Atlas and Ant Bites

Journal 2005.

I had a God-orchestrated event today. A lady in upstate New York somehow found my name on the Internet and called me about her suicidal daughter who had just moved to our town. The young lady had set the date to take her life and was putting her affairs in order. I gave the mom our local suicide hotline number, the name of a counseling center in town, and permission to pass along my phone number. Four hours later, the daughter called me. We talked and prayed for almost two hours. At the end or our session, with hope in her voice, she said about her suicide date: “Jesus says it’s about life, not death.” Wahoo!

Now here’s the subtle irony. God orchestrated the entire event. All I did was pray and God showed up. He even gave me the gifts and training to know what to do, but Satan’s little lies whispered in my ear, “See what you did? You just saved a life! Aren’t you good?”

Immediately I recognize the voice of pride. I’m Atlas, brawny enough to hold up the world, while others are puny little ants crawling on its surface. [How sick is that!?] Soon those biting ants swarm over my arms and legs, and when I set the “world” down so I can scratch, I discover I’m not balancing it after all. There’s a power source, an air current beneath, making it twirl and dance. I had actually been blocking the airflow when I stepped under the sphere. Sheepishly, I realize the orb is not the world after all, but a toddler-sized, lightweight beach ball.

Now what to do with the ant bites? I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins . . .”

Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? (Isa. 40:13 NIV)

It’s laughable to think we can counsel each other—apart from God’s wisdom. And even more preposterous to think we could counsel God.

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On War

Journal 2008. How does God feel about war?

I confess I struggle with the concept of holy war. We condemn the Medieval Crusaders, and we condemn its use by certain people groups today. But when God wanted the Israelites to oust seven wicked Canaanite nations, He commanded holy war.

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience). They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. (Judges 3:1- 2, 4)

According to these verses, he used an enemy to test the Israelite’s obedience to Him, but He also gave them the training and tools to win. Was He capable of wiping out the evil nations by Himself? Of course. He did it in Noah’s day. But for some reason, He wanted His people involved in the process. He wanted relationship, trust, and obedience.

How do I feel about war?

I also confess I have no first-hand experience with warfare. I believe greed, hatred, and revenge are all wrong motives for starting a war. But war in obedience to God’s command, to defend the poor or helpless, to free the captive—I can justify that.

In any war, both sides pray to God for victory and saved lives. How can He answer equitably? What’s a suitable prayer then?

So let all Your enemies perish, O Lord! But let those who love Him, be like the sun when he rises in his might. (Judges 5:31)

A 2022 Update. This morning I read this perspective from torahclass.com, Acts Lesson 30. What do you think?

The land of Canaan was not a gift of conquest from God to the Israelites; it was a gift of inheritance. Why an inheritance? Why not as a spoil of war? Because God already owned the land; He had hundreds of years earlier promised to give it to Abraham; it became Abraham’s land the instant God promised it. All that remained was for Abraham’s descendants to possess it. So the Lord merely evicted the unlawful squatters, and then turned over to the rightful inheritors (Israel) that which He had long ago bequeathed to them. For God is a Father to His children, Israel and that’s what fathers do.

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My Path, My Choice

Journal 2005

As I pack my suitcase for another school reunion, I muse on the different paths my classmates’ feet have trod. Some of us stumble across rocky surfaces, trying to avoid sprained ankles. I watch others schlepping through oozing, muddy slime. Some classmates have only known soft and spongy lichen between their toes while some feet skate across glass-smooth ground. The footsteps we take are part our choice and part our circumstances. When we approach a mud puddle, for example, we can choose to skirt it (if it’s not too wide), lay down planks, slog through it, or wait till it dries up.

But always, we live with our choices and the circumstances God puts in our path. Fortunately, He can redeem those situations and choices (if we let Him). He can clean off the mud, dry our feet, and mend the sprain or broken toe. And a cottage with a cozy fireplace waits for us at the end of the journey.

A 2022 Update. I plan to attend our 50th year graduation class reunion in May and our all-boarding-schools reunion in July. I go, not because I’m curious about the different paths we’ve taken, but because we started this journey together, and I want to walk together the rest of the way.

Fear-based Triggers

Journal 2008. In my prayer ministry, I help people work through their triggers, born out of unresolved hurt and lies believed in their memories. In my Bible reading this morning, I note that human nature has not changed over the centuries.

THE SCENARIO: When the children of Israel approach the Promised Land to oust the local residents, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh declare they want to settle instead on the east side of the Jordan. Leader Joshua relents, as long as their fighting men help their brothers (the other 9 ½ tribes) conquer the land on the west side. And the tribes agree to the terms.

Once the men fulfill their duties, Joshua sends them home in peace. But before they leave, the 2 ½ tribes build an imposing altar on the west side of the Jordan. They’ve done a good job, their character is commendable, and all is well it seems. But then they get slammed.

And when the Israelites [the westerners] heard that they had built the altar . . ., the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them (Joshua 22: 11-12).

