Posted in Faith

How God Lifted Me


There are no better lessons in grace than those in-the-valley moments in this life that all humans must face at one point or another. In those shadowed, veiled times, we might be tempted to turn away from a God we didn’t have such a great understanding of in the first place. Or, we might turn to Him for miracles that He sometimes grants and often provides in some out-of-nowhere way it may take years of living to figure out. We might just wallow, giving ourselves heaping mouthfuls of mud to go along with the bitter tastes in our mouths.

The first lesson to learn in the valley is that you are not alone. Even if you are having a rather one-sided argument with God at the moment, blocking out his ever-presence in your life, you don’t have to seek too far away in the valley to see the tell-tale signs of fellow sufferers. Being human, you’re likely to gravitate toward those who have chosen your same approach to hardship so that you might commiserate together.

I’ve been in the valley for the last several years. My husband’s family and my own have faced challenges with terminal illness of those we hold closest to us. My father-in-law and brother-in-law each lost his battle with cancer within weeks of each other during the holidays the year before last. My mother was diagnosed with ALS, and my parents daily struggle with the challenges of coping with this dreaded, dreadful disease.

So, as much as anybody out there, I think I have the right to ask the unanswerable questions, like why God lets bad things happen to good people, or why nature itself has to be as evil as any serial killer you can find on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

But, these really weren’t questions I had to find answers for as this long journey in the shadows continues for me because God has granted me so many spiritual mentors and fruitful lessons from my Bible studies. I know that God cares for all of us. I know that this life with all its troubles is not what He had originally planned when He plopped Adam and Eve in a garden paradise. I survive because I have faith that God will work to the good even the most horrific things that happen in this life for those, like me, who strive to walk by faith in our belief.

My spiritual mentors have been many. I have friends who hold God close to their hearts. They have introduced me to great Bible teachers like Ravi Zacharias, Andy Stanley, and Randy Harris, men who do a good job of putting Biblical concepts into modern-day language. These are men who value the love of Jesus and who know that grace is something we all need in equal measure. Instead of judging other people, these mentors have taught me to seek the good in others in order to spread Jesus’ most precious gift of forgiveness through grace.

As a writer, I admire what apologists such as Philip Yancey and Sarah Young and novelists like Charles Martin and Francine Rivers can do when they put pen to paper and allow God’s gift to flow through them.  I have learned that it’s okay to ask questions about and of God, that staying in a mode of thankfulness draws me closer to God, that the strength of our relationships on earth can reflect the strength of our interactions with our Savior, that the kind of love that truly puts the other first will never fail.

My days have been dark and will be darker still, but I will continue to walk by faith. These are no longer bumper-sticker words to me, but the result of persevering. I study my Bible, I pray continually, I share my belief with others, I am open to learning from God and fellow believers. Some days, many days, I have to choose that today is a good day for a good day.  I have had to learn to cut myself some breaks. I have learned that helping others even when my own world is crumbling helps me feel better.  I lean on the understanding that this life is about becoming something for the next life. God, my potter, is molding the clay that is me into a masterpiece for His kingdom.

I am comforted by the idea that some day, when my perseverance is complete, the angels will dance.

Posted in Christian Living

Kind Words: The Little Things That Mean A Lot

Running on the treadmill earlier this week, searching as usual for anything to think about other than the sweat making its steady stream down my back, I remembered a sunny day many years ago when I had just finished an outdoor run in the park at my hometown.

“You have really good form,” an unfamiliar voice wafted past the pounding in my ears to me.

I looked up to see a younger girl in perfect shape. She had no reason to compliment the thirty-something bookworm who had just jogged around the track at a speed many could walk. Still, she took the time to let me know I was doing something right.

I thanked her roundly and headed back to my car to drive home, my back a little straighter, my heart filled with the warmth of human kindness. I was the kid whose third-grade teacher gave her a ball and jacks to work on her eye-hand coordination. When others were perfecting dodge-ball moves, I was the one with her nose in a book, watching enviously from the sidelines. I did not get compliments on anything athletic. Ever.

