I Am Loved

May 29, 2017

Something amazing took place this week.  On Monday, while John and I were stopping by at the West Plains Wal-Mart, we were walking by a small truck in the parking lot and in the bed of the truck in the middle of a few tires and some trash here and there, sat this beautiful large dog, a beige pit bull with white markings.  I was so taken by his stately stance and presence that I felt prompted to take his picture.

pitbullThere was a young inmate with whom I was working at the jail in Houston that I thought would really like the picture as it looked similar to his dog at home.  A friend of the dog’s owner was standing to one side of the truck, and gave permission for the shot.  What a pose! The friend stated that the dog was well trained and would not jump out of the truck unless commanded by his owner.  As I walked away, a thought jumped out at me as I looked at the picture of this well cared for pet, that his noble demeanor was really saying just one thing “I am loved!”  On Thursday at the jail, I showed the picture to two other inmates who I had been working with for several months.  The one young man had a menacing word tattooed in large letters on his neck from one side to the other declaring to the world that he was to be taken seriously.  Over the months, I had come to see a different person in him that this persona did not fit.  Prison life had gradually created this protective shell that he believed had kept him alive.  He was finishing out a county jail sentence and then would more than likely leave for a stint in the Missouri Department of Corrections.  These two inmates were not the ones I thought of when I took the picture but knew they would like to see it.  When he looked at the picture, I could see in his eyes that some of that tough protection had melted as they lit up with a big smile of approval of what he was looking at.  His dog from another time in his life had looked like this.  I told him that I felt that with the dog’s amazing presence and confidence, he was saying “I am loved”.  Then the Spirit took over.  I immediately knew that this was the person for whom this picture was meant.  I don’t remember verbatim exactly what I said, but the gist of it was that “like this beautiful animal, God wants us to project a noble presence of confidence, grace and a  persona of excellence that declares to everyone  ‘I am loved!’ even when we are surrounded by trash and chaos. ‘My Master loves me and no one can do or say anything that can come between me and his love!’ We don’t have to be tough and hardened by life when we know that we are always loved, can be forgiven and are never alone.”   He got it! He nodded his head in a spontaneous response to what he was feeling that he understood what I was saying and that the Holy Spirit had given him this blessing.  He stated that he needed to hear these words.  Later at TEAM, an area-wide interagency meeting, I felt prompted to share what had just happened at the jail.  That same beautiful Spirit attested to its validity as everyone around the table felt it’s remarkable Presence.   It is so amazing to me that God set up this life-giving experience days in advance and for a different person than I had first thought.  God’s love for this young man is unquestionable.  We can be the messenger for God’s work if we respond to his Spirit, even just walking by a dog sitting in the middle of trash in the back of a pickup truck.  I showed the picture to the other inmates that day but did not feel the degree of that electric Presence in the retelling that I had felt earlier. 

                                                                                                                                 Rita Foster

 

I Am Loved: The Epilogue

 

Shouldn’t the knowledge that we are loved by our Creator, show in our demeanor, be felt in our presence!  Shouldn’t there be a calmness in us that makes us mindful to react and thoughtful about what we should say! Shouldn’t we always be filled with confident hope and positive in our presence with others! Shouldn’t we be sharing the ecstatic joy we are feeling!

The chapters of Sweetwater Journey are meant to convey the truth that “We are Loved”.  That same young man, who we will call “Mike” was released this week from county jail with a new desire in him to never return.  He said that this was the first time he’d ever felt like that.   As he walked to Wal-Mart, he prayed “God, help me with what’s next.”  He ran into someone he met in jail and that person then gave him a ride as far as a few miles south of Licking.  When he got out, he saw a woman outside of her house.  He walked over and introduced himself.  She then let him use her phone to call me and prepared food for him.  When I picked him up an hour later to take him to his friend’s house another hour away, he talked about the good conversation he had had with her.  We both talked about the way God works, taking him on his journey step by step – angels waiting to give him a “cup of cold (sweet)water” as stated in Matthew 10.  That’s how God works.  You can’t see the destination ahead, only the next step of the journey and he works through you and me to do that for him.  It’s the steps of the journey that build faith and continually tune in and sharpen the focus of our destination.  Before John and I took him to his friend’s house, we made sure he had a cell phone and took him to apply at a place where he had worked four years earlier.  He had left on good terms but had been picked up and taken back to jail on an old warrant.  When Mike reached his friend’s house, he found the conditions that he feared he would find. He knew that staying here would not go along with his new life and the new person he was becoming so he left on foot that evening to see what God had next in mind.  I don’t know what’s going to happen next for him but if he can trust the process and stay focused on the positive, even if he falls and makes bad choices, God is there to help Mike pick himself up and try again.  He already made the right choice by not staying where he knew he would relapse again.  It’s one choice after another, always choosing life in Christ.  Step by step.   The next contact I had with him was when I texted him the numbers of service organizations in the city where he ended up after a long walk and a ride with another “angel”.  Right now, I’m not sure if he called those numbers.  The many years that he’s spent in prison creates a personality that has never had a chance to become independent and self-reliant.  It’s easy to become an introvert and stay out of the notice of others.  Not so much to be secretive but just to be “safe”.   He went to the cemetery and found a bench to sleep on that night and thank God he had a cell phone that was quickly becoming his lifeline. I didn’t see any change of clothes with him, just his Life Recovery Bible and a folder with his STONES newsletters and personal papers. The last contact I had from Mike was a text that read: “I’m OK things are hard Rita please pray for me.”

The words “things are hard” stayed with me and gnawed at my faithful resolve for the outcome of what was next for Mike.  Herein lies the summation of life and the desperate need for “angels”.   Things are hard.  Life is hard.  But by the grace of God go us.  I don’t know that I had any control when I was a spirit in heaven waiting to be placed within the body on earth to which I was assigned.  Because of that, it is important we pay it forward.  Give from the abundance we have received.  Not necessarily material wealth but spiritual, emotional, and intellectual wealth that we can pass on for the good of others.  Many times when I’m in a setting surrounded by friends, food, laughter and love, I pray that God will give this same experience to my friend “Mike” and all the Mikes in the world who are struggling to not choose death when it appears that’s the only choice they have.  I pray for angels to see him along his way to the next step of God’s plan for him.  I pray that he won’t feel abandoned.  He is learning that God leads people to help him but it’s always about whether they choose to respond to the Spirit or not and give that help.

Sowing and harvest are closely connected.  It is said that “when the ground is torn up, plant seeds”.  Ben Mikalsen.  So if your life is a wreck and feels out of control, do something positive for yourself and someone else.  Let it spring from love, so that great will be the harvest for you and them. 

Have you ever watched little birds feed from the stems of grass that have gone to seed?  They can’t sit on the tiny stem and peck out the seeds.  They fly up and perch on the grain head and literally ride it to the ground and sit on the stem to hold it down while they peck out the seeds.  I watched this happen one day while I was waiting in the car.  I find God’s creation to be amazing in the problem-solving ways it masters its world for food, shelter and reproduction from one generation to the next.  We, as humans, can be independently ingenious when we need to be but we definitely need each other to make our lives more enjoyable and productive.

 

Christina Fox is a counselor and writer who writes a blog titled “toshowthemjesus.com” . The following is her reflections on the importance of being loved as a part of community:

Doing Life Alone vs. In Community

We once were a society that centered around family. Multiple generations often lived together under one roof and when families did live separately, they never moved very far. These days, we are more of an individualistic culture. We rely on ourselves. We live far away from where we were raised. Our connections with other people take place most often in the workplace. But those connections are usually shallow, fickle, and short lived.

In the church, we see this sense of individualism and disconnectedness as well. Many people serially date churches, never staying in one place very long. Some may stake a claim on a church but remain distant and on the margins, attending only when something better isn’t going on. And then there are those who may indeed have a committed relationship with a church but they are not all in. They aren’t fully known by their community. They don’t rely on the Body when they are struggling or in need. Instead, they wear masks that cover the pain of their lives, pretending that everything’s okay, even though it’s not.

Yet individualism and doing life on our own is not part of God’s design. After all, God is a community in himself. Existing for all of eternity past, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have enjoyed the love and fellowship of their perfect triune community. In creating mankind, God desired for us to participate in that community and know the perfect and joyous love the Godhead share.

But God didn’t stop there. He didn’t create man to be in community with him alone. After he created the world and Adam, God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’ (Genesis 2:18). God created man and woman to be in community together, to create families and live together, bearing the image of and reflecting the three-in-one God.

Scripture is all about community. God chose the Israelites to be his people. ‘And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people’ (Leviticus 26:12). They lived and worshipped him together in community. Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, God then instituted the church, the Body of Christ as a community of believers. ‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.’(1 Corinthians 12:27).

Here’s what Paul Tripp says in his book, Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, ‘We weren’t created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources God has given us.’  Not only were we created to be in community but we also need community. As I learned hiking in the Alaskan mountains, there is safety in numbers. Though there aren’t bears out there in everyday life, there are wolves who seek to destroy us. False theology abounds at every turn. Satan and his legions try to distract us with temptations. Our own sin leads us astray. We need godly brothers and sisters to watch our back. We need to be connected in community where we can all be on alert together for the dangers that are all around us. The truth is, we need each other. We need to trust, rely on, and depend upon other believers. God gave us each other to walk alongside, encourage, and spur one another in the faith. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near’ (Hebrews 10:24-25). James 5:16 says, ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.’ We are to carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), care for each other’s practical needs (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:16), warn each other of sin (1 Thessalonians 5:14) and rejoice and mourn with each other’ (Romans 12:15).

. . .  we are safer together in the community of the Body of Christ . .  . Though society might tell us that we can do life on our own, God’s word tells us that we simply can’t function without each other (1 Corinthians 12). We need each other and we need community.”   “Don’t Go It Alone, You Were Made for Community” by Christina Fox.


I observe the inmates and see that many have been alienated from community because of addictions, mental health issues and a sheer desperation to survive the only way they know how.  I also observe that for many, they can experience loving community with peers they find in jail.  Sometimes this can be a problem if the others in your community are unable to change their lives and live drug-free, crime-free lives. God’s love for us absolutely needs to be experienced coming through others. God’s love is without strings that enslave and control us.  One of the reasons I volunteer to visit with inmates is to share the love that God has for them especially through knowing about his Son, Jesus Christ.

I finally received another text from Mike.  It read: “Hi, sorry it’s been so long.  I am just about to give up.  I can’t live like this.  I’ve tried my hardest – don’t see any other way. . .”  If there aren’t enough people out there being the kind of person it takes to care about what happens to others then, the outcome has less and less chance of being positive.  I keep praying for him, that someone will show him the the next step of his journey.  

Saving the starfish is such an excellent story about caring.  Here is one version of it:


“One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, ‘I’m saving these starfish, Sir’.The old man chuckled aloud, ‘Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?’The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, ‘I made a difference to that one’”

Certainly human beings are not starfish but until we value each other enough to care about what happens to the least of us, then nothing will change.  Love is the one genuine emotion that we are all capable of.  It is the healing balm that is needed to cure the ills around us.  Loving community is the next frontier and we are the explorers God has perfectly created for that mission. 

Overcoming

rocky_mtn_arsensal_nwr_john_carr_usfws_bison

“It doesn’t make sense that we can admit powerlessness

and still find the power to go on.”  Anonymous

 These words were scrawled in gold-colored ink across the top of a page in The Life Recovery Devotional I had ordered used from the Internet. I am sure of one thing, that the former owner who wrote these words was making a discovery that was going to save their life.  This overcoming awareness is fragile and can only be sustained in a moment to moment mindfulness of being present.  There must be a recognition of our powerlessness and complete submission of will.  “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Deut. 30:19-20 still applies today.  Choosing life is overcoming. 

The rest of the Scripture tells us how to choose life.  “. . . loving the Lord your God, obeying him, holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” 

“Ally was always overweight as a child and teenager.  Her weight was a sore subject in her family, but food was her main comfort for anxiety and depression.  She never felt as though she fit in with others, and her friends seemed to be untrustworthy and two-faced.  Food became her comfort, companion, excitement and recreation.  Over the years, her weight continued to climb until she was hopeless about the possibility of having a slim body.  She would have fleeting periods of weight loss but was never able to make a lasting difference.  Years of self-hatred and feeling marginalized by life made her disbelieve that God could or would help her with her food and eating problems. She struggled for self-esteem and tried many self-help strategies for learning to like herself despite the extra pounds.  When she walked into Overeaters Anonymous, a Twelve Step group for compulsive eaters, she knew that she was powerless over food.  Step One was obvious to her.  But Step Two was to gain enough faith to believe that God could accomplish what she could never do.  As with all of us, Ally’s faith had to grow as she opened her mind to the possibility that God could actually help her with her specific problems.  By talking to a sponsor and other people in the program, she learned to simply believe that God’s power was there and that he was really interested in her food issues.  She began with hesitant faith to ask God to remove this insanity – the obsessive thoughts about food, the time spent bingeing, the negative thoughts about self, and the damaging effects on her body. 

