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Archive for the ‘Testimonies of God's Power and Mercy’ Category

Through the last few weeks I have been trying, once again, to understand the phenomenon of Halloween.  I call it that, because to me, I have no attraction to blatantly dark, evil things.  I suppose my temptations to the dark side are more subtle.  We all have to deal with unhealthy attractions in one way or another, but to openly embrace darkness as fun and exciting isn’t something I’ve ever really understood.  So I have been asking questions, observing, and exploring the concept from different angles.

This is cute and fun, and I enjoy this part of  fall celebrations.  Pumpkins, in their natural state, are beautiful and delicious.

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DSC_0915I even get why costumes are so much fun.  Who doesn’t love to dress up as something else?  It’s the play of childhood the rest of the year.  Grown ups love it too, and now do this at huge conventions all over the country in honor of their favorite pop-culture icons.Yes, we did have a discussion about how Darth Vader did come over to the good side of the Force and was reconciled to his son before he died. 🙂

But THIS is what I have such a hard time comprehending.  What is it about the human psyche that makes this so attractive?

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The roots of this holiday go back to the practice of dressing up as beings from the Netherworld in order to not be harassed by spirits of the departed who would be able to cross and cause trouble for the living on this night.  So is all this rooted in fear of death and the unknown?  If I become that which I fear, I will be protected from it?  This is my theory.  I don’t know if it’s true.  Most of the people I know who celebrate this holiday with gusto, are not “evil” or worshiping Satan in their closets at night.  People seem to enjoy being scared (hey, I love roller coasters), but I think more importantly we enjoy experiencing that which seems threatening, and realizing at the end of it, we are still okay.  It is an empowering ritual, and confronts our deepest fears about death and things that go bump in the night that we can’t see.

The thought occurs to me as well that any time we seek safety and security in anything but Jesus alone, and what He has done, we are celebrating a personal form of Halloween.  There is no cloak of safety in any human invention.  No mask can save us from the dark.  We need to take them off, in honesty, and embrace His Life.

I find that these celebrations (especially in remembering deceased ancestors and loved ones) are found in many cultures, past and present.  Usually practiced in the season where everything is dying off and the sun is waning, the natural world reminds us of our own impending mortality.

Maybe my lack of interest and attraction to these customs has to do with the fact that I have no fear or doubts about death, or any spirit without a body, because of my security in who I am in Jesus.  What better time of the year is there to share this GOOD NEWS to the world?   As many zealous Christians and HRM followers both understandably revile and abstain from this holiday,  I truly believe that in spite of all that seems dark and offensive, a deep truth lies beneath.  A truth that can be used as a foothold to bring Light, Hope, and Love to a world that has seen plenty of pain from the dark side.  In arguing so strongly against something, we sometimes unwittingly give it more power than it’s due, and magnify it.  I join my fellow humans in declaring victory over the fear of death.  Only in Jesus.   In Him there is no darkness or shadow.  It is vanished, because it has not power in itself.  That makes Halloween a reason to rejoice for me.

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A few days ago I ran across a news story that repulsed me so badly I found myself hoping hell is very real and hot.  I don’t remember ever feeling quite that strongly about another human being.  Maybe for the first time, I felt I was seeing a picture of a man I judged as beyond any hope of reform.  All my convictions about loving people no matter what became irrelevant as my mind went to a place where my own child was in the story as the victim.   I honestly wish I did not know as much about evil as I do.  I’ve learned about some things so heinous I can’t even say them out loud to another person.  I wish I could un-know them, but I can’t.  I can’t fathom how human beings can get to the place where they are altogether inhuman.  But that which looks hopeless to me, is never impossible with God.  And even if a person is past all hope, it is not for me to know or deal out condemnation.

So many stories I’ve heard testify to forgiveness in impossible circumstances.  Corrie ten Boom’s witness of how God enabled her to forgive the guard from the concentration camp she had been held in, as well as how a terrorist in Colombia was led to Christ by a man he had tried to kill, all give me hope that evil has a mortal enemy.  Love.

Not long ago I received two publications in the mail from different ministries serving the persecuted church.   The first one I opened was entirely devoted to describing the rise radical Islam in the most derogatory manner, as well has holding in derision any politicians the author felt supported its existence.   I felt fear and frustration after looking through it, although the attempt was to raise support for those suffering under Islam’s persecution of Christianity.   The second newsletter ironically contained cover to cover testimonies of believers who had forgiven their attackers, sometimes through an intense struggle of prayer.   Some had lost family members, others limbs.  One newsletter rallied for fighting back, the other for love.

