When You Can’t See the Path

Sitting at O’Hare waiting for replace to plane to arrive.

I was up at 5am to get to the airport. I’m going to see my parents and some of my siblings! It’s a short visit, but I need to see them. The plane was late departing. I fell into a deep sleep. Half way to the Michigan, the intercom woke me up with: we have to return to Chicago for maintenance. I thought maybe it was a dream. Everyone was so quiet and not talking, so I really didn’t know if the 18 minutes to landing was for Saginaw or Chicago! It wasn’t a dream. We landed back at the same airport we left. United has been good keeping us informed. Will we re-board, re-book or get a new plane? We’re getting a new plane but it has to fly here, so I’m sitting in the airport, thinking.

Coming back to Chicago we were above the clouds. They look much more interesting from above with lots of texture and complex formations. Then we began the descent down into the clouds.

Remember I’m not sure where we would land, so I had no idea of NESW or land/water. We were flying in a cloud, with no visual landmarks.

From the ground we just see gray skies, no sun, no blue. On the plane we trust the laws of gravity, but we don’t know our position in the air. We are putting our trust in the pilot, the navigation system and beacons and aviation control. They know where we are, how high, what the problem is, and then decide the best decision for passenger safety.

Sometimes in life we can’t see where we’re going. The path is foggy and we can barely see landmarks along the way. We wonder if we’ve gotten lost, taken the wrong path or even left the path. We can feel lost, without purpose or direction, wondering if we should just sit down and wait for someone to find us.

You likely know where I’m headed. God is our co-pilot. He knows the path and how to get to our destination. And if we’re lost, He is with us to prompt us or lead us back to the path. He has better radar; He is the ultimate “aviation controller” in our lives.

I’ve been in that place where I haven’t a clue where I’m going (emotionally, spiritually) and I just wanted to sit down, retreat from life, and wait for someone to care. This is a problem that God is excels in solving! He looks for the lost sheep and returns them to the fold. He cares for us and helps us get back on the path.

I am so thankful for this! I can trust Him to get me to the right place. Just like I had to trust the pilots knew where they were going, I have to trust that God is more than able to get me where He has planned for me to be.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭16:11‬ ‭ESV‬

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Peace on Earth

We’ve heard it, sung it, confessed our desire for it, but we have yet to experience “Peace on Earth.”

I saw a huge sign on a bridge yesterday, “Peace on Earth” and my first thought it was a Christmas decoration not yet removed. My tree is still up, so why would a city have all decorations taken down?

Then I thought about its meaning. To have peace on earth, every single person and country would be acting out of love to their neighbor. There would be no crime and no crime expected. There would be no violence, especially domestic violence. There would be no enslavement, especially human trafficking. There would be no fear of nuclear missiles, or bombs, or terrorism, or countries taking over other countries. To truly have peace on earth, there could be no racism, no sexism, no bias or denigration, no other “-isms.”

It would be every, single person on earth at peace, safe, with all needs met. There would be no need for a refugee program or refugee camps. There would be no sanctuary cities, no dirty politics, no meanness, no slander, no uncivil behavior.

Think about it. Every. Single. Person. At. Peace. Every minute. Every day. Forever. Let your mind’s eye search around the globe and absorb what it would mean for true peace on earth, not as a thought or a dream, but in reality.

I grew up at a time of nuclear threat, war and racism. During the fight for Civil Rights, I was an impressionable young teen. I lived in an idealistic world. I thought by saying, “Let there be peace on earth,” it could happen. I expected people to desire peace and to work for it to happen. The song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” (and let it begin with me) was possible. If we all wanted peace, surely it would happen.

I am no longer that idealistic teen. I have seen bullying, meaness, violence toward others, and anything but peace. I live in a time when Homeland Security is necessary. I’ve experienced the fears of a mother with a son in a war zone.

The image of peace in earth reminds me of heaven. Yes indeed, “no more sorrows, no more pain.” (See Revelation 21:4.) Can there truly be peace on earth before our lives end? I go back to: imagine looking around the world and seeing everyone acting in loving ways. Just one person being hateful would upset the peace. And if even one group or country got mad or envious of another, peace would be lost. Why is this? Why can’t we all live in peace? My neighborhood is peaceful and filled with respectful, kind people, but not everyone can say that. And if a group gathers to voice their free speech rights, violence breaks out around them. There just isn’t peace in this world.

