What’s Your Excuse?

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV).

From my 2009 Journal. Jeremiah was a PK (Preacher’s Kid), for his father was a priest. One day God spoke directly to him—I assume in an audible voice. It’s pretty heady stuff to be chosen by God!

But Jeremiah’s objection to this calling reflected his fears: “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” (1:6).

What excuses do I make for not following God’s command: she’s too hard to love; he won’t listen; I can’t because . . . ; I don’t know how; I don’t have time; I don’t have the money. . .

God’s answer to Jeremiah (and to me):  Don’t be afraid because I AM with you.

The antidote to fear is experiencing God’s presence.

I feel a connecting point with Jeremiah. When God called me to the ministry of inner healing prayer, the only reason I said no to my fears and yes to God was because I had a strong sense of His presence. You can read all about that story in our book Diamond Fractal.

Busted!

From my 2020 Journal. So I need to go to the grocery store one morning, and I’m waiting on an approaching car to pass by so I can turn left into the Kroger parking lot. But the idiot fails to use his turn signal and ends up turning right, into the parking lot ahead of me. And I’m thinking to myself, “Dumb driver can’t bother to use his turn signal to let me know his intention.” As I follow him self-righteously into the parking area, I suddenly realize that I had neglected to put on my own turn signal before proceeding to turn left. Busted!

I laughed (yes, out loud) at my own folly and hypocrisy. Lord, forgive me!

Praying for the Sick

From my 2009 Journal. I get a little confused when I hear others pray and teach on prayer for the sick. Chrissy claims the blood of Jesus “by His stripes we are healed” for anyone who is sick and expects instant physical healing. She had a little crisis of faith when her father passed away. One pastor says it’s weak praying to say, “If God wills” because we shouldn’t be asking for healing unless we know it’s His will. What if, he says, the illness is “unto death” and we don’t know the person’s heart? What if he/she needs to let go of rebellion before God wants to heal him/her? How can we ask if we don’t know what to ask for?

Maybe it’s God’s will that all be healed, but Man still has a will and a choice as to how he treats his body, and God is not obligated to override his choices. I can’t ask God to make a person choose something, but I can trust God to know how to get a person’s attention like He did for Jacob or for Jonah.

Somewhere there must be discernment in our prayers for the sick. The biblical author James says to pray for the sick, and the elders of the church should anoint with oil. Should we do this for every sniffle?

Sometimes I think we’re so focused on physical healing, we forget to pray for the spiritual. Jesus often mentioned the faith of the person who asked for healing. The disciples healed many sick after the resurrection. Did they stop to ask if the person wanted healing or what was preventing their healing?

Maybe our prayer for the sick could be, “Reveal to X anything that is preventing his healing, give him courage to face his pain, may God be honored through his responses and reactions, and heal his body if it will give God greater glory.”

I take comfort in the fact that God knows my heart. He can interpret my words and intent and use them for His glory. He knows me well enough to know what I believe and mean.

2020 Update.  I find it interesting to look back at how I struggled 10 years ago. Those questions no longer burn in my heart. It’s not that I have fewer questions; it’s that I’m more content with not knowing all the answers. I just ask and let God sort it out.  This past week a dear friend and prayer warrior had a massive stroke. The church gathered together to pray for her, but our emotions were conflicted. We wanted to see Mary Lee fully restored to health, but we opened our hearts and hands to release her to heaven. We trusted God to do what was best. Today she is dancing with the angels, and I’m okay with God saying no to the cries of our heart to give her physical life back.

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Thou shalt not

From my 2009 Journal. It was game night at our missionary boarding school. The staff had planned a relay where both the boys and the girls had to run to a suitcase, open it, put on all the clothes, run back to the starting line, strip off those clothes and hand them to the next child. The second in line would then put on the clothes, run to the suitcase, pack them all back inside, and return to the starting line to tag the next child.

In the midst of our fun, one Auntie abruptly stopped the game and quoted Scripture: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing.” End of game.

At first, I was mad, but then I thought, “Oh no! What if we were doing something wrong?”

So when I got back to the dorm, I looked up the quoted Scripture where the same passage admonished the Israelites to wear fringes on their garments and not to wear clothes of wool and linen woven together. How could this staff member apply one rule and neglect another? I felt vindicated, self-righteous, disgusted. We’d been cheated out of our fun and made to think we might be sinning in our play time.

God’s answer to me? “Give up your self-righteousness, Karen. I will honor the Auntie for following her conscience, though misguided.”

We had a pastor once who frequently misquoted Scripture. It was due to a little lack of training, a lack of study and preparation, and a whole lot of fear-based, emotion-driven beliefs. Or perhaps he wasn’t really called to be a pastor! He thought he was doing right, but he ended up splitting the church.

I feel passionate about proper exegesis of Scripture. So much ignorance, false teaching, and silly conclusions result from improper understanding of context. When someone misquotes Scripture, however, what should be my response? First, recognize the error. Second, correct the error if given the opportunity. Third, be gracious. Love trumps proving I’m right.