I have thought deeply about violence and in the past few months.  My country may not have a war on our own soil, but we are crumbling from within.  Random murder and mass shootings lead the headlines nearly every day.  No way to predict or prepare for what you may face from day to day, from criminals or even our own law enforcement agencies.  But we are good at numbing out so we don’t have to think about it.  We believe it will always happen to someone else, but not in my quiet, well-ordered universe.   We are also insulated from what is done under our own flag in other places, and the intense suffering of so many, both at home and away.  For some reason my eyes have been trained on these suffering ones intensely lately.  Sometimes it’s more than one heart can take in.  We fear the grief will overtake us, so we choose hardness instead.

If we realized how everything is connected, we could see that we cannot harm someone else without harming ourselves.  And Compassion, even when seemingly wasted, never is.  To me this is one of the deepest essences of the Cross, past all the theological models of what “atonement” means.  He came to make peace between humanity and God.  Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.  This is His Way, and that is the way I want to walk.  He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world or my servants would… ?”  What if our first response to evil was not fear?  What if there was no fear?  This is true supernatural living.

Many people I know want a gun to protect themselves.  I am not saying it’s right or wrong.  My question is, what decision are we making about our own first response to a perceived threat?  After I have thought long and hard, and seen the results of love and fear, I have come to my own conclusion that I would rather die at the hand of evil than to become it.  Because even my death, if I were to remain in Love, would be a victory and to live in my hate would be defeat.   I do not have the ability to live this desire in my own willpower.  I am so quick at self-defense even in verbal confrontation.  But I believe I can ask for this gift and make a choice to love now before I’ve been asked to make one in the heat of a crisis moment.

I once discussed with an atheist why I believed in God.  I told him the best evidence I know of is the love that He gives His followers for their enemies.  I told him an amazing story I had heard at a recent persecution conference.  He said the story could not be true, and even if it was – he would label it as mental illness.  That it’s not healthy to take that attitude toward an aggressor.  Spock would probably agree.  It’s completely illogical.  And for me, what makes it true.

I will never know the deep wounds so many have in their hearts to heal through forgiveness.  I have not suffered the abuse and trauma, or loss, that so many millions have.  I can’t say I would be jumping at the chance to forgive.  When I see people angry and afraid, I understand. I have chosen that many times.  But I find nothing on earth as beautiful as a love that lays down its own life.  Maybe that’s why James said, “Count it all joy.”

No More of This  by Ramone Romero

“Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”
(Matthew 26:52)

“I have not come to destroy sinners, but to save them.
I am calling you to take up the Cross—
I command you to love your enemies,
even those who appear to be My enemies,
just as I loved you while you were My enemies.

“If you do not abide in My love,
you will not know when you hinder Me.
If you do not embrace the Cross,
you will not know when you have become
an enemy of the Cross.

“Put down the sword, My people!
I am warning you for your sake!”

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2012 turned out to be the hardest year on record for our family that I can remember.   We have had several crisis points in over two decades of marriage, but generally they came one a time, spaced by a reasonable distance.  We didn’t have that luxury this year.  The first thing I want to do is praise God for getting us through it, and thank all the family and friends who prayed and encouraged us!  Truly so blessed by so many brothers and sisters in Jesus.  You are all a gift!

The Big Move

A year ago in December we made a whirlwind move to the city from a rural town.  We had wanted to move for many years, but one day God just picked us up and got us here, it seemed quite literally.  There was no way to deny that He was in it from start to finish.  I had a keen sense of the Red Sea parting, and how all the pieces had fallen into place, being prepared years ago for this moment in time.

We moved into a house owned by some wonderful friends in one of the most amazing neighborhoods.  The city trail system that follows a river is accessible right out the backyard gate.  Huge old trees cover the gigantic lot.  One day out walking I took these pictures  and my Hobbit nerd family and I kept saying how it looked like we imagined the Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories.  (I don’t always compare my life to Tolkien’s stories.. but often!)  One day walking home through this beautiful green winter, I realized that in their peaceful idyllic life, the Hobbits had no idea about the evil brewing in Mordor.  I looked at my innocent young children and felt glad they didn’t know much yet about the evils in the world, but I had a sense of foreboding.

After the move I thought hardship was having to clean up the mountain (literally) of trash and filth left by the previous occupant.  Or the one-month ordeal to replace a broken fridge.  The five days without internet service, now that was tough!  ha.  I was so overwhelmed with all there was to do and take care of, not to mention our own house we had rented out presented us with constant issues that needed attention and repair.  The first few weeks after the move were overwhelming, but we were just getting started.

Now – I don’t want to make too much of all this – because it isn’t a drop in the bucket compared to what many people are going through right now.  But maybe someone will be encouraged knowing we are all facing trials together.  No one is exempt, but sometimes it’s easy to feel like we are all alone while in the valley.