What! Driven by FEAR, the western Israelites accuse the eastern tribes of rebellion against God. Where did this fear come from?

TWO TRIGGER MEMORIES:

First, they recall the Baal of Peor incident when they played the harlot with Moab women who caused them to worship Baal and 24,000 died of plague (Num. 25:1-9). “If we turn from the Lord,” they conclude, “we’re all toast. God will get us all” (v. 18). From all appearances, any altar except for the one at the temple was contrary to God’s instructions—IF the altar was for the purpose of sacrificing animals

Second, they remember Achan—when the whole nation got punished for one man’s sin.

Israel rebelled many times, but apparently this one lesson stuck. A healthy fear of God and the consequences of sin is not a bad thing, but their fear made them jump to false conclusions.

THE DEFENSE. Meanwhile, the 2 ½ tribes push back in defense:

The Mighty One, God, the Lord! HE knows, and let Israel know! We’re innocent of rebellion (v. 22).

THEIR TRIGGER: “We did it from FEAR.”

Really?! Same emotion as their accusers, but for a different reason. Fear that “someday your kids will say to our kids: What have you to do with the God of Israel? There’s a boundary [Jordan] between us, and we’re scared your kids might make our kids stop following God. So . . . we built this copy of the real altar—not as a place for offerings, but to be a witness between us and generations after us.”

Ironically, their fear-based decision to protect themselves backfired. Later we read that those 2 ½ tribes drifted away from their roots. That altar was ineffective and did not produce the desired result.

Acting out of triggers can produce unwanted consequences. How much better if both sides had sought the Lord first and worked through their fears before they acted. If the easterners hadn’t built that altar, the westerners wouldn’t have risen to war. Sounds like we could learn a thing or two from the ancients.

Not-So-Triumphal Entry

Journal 2008. Jesus comes riding on a donkey, down the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, to Jerusalem. But coats and palms branches don’t cut it for my modern mind. Think ticker-tape parade in a convertible limo, waving to the crowds, on the way to seat of government. And the whole city buzzes and vibrates with the news on Twitter and Facebook, while the media clamors for an interview.

When He arrives at the house that was built to honor Him and His Father—it belongs to His family—He finds garbage everywhere. And Starbucks kiosks, newspaper stands, and ware hawkers have taken over the lawn. Business is booming like a circus.

“Get off my lawn!” Jesus cries. “You don’t belong here! This isn’t your property! This is my Dad’s house—and Mine, since I inherit all things from Him.” The little children who have followed Jesus the whole parade, along with their big sisters and brothers, shout and laugh and chant “Hosanna!” Meanwhile, some crippled and blind people huddle in a corner of His house, and He cures them. What a range of emotion He feels—anger, elation, compassion, and sorrow, all in the space of a few hours.

And just like any hero or miracle-worker or crowd-pleaser who enters a city, there is opposition, criticism, and jealousy. The caretakers of His house shout: “What do you think you’re doing here? Do you hear what the kids are saying? It’s blasphemous; shut them up!”

And Jesus says, “Have you never read [a slap, a rebuke—of course they’ve read—they know the passage by heart]: Out of the mouths of children and infants You have made perfect praise. (Ps. 8:2).”

What’s in God’s house today—clutter, criticism, or accolades?

Holy Spirit or Evil Spirit?

Journal 2005. We are working with a lady who has D.I.D. (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and is involved in a charismatic church. She had been through numerous experiences of so-called deliverance—all very dramatic and theatrical. She allowed the demons to jerk her around and use her body, and when we commanded them to quit, they didn’t. That’s when we discovered the reason: she liked the theatrical nature of her experiences. After we dealt with that emotion, and she agreed to let it go, it was easy and undramatic to tell the demons to depart. No jerks, no manifestations. She was amazed it was so easy. And then her very telling comment: A lot of what I thought was God’s doing was actually demons. Hmmm.

I think Baptists have a correct doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but other groups have experiential knowledge of Him. I want both.

Avoiding Rudeness

Journal 2008

But some “worthless fellows” despised King Saul, brought him no gift, and said, “How can this man save us?” (I Sam.10:27)

When Samuel announced Saul would be God’s chosen king, these worthless fellows were rude and loud-mouthed. Their characters were questionable. And Saul’s response? He held his peace. He acted like he was deaf.

By today’s standards, we think it’s commendable to ignore rudeness, but I wonder—as king, would Saul have been better off disciplining these men in some way? Apparently, he didn’t know his power yet. After Saul’s first victory in battle, the people urged him to deal with the worthless fellows, but again he said no, not today. “Today is a day of deliverance.” And that day he was crowned king. Was his response wise or foolish?

Later, while at war with the Philistines, his men were scattered, and he was given explicit orders to wait a week for Samuel to come to make a sacrifice. When Sam confronted him, Saul responded, “. . . I forced myself to offer a burnt offering.” Really!? What kind of foolish statement is that?! Shades of Aaron’s “I threw the gold in the fire and out came a calf!” Contrast those statements with David who later “encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord.”