Over time, her trust and belief in God grew as she learned to let go of food one day at a time, follow a food plan, and trust God to help her act sanely around food even when she didn’t feel like it.  By surrendering daily, Ally felt closer to God without the ‘food fog’.  She regained wholeness and sanity around food.”  Taken from “The Life Recovery Workbook” written by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop.

Who of us has not had something to overcome?  At some point, we reach a point that we just relinquish our dreams and hopes and accept a life that’s less than we once hoped for.  When Job in the Old Testament went through the extreme tragedies in one day that’s reported in the account of his life, he couldn’t imagine how God could make his life even better than it was before.  And, when the disciple, Peter, denied knowing Jesus his Lord three times – couldn’t have possibly imagined himself as Apostle Peter serving his Lord to the end of his life with an incorruptible passion and integrity.  If you read any Twelve Step recovery book, you will discover that the whole premise of this extremely successful program is built upon the fact that you cannot overcome the giants in your life without supernatural help –without the help of a higher power.  I have found that having a giant in my life to overcome, shines a much brighter light of awareness on my need for God.   The giants we need to overcome could be seen as a blessing in retrospect.  There is always the possibility, that, dealing with them will bring us, at last, into an awareness and a miraculous relationship with our heavenly Father – our Creator.    Many people will go a lifetime and never understand a dependence on a higher power.  They will never feel the stirring within them of the joy and satisfaction that comes with finally filling the hole in their heart and spirit with the one necessary element that is missing – the God who created them and longs for a place in their life.  Tapping into that greater Mind of awareness is beyond describing with words. It’s like going from seeing a grayscale rainbow to full-on Technicolor!!! 

“Overcoming” is being written for the purpose of recognizing the giants that have literally broken us and have taken us to our knees, laid our souls bare in that absolutely desperate moment of submission.  This is referred to as reaching “the bottom” – or critical mass.  

We come back to the handwritten words “It doesn’t make sense that we can admit powerlessness and still find the power to go on.” Here is where the “letting go” must happen.  Here is where we become a child again, back when we trusted Mom and Dad (or whomever in our life that filled that role) for everything while we played with our cars and dolls and obeyed the rules they gave us to follow because we knew they loved us and we loved them.  At this point, it’s no different reaching out to our earthly parents than to the Parent who already does more for us than we can imagine and has a much better idea for our life especially beyond the desperate moment we’re in.

John 3:16 KJV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  God has already gone that extra mile for us.

I experienced this “letting go” after my divorce from a 25 year marriage.  Child custody issues were becoming one of the many giants in my life. I went day to day, month to month, not knowing when the next court struggle would occur about whom the children will live with and who will have visitation rights.  Five times the court was involved in deciding issues around our four children.  At one point, after their father was awarded physical custody, in what must have been a hopeless state of desperation, I decided that if I was no longer living, our children wouldn’t have to be a part of this ongoing toxic struggle between their parents.  As wrong as it may sound to me today, I made a plan to take my own life.

I went to church the Sunday before I was to planning on taking this final action of my life, and one of my good sisters in the church came up to me and told me: “I know what you’re planning to do and God wants you to know that he has a plan for your life and he will get you through this difficult time”.  This admonition saved my life.  That night as I lay in bed listening to my sixteen year old daughter driving around on icy streets late in the night with her dad’s old pickup, I gave my children to God.  My submission wasn’t because I was giving up but that after that experience of knowing only God could have made my friend aware of what was actually about to go down, I realized how desperate and defeated I had become to be making such risky decisions about life and death for myself.  I knew that I was powerless and that God loved my children more than I could possibly imagine and that he would take care of them better than I could.

 

Everything changed after that.  I approached life in a different way, like a child letting go, with a lot fewer worries because I knew God was taking care of the things over which I had no controlThis Scripture made a lot more sense to me following that difficult time.   He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.” Matt. 18:2-4 NIV

I had a book of daily devotions called “God Calling” that I would read daily and feel the Holy Spirit.  “Believe that I am with you, and controlling all. When My Word has gone forth, all are powerless against it.  Be calm.  Never fear. You have much to learn.  Go on until you can take the most crowded day with a song.  ‘Sing unto the Lord.’ The finest accompaniment to a Song of Praise to Me is a very crowded day.  Let Love be the motif running through all.  Be glad all the time. Rejoice exceedingly.  Joy in Me. Rest in Me.  Never be afraid.  Pray more.  Do not get worried. I am thy Helper. ‘Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.’ You cannot get below that. Rest in them, as a tired child rests.”  January 21, “God Calling”. 

Today, it scares me a little realizing how serious and distraught I was that I would have carried out my suicide plan if God hadn’t intervened.  Normally, that is absolutely not who I am but I now appreciate how devastating the giants in our life can become – to the point of taking our own life.  To this day, I trust God for my grown children’s lives and I enjoy a strong loving relationship with each one of them, respecting their rights to choose who they are but still placing them continually in God’s hands for his direction and protection.  I have found the power to go on because I see the living God working in my life, a life I have fully given over to his will and direction.  I could not possibly have dreamed of the life I have today, with a great husband and family and wonderful friends and doing God’s work with more satisfaction than I can find words to describe.  Yes, he did have a wonderful purpose for my life, one I never would have dreamed of.

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

 

“Jesus looked at them and said,  “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”  John 3:16-21 NIV

 

The Life Recovery Devotional states this about will-power under step one which is “We admitted that we were powerless over our dependencies and that our lives had become unmanageable”: “There’s a struggle going on inside of us – a fight for control.  Our will-power fails us repeatedly.  Where can we turn when we realize that we can’t control ourselves? The apostle Paul says, ‘Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.  Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil (an act counter to our best life – rlf) which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.  And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.  These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. . . ‘But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’. Gal 5:16-17, 22-23.  Self-control is not will power.  It’s not something we get by gritting our teeth and forcing ourselves to ‘just say no’. Self-control is called a fruit.  Fruit doesn’t instantly pop out on the tree.  As the tree grows and seasons pass, the fruit naturally develops.  As we continue to follow God’s guidance, taking one step at a time, our self-control will naturally grow.” Taken from The Life Recovery Devotional written by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop.

 

Jesus Christ didn’t come to earth and sacrifice His life to redeem us and restore us back to God our Creator so that “giants” could come into our lives and strip us of the abundant life He has planned for us. He has assured us that He has overcome the world – our giants. 

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 NIV

 

We were created for a relationship with God.  If you’re not sure about that, read in Genesis about God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve and conversing with them face to face – a great beginning.  When we choose out of love and joy to glorify him through our lives we at last have freedom.  God’s glory and our freedom are intricately connected.

 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (freedom). But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 

II Cor. 3:17-18

 

God is not glorified by our lives if we allow “giants” to dwarf or diminish us in any way and strip us of our freedom.  These giants can be drugs, alcohol, pornography, food addiction, not controlling our anger and emotionally and physically hurting the ones we love, gossip and drama that is destructive to others as well as ourselves, fear, anxiety and pride.  Overcoming giants is the most important and meaningful part of our journey back to God. 

The American buffalo or bison, an amazing creature that once roamed our plains 50 million strong, can teach us much about life.

 

On the website “Friends of Animals”, we find this quote:

The buffalo’s sense of community is astounding. When they travel through deep snow they often walk in single file, the lead buffalo taking on the exhausting work of breaking trail while those in the rear having an easier time walking in the hoof-steps of their herd-mates. When the lead buffalo grows tired he or she will step to the side of the trail allowing a new buffalo to assume the lead and then falling in behind his or her herd-mates on the easier to walk and well established trail through the snow.

When being pursued by wolves a mixed herd of buffalo will form a circle with the stronger and larger bulls facing outward around the outer rim, facing the predators. Calves and weaker, injured, and older members of the herds will be near the center of the circle, protected by the outer rim of outward facing bulls.

Like elephants, buffalo show signs of mourning.   . . . we have witnessed them circling up around a fallen member of the herd and even nudging their heads under and trying to lift the fallen one back onto his feet. On at least one instance we have seen a group of buffalo gather in a circle around the bones of a buffalo that had died in that spot a year earlier. These ‘ceremonies’ are fairly common and are one of many examples of the buffalo’s social structure.” Fighting For Home Where the Yellowstone Buffalo Roam.

 

The American Bison also has instinctive “overcoming” attributes: “In winter the buffalo faces the storms, instead of turning tail and ‘drifting’ before the storm helplessly, as domestic cattle do.”  As an intelligent animal, the buffalo must realize that he can pass through and out of the storm quicker this way rather than being driven by it’s intensity for a much longer period of time.  Facing the storm – or facing our giants – can take an entire emotional and spiritual overhaul of who we are and how we cope with adversity.  Unfortunately, the adversities we deal with can become giants that hang around if we avoid dealing with them due to fear or denial.  Like the storm, they can drive us relentlessly causing us to feel helpless, lost and alone.

In the book of Nehemiah, in the account of the Israelite exiles returning from captivity in Babylon, we read that they were a new generation descended from those who originally were taken captive. They had grown up in captivity. Jeremiah prophesied this for them: So there is hope for your descendants,”declares the Lord. Your children will return to their own land.”  Free now, and living in Jerusalem, they applied the discipline of gratitude that they had learned from their parents in captivity. 

In Nehemiah 9, we read:

“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. 2Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. 3They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God.”

This may sound extreme to us, but evidently they had been taught to place God highly in their lives through disciplined devotion. Most likely they were raised in a climate of remorseful humility by parents who had the rest of their life to accept the consequences of forsaking their God. They grew up knowing why they were being held captive in Babylon and how their ancestors had chosen idols to worship instead of the One Living God who loved and cared for them.  The discipline of gratitude to which they were adhering in their lives at that time was their way of controlling their tendencies to wander away from God like their ancestors had done and had paid a terrible price for the next generation. 

Step four of the Twelve Steps is: “We made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves”.  In other words, “with the help of our higher power we faced the storm”.

 

One woman I know, was going through a divorce from a long marriage of abuse.  The divorce was as extreme and emotionally abusive as the marriage had been.  Her “giants” of stress were literally killing her.  One day, she decided to hang up a sign for her and her teenage son to live by.  This is the sign in part:

In this house . . . There is quiet. Love.  Compassion.  Acceptance.  Understanding. Helping Each Other.  This comes with carrying out our responsibilities we know we have without being reminded by:  Not making others responsible for what we should be capable of doing.  Showing compassion and manners.  Acceptance and understanding of others if we want those feelings reflected on us.  God is the energy in this house, feel it and pass it on by being supportive, kind and always loving.”

 She told me how much it had helped to keep them focused on God and his control over the chaos when they didn’t have any. 

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

James 1:21,25 NIV

 

 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 NIV

According to this Scripture, our good works have already been prepared before hand, the rest is up to us. “Choose life”. 

There are lives in our community who are in peril.  If we could learn to respond the way the buffalo instinctively respond, we would gather around our broken brothers and sisters placing them in the center and we who are stronger would stand looking outward helping them face down their giants. You can rally members of your family to intervene for an imperiled child or other relative with a symbolic circle of love to give support and seek solutions.

A young woman shared her “family intervention” story with me.  She had taken her three children to Christmas dinner with her family.  Her parents took the children for an outing. After they left, her loving aunts and uncles gathered around her and confronted her about her drug use and her “out of control” life.  Because of their love, and tears and prayers she recognized her powerlessness over the drugs and went to a faith-based rehab program where she was able to deal with her giants and return to a drug-free life.  At the time of this writing, she is stable, clean from drugs and waiting for her children to be restored back into her care.  This family’s love through the Holy Spirit carried the day for this young woman.

 

God bless your efforts to help yourself and others. Apostle Paul said: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14 NIV

It is Finished: Restoring Eden

God’s original Plan changed in the Garden. This chapter of Sweetwater Journey lays out through Scriptures and quoted references some of the important events that led up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and God’s intended impact on us.

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“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:31-32 NIV

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them’.” Matthew 13:10-11 NIV

Matthew begins to unfold the events surrounding the change Jesus had began making in his teaching style.  These events would inevitably lead to the cross.  It began with the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, one Jewish sect of religious leaders, over the Sabbath.

In Genesis 2:1-3 we find God’s words about the seventh day which later was called the Sabbath:  Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” 

Then, in Exodus, the commandment for keeping the seventh day holy is given to the Israelites in the wilderness through the Ten Commandments:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11

God was teaching his creation to honor him with a special day of rest – a day without distraction and unnecessary work for everyone: “neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns”.  God sanctified this day for us to rest in him.  Anything we seek to do that honors and glorifies God, also honors and glorifies us as we are at our best when we put him first.

By the time Jesus was born, the religious leaders had made so many rules to observe on the seventh day as to make it an “oppressive inconvenience” according to writer John Macarthur in his book “Parables”.  Macarthur writes: “The main fight they chose to pick had to do with the proper observance of the Sabbath – the symbol of their legalistic system.  The Pharisees fancied themselves specialists and law enforcement officers when it came to strict observance of the Sabbath.  They had overlaid the inspired Old Testament statutes with a long list of petty, manmade restrictions.  They made this their signature issue and they were militant in their attempts to impose an extremely rigorous brand of Sabbatarianism on the whole nation.”