But, ever since that day, I have always felt that my jogging form is good, worthy of compliments. I have some foundation for this confidence besides one stranger’s kind words. My husband actually has taught me the running form the young lady admired that day on the track. Still, her words, which took only a moment of her time, have stuck with me through the years. Laboring on the treadmill in the gym, I know I am not the fastest person in the room, but I also know I pump my legs like a real runner, all because a stranger decided to compliment me on a windy, West Texas day.

Words really are just that powerful. They can build up or destroy with minimum effort on the speaker’s part. No wonder the Bible warns us: But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken (Matt. 12:36).

Knowing the power of words is one reason I try to speak my compliments to strangers instead of just thinking them in my head. I admire a scarf or jewelry, I note the pretty eyes or hairstyle, I praise the young boy who holds open the door. So far, no one has rebuffed me for saying something nice to them. It’s literally one of the smallest things I can do to spread the love Jesus feels for all of us.

Kind words serve me in other ways. When I spend my time thinking about kind words, I put myself in a place of love and thankfulness that pushes out anger and fear and ultimately draws me closer to God. When I am in His presence, I find it even easier to discover kind things to say. It is a cycle of love that we should all want to be caught up in.

In an old song, Kitty Kallen croons,

Blow me a kiss from across the room
Say I look nice when I’m not
Touch my hair as you pass my chair
Little things mean a lot

When it comes to living each day as Christ-like, embracing the idea that little things mean a lot can go a long way toward spreading the love of Jesus. In fact, if we concentrate on the little things, God promises He will do the heavy lifting:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Never underestimate what God can do with your kind words. His mercy is no little thing, but the little things are exactly what He calls on us to strive for, keeping each day’s worries unto itself, leaving the bigger picture to our awesome, heavenly Father.

You are special, and you are loved.  What kind words have made a big difference in your life? Think about God’s blessings in your life and be inspired to go forth and be kind.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Love

More than a Fish Story: An Old Testament Lesson in Grace

not just another fish story

On Memorial Day, we remember with a measure of sadness and a whole lot of pride those brave men and women who have given their very greatest gift for the sake of defending our freedom and way of life.

It seems like an appropriate time to remember the person who paved the way for such magnificent sacrifice, our Lord Jesus, who, having lived a human life and managed what none of us will ever do, that is to be without sin, sacrificed Himself so that we might have eternal life through His grace.

Most people want to place grace solidly in the New Testament. Some like to see God as a sort of split personality—the wrathful, war-like Judge of the Old Testament versus the loving, saving Lamb of the New. But God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so it isn’t really any surprise to find examples of His grace throughout the story of our relationship with the Eternal.

Take the narrative of the reluctant prophet Jonah. If you haven’t read his story since you were a child and more prone to concentrate on the concept of a man inside a fish, take a bit of time today with me to look at this Biblical episode, which is so about grace.

As I read Jonah’s story during my Bible study this week, I was impressed anew by its parallels to some of the events in Jesus’ life, and I was struck by its overpowering message of God’s grace. In fact, I found that some of Jonah’s goofiest reactions to God’s calling for him only go to underscore the truth of God’s mercy.

Jonah arrives on the Biblical scene at a time when the Jews could be doing better. They are a divided kingdom, running through a succession of kings who take turns being for God, ambivalent, or outright disobedient. Sometimes they worship as they ought. Other times, they cling to pagan idols.

But Jonah isn’t sent to prophesy to the Jews! Instead, God wants Jonah to warn the Assyrians in the metropolitan city of Nineveh to repent before He executes a mighty punishment on them. There may be more immediate reasons that God places Jonah on this path, but there is also an inkling here of God’s future message of grace. He wants all to be saved: Jews, God-fearers, Gentiles, even enemies of His chosen people like the Assyrians. And, as we shall see, this story also shows how often the Gentiles turn more quickly to God’s message of grace than His chosen people.