Chapter after chapter reveal stories of Saul’s poor choices and character. For 40 years, he did kingly things: He fought against Israel’s enemies and “made it worse for them” and “He did valiantly and smote the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.” But . . . we don’t remember him for his victories. We can only see his faults—which eclipse the good that he does.

So . . . I wonder . . . was Saul’s avoidance of rudeness or conflict a sign of weakness or wisdom? How best should I handle other people’s rudeness today?

Juggling

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Journal 2005. Today I feel like I’m juggling too many balls—Ping-Pong balls!—and they’re flying in all directions at once. And so I gather them all, carefully place them in a four-sided tray, and hand them to Jesus. When I ask Him which ball He wants me to hold today, oddly He offers me a large glove, crystal-clear and sparkling like a diamond. I’m scared to take it, but when I do, I discover it is weightless, for it’s made of pure light. And He? He tucks it deep inside my heart so my hands are free, but its light spills from my pores for all to see—His light.

And what of all those Ping-Pong balls that I handed Him?

“No problem,” He says. And He begins to juggle the stars and the planets in a spectacular, brilliant light show.

“How does He keep from dropping them all?” I wonder. And then I see the strings attached. He’s bonded to each one—each star, each orb—and, yes, to each Ping-Pong ball with chords of love and ownership and responsibility, for each ball represents a person in my life.

Just carry one “ball” today, Karen.

A 2022 Update. I’ve lamented already this new year that I was juggling too many hats—which represent my current roles. As fast as I could remove one from my head, another replaced it in rapid succession. I didn’t choose for all these deadlines to occur at the same time. Another metaphor I see is running a race with hurdles. I just can’t seem to catch my breath before the next one is upon me. “Just breathe,” says Jesus, “and keep your eyes focused on Me.” At last, the rotating hats slow their pace, and the hurdles space themselves out, and I go into recovery mode. It’s time to read a book, do a jigsaw puzzle, or take a walk. This race won’t last forever, and I’m grateful for the energy and strength to keep going.

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The Missionary Measuring Stick

Journal 2005

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 NIV, when Jesus prayed for His disciples)

When I was growing up, missionaries loved to quote this verse and others like them to 1) guilt-trip Americans to become missionaries or 2) prove their pride in obedience to God’s command.

Here’s where my struggle has been for so long—believing that missionary life and calling is holier, better, and higher than any other calling. That was the message I grew up with. But after hearing story after story of nasty, ungodly missionaries, my bubble has burst. I have to take missionaries off that pedestal.

We were taught “sent into the world” doesn’t have to mean “sent to Africa.” It can mean “sent across the street to your neighbor,” but in the back of my child’s mind, that was not as spiritual or as high a calling as being sent to Africa. If you got sent to Africa, your measuring stick of importance was much longer than your measuring stick that only reached across the street.

The truth is, it’s not about works; it’s about relationship. It’s not about how many times I pray, go to church, tithe, read my bible, witness, do, do, do—but rather it’s about how much I love Jesus, and even more importantly, how much He loves me.

A 2022 Update. I almost didn’t post this entry because I am so very far removed from this mindset now. But perhaps in some circles the attitude is still present. Just substitute a different vocation or status (education, economic status, political clout, race). Any time I view myself as superior, it’s time to check in with humility.

Noticing God

Journal 2005. What might it look like if I practiced noticing Jesus’ presence? What if I mentally set a place at the table for Him at every meal? Would my “bless this food” prayer be different? Would our conversation be different? What would it be like to place Him at the head of the table?

What if I invite Him to sit in the living room with me and watch TV? Would we watch what He wanted to watch? Or would He prefer to turn it off so that we could talk together?

In my kitchen He’d help me prepare the meal and we’d chat while doing dishes. He’d make suggestions for good food to eat. At my computer, He’d sit beside me and help me figure things out and give me creative ideas and help me catch mistakes in my proofreading.

How? All I have to do is be aware. Notice. Listen. He’s right there all the time. I just don’t always take time to notice Him. I often take Him for granted.

Lord, reveal Yourself to me throughout this day. Help me to pay attention, sit up and take notice, to listen to You. I love spending time alone with You, all to myself, but You don’t go away just because I walk out of a prayer closet. You come too!

How do I pray for someone who can’t sense His presence because he/she has his/her eyes closed? God will not force their eyelids open. But perhaps He’ll woo them with sounds and touch and smell and taste, so they’ll open their eyes voluntarily—and then they’ll see and respond. Perhaps I should stop praying that God will open their eyes and instead ask Him to bring things into their lives so they’ll voluntarily open them. They’ve heard loud and scary noises, and they’re keeping their eyes shut so they won’t have to see the monsters. What can I do to encourage them to open their eyes? Give me the perfume of Your love today.

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