The following Old Testament references focus on the fact that God’s followers tend to keep the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law- which supplants the reason for the law – to transform us to mature spiritually and become more and more like our Creator. This is what is intended by any commandment God gives us.

Isaiah 1:11-17

“’The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ’I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals ;I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me;  I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,  I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.”

Then, God tells them what he wants them to do:

“17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 29:13

“13 The Lord says: ’These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.’”

Also read Isaiah 52:5; Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6.

The following examples of the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law are taken from the New Testament during the time of Jesus Christ. Only part of the reference is presented:

Matthew 12:1-14

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.’  But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, . . .’”

Matthew 23:1-33

“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.. .’”

Luke 11:37-52

“Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. . .’”

Luke 14:1-6

“It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ .. .”

From “Parables”:    “When God finished his creative work, he rested – not because he needed relief or recovery, but because his work was finished.  He then declared the Sabbath holy – as a favor to humanity.  Work is drudgery.  That is a result of the curse humanity’s sin brought upon all creation.  Furthermore, a man left to himself will discover there is no end to all work, and all humanity is urged to enter into the Lord’s rest.  This truth was first pictured in the Lord’s own rest on the last day of creation week. But the full glory of the Sabbath was finally unveiled in the finished work of Christ. (John 19:30)” John Macarthur.

It is important that we understand what worship had gradually become, centered in the life of the Temple – a powerful financial and political machine.  From the complex specifications God had given them in the wilderness for the creation of the tabernacle they moved around for 40 years, came the temple they would build later in the Promised Land.  It was this entrenched institution in the Jewish culture that would be most impacted when Christ came to fulfill the law.

17 “’Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’”  Matthew 5:17-18

During Holy Week, in an act of overflowing rage, Jesus Christ demonstrated his revulsion of what was happening in His House in Matthew 21:12-13:

12 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’  he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’”

By the end of that week, everything would change.  The law and prophecies would be fulfilled.  He could then establish the new covenant with His people and set up His church on earth centered in a personal relationship with God through Him. To understand further what is meant by “It Is Finished”, we need to grasp the immensity of this religious institution that had so much power and control that even the Roman Empire protected it.

The Temple

The first temple built in Jerusalem by King Solomon had been destroyed by the Babylonians around 600BC.  It was rebuilt 70 years later by Israel’s descendants of the Babylonian conquest who had been taken into captivity. Then, after hundreds of years and it had fallen into decay, King Herod rebuilt the temple, completing it just before Christ’s coming. The Temple area at that time was increased to a size of about thirty-five acres.  Around the Temple were double colonnades, a series of pillars 36’ high set at regular intervals to support a roof. Each pillar was hewn from a single stone of white marble.  This created what was called cloisters around the perimeter and were 44’ in breadth. The colonnade that encompassed the Temple was ¾ of mile long.

“There were eight gates leading into the temple. There were the two Huldah Gates or “mole” Gates from the south, which passed underneath the Royal Porch. To the east was the Gate of Susa, still visible as the Golden Gate which was walled up by the Byzantines. In the western wall was the main gate named the Gate of Coponius after the first procurator; it was decorated with the golden eagle as a sign that the Temple had been placed under the protection of Rome. Anyone was allowed to enter the outer area, which was therefore called the Court of the Gentiles. The actual Temple was enclosed by a balustrade, and at the entrances to it were warning notices, one of them is now in a museum in Istanbul. It says that foreigners have freedom of access provided they do not go beyond the balustrade which went all around the central edifice and which no uncircumcised could cross without incurring the death penalty. Fourteen steps led through the Beautiful Gate to the Court of the women where the poor boxes were, into one of which the poor widow cast her two mites (Luke 21:1-4). Another fifteen steps led up to the famous Gate of Nicanor, to which Mary had brought the child (Jesus) at the time of his presentation; this led through the Court of the Men to that of the priests, which had in its center the altar for the burnt offerings and to the left of it a large basin called the Brazen Sea resting upon twelve bulls cast in bronze. Further steps led up to the actual temple, a comparatively small building. (Sources stated that it was around 60 feet high with a 4” thick curtain or veil from top to bottom that divided it. RLF)  A priceless curtain, embroidered with a map of the known world, concealed from view what lay beyond, and none except the priest on duty was allowed to go farther.  It contained the golden altar at which incense was offered and next to it the seven-branched candelabrum and the table with the twelve loaves of shewbread, which were replaced by fresh ones every Sabbath. Beyond it, behind another large curtain, lay the Holy of Holies, which none except the high priest was allowed to enter, and then only on the Day of Atonement. (Another source stated that a rope was tied to the ankle of the High Priest that entered the Holy of Holies on that day in case he was not worthy to stand in the presence of God.  They could then pull his body out with the rope. RLF)  A stone designated the place where once the Ark of the Covenant had stood. Jesus came to the Temple at a very young age and in Solomon’s Porch the boy argued with the rabbis, astonishing them with his questions and with his answers. He remained behind when his parents left, and when his worried mother at last found him he said to her enigmatically: ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2:49). It is one of the most original sayings of Jesus, in which he speaks of God for the first time as ‘avi’ (My Father) which was an expression reserved for the Son of God. Today the Western Wall, the so-called Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the ancient walls of Herod’s Temple;” Taken from “The Jewish Temple in the First Century A.D.” 

It was the Jewish belief that this temple replicated the Temple in Heaven so it is easy to understand why it held such deep spiritual ties to their one true living God. This was the majestic yet looming edifice that was at the center of the Jewish culture in Jerusalem.

A day at the Temple began at daybreak.  A priest on the highest pinnacle was on watch and gave the signal for beginning of services. A three-fold blast from silver trumpets by the priests awakened the city.  The priests were required to be Levites from the tribe of Levi- descendants of Levi, one of Jacob’s twelve sons.  The Jews kept strict lineage records over hundreds of years.  The patriarch of the family was expected to memorize their lineage from Abraham.

The massive Temple gates began to slowly swing open.  “At some time previously, unknown to those who waited for the morning – whether at cockcrowing, or a little earlier or later, the superintending Priest had summoned to their sacred functions those who had ‘washed,’ according to the ordinance.  There must have been each day about fifty priests on duty.  Such of them as were ready now divided into two parties, to make inspection of the Temple courts by torchlight. . . It was scarcely daybreak, when a second time they met for the ‘lot’, (casting lots- RLF) which designated those who were to take part in the sacrifice itself, and who were to trim the golden candlestick, and make ready the altar incense with the Holy Place.  And now morn had broken, and nothing remained before the admission of worshippers but to bring out the lamb, once again to make sure  of its fitness for sacrifice, to water it from a golden bowl, and then to lay it in mystic fashion – as tradition described the binding of Isaac – on the north side of the altar, with its face to the west.  All, priests and laity, were present as the Priest, standing on the east side of the altar, from a golden bowl sprinkled with sacrificial blood two sides of the altar, below the red line which marked the difference between ordinary sacrifices and those that were to be wholly consumed.  While the sacrifice was prepared for the altar, the priest, whose lot it was, had made ready all within the Holy Place, where the most solemn part of the day’s service was to take place – that  of offering the incense, which symbolized Israel’s accepted prayers.  Again, was the lot (the third) cast to indicate him who was to be honored with this highest mediatorial act.  Only once in a lifetime might any one enjoy that privilege.  Henceforth he was called ‘rich’ and must leave to his brethren the hope of the distinction which had been granted him.  It was fitting that, as the custom was, such lot should be preceded by prayer and confession of their faith on the part of the assembled priests.”  Taken from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” written by Alfred Edersheim

This culture was all-consuming in the way it wrapped the people into its layers of strict rules and hierarchal levels.  To stand against this institution meant being ex-communicated.  This was unthinkable at that time.  The following is a quote to help us understand how humiliating and devastating it was:

“Excommunication was commonly referred to in the Torah as ‘herem’.  The Biblical form of excommunicating indicates any person or thing that was removed from the community, because it was made sacred by God perceived as a disgrace before God . . . The Talmud forbids coming within six feet of a person who has been excommunicated.  During medieval times the laws of excommunication could be extended to the family of the person who was convicted of a crime.  Additionally, there existed a weaker form of excommunication, called ‘niddui’ that was applied for only thirty days.  Even the threat of being excommunicated was employed to guarantee the acceptance and submission of the laws.  The rituals surrounding the excommunication of an individual were quite astounding.  The act was first announced by the blowing of the shofar in front of an open ark.  The community would lament, holding black candles as if in mourning.  The congregational leader would proceed to shout Biblical curses at the person being sentenced to ‘herem’ or excommunication.  Finally, a public warning was decreed forbidding all to associate with the convict as the community symbolically smothered the candles.” Taken from “Jewish Virtual Library” website.

A perfect example dealing with this issue is found in John 9:1-41 where the man blind at birth was healed and what happened next when his healing came to the knowledge of the Jewish leaders. 

“13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. ‘He put mud on my eyes’, the man replied, ‘and I washed, and now I see’

16 Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’

But others asked, ‘How can a sinner perform such signs?’ So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, ‘What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’

The man replied, ‘He is a prophet.’

18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 ‘Is this your son?’  they asked. ‘Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?’

20 ‘We know he is our son,’ the parents answered, ‘and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’ 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. ‘Give glory to God by telling the truth,’ they said. ‘We know this man is a sinner.’

25 He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’

26 Then they asked him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’

27 He answered, ‘I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’

30 The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’

34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’

36 ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’

37 Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’

38 Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’

41 Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’”

One morning as I was writing this chapter, I was brought to tears seeing in my mind Jesus walking into Jerusalem and upon catching sight of the grand Temple glistening in the sun, how in His human heart and stomach, He felt that sinking feeling of going up against this symbol of human pride and arrogance and how it was going to play out for Him.  I knew with a surety that only God alone as the Son of God could have gone through what was required to rescue us.

The Mosaic Law

In the wilderness, when God gave the first law to Moses on the mount, Deuteronomy 9, that law may have been much closer to what we had in Eden where we walked and talked to God face to face.  But when Moses came down the mountain and found the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, everything changed.  The first stone tablets were smashed against the rocks.  The law had to be more of a strict schoolmaster version.  He tells us in Jeremiah 31 what his eventual plan would be when we are ready: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them”.

God then gave them the specifications to build the Tabernacle where he could reside with them. The Tabernacle was built with strict rules and observances for them to follow in worship so there were clear guidelines set for them to follow like children. Of course, the detailed rituals that God established were shadows and types of the coming of the Messiah that would at last bring salvation through the shedding of His blood.

The Holy of Holies in the tabernacle/temple interior had a distinct purpose of humbling them and keeping before them the knowledge that God’s holiness was pure and separate, unlike their best efforts to be holy or worthy. Entering the Holy of Holies was entering the very presence of God.  The veil represented the barrier between humanity and God, showing us that the holiness of God could not be trivialized or trifled with and that his eyes were too pure to look upon evil or tolerate sin.  The veil represented that divide that separated us from God since Eden.  It also represented God’s love for us and how he protected us from coming into his presence until we had been redeemed by his Son. What the veil symbolized is very important to the story of our salvation.

If Jesus had not begun changing his manner of teaching by using parables, He might have been killed long before His mission was accomplished.  To fulfill the Mosaic Law, He needed to go through Holy Week and the events of the Passover.

These events were unfolding into the final action being taken by the Creator whose hopes for his creation had been totally waylaid by sin. To us, it would feel a little like the prodigal son’s father who had lost his son temporarily to the world and all of its distractions that could have ended up destroying the child and later, weeping with joy, took his son into his arms and welcomed him home.

The Curse

Jesus’ act of sacrifice was the first step of restoring Eden.  Let us revisit what happened there in Genesis to understand:

“15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest  freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’

18 And the Lord God said,’It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’.

19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” Gen 2 KJV

According to the Scriptural timeline, then, Eve was created. After Adam and Eve broke the one commandment that God gave them, God, who could see the big picture, in his infinite wisdom, which few of us understand, forced them out of Eden before they ate of the Tree of Life and lived forever in their fallen state shut out from his presence.  What a wonderful loving Father he is!  After they left the garden, he placed a curse on them that would extend up until Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice to wipe away the curse, free us and bring us back into God’s presence.

Genesis 3:13-19 KJV

13 “And the Lord God said unto the woman, ‘What is this that thou hast done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat’.

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, ‘Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel’.

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’.

17 And unto Adam he said, ‘Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’”

Richard T. Ritenbaugh writes: “The Bible’s first prophecy contains three major curses, one each upon Satan, women, and men. Or does it? The answer depends on one’s perspective and time reference. Certainly, the curse on Satan seems a mixed bag! Men have either been subject to his deceptions or fiercely waging war with him for six thousand years. Yet it is the struggle of the fight that prepares our character to inherit eternal life. We live in hope and faith that God will see the curse through to its end, the total humiliation and imprisonment of the Adversary. To a woman in labor or to a man sweating out in a field under the sun, God’s pronouncements surely feel like curses. Yet, maybe only moments later, the satisfaction and joy in seeing a healthy baby or a job well done can make it all seem worthwhile. We feel grateful that God has given us such blessings. If nothing else, this should make us think about the “curses” and “blessings” in our lives. Could something terrible turn out for the best? Could seeing “our ship come in” prove our ruin? There is much more to God’s gifts and judgments than meets the eye.”  Bible Tools

It Is Finished

25 “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27 NIV

“33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).Mark 15:33-34 NIV 

It is these disturbing last words that give us pause now to really know our amazing Savior.  Some say that Christ said these words because He felt His Father had abandoned Him as He was being shut out from His father’s presence because He had become the world’s sin in order that it might be destroyed.  The Scriptures counter this observation.

