Divine Perspective on “the Road Trip from Hell”

 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.                                                                                                                                             John 1:5

A couple of years ago I posted the beginning of a story of a very trying drive from Louisville, KY, to Manistee, MI – or as my husband Marty called it, “the road trip from hell.” Included in the package were heavy rains, holiday traffic, long waits because of accidents and construction, and finally, a flat tire, and a car packed to the gills that had to be unpacked to get to the spare – all after having had just four hours’ sleep the night before, with a dog that loudly refused to let me nap at the “rest stops.”

Although it took me twelve hours to make a trip that should have taken eight, there was one detail that was a definite “God moment.” It was tucked into the story, much as the moment itself was tucked into a steady stream of frustration, and I was surprised that for the most part, virtually all of the many people who saw the post missed it. Every response I got for the first 24 hours was one of mutual griping about “Murphy’s Law” and well-meaning people expressing their sympathy. This got me thinking… Do we usually get so focused on all the negatives that we miss those little moments of awesomeness that God drops into our lives? Well, I almost did. Here’s “the rest of the story,” which I posted the next day:

When I was sitting in my car with the flat tire in a parking lot outside a bar and grill in the rain, waiting for AAA to call me back and texting Marty to keep him updated on what was happening – or rather what was NOT happening – I became aware that I had been joined by a very BAD attitude. I was also reminded that I had asked God to do something with me that day, as I didn’t want to be just heading for another vacation. (Vacations are pleasant, but, shall we say, not always an adventure?) I realized I was in the middle of an adventure, and if I didn’t lose the attitude I might miss a “divine appointment” of some kind. So I consciously ditched the attitude, thanked God (out loud) for whatever He was going to do, and went inside to wait.

There was a couple sitting waiting, too, and I eventually became aware that they were not waiting for a table but for help with THEIR car. They had locked their keys inside it – in the same place I had got the flat. Hmmm… I also noticed that the husband was wearing a t-shirt with an intriguing message on it, followed by a scripture reference, so I asked him about it. What ensued was a very enjoyable (exciting) conversation with the two of them about what was going on in our lives and how awesome God is. I ended up very glad I had met them, especially when the couple that came to get their car open said they were available to change my tire, too.

I decided 90 minutes was enough to wait for a response from AAA, so I employed this couple. While he changed the tire, she did the paperwork, and we got into a conversation about other things. Long story short, she is an avid reader and left with a copy of my first novel, Counselor. I may never know the results, but I’m happier believing that all that was supposed to happen than I would have been sitting in my car stewing over things I had no control over.

Next time you’re stranded where you don’t want to be, with inconveniences piling up and frustration building into the attitude from hell, STOP. PRAY. Take a deep breath, and look around you. God is up to something. (And I’d love to hear what happens!)

(By the way, that “God Moment” that almost everyone missed at my first telling of the story came at about 1:30 A.M., when I was about thirty minutes from my final destination. The sleep deprivation, coupled with this unexpectedly trying twelve-hour solo drive was taking its toll, and even singing along to lively music at top volume was beginning to lose its effect. At one point I felt what seemed like a hand on my shoulder giving me a gentle shake, and my head jerked up, as I realized with a start that I had been dozing off. That final surge of adrenaline was enough to get me the rest of the way home. (Disclaimer: I do NOT recommend taking a long road trip alone and sleep deprived!)

Prayer: Lord, give us Your perspective, even when it seems to be buried in the negativity around us. Rather than being “under the circumstances,” help us to rise above them, in Your name, and for Your glory. Amen.

The Thief of Joy

When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”                                                                                                                 John 21:21-22

For a long time I had a scrap of paper in my guitar case that I had cut out of a magazine as a personal reminder. It said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” My guitar case seemed a good place for it, as I have on more than one occasion let my mood be dampened by perceiving that someone else was a better guitarist, better singer, or better songwriter than I was. That scrap of paper was lost years ago, (There are also a good number of people more organized than I am.) but I am hopeful that my attitude has improved over time and I no longer need a tangible reminder.

The “What-about-him?” syndrome is indeed an effective way to suck all the joy out of one’s day. Martha and her sister Mary are one of several examples in Scripture.

These sisters had the honor of frequently hosting Jesus and His disciples in their home. On one occasion Martha, the overachiever, was doing her thing and stressing out over the preparations. We don’t know what Mary had done earlier that day, but apparently when Jesus arrived, she felt it was time to sit at His feet and just soak in His words and His presence. Now Martha could have chosen to do the same thing. Although evidently not everything was ready, Jesus made it clear that Martha was trying to do too much, that only a few things were necessary – or only one. (I have read that in those days most meals consisted of just one dish, but I imagine Martha was aiming toward something closer to a six-course meal. Perhaps misguided zeal had made her too eager to impress.)