Round 1

Actually before I even took those pictures out on the trail, the adventures had already begun. My father-in-law suffered a heart attack and needed bypass surgery.  His wife passed away a year prior, so we brought him home for his recovery.  We had already taken in a roommate in our 3/1/1 house so our total occupancy reached 8 people.  At this point I wondered what it would cost to rent a port-a-john for the back yard!  But we finally started to remember to always take a survey of everyone’s personal needs before any bathroom use lasting longer than two minutes.  My personality thrives on quiet solitude so naturally God puts me in a house with lots of people!  He has a great sense of humor like that.   But I was SO thankful God had brought us into a location where we could help with all the doctor visits and after-surgery care and also so thankful my father-in-law is still with us!

Round 2

While my father-in-law stayed with us, my oldest daughter, who had come back to live with us before the move, called to tell me she was pregnant.  I had been bracing myself for this for a few years.  These things happen, and I knew it would turn out for the good even if it wasn’t ideal.  She is on her own spiritual journey (and not nearly off the deep end as I was at that age).  I prided myself in trying to be loving and understanding –  you know, this walk of grace.  When she told me who the father was – my grace walk just evaporated into thin air and I instead found myself wallowing in hurt and rage.  I don’t even wish to explain the details, but he had crossed the line with us – and she knew it.  No matter how I turned it over in my mind, I could not fathom why she would have gone back to him.  She had broken up with him and we believed she was finally in the clear.  (I cannot stress to you enough the mental sickness involved with this young man.)   After she stated she wanted to work things out with the father, we decided that choice meant she could not stay here at all.  We even changed the locks because we didn’t want the father having access through her to our house in any way.

Knowing that this person was now forever connected to my family – and the thought that my first grandchild would have this person for a father, felt like more than I could bear.  I sobbed my eyes out.  My daughter and I had terrible “How could you do this to us?” and “Why can’t you just support me and be happy for the baby?” kind of fights.  I assured her it wasn’t the baby that I had  a problem with, but who we would have to deal with as the father for the rest of our lives.  God reminded me of Hosea – and of Himself.  Taking on the sinful flesh of humanity with all our perversion and filth.  He reminded me I was no better than this person I had come to loathe.  It took a few weeks for me to hear Him through my rage, but eventually I did.  Maybe what came next put everything into perspective.

Round 3.1

While helping my father-in-law recover I thought, “So THIS is why He brought us here so quickly ”  Well, yes.  And no.  A few weeks later my oldest son you might remember from this post about the Hebrew Roots Movement and Children, came to us very distraught about a medical problem.  We thought it was minor, and sent him to the urgent care clinic we have been using for the many years we have not had health insurance.   The doctor diagnosed it as a simple infection and prescribed an antibiotic.  I had no thought it could be anything else.  Less than a week later while sorting through boxes of keepsakes unearthed in our recent move, I came across a stack of birthday cards saved through the years for my two oldest children.  I sorted them into his and hers piles and asked Jesse if he wanted them.  He took them from my hand and at that moment a chilling thought came into my mind, almost as an external voice.  “He won’t have any more birthdays.”   I nearly had to sit down but I did my best to completely ignore it as some strange trick my mind was playing on me.

After a week on antibiotics his condition had not improved but gotten worse.  On his way to work one afternoon he called in and decided to pull back into the clinic.  A different doctor on duty sent him to the Emergency Room for a sonogram.  I began looking up possible conditions online and there were many easily treatable conditions for his symptoms.  I was sure they would find something simple and even if it required a surgical procedure, he would soon be fine.  My husband had gone to meet him at ER and called me with the sonogram results.  We then first heard the “c” word… as a possibility.  He had an appointment with a urologist the next morning.

Cancer has hit older members in our family all too frequently.  We have lost friends as well, as I am sure most people have.  It’s a terrible epidemic in this country and my husband and I often have it in the back of our minds that it could happen to us too.  But when it comes to your children, your mind just doesn’t go there.  We sat in the urologist office waiting to see him with our minds racing.   One of the big question marks was our lack of health insurance and, “How are we going to get him the care he needs?”

The doctor came in and said that surgery was necessary no matter what the cause of the mass, and the sooner the better.  The tissue would be sent to the lab and we would not know anything until the results were back.  We told the doctor our insurance situation, and he immediately offered his services for free!  (Unspeakable gratitude!)   We only had to work out a deal with the surgical center and the anesthesiologist.  We got it all worked out for him to have the surgery the very next day!  A large tumor was removed, but we had to wait two weeks for lab results. (read.. “two weeks of sheer agony”)  The doctor was out of town the following week, and his Physician’s assistant we saw on the first follow up visit was not willing to be the one to tell us the news, but from his vague avoidance of my questions, I had a pretty good idea.  The blood work I now know showed high cancer markers, but his answer to us was the pathology on the tissue samples had not come in yet, so they were not “sure”.  To keep us busy in the mean time they sent us off to get his first CT scan.  Thankfully, we had the funds available for this as well.  (Self pay rates are a fraction of what they normally bill for these procedures.)