The moral code, the Ten Commandments, lays out the rules God’s people should live by. But even if we try very hard, we will fail. Something will make us angry. A temptation will happen at a moment of weakness, or our own selfish desires will cause us to sin. I feel like Peace on Earth is an impossible goal. And apart from God and the Blood of Jesus, that is true. There is an answer, and most don’t want to hear the message, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans‬ ‭3:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬. So I have hope! There is an answer to the problem of sin. It’s found in the Blood of Jesus, in recognizing you have fallen short, sinned and transgressed the Law of God, of repenting for your sins, of believing in the work Jesus did on the cross, and then, living your life for Christ. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

So, I can be at peace in my inner being, because my mind and heart is guarded by the peace of God. I can be a peace maker, a peace carrier, but I can not make peace on earth a reality. I can’t force people to live in peace with one another. And God gives us each free choice, so he’s not going to force anyone to live in peace either that refuses to listen. But I have hope! And I know heaven is real. And then there will be everlasting peace. (Sigh!) “I Can Only Imagine!”

“I can only imagine when that day comes, When I find myself standing in the Son, I can only imagine when all I would do is forever, Forever worship You” -MercyMe

Here is a sample of Bible verses that talk about “peace in earth” I found today:

“…and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  ‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – This is probably the source of the Christmas season greeting and the “Peace on Earth” sign I saw. Notice the caveat: among those with whom he (God) is pleased. Not everyone. Not the whole world.

“…making peace by the blood of his cross.”  ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – Here we see the blood of Jesus as the source of peace.

“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭9:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – The peace of the Lord will never end.

“I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.” ‭‭Hosea‬ ‭2:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬ – This speaks of the mercy for Israel from the Lord.

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”   ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭2:4‬ ‭ESV.‬‬ This is a prophecy of a Day of the Lord, when He rules from on top of the mountain.

There are many more Bible verses that speak of peace. I challenge you to find a few more. Think about what peace in earth looks like to you? Is it possible? What would it take? Beyond platitudes and admonishment, how can we be instruments of peace?

Peace Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Is Anyone Righteous?

Psalm 73:26

When faced with the news and revelations of secrets of those you have admired, or held as a model of righteous living, it leads you to believe that no one is righteous! I admired Dennis Hastert when he represented me in Congress. Now his past sins have been exposed (by money transfers, no less) and he has been judged and sentenced.

Unfortunately, liberals often make headlines out of those who have fallen from the righteous Conservative podiums. Are only fallen conservatives lacking righteousness? Going to the definition of righteous: “morally good, following religious or moral laws” you’d have to ask how you would measure the “righteousness” of someone that doesn’t follow religious laws. You’d have to know what the moral laws are in order to judge the righteousness of someone not following God, I guess. Is there a list someplace of dos and don’ts that we can refer to when establishing the righteousness or unrighteousness of a person?

The Bible has a lot to say about the righteous and righteousness. There are at least 600 uses of the words in the Bible. The one that sticks out is:

“None is righteous, no, not one;” Romans‬ ‭3:10‬b ‭ESV‬‬

Which is referencing the verse:

“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Psalms‬ ‭14:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

If that’s not enough, read Proverbs 10 and see all the examples of righteous behaviors contrasted with foolish behaviors.

None of us are perfect and we all sin and make mistakes. But if we hide those sins and mistakes, and pretend we never did anything wrong, we are hypocrites. But if we publicly sin and say it is OK, aren’t we still hypocrites?

Back to the question “Is anyone righteous?” We need to look at the hearts and minds of those we hold dear, those we model ourselves after, and those who are in the public eye. The truth is, we can’t really see into their hearts or know what they are thinking. Instead we look at their behavior and what they say. And then a secret is revealed. How do they behave then? What do they say? Do they deny any wrong doing? I can think of a couple of Presidents who got caught and denied wrong doing. They even tried to convince us they did no wrong, that their “rules” of behavior were right. I can’t remember either of them admitted guilt and asked for pardon. And one was a Democrat and one was a Republican.

So if you don’t look to the Bible or God for a sense of what is right and what is wrong, how do you gauge righteousness? Are there clear moral laws we can all agree on? That way, we could clearly judge those who are unrighteous. There is the code of law. Is the behavior legal? That is where the courts get involved. If it can be proved you broke the law, then you are judged and punished accordingly.

What if my idea of right and wrong disagrees with your idea of right and wrong? Who has to compromise? Do we all agree that Hastert broke the moral law of society? Do we all agree that the terrorist bomber broke a moral law of society? Where do we draw the line on unrighteous behavior? This is where the controversies and contentious behavior have taken hold in our society. We don’t agree on what is “right” and what is “wrong.” We turn a bit gray on some issues and don’t draw a firm line.

Perhaps the most misunderstood concept of Christianity is righteousness by faith. This is in the Old Testament, the Torah, about Abram:

“And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”  ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭15:6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Because of faith, Abram was counted as righteous. We know from Abraham’s story that he didn’t always follow God. Yet he is counted as righteous.