When called, like so many of us, Jonah doesn’t want to go. So, forgetting that God is everywhere, Jonah hops a ship and tries the impossible feat of outrunning Him. Jonah doesn’t get far. A storm begins to rage on the open waters. The sailors of the vessel, terrified, are surprised to find Jonah fast asleep as the storm rages.

Even though Jesus was not running from God, you might recall He, too, was found fast asleep during a stormy voyage on the open water. When His disciples wake Him, He calmly abates the storm. Jonah’s path to bringing about calm waters is clumsy by comparison.

The sailors cast lots to figure out who is responsible and then start questioning Jonah. He admits it is his fault that the storm has come and offers to sacrifice himself for their safety by being thrown overboard into the sea. (Jonah doesn’t know that God will save him, so he really is offering to die to save the men in the boat.) The sailors, reluctant to kill a man, even though he has brought this calamity on them in the first place, attempt to ride out the storm. Eventually, even they have to admit defeat and throw Jonah overboard.

Jonah stays inside the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (another parallel to Christ, who was three days and three nights in the tomb before rising again). While sitting in the gooey, smelly darkness, Jonah prays, and what he prays about is grace and the salvation that comes because of it:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.

God uses the vine to teach Jonah grace

If Jonah’s story isn’t already weird enough, it takes another strange twist once he has successfully fulfilled his mission. For, having prophesied doom so that the Assyrians actually repent of their evil ways, Jonah gets angry that God chooses to show compassion instead of reigning destruction on the great city:

That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish, Jonah complains. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.

Showing how challenging the concept of grace can be for humans to grasp, Jonah accepts God’s compassion on an intellectual level but is so irritated that his prophesying was unnecessary since God did not condemn Nineveh that Jonah proclaims he is angry enough to die.

Jonah finds a place east of the city (won’t Christ come from the east upon His return?) and plops down to do just that. But, God isn’t finished teaching him lessons, or us, just yet. God makes a vine grow over Jonah that protects him from the elements. The next day, God allows the vine to be gnawed away by a worm, exposing Jonah to a scorching wind and blazing sun.

Now Jonah is really angry, but God gives Jonah a more merciful perspective to consider, one that takes into account the true meaning of the vine that Jesus later proclaims:

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

Our God loves us. Even when we are most despicable, He longs for us to turn towards Him. He forgives yesterday, today and forever. He saves yesterday, today and forever.

During this Memorial Day holiday, as we pay honor to those who have given their lives in fighting for our country, we should begin by honoring the One whose sacrifice gave tangible proof of God’s saving grace. Because of Jesus, we creations of the mighty God know every moment of every day through all circumstances that God’s grace never fails.

Only God could tell us so much from the story of a reluctant prophet in the belly of a whale.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

With God, Simple Things Can Mean A Lot

God makes even simple things into something magnificent, according to His purpose

I am very good at making things more complicated than they have to be. Pick almost any area in life, and I have figured out a way to look at the issue that gives it many more twists and turns than really exist.

Take salvation, for example. All I have to do is believe in Christ and His purpose and profess that belief, and yet I make that simple act of faith into something much more complicated. I tell myself I have more responsibility in this act of living my faith than God ever said I had.

For example, I think that it is somehow up to me to make other people believe about God and the Bible the way that I do. I get frustrated when people disagree with me, even angry when I think they are saying something wrong about the word of God according to the way that I understand that word.

God has led me to a focus shift this week, one that should help me quit taking on responsibilities that are not my own. Through my Bible reading and conversations with other believers, I have been reminded that God is the One who holds the responsibility for what others ultimately believe. He alone is Judge.

I must not apply my usual habit of shoulds in life to my plan for living my faith. A to-do list is not what being a Christian is about. Instead, we are asked to live through love.