That week I decided I wasn’t waiting another week to “be sure” before starting the application process for a health network our county has for lower-income residents.  Jesse was considered his own household, so application and qualification were simple.  However I feared a long wait time for approval.  I feared everything at this point.  All we knew was it was “maybe” cancer.  I have always tried hard to avoid panic unless sufficient evidence warranted a valid freak-out meltdown.  But not knowing, and wondering how serious and how far it had gone for those weeks left too much to the imagination.  I found much comfort in knowing that God moved us here, where medical care was accessible to us.  The county we came from didn’t have programs like this.

Round 3.2 – God sends a Praying Man

I also wanted someone to pray for his healing.  Of course we prayed for him – but I prayed for God to show us who He wanted to have pray.  A few days later, coming out of  Home Depot, my husband ran into a Christian friend he had not seen in years.  I remembered my husband telling me about him many times – the discussions they’d had on the job sites about God.  This man had a rare, clear faith.  He went on to tell my husband this day how God had given him a heart to just pray for people, and how he was getting discouraged, asking God to open doors for him to do this more, because it seemed that nothing was happening.  Jeff told him what we were going through, and he prayed right there in the parking lot, God answering a prayer for my husband’s friend as well!  But I felt for all of us, it would be really great if he could come and pray for Jesse in person.  He agreed to come, and it was such an encouraging experience and the Holy Spirit covered us in His Presence in a real way.  We asked for total healing, as we had seen happen with our younger son.  My very first post on this blog five years ago was about an incredible answer to prayer we had for him.  But we expressed total faith in God regardless of the outcome.

I kept thinking at the next appointment they would tell us the scan results showed no cancer at all!  I really believed God could spare him this.  Many people believe healing is a guaranteed thing if you have enough faith.  I have learned to trust in a totally amazing God -not in outcomes.  With Him, there is no losing outcome – no matter what.  At this point in the experience I knew that and stayed fairly brave.  But I will also fully admit I would like to be gifted with more faith also!

Getting him qualified into the county health system to start receiving care, and to get that first appointment with an oncologist in a really over-burdened system, drove me to urgency once we had the diagnosis.  The CT scan showed that the cancer cells had spread beyond the tumor into lymph nodes and one lung.  I took the application papers directly in person to the cancer center, not the general eligibility office.  I walked straight into their office with no wait and had approval for him in half an hour.  Then I called repeatedly asking when his first appointment would be.  I am so thankful for their prompt responses because it wasn’t until very late in his treatment that we found out he was actually stage 3.  (They had told us Stage 2 and it wasn’t communicated to us when they changed the assessment.  We only found out when we discovered he had one more round of chemo than we had thought.)  Every moment mattered at that point – especially since the tumor he had seemed to have grown very rapidly.

Even though they assured us this form of cancer (testicular) was highly treatable with a 90% cure rate, there are always exceptions and risks.  The “what if” questions hounded me daily.  He had to undergo another surgery for the chemo port then treatment began.  I watched him suffer physically and emotionally.  But he stayed very strong spiritually and really glorified God through the experience.  I however still cannot bear to even go back and look at the pictures of those days.  My baby with a bald head and a swollen face from the steroids.  Even now I don’t know why I can’t just be thankful instead of feeling the pain of it.  Maybe someday.  I talked to a cancer survivor the other day who had been through years of treatment.  She told me her own experience was nothing compared to seeing her own son go through it (and is also okay now).  I guess it’s a mom thing.

Round 3.2

About half way through his treatment, influenza came to visit.  I got sick first, and wasn’t sure what I had – because it wasn’t severe, but I suspected it might be.  We immediately sent Jesse to stay with a relative because his immune system was so compromised.  The next day I ended up in ER, with what amounted to an anxiety attack brought on by the perfect storm of stress, lack of food, and a bad reaction to some medication I was taking for my symptoms.

While waiting to see an ER doctor we got a call that my youngest was also running a high fever.  Already wallowing in anxiety, and not really knowing what was wrong with me, I sent my husband to take our younger son to the doctor.  (Husband deserves a gold medal for endurance this week.)  The bizarre thing is that neither the hospital nor the family doctor ever diagnosed the influenza.  My husband and younger son got very ill with high fevers for several days.  My pregnant daughter miraculously never did – even though she had been helping.

