Friday, September 28, 2012

Killing the Bug

The last Saturday of January 2002, I spent most of the day and all night looking for a bug. Not the nasty brown bugs that scurry for cover when you turn on the light, but a bug of a different color. However, this bug is harder to catch than the multi-legged kind.

The day started pretty well. I had it all planned. I was going to have everything done in time for church that night. Saturday’s are usually the only day I have to do laundry and clean house. It usually takes all day and part of the evening to get everything done. But we were in revival and I wanted to try and make it that night. Due to a variety of things, Thursday and Friday had been a wash. The week had not ended well and perhaps that should have been a warning.

Anyway, I planned to pay the bills and tally up the bank account so we could see where we stood financially the coming week. After all, Jerry got laid off that week and we were short an income. You don’t want to spend money until you know how much you have to spend, especially when there is less that there was the week before.

I sat down and began to work on the account but was rudely kicked out. A little box told me there was an error and if I could not resolve it I should contact the vendor. O.k. I turned the machine off and tried again. I didn’t even get into the program that time. It just locked up. So I turned it off again and tried again . . . several times. No luck. Now I was worried. Something was wrong and I could not figure out where. I read the error message carefully. It told me what it was and where it was, sort of. Actually, it gave me a bunch of numbers and letters arranged in meaningful clusters that made total sense . . . to a computer guru. (Guru: A person of great wisdom or extensive knowledge.) But again, it told me if the problem continued to contact the vendor.

I thought I might be able to work this out. I am fairly literate about computers. What I know I learned the hard way. I had a computer when there were no windows! I am one of the few ancient wise women who actually know what DOS stands for and how to use it if the need ever arises. Bill Gates will have to die first.

So, I uninstalled the program. After all, I could have a corrupted data file that was causing the crash. I reinstalled the program. I started to work, made a few entries and was booted out again. I scanned the drive. For the non-computer person, this means I ran a system check, not physically looked at it, to see if there were physical problems with the files or hard drive. There wasn’t. Next, I defragmented the drive. No it wasn’t broken. This means I told it to get itself organized, to put the files in a logical order that it could easily understand. Then I ran a virus scan to see if a bug had crept in. Nothing.

I uninstalled the program and reinstalled it . . . five times. Each time it locked up and wouldn’t let me in and if I was able to get in, it kicked me out. Something was VERY wrong. So I called my service technician. I got a woman. Great, I think, someone who speaks my language, shares my grief, and understands my frustrations. She asked me if I had virus software and if it was up to date. I said I did and explained what. She said I might have a virus it missed because I did not have an up-to-date version of the program. Hmmm. Then, she walked me through a process she said would fix the problem. I thanked her and hung up, happy that the problem was solved.

I started the program and got to work. Worked great. I thought I should print out the register, though, just in case something else went wrong. You can never be too careful with computers. I hit the print key. Up pops a window telling me I have an error. It tells me what it was and where it was, sort of. It wasn’t the same error. It was a new one.

Stupid woman. She didn’t actually sound very nice either. She had a cold, know-it-all voice. And she must not have had a clue or I wouldn’t be having another problem. And the system was not booting up correctly now, at all.

I called back. I got a man, who sounded like he was in a smoky room in Casablanca. He said something and I said, “Excuse me?” I could barely understand him. When we are able to finally communicate, which means I dredged up my Spanish class ears and put them on, I told him my problem.

He said, “Is all your data backed up?” I did like the way words rolled off his tongue.

“Well, sort of.” I said. That means not in the last six months. “Why do you ask?”

“You should back up all your data and reformat.”

There was a long, pregnant pause. I put my head in my hand. “Do you know how long it takes me to get everything back on after a format?”

“I understand,” he said.

“It takes weeks and I have a church newsletter to have out by next Sunday.”

He didn’t respond. Perhaps we had a bad connection. “What might be causing this?” I asked.

“It might be a virus that your software failed to catch.”

I sighed. He had read the note screen, of course. Stupid woman.

“Thank you,” I sighed again and hung up.

So, I began backing up data, stopping only to eat and take potty breaks. It took the better part of three hours to locate and backup all the data I had to save. It is a time consuming, boring, tedious process. You have to hunt down everything you think might be important and copy it to an external disk. Some things are easily found because you tell the computer where you want it stored. Sometimes programs store information where they want to store it, unless you order it not to. And sometimes they do it anyway!

Around 9:00 p.m. I was ready to reformat. At 3:00 a.m. I went to bed, secure in the knowledge that I had rooted out the bug. I had reinstalled all necessary software but I suspected the church newsletter was going to be late. I just hoped I would not be late for church in the morning!

I wasn’t, but I was dead on my feet. As long as we were standing I was fine but when I sat down, I wanted to curl up and snooze. But during the service a voice in my head began to speak. I grabbed my trusty notebook and pen and started to write.

“The computer is a great tool. You load it with all the necessary things to make it work efficiently and as long as you follow the operating procedures everything is great. Follow the manual and you can do a lot of great things that would take hours without a computer.

“You also have the Internet. It is a great resource, a place where tons of information is provided, usually free of charge. But there are a lot of hazards. You go out on the Web and there is always the risk of infection by a virus. Even though you may have an anti-virus program to protect you, a virus can get through and cause terrible damage, even a system crash. Then, you have to locate the problem and root it out. Sometimes the only alternative it to wipe everything out and start over.

“Infection can result without your knowing it. A virus can come in and attach itself to a file and secretly corrupt it so badly that the program no longer even works. Sometimes a virus has the ability to replicate and move to other programs until, suddenly, right in the middle of the most important thing the whole system comes crashing down. Some viruses have the power to totally wipe out everything on your system.

"The computer is like Christians and the Internet is like the world. Christians can cruise along in the world, unaware of their surroundings, secure that they are protected by their beliefs and faith. They move from place to place and at each stop, hidden viruses lie in wait. They attach themselves secretly and begin their work. Even though Christians are trusting in their “anti-virus” religious experience they can still be infected by the viruses lurking in the world.”

I stopped writing at that point. I understood the message. More importantly, I understood why my computer crashed that weekend.

Spiritual viruses lurk around every corner. Each person we meet, each place we go may have something waiting to infiltrate our minds and cause a system failure. And if we don’t detect it, we risk passing it on to someone else. Just because we are Spirit-filled Christians doesn’t mean we are impervious to contamination. It means we are supposed to be on guard, watching for those viruses that may attach, replicate, and corrupt us, and those around us.

Anti-virus programs are absolutely necessary for any computer that will be exchanging information with another computer. However, all anti-virus programs must be updated, usually weekly. Every day a new computer virus comes out and whole companies are devoted to developing applications that will stop them. As of January 25, 2002, my computer was protected against 58,571 viruses and as of November 5, 2005, my protection had reached 70,773. So too, do we need to keep our spiritual programming updated. What worked to get us through today may be useless tomorrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. – Matt. 6:34”

After I left church that Sunday, I ate lunch and went back to work on the computer. I stopped and went to church Sunday night. By then, my eyes were beginning to cross. When I got home I worked until midnight. Finally, I had had enough. I crawled off to bed. Monday morning could truly be called Black Monday. I missed four hours of work. I had a migraine coming to call and I was soooo tired. But the computer was working. However, I still had days of work to do.

The bug is dead and my anti-virus program is running. I hope it is working.