In the Old Testament, we learn an important lesson about the simplicity of our salvation when we truly hand over the responsibility for that salvation to our Holy God. Naaman, the commander of King Aram’s army, goes to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. When Elisha tells him all he has to do is go dip himself in the Jordan seven times, instead of being thankful such a simple task is all that is required, Naaman gets frustrated. He doesn’t understand how the solution could be so simple. Why wouldn’t a body of water in his home country be even more likely to heal him, if that is all it would take, Naaman wonders?

In fact, Naaman feels affronted that Elisha’s solution does not require more of him, as if his station deserves to be recognized by the level of responsibility required for healing. Naaman would have wandered through the rest of his proud life, full of responsibility and covered in his skin disease, if not for his servants, who asked the obvious but profound question:

“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you ‘ wash and be cleansed?'” (2 Kings 5:13)

Luckily for him, Naaman realizes the truth to this statement and proceeds to follow Elisha’s instructions from God. In the end, Naaman walks out of the Jordan with skin as whole as if he had just been born. More importantly, he learns the profound truth that in even the smallest of ways, God can do great things.

As I was settling into the truth of these verses during the week, I was offered another important lesson when it comes to how God works in our lives, which is the comfort that comes when we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good things in this world that is full of evil.

In this season of my life, I have as much reason as anyone to see the world in general and the act of living in particular as a losing struggle against forces that are gunning for my ultimate destruction. Beginning in 2014, in the span of some fourteen months, my grandmother died, my husband’s father and oldest brother lost their battles with cancer within a few weeks of each other, and my dear mama was diagnosed with ALS.

If I didn’t believe that the only way God can offer us the free will to choose Him is to allow for both evil and good to exist in this life, then I would have given up on the idea of a loving God a long time ago. But, in acknowledging the truth of the need for evil to exist in a fallen world, I realize that I have somehow lost the even stronger truth that God controls everything, even, somehow, the process of letting us tumble into His always waiting, open hands.

God’s control negates my need to be responsible for outcomes. Notice, I did not say actions. Free will means I am inherently responsible for everything I say and do. But, when what I say and do is in alignment with the life of Christ and His teachings, I can trust the outcome will be according to the will of God, even when things look farthest from that conclusion. His Holy Spirit can so easily bring to fruition whatever seeds my Christ-like words and actions may plant. But, I have to live like I believe that, even in simple ways, mostly in simple ways.

What a powerful realization this working of the Holy Spirit in our lives is for those who believe. When we forget about His power or try to usurp it by manipulating situations toward our own desired outcomes, we do a disservice to our faith. We also overlook the little, simple things that God can make truly great, like the mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree.

God is always able

 

Just like Naaman, I am guilty of wanting something more difficult than the simple truths of God’s promises. He wants me to know that He has things under control in accordance to His Master Plan, a plan my human mind is incapable of fully understanding. When I contain myself by worrying about only my actions and words instead of putting myself in the role of judge over others, I give myself the light burden and peace that Christ promised as the gift of believing in Him. I grasp God’s simple solution to life’s complex problems.

In Sunday school, we reached the point in Romans where Paul asks why we think we have the right to judge those who serve God. We are not their masters, after all. But for those who allow God to be master, the promise is clear:

To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

The Lord is able to bring about our success in walking by faith. Not long after Naaman discovered that God’s truths can be powerful even in simplicity, the prophet Elisha faces a dangerous situation that further underscores God’s ability. When the King of Aram sends an army to harm the prophet, God provides His own, conquering army to protect the servant of our heavenly King:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:13-17)

When I profess my faith, when I show love in the face of hate, when I turn the other cheek, God is able. He is surrounding me with His angels, looking out for my ultimate good. If I live each day knowing this truth, I will simplify my walk with Christ. I will be free to love other people in full knowledge that the paths of their lives and their ultimate judgment are in God’s hands, not my own.