According to Adam Hamilton in his video-talk series titled “Final Words From the Cross” Jesus was actually in prayer, worshipping God with a well-known hymn – especially well known to all the Jews who were standing within earshot of Him on the cross.  Jesus was lifting this catastrophe, His impending death, from a place of darkness into a place of light through prayer and worship.

These words are found in Psalm 22 which actually is an Israelite hymn written by the psalmist David. It is presented here in part.  I hope you will look it up and read it in its entirety.

Psalm 22:1-8 For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;  you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’ I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax;  it has melted within me.My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.17 All my bones are on display;  people stare and gloat over me.18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.  You are my strength; come quickly to help me.20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.”

Some of the Jews within earshot of Jesus speaking these words must have been taken aback when they remember the rest of this hymn and how closely it fit what was taking place before their own eyes.

Further on in verse 22-25 we read that the Father would not turn his face from us in our time of dire need: “’I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;  before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows’.”

Our Savior was glorifying God in His tribulation just as He inspired Apostle Paul to write later in Romans 5:3-5: “ Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

28 “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”  John 19:28-30

The Curse on us for the original sin had finally been broken.  The 4-inch thick veil  that hung in the temple in the doorway of the Holy of Holies where only a single worthy High Priest was allowed to go annually upon the Day of Atonement for the forgiveness of sins, instantaneously  at the time of His death, split from top to bottom.  This was symbolic of God’s work that was finished.  Once more God’s creation had been restored into his presence as the price had been paid. We could return to God ourselves in the new covenant relationship that had been restored to earth through his Son, Jesus Christ. The long dark night of the curse was over.  All aspects of the curse from God’s point of view were erased and the Mosaic Law fulfilled.  And when Jesus arose from the grave the first day of the week, the act of redemption was complete. Death no longer had a grip on us.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”  Gal 3:13

Jesus became a curse for us so we could escape the curse of the law, which is death. He became something he was not, so that we could become something we were not. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Galatians 3:13    “He became sin for us, so that we might be declared righteous through him. Because he suffered what we deserved, he redeemed us from the curse of the law. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.”  I Cor 5:21   Because he suffered death, we can enjoy peace with God.

Restoring Eden through the New Covenant

This was the dawning of a new era on earth.  What God had planned in the very beginning had been restored – walking with us in the Garden and sharing our everyday life with him.  Walking in the new covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

In the upper room, the night before His death, He instituted the New Covenant:  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’.” Luke 22:19-20

Because Jesus had fulfilled the Mosaic Law, the blood offerings of the Temple rituals were no longer necessary.  No more need for massive doors swinging open at daybreak and a veil that takes 300 workers to move around. Jesus Christ is the High Priest who advocates for us now. No more need for a Holy of Holies. His new covenant can be summed up in this quote:  “We are on the threshold of a dispensation to which faith is the only entrance.” (Alfred Edersheim)

The Church that Jesus Christ established during His ministry and is still available to us today, has no walls and has all the aspects of a restored Garden of Eden.  The Early Church reflected this New Covenant:

Acts 4:32-35

“32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” 

Walking with God in the Garden once more, there would be no more worries because Jesus had overcome the world.  Trouble would come but because we have an overcoming Savior, He will be there to help us through it, helping us become more like Him every day. The Scriptures are full of guidance on how He will help us if we just trust Him.

The apostles of the new covenant wrote inspired guidance so that we can transform our lives through the Holy Spirit who is “God with us”. The column of fire by night and the cloud by day that went before God’s people now lives within us.

Romans 7:4-6

4 “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

Romans 8:1-11 NIV

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

Hebrews 6:13-20

1”3 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants’.   15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

If you have read the Genesis description of the original curse, you will see that it still exists today, woven throughout the fabric of our culture in spite of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to do away with it.  This is because God cannot force us to change because we have our own agency.

“The fact that there is a judgment means that God has respect for us and our decisions.  The act of judgment tells us about the character of God and what he expects of us.  It means that our lives, the decisions we make are truly meaningful.” Richard Rupe “Their Ears Were Dull of Hearing” sermon

“17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 1:17-20

We can live in the spiritually restored Eden today. God offers that to us. Isaiah 1:17-20 tells us how. Jesus told us that we have the Kingdom within us.  We are called to live our faith journey in a way that we are declaring to the world that “It Is Finished”.  If we have ears to hear and eyes to see we can find the way back to the Garden.  Imagine yourself running up the Garden lane returning home and you see your Father in the distance with his arms open to you and joyful tears running down his face.  He’s waiting for you and “yes,” there will be a celebration.

“He provided redemption for his people;  he ordained his covenant forever—
holy and awesome is his name.”  Psalm 111:9

Glory

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”      ~ Abraham Lincoln

 Recognizing God’s glory and his irrefutable claim on the ultimate place in our hearts can be a deal breaker for many when it comes to believing or not. I have personally experienced seeing this in people and the inevitable negative fallout that ensues for everyone around them as they continue down a path of unbelief. If they had to share their accomplishments with God, recognize their weaknesses before God or give him any credit for the smallest good thing that they feel only they had accomplished, then they would completely reject the thought of believing in God.

 If we are unable to imagine or think in spiritual terms, we can’t possibly give God his rightful place in our hearts.  “. . . where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21   If we don’t have this spiritual knowing, this supernatural awareness, then, it’s easy to reject even the notion of God.  Having a spiritual comprehension of an entity beyond ourselves that we cannot see, is a gift from God that we receive if we seek him with a faith that can be as small as a grain of mustard seed. This mustard seed of faith can result from receiving a miracle or witnessing God’s love and respect for others in someone’s life.

Writing a chapter about God’s glory is daunting in its scope.  I would want the person who doesn’t believe to at least entertain the possibility that as you look back over your life and can trace a pattern of good events – life altering events – that it could be the evidence of an unseen Force who knows you better than you know yourself to place in your life an even better course of action than the original one you were pursuing. These are miracles. Belief in miracles takes a spiritual consciousness that comes from God when we exercise our faith. It is then up to us what we will do with this awareness. Will we nurture it and allow it to grow or just let it die so we don’t have to be accountable to anyone or anything beyond ourselves. 

The prophet Isaiah, believed in God but he couldn’t possibly imagine the immensity of the living God who called into being, sustained and guided his nation, Israel, till one day during a time of dark uncertainty in his life.  His king, Uzziah had just died of a terrible disease – leprosy- during the final years of his reign. King Uzziah was anointed the king as a youth of 16. He started out well enough in his faithfulness to God and because of that God helped him.  He did many great things for his people and became famous. In II Chronicles 26 we find this recorded about him: “In Jerusalem, he made devices invented for use on the towers and on the corner defenses so that soldiers could shoot arrows and hurl large stones from the walls. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.”  Toward the end of his reign as it descended into ruin, the people had become more and more rebellious against God.  Their land was glutted with idols as they worshipped the deities they made with their own hands. The year was 742BC.  Isaiah was a young man who was faithful to God and as he stood on the threshold of his life’s work, God gifted him with a vision beyond breathtaking, that changed his life: 

Isaiah 6:1-4

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ’Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” 

The following quote helps us understand the impact this experience had on Isaiah’s ministry:

“The vision of the Lord enthroned in glory stamps an indelible character on Isaiah’s ministry and provides a key to the understanding of his message.  The majesty, holiness and glory of the Lord took possession of his spirit and, at the same time, he gained a new awareness of human pettiness and sinfulness.  The enormous abyss between God’s sovereign holiness and human sinfulness overwhelmed the prophet.  Only the purifying coal of the seraphim could cleanse his lips and prepare him for acceptance of the call: ’Here I am, send me!’ . . . (verses 5-6) For Isaiah, the vision of God’s majesty was so overwhelming that military and political power faded into insignificance. He constantly called his people back to reliance on God’s promises and away from vain attempts to find security in human plans and intrigues.  This vision also led him to insist on the ethical behavior that was required of human beings who wished to live in the presence of such a holy God.”  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Another case in point would be Saul of Tarsus in the book of Acts.  He was known as a religious, educated man, yet according to Scripture, God had to forcefully get his attention through an extreme experience and cause him to be blind for three days.  

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. 11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’ 13 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.”  Acts 9:1-22 NIV

The non-believer would see this as a vengeful God who would make someone blind in order to force them to believe.  When the Scriptures talk about darkness into light, not-believing to believing in a miraculous moment, it can be difficult to understand for many who lack spiritual awareness.  The Holy Spirit must be a part of this process.  When you read the scriptures that Paul wrote after that experience, it is obvious that there was a re-born newness of life that Saul experienced to be able to see with new eyes and a new spiritual consciousness. It was through the Apostle Paul and the other apostles that Jesus Christ established His church and the absolute life-giving pattern for us to follow today. 

God’s full impact on our life is beyond our human awareness.  We are unable to imagine the extent of him. 

In 2016, a documentary about the beginnings of the internet was produced by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.  In the 50’s and 60’s a government security program was created.  The computer was the outcome.  In the beginning it filled a room with its size.  Today we can hold that technology in our hands.  The first message sent from one computer to another one 400 miles away was “LO” because the computer system attempting to send the message “LOGIN” crashed before it could be completed.  “Lo and Behold” is the logical name given to this documentary which is in itself a prophetic sign of what was to come.

The Internet’s takeover of the global communication landscape was almost instant in historical terms: it only communicated 1% of the information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks in the year 1993, already 51% by 2000, and more than 97% of the telecommunicated information by 2007. Today the Internet continues to grow, driven by ever greater amounts of online information, commerce, entertainment, and social networking.”  Wikipedia   

The earliest internet directory which had subscribers listed twice, once for their name and once for their address, was around an inch thick. Today, a directory of everyone on the internet would be 72 miles thick.  No one could have possibly imagined something like we have today in the computer and internet and the way it has brought the world together.   

Just as this communication technology has skyrocketed in immensity beyond our imaginations, there are spiritual truths in existence that are incrementally coming into our awareness that we couldn’t possibly imagine with our finite minds, subject to limitations.  Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we cannot grasp the miraculous concepts that God wants to share with us.  I believe that I have only scratched the surface of understanding what and who God truly is. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.  More than anything, God is a loving parent.  He brings us along gently and slowly so that we can absorb all the “ah-hah” and “light bulb” moments he has in store for those who seek to know him and worship him.  If we closely look at the almost invisible world around us that sustains our physical existence, we will find undeniable evidence of kingdoms within kingdoms that have order and are connected to one another through a common Creator.   Even God’s special family, Israel, after all they had seen with their own eyes of their living God, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, he had to plead with them to recognize and choose him:

19  “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NIV

Not just the unbelievers, but God’s own followers have problems with their belief in all things. 

In the last part of “Lo and Behold” Herzog spoke of the possibility and even the next step of the internet was for it to become invisible as it embeds our lives.  The examples that were given were walking into a room and instantly the light, temperature and mood would change to our personal specifications – a futuristic world.  The Amazon Echo that connects you to “Alexa Voice Service” online is one form of the beginnings of that capability.  Toward the end of the documentary, Herzog queried the experts he was interviewing to consider that the world-wide web could dream of itself and the possibility of it having its own consciousness, its own set of rules, something called Artificial Intelligence, something you would long for in an idol you created.  

 I immediately thought of the connection I have with God through his Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, invisible to the physical eye but real with the capacity to give me everything that I need to make me happy and feel fulfilled in ways that are uniquely meaningful to me. 

“. . . my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:19 NIV

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” I Chronicles 29:11 NIV

“You’ve been created by God.  And if that wasn’t enough, you’ve also been created for Him.  As a result, there’s an internal homing device riveted deep within your soul that perpetually longs for your Maker: An internal, Godward magnet pulling your being toward Him.  Stamped in God’s image, we know that there’s something we attach to, something we fit with, someone we belong to, somewhere called home. That’s why we come from the womb equipped for connectivity with God, prewired to praise.  And that’s why, from the youngest age we begin to worship.   We arrive in this world as objects of divine affection, miraculous receptors designed to bring him pleasure.  If only everyone could know we’ve been created by and for God!  If only we could all comprehend that we’re precious to Him, housing mirrored souls designed to reflect His glory.” Taken from “The Air I Breathe” Louie Giglio.

When we talk about glorifying God with our lives it’s important that we understand the Hebrew meaning of “glory”.