We thought we were in the clear, about ready to allow Jesse to come back home – when he called and said he had a fever.  The phone lines to the cancer center were down and even our house was without power because of a spring storm.  My phone was about to die, and I had no way to charge it.  I told them to head for the hospital (he was staying about an hour from the hospital) and I would drive to the cancer center to see if I could find someone to talk to.  I found patients and employees waiting in the foyer, their building also without power.  The infusion nurses who knew us said, “Take him to ER stat.”  If cancer was scary.. having the flu with cancer scared me much worse.  We got him in and triage admitted him with no waiting into an isolation room.  He spent the next week there, and I did too.  For the first time we had a positive ID on the influenza virus (which I was already sure of) but thankfully with hospital care, and prayers, his case never became severe.

Round 3.3 and 3.4

A few weeks later, just as we thought things were about to calm down, Jesse rear-ended someone at an intersection and totaled my husband’s work truck.  We didn’t care about the truck, just SO thankful he was not hurt and back in the hospital again.  The same day we got a letter in the mail that a creditor was suing us.  We were not at all proud of that situation, but not in a position to remedy it either.  Ironically, the insurance money paid out from the accident covered the legal fees for that too!

God is good.. ALL the time.

Every time something turns out for the good, people say, “God is so good!”  But do I have the ability to say that if things don’t turn out the way I want them to?  Our friend who was staying with us lost her mom a few weeks ago.  When God answers our prayers as “no” or “not right now”.  We are not often inclined to praise Him.  But I KNOW He is – even if my own strength and faith fail.

In every step we could see God’s hand moving and providing.  But I can’t say I stayed on the upside of faith through all this.  I got to a place where I felt every thing I’d ever claimed about my faith was a farce.  Every thing I’d written, everything I said I believed…  of no consequence.  Not that God wasn’t real.  But that maybe I didn’t really know Him.. not really.  And maybe I was a little angry too.  I could not read the Word, or pray.  I could only breathe in and breathe out – and even that was a challenge at times.

But as I write this, every single situation had an amazing turn of events, or a protection in the storm.  It only came within a certain distance, but then only to yield something good!

Through all of this trauma, my daughter and I reconciled.  The attempt to “work  it out” with the father only lasted a few days.  She came home and was an incredible help to us.  She finished her Associates Degree in Graphic Design in spite of pregnancy and the chaos here, and on October 1st I had the privilege of attending the birth of her beautiful baby girl, who in God’s mercy, looks exactly like her mother and no one else.  🙂  (I pray for her daddy… I just don’t want him to hurt them physically or emotionally.)  But even this proved to be a bigger adventure than we expected when her midwife dropped her from her care a week before her due date.  We had to scramble for a provider and a hospital at the last minute.  That insane few days would take more pages, so I will spare you, but mom and baby are fine thank God!

Our roommate has moved on to her next adventure, but we still have 7 people in our house.  Thankfully, one uses diapers so that’s only 6 competing for bathroom time.  I am thankful for all these people in my house – and surviving this year together has definitely drawn us closer.  As of his last CT scan, Jesse’s cancer is still in remission and the doctor feels it safe to remove the port for chemotherapy.   Oh, and Jesse’s birthday was celebrated with great glee and thankfulness, and the voice of the enemy was shown to be a liar!

I also finally was able to have a surgery I had needed for three years and that is the exclamation point of praise on this year.  My condition was the initial motivation to move in the first place, seeking access to health care.  That huge mountain in my life became a mole hill rather quickly after the move.

Both my walk of grace and my faith had faltered through all this, which is why I could barely stand to face this blog at all.  I didn’t even feel I had a right to speak anymore – even if I’d had a word to say, which I mostly didn’t.  But when they say faith is a fact, not a feeling – I knew this was true.  I believed the fact with my whole heart even when I couldn’t feel a thing.  I knew He was there.  He showed us He was over and over.   We have so much that is new and better ahead.  I have no idea if 2013 will be easier, or harder.  We don’t have any guarantees about what tomorrow holds except that He will never leave us or forsake us, even to the end of the age.   May He richly bless this year in fruitfulness of love for Him.

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Yesterday I sat down for lunch with two men who will both be 70 within the next twelve months.  They could not be more different if they had been born on separate planets.  One had lost his way in the drugs and parties of the 70’s.  The other had gone to seminary and doesn’t even know a single Led Zeppelin song.  One worked for over 40 years as a union worker, even through the party life, and lives on an adequate retirement, in a rent house.  The other re-built his life from scratch after divorce and career change left him with nothing.  One watches TV most of the day, the other works his small ranch and plays basketball on a city league with men half his age.  They are my fathers – one by birth, the other through marriage.  Even though my husband and I have been married over 20 years, this was the first time our fathers had ever been together long enough to have a conversation.  My dad is a former SDA pastor, and my father-in-law, former long-time member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong.  Over lunch at this home-cooking diner, they found common ground, and I sat in awe of God’s amazing love and faithfulness to all of us over the last many years.