Christianity is simple. We humans are the ones who tend to complicate things, forgetting despite all His promises, that God is able.

Posted in Christianity, Faith

This Easter, Learn the Difference When You Live What You Believe

He is risen indeed

One of the discount department stores is running an ad about their sales for the weekend, emphasizing great prices on dresses and dress clothes for the annual Easter Sunday church visit.

I wonder about those of us who only see the inside of church on these special occasions. We put on the cloak of Christianity like a garment we can choose to wear or discard as the feelings move us. We call out to God in times of distress as if He should overlook all the times He hasn’t heard from us, not even a simple thank you for our daily kindnesses and blessings.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the greatest gift God ever gave us—the potential to return to a healed relationship with Him through the salvation provided by Christ’s sacrifice for us when He died on the cross despite being blameless so that our many sins will not condemn us. But, we can’t maintain a healthy relationship that allows us to grasp the full potential of God’s blessings if we only work on that relationship every once-in-a-while.

Sometimes, I wonder if people who condemn those of us who believe in our mighty God really understand what it is they are rejecting. What seems like a fairy tale of a by-gone age to them is to me the spiritual and logical conclusion of a series of events that go back to the beginning of time.

God made a perfect world. He populated it with flora and fauna. He even made man in His own image to enjoy the fruits of His labor. Man, setting the example of a pattern of behavior that dominates to this day , didn’t waste much time ruining the gift of the paradise God created for them. Walking with God without shame, conversing with Him as if He were the kind neighbor from down the street and not the Creator of all things, just wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve. They wanted to know what God knows. They grasped the knowledge of good and evil as if the human heart, though made in the image of God, could yet somehow be god-like.

But, humans who know evil and good will inevitably sink to the level of evil because the human heart is not to be trusted. It cannot know evil without falling victim to the weakness of giving in to that evil. And when we commit sin, we cannot go forward in a relationship with the God-head as if nothing bad has happened. So, God gave man instructions on the kinds of sacrifices He required to bring a person back into relationship with Him whenever a person stumbles.

Why most sacrifices require the shedding of blood can be a hard concept to grasp if you have grown up in a world where you get trophies just for participating, where everybody is a winner. But, for me at least, the idea that I only truly understand the depth of my sin if I see the extent of the sacrifice to make me right again with God seems to be perfectly logical. I can’t trust my heart to tell me when I am in the wrong. My heart is quick to make excuses for me and an expert at giving me the benefit of the doubt. But the blood on the altar of an animal that had nothing to do with my sin is a definite wake up call for my need to straighten up my act. Having in me the genetic memory of first man’s close contact with our sovereign God, I long to return to that place of perfect peace where we walk in the garden, and I am not afraid.

No troubled hearts for those who believe

Do you like the humanist stand on morality better than the strict guidelines that unconditional love requires? I wonder why. If God does not exist, as the humanists proclaim, then what is the point of these randomly sequenced molecules that are the only explanation left in a world where no master Creator spoke the world into being? The closest thing I can find to one is Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest. And if that is our point, to be the strongest, the one to survive so that our genes continue to thrive, then what happens to kindness or thoughtfulness or love? We humans have proven how quickly and deeply we can fall into the depths of darkness.  We torture and maim, watch as children starve,  enslave each other. Auschwitz. Hiroshima. The human heart never leans toward the light, not when it does not acknowledge a God exists who has the power and desire to fill that heart with love and light.

When Christ sacrificed Himself, spilled His own blood because of my sin—He had no sin of His own—He tore the curtain that separated the unholy from the Holiest once and for all. When I believe Christ died for me, when I bow my head and acknowledge my own sinfulness, my wicked heart, and say, You are my savior, I invite the light and love of God into my heart. I allow Him to transform the heart from that which is only able to look out for number one to a loving light that knows the power of Christ’s gift of grace and can’t help but find ways to share the good news about that love with others.