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Heaven's Library

There is a paradox about writers, at least for me. I have problems with ideas. They tell me that every writer has the same problem but I can’t say that Michael Critchton appears to have ever experienced that phenomenon, nor has Patricia Cornwell. I have a boring, uninteresting life so my choices are rather slim, but sometimes a good idea can pop up out of nowhere and average things end up as grist for the mill.

For me, the effect is somewhat like standing in front of the mirror brushing your teeth and without warning, a third eye appears in your forehead. Toothpaste runs down the front of your shirt and your electric toothbrush roars off without you. I usually have the presence of mind enough to stop the toothbrush, rinse, and find a pad and pen before I lose it completely.

For a couple of years I have been getting these scenes in my head that just seem to pour out on the paper. I race to get them down and end up with a couple of thousand words at a time. Last year I realized that I had a story. I had written enough by this time that I knew the direction I wanted it to go. I had the main characters assigned to the parts I wanted them to play and the bad guy was already decided. Everything was sailing along on crystal seas. I could feel the summer breeze in my hair and feel the warm sun caressing my skin.

Then, that third eye thing happened and changed everything. I sat down on the toilet seat to recover. I had never had such a thing happen before and the impact was shattering to my psyche. How could such a thing happen when one had the story already planned and things were flowing well? I had heard of such epiphanies but never believed in them. Did I say everything had changed?

Once I was able to take my head from between my knees, I went to my computer and dashed off an email to my writing professor from college. He is quite adept as slapping sense back into his students and he relishes doing it. We have remained friends because I like gruff, opinionated people who are nice to me. I think he is nice to me because I like gruff, opinionated people. Ultimately, he is a born teacher and will offer tons of advice in terse form.

His response was as terse and comforting as I could have hoped. “Way too often characters go their own way. You can’t stop them. And, in the long run, it works out rather well. It is as though your subconscious is at least one curve ahead of you.

“Besides, you have to learn that nobody is as pure as you want them to be. Broken, lost people find their way, and we are charmed by those stories. Equally, people we think know what they are doing and are good turn out to be bad apples. Those stories smart a little, but it reminds us of reality.

“I’d just go the way the character wants to go. Nudge him into place later.”

It sounded like good advice. I felt better, assured I was not crazy to follow where the erratic muse was leading. It was after 1:00 a.m. by then so I went to bed, thinking about the changes that would be needed in the story. As I was contemplating the major changes to my story line and drifting off to sleep that third eye popped open and a new thought began to take shape. I was learning quickly that this was a double-edged sword, both painful and instructive. Fortunately, this time, I was not brushing my teeth. To this day, I am still not sure if I was dreaming or not. I didn’t stop the process. I just allowed my mind to drift along on the dream.

I was in a long corridor in a palace. Tall, gilt-trimmed columns supported the ceiling and along the walls were floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books. There were millions of books and other corridors went off to the left and right all along the central corridor. I had never seen such a library. It was book-lover’s heaven. A dozen lifetimes would not be enough to read them all. I could almost feel the disappointment with the realization that I would never be able to read every book.

I moved along the corridors and wondered what all these books were and immediately, I knew that I was standing in Heaven’s Library. No other place could such a building exist, with such vast halls and so many books. I was curious as to what they could possibly contain to merit lining the halls of the creator’s palace. What importance could they have to him that he would keep them?

My mind shuffled through scripture, searching for places in the Bible that referred to books and writers. Paul called Jesus the author (Hebrews 2:20; 5:9; 7:10; 12:2; and 20:12). And John said, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Revelation 20:12).

It was the first time in my life I really thought about the four words in the middle of that verse. Everyone always puts such importance on what was happening in the chapter and they never mention those four words, “the books were opened”. But here, in my dream or vision, as I began to examine the books closely, I believe I found an answer something important.

Each book is the draft of an individual’s life written by the creator. They contain the vital statistics of each person at each stage of their life. When the Bible tells us he knows the number of hairs on our head, it is because he has a record in our book.

What is even more interesting is that each book -- yours, mine, your friend’s -- tells the story as He would like the story of that person’s life, each step he would like them to take, every word he would like to hear them say. The characters are people he loves. They have traits and habits and talents. He knows their abilities and he wants them to use them as he planned. He wrote each one as a love story and all the endings are beautiful, happy endings. Then, He placed them on the shelves and handed the pen to the lead character . . . because editing the final draft is up to them.

He has to let the character finish the story. He has no choice. Every character in every story has the ability to do as they please. He knows how HE wants the story to go but the characters, as in any good story, write the story themselves. They can do what they want, go where they want, say what they want, and think what they want. The Author can stop them but ultimately once he creates the character and puts him in the story, he gives them life. Once they begin to breath, they begin to go their own way. The greatest Author won’t interfere but will allow the story to unfold.

The characters can make choices that change the entire direction of the intended story. They may take paths that lead to dead ends and have to be backtracked in order to find a better direction. They do things that they were never intended to do and say things they were not intended to say. They even think things they were never supposed to think.

The Author can try to pull them back on track but if he does, characters can become down right hostile. They balk, they fight, they argue, they struggle and run. He can gently try to steer them back on course. With some, he succeeds and the story exceeds his expectations. The character does wonderful, amazing things.

However, many times the characters simply do not cooperate and the story falls apart. It may be re-written … sometimes over and over, but to no avail. The story reaches a point that the Author knows it is never going to be publishable. Yet, he doesn’t throw it out. He puts it in a place where no one ever sees it, no one but him. Only he knows how the story was supposed to go. And for every unfinished novel a part of him grieves. As he reads over his writing he sees gems throughout that confirm the writing was good. The story was right but something… something special just never appeared or the character took a wrong turn.

The Author never feels that any story is a waste of time but some just never reach their potential. Ultimately, the finished product will never be what it was intended to be. They are aligned along the shelves, never forgotten but never reaching the masses with their message. And so, the corridors of the Court of Heaven are lined with works in progress, unfinished masterpieces, final drafts that just did not meet expectations, and the world will never read the real story, the one that would have made a difference.

My dream ended and I don’t really know what else I saw or learned there. Maybe it was really a dream that meant nothing. For me, it was a revelation into my own life. I am an unfinished product and my life is still being written. I get to decide which story is told.

A great poet said these words, “. . . my tongue is the pen of a ready writer: . .” (Ps. 45:1) Ultimately, it is up to me. I can tell the story my way or I can take the first draft, find ways to improve on the plan, polish it, add special touches until it shines. I can be bound in leaves of gold and put in a place of honor for all to read. Or I can be one of the unfinished manuscripts that no one ever reads and which will remain stored in the library of Heaven as a memorial to what could have been.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Out Running the Storm

10/21/06 11:27 p

All my life I have been awed by storms. The power contained in a thunderbolt or lightning flash is something I find continually fascinating. During storms, I find myself looking for a place to sit and watch. There is nothing so lovely as a deluge of rain, punctuated by lightning bolts and thunder. For me, the most exciting thing in the world would be to walk in the rain and feel the air tingle with electricity, smell the ozone as lightning strikes and feel the air vibrate with the roar of the thunder. But I’m only a little crazy. I find a nice sheltered place to curl up and watch the show. As I watch, I let my spirit soar with each strike of the finger of God. After the storm I feel exhilarated and refreshed.