The final factor in Martha’s having her joy stolen was the comparison between herself and her sister – I’m doing all the work, and she’s just sitting there! I suppose Mary could have spoiled her own mood as well, had she thought, Martha’s got all this lovely food to give Jesus, and I’m just sitting here. He’s going to love her more than me! But Mary’s attention was not on her sister, it was on Jesus, as it should have been. And if Jesus had wanted to be served, He had only to ask Mary. (After all, she was the one who was right there and didn’t need to be flagged down.)

In Luke 15:25-32, the brother of the “Prodigal Son” let comparison ruin what should have been a joyous occasion – his long-lost brother had come home! He could have enjoyed the celebration, but instead he only saw that his brother had blown his inheritance and got a party, while he had stayed home and worked for his father and didn’t get a party! I’m guessing that’s not exactly true. The father told him, “Everything I have is yours,” (vs 31) which tells me (1) he will not be splitting his inheritance with his brother again, and (2) he could have had a party any time he wanted to.

At the end of John’s gospel Jesus hinted that Peter would glorify Him in death, and what kind of death that would be. Peter immediately looked at John and said “What about him?” Jesus replied that it was none of his business, Peter’s job was to follow Him.

What is it about human nature that makes us want to compare? If the comparison puts us on top, we can easily get sucked into the sin of pride. On the other hand, if we see ourselves at the bottom, we can get resentful and depressed and not want to make the most of the gifts and opportunities we do have. Either way, we lose, so why play the game?

The Body of Christ is not a competition, it is an organism of a vastly diverse members, and when each one fulfills his or her calling, the work can get done, and we can all rejoice together. It’s not a matter of who’s in a better place, but being faithful where God has put us. Instead of looking around at everyone else, let’s just look at Jesus. I think we would all be happier.

Prayer: Dear Lord, if we are honest with ourselves, we see that none of us deserve the love and blessings You have showered on us. No amount of wealth, status, talents, or popularity could give us what we can only have through a pure love relationship with You. Help us to get our minds off the comparisons and just serve You in the ways in which You have called each of us, for in that we find true joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Mud Wrestling

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”                                                                                                                                    —  Jesus (Matthew 7:6)

Well, it happened again. A know-it-all type declared war on Christians on social media, declaring that there’s “absolutely no proof” for the Resurrection of Jesus.

Just in case this was merely an uninformed person with an open mind, I took the bait. I politely pointed out that if by “proof” she meant scientific proof, she was right. No one-time event like the Resurrection – or any historical event, for that matter – could be “proven” scientifically. That would involve being able to watch the event being repeated in a laboratory. One determines what happened in the distant past using historical evidence, such as artifacts, fossils, and written records. In the case of a crime, one looks at legal evidence, such as the presence of a weapon, fingerprints, and through logical reasoning, such as whether or not there was a motive. But you can’t duplicate a murder to decide who’s guilty. And you can’t create another Julius Caesar to reenact history.

Soon others were chiming in on the discussion, stating that there was no evidence that Jesus even existed. (Really?) I read with interest as some of the most well educated people I know responded with reason, logic, and clarity, only to be answered with the usual canards taught in the state-run schools. To their credit, no one resorted to name-calling in this one. (Yes, I have been in another discussion where I was called an “ignorant troll” by someone I have never met.) But after searching in vain for any sign of an open mind, it wasn’t long before I was voicing my realization that “we are coming to different conclusions, so I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.” And I went on to other things.

There’s enough evidence, both historical and legal, regarding the Resurrection of Jesus to convince anyone willing to look at the facts objectively. Such intellectually honest people have included Lee Strobel, investigative reporter (The Case for Christ); J. Warner Wallace, homicide detective (Cold Case Christianity); Josh McDowell, law student (Evidence that Demands a Verdict); and C. S. Lewis, history professor at Oxford and Cambridge (Mere Christianity).

I love a good, honest debate with open-minded and educated people, but as the great theologian Mick Jagger has said, “You can’t always get what you want,” and I have no desire to argue for the sake of arguing. Those times I have been sucked into the social mud have only left me frustrated, angry, and profoundly sad for the person who has closed his mind to the existence of the God who loves him.