In this world God created, those who survive best are often the weakest, the most humble. Survival is defined by staying in close relationship with God, in taking steps to love other people like we want to be loved. We walk in the perfect garden and are not afraid.

I like a world that is more concerned about what I am becoming for the next life than concentrating on making the most of this world because it is the only one we’ve got. When you celebrate Easter this Sunday, do it in full knowledge of the enormity of the gift Christ gave when He put your salvation before His survival.  You are no longer condemned, but bathed in the Spirit of Truth that will compel you to live according to what pleases God instead of trying to please other people or yourself.

I am so thankful God tore away the barrier that separated His holiness from my humanness. When I call, He hears me. When I make choices based on His teachings, I know peace.

And isn’t that what I am really seeking when I put on that new Spring dress Easter Sunday, my curls pulled back with a bright bow, and step into the sanctuary where the voices of those who believe swell in the still air like even the angels are singing?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Finding His Strength in My Weakness: this Broken Road

My grandmother’s life of hardship offers lessons about learning to lean on God’s mercy and power.

We fickle humans do not thrive in abundance. Sitting in my fancy easy chair typing these words, I have more in my possession today than past generations of my ancestors ever hoped to possess. And yet, I daily struggle with doubts and fears, pride and anger that are incongruent with my economic “wealth.”

I have fallen victim despite the roots of my practical raising to the dream of finding happiness in a world where evil dwells. Even though I know that God’s reason for me has nothing to do with my happiness in this life, I still keep trying to find it.  Even when I embrace the idea of seeking to thrive despite the pitfalls of living in a fallen world and I strive toward becoming what God needs of me for my eternal home, I too quickly fall back into the mind traps of the transient peace that happiness offers.

I don’t think it takes a scientific analysis or Gallup poll to figure out that those who face the most challenges tend to be the most at ease with themselves and the God they worship. My grandparents didn’t have time to contemplate their mental states on a regular basis. They were too busy scratching out a living on unforgiving soil, stitching up clothing well beyond its use-by date, laboring with hands cracked by years of exposure to sun and wind, doing without when crops failed, stealing pecans from the pack rats’ nests to sell to the grocer for thread.

When a bath takes more work to make happen than the pleasure being clean subsequently brings, tell me of your repugnance to the smell of those who adhere to the once-a-week bathing regimen. When the only light you can afford is the billowing, blackening heat of a kerosene lamp, you’ll understand the wisdom of a sun-up to sun-down mentality.

Living in a world where abundance is hard to come by makes you appreciate and recognize blessings. You’ll walk miles in bad weather to catch the matinee on Saturday. You’ll eat bar-b-que you didn’t have to make off of strips of brown, butcher paper as if you were dining in an elegant restaurant with linen tablecloths instead of the planked, rough boards where strangers sit elbow to elbow, dripping sweet, savory sauce from puffy lips.

God understands the importance of our weakness to make use of His strength. He offered abundance to His people as they wandered in the desert. For forty years, He gave them sufficient food for each day, food they did not have to labor for or worry about. In this abundance, His people forgot about Him over and over again. They worshiped false gods even though the proof of the One, True God descended upon them in harvest every morning. They married outside of their own faith despite His warnings to the contrary.

We read about the wanderings in the desert with a little contempt today, but are we any different? Even the poorest among us in this country have more than most of the rest of the world and instead of thanking God for our abundance, we shun His very existence. We let others mock His power and forgiveness. We put up with those who would silence us when we want to call out His name.

When I am weak, He is strong. When I am most aware of my human frailty, I am most likely to feel gratitude to a God that saves me from even greater evils than those I face. In weakness, I will understand the satisfaction of a life lived as testimony as opposed to a life lived for my pleasure, the difference between a broken road and a road that will break you.

I asked my grandmother once about the invention of such time-saving household tools as the vacuum cleaner. My textbook said women loved these things because it gave them more leisure time, after all.