Steven C. Hawthorne has a blog online and has written “The Story of His Glory”.  I would recommend that you find it online and read it.  He offers the Hebrew understanding of “glory”:

“Don’t be thrown off by the religious-sounding word ‘glory’. Glory is the relational beauty that every person’s heart yearns to behold and even to enter.  The word ‘glory’ in scripture refers to the essential worth, beauty and value of people, created things and, of course the Creator Himself.  The Hebrew word for glory is a word meaning weight, substance, and at the same time, brilliance or radiant beauty.  To glorify someone is to recognize their intrinsic worth and beauty, and to speak of the feature in a public way. To glorify God is to praise or to speak of Him openly and truthfully.  Glory is at the heart of true worship throughout the Scriptures: ‘All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord; and they shall glorify your name.’ Psalm 86:9.. . When we look at it all from God’s viewpoint, the grand love story finally makes sense: God is not just loving people.  He is transforming them to become people who can fully love Him.  God is drawing people as worshipers to offer freely to Him their love-inspired glory.  God can be loved only when He is known. That’s why the story of the Bible is the story of God revealing Himself in order to draw to Himself obedient worship, or glory, from the nations.  With God’s passionate love at the core, the Bible is truly the story of His glory. . . The rationale for mission seems simple enough: Since God is supreme, every creature should bow down in subjection.  But can this really be the logic at the center of the universe?  Our hearts won’t buy it.  There is something more.  The Scriptures are loud about the truth that God is love.  God calls people to love Him with all that they are.  Where is God’s love, and ours, in response?”   Hawthorne

In this writing, Hawthorne makes the point about our ultimate salvation – that it is not to be seen in terms of what we are saved “from” rather what we are saved “for” that really matters. 

Some people still get hung up on God being a “jealous” God.  “ Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.  For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:23-24 NIV    “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”  Isaiah 42:8 NIV 

There is an interesting story in the book of I Samuel 5 that dramatically demonstrates these references. “After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.” I Samuel 5:1-5

God will not share his glory with the idols we create to take his place.  Every plague in the Exodus story of Moses was meant to fly in the face of every god that Egypt had created with their own hands to worship.  1. Water into blood – “Hapi” – god of the Nile; 2. Frogs – “Heket” – god who looked like a frog was their god of fertility;  3. Lice –  “Geb” – Egyptian god over the dust of the earth; 3 & 4 Flies and gnats – “Khepri”- Egyptian God of creation, movement of the Sun, rebirth, had the head of a fly and “Sekmet” goddess of power over disease. 5. Death of cattle and livestock – “Hathor”-Egyptian Goddess of Love and Protection, usually depicted with the head of a cow; .6. Boils and sores on livestock and Egyptian people – “Isis”- Egyptian Goddess of Medicine and Peace Egyptian Plague; 7. Hail and fire – “Nut” Egyptian Goddess of the Sky; 8. Locusts from the sky – “Seth” god of storms and disorder and “Osiris” god of crops and fertility;  9. Three days of complete darkness – “Re” The Sun god – the pharaoh was considered to be the son of “Re”;  10. Death of the Egyptian first born – “Min” – god of reproduction and “Isis” goddess who protected children.  Again, God will not share his glory with the idols we create to take his place.

Now, we ask the important question -Does God share His glory with us? Internet  blogger Jeremy Penwarden offers this answer:

“God has said, ‘I will not give My glory to another’. This scripture is taken by many and twisted out of its context to make many other scriptures a lie. I recently saw the following quote which prompted my writing of this blog: ‘Now get this clear: the vessel never becomes the liquid, nor the liquid the vessel. I add this because we humans are so proud that there creeps into us the idea that we can be deified. That is blasphemy. There is no such thing as self-deification, except that of Satan, the pseudo-God, and what we share with him. The divine can dwell in the human, but forever the human is the human and the divine the divine. God has said, “I will not give My glory to another. That is the vital importance of the vessel illustration: we are forever the container; He is that which we contain. That relationship never changes.’  Norman Grubb –The Key to Everything.  (Penwarden’s response) Moses’ face shone so bright with the glory of God that he had to wear a veil [Ex 34:29-34]. God seems to be happy to share his glory with Moses. Then we have John 17:22. ‘The glory that you have given me I have given to them’.  Jesus (God) giving His glory to us. What is the verse quoted above? Isaiah 48:11. But what is the context? From verse 1 God is talking about the things he did. Then he says in verse 5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ So here the contrast is between saying God did it or my idol did it. Clearly the idol is the ‘another’ God will not give his glory to.  Now consider Isaiah 60:2: ’For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.’ God’s glory will be seen upon us – maybe it’s just lent to us and not given? Another scripture to consider is Rom 8:16-17 ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be GLORIFIED with him.’  Now let’s consider if we remain mere human. John 1:12 those who believe are given the right to become sons of God, NOT born of flesh but of Spirit. . . .And not a mere container separate from the content – 1 Cor 6:17 ‘But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.’ So we are in Christ – 2 Cor 5:17 again calls us IN Christ – so He is the container and we are the contained, yet Col 1:27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  So He is in us, we’re in Him and we’ve so joined with him that the two can never be separated.  And yet again, we have Christ in US our hope of glory – clearly the glory of God being given to us – unless we claim that the Christ in us has first been stripped of His glory!!!  2 Cor 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another – for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Here Paul is remembering Moses’ face shining with the glory of God. It comes from the Lord, so God is doing this – transforming us into the image of the glory of God in an increasing way. I am NOT forever a container – I am forever a son of God.”  Jeremy Penwarden

The Scriptures are clear that God has created us with a purpose to not only glorify him with our lives but to be endowed with his glory as we transform into the new creatures spoken of in II Corinthians 5:17 NIV “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Especially, throughout the Old Testament, God makes it quite clear about how he feels about his creation especially in his interaction with Israel.  For a better understanding, read about his love for Israel, and how they were intended to display to the world who he truly is and draw the world to him through their faithful living.  Isaiah 43:1–7:

“But now, this is what the Lord says—  he who created you, Jacob,

 he who formed you, Israel: ’Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you;  I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, ‘It is true’ ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.” Isaiah 43:1-10 NIV

 “Glory” has been written for many purposes but one important one is to raise the spiritual intelligence by dispelling the fear message of hell-fire and brimstone, a God of anger and vengeance, a God who wants to use shame, guilt and fear to keep us under control and on the right path.  When John the Baptist called everyone to repent – repent and be baptized- we need to consider what he meant by this.  In his time the Greek definition of “repent” or “metanoia” the Greek word, had a much deeper meaning than just turning from your sins.  “It doesn’t mean just being sorry for doing bad things, it means to “go beyond the mind into a larger mind – the heart and mind of God.”    These are the words that Reverend Maggie Kramer at the Raymondville UMC used to present this concept and further stated that “God is inviting you to a new way of feeling, seeing and hearing”.  When Christ was baptized, the heavens opened and God’s Spirit descended like a dove to show the world that “Here I am, coming into your life so you can become the new creation that I created you to become, filled with my Spirit, no longer looking back at the old life weighed down with guilt, regret and shame but co-creating with me and sharing my glory.”  Only the message of the unmerited grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can reach the heart that cannot see and has not felt the quickening of the Spirit.  That message is most powerful when it is witnessed in our lives for the unbeliever to see and experience.  That is when it becomes real. “Each of us is connected in the inner man (being) to a vast sea of consciousness – the Spirit – it is called.  We were in the beginning with the Father, that which is Spirit. From beneath the deeps in this vast sea of consciousness by which we are connected to every other human being –whether we are conscious of it for not – our connection with every other human being comes to our consciousness only when we are born again and when we see clearly our relationship with our heavenly Father, which in turn induces an understanding of our essential relationship and involvement with our fellow man.” Arthur Oakman, author and minister.

 “Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he;  I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,  and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together . . .  “Come near me and listen to this: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.”And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, endowed with his Spirit. This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be blotted out nor destroyed from before me.” Isaiah 43:11-19 NIV

The life and words of Jesus Christ have transformative power for the seeker because Jesus has a heart for that person who feels misunderstood, unfairly treated and is a victim of those who abuse their power to be lifted up in the eyes of the world, many times in the name of religion. Jesus says “But many [that are] first shall be last; and the last first.”  Mark 10:31 NIV

In John 17, in Jesus’ prayer to His Heavenly Father regarding his disciples then and now, He clearly states God’s intention for His creation:

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”  John 17:16-23 NIV

It is my prayer that we will be the message of glory and unmerited grace for everyone in our life – our family, our co-workers and our community as we live out daily the kingdom of God that has been placed in us.  It is the only Way. 

“1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.”  Psalm 98 NIV

Sweetwater Networks

Whoever believes in me . . ., rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John 7:38 NIV

Today, with 20/20 hindsight, it is hard to imagine the traditional Passover in Jesus’ day and what it had become by the time of the very hour it was to be finally fulfilled in the actual death and sacrifice of the true Lamb.  The Hebrew Passover was instituted by God around 1300BCE when the Israelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt.  Everything about the celebration denotes types and shadows of the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ around 33AD.   It is written of that day and I quote from God’s Plan of Salvation written by author, Richard Rupe:  “Jesus the Lamb of God, was crucified on the day of Passover.  At 9 o’clock that morning as lambs were being prepared for sacrifice, Jesus was nailed to the cross. Then at 3 o’clock as the people are singing praises to God that echo throughout the hills of Jerusalem, the lambs are being slaughtered.  At the same moment, as the shouts of ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise ye the Lord’ ring out on the hill called Calvary, Jesus died.”

Today, as we wait for Christ’s return, it is important that we sort out what we have become spiritually.  Are we like the loyal Jews, preoccupied with the symbolic “slaughtering lambs and preparing the Passover meal” according to our beliefs and not realizing that our praise and preparations have become empty without any true personal depth or principle? And as we go through the motions of “church” are we aware that somewhere in our community by our sins of looking the other way, Christ is being crucified over and over again, never resurrecting, always in a state of dying?  It is interesting to note here that as part of the Passover tradition, the Hebrews were required to bring the lamb that was going to be slaughtered into their homes to live with them for three days before the actual day of the slaughter.  It appears that a feeling of personal loss was meant to be experienced when the lamb died at their hands, as it was no longer just another animal to be butchered from the flock.  

I observe this state of spiritual dying in our communities every day among the disenfranchised due to poverty, mental illness and drugs.  Sometimes when I am working with the inmates at the jail, I feel so helpless to bring them anything that will make a lasting change in the system of justice and for them personally.  One woman lifted my spirits one day by saying, “You are helping us, you give us encouragement.” 

Sometimes I forget how powerful the sweetwater is that flows from those who believe and seek Jesus among the suffering to offer its healing properties.  This living sweetwater that I have been writing about since July, 2013 is everything.  When Christ came, He didn’t destroy corrupt systems that exploit the vulnerable or make everyone rich and in perfect health, He blessed those who came to Him and sought Him out.  He gave them living sweetwater that they couldn’t find anywhere else.  And then, He made the ultimate sacrifice for us and gave His life that we might have that sweetwater forever. 

 “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”  Revelation 21:6 NIV

What is conditional is that the sweetwater must flow from a true believer to the seeker in order for it to have the powerful living properties it takes to heal and resurrect those who thirst after it.

This is how God intended for it to work.  That we would take on the image of Christ and that the living water that comes from Him would flow from each of us to benefit those who were seeking it.   This water flows from those who are loving, caring people who share their testimonies and are without thought of their discomfort or social status or concern for what others who protect and maintain the status quo might think of them.  They are the ones who follow Jesus into the places where only He would go to share the living sweetwater and lift others up and yes, be Him.

 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jer. 2:13 NIV

God continually had this problem with the Israelites.  The prophet Jeremiah uses a common image in that time of the cistern to help them realize the difference.  Today, we know about the catch pond that is not spring-fed.  Most farms in the Ozarks have one or two of them.  They are full to the brim in the rainy season and are dried up in the dry season with no ongoing living source of water to keep them replenished.

Right now, in the spring of 2016, we are in a very difficult time with the presidential election going on.  It appears that many are giving up on being and doing the right thing as Christ taught us to do.  Many are angry and no longer see the results of working together for the common good.  Many are rising up in anger and dropping civil proprieties. Many are thinking only about what they want and how they want it to be to serve themselves.  Divisive rhetoric and acts of hate are on the rise, visibly unchecked, stirring up the selfish side of our egos.  This climate of hate, prejudice and selfishness that is erupting in violence and division that we are hearing and seeing now on our TVs everyday, unfortunately always exists.  It isn’t just now occurring.  What we are seeing is the dark side of our dual nature. Everyone has a dual nature.  It is part of the sinful nature that is within each of us.  In the Native American tradition, there is a proverb that defines this duality as two wolves inside us and the one that lives is the one we feed.  As followers of Christ it is up to us to ask Jesus for help in controlling it for the sake of the common good and eventually rising above it as we spiritually transform.  It has no place in God’s Kingdom where everyone is equal with opportunities for every gift of talents that God has given to his creation.  Hate has no place in God’s kingdom, but again, if we hear leaders tell us it’s okay to hate and be prejudiced and take action accordingly, what else can we expect but to act that way. There are many important Scriptures that teach us about the side of our nature we are meant to transform through our belief in Jesus Christ. And there are many references that tell us that the wrong that is done in secret will be brought into the light for all to see.

Job 24:13,15,17 (NIV) “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths… The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed… For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”

 

 

Isa 29:15-16 (NIV) Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!… Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?”

Ps 139:7,11-12 (NIV) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me…” the night will shine like day….