On the Gulf Coast during hurricane season folks watch the skies over the Gulf of Mexico. In terms of sheer might, hurricanes are some of the strongest storms on earth, moving tons of water, packing winds that can exceed a hundred miles an hour, and covering hundreds of miles at a time once they make landfall.

As a Coastal native, I have experienced many hurricanes. My earliest hurricane memory is when we spent the night in the basement of the Catholic Church up the street from where I lived in Mobile, Alabama. I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old. It is the only time I ever remember leaving home because of a storm but I can’t even remember the name of that hurricane.

In 1969, when I was 13, Hurricane Camille blew into the Gulf Coast. Forecasters had predicted she would be a terrible storm and they were right. In her wake, she left more than 250 people dead and caused $1.5 billion dollars in damages from Louisiana to Virginia. We lived in Baldwin County, Alabama, just across the bay from Mobile and right in Camille’s path. Mama, my brother, Billy, and I sat up the whole night. As usual, Daddy went to bed and said, “Call me if things get bad.”  We never did have to call Daddy.

That night after the power went out, as it always did during hurricanes, we curled up on the sofa with the kerosene lanterns glowing in the darkness while the raging, roaring Camille rattled windows and banged on doors, like a legion of souls seeking shelter. During such times Mama told us stories of her childhood or fairytales known to every child. Sometimes we would softly sing hymns, so as not to wake Daddy. And always, we prayed. Mama once told me the reason Daddy made her stay up during hurricanes was because he knew she would pray.

Billy and I probably slept during the wee hours of the morning but Mama never slept much until a storm was over. She sat in the warm glow of the lantern light praying, reading, and catnapping. Not until daylight came were the lamps extinguished.

When we ventured out the morning after Camille, I was amazed. We lived in the county, surrounded by pinewoods. In our small community many tall southern pines surrounded the 60 homes and most yards had anywhere from 6 to 12 pines. That morning, trees lay toppled everywhere, across the roads, across yards, across houses. Yet, in our yard, not one tree had fallen and very few branches. Remembering the violent power of the storm the night before, I was astounded. I don’t recall Mama saying a word as neighbors came out of their houses to assay the damage. Everyone else went to work clearing debris and preparing to cut firewood. Camille was a poor guest.

One evening in the early 1990’s, after my husband got off work, we decided to take the boys on a trip to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, to visit my sister. We got started rather late and the weather had grown very bad to the west. But since we were traveling east, we thought we could still make the trip. As we set out, rain fell lightly and lightning streaked across a sky darker than a Kentucky coal mine. Just northeast of town, headed toward Dale, Indiana, the lightning became more intense. All around us, on both sides of the highway, it streaked the night sky. Dozens of white lances at a time traced patterns in the blackness from the earth to the heavens. You could almost see the air sizzle. Never had I experienced such an awesome spectacle. It was better than any fireworks I had ever seen before or since. I yearned to park the car, get out, and watch. But I wasn’t driving and my more conservative husband said it wasn’t a good idea.

By the time we reached Dale the road signs were flapping like flags in the wind and the rain fell in glassy, gray sheets. Visibility extended about as far as the dashboard. We crept along at a snail’s pace. I still remember a secret delight in experiencing all that ferocious unleashing of power.

We couldn’t decide if we should turn back or keep going. We discussed possibilities. We knew that the storm had overtaken us but we thought it would push ahead or move off to the north. We thought when we reached the interstate we might be able to outrun it. We were right. When we reached the interstate, we left the storm behind. Later that night the storm caught up with us again but we were tucked safe in bed, in my sister’s home.

Most people are afraid of storms and they would never consider the mechanics of the storm to be interesting. But to appreciate something you must understand it. For instance, I know that a thunderstorm is caused by the collision of high- and low-pressure systems. This can happen slowly or very rapidly, depending on the variations in temperature of each system and other variables. The greater the difference in temperature at the front of the system, greater will be the violence of the storm. The collision of negative and positive charges in the air creates the violent explosions that we see as lightning and hear as thunder.

I also know that storms follow specific, predictable storm-tracks across the country, changing only with the seasons. The National Weather Service tracks them daily. And while the storms never deviate from those paths, they do strike randomly along them.

I know a lot about storms because I chose to study and watch them. Although, understanding the scientific explanation does not change my belief that thunderstorms are the most beautiful things in the world to watch, I do have a healthy respect for their power. We can never control nature’s storms because God set up laws of nature that determine how our environment operates and He will not break His own laws. However, He can and does use them for His purposes. So, until we understand how storms work we can never really appreciate them for the magnificent things they are  . . . the handiwork of God.

Life is filled with storms of a different sort. We look upon them as things to be feared. Just like nature’s storms, they have the power to kill. Our fears drive us to spend our lives trying to get ahead of approaching storms. Sometimes we turn back, not realizing we must come this way again or that what is behind may be worse than what is before us. Never once do we consider stopping by the side of the road to watch the storm pass over. What could be beautiful about a storm? Instead, we crawl under the bed or hide in a closet until they blow over.

But what if we understood life storms the way we can nature’s storms? Would we change our minds? Could we actually see something beautiful in the life storms that come our way?

In our spiritual life, just as in nature, high and low pressures create storms. The struggles of negative (evil) against positive (good) create the storms we experience daily. Sometimes these are little more than a shower, others, a raging flood. Like storms in nature, life storms follow specific, predictable storm-tracks that change with the seasons of our lives and they too, strike randomly along those paths. We never know when a storm will strike . . . or do we? Can we become spiritual weather forecasters?

Think about the storms that you have come through in the past. Looking back, you will probably be able to pinpoint events that actually led up to the storm itself. Can you see things you did or did not do, things someone said or did not say? Perhaps if we trained ourselves as well as the weatherman does, we might be able to predict some of our storms. We might even learn the beauty of them.

A spiritual storm or life storm is the one area where we may have some control.  We make the rules of the storm, we can control the intensity, and we can determine the outcome. But we mustn’t forget that the laws of nature still apply. Our natures are what determine how we handle the power of the storms. These storms will either make us or destroy us. Our survival is determined by how well we are prepared.

As a child, I learned to love storms because Mama’s prayer made me comfortable in the storm, even fearless. I knew, with a child’s faith, that we would be safe. I believe that is why I don’t fear storms now. God made the storm and He made me. I love the storm and I respect the power of the storm. I know the storm can destroy me if I am not prepared. I do what is necessary, but I am not afraid in the storm. I can try and escape or I can sit in a quiet place and let the awesome power of God move around me. How much easier it is to stop in the shelter of His wings, study the beauty of his workmanship, and watch the storm pass over. How much easier that is than out running the storm.

Ignorance is Bliss

He lived in palaces, had the best food to eat, a loving family, his choice of any woman in the kingdom, and a job waiting for him when he grew up. Surely Solomon needed nothing to make life better for him. And yet, he wanted to be more than just a king. Solomon wanted to be the wisest king who ever lived. So began a journey that would take him down many paths, some joyful and good, some sad and wrong.

One result of Solomon’s search for wisdom is the Book of Proverbs. If you read it, you may find yourself surprised at the kinds of things he addressed. He frowned on a good many things your mama told you were bad for you. He advised on everything from gossip to immoral women. In the book of Proverbs you can probably find a maxim for any situation that arises in your life . . . if you look.

