Choices, Consequences, and Character

From my  2012 Journal. A study of two men (II Kings 5)

Jordan River today

The story: A little girl is taken captive from Israel and placed in the service of a lady whose respected husband Naaman is a commander of the Syrian army. One day Naaman is diagnosed with leprosy and the servant girl tells her mistress that healing is possible back in her home country. By a circuitous route, Naaman winds up at the prophet Elisha’s doorstep. Elisha sends his servant Gehazi out the door to instruct Naaman to dip 7 times in the Jordan River. Naaman is ticked off (the dialogue is quite comical) and stomps away. But in the end, he obeys and gets healed.

Next, Naaman returns to Elisha’s house to reward him for this healing gift, but Elisha refuses to accept anything, and Naaman drives away in his chariot. The servant Gehazi, meanwhile, runs after Naaman, tells a fib, and walks away with some loot and hides it in his house. For this indiscretion, God inflicts leprosy on him. Talk about irony!

Naaman’s issue? Pride. He believed that God could heal him, but he expected God to perform in a certain way. When God didn’t meet his expectations, he got angry, but he eventually humbled himself. He made the right choice in the end.

Gehazi’s issue? Greed. But his one indiscretion left his life in ruins. (I wonder if he attempted a 7-dip trick in the Jordan to get rid of HIS leprosy!?)

So here’s a foreigner who gets a gift from God and an Israelite who gets punished. Why?

Lesson:  It’s really about what’s in the heart. Actions matter—we live with the consequences of our decisions. But if we guard our hearts, we suffer fewer consequences for poor choices.

Lesson:  It’s not who you’re living close to that determines your character. Naaman lived in a position of power under an ungodly, idol-worshipping king. Gehazi lived in a position of servitude to a godly prophet.

God Loves Me!

 “God created man . . . and God fell in love . . .” (Wes Stafford in Just a Minute)

From my 2012 Journal. That’s a stunning statement. In my head I’ve always known “God is love” and that God loves me. After all, we grew up singing, “Jesus loves me” and quoting John 3:16 “For God so loved the world . . . ” But were those just words, a fact, a piece of information, a truth with no questions asked, or a head knowledge only?

To say someone “fell in love” implies emotion and deep affection. There’s a difference between saying, “I know Scott loves me,” and “He fell in love with me.” I know about God’s agape love (sacrificial love; doing-the-right-and-moral-thing kind of love). But what do I know about His emotional love? Is it similar to what I feel for my girls or for my grandsons? I delighted in watching their every move as they turned over, took their first steps, spoke their first words. Is this how God feels toward me?

Somehow the thought that I’m a sinner stands in the way of accepting God’s emotional love for me. It’s time to take the label off.

I may be a corrupted or scratched-up CD, but I’m not a corrupted file. I’m fixable! (The world at the time of Noah—now that was a corrupted file!)

God loves the song that I sing. I’m his favorite album—scratches and all. He doesn’t get irate when I fail to perform at my best. He’s the originator, the creator of the CD, and He has a scratch-less copy on His hard drive. He made a perfect copy, and then Satan’s tools and my pride, stubbornness, and rebellion corrupted the music. Someday He’ll make another copy of me—back to perfect, good as new, and I won’t need the medium anymore. The music will play in the air, crystal clear, scratch-less.

God fell in love with me—my music—because He’s the songwriter, and He loves His creation. I came out of His heart. “Yes, Jesus loves me.”

2021 Update: After reading the book Imagine Heaven by John Burke, I have a new appreciation and understanding of God’s all-encompassing, unconditional, healing, gentle love. The thought makes my heart sing.

Describe your dad

From my 2012 Journal. I’ve been taught that our perception of God the Father is often influenced by our earthly dads, but it didn’t seem to ring true for me. Recently, however, I’m beginning to see how wrong I’ve been. I’m realizing anew how distant God the Father feels to me. Jesus I can feel close to. The Holy Spirit is inside me—ethereal but there. But the Father? He is no Papa to me, no Abba Daddy. He represents the immensity of God—power and majesty who dwells in unapproachable light.

“Father” to me means security, benevolence, rough work hands, farmer, verbally silent, expressive in writing, consistent, teacher, and strength . . . but not so much nurturing. Though I adored him and respected him, my dad felt more aloof, more distant emotionally.

I think of the Christ-figure Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. He wasn’t warm and cuddly either. Is that what I want? Warm and cuddly? What my dad was not? Where’s the balance between an all-powerful God who is also warm and comforting?