My father left Adventism  in the 80s during the big upheaval when the truth began to come out about their prophet, Ellen G. White, and prominent leaders began to question the doctrine that had been seen as the founding pillar of the group.  He lost his job for the sake of the gospel, and over other matters, his wife as well.  For a long time I feared he was going to give up on faith altogether.  He never seemed to find a church where things worked out after that, and his questioning began to take directions that frightened me as I began my own life with Christ in my early adult life.  But through all the confusion, he has found Jesus to be the only worthwhile Truth.

After Worldwide Church of God shifted their theological position from Old to New Covenant in the early 90s, through the influence of their leader, Joseph Tkach, my father-in-law also embraced the new path.  On a side note, my father’s mother – also a long time member, did not.  She followed one of the many splinter groups that sprung up after the shift in opposition to the change.  My grandmother passed away seeing grace as too good to be true, and my father-in-law drifted out of fellowship and back into drugs.  As often happens when people let go of the Law-based religion, they feel lost and alone, and overwhelmed at the thought of trying to attend a mainstream church. (His old congregation dwindled and floundered badly.)  If you don’t replace the void with a very real Jesus, you will feel hung out to dry.  Simply changing your mental understanding *about* God, does not always spark a living relationship *with* Him.

After losing his wife two years ago, and surviving massive heart attack, followed by bypass surgery this past year, I saw a huge transformation in my father-in-law.  He stayed with us during his recovery and we really formed a new bond with him.  I saw His spiritual heart had been broken when his physical heart nearly ended his life.

Yesterday he was re-baptized at his new church two blocks from his home.  My father, visiting from another state, attended the service with me.  The significance of the day began to sink in as I sat on the pew, between them.  Two men with long journeys to tell.  And a young whelp of a pastor who had no sense at all of the holy ground he was treading on.  He was in a hurry.  Dunk the new member, rush through the sermon, brush off the old man who puts a hand on his shoulder and tries to tell him how much he reminded him of himself as a young pastor back in 1966, with tears brimming in his eyes.  I believed a good lunch was in order so insisted we sit down for some real fellowship after church.  There two men were able to share and rejoice in what God had done for them, with someone who understood.  I sat mostly quiet (I know, hard to fathom) in awe of what God had orchestrated this day.

Early yesterday morning before getting ready for church, I saw a friend living on the opposite side of our planet had posted a quote by Joseph Tkach on his facebook page.  I took this amazing “coincidence” as  gift from God for the day, and printed it for my father-in-law.

We have always understood grace to be unconditional, an unmerited pardon of our sins. But we tended to think of it as one of the components of salvation that needed to be “stirred into the mix” because we can’t keep the law. We need to see that God’s grace is much more than that.

Grace is not just a spiritual supplement that God provides because we can’t keep his law, like a whiff of oxygen to help a sick person breathe a bit easier. Grace is the love and freedom-producing action of God that reconstitutes humanity into an entirely new creation. It transforms us and gives us a new kind of life – life that no amount of law keeping could sustain. Grace is the environment that allows us, God’s new creation, to not just survive, but to grow and flourish.
Joseph Tkach

Sometimes it takes a long time to see what Grace can do.  It knows that life cannot be forced or coerced before its time.  In our short life spans we find it so hard to endure this slow process, in ourselves and others.  It reminds me of the words in Corinthians, that love bears all things, and believes all things.  I have often been like the young pastor, in a hurry and unable to see the miracles in front of my face, wishing for big things to happen.  But God is at work in every moment,  no matter how hard or dark.  I pray to be more aware of every day of Grace!

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First an apology to my email subscribers.  Trying out a new WordPress format and wouldn’t you know, when it says “Post a Photo” it means exactly that. But photos seem easier to upload, so here we go.  Pictures are what I want to share.  I received two things in the mail that really drew a contrast for me today.

Any former SDA who gets these knows exactly what they are and who they are from.  But no one else does.  As usual the church name, website, phone number, and pastor’s name can’t be found.  Inside it says, “Meet Our Speaker”.  There we find a picture of a girl who might be all of 16, who it claims became inspired for evangelism at an intensive Youth evangelistic program.  Internet searches showed her to turn up on a 3ABN show, and a couple of Youtube videos where it seems the child is extremely gifted for music.  Preaching a three week doctrinal series?  I suspect not.  The copy under the headliner refers to her as “a speaker”.. not “THE speaker”.

But even if they practiced total disclosure and honesty – the pictures, as usual, speak volumes more.  This exercise isn’t about picking on a group of people.  It’s about discernment and learning to spot the frauds and cons in life.  They are everywhere.  Ask yourself here what first impressions do these images give and what do you expect to hear?  What motivator are they playing on?  What’s the agenda?

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ImageThis one lists all the major distinctive doctrines necessary to convert people to “the church”, which would include their beliefs on the Sabbath day, hell, what happens when you die (nothing), and the second coming, which is closely tied to the Sabbath and the Mark of the Beast (er.. keeping Sunday as the Sabbath).