Jer 23:24 (NIV) “Can anyone hide in the secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Jer 16:17 (NIV) “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”

Mat 10:26-27 (NIV) “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops.”

Mark 4:22  “For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light.”

1 Cor 4:5 He will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.

We are in times now that are spoken of in the Scriptures as fulfillment of prophecy.  Jesus’ voice is still crying out “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink;” John 7:37, but his voice is being drowned out by other voices appealing to our sinful natures to hate and get what you want at the cost of others well-being.

In the midst of this toxic national climate that is gripping our attention and making us, like Peter, feel like we are sinking and lost as we become afraid of the crashing waves and storm all around us, there are many good things happening.  Jesus is still working among us to teach us to love one another and to become constantly more creative about ways to help each other.  In fact, this positive climate is growing in spite of what’s happening among the masses all over.  Love is so powerful.  I see it in action everyday.  It is love that transforms everything.  Every outcome that is influenced by love will be different than anything you can possibly imagine.  Bring love to bear on every circumstance for the right outcome.

As a representative for Christos House, I am blessed to attend two interagency meetings, one in Texas and one in Wright counties every month.  The comradery that we enjoy when we come together is inspiring.  Our time together is up before we know it.  In fact, in Texas County, we have set the meeting to start earlier so we have more time.  These groups are the basis for Sweetwater Networks.  Each group comes to the table to talk about their programs that are available at that time and how to access them for the community members of our counties.  Sweetwater Networks will focus on the positive that’s happening around us. 

Remember, as time moves closer to Christ’s coming, the Scriptures promise that our choices will become more black and white.  Everything that once was bad will be good.  Everything that once was good is now bad.  Even the political climate right now is serving that purpose.  What once was said and done in secret, we now hear and see blatantly out in the open uncontrolled.  With knowledge and assurance of what Jesus Christ is about, we will weather this and our work of loving acts will be more powerful than ever for those who are seeking transformation in their lives. 

Hate and prejudice takes a terrible toll on one’s spirit.  There is no living water as a source within that condition.  Their source comes from cisterns of stagnant water.

I almost don’t know where to start in sharing with you all the good things that are happening in our counties.  It is important for us to start with the state of Missouri as it relates to the rest of the nation.  In the latest Kids Count statistics, there is ratings for each state in the nation in four domains of well being for children.  Missouri rates 24th for Economic; 30th for Education; 27th for Health; and 29th for Family and Community.  In 2015, Missouri ranked number 50, which is last, for welfare reform. Rising above this rating in our state congress will take a will  and understanding that when everyone has opportunities, our communities thrive.  The God we serve uses words like “abundance” and “generosity”.  

II Corinthians 9:13

By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,”


I Timothy 6:17-19 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Proverbs 11:24

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”


There are statistics readily available online, that tells a story of great need in Texas and Wright Counties.

The first one will probably be enough to create the picture as it truly is.  Texas County Food Pantry served nearly 700,000 pounds of donated and purchased food and USDA commodities in 2015. This number is nearly double for all of the food distributed from food banks in Texas County in the 2013 Report from the Missouri Hunger Atlas. 24.7% of families with children in Texas County have food uncertainty.  There were 783 monthly participants in the Women, Infants and Children or WIC program provided by the county health departments in 2013. In Wright County, 25.8% of the families with children have food uncertainty with 849 monthly participants in WIC. Changes in federal and state welfare laws taking effect April 1 will cut off food stamp benefits to 30,000 Missourians and is expected to deepen poverty and hunger.  Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford of Empower Missouri is concerned that there will be an even greater dependency on food pantries already strapped.  Mott Oxford also stated that Missouri ranks second in the nation in the number of people without enough food to eat. (Reported in the Houston Herald- March 31, 2016 issue)

In 2015, the Pantry also provided over $130,000 in emergency assistance for housing and utility bills to both Texas and to Wright (which began later in the year).  Emergency assistance is just an immediate band aid to keep the crisis in check for that day or month.  That’s all.  It doesn’t do enough to change people’s future or how they manage their lives.  The directors of the Pantry that I have known in the last 12 years continue to lament that they would like to do more about permanent life-style changes in those who they serve, but for some of their patrons, if the Pantry wasn’t’ there as an immediate safety net, their situation would become far worse.  Due to the donations during the holidays to the red kettles in Texas County, the Pantry has discretionary funds that can be targeted to more specific needs that can make permanent changes in people’s lives. Other statistics  that give us a better picture of the need I observe in our communities are:   Texas County has $17,868 per capita which is arrived at by dividing the total income of all people 15 years old and up in the county by the total population in that area. Texas County has 21.4% below poverty level.  Wright County has $14,752 per capita with 27.5% below poverty level. In my experience with the nearly 200 families Christos House served in Texas and Wright in 2015, single parent/single income families with a parent and two teenagers, 15 and over, are not making $44K or $53K per year.  These figures show the vast disparity between those who are in poverty and those who are not. 

At one of the interagency meetings, a Division of Family Services’ representative agreed that poverty is one of the main underlying causes in most of the cases where children are removed from the home.

I have begun meeting with a “think tank” of concerned community members of the wePRAY Ladies in Texas County, who come together to help create a path forward for one person, one family at a time.  At one meeting, I expressed that one of the residents who I was working with from the Christos House Shelter was in need of a computer as she had an interest in working with E-Bay as a possible business.  One of our group sitting next to me, stated that she had a computer she didn’t need as she had just purchased a new one.  The client who received the computer, came to the think tank meeting the next month to express her appreciation and talk a little about what she was already accomplishing by having it.  She was working on learning the E-Bay process of selling online and had gotten approved for government grants and loans so she could attend an online college for a social work degree. The members of the group were able to ask for her opinions about certain ideas we were considering with which to help a family.   

Our latest endeavor is to help a young woman with the tuition she needs to be enrolled in the Church Army rehab program in Branson, now called The CORE for a heroin addiction she has had for all of her adult life, since her teens.  CORE stands for Communities of Recovery Experiences. When I was at the jail for the Women Rising group, at some point a corrections’ officer came and got her to meet with her lawyer.  She grabbed up the letter of support I had written for her to be presented to the court suggesting the option of The CORE as an appropriate sentence and ran out with a beautiful smile filled with hope.  The court may or may not accept this option but we felt she deserved the chance that we had within our grasp to give her.  Four donors gave $32.50 each to put with the Pantry donation for the $330 it would take for the tuition for one in this valuable program.

Our interagency meetings are exciting in the ways we can share what our programs do for the people who really want to change their lives.  When you are faced with daunting caseloads as so many of the agencies are, it is best to focus on what you are doing in the individual lives of those who are successfully using your services. 

Children’s Division has a new program called Family Centered Services where they are working with families who are hotlined – reported to the abuse line.  Even if the abuse is not substantiated there may be a need for services to keep the family intact.  They are providing a caseworker for an intervention that will help keep the family intact.  This is a change in their policy and a new future direction which is greatly needed.

CASA of Southwest Missouri (Court Appointed Special Advocates) motto is “ordinary people doing extraordinary work”. The CASA volunteer coordinator, Leigh Ann Sigman, has trained 45 CASA volunteers since 2014.  At the time of this writing, in the 25th Judicial District which includes four counties, there are 330 children needing advocates, one per child. As this program grows and more people become involved in these children’s lives and see the need as the statistics reflect, there will be gradual change. 

I compare the work we do to a glacier.  It may move only a few inches forward per year but nothing can stop it.  As it moves, it changes and reshapes the overall landscape, leaving behind something new and different. 

At the Texas County Food Pantry, Dana McGuire and Anita Collins from the University of Missouri Extension Family Nutrition Education Program provide nutrition information for the patrons who come to pick up food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Dana and Anita also provide nutrition programs in the schools and to groups who make requests.

I’m working with the Pregnancy Resource Center and Newborns in Need currently in Wright County for a young woman who needs everything in preparation for the coming of her baby this year.  This is definitely an area where anyone who is Pro-Life can actively be a part of helping meet this need.  There are so many agencies in the Sweetwater Networks that I work with, it is impossible to name everyone who is working hard to make a difference.  

Right now the annual project called Project Homeless Connect is building momentum at our meetings.

 

 

The following is a quote from the project’s website:  

“Project Homeless Connect is being planned for (Jefferson City) – The Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, along with Missouri Housing Development Commission, has selected Howell County as the 2016 Project Homeless Connect host community. The Project Homeless Connect committee of the GCEH will specifically be organizing Howell County’s first Project Homeless Connect event, which will take place sometime in 2016. The event will serve as a single access point on one day for homeless individuals and families to receive assistance and services including access to shelter/housing, dental/medical check-ups, access to obtaining photo identification/birth certificates, food, clothing, access to mainstream benefits, and other quality of life services. West Plains and Howell County will be the eighth host city for the committee since the PHC’s inception in 2008. Group officials say Project Homeless Connect is a national best practice model that has been planned and proven effective in cities throughout the United States.”

There will be a great need for volunteers on that day and transportation for homeless individuals who could take advantage of this opportunity for services.  Churches will be an important asset with volunteers and church vans to transport individuals.  Check out the Facebook page for this project to be held on September 27, 2016 at the Civic Center in West Plains.

The Samaritan Outreach Center in West Plains presented their program in February in Houston at the TEAM meeting.  Director Penny Alverson is dedicated to keeping this program viable.  The Center does random drug tests to make sure their residents are complying with the rules.  Right now, she is part of the group spearheading the 2016 Project Homeless Connect in West Plains. 

Also in regular attendance to our meetings are long-time programs like Houston Lion’s Club, who are celebrating their 75th year in 2016; Ozark Action – CAP (Community Action Program), Ozark Independent Living, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, our county health departments and hospice programs, again, to name a few. 

Currently, in Texas County another area pregnancy resource center will be opening this spring called Southwest Pregnancy Resource Center.  The Center in Mountain Grove that has been in operation since 2009 reports that in 2015 they served 200 clients: 73 enrolled in classes for parenting and Bible study to mention a few of their offerings; 26 babies were born in 2015 to the ongoing family base they serve.  To date since ’09 they have served 715 clients.  I am privileged to lead classes from time to time on codependence, boundaries, domestic abuse and parenting, etc. with an occasional fun craft project.   

Christos House works with many agencies for social change. Just this week, Carla Johnson, Director at the Cabool Housing Authority, and I sat down with a client to help her put together a plan forward for her and her family which included finishing college and finding needed resources that would help her to eventually become totally independent.  Carla in Cabool, Anita Kennedy in Houston and Becky Friend in Mountain Grove who are excellent in providing care and on occasion tough love with residents who need direction and support.

What feels like a trickle of sweetwater, the living water that Jesus Christ spoke of, can become a deluge of needed change if we tenaciously focus on the one to one approach in a climate of extreme need.  There are many other programs that I’m aware of that are not being mentioned in this writing, but the representatives who attend our Team meetings are very committed to making a difference in our communities.  It is my prayer that we can increase our volunteer pool through sharing the good news of all the advances being made by people spreading sweetwater as professionals and average citizens in each community. If you feel like you are being called to do something in your community, make it a matter of daily prayer.  Take action led by the Spirit that resides in each of us, to share the sweetwater you are being given.  The Source is endless.  The need is endless.  We welcome you to attend the interagency meetings and become acquainted with the opportunities there are to serve.  It can be on any level you want for time and specific terms of commitment.  You can check with Jen Russell at the Texas County Health Department and Karla Meiser at Hospice Compassus in Mountain Grove for meeting times.

I am happy to report that the court did approve of the option of The CORE for the woman who is a recovering heroin addict, and tomorrow, March 31, John and I are picking her up in Springfield to take her to the facility in Branson. This is only her next step forward in a long journey ahead for a lifetime of sobriety.  I recommend the recovery programs that are being offered throughout our counties. I can always use recovery Bibles to offer inmates who I presently serve.

I work closely with the Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and jail administrator, Pam Tripp and her staff to improve the lives of the inmates who are seeking ways to change the destructive patterns. 

 If you have a project going on that you’re involved in that is meeting a community need, I would like to hear about it.  Love through community service is the most powerful force we have to change the unchangeable. God bless the individuals, civic groups, social agencies and churches who are meeting the challenges through the love of Jesus Christ.

 

 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55:1-2 NIV

The Process

Orb spider web; J Schmidt; 1977

It was the Friday afternoon gathering of a task force I was facilitating. We were in the fact-finding stage, brainstorming to narrow down some of the possible purposes that this ministry being created would serve, when one in the group spoke up about her fears of going forward and everything falling through due to lack of commitment. She was serious. This was a challenging undertaking. At this early stage it was built on a dream that felt like spider webs and gossamer wings. I shared a personal philosophy I will call “The Process” that I have come to trust when all you have is a burning desire that you were called to a work that had not been defined yet, let alone have shape and direction. Many times all I would know is what the work was not, more so than what it was. I described how I had learned to not force it or become discouraged but to let it gradually come together one piece at a time. We, so many times think we must have the whole picture before we begin but that is not how God works. The work we do for God is as much about our growth and change then the end product itself. As the work unfolds, God is also having to work with the hearts of others who are called and then they must choose to respond to the leadings of his Holy Spirit. This takes time. When he has our attention, he then creates the perfect opportunities for people to find each other and come together with their piece of the great mosaic this work will eventually become – all in his time, not ours.