Need an example?

The prophet Amos sets forth the argument that God always gives His children a warning before He punishes them.

There’s a cause and effect in the following scenarios:

  • God has spoken: a prophet must prophecy.
  • A lion roars: people are in fear.
  • A trumpet sounds in the city: there’s an alarm and people fear.

The opposite is also true. If there’s no cause, then there’s no effect:

  • You wouldn’t find two people meeting together to go for a walk unless they agreed ahead of time to do so.
  • A lion won’t roar if he doesn’t have prey.
  • A bird can’t be ensnared if there’s no trap.

Conclusion: If you see misfortune or evil occur, you can know that the Lord caused it.

And the misquote? People use Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together unless they agree?” to persuade a believer not to marry an unbeliever.

In context, it’s an argument for Israel to believe and understand that Amos’s prophecies are right. And in context, it’s about the absurdity of something occurring that wasn’t planned. To update the analogy: No one is going to show up in the conference room if a meeting hasn’t been scheduled.

Now there is wisdom in cautioning a couple regarding their disparity in faith; just don’t abuse Scripture to make your point.

What other Scripture misquotes have you noticed?

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3-Legged Race at Kent Academy

Habakkuk’s Struggle

From my 2009 Journal. While reading through the book of Habakkuk, I notice the prophet’s anguished struggle with God’s inaction.

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? (1:2 NIV).

 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? (1:3).

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (1:13).

Humans have wrestled with God’s choices from the beginning of time. We try to reconcile our theology of a good and caring God with our perception of His actions or inaction. Why is it so hard to just accept God and His will and His way? I think it’s because we have a built-in need for fairness and justice, and we want control of our world.

What makes you struggle with God?

2020 Update.  Our world is a mess right now, but is it really any different from Habakkuk’s day: violence, injustice, wrongdoing, wickedness. My struggle is not really about what’s going on in the world, but rather what’s going on in my heart. When I ask why questions, I don’t really want an intellectual answer. I want God to fix the pain in my heart so I can be at peace. But it’s a struggle to let go of my own agenda.

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Tomato Plants and Trials

With our daughter Cindy’s encouragement, Scott and I decided this year to try our hand at growing some veggies in a hydroponic Tower Garden on our back deck. We had no idea what to expect, so we blithely inserted our tiny shoots of celery, basil, cucumbers, lettuce, kale, onions, marigolds, and tomatoes into the little black holes. Daily, we enjoyed plucking off fresh salad ingredients for our lunches.

The tomato plants didn’t start to grow until later when the weather turned hotter. I looked on the Internet to find out how to prune them and diligently plucked off the errant shoots so that the main branches would grow strong and healthy. All was going great until those tomato plants assumed their power and soon dominated the entire structure, blocking out the sun for all the other plants. It’s a good thing we like tomatoes, for we’re about to get a bumper crop of them! (Cindy subsequently urged me to cut them back even more.)

When I hurt or face a trial, I might assume that God is mad at me or that I’ve done something wrong and He’s punishing me. The truth, however, might be that He is simply pruning me to bear more fruit. I can embrace the trial, learn from it, and give God permission to prune me. And enjoy the bumper crop of joy and patience and love to spread around my neighborhood.

Cherry tomatoes anyone?

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What If God Asked?

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From my 2009 Journal. Ezekiel 4 is a fascinating exchange between God and Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel instructions that impose hardships on him, including eating rationed food and water, lying on one side for over a year and on the other for 40 days. But worst of all, God says he must prepare his food using human dung for fuel—like they will be doing in captivity. Ezekiel protests—he’s never defiled himself before with abominable meat. God relents and allows him to use cow dung instead.

In Ezekiel’s agrarian society, using cow dung is normal. It’s not offensive to them. Some tribes in Africa even use it to create shiny floors in their huts. But there’s something inherently offensive, disgusting, repulsive, unclean, about using human waste. At least it feels that way to me.

Ezekiel was used to using cow dung. Was there something in the Law that said human dung was defiling? Or was it inherently known that this was ceremonially or socially or emotionally unacceptable?

The part that really fascinates me, however, is that God relents from His command. He’s already asked Ezekiel to do some pretty humiliating and bizarre things. But He accepts Ezekiel’s protests based on his argument: I’ve never defiled myself—this would make me impure.

Now fast-forward to Peter in Acts 10:14. God instructs Peter to eat unclean animals. Same response: I’ve never defiled myself before. The passage doesn’t say that God made Peter eat them, but He does say, “What God calls clean is clean.”

God could have used the same argument with Ezekiel, but He doesn’t—which makes me think that God understood and took pity on Ezekiel. That He would not require of him more than he could bear.

Both men said they had never been defiled. Pete said, “No, Lord!” Ezekiel didn’t say no, but “Ah, Lord God . . .” Did Ezekiel protest or simply express his dismay?