Jesus told us to go forth into the world and share the gospel, and this is both our duty and our privilege. Converts have come from some very unexpected places, and we owe it to them and to the Savior who loves them to try to reach them. But Jesus knew that there were, and still are, those who hate us for our faith and will stir up a fight simply for the fun of seeing us get upset. These people can all too easily be used by our enemy to drain us of our time and energy, so that we have nothing left to give to the people who are open to the Gospel. The arguers may or may not be won over to Christ at some future time, but for now we have the Lord’s permission to walk away from them, shake the dust off our feet, and devote our time and energies to those who want to hear our good news.

One last thought: Even if we were to win a battle of words over biblical truths, that is no guarantee that our opponents will be saved. People come to the Lord because the Spirit draws them, not because they lost a debate. So pray for discernment. I believe the Holy Spirit will let you know when it’s time to “agree to disagree” and calmly walk away, with your joy intact and your faith unshaken. Besides, you can still pray for those people – and they can’t stop you from doing that.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your incredible gift of eternal life. We are overwhelmed by Your grace, and we desire to spread the word to anyone and everyone. Help us not to get sidetracked trying to sow seed into hard ground. Give us discernment and lead us to those whose hearts are open, that we may share salvation where and when You desire.  In Jesus’ precious name. Amen

 

 

On Being Transparent

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.     Isaiah 64:6a

I don’t do windows.

Well, every few years I would try. There will be that bright sunny morning when the light was streaming into the dining room in the family summer home, and the need for cleaning was so obvious, I’d grab the window cleaner, spray bottle, rags, paper towels, and squeegee and get to work. Two or three hours later I’d throw in the towel (and everything on it) and once more promise myself, never again!

My family has a lovely house on Portage Lake in western Michigan, where we go in the summer. My grandparents built it in the 1940s. It was elegant then and it is still elegant now. Forty years ago my husband Marty and I got married there, and one year ago our youngest daughter married the love of her life there. The house has French provincial architecture, fireplaces, a bay window, and French doors that open onto a patio overlooking the lake.

It also has windows that have had a curse put on them. Or maybe it’s just the paint on the frames that dissolves every time any liquid touches it… Each magical little pane is specially made to get dirtier the more it’s wiped. After several attempts at cleaning, the glass will go from mildly dirty to ridiculously streaked on the outside – when you’re looking out. Of course, when you’re outside looking in, all you see are the streaks that are inside. I have on occasion treated the job like an Olympic event, “the Window Sprint” – Can I run outside and get that streak off before I forget where it is? Pretty soon I’m streaked too, with sweat and dirt, and breathless with exasperation. No gold medal here.

(Now please don’t write and tell me how you clean your windows. Believe me, I’ve heard the advice, all about vinegar and newspapers and yada-yadda-yadda… I’ve tried it all. I told you. My windows are cursed.)

A few years ago we put our house in Port Huron up for sale, and one of the many jobs that needed to be done was … clean the windows. [Insert scary horror movie music here.] When a perfectly gorgeous day came up and I had absolutely nothing on my schedule, there was no excuse to put off the job, however desperately I wished for one.

I was delightfully surprised to find the job was not only effective but surprisingly fun when it actually worked! I found myself singing as I got into the rhythm -squirt-squeegee-wipe, squirt-squeegee-wipe – and pretty soon I was looking around for more windows to clean. At the end of the day I was standing in the living room, gazing out at the Lake Huron, relishing the fact that the windows were virtually invisible and I may as well have been standing outside. >Eureka!<

For some reason I took this to mean I now knew how to clean windows, so when we later went to Portage Lake, one bright, sunny day I confidently grabbed my trusty squeegee and began to make the dining room gorgeous, one little pane at a time, forgetting that these windows were cursed… Two hours, one roll of paper towels, one bottle of Windex, and one tantrum later, there was not one pane that was totally clean. I threw up my hands and yelled “I GIVE UP!” followed by a few other things that were probably inappropriate for a Christian to be saying.

Have you been there? I don’t mean just with windows, but anything that you’ve tried to “fix,” that only gets worse the more you try? As I stood there that day, hot and exhausted, scowling at the streaks blocking the view of the beautiful lake, I figured the only way to get a clear view would be just to break the windows. That’s it! Just take out the pains – er, panes – completely, and the view would be great. Of course, that would have made the house a bit drafty and buggy, so Marty didn’t go for that idea.

It occurred to me that I was looking at a picture of sin. The Bible tells us that ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all of Mankind has been under the curse of sin. For many people, their lives may seem “good enough.” But then the light of God’s truth shines through, and it becomes painfully obvious that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) The more we look at our sin, the more it bothers us.