Because it is his work and the participants have faith in The Process, then gradually it happens. It may take months or even years but, again, remember it is the pilgrimage that is most rewarding and the pilgrim who is growing in faith walking it.

In “The One-Effect” chapter in Volume III, I describe my initial learning of how God works when you are called to do something you cannot imagine you have any business doing. It took God years to help me build confidence around faith. Our lack of confidence in ourselves can waylay a project so that someone else has to step up to do it if it happens at all.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I had an opportunity in the ‘80’s to provide services and food to Nebraska farm families in crisis. I was part of one of those families in need. What started out to help my own family turned in to the work I do today. I could not begin to see the path on which that decision would place me.

So often we see ourselves as lacking the credibility or authority to take on something we know in our heart God is calling us to do. Just remember, God gives us the authority we need. It’s his work.

3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3

This is such a powerful insight. It is easy to respond when we can see all the tools we will need to accomplish our project. God calls us to do things that seemingly must come out of thin air. That’s how he works and we are his creation who partner with him to bring it about.

God speaks to us through the Scriptures. There is a beautiful reference in Hebrews 11 that is lengthy but appropriate for learning about The Process. I have included a small part of it. I hope you will read the rest.

Hebrews 11:1-13 (NIV)

Faith in Action

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

According to this reference, you may only see the success of your efforts in the distance but never stand on the podium and receive the medal. This is faith with confidence in action.

When I write, I think of all the people who might be reading Sweetwater Journey and are seeing a problem in their community to which God is privately calling them to respond. I know this is true because it happened to me. I wasn’t fully aware until I was personally faced with the problem. What started out as an effort to protect my pride turned into a life of service. That’s okay; God can still use us regardless of our initial, even selfish motives.

“I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born;

But I protested, ‘Oh no, Lord, GOD! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth'” (Jer. 1:5-6). 

The prophet Jeremiah was full of excuses like so many before and after him as to why he couldn’t do what God wanted. At the core of faith, is trusting God with our lives because he has a better and bigger plan.

From an experience in the past, I learned “The Process” very well as I had to count on God for everything. Recently, I had an experience that reminded me of that time. I was sitting outside MFA waiting for John to come out and I noticed a few sparrows hopping around enjoying the bounty of the sprinkling of grain they had found on the cement loading dock. I thought of Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

In the ‘80’s, I created a food pantry for farmers. I was a single parent by then and had to work several jobs to make a living. As I began working on collecting food for the monthly distribution to 40-100 families per month, I discovered that I didn’t have to worry about where the food was going to come from. It was always there.

I was reading the entries in my activity sheets from that time and found an ongoing record of food or money for food being donated. The entries read in part: received 400 pounds of canned goods from local Boy Scouts; nearly 1700 cans were donated from a pantry; 300 oranges and 400 pounds of fresh chicken; 8000 lbs of food purchased from the Omaha Food Bank at ten cents a pound; and holiday turkeys from Farm Aid for 100 families. Food donations came from as far away as New York and Washington, D.C. as Heartland Food Pantry for farmers who raise our food was making the newspapers and magazines across the country and across the ocean to England.

So, that day, I had great confidence in assuring the task force that God’s outcome was going to be something we couldn’t begin to imagine. But to prepare us for that outcome, we have to go through growth steps of learning, sometimes through mistakes we will make. But God will enlighten our understanding little by little, grace upon grace, as we allow him into our lives.   I wanted them to know that spider webs and gossamer wings were enough if God was involved.

1 Peter 1:7-10 (NIV)

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The following reference in Hebrews 11 is about the nameless Christians who made choices to follow Christ and live His message regardless of the price:

35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

I Peter 5:7-10

7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers (and sisters) throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

We teach our children about all the exciting elements of David and Daniel in their church school class but unless they see those strengths in us, they are hollow and our children quickly grow out of embracing the lesson for their own lives. The Davids and Daniels today are still fighting giants and lions that are waiting to devour them. In our communities, or even our church community, if we challenge the status quo we may feel like we are on the battlefield or in the lion’s den. The definition for “status quo” is: the current situation, the way things are. The status quo or the way things are may serve a certain political or social agenda in your community but be out of touch with the needs of a community where everyone is empowered to grow and participate. You may be seeing this in your community and be needed as a key player to bring about change.

Romans 8:23-39(NIV)

23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I Corinthians 16:13 counsels us to “Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong.”

I Peter 1:21 “Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And because God raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory, your faith and hope can be placed confidently in God.”

 

Imagine our communities where programs are being implemented through faith in “The Process”.

 

Restore the Joy

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12 NIV

There are times we feel stagnant in our spiritual life as if instead of springs of living sweetwater continually refreshing us, we are drinking from cisterns or catch pools. The prophet Jeremiah was constantly trying to bring Israel back to God, chastising them for their idolatrous ways of worshipping false gods. In Jeremiah 2:13 we find these words from God: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns that can hold no water.” Even the limestone the Israelites dug out to catch rainwater had to be waterproofed with plaster so that the water didn’t seep away. There is no replenishing spring in a cistern. Many times they would have to drop in large clods of dirt to take the scum that was building up on the top to the bottom. This water was not fit to drink.

Cisterns in the earliest times of the Bible were used to store rainwater. Bible History Online describes them as usually pear shaped, and 15 to 20 feet deep, and the actual opening was only 2 to 3 feet. There was usually a stone cover for reasons of safety and keeping the debris out. Cisterns could be large or small; large enough to store water for the community or small and privately owned. They were like wells of water, which could be hoisted up with ropes and a bucket. It was common in the Midwest in earlier times for families to have cisterns where they could catch rainwater for washing clothes and bathing. Today, because our atmosphere is polluted, so is the rainwater.

In Psalm 51:12, David was seeking mercy and forgiveness for one of his many grievous sins that had taken away the joy and peace God’s promised salvation had given him. He sought restoration. By asking God to create in him a clean heart, he recognized that he was the cause of his spiritual drought. God doesn’t withdraw from us, we withdraw from him by taking a divergent path to do our thing. We no longer drink from his fountain of living water.

When Job was at his lowest point from the losses he had suffered, and I’m sure praying for God to restore the joy, he recognizes how majestic is God:

Job 12:7-10 NIVCreation Showing God’s Nature

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. “Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. “Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”

As the spirit moved Job in his tormented state to praise the majesty of God, he was also seeking comfort and learning in the natural world around him- the only sure thing he had left. I, too, am becoming more and more aware by observing creation especially the coming of spring, of just how amazing is our living God. His awe-inspiring round of seasons continues as one season fades into the next. The interface is flawless and gradual allowing for his fragile creatures including us to adjust and prepare. The warm sunny days of March plunging back into freezing nights giving way finally to a steady rhythm we can trust for garden seeds to sprout and flourish in April.   Even the tiny buds on the trees gradually open to praise God in all their beauty. David and Job cried out in distress blinded by their human predicament to the Living Fountain’s care all around him “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”.

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As I was taking a walk today, I happened upon a small bird’s nest that was perfectly round and had delicate, tiny twigs throughout. There were no misfits. They were all uniform, woven into a perfect round shape and able to withstand falling out of the tree and still stay intact. Following the advice from Job, I found a few websites online that described what is involved in making a nest. I discovered that each different bird species has its own unique nest-building techniques. The nest has to give shelter and warmth for the featherless baby birds when they hatch and provide safety when the parents are off gathering food. Woven nests in particular trap body heat, providing warmth for the chicks. The weaving of the nest is an incredible feat and requires great skill calculating the required tension so the nest is not too weak and collapses and also a visualization of the final product so as to know where to widen and where to thin – when to begin building the sides up, how thick the base should be and how high the sides should go.

A bird can spend the entire day searching for the right materials for elasticity, compressibility and durability. The nest generally takes days to complete as the bird makes a trip with every single piece. When the nest is complete, she then insulates the nest by lining it with feathers, hair and fine grass.

Some birds like India’s tailor bird have a very complex method. They take two leaves together on a branch; poke approximately six holes around the leaf edges to make the curve and lace through the holes with strands of silk from spider webs, cotton from seeds and fibers of tree bark. The two leaves now one, are then gathered up like a purse and then partially packed with grass. They also make a special compartment within the purse for the female to lay the eggs.

These are creatures we consider devoid of reason and the willpower that it would take to behave with compassion, mercy and even devotion yet they intelligently plan and design for the purpose of protecting and nurturing their offspring. That is their work and praise to their Creator.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”. Psalm 150:6 NIV

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As I looked further I found and incredible account about elephants. Author and legendary conservationist and writer Lawrence Anthony experienced a phenomenal relationship with African elephants earning him the name of Elephant Whisperer. He had been called in to help rescue some violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot if they left the refuge. The farmers of South Africa were threatening to kill the rogue elephants due to the destruction they had inflicted on their property before they were removed to a succession of game reserves. Attempts had been made to contain them with electric fences but every time they would find a way to escape and return to their homeland. One time two of the bulls had managed to fell a tree taking down the fence and allowing their escape. Anthony was called in to rehabilitate them.

They hated humans. Anthony found himself fighting a desperate battle for their survival and their trust, which he detailed in “The Elephant Whisperer”:

       “It was 4:45 a.m. and I was standing in front of Nana, an enraged wild elephant, pleading with her in desperation. Both our lives depended on it. The only thing separating us was an 8,000-volt electric fence that she was preparing to flatten and make her escape. Nana, the matriarch of her herd, tensed her enormous frame and flared her ears. ’Don’t do it, Nana,’ I said, as calmly as I could. She stood there, motionless but tense. The rest of the herd froze. ’This is your home now,’ I continued. ‘Please don’t do it, girl.’ I felt her eyes boring into me.

       ’They’ll kill you all if you break out. This is your home now. You have no need to run any more.’ Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation struck me. Here I was in pitch darkness, talking to a wild female elephant with a baby, the most dangerous possible combination, as if we were having a friendly chat. But I meant every word. ‘You will all die if you go. Stay here. I will be here with you and it’s a good place.’ She took another step forward. I could see her tense up again, preparing to snap the electric wire and be out, the rest of the herd smashing after her in a flash. I was in their path, and would only have seconds to scramble out of their way and climb the nearest tree. I wondered if I would be fast enough to avoid being trampled. Possibly not. Then something happened between Nana and me, some tiny spark of recognition, flaring for the briefest of moments. Then it was gone. Nana turned and melted into the bush. The rest of the herd followed. I couldn’t explain what had happened between us, but it gave me the first glimmer of hope since the elephants had first thundered into my life.” Taken from “The Elephant Whisperer “written by Anthony.

On March 2, 2012, Anthony passed away. His family relates that a solemn procession of elephants which defies human explanation returned to their home. There were two herds of elephants at Thula Thula game reserve. They hadn’t had any contact with Anthony for a year and a half yet both herds walked for twelve hours back to Anthony’s compound just following his death. One herd arrived a day later from the first. For two days the herds loitered to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died? Gradually they made their way back into the bush. Elephants have long been known to mourn their dead. In India, baby elephants often are raised with a boy who will be their lifelong “mahout.” The pair develop legendary bonds – and it is not uncommon for one to waste away without a will to live after the death of the other. To mourn the dead takes a deep sense of knowing, love and feeling of personal loss.

“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”

Job 12:10 NIV

There is no lack of evidence of God’s love for us if we seek it in the beautiful world he created within which to place us. We see God regularly by just looking beyond ourselves.

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Acts 17:24-28 NIV:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

“Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth. The Lord is his name.”

Amos 5:8 KJV

From Psalm 51

 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleansej me from my sin.

15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise.”

A daily relationship with God is one of praise and gratitude and taking him with us everywhere we go. Sharing God with others means being positive, hopeful with a joyous and willing spirit in spite of the negative circumstances in which we find ourselves at times.

When life becomes not about us but about the welfare of others because we trust that God will keep his promises and take care of us as we care for others then we will feel restored finding joy in each other. Joy is an organic experience; a heart-lifting, pulse-quickening experience! How do we hit the reset button? We look at the life of Christ for more answers.

Jesus was continually caring for others and building them up. He didn’t have a roof over his head or carry around “stuff” yet his basic needs were the same as ours. As far as we know, they were all taken care of.  For our spiritual relationship to be healthy with ongoing replenishment, we must look within ourselves to understand what is blocking it.

Hebrews 12:2 states that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.” What joy is that? I believe it is the joy of being able to be eternally in relationship with us, His creation. We will achieve that deeper joy when we decide we’re dissatisfied with where we’re at right now.

It is possible to find direction in the natural world in how God would want us to live to restore the joy. The sociable weaver birds of Africa live in harmonious community. They work together and build a nest home that can accommodate 600 birds. You can check online and see pictures of these amazing nests.