How did Solomon get to know all this stuff? Did he just sit down and pen all these proverbs off the top of his head? Did his mama advise him, too?

Solomon knew what was required to succeed in life. He knew positive actions bring positive results, and that associating with the wrong people will get you in trouble. He knew that there is a point beyond which it is unwise to go. Solomon had wisdom.

Wisdom is “an understanding of what is true, right, or lasting.” It is not “just knowing”. You may know something but not understand it. Wisdom is common sense to the extreme, and it is gained from either experience or observation. Solomon experienced or observed the things he spoke about in Proverbs and he understood the truth of those things. Sadly, some of the things he experienced were not nice.

Proverbs is filled with positive instruction. You will find advice on how to live a happy, healthy, prosperous, and productive life. It portrays a father instructing his son with all he knows about life. This is a loving teacher, not the “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes. Proverbs contains none of the bitterness and the “all is vanity” of Ecclesiastes.

What happened to Solomon between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes? It almost seems that these books were written by two different people and yet, their subject matter is nearly identical. It is the outlook that changed dramatically and the tone of voice.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon is old. He has lost his joy for living and his view of life has become cynical, bleak, harsh and unforgiving. The loving father and teacher are absent. In his place, is an embittered, disillusioned old man focusing on his own past failures. He focused so much on failure that he could no longer see life as a gift. It was all vanity. All a man might seek to accomplish in life was vanity, no matter how good.

Solomon had succeeded in his quest for wisdom, but instead of letting it enrich him, he had allowed it to rob him. A journey began in the fire of youth had ended in the ashes of age. He lost sight of all that was important in his search. Never mind all he had done for Israel and for God. He even saw the search as vanity. Solomon’s wisdom told him that once gained, his riches meant nothing, and once understood, life was a waste and death was preferable. “Therefore I hated life: . .” (Eccl. 2:17)

His wisdom told him that God was the giver of all good things, but it didn’t seem to matter because the gifts themselves were also vanity. He learned to recognize folly in his own search for wisdom and knowledge.

Solomon began his journey to find wisdom and knowledge and to recognize folly. During the journey he became wealthy beyond imagination and wise beyond his years. At the end of the journey he was bitter beyond endurance. Solomon took life by the horns, hopped on its back, and rode it to death.

“For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Eccl. 1:18.

We should not take this to mean we should not desire wisdom or knowledge. We should pray for this gift. In fact, it is wisdom and knowledge that make life and it’s hardships easier to understand and thereby, easier to bear. If you notice, those who have the most difficult time in trials are those who don’t understand the purpose of trails.

At no time should we seek these gifts for their own sake but to give us discernment and better equip us to serve God. When attainment is the goal, the value of the item is diminished. Solomon sought wisdom and God blessed him. But the more blessings he received, the more he wanted. He was never satisfied, never sated. Eventually, Solomon’s wisdom revealed to him that all his life had been spent satisfying his cravings rather that blessing God.

The Rank and File of Archangels?

I don't presume to be an expert on Biblical issues. I just read the Bible. I've read it cover to cover straight thorough once and over the years in many other orders. My friend Sheila posted an interesting blog on her site regarding archangels and who Michael is. I wanted to weigh in with my opinion and almost put it in her comments. Then, I realized, I had a nice long post and decided to post a link to her post instead and put my response here. I hope she isn't offended. It is unintentional. Please realize this is my OPINION based solely on what I've read in the Bible and rationalized based on my experiences.

There appear to be several archangels mentioned in the Bible. The three known by name are Lucifer, Michael, and Gabriel. Based on the episodes they appear in, each holds a  different office although their rank may be the same. This is the way it is in any military organization. There are lots of generals of varying ranks. The top generals may hold the same rank but they have different positions within the military. Arch-angles are also God's messengers. If you compare the messages they deliver in the Bible, you will can get an idea of the difference in their positions.

Lucifer, of whom little is said in the Scriptures, appears to have held the highest office at one point. He also led the choirs of heaven and is purported to be the most beautiful creature in heaven. Pride in his position, his accomplishments and his beauty resulted in a rebellion in heaven that led to war and ultimately destroyed him. He exalted himself above God.

His position was one charged with the eternal worship and praise of the Creator. I suspect any messages he would have had to deliver would have been related to to praise and worship. Is it any wonder that he tries to prevent that very thing in human beings. Is it surprising he has warped and corrupted music! His goal is to prevent praise and worship of almighty God, the very thing he was in charge of, and to cause humanity to turn their praise and worship on things that insult God!

Michael appears to always have been in charge of the armies of God. He probably was the leader against Lucifer's rebellious army. He probably fought directly with Lucifer. Michael also appears to deliver specific kinds of messages. They tend to be related to his position as a leader of the holy armies and are often related to battles of one sort or another and the victory of God's armies.

Gabriel appears to deliver completely different types of messages. He usually delivers exciting, joyful news. Gabriel was the messenger who appeared to Mary to inform her she was pregnant with the Saviour of the world. Michael may deliver urgent, disturbing news, such as he did to Daniel.

The fact that Michael seems to now have the highest ranking office, at least in the minds of men, is not a mystery or surprising. As in any organization, when someone at the top is removed, the next highest ranking officer is moved up. Michael very likely took Lucifer's place as the highest ranking angel but his talents were not in leading the choirs. He was leader of the military. That is the logical conclusion based on the mentions of him in scripture.

The choirs still sing but their current leader appears to be an unknown. Perhaps for a reason. That position could never ever be held again by any creature willing to usurp God. As leader of the heavenly troops, Michael probably oversees this position closely. The potential for pride of life would be very great for the one in charge of eternal worship and praise.

The ranking order is not unsurprising either. In the beginning, God's priority was worship and praise first, defense of the kingdom second, and glad tidings third. Why glad tidings third? Before the rebellion, there was no one to send them to nor much need! The rebellion was before man was created. Heaven was all good.

Now it would seem His priority, after the traitorous Lucifer, has shifted slightly. Now, defense of the kingdom comes first and then, glad tidings. Eternal worship and praise will be the priority after Satan is defeated. We are, after all, at war.

Of course, debates can be held from now to eternity but relying solely on the Bible, I think there is enough evidence to support this view.

If you are interested in such things, the Book of Enoch is quite interesting. Much of it is confusing and difficult to read and understand but there are sections which are very interesting in regards to the rebellion in heaven and the angels, both faithful and fallen.

Thanks to Sheila for a thought provoking post.

Winds of Change? Winds of Destruction?

You know, we are hearing about how a change is coming and that "change" is what the nation needs to get us back on track and make us a great nation.

Well, I gotta tell you, I'm a bit skeptical. Change can be good but I thought we had a good country in 1975. My parents probably thought it was a great country in 1956. My grandparents probably thought it was the best country in the world in 1945. I still think it is a great country. Not because we have no problems but because we have always been able to step back and address the problems and even solve some of them. However, in the last twenty years I've watched us decline in every area that makes this nation great.

We are not just economically bankrupt as a country. We are morally and ethically bankrupt. This was a country found on ethics, moral principles and values. What we are spewing out, like vomit, is a host of unethical, immoral and vulgar creatures who have no qualms about walking over bodies to get where they want to go. Maybe they were always there but in the previous climate, they couldn't succeed. Now, they've spread, like a plague.