Sorry next one is fuzzy.  Too late to re-take the photo.

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Still I have to ask, what IS Life’s Greatest Battle?  This entire brochure implies extreme danger and fear.  You have to know about this battle and how to fight it or all might be lost.  This impression does accurately portray the belief system as a whole, in its historical form.

Then I opened my other mail, one of my favorites for years – a magazine dedicated to raising awareness for the persecuted Church, worldwide.  Do they have an agenda?  Most certainly. Matthew 25, Hebrews 13.  The cult flyer cloaked their identity and Jesus both.  He was a footnote.  When I look at these pictures, all I see is Jesus.

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I think these believers must know, that “Life’s Greatest Battle” is already won.  Yet they are caught in the cross fire over and over in a world that hates the Victor.  Their testimony and witness continues to focus me and my priorities on a regular basis.  They tear away the facade and let the reality of who we are, and who Jesus is, shine out.  What a beautiful picture.

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8thday4life was the beginning of my blogging life, or as I like to call it, self-directed therapy with the possibility of an audience.   Since then, I’ve started a few more, for different flavors of subject matter.  This one I’ve tried to keep to the mission – testifying about Jesus and how He delivered us from really distracting, damaging religious ideas.  I have another one for more personal spiritual discussions, one for being goofy and posting pictures, and a private one for poetry.  If I am writing poetry, I’m venting.  I have a new one registered  to talk about nutrition and natural health – which was supposed to start this year. Well not yet.

I thought I had the bases covered for all my various writing outlet needs.  But then my fairly-calm, superficially-organized life with a vague routine and goals in sight, just got splattered all over the map.  I still have the need to write, but ….  what I have to say doesn’t fit anywhere.  I don’t have a file category for what you want to say when everything you don’t expect happens in three months’ time.  I’ve tried to always maintain a level of pessimism high enough to not be shaken by all the various disasters that could emerge from the void of the future unknown.  I believed this ability to expect the worst insulated me from the shock of unexpected crises.   I’ve said it before on this blog, and I say it again now.   I was wrong.  Not only have I been taken by utter surprise more than once, but some of my very close friends have as well.  It’s like we’ve all been thrown into the cauldron at the same time.  I don’t want to give my enemies a cause to rejoice so I will just say, what the enemy has meant for harm, God has intended for good.  Always. (Romans 8)

But I am here to testify that GOD IS GOOD.  No matter what.  If I started to list here all that He has done, and all that we are thankful for right now, I’d run past the word limit where people stop reading and go back to facebook.  He has made His presence and direction so evident that it cannot be explained in any other way than to know – there IS a God, and He is an awesome God!  I hope someday I can tell the whole story, but it’s not time right now.

I also used to believe (another one of my legalistic fallacies…. adding this in so this post is still relevant for 8thday4life :)) that a person’s spiritual level was a mathematical equation directly related to how much time they spent reading the Bible every day.  (BIG Qualification:  We do need to read the Word.  ALL the Word.  As much as possible.  Every day is highly desirable!)  I thought spiritual strength and faith would wane if this practice was neglected for any reason at all.  I judged other people for their lack of habit in this regard as less spiritual.

Right now I’m in a season, one I’m praying is over soon, where I am not keeping this habit up.  (Another reason I have not been writing here).  I don’t like it.  I want back what I had before life got crazy.  I can’t focus to read much of anything, let alone the Word of God.  I do know that what I’m going through would be immensely harder if I had not invested so much time previously renewing my mind.  But I miss it.  Maybe this is to teach me not to even trust my ability to do ANYTHING in my own power toward being a “real” Christian.  Here’s my mind battle.

The old programming says, “If you were a REAL Christian you would have more discipline no matter what was going on.  You will fail if you don’t hold up your end of the duty.”  My NEW program, which I choose to listen to, says, “Pray for strength to be restored, and the ability to digest spiritual food again.  It is HE who wills and enables you.  Trust Him to get you through this season and to restore what has been set aside, even greater than it was before.  Patiently wait for the Lord.  Don’t trust your striving, but wait for the Lord.  He will revive you”

Only Jesus is the rock.  The Word is precious, but He is the LIVING reality of it, the Rock that gives water in the desert.  Our family and friends are the most beautiful gifts from Him on earth, but He is the Rock.  Even though I don’ t know the final outcome of all the various situations going on right now I know enough to say for sure, Jesus is enough!!  More than enough.  He is everything.