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10 NIV

“For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds. May the praise of God be in their mouths . . .”Ps 149:4-6 NIV

Images

 

crown-of-thorns1-1024x768On a balmy fall evening in 2014, I gathered with members of a local ministry group at an area jail entrance. This was my first opportunity to be a part of jail ministry. I brought my guitar and some song sheets to share. I was given the titles of some praise music the female inmates loved to sing when this group met together twice monthly. When the jailer came to take us to the meeting room she said that there were thirteen women but because of an incident earlier in the day, all the women were in lockdown. We were told that we wouldn’t be able to meet as a group with them but that we could go to each cell and speak through the “bin or chuck hole” as it is called through which the food is served and other articles are passed to the prisoner. We all agreed that we should go in even if it wasn’t going to be an optimal situation for meeting together. Just showing up is very important to anyone who might be waiting to see you. After walking through corridors and large steel doors that are only unlocked remotely, we arrived in a large room with tables and stools with one wall along the side that appeared like a very large mirror which helped greatly in maximizing the feeling of openness. The women in the cells on the other side were sitting on the floor beside their doors peering out at us through the rectangular holes.

It wasn’t long until I started recognizing familiar faces. There were three women I had worked with in my advocacy work and seeing them again was a happy moment for me but mixed with concern and sadness to see them there. At first, they were ashamed and self-conscious but quickly got over that when we started reminiscing and then began to share in worship. The music echoed joyously up into the tall ceiling and then bounced off the walls as “Amazing Grace” was sung. This room built to punish and control a criminal element became no less a cathedral then the great halls built for worship. Nothing stops the Spirit of Christ from moving among His children wherever they are even behind bars. We each sat in a chair or knelt in front of the doors listening to those who wanted to talk or just pray and be there for them. Out of respect, we do not ask them why they are there but if they self-disclose we see it as our ministry to listen and encourage. I was not surprised to find a common connection among the stories with poverty, victims of domestic violence and behavior and poor choices as a result of growing up with drug-addicted parents. Every story I heard was connected to one or all those elements.

I gave each woman a copy of “Divine Fire” as found in this volume. Toward the end of our two hours, I went back to tell them goodbye, and found one woman was especially excited. Her face was lit up and far different from the morose woman who had just told her story about violence in her marriage and the gradual destruction of her family – her children being raised with extended family. She had just read “Divine Fire” and was excited about the way that the Angola Prison had sent the 147 prisoner pastors who had graduated from their Bible college program to minimum security prisons around the country to minister to young inmates returning to society. This was the very point that had also been exciting to me when I researched “Divine Fire”. Something hopeful had been restored within her. We talked about how Christ was with her and would always be with her regardless of the outcome of her charges. We left there that night having been blessed as much as being a blessing for these women. Writing this story of that experience will be one of the most important chapters in Sweetwater Journey.

During the last week of Christ’s life, I believe that because it was His last week, He performed acts, told parables and spoke words of warning that would rate as some of the most important acts of His three years of ministry and be part of a very important message to each one of us. In preparation for Holy Week services in 2013, I found images to fit 20 of the different events that took place during that week. To name a few, I chose a palm for the Triumphal Entry, a whip for the Clearing of the Temple, a mite coin for the Widow’s Mite, Roman coins for Render to Caesar, a rooster for Peter’s Denial and a crown of thorns with blood for the Trial and Persecution. All of these images were printed out on sheets of white card stock. Everything was in grayscale except for the crown of thorns. It was very powerful as each person, including the children, brought forward an image and read the accompanying Scripture reference.

They placed each one on a large table in chronological order of their occurrence during that very important week. For some events I had more than one image, so the table was full and the sheets overlapping – the stone jar filled with perfumed oil next to one of the ten virgins’ lamps, the grey rooster slightly edging over the crown of thorns tipped in red blood – all of the pictures together, silent, yet thunderous in convicting the heart.   As we all stood around the table, the gravity of what was before us and the message that each image carried, struck a common chord of the realization of the price that Christ paid for loving us. In the images were also the warnings about our destructive human nature – the *cat o ‘nine tails, the nails and at last the cross meant to punish and even destroy what we don’t understand or don’t want to see what we ourselves have created. The images speak the message clearly that we make selfish choices for a way of life that could not only lead to our spiritual death but the spiritual death of others we are responsible for but who we are yet to meet. He sends His message to us through these visual images, intended to bring about our spiritual transformation.

During that last week, as Jesus Christ moved among the religious leaders of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, He observed their haughty nature in setting themselves apart from the common person.

 They wore robes that provided them an appearance of grandeur and importance.

 *The cat o ‘nine tails is a whip with knots and sometimes pieces of metal at the ends of nine cords of cat-hide meant to tear the flesh deeply.

Their prayer shawls with long fringe would sweep the floor as they walked through the parting crowd created by someone who went before them announcing their passing.

Those who they converted to the life of the temple worship would have the concept that this is how to serve God – to glorify yourself above others creating a form of godliness that has no power or real depth and certainly no humility.

Matthew 23 lays out a picture of extreme condemnation and warning to anyone who lives their spiritual life in that mindset – exploiting the less fortunate for gain and self-glory, withholding benevolence when the Holy Spirit has laid it upon our hearts to provide it, and judging others, believing that we have been successful through our own efforts while others have failed through their lack of effort.

In Matthew 23, we find these words of Christ spoken at that time:

“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. (a place of authority in the Jewish temple culture). All therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, they will make you observe and do; for they are ministers of the law, and they make themselves your judges. But do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.

 For they bind heavy burdens and lay on men’s shoulders, and they are grievous to be borne but they will not move them with one of their fingers. And all their works they do to be seen of men.

 They make broad their *phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi, (which is master). . .

 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased of him; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted of him. But woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers; therefore ye shall receive the greater punishment.

 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than he was before, like unto yourselves.”

*A phylactery was a leather box they wore on their forehead or arm that carried vellum sheets on which the law was written; meant to be an outward sign of piousness.

Two verses stand out in this reference. The first one is:

“For they bind heavy burdens and lay on men’s shoulders, and they are grievous to be borne but they will not move them with one of their fingers. And all their works they do to be seen of men.”

When we fail to share the grievous burdens that some members of our community carry because they have little resources when we have the capability to ease that burden with one of our fingers, (performing some simple act of benevolence) we are no different than the Pharisees Jesus described here in this reference. If more of our civic groups or church communities would focus on how to best empower one family without creating dependency, the exponential effect could be felt for generations to come.

The second verse is:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte (convert); and when he is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than he was before, like unto yourselves.”

 We must be thoughtful in bringing people to the message of salvation that they are not left without a support network of humble, loving people who can provide ongoing nurturing for as long as necessary. Going from a “wretch like me” to a co-creator with Christ Jesus and a son or daughter of God takes patient and loving support.   It would be better to help the few that God has put in life daily and be true to our promises of commitment while they are in their initial struggles until they are able to stand on their own.   Jesus Christ is the first and last resort for all of us. He must not be given or shared lightly. He cannot be received if the person is not at that point to receive Him. Pressure and fear will not prepare the proper soil for planting such precious seed, only love and demonstration through our own lives as we put on Christ will do.

The parable Christ told of the sower in the books of Matthew and Mark should make it very clear to us that the soil or condition of the heart in which the seed or the gospel message is planted is very important. If the heart is hard and unyielding, the seed will not take root and grow; or stony where the soil is shallow, it might grow but will shrivel and die at the first challenge; or if there are bad influences still in their lives, the spindly plant will choke out and die. These are conditions that exist in the hearts of those we meet. It is our responsibility to nurture this person gradually enriching the soil of the heart to receive such a precious, life-saving message. If we are meeting them for a brief encounter, it is also our responsibility to discern whether God has prepared this heart for the gospel or just for a kind act. Then when the conditioning is done, this person will remember that kind act from a person who represented Jesus Christ and be more likely to respond when the gospel seed is planted whether it comes from us or not.

There are other ways our community makes “twofold more the child of hell than that person was before” and that is by failing to provide well-meaning intervention at an earlier stage for a person who is on the road to prison or worse; intervention Christ calls us as Christians to perform.

Try to become more informed about the support systems in your community that provide services to those who fall through the cracks and end up in trouble. Our social support networks sometimes referred to as the System, are presently overloaded with cases and cannot provide the amount of resources it would take to really give a family a shot at a better future. These networks also have a high turnover of staff due in part to the frustration of trying to help people who live where there’s not enough measurable community support or benevolence given to incubate a family in crisis until they are healthy and able to take off on their own.   The System can only do so much, the rest is up to us.

I have been blessed to be a part of an organization that allows me to work with families indefinitely, but I am only one person.

I have heard the saying: “How can I love God whom I cannot see if I don’t love my brothers and sisters who I can see.”

Upon visiting with this woman in prison, it was disturbing to know that there must have been an ideal time for an intervention where steps could have been taken to keep her from arriving at this point.   I’m not sure if this reference fits this woman who made a bad decision as she had a gentle spirit but it certainly fits many others who go on to prison doing hard time and become twofold more the child of hell than they were before.

I thank God every day for the parents who raised me; for the gentle, easy time I spent growing up on a Nebraska farm and the gifts and talents with which I was born. My days were filled with wonder as I played with my brothers running down corn rows and eating watermelon in the melon patch, never realizing the work that God had planned for my life nearly 40 years later. No one can ever imagine themselves on their knees in front of a bin hole in a lockdown section of a jail, unaware of everything around you talking to someone on the other side who by all accounts was a prisoner but free and together we were sharing the risen Christ who frees us all regardless where our life takes us. The sweet water we shared that night, two people from two different worlds, all came from one never ending Source, whoever drinks of the water . . .shall never thirst; but the water . . . will become in (them) a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Taken from John 4:14.

And now that final test for salvation:

Matthew 25: NIV

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Image our jails and prisons with spider webs and dust collecting in empty cells. . .

The 20 events that were selected for the images were:

Christ’s Triumphal Entry

Clearing of the Temple

The Fig Tree

Parable of the Vineyard

Parable of the Marriage Supper

The Widow’s Mite

Roman Coin – Render to Caesar

Jesus Wept Over Jerusalem

Ten Virgins

 

 

 

 

 

Parable of the Talents

Final Qualifications for Salvation

The Perfumed Oil Anointing

Judas’ Betrayal

The Lord’s Supper

Garden of Gethsemane

Peter’s Denial

The Trial and Persecution

The Crucifixion

Resurrection

Ascension to Heaven

 

 

Journey

I put you each in the middle of an earthly Kingdom – nature –

where you can walk on your journey and draw strength to yourself from all you see, touch and experience.

How could you be so lost from Me when I am everywhere;

How could you have depression and worry when all you have to do is take a walk and find me and commune with Me;

Come walk in a field of grain and touch the golden heads with your fingertips as you pass through the field. I will be there.

Come with me to the forest and watch from afar as a mother doe comforts and protects her young, even teaches them how to live in this kingdom. I too, comfort you, protect you and teach you how to live the kingdom life. I am everywhere. There is no space that doesn’t have a kingdom in it, be it lesser or greater. I am there.

Even in a concrete prison you make for yourself, I am there. My Spirit resides everywhere. There is nowhere you can go that I am not. You and I are a part of each other. I made you in My image. My image is complex like you. Look inward into your heart and soul to find your way – I’ll be there.   Our journey is in tandem with each other. Even if you leave the path, I will go with you to counsel you in a still small voice to guide you back.

I am everywhere, you cannot escape Me. My love for you is beyond your comprehension. I long to be everything to you.

I am Jesus Christ, your greatest Friend, your closest traveling Companion.

I am everywhere!

 

The White Blanket

This past week has been one of catching up before the next storm comes through. We have experienced just a small dose of what Bostonians and others have been dealing with since January. Our county and surrounding areas have been rocked from complacency as the national news is brought to our doorstep. Friday, February 27th was spent in varying degrees of shock and disbelief as family and friends called us from other states all asking the same question “What’s happening in Texas County?” a question all of us are asking about this county and surrounding counties as well. A few local friends and acquaintances called to share and for solace, telling their stories of pleasant memories about knowing these families, visiting their homes and sitting at their table together. Sunday morning when I looked out, the thick blanket of snow was beautiful in its peacefulness. My mind went to the Tyrone area and the neighbors who first looked out upon this blanket of white that has covered everything especially around the now-empty houses once filled with vibrant life. The snow had filled the tracks that had reduced them to crime scenes and had left such devastation in its wake. The snow, pristine and peaceful trying to make clean the stain, soften the blow, came as healing hands – a purifying covering from God who knows about suffering when someone crosses that unimaginable line to destroy life with devastating results. This blanket is symbolic of the covering he promises us when we seek refuge from pain.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by.” Psalm 57:1

We are left to wonder about the perfect storm that could have triggered such mindless action and as the numbness begins to dissipate, we seek God once more in our compassionate prayers for family and neighbors and the personal resolve to go on.

“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.

None of us know what will happen today and it is through faith that we trust God in life and death. I believe that the outcome of humanity’s choices good and bad will cannot come between us and God’s love. We are forever and who we are goes on beyond time.

God bless the survivors, the family and friends with peaceful sleep at night and assurance of his love when they awake. “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”Psalm 30:5

For more information on this tragedy:  http://www.ky3.com/news/local/tyrone-residents-try-to-wrap-head-around-7-murders/21048998_31535710