We have financial difficulty because government and corporations are blood suckers who want to reap as much financial gain as possible before they bail to an island in the Caribbean or some backwater where they can hide and live off the spoils of their corruption. Or retire on exorbitant government pensions while the electorate struggles to keep the lights on and the pantry filled.

Do I sound negative? I guess I woke up this morning without my special rose-colored glasses.

We have moral problems because the foundation our forefathers built this nation on have been removed and destroyed. Biblical principles are now out of style. The Psalmist ask the question: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Psalms 11:3

Here it the full context of this verse. And the answer to the question is provided! Something we seldom hear!

 1 In the LORD I put my trust;
         How can you say to my soul,
         “Flee as a bird to your mountain”?
 2 For look! The wicked bend their bow,
         They make ready their arrow on the string,
         That they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart.
 3 If the foundations are destroyed,
         What can the righteous do?
 4 The LORD is in His holy temple,
         The LORD’s throne is in heaven;
         His eyes behold,
         His eyelids test the sons of men.
 5 The LORD tests the righteous,
         But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
 6 Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
         Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
         Shall be the portion of their cup.
 7 For the LORD is righteous,
         He loves righteousness;
         His countenance beholds the upright

God don't like ugly either!

I can't stand listening to the news anymore. I can't stand reading the paper. I can't stand hearing the radio. I want to pack and move but it's everywhere! This is the land I was born in. This is the land I have loved with all my heart. This is the land my ancestors chose to come to for the opportunities and freedoms they knew waited here. We have turned it into a wasteland.

We've allowed corrupt government, corrupt executives, and corrupt immigrants to rape and pillage. We've given away our increase to disreputable nations who will stab us in the back at the first opportunity. We give away the finances of our citizens to those who have not worked for it, who aren't even here legally and those who despise us have only to hold out their hand and we fill them to over flowing. They promptly align with any country that despises us. Exactly how long do you think we can continue this before it all comes crashing down? Based on the economic events of the year, I'd say we've almost reached that point.

There is no economic plan, no war strategy, no political change, no politician who can fix all the problems. If you believe this, you are living under a delusion. Humanity cannot help itself. We prove it every morning the sun rises. If you believe in long earth creation, we've had more than 10,000 years to prove it. If you believe in short earth creation, we've had about 6,000 years. In terms of time, pick one, you've had long enough to learn the lessons needed to make this planet a better place. But you haven't. No one has.

We have made it a cesspool in many places, a growing cesspool. Nearly every major nation on earth is at war, taking war-like actions, or contemplating provoking a war. Look at the map if you don't believe me.

This is getting very negative and if you are a person who likes to think positively and look at the bright side, this isn't going to be any fun for you at all. There is no bright side in human solutions. I don't care how bright the smile, how silken the words, nor how attractive the mouth they come from, it can't be fixed by any amount of charisma. You can paint an outhouse a pretty color. It is still a dung heap.

There are those who will say, "Oh great, another fanatic." Yes I AM! I am fanatical about wanting to live in a righteous country where right and honor and character are the rule of the day and the law of the land. I am so very tired of this "poor little me", "the world treated me bad and owes me", "the world treated my ancestors bad and owes me", "the world doesn't appreciate me and owes me" crowds. I'm sick of the "I'm special because I'm from MARS" mentality. Book a flight on the next shuttle.

I'm sick of dictators who think it just to sell drugs and get rich while their own people wallow in poverty and who then condemn nations who actually purchase legitimate goods and services from them or will send aid in time of need.

I'm sick of arrogant politicians who spout lies as truth and false promises and then, put their own agendas into action once elected and who do not believe they are accountable to anyone for their actions. I'm sick of ignorant liberals who criticize anyone who prays or believes is justice and honor. I'm sick of conservatives who don't practice what they preach.

There is no cure on the planet for what is wrong with us.

It is hopeless if we rely on people. It is sort of like Alice says about guns. "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Hello.....! People caused the problems. It is not our nature to fix anything. We are destructive by nature. Everything we touch we change the natural state of that thing. That is destructive by nature.

What kind of change is coming? Who will we follow? What do we stand for? We fall for anything. We follow the brightest star, until crash into it and burn to a crisp. We will go down screaming that we were right, despite the devouring flames.

The world was given answers long ago. We rejected them. All of history has pointed to this hour. I don't believe all religions are right. But I do believe all roads have lead to this place. All events have acted to create this time. People had options at any point in history to change the course of events, to build different roads, to construct right governments. But humanity is by nature self-serving. Me first! Those who truly do want to make a difference are trampled on the roads by the masses who do not care.

And yet, hope springs eternal in the hearts of believers. Always there is hope that someone will come who will bring peace, safety, honor, integrity, hope. Someone who will heal the nations and bring prosperity to the lands. Always human hearts seek rest from fear and chaos, from war and death. The eyes of the heart are always searching and their voices constantly whisper for someone to come who will shake the very foundations of the earth and restore order to the madness we have created. Evil lives and walks the highways and byways while we cower beneath our bed to see if a champion will arise and rescue us.

But will we recognize him? What qualities will we look for? What rule shall we measure him by? Will he look like us? Will he think like us? Will we seek one who is human, just like us?

Just like us? I hope not.

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

If an entire planet acted on this one verse, what would happen? If half the planet acted, what would happen?

We may never know. I can promise you that the winds of change are blowing. Change is coming. I can't promise you what kind.

So, how will the story end? Depends on which way the wind is blowing. But there is a clue.

19 “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, 
 then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
21 “And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and this house?’
22 Then they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and embraced other gods, and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this calamity on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:19-21

~The End~

Whose Yardstick Are You Using?

I am what the “Shrinks” call a perfectionist. Nothing is ever good enough to suit me (ask my husband). For a perfectionist, no one and nothing ever measures up to his/her standards of good and right.  We carry a special yardstick to measure everything and everyone handed down to us by other perfectionists. (Perfectionist are made, not born.)    To us, the world will always be a bad place, with bad people, doing bad things -- no matter how good things seem to be going.  And perfectionists hate themselves more than anyone or anything else.  We never measure up to our yardstick.

A perfectionist never sees the things that are going right in a situation.  Instead, a perfectionist sees all the things that are wrong.  Put a perfectionist on a construction site and he won’t see how much progress has been made, but he will see how much is not done.  On top of that, he/she will pull out that yardstick and point out all the problems with what has been completed.

Up until a few years ago, I was unaware that I had serious problems with my own perfectionist tendencies. I didn’t really believe I was a perfectionist.  But the Lord knew.  He began dealing with me through some research I was doing for a paper on, of all things, perfectionism, more specifically, religious perfectionism.  I thought I had selected the topic, but maybe I didn’t.  As the paper progressed, I didn’t like what I was discovering.

My studies included Jim Jones and David Koresh.  Recognize the names?  I found that at one point they both were very religious men, both with Pentecostal backgrounds.  But they could never reach a place where they thought they could attain perfection as they perceived it -- they were never good enough to suit themselves.  They moved from church to church, searching for perfection. In the end, they created their own religions to fit their perception of perfection. As you know, they failed miserably and destroyed not only themselves but a great many other people as well.

Now most perfectionists do not become a Jones or a Koresh.  However, the tendency to perfectionism appears to be strongest among religious people and we tend not to see it in ourselves.  I wanted, no, I needed to understand why this was so.