Grandmother had lived in houses whose floors were hard-packed dirt. She had worn clothes made from flour sacking and been the cook and cleaner and clothes washer and butter churner and quilter and more in her childhood family of three brothers and her dad since her mother passed away when my grandma was a toddler. She had cooked over campfires and seined coal from the river, walked miles to the mill where gathered grain could be ground for flour and plucked chickens she had slaughtered for the evening supper table. She worked seven days a week from the time the sun rose to the time the sun set in a world where all the people around her were eking out the same kind of existence.

These were the greatest generation, those who fought for the freedoms of people a world away, sacrificing life, limb, and the little things at home to make sure the world was a safer place. People planted gardens, learned to like margarine, rationed everything, saved even the dirty grease from the stove to donate to the factories for the cause of making rubber. The Depression had taught them how to make an onion and some parsnips last to a week’s worth of suppers, inspired the pickled mesquite bark in their cupboards and the repurposing of everything so that years later, my grandfather saw nothing wrong with using the same pan for his famous popcorn as the family also utilized for upchucks.

So, did Grandma think the vacuum cleaner was a gift sent from God? Definitely not. This abundance just meant she had more work to do. Standards of cleanliness rose along with our ability to clean until she was left with even more work than she had experienced before.

God’s enough is defined by our weakness turned toward His strength, which manifests itself in our love for Him and His Word, and the resulting love we then have for ourselves and others. If I can concentrate on being thankful instead of on the electronics I have surrounding me or the pretty clothes or the nice car, perhaps I will finally find that core of strength that is woven in my DNA from those who lived when abundance was only found in weakness. I appreciate the lessons they taught me by merely surviving amidst untold hardship and tragedy. I appreciate even more that they survived in full knowing of the gratitude they owed the Divine for every victory He allowed them, even in the midst of sandstorms and rain, of brown, crispy harvests and loved ones laid much too soon into the hard, cold ground.

Despite a lifetime of hardship and loss, my grandmother never gave up on her belief in God. She treasured the large print Bible I gave her on her 90th birthday because it gave her the ability to read more of the Bible daily than her cataract-challenged eyes had otherwise afforded her.

The capacity to find God’s strength in our own weakness might be summed up in a photograph I found among my grandmother’s belongings, a color snapshot of a chihuahua, my grandmother’s long-time house dog long-since passed, sitting on a plaid blanket, with these words written on the back in a steady hand:

A small brown dog with big, beautiful eyes that wanders through the halls of my memory.  Helen

If she, who had lost mother and husband and son and father and brothers, and yet never lost her faith in God, could find sweetness in the memory of loss, then what other proof of the value of accepting my weakness do I need?

I will try to recognize my abundance and its concurrent enemies of seeking happiness and fulfillment for what they are, which are obstacles to my ability to know and give the love God so freely offers to all who believe in Him, especially to those who allow Him to show His strength through the very weakness we usually fight to keep away. As I heard Rick Atchley preach just recently, we cannot ask God to make us stronger Christians and also ask Him to make everything all right. Only through the suffering that weakness brings can God truly do His work in us.

My grandparents’ generation proved the truth of this theology. More importantly, Christ sealed the truth of it when He willingly died in weakness on the Cross so that all humanity might be saved through faith by the love of the Almighty. That’s the strength I lean on. Won’t you join me?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

No Plot Twists Too Great for the Greatest Storyteller

We cannot know what God does

In the classic satire, Princess Bride, a very young Fred Savage plays a little boy listening to his grandfather tell him a fantastic story with so many twists and turns that Fred interrupts him at one point to exclaim in exasperation, “Gee, Grandpa, what are you telling me this story for?”

So often as I study my Bible, I find myself empathizing with little Fred. I am so engrossed in the action and emotions of the story that I am reading, that I often do a double-take when the narrative shoots off at a wild angle, completely different from anything I might have predicted or expected. In those moments, I find myself asking God, “Why are you telling me this?”