Righteousness by faith is described by John this way:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John‬ ‭1:8-9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We are cleansed and made righteous by faith when we confess our sins, repent, and ask for forgiveness. A few of my favorite bumper stickers are “I’m not perfect, but I’m forgiven.” Or “Christ isn’t done with me yet.” Both describe the Christian faith as one of redemption of sins. At issue though, is that I need to acknowledge I sinned. I need to repent, turn away from, my sin. I need to ask for forgiveness, which means I humble myself before God and seek his ways.

Paul says it this way:

The Righteousness of God Through Faith:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans‬ ‭3:21-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The righteous walk by faith. The unrighteous follow only their own ways. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The righteous know this and ask for forgiveness and the strength to walk in God’s ways. The unrighteous do not know they have sinned. They ignore, justify, or flaunt their sins, without repentance, without remorse.

I guess it’s pretty black and white to me. Break God’s laws: you’ve sinned. Admit you have sinned: you’re forgiven. Please note however, that while forgiven you will still need to face the consequences of your sin in this world. You may be punished by the courts, you may grieve a choice, you may have broken trust with someone you love. But if you stay right with God, He has promised to redeem our mistakes.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Even our sins can be redeemed and good brought from them if we allow God to work in us and through us.

So is anyone righteous? Only God is truly righteous in all things, at all times. And He will give us His Righteousness when we lift our hands to Him and seek Him and follow Him. So I am made righteous by my faith in Jesus Christ, not by what I do, but by what He did for me.

When I was reading and writing this, I kept hearing an old song in my mind:

“You are the strength of my heart! You are the strength of my heart! You are the strength of my heart and my portion forever!”  Hence the verse at the top of this post.

To Choose or Not to Choose

Joshua 24:15Facebook can be both a lot of fun and a pain to read at the same time. We can share things, keep up to date with family, and reconnect with friends from long ago. You can express yourself in many ways. And see others’ expressions of interest and opinion as well.
When you create an account, you set up a profile, telling basic information, favorite movies and books and many other things. Today I was struck by one item in the profile: Religious Views.

In the past, you would have been asked the name of the church you attended. Some left it blank.

Sometimes we are asked for your Religion. Most enter a denomination, religious set of beliefs, or the leader of the beliefs followed. Few enter none, or agnostics or atheist, even though they do represent belief systems.

But Facebook asks for Religious Views, and allows you to enter, well anything or nothing. You can express yourself in any way you wish, or leave the field blank. I ran across an interesting answer today: “personal choice, I choose no” and I started thinking about the views of my friends.

I chose a sample of 10% of my friends and checked what the entry was for Religious Views. 63% left the field blank, though a number I know are Christians who chose not to enter their views. There was one nihilist, one spiritual, and one Messianic Judaism (4%). The rest, 33%, openly describe their Christian faith with a variety of answers: the Lord my Savior, lover of Jesus, born again and/or Spirit-filled Christian, disciple of Christ and Lutheran.

No one said agnostic or atheist. So back to one who said: “personal choice, I say no.” It is a very true statement. We make choices. We look at what we know, and don’t know. We may read or talk to people, or be taught in college what philosophers have said. We may continue in the faith of our parents, never questioning, but still making a choice.

This all reminded me of a quote that I had to research to find. It is called Pascal’s Wager:

1- If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.

2- If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.

3- If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus a finite loss.

4- If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus a finite gain.

Choices have consequences. We accept that for our children as we teach them how to behave. When choices are illegal, then the courts get involved in consequences.

I’ve heard comments like “I’ll think about it when I’m older” and “the church I was in were all hypocrites.” Many who have no religious views blame the church, ministers, sermons, and such. Many just don’t have time to go to church or study the Bible.

To not make a choice is to actually make a choice. You are choosing not to choose, if that makes sense. And to say you are agnostic or atheist is also making a choice. (Though I do find it interesting that you have to use the word “God” to describe your choice.)

So, when you give your religious views in a statement on Facebook, you are choosing whether to reveal to others your views, to make up your own words, to give a church affiliation, or to simply say “follower of Jesus” to express yourself.

And yes, I’m a Christian, a Bible believing, Spirit-filled Christian. And there will be consequences for the choice. 😇

The Land of the Free, Trusting in God

We no longer live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I feel we live instead, in the land of the fearful and the home of the angry.
Those are my thoughts this morning as I think about the rhetoric of the presidential debates and read the comments posted on my Facebook wall.

