That was over thirty years ago. The school has survived and thrived, after some very shaky years, and Kelly and I both eventually got off the board and spent our time walking the perimeter of the school property each morning after dropping off our kids and covering the school with prayer. (We had a few “adventures” related to that, too, but that’s another story for another day.)

Just know this: If you are setting out to so something and want half-baked, flawed results, go ahead and try to do it yourself. But if you want to do God’s will effectively, start with knowing He is the one who grants success. Yield your body, mind, heart, and talents to Him and see what He does with what you offer Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be a tool in God’s hand than an independent worker just making a mess.

Prayer: Father, thank You for allowing us to be a part of Your plan. Thank You for giving us everything we need to do the work You assign us. Forgive us for the times we’ve run ahead of You and taken the wrong path or dragged our feet and missed what You’ve had for us or gone down rabbit trails, wasting time and making messes. Thank You for always drawing us back to You and for keeping us within Your reach. We yield to Your will today, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Remarkable Answer to a Routine Prayer

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. – Psalm 91:7

Since being retired and seeing our youngest child leave the nest, I have not yet found myself sitting around looking for something to do, as I had feared I would when I was younger. Rather, I can do those things I used to procrastinate about years ago, when the mantra seemed to be “I don’t have time!” Well, that excuse isn’t going to cut it these days. As surprisingly busy as I am, I can always find time for prayer, if I make it priority – which, of course, I should!

I have friends who will get upset with me if I say I have OCD – “That’s a negative confession!” But having obsessive-compulsive tendencies can serve a useful purpose when a commitment is made. I take my commitments seriously, especially when it comes to my commitments to God. There are certain things I have committed to praying for daily, and as far as I’m concerned, if I committed, I’d jolly well better do it!

One of these “daily” things is “putting on the spiritual armor,” as Paul described in Ephesians 6. Not that I think I’d be spiritually vulnerable if I didn’t “put it on” each day. (After all, I don’t remember ever taking it off.) But it’s a good reminder for me of how God has prepared His children for battle. (He doesn’t need reminding, but I do.) So, meditating on relevant Scripture, I “put on” the belt of truth,” “the helmet of salvation,” and “the breastplate of righteousness,” as I give the Lord my body, my mind, and my heart for the day. As I do, I feel my soul being built up to have a right mindset for whatever happens that day. (Romans 8:5) Someday I’ll write a piece about this process.

“Having my feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15) involves just asking God to send me where He wants me to go that day, letting me encounter the people He wants me to encounter, and speaking the words He wants me to say. This prayer excites me! I never know how it will be answered by the time the day is over.

While Paul calls our faith the shield “that quenches all the fiery arrows of the evil one,” (Ephesians 6:16) the Old Testament tells us God’s faithfulness is a shield and fortress. (Psalm 91:4) God’s faithfulness has been with me – over and around me, shielding me from harm – even longer than my faith. And His faithfulness is what covers the people I love. So, I pray daily for His faithfulness to shield each of my family members and anyone who has been part of our household in the past. (We’ve had some pretty special people living with us through the years.) I also pray for people I once sponsored, wherever they are, that the Lord’s hand is still in their lives.

Finally, I pray a shield around the kids I’m sponsoring now. One of these is Ibra, my teenager in Uganda. I wrote a post about him a while back:

Since Uganda has been on lockdown and schools are not in session, Ibra has been staying with friends in the city of Kampala instead of the orphanage. I trust the Lord is keeping him safe, along with my sponsored children in other countries.

Tuesday morning of last week I got a Facebook message from Ibra, telling me, “… we have lost some Ugandans.” This was due to an attack in the city that killed some, injured others. “ … and this happened when I was in the city and I saw this happen glory to God that I was not affected I was protected by him who lives in me.” He sent me a couple of very gruesome photos, and by the end of the day, when I had heard nothing about this on the American news, a part of me wondered if this had really happened (Teenagers, you know …).

But that evening I googled “bombing in Uganda,” and sure enough, earlier that day in Kampala two bombs had been set off, with people killed and some severely injured. And my kid Ibra saw it up close, but hadn’t a scratch on him! I guess you never know when those “routine prayers” might make a crucial difference.

There have been countless times I’ve traveled, and friends pray for “safe travels” for me, and I don’t usually think much about it, other than, That’s a sweet thought. There have certainly been more urgent prayers in our circles. But occasionally I will arrive at my destination and contact a friend to thank him/her for the prayers – after a semi had come at me and missed me by inches. And I have to wonder, are there other close calls I don’t even know about?

Amy Grant once sang, “God only knows the times my life was threatened just today/ A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way. / Near-misses all around me, accidents unknown,/ Though I’ll never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.“*

But God sees, and thankfully, He’s got His angels watching over us.