I discovered that somewhere along the way someone (probably a disillusioned perfectionist) came to the conclusion that we BECOME perfect by what we DO -- our actions or our behavior make us perfect.  Jones and Koresh turned to that belief with a vengeance.

Most of my life has been spent trying to please everyone.  The only person I never tried to please was . . . me, because that was selfish, a sin, an imperfection. I discovered the all-consuming aspiration in my life was to BE PERFECT and to do that I had to please everyone.  My every thought, every action, every desire had to pass someone’s inspection or I was worthless. I actually cared what people thought about me to the point that what I thought about me was unimportant.  And I was drowning in a sea of failure.  Why?  Because it can’t be done.  Human perfection is unattainable, at least, what humans perceive of as perfection is unattainable.

I found myself being torn apart by something I could not control.  All the years I had spent trying desperately to do the right thing, say the right thing, look the right way, and think the right way were wasted.  No matter how hard I had tried, I had failed.  Someone ALWAYS complained.  I never did or said the right thing.  My appearance never measured up.  I never looked the “right way”.  And as to my thinking, well, everyone I meet thinks differently than I.  I could not change what I was -- HUMAN.  I could not be perfect.

The primary definition of perfect is “without defect or blemish.”  Therefore, anyone with even the slightest physical, mental, or emotional defect can never be perfect.  We are all too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too stupid, too selfish, too lazy, too busy, too ugly, or too mean. Our teeth are too crooked, nose too crooked or long, our hair too curly, too straight, too short, or too long. Our feet are too big, or too flat.  Our legs bow, our eyes cross, and our teeth buck.  Our ears are too big and mouths are way too big. Never mind those spiritual defects.

Each time I have one of these “spiritual insights” into my nature I have been devastated by the impact of the discovery.  This time I broke down and all I could say was “Lord, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it.  I’ll never be good enough. No matter what I do, it is never enough.”  I spent days crying and struggling with the revelation.

Believe me, if you ever get to this point in your life you will find that all the things you thought were so important mean absolutely nothing when you measure it by the perfectionist yardstick. It still comes up short of perfect.  From a child, I have heard the instruction on living a holy life. I have followed it to the best of my poor abilities and to the complaints of many.  To other perfectionists, I have never been good enough.  And as a true perfectionist, I can tell you I never met anyone I thought was good enough to go to heaven, especially me.  Nuts, huh?

Recently, I heard someone ask what if we get to heaven and find we are standing next to Paul?  How will we ever measure up?  Now a statement like that strikes terror into the heart of a true perfectionist.  When I heard it I felt an overwhelming sadness.  Truly there was no hope for me.  I could never get to heaven if God measured me by Paul.  I was depressed for days.  (You should know that perfectionist have self-esteem problems.)

I prayed and repeatedly said, “Lord, I am not a Paul.  I can’t be a Paul. I don’t know how. Tell me what to do.”  For days, I prayed but the old feelings of worthlessness were back.  The voice of perfectionism is cruel and continually taunts the perfectionist.

Finally, when I was quietly mulling it over in my head one evening, a quiet voice whispered, “No Cindy, you can’t be another Paul.  You can’t ever do the things Paul did.  But I didn’t create you to be Paul. If I wanted a Paul I could raise one up.  If I wanted a Peter, I could make one. I created you to be uniquely YOU.  I wanted you just as you are, capable of things only you can do.  Paul couldn’t do the things you can do. I want you to do the things you can do, not the things Paul could do. And when you stand before me, you will not be measured or compared to Paul or anyone else.  When you stand before me, I won’t see anyone but you.  I won’t see anything but your heart and it will be measured by mine.”

What am I saying here?  I wonder about people who tell me how much they do and how good they are. Why are they telling me? And I wonder whose yardstick they are using.  Mine?  Theirs? Yours? Then I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Be ye perfect, even as I am perfect.” Wow, that is some yardstick. I doubt any of us want to be measured by that one. Yet, that is the very measurement used.

So what did Jesus do that made him so perfect?  If you think that what you wear is going to determine where you go, you’re in for a shock.  Modesty is important, but we are going to be naked before the Almighty.  And He will be looking into our hearts before He looks into our closets. The Bible doesn’t tell me much about Jesus’ hair or clothes.  Just as in Jesus’ day, today every religion had its own uniform.

The Bible does tell me what he thought, how he acted (his attitude), where he went and with whom he associated.  It tells me what he taught about living and dying.  It tells me all about the heart of God but only precious little of the social life or what was fashionable during that time.  I, and anyone else who studies this have to depend on secular books to learn about the majority of the politics, fashion, and cultural practices of Jesus’ day.  Social anthropologists discovered this information from sources other than the Bible.  And those sources are plentiful.

Many religious people have come to equate perfection with what we do, where we go and what we wear.  We even have scripture for it.  “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.”  We read a thousand things into those eight words. Holiness is about where we go, what we wear, and how we talk.  Right? Well, while it is important, that isn’t exactly right.  This is one of those cases of a whole generation being taught something out of context.  What it actually says is:

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;” Hebrews 12:14-15.

Follow peace with ALL MEN?  Root of bitterness? Defilement?  What do they have to do with holiness? I can't be holy and bitter?  No. I can't be at war with friends, neighbors, family, and church and still be holy?  No.  I can remain pure in my heart if I dress right, walk right and spit white but spread gossip, spite, and strife in the church or on the job?  NO.  You can’t BE holy if you have bitterness and are not following the way of peace.  Peace and holiness must go hand in hand or bitterness will spring up and defile us.  As a result, we can’t see the Lord.  That’s the WORD. Bitterness DEFILES, and bitterness arises because we have not followed both peace and holiness. And it defiles not only us but those around us.  Strife separates, divides, and destroys peace.  If that is true, then a bitter person, a person at odds with anyone can’t see the Lord -- even if they never associate with anyone outside the church or cover themselves in a sack from head to foot!

Just think.  It won’t matter if you never touch an alcoholic drink, tobacco, drugs, or used curse words. It won’t matter how you dress.  It won’t matter that you never looked on anything ungodly or participated in things considered ungodly by others.  NONE OF IT WILL MATTER.  If there is one single flaw in your heart you have wasted your time.  If you join a convent and shun the entire world, you must still follow peace and holiness.  Peace and holiness are a state of mind and heart, not a state of dress, place, or action.

James 3:2 states, “For in many things we offend all.  If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”  We all offend.  Follow peace.

Colossians 3:14-15 says that “. . .charity is the bond of perfectness. . .” and to “. . .let the peace of God rule in your hearts. . . .”

Charity is the cement that holds it all together.  In the dictionary, there are half a dozen definitions but charity in theology is defined as “The virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love.”  However, my favorite definition of charity is “Benevolence or generosity toward others.  Indulgence or forbearance in judging others.” The synonym for charity is mercy.  Astounding.

Now get out that yardstick you’ve been using and check the measurements again.  Compare them with the perfect balance of God’s Word.  “Thou shalt not have in thy bag diverse weights, a great and a small.  Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.  But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”  (Deut. 25:13-15)  Before you go measuring anyone by your yardstick, you better be sure it measures up with God’s.

No one is going to measure up to your expectations. You won’t measure up to your own expectations if you compare yourself with others.  But we aren’t supposed to compare ourselves with others.  Our example was Jesus and the slogan “what would Jesus do” better be more that a bracelet on your wrist or a pin in your lapel.  His expectations are all that matter.  His Word is the yardstick by which we will all be measured.