What hard thing has God asked me to do? Did I protest? Yes, that’s quite normal, I think. But I eventually relented and obeyed. But He’s never asked me to go against my conscience—or has He?

What to Do When You Can’t Do

Jesus judged me and counted me faithful and trustworthy and appointed me to this ministry. (The Apostle Paul, I Timothy 1:12 AM)

From my 2009 Journal. My child-rearing days taxed my time and energy, but these days I wonder sometimes why I have so much free time. You’d think I’d be happy to sit around and read novels and watch TV or do jigsaw puzzles. But I want to fill more of my time with ministry and less with fluff. That’s when I think of the Apostle Paul sitting for months in prison. Did he long to get back into the ministry of preaching? Did he ever feel like he was spinning his wheels? Missionary life was exciting and challenging and suited his drive for evangelism. I know he used some of this down time talking to the other prisoners and guards and writing epistles, but I suspect time weighed heavily on him.

How much of my time is God-directed and passion-driven vs. drifting along day by day, with no goals or excitement to fill my time? Where is my focus—on TIME or on my character development? I fear I think too much like an American—filling time is the driving force and factor of our days. In a warm-culture setting with no calendars or appointments or clocks or watches, relationships become central. Maybe I need to go back to my African roots and sit for awhile under a tree. God appointed me to a ministry of inner healing prayer, so I may as well let Him be in charge of my time as well.

2020. Though I wrote this over ten years ago, it seems to fit today’s challenges with social distancing and forced isolation. I’m grateful that I’m still able to carry on with ministry through electronic means.

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The River of Life

From my 2009 Journal. While Scott and I were visiting his family in Vancouver, BC, I picked up a novel from his aunt’s bookshelf.  Published in 1931, A White Bird Flying, is full of life’s lessons and philosophy and old-fashioned values—a gentle reminder of days gone by in rural Nebraska. Laura, a would-be writer, chooses love and a family over career and a promised inheritance. When her would-be benefactor dies, he sends her the grand sum of one dollar in retaliation for spurning him.

The author, Bess Streeter Aldrich, concludes:

Life is like a river—a groping, pulsing river, endlessly rising and falling, finding its way through mists and shadows to some far sea. Every human is a part of the story. One life touches another and is gone. There is contact for a brief time—an influence for good or ill. And the river goes on, endlessly rising and falling, finding its way to the sea (p. 123).

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For years, I simply drifted in the water, going along with what others wanted for my life rather than following my heart. A lot of the decisions I made were because I didn’t really know what I wanted. And even if I did, I got easily thwarted or side-tracked by the scenery around me or the rocks in the riverbed. I could make goals, but if people or events interrupted the flow, I’d give up on my dreams and let them paddle the boat for me.

So when does an interruption become a distraction and when is it actually a God-event? How can you tell the difference? Is the interruption like a bumper lane in a bowling alley? The rubber is there to keep you out of the gutter. Or is the interruption like a pile of sticks in the river that you want to avoid because it’s a snare or a trap?

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I think the rapids are the events over which you have no control, and you have to be on your guard, alert to navigate well to stay upright. Thankfully, not all of life is calm and not all is rapids. Variety is nice. So is it okay to drift? Sometimes. Those are the resting times. But it’s not okay when the water is rough. And that’s when I’m glad I have an experienced Guide with me Who knows the river and knows where the hazards are. And He’s strong enough to keep us on an even keel. But God expects me to engage in the fight to stay upright. I need to use my paddle as I’m able.

Sometimes, when you’re about to be dumped into the river, you just hang onto the sides for dear life. But you’re not going to drown (unless it’s your time to go Home) because Jesus has the lifeline in His hands. When He comes to rescue you, relax, don’t struggle against Him.

But back to the author’s metaphor. “Life is like a river. Every human is a part of the story. One life touches another and is gone.” What does that look like in the picture? Are we flotsam and jetsam? Tree debris? Turtles swimming downstream? Canoes that bump against each other? What do you think?

What other applications can you see in this metaphor?

Shame on You

From my 2009 Journal. Having a judgmental spirit is like trying to cast shame on another person.

Shame Ben

At my boarding school, kids were adept at using a little gesture that meant “shame on you” or “naughty, naughty.” Left pointer finger pointed at the victim. Right pointer finger perpendicular to the left one. Slide right finger repeatedly across and down left finger. Shake the head. “Tsk tsk.”

Why did we do that? Did we learn it from the grown-ups who said to us, “Shame on you!” or “You know better than that.” Do those words actually correct behavior, or do they simply cause the child to cower, believing there’s something wrong with him? Why can’t we discipline and correct without the shaming?

My judgmental spirit and attempt to shame a person is simply self-righteousness. And shame on me for doing so! I am not your judge. When a kid pointed a finger at us in judgment, we’d remind him that three fingers pointed back at himself.

I should just put my shaming fingers in my pocket.