So, what do some of us do? We try to clean up our act. Somehow we think we can make it right on our own, although it should soon be apparent that if we were so capable of doing good, our lives wouldn’t be such a mess in the first place. After trying to make things right, we see that we have failed, and more often than not, our feeble attempts have made the situation worse than ever. At this point we should see that we can’t do this ourselves. But some of us refuse to believe we’re that helpless. So we try harder, thinking if we could just try hard enough, we’ll finally clean up our lives. And things get messier and messier.

The bottom line is, we can’t fix the mess ourselves. We have only two choices. We can avoid the Light and hope nobody notices the dirt, or we can go to God and ask Him to help us. Fortunately, He can. In fact, He sent His Son, Jesus, to take all our dirt on Himself. When He died for us, He was taking our sin and nailing it to the Cross, and we never have to be enslaved by it again. He can make our lives clean, and He can shine His light through us. Isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up?

I haven’t yet figured out how to get Jesus to do my windows for me, but last fall before our daughter Kelly married the love of her life on the lawn at that house, we did hire a professional exorcist – er, window cleaning service. Now when I look out through the crystal clear glass and remember how it used to be, I know what a mess I would be without Jesus. I’m just grateful that I’m not without Him, and that He was willing to do what was necessary to make me clean, so He could shine His light through me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in ourselves we are powerless to clean up our own lives. Thank You that You have not left us on our own, but You have shed Your blood to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that we can live the lives You want us to live – the lives we truly want. We choose to trust You to shine through us today, in Your power, in Your name. Amen

Still Not Boring

And my God will meet all your needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.                                                    Philippians 13:19

 

I love spending time with Janice. Listening to her is always uplifting, because she sees God’s hand in just about everything, and those things most of us would call “problems” are to her just occasions to wait and see what amazing thing God is going to do.

One of Janice’s daughters had had a mysterious illness for a long time, and recently Janice needed to drive her from Louisville to Zionsville, Indiana, to see a specialist and have some tests done. This was an important matter of prayer for Janice, but she had something else on her heart that was even more pressing.

Janice’s sister in Chicago had recently lost her husband and was depressed. She was also getting up in years and had not yet placed her faith in Christ. Janice wanted very much to go and see her, spend some quality time with her, and tell her one more time about Jesus and His plan of salvation. One of the women at the church had sent this sister a Bible, and Janice was eager to find out whether she had been reading it. She was thinking a trip to Chicago would be wonderful, especially since Zionsville was already halfway there. But she was very short on funds and thought maybe extending the trip and having to stay overnight in the Chicago area would be asking too much … or would it? The answer came through a seemingly unrelated source.

Janice had been getting her dental work done by one of the students at the University of Louisville Dental School, and at the time she had some cavities that needed attention. The dental student called her a few nights before her daughter’s appointment to tell her that it “just so happened” that a fourth year dental student at Midwestern University needed to fix her particular kind of cavities to take his board exams that week. Midwestern University is in Downers Grove, IL – about 35 minutes from Janice’s sister. In order to have Janice there for his exam, the student had offered to put her and her daughter up in a hotel for three nights!

So, Janice’s daughter got to see the specialist, Janice got her tooth fixed, they both got to stay in a nice hotel for three nights, and most importantly, Janice had plenty of time to be with her sister, “planting seeds” and talking to her about the Bible, which her sister said she had been reading.

As if that weren’t enough, the dental student taking the exam gave Janice $200 when he was finished fixing her tooth. (I don’t know about you, but when my dentist fixes a tooth, I have to pay him.) I guess we know where they got the gas money to get home.

Do you have problems? Needs? Instead of doing what comes naturally for so many of us (griping), ask your heavenly Father what His solution is. You may have some great “God stories” in the making.

Prayer: Lord, You are the Creator of the universe, of all that is seen and unseen, all that is beautiful, powerful, mysterious, and fascinating. Forgive us for all the times we were too preoccupied with our “problems” to see Your hand at work. Help us to trust You more, truly believing that all things are working together for our good, because we love You and are called according to Your purpose. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

So, You Think a Life of Faith Is Boring?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”                — Jesus  (John 10:10)

 

One of the devil’s tactics that seems especially effective in American circles is the lie that being a Christ-follower is somehow boring. I am sometimes asked by people who spend their weekends at bars and cocktail parties, “So, what do you do for fun?” My response, at least in my mind, is, Are you kidding me? as I try not to burst out laughing. Usually I’ll just smile and answer, “How much time do you have?” (I have a lot of stories.)