Hidden In the Sand

One Saturday in the fall of the year I came across some Christian magazines that had lain around the house for months as I read an article here and one there. I had enjoyed them, but as I cleaned house that Saturday, I knew it was time to dispose of them.
             It seemed a shame to throw out magazines that cost me $3.00 a piece and which could still give someone reading pleasure. I tried to think of someone to give them to but no one came immediately to mind. Then I saw an envelope addressed to my youngest sister with my first published article and graduation pictures in it. I kept intending to mail it but could never remember. I grabbed it, shoved the magazines in, and mailed them a few days later.
             She called one evening some time later to thank me for the magazines and to question me. She told me she found a Post-it ã note stuck inside one of the magazines marking an article on anger, the topic for most of the articles in that particular issue.
             “I told myself,” she said, “there must be something in this article that you wanted me to read. I read the whole article but I couldn’t figure out what you wanted me to see.” 
             A few days after she read it she went to Wednesday night service. She was surprised when her pastor preached on anger, and he even used some of the same scriptures in the article. “I went home and read that whole magazine and cried. I didn’t  know I was an angry person,” she said. “I even took the quiz included in the magazine to see if I had a problem with anger. The more yes answers you had the more problems you had with anger.”
             “How’d you do,” I asked.
             “All my answers were yes,” she said.
             There is a strange story about that Post-itã note she found. In college I learned that Post-itã notes make excellent bookmarks when you are doing research. You can jot down information on them to make finding particular topics easier. Since I always had these little yellow bits near to hand they often wound up in my pleasure reading as well. That Post-it ã was not an indication to pay special attention to that particular article but simply marked the last article I read.
             When I told her this, we laughed together at her confusion. We also laughed at how God had to tell her twice that she had a problem. After we hung up, I laughed again, with joy at God’s amazing ability to use us without our even realizing it. I marveled at how God took several, seemingly random actions, a few useless magazines, and blended them together to make a lovely tapestry of blessing.
             I once watched a program which showed how Hindu priests performed a religious, meditation ritual in which they took sand and created a huge floor sand painting called a mandala. It was amazing to watch the creation of this sand painting. The sand was colored in vibrant reds, greens, blues, golds, black and white. While on their knees, the priests took tubes of this sand and placed each color with painstaking precision, creating symbols and scenes relating to their religion. It took hours of back-breaking work to create and everything had to be exactly right. When completed, they swept up the sand in a precise manner and disposed of it. Hours of work, representing devotion to their gods, disappeared in a few moments and the sand could not be used again.
             I nearly threw away those magazines. But God is into recycling, taking worn out lives or our junk and making a masterpiece. How amazing that I bought a magazine in the spring and received spiritual food and then, sent it to my sister in the fall just so God could get a message to her.
             Only a few days before my sister called, I told God I didn’t feel I was any use to him at all. I wanted so much to do something but felt that I was useless, with nothing to do for Him. I wanted to feel that I was contributing something to Him, that something I did pleased Him. I wasn’t a Sunday School teacher, or musician, or missionary, or SOMEONE. I told myself “No one needs me. There is no work for me.”
             Who implants the idea into our heads that the only ones who do something for God are those who sacrifice on the mission field, who preach to the lost, who teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, and do outreach visitation? Many believe that those without some actual, visible work are . . . failing God.
             I believed that, too. I never considered the countless times I prayed on my way to school or work, for my family, my friends, and my personal failings as doing something for God. I thought the times I spent encouraging them was nothing to God. I never considered that God might use the small, ordinary things that people would never notice. I did not believe the Creator of the universe would consider such small things important. Aren’t spiritual strength and greatness marked by great deeds and abilities? The little I find to do seems so unimportant and somehow, beneath God’s notice.
             Then I remember studying geology and the formation of various rocks and soils. I remember the first time I examined some beach sand under a microscope. We think of sand as simply tiny particles of quartz crystals, and it is. But in some places, such as the Caribbean, sand may have surprises. Just a handful of beach sand can be filled with tiny, microscopic shells, the skeletons of sea creatures, too tiny to see with the naked eye or even a simple magnifying glass. If you didn’t look through a microscope, you would never know they are there. Why would God care about such a tiny creature?  What purpose could it serve if no one even knows it exist?  I don’t know. But in the chain of life, it serves.
             God looks at the world through a microscope and to Him, even the tiniest efforts are enormous. Hidden beneath what we see as apparently meaningless, little things may lie great works for God. My work may be hidden, even from me; but it is hidden only when viewed by normal sight.
© July, 1998 Cynthia I. Maddox

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Reason for Blessing

I ran across this photo and I remembered something that a very old woman once taught me. Her name was Kate Fletcher. She walked everywhere she went, despite the ill fitting prosthetic leg, sometime even turning down rides because of the difficulty getting out of vehicles. When I knew her she was in her 80's.

Sister Fletcher was a member of my church and seemed to appear in my life at a time when I needed a counselor. I was 18, newly married with no mother. She was a woman of great faith and wisdom and more than once I sought her counsel. She never failed. More than once I showed up at her home after midnight and she was actually at the door looking out. On one occasion she said, "The Lord told me someone was coming but not who."  Another time she said, "I was waiting for you."

When I found this clip I remembered a time when I was searching for something and I went to her home. She prayed for me and she told me, "God will not give anyone more blessings than they can handled." It was an unusual and surprising concept to me.  

God's blessings are unreserved in depth and scope. We have only to be faithful and obedient to our calling. But they are not endless and they are not without limit.

Parent's reward their children based on how they behave. Yes, you do. Good behavior reaps good rewards. Bad behavior, if you are a good parent, reaps negative rewards. You wouldn't give a child a ice cream cone for slapping a parent or screaming at your guest. Well, maybe some people would but they end up with odious children.

As your child grows, the rewards become more advanced. Good grades may get better and better rewards. Allowances increase based on performance but bad performance, bad grades reduce the rewards. You bless them according to how they preform. You may do other things for them for no reason other than because you love them but there are blessing you give only because of what they do.

You may bless your teenager with an inexpensive car to do their running on but repeated traffic violation result in the loss of that blessing. They simply can't handle the responsibility of obeying traffic laws. You take the car and they take the bus. I've been here. The rule was your car, your fine. And they paid them. That is not a blessing. That is a penalty for not being responsible.

You may help your adult children with the down payment on a new home, if you have been blessed with the money to do that. They neglect to make the payments and they lose that home. They were not able to take on the responsibility of maintaining a home.

God blesses only according to what we are able to be responsible for maintaining. The concept she introduced me to that day has gotten me through some terrible times. The more I am responsible and the longer I am faithful, the greater the blessings become. There are times I've been overwhelmed at what I have been given for no apparent reason. I am not blessed because I'm smarter or better than anyone else. I am blessed because God has trusted me with some things that even I didn't think I could handle. I don't always think I deserve things He has given me but it isn't what I think that matters. It is what He thinks. And the knowledge that He thought I could handle something is in itself a blessing and and overwhelming concept. Some days I'm literally stunned by it.

I know people who seem to constantly be down on their luck. They can't get a break. Everything they do fails. All efforts to "get ahead" set them further and further behind. Nothing they set their hand to prospers. If you talked to them, they just don't understand.