Prayer: Father, thank You for your care and protection as we go about our days, usually oblivious to the enemy’s plans. We’re so grateful we don’t have to live in fear, but we can trust You to bring us to the end of our lives with Your plans for us fulfilled, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

*”Angels Watching Over Me” from the Album “Straight Ahead,” Myrrh Records, 1984

Grateful or Offended – Your Choice

For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death, to the other the fragrance of life. – II Corinthians 2:15-16

Most people over 30 will remember the remake of the classic movie “Father of the Bride,” starring Steve Martin as the bumbling father. There’s a scene where the wedding is nearly called off because of a crisis in the relationship of the bride and groom. When the father of the bride is trying to console his daughter, he learns that the whole blowup was over a gift she had received from her fiancé: a blender. What does that say about their relationship? she wails, interpreting the gift as a sign he’s already thinking of her as “the little woman”/housewife.

As the soon-to-be (or-not-to-be) son-in-law later explains to the bride’s father, he had bought the gift because he knew how much his fiancée loved banana smoothies, and he was giving her a blender for her enjoyment. It was a gift of love from a man who knew (or thought he knew!) what she liked.

Even though Dad hasn’t relished the idea of his daughter’s marrying the guy, his love for her overrides his personal feelings. He smooths things over between the two, and the wedding is back on.

A friend of mine had a similar experience when her husband came home on her birthday with a box from Victoria’s Secret. She was surprised, thrilled, and extremely curious as to what kind of romantic gift was inside! Imagine the let-down when she found the box filled with beef jerky.

She was complaining to me about it, and I asked whether her husband had any explanation for the … “unusual” gift. She said he had explained that he knew she had occasional bouts of low blood sugar when she was out and about, and these spells were an indication that she needed protein. He was giving her something that she could carry in her purse to remedy the situation when she was on the go. (The box was just the nearest thing he could find to put the gift in.)

We women who long for romance have to come to terms with the fact that many men are more pragmatic than romantic. I explained to my friend that this gift was saying (1.) “I’m paying attention to your needs,” and (2.) “I love you and want you to feel good and be healthy.” I’m guessing her husband is like mine, in that he doesn’t see the point in a gift which doesn’t really serve any practical purpose.

Although we may not be able to control our emotions moment by moment, perspective is a choice, and the perspectives we consistently choose can mold our general disposition over the long run. As fashionable is it is to be “offended” these days, giving people the benefit of the doubt and appreciating them makes everyone happier. For example, the Christmas my husband gave me a Dust Buster, some of my girlfriends were surprised that I was happy about it. To them that kind of gift says, “You’re the cleaning lady.” But to me, it said “I love you, and I want to make your job easier.” (Besides, I had thought Dust Busters were cool and had asked for one.)

Someone on a talk show used the example of a treadmill as the epitome of a terrible gift to give your wife. I guess some women would see it as saying, “You’re fat, and you need to get in shape.” I remember thinking, I would love a gift like that – maybe not a treadmill, but an elliptical machine would be awesome. To me a gift like that says, “I love you, and I want us to have a long, healthy life together.” (Not to mention, “This piece of machinery is expensive, but you’re worth it!”) If my husband had bought me an elliptical machine, it would have said to me, “I notice the elliptical is your favorite machine at the health club. Here’s one of your own.” Of course, that would not have been practical, as we were within walking distance of the gym. But when the gym closed because of the pandemic, I went ahead and bought one myself, with Marty’s blessing.

Any gift can be seen in a positive or negative light. I entertained my disappointed friend with examples of romantic gifts that could be taken the wrong way:

Perfume could say, “You stink. Use this.”

A beautiful piece of clothing could say, “Your looks could stand some improvement.”

Flowers could say, “we need something pretty around here. The house looks terrible.”

Pretty soon we were both laughing at how, as one comedian recently quipped, “A woman can turn anything into an insult.” And I hope the next time my friend had a sugar crash and dipped into her purse for a piece of jerky, she appreciated her husband’s thoughtfulness, however un-romantic it may have seemed at the time.

We may need to reverse our perspective on gratitude:

Having things doesn’t make us grateful. Gratitude makes us enjoy the things we have.*

*This piece of “divine perspective” was brought to you by Jesus Christ, whose unspeakably wonderful gift involved a beating, a crown of thorns, nails, and a bloody Cross. (Not pretty.)

Jesus, the priceless Lamb of God, was the sacrifice that paid the penalty for our sins. Through His death on a cross we can be forgiven and live with Him forever! We can respond to this amazing gift by repenting, accepting His forgiveness, yielding our lives to Him, and being eternally grateful that He was willing to sacrifice Himself for us. With this perspective, we can begin enjoying that eternal life right here and now, knowing He loves us and will never leave us.

Or … we can, like some people, be offended at the very idea that God considers us sinful and in need of a Savior. We could be offended that Jesus had the audacity to say He is the only Way, instead of being glad there even is a way at all, which is one more than we deserve.

Joy or offense. The choice is yours.