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Today I ran across a post on facebook and learned of Knowing Me Ministries in Portland, Oregon.  It caught my eye because they work with the homeless population, an avenue of ministry our family also has been given a heart for. What intrigued me, besides their amazing testimony and witness (check it out!), was the verse that inspired their name:

  He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.  Is not this to know me? declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 22:16

It reminded me of another group who derived their name from a passage in Jeremiah.  We called ourselves “Yada Elohim”  which means “Know God.”

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 9:23,24

The Hebrew word indicated a very intimate relationship.  The same word is used in passages were a when a man “knew” his wife.  We desired this intimate knowledge of God so much, and believed that increasing our level of obedience to Old Covenant commandments would bring us to this closer understanding of God.   We believed if we walked as Jesus walked, in the Jewish sense, we would know God like we had never known him before.   We seemed to have missed the verse in chapter 22.

Our desires were noble, but our method could be compared to trying to make the trek of Lewis and Clark, as they did; by boat, on horseback, and on foot.  Why do that when you can now drive to the Pacific coast?  It might be a great adventure, but if you were to tell people they must go this way to get there, as you sport your leather moccasins,  this would be a silly and even dangerous assertion.  Yet, that is in effect, what we believed.

Later as I read Matthew, I realized what the words of Jesus said about who HE would know, and I became suddenly aware that the fruit in our lives did not resemble the group which were commended.  This began the gift of seeing Jesus as the ultimate Truth.  These words stopped me in my tracks:

On that day many will say to me,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

And then will I declare to them,
‘I never knew you; depart from me, 
you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:22,23

And these:

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying,
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  

Matthew 25:40-46

Not every believer is called by God to directly do all of these things.  But the corporate fruit or our movement, across the board, fell in the goat camp.  Yes.. there are individual exceptions, but this was most certainly not the focus of our “mission”.   (Then again, it’s not the mission of most of what calls itself Christian in the Western world.)

Our mission to know God through the Law and not Jesus Himself did not produce compassion, self-sacrifice for the “least of these” or calling out the Good News to those God is calling to Himself.  Our purpose was to show Christians they had turned their backs on Torah, and that we followed the REAL Messiah.

Today I saw parallels in the names of two ministries, and great contrast in the mission.  It brought to my mind again that these two paths do not converge.

The first reaction upon deliverance from this mistaken mindset was to exchange the Old Covenant “to do list” for the New Covenant one.  “Now I need to make sure I’m doing these commandments of Jesus!”  Yes, but no.  I am thankful God did not allow me to jump into trying to obey even more correctly that I had been doing the last six years.  I wanted to, but He needed to transform my whole outlook.

When I saw the the New Covenant, I saw the Spirit brought this life of compassion.  This fruit comes through allowing GOD to work.  I knew I needed to pray.  Pray for my heart to be filled with love and compassion where it had become cold and hard.  Pray for the privilege to serve those God would lay on my heart to serve.  Pray for the ability and provision to do so.  Pray pray pray.

Life in the Spirit is not about checklists… it’s about being blindly abandoned to Jesus and letting Him fill us up and lead us, and empower us.  We don’t reassure ourselves that God is going to save us because we are doing the works the good guys are doing in the parable.  He confirms the Promise in us when we see that He is doing in us what we know we had no ability to do ourselves, nor even the desire, if left to ourselves.  We see that we become the tool in His hands, and lives are impacted, because of what HE is doing, not us.

Some believers are called to works where they don’t get to see the fruit God will bring from it.  Even here, the witness of love in their hearts, confirms this same thing.   The still small voice that spurs them on comforts them as well.  Are there moments of doubt and despair?  Most certainly.  Look at Elijah and John the Baptist.  God alone is strong and He alone is worthy of glory.

Another verse comes to mind.

But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  
John 3:21  

The KJV uses the word “wrought” for “carried out”.   Christ is the author and the finisher.   He is all in all.  My good intentions, hard work, striving, and planning in human wisdom… futile.  Sabbath rest in Christ becomes a necessity for anyone who wishes to serve in His army.  We have to trust Him daily for everything from start to finish, and hear Him.

What has God called you to do?  Maybe it’s prayer (what is more effective in this world and how few of us devote our time to this?),  sacrificial giving, or the ability to sit and listen to a broken heart without judging.  Do we desire for our hearts to be broken for the things that break His?  Does our cause in this world match what He has declared matters most to Him?

Next week our family is moving back into the city from a small town.  I have been so excited to know I will be near all the things I love, and need.  No more long drives home.  This time of year especially, it’s easy to get excited about the consumer opportunities.  Today I am reminded of one of the chief reasons I believe God is allowing us to go back in.  He loves people more than He loves Sam’s Club.  I will keep praying for the open doors, and the willingness to allow the Spirit to flow through me to people, whether it’s a neighbor, or a homeless friend under a bridge.

What does it mean to know God?  I am continuing to learn.  But most of all, I am thankful that He has patiently, and lovingly known me.

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