In every case I've seen of people I know personally, I see the same thing over and over. Their walk with God had faltered in some fashion or ended. Their attitude, their behavior has become negative and in some cases, they are obviously not living as they know they should. They have gone farther and farther away from what they believed and become almost hostile. The blessings that once seemed to flow in are now flowing out. But all they see is the falling tide, and the absence of things. The don't see the cause.

Like a child they see everything that happens as unfair or someone else's fault. When a marriage gets in trouble, they need a new partner. Things would be better if I had a better spouse. When finances fail, it is the other spouse's spending that caused it. Or it is the other person's fault they lost the job. When children are unmanageable, it is the schools, friends, or other relatives fault. Like all children, we refuse to look in the mirror and see that we are the reason that we are blessed or not blessed. Instead we clench our fist, stomp our feet and scream, "IT IS NOT MY FAULT! I am a good person. I love God. I...... I..... I....."

My life is miserable. You heard me. I have pain so much that there are times I just want to die. Really. I don't say that much because the devil has a way of using our words to beat us up. In my mind, I know I don't want to die but I want the pain to stop. Some days I can hardly walk. My legs won't work, my feet hurt, my back is in agony. I have family that I can see are not being blessed and I am struggling with watching them fall farther and farther away and deeper and deeper into trouble. They don't even see what is happening. They can't see the chasm that is looming at their feet. I spend days praying for something to wake them up. I lost my husband and best friend and I have no one to talk to and no one to turn to when I'm in pain and suffering heartaches. I spend hours in my home and no one calls or comes by. Yes, I attend a church. And no, they don't.

So, how could I see any good in all that? What can make up for the losses? Ah. I see things that no one else sees that I know are blessings that I can't possibly have deserved. They wouldn't mean a thing to others but they are enormous reminders that I am not forgotten by God. Yes, sometimes it seems like it but I know I'm not. I'm not a bestselling author but I've been blessed with enough talent to bless others with my writing.  My husband was taken from me, and nothing can replace that, but because of his service and his faithfulness I have other benefits I wouldn't have had if he had not done some of the things he did over the years. He took care of his family, was faithful to us and God and provided for us even when he was dying. He told me once that he believe his disability was a blessing from God and he never asked God to heal him. That disability resulted in his death. What he suffered resulted in my blessing and in my ability to bless others. I've been blessed with a job that allows me to meet my needs and provides me with health insurance. I'm not wealthy, far from it. Yet, I've been blessed enough to bless my church and my children. The lack of local friends resulted in a circle of online friends who I talk to several times a week. They make me laugh, encourage me, share their lives with me, and some of them pray for me. Those who don't pray, I know they wish me well. You see, all the places in my life that hurt have had a blessing added to it.

I don't know why but for some reason, I've been trusted with these things, the good and the bad. My life is usually chaos and I'm stressed and wounded and heartbroken. But in the middle of chaos there is the eye of the storm that I strive live in. Sometimes the storm overtakes me. I'm overwhelmed by it but I have to keep moving in the right direction to find the eye again. I can't stop the storm. I can only stay in the eye.

Sister Fletcher was right. God won't bless anyone with any thing greater than they can handle. It isn't good for us. What does that mean?  Some blessings become our destruction. How many people have you seen on the news with millions of dollars and they commit suicide? They had everything but were not happy with the blessings. Why? Yes, I know mental illness is the explanation for everything. Its convenient. But it isn't always true. Sometime they get lost in the storm. How many divorced couples have you seen who were even more miserable afterward? How many people have you seen who left a good job for a better one only to find they hated it? How many people have you had to listen complain about all their troubles and you're wondering what's wrong with them because they have everything anyone could need? You know you have!

Like all children, we choose our blessings and we choose our curses. You won't necessarily see it that way. That's unfortunate. If once you could see the flow of blessings as something significant, it would change your whole outlook on events in your life. If you can just connect the dots you can see the whole picture. It isn't the blessing that is important. It is the reason for the blessing that is so important. 

I'm blessed, not because I think I deserve it, because He thought so. 

How much can God trust you? 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Wind In the Mulberry Trees

I love the so very human story of David. It is a rags to riches story with side trips into disasters and misfortune. During the worst times of his life he simply held on and for me, that is inspiring. I never read about him that I don't learn something new to encourage me.

A few weeks ago, I was reading 1st Chronicles 14 where David had already been anointed as King. The story tells that when all Philistines heard about it they went looking for him. They raided the Valley of Rephaim. David was upset over the attack and inquires of God about what to do. He says, "Shall I go up against the Philistine? Will You deliver them into my hand?"

David had to ask? David? Had to ask if God would? Where was his faith? Don't you hate it when people say that to you. "Where's your faith, sister! Just believe God is going to do it! That's all ya gotta do!"

David didn't jump up, grab a sword and go racing off with him men into battle. He had to ask.

And God answered. "Go up, for I will deliver them into your hand."

I love the King James Version of the Bible. It is the first thing I research when I'm looking for scriptures. The Bible Gateway site allows you to set your preferred translation. Mine is KJV. However, about four or five years ago, before Jerry died, I bought a  New King James Version Chronological Study Bible. I had already bought a  Chronological Bible set up to read in a year. However, this new Study Bible has lots of "extras" in the form of notes that give information related to archaeology, history, art, politics, government, and culture for the time period you're reading about. I just love it. What I really love is that some times it translates the KJV in an unexpected way. At least for me. It doesn't change the meaning but what I've found is a clarity that I often didn't know was missing. It has helped me see some things in very new and exciting ways. But back to my story.

After God told David to go, he did and his army defeated the Philistines so badly that they left their gods behind! David promptly burned them. If you study the cultures from this period and in this region, you know they never traveled without their "gods". These were small idols that could be easily transported in saddle bags or sacks.  During this period people firmly believed that they had to have their gods with them to be successful in any venture. So for them to run off and leave them behind for the enemy was a real victory indeed.

I suppose they didn't like having their gods burned. The Philistines made a second raid on the valley. David, once again, asked God if he should pursue them. God told David to go but this time he specified the battle tactic he was to use. He told David not to follow them but to circle around them and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. Very specific plan. I've read this story lots of times over the years but never saw this battle in just this way until now.

Here is the next verse in the KJV :

15 And it shall be, when thou shalt hear a sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt go out to battle:  for God is gone forth before thee to smite the host of the Philistines."

Sounds simple, right. When you hear the wind in the treetops start the battle. But here is how my Study Bible translated it.

15. And it shall be, when you hear a sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then  you shall go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines."

Do you see it? This was my ah ha moment.

Have you ever heard mulberry leave rustle in the wind? I have. Mulberry leaves are rough on the top and have jagged edges and they make a noise when they move against one another. Imagine a troop of angles moving through the top of them, the motion of their feet creating a marching sound in the trees.

David and his men stood in front of a mulberry forest. I wonder if David and his men looked up at those trees in shock when they heard it? The Philistines army faced them - a nation who never traveled without their idols facing a small army and who carried none. But then they hear the sound of marching coming straight toward them. God told David that when he heard that sound he would know "God has gone out before you." The sound got ahead of David's army.

The results were profound. "...they drove back the army of the Philistines from Gibeon as far as Gezer. Then the fame of David went out into all lands and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations."


David always carried his God with him. He always asked directions. And he listened.