I read a devotion today that talked about “practical atheists” as those who do know deep down there is a God, but choose to live as if He doesn’t exist. The Bible verse was:

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” ” Psalm‬ ‭14:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

This describes much of our country today, based on behaviors, rhetoric, and life styles.
So there is no deep trust in God, but in self. And in ourselves we see no way to control the violence and ideologies that we read about in the news.
A friend shared verses to contemplate as we pray for Burkina Faso and the violence that erupted there.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭37:7-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This should be our posture. Trust in God and know He is in control and is the only one who can deal with the violent attacks that know no border in this world.  I think it used to be easier to be brave when there was a country attacking us. But now, it is an ideology.
So how should we respond to the angry behaviors and rhetoric of our friends and neighbors? They will not be satisfied with ‘trust in God’ because they do not accept that God exists or can be known. I have taken to ignoring certain posts on Facebook and am contemplating hiding some from my feed. Otherwise, my heart gets filled with fear and I struggle to cease doubting and begin trusting again.
It has become too easy to stereotype the ideology that leads to violent attacks, seemingly from nowhere. But only God can see into the hearts and know who is contemplating violence. I can’t. So my call is to love. And this is the verse I’m contemplating:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:12-17 ESV

Put on love. Return to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Open our arms to those who have been terrorized. Show love, no matter what. This will take bravery. But it will mostly take trusting in God, no matter what.

Dwelling on Left Handedness

Today is International Left-Handers Day! I’m left handed, so I get to celebrate. So I posted a few things, tweeted a bit, and did a couple of Instagrams. No biggie. Except that I offended a person when I didn’t intend to, and am still a bit clueless about it.

So, what do you call it when someone is offended by something you said, and you had no intention of being offensive? Misunderstood. Some people seem to take joy out of offending people. I don’t. It bothers me when I offend someone. I just want everyone to get along and be happy. So I’ve been thinking about it.

When I started college at the big university and had classes in the auditoriums, there were a FEW left handed desks in the back. There was an unstated race to get to one of those desks if you were left handed. So I got to know some other lefties pretty quickly. It wasn’t very long before one pointed out that I held my pencil and wrote differently. They wanted to know how I learned to do that. See, I write like a right hander and don’t write upside down like other left handers. (This was in the 1970s.) So I thought back to my early days.

When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher Mrs. Phillips, was wonderful. I loved school. When we were learning to write our letters, she would write the letter on the board, and then tell us to take our paper and turn it to the left. Then she would say, Becky, you turn your paper to the right. All year long, she singled me out every time we were learning to write words. By then, the habit was formed. But most kids didn’t have Mrs. Phillips and the lefties were forced to write their letters and words on paper that was turned to the left. (Try it righties: turn your paper to the right and try to write words with your right hand. You can only do it by curving your wrist.)

So today I posted two photos: one with how other left handers write and one with how I write. I did this as a tribute to my Kindergarten teacher, and her wisdom in knowing how to teach left handers. Here are the photos:

IMG_2769“How most left handers write”

IMG_2770
“How this Leftie writes”

So I offended someone by implying most lefties write upside down. That would really be a reflection on Early Ed teachers. But in the 1970s, I was very unusual.

So, is it possible that today’s youngsters are taught properly how to write left handed? Maybe my comment was like rubbing salt in a wound for too many lefties. Maybe it is a sign of shame for some? Maybe they are just jealous of my Kindergarten teacher?

I don’t know. I’m clueless, as I said.

Quiet Reflection a Necessity

I’m a Doctor Who fan and BBC America ran a marathon leading up to the Christmas episode last night. One of our recordings captured Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message to the Commonwealth, and it is a message we all should listen to and well, reflect upon.

She began by telling of a man who, because of being in a cast, had to sit and do nothing for a year. Yet, at the end, he found he had learned much about himself. She said, “We all need to get the balance right, between action and reflection.” She talked about her reflections this year, her 60th anniversary as Queen.

I found I have something in common with Queen Elizabeth- the need for reflection. At this time of my life, I have much to contemplate. Decisions to make, the right way to feel about a situation, how to deal with difficulties and anxieties, ever changing health, family dynamics, and the list goes on. At the core for me is my relationship with Jesus. Reflecting and meditating on scripture and how to apply it to my life today is important to me. Remember that word in the Queen’s message – balance? Balance is also something that I’m dealing with these days. How to balance action with reflection, but also what actions I should be doing. 2014 will be an interesting year as I work through and reflect upon these things.

Queen Elizabeth ended her message with this: “For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love as we strive daily to become better people.

The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.

On the first Christmas in the fields above Bethlehem, a s they sat in the cold of night watching their resting sheep, the local shepherds must have had no shortage of time for reflection.

Suddenly all this was to change. These humble shepherds were the first to hear and ponder the wondrous news of the birth of Christ. The first Noel, the joy of which we celebrate today.”

Amen, Queen Elizabeth!

The message ended with the playing of The First Noel.

It would be worth watching the entire video, in my opinion. Here is one place you can watch it:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/10536980/Watch-the-Queens-Christmas-Day-message-2013-in-full.html