A case in point is the wonderful exposition of the life of King Solomon. David’s son begins with the greatest of intentions. He asks God for the wisdom to properly rule the kingdom of Israel. This wisdom is something much more than being a walking encyclopedia. Instead, the type of wisdom Solomon asks for and receives is the discernment to “read” the world from a holy perspective. It’s the kind of wisdom that allows him to know that the true mother of a child would rather see that baby given away than cut in two. It’s a wisdom that allows Solomon to amass a fortune and demand a level of respect around the world heretofore unknown in the Jewish experience.

And yet, even with all this wisdom going for him, we read that Solomon acted not so wisely as well. He married women, so many women, even those outside his Jewish religion, despite God’s express command against such unions, a command that included the warning in no uncertain terms that such unions would lead to the nation’s downfall. At one point, we are told, Solomon had some 700 wives and 300 concubines!  Especially in his old age, these women from foreign lands were easily able to lead Solomon into worship of other gods—gods the scripture defines as detestable to the Lord.

So we come to my why are you telling me this moment involving Solomon. As I read for the umpteenth time this morning the story of Solomon’s lack of judgment which ultimately led to the splitting of the kingdom of Israel and its eventual downfall, a lesson from Solomon’s folly came to me that I had not quite considered before.

My “God messages” and “Holy Spirit lessons” have been coming to me lately involving the themes of grace and becoming. I am saved because I believe in Jesus as my savior. I spend the rest of my grace-covered life becoming what God has pre-determined I need to be for that heavenly home that lasts forever and makes this earthly existence look like the blink of an eye. But, nothing I do in the process of becoming has anything to do with the promise of my salvation. The two processes are locked together and yet intricately separate. And, if I can get this truth clear in my emotional as well as logical response to people and situations, I feel that I will be so much better at loving the world around me instead of judging it.

From Solomon’s folly, I am reminded that no matter how smart I think I am, my brain is an unreliable vessel for my salvation. I cannot stay in relationship of good standing with my Creator unless I go through His son, Jesus, and that process involves my faith, not my wisdom. Despite a mind gifted with discernment known far and wide and across time, Solomon’s choice to move out of relationship with God by turning to other idols cost him dearly.

grace is God wanting to be in relationship with us, no matter what

Even with discerning wisdom, look how quickly Solomon fell into the trap of thinking he could manage his own relationship with God. What other explanation would there be for a man so wise to ignore the clear rules God had laid out for His people? Don’t marry the women who are native to the land you are entering, lest you fall into the trap of worshiping their gods, He told the wandering Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Despite being wise, Solomon allowed the temptation of his attraction for these foreign women to over-rule the knowledge he had of God’s law.

This leaning on one’s own understanding by acting outside of the dictates of an omnipotent God is a kind of arrogance in one’s own knowledge that makes me think about the modern world in which we live, where scientists are sure they have explained the unexplainable and intellectuals flick the ashes from their cigarettes and disdain the quaint belief systems they see as naïve at best and evil conservatism at worst.

If we really want to be wise, we would concentrate our whole selves on the goal of loving God and appreciating the close relationship we have with Him because Jesus died on the Cross for us. Anything that gets in the way of that love should be cast to the side so that we do not fall victim, like Solomon, to letting the ways of this world get in the way of our much more important connection to the next.

The “twist” in Solomon’s wisdom story isn’t so much a twist, then, as it is the wisest thing we might learn from a king famous for his mind. Seek discernment on your path toward righteous living, yes, but lean on the grace of Jesus’ gift of salvation if you expect to remain in a right relationship with your Creator, especially throughout a long life full of the pitfalls that can trap a man, or woman, bent on thinking his or her way out of the scrapes that ensue when we start listening to our own hearts instead of the heart of our ever-present and oh-so-loving God.

In Christ,
Ramona