I’m not the only one. My friend Janice is another one of those people who could tell “God stories” all day. She will agree with me that when a need arises, it’s not a “problem” so much as an opportunity to see how the Lord is going to show Himself sufficient. The fact that her funds are limited is not a source of complaining on her part, but rather a constant reminder of her dependence on the Lord to meet every need. It also sets the stage for some great testimonies about His resourcefulness and creativity.

When Janice and her two daughters needed a car, their natural response to the need was to ask their heavenly Father for one. Janice prayed that the car would be an SUV, because her dream was to have a job delivering flowers. One of her daughters had prayed that they would get it for a good price – to be specific, free. The other daughter had just prayed for a blue car, because blue was her favorite color.

Meanwhile, the son-in-law of “Amy,” a lady at Janice’s church, was in another part of the state when his car blew a head gasket and was rendered useless. Upon hearing that the car had “died,” Amy loaned him her car to get him to work until he could purchase another car. But since Amy needed to get around, too, she and her husband decided this was as good a time as any to get that new car for Amy that they had been talking about.

A couple of days later, Amy was happily driving her new car. A couple of weeks later, her son-in-law had his new car, which was much better suited for him than the blue SUV he had borrowed from his mother-in-law. Of course, Amy no longer needed her old car, so when they heard from the church that a lady was in need of a car, Amy and her husband were happy to let her take their old one off their hands. They had no idea that “SUV,” “free,” and “blue” were the specific requests Janice and her daughters had presented to their heavenly Father.

Scripture says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) To truly believe that is to see God’s hand in every little detail of our lives. There will be those events and situations we don’t understand, but those occasions give us opportunities to exercise and stretch our faith. On the other hand, if we have a “divine perspective,” we may be surprised at how many details we do understand and see falling into place to meet our needs – and often even our wants. God loves to delight His children.

If you ask me, seeing things from a divine perspective – and telling the “God stories” that follow – is much more fun than drinking – and God’s blessings don’t leave you with a hangover.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for every time we have treated You in a “ho-hum” kind of way, when prayers were looked upon as a chore, and when Your provision went unnoticed. Help us to recognize Your hand in our lives, to tell our “God stories,” and to listen to the stories of others. Help live each day with an excitement that the rest of the world will envy and want. And when they ask, may we be ready to share the Good News boldly with them and see souls added to Your kingdom, in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Royal Wedding

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.                                                                                                                                                                       Revelation 19:7

She was a beautiful bride, and I had the privilege of helping her get ready to walk down the aisle. From our little table in the church basement we could hear the music starting and knew that guests were being seated upstairs. I twisted strands of her hair, weaving little white blossoms into the pattern and imagining how lovely the sanctuary must be with thousands of flowers and candles and smiling faces.

The bride stood up and I smoothed her veil. As she stepped away from the table, I lifted her train and let it fall gracefully behind her. Her face was beaming as I handed her the fragrant bouquet. As she started up the stairs, the swishing sound of the train blended with the muffled music, which became momentarily louder as the doors opened to her, then muffled again. I hadn’t been invited to the wedding as a guest, yet I couldn’t have been happier for her.

A moment later I woke up with a song playing in my heart:

“How beautiful the radiant bride,                                                                                                  Who waits for her Groom,                                                                                                         With His light in her eyes..”                                                                                                                                                      (“How Beautiful,” Twila Paris, 1990)

As I lay there smiling and reflecting on the dream, a name came to mind: “Char.”

Char was a delightful lady from our church. I hadn’t seen her in a while, but a few days earlier, doing my volunteer rounds at the hospital, I had been surprised to see her there as a patient. I had not even been aware that she had cancer, but the disease had already reached an advanced stage. I had spent more time in her room that day than the rest of the patients combined, talking about the Lord and sharing fond memories. We had sung songs of worship and prayed together, and later I had prayed with her family in the visitors’ lounge.

Somehow I had a feeling this dream had been about Char.

I can’t say I was surprised when later that day I heard that she had died, although “died” was not the word I would have used. Char’s Big Day had come. Her earthly preparations were finished, and she had gone to meet her Bridegroom – her King! I was not there to witness that happy moment first hand, but I felt I had had the immense privilege of helping her in her final preparations before going to meet Him. Her body had been ravaged by cancer, but none of that mattered now. With her mind focused on Christ, as it always was, a song of praise in her heart, and prayer on her lips, I know that when Jesus appeared to take her to Himself, she was indescribably beautiful to Him.

Prayer: Jesus, we know that when You appear to take Your bride home, everything of this world will fade into nothing. The only thing that will matter is: Are we ready? May we be found waiting expectantly, with Your light in our eyes and our love for You overflowing from our hearts. In Your precious name, Amen.