Prayer: Lord, forgive our tendency to complain and always want something other than what You have offered us. Give us “divine perspective” to accept and appreciate Your sacrifice for us, as well as the little gifts You give us daily, knowing You always want the best for us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If at First You Get Ignored …

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. – Matthew 22:2

It’s been a while since I’ve written about any dreams I’ve had. Frankly, I don’t remember many since I started praying I’d only remember the important ones and forget the meaningless ones. (My mind has enough clutter, thank you.)

But recently I had a dream that was vivid and, I believe, significant for believers today.

Maybe it was because the holidays are approaching, but I dreamt about a gathering of people. Women were bustling around the kitchen, while some teenagers sat around a table playing a board game. (I assume the men were in the den watching sports.) I was heading outside to take some chicken off the grill and bring it inside.

The chicken glistened with juiciness and barbecue sauce, and I knew it was going to be delicious. Just as I got the last piece onto the platter, my daughter’s big dog, Irma, leapt at me, nearly knocking me down and snatching the biggest piece of chicken.

I was annoyed, but also concerned for Irma. I’ve had dogs all my life and know you don’t give chicken bones to dogs, as they splinter and can pierce the dog’s insides.

“Hey, I need some help here!” I yelled, as Irma continued to jump on me, threatening to spill the whole platter of poultry. I could see the kids still playing their board game, seemingly oblivious to what was going on outside. I tried to balance the platter while pushing the pooch away from me and continued to call for help. Since the kids didn’t seem to care what was going on outside, I yelled louder, hoping the women in the kitchen would hear, before their entire dinner got dumped in the dirt.

Dreams are strange. Sometimes you know things without seeing or hearing them. Somehow I knew someone inside was rolling their eyes and saying, She’s OK, she just wants attention.

This isn’t just for me, it’s for them, too! And I’m worried about Irma! I thought, indignant.

Ignore her, they were saying.

I was being deliberately ignored!?

With renewed energy, I pushed my way past the dog and into the house. I chastised the kids who had turned a deaf ear to my cries for help – not just for my sake but for the sake of the dog swallowing the razor-sharp bone fragments, not to mention anyone else interested in the feast I was bringing to the table!

Did you not hear me yelling for help?!” I demanded. To my utter astonishment, they still didn’t look up from their game. Nor did any of the women come out of the kitchen to see what was going on.

Fine!” I announced, dropping the platter onto the table. “I’m done.” And with that I walked away. I was only mildly surprised when no one followed or even called out after me.

At another house it was Christmastime! I felt welcome here and went right in. Once inside I could see snow at every window, a fire in the fireplace, and bright colored decorations sparkling everywhere. I could hear Christmas carols and children’s laughter. In the kitchen some kids were decorating sugar cookies, and in the den some more were watching the last minutes of a Christmas special. I recognized it as one of my favorites, and I feigned disappointment.

“Aw, you didn’t wait for me?” I fake pouted.

“It’s OK,” said my granddaughter, Charlotte, jumping up and taking my arm. “We’ll watch it again later, and you can watch it with us then.” I was invited to join them in any and all of their Christmas activities, and I experienced a deep joy, as I felt like a little kid myself.

[I woke up with a smile on my face.]

Amazingly, Jesus taught that the sin of apathy is as damning as what we call the “big sins” – murder, adultery, and the like. He told a parable of a king who gave a great wedding feast for his son, but oddly the invitees refused to come. So, the snubbed king sent his servants out to gather others off the street until his banquet hall was filled. Those who had ignored the original invitation were left in outer darkness. – Their loss.

Many people behave that way today. We share the way to eternal life; some accept the message joyfully, others reject the invitation. Some even seem annoyed, as though we were asking them to do us a favor – not realizing that it is for their sake that we’re trying to point the way. Many simply ignore us.

But these responses (or lack of) are no reason to give up sharing the Gospel! While some may not seem interested in avoiding damnation and living forever with God, there are plenty, like my granddaughter Charlotte, who are very eager to hear your good news. Childlike at heart, they are far different from those who consider themselves too cool to talk with you about such things.

If you’re like me, you have spent a lot of time praying for and witnessing to certain people you care about very much. You reason with them, you invite them, and you warn them. Their lack of response can be draining, and downright discouraging.

You may need a break. You may need to leave those people to God, knowing there are others who have been waiting for someone to give them hope. You just might find that the moment you’re about to give up, the Lord puts people in your path who are only too happy to invite you into their lives and hear your good news.

Jesus gave us the Great Commission – share the Good News. Especially now. Time is short.

P.S. If you’re wondering, What is this “good news?” here are a couple of my past posts that explain it:

If you’d like to discuss this offer of eternal life further, please feel free to email me at bascha3870@yahoo.com. I would love to hear from you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive us for the times we’ve ignored Your invitations. We know we’re the ones who get hurt when we pass up the chance to be with You. Open our eyes to Your will for us. Then use us to open the eyes of others to the wonder of Your salvation. Help us never to give up. In Your name, Amen.