I remember sitting one evening in devotions with a missionary family that I was visiting and wishing I could have a dad like that—interactive, nurturing, able to discuss with his kids what we’d just read. In our own twice-daily family devotions, my dad was rigid, predictable, strict and disciplined, no-nonsense, with no discussion.

And then I met Bill Rudd, my high school youth leader—not old enough to be my dad, but an amazing role model of personable sweetness, others-focused, a gifted teacher. When you talked to Bill, you felt like you were the only person in the room. I wondered what it would be like to have a dad like that!

One day I looked up from my pew in church and watched a stately, white-haired gentleman walk in who exuded peace, benevolence and gentleness. My whole heart relaxed, and I longed for and ached to meet this man face to face. I could feel safe with him . . . because things were not always “safe” in my relationships at the time.

As I write, I’m beginning to get a picture of my own ramrod-straight persona: strict, stern, unbending, rigid, disciplined, no-nonsense—just like my dad. Where can I go to feel safe? To feel peace, to feel loved and accepted? It’s not to Abba Father. Why not? What’s holding me back?

It’s because I am a Pharisee. Pharisees don’t feel safe around Jesus. I can’t be a little child who runs and jumps into His lap. I’m a judge and jury and critic and criticizer and analyzer, always on the lookout for the flaws in others . . . because I have so many flaws of my own. I, myself, am not warm and cuddly. So why would I expect God to be?

I’m so ready to shed my Pharisee garments.

When I disrobe, I become a little crippled girl. No wonder I needed Pharisee garments—to feel strong and powerful, at other people’s expense. The Master Shepherd is kind to me, patient, teaching, correcting, gentle, soft, approachable. I am unworthy. I am the little African girl longing for some crumbs from the white man’s table, not the big-shot white girl, lording it over her kingdom.

And now I’m a grown-up in the little African village where I was raised, and I’m welcoming the little children into my arms, loving them, holding them, comforting them. And we’re in a circle, dancing and laughing; and my little white self has joined the circle—one Vanilla Bean in the midst of all that lovely Chocolate.

I can’t see God the Father correctly till I see myself correctly. How can I love Him if I don’t love myself?

And the Spirit pulls me up and out of the scene, up, up, far into the atmosphere where the world is just a small sphere in the distance. “I made that world,” He says, “and all the people in it. I have a job for you to do.”

“I’m willing,” I say, “but that’s an awful lot of people down there, and I am only one tiny drop in the bucket.” But then I see that drop spreading out like ripples in a pond. I may only be one drop, but the consequences and ripples are huge. Am I willing to be that drop? To be dropped? Yes! No longer can I claim my job is too small and insignificant in this world. And what if every believer were willing to be dropped? We’d soak and saturate this old world with refreshing rain. I may be only one drop, but every drop is important. Together we can change the world. Let revival come! Let it rain!

And I find that I’m no longer rigid down my back. Instead, I’m a mighty warrior, ready to fight for truth with the Sword of the Spirit and the Word of God. But I’m also a little girl who feels safe in her Abba’s loving arms.

What was your father like?

Do you want to get well?

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV).

From my 2012 Journal. The story of Jesus healing the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda intrigues me. This place was a hotbed of sick folks. Did Jesus heal anyone else there that day, or did He single this man out? The Scripture doesn’t say if Jesus approached him first or if the man spoke first, but it says that Jesus SAW him there and LEARNED that he’d been in this condition for years.

Astonishingly, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?” What if the man had said, “No”? How foolish we would have thought him. Of course he wanted to be well—that’s why he was at the healing pool in the first place. Yet, the question isn’t quite so odd as one might think. It’s human nature not to like change—even if it’s good for us. We do a lot of “choice” work in our ministry: Are you willing to let go of your anger? Are you willing to feel the pain? Are you willing to explore why you’re medicating with alcohol?

I don’t recall any record of Jesus asking anyone else this same question, Do you want to get well? Normally the hurting person initiates the request for healing (remember blind Bartimaeus?). A client is in my office because she’s made the choice to seek healing. I rarely approach a stranger and ask if she wants to get rid of her pain. Sometimes I’ve tested a person’s sincerity by asking, “If there was a way for you to get healed, would you want to know how?”

The crippled man’s answer is also astonishing. Instead of replying yes or no, he jumps to the defense. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (v. 7). (Implied: Duh, of course I do, but I don’t know how.) The Healer is in his presence, but the paralytic is looking to another source for pain removal. (“And how’s that working for you?” we sometimes ask a client.)

People go to counselors and doctors and friends and give their excuses and complaints about feeling bad, when all along The Master Healer is waiting for them to turn to the Him–the only one who has the power to heal.

Do you want to get well? What’s your excuse for not pursuing the Healer?

It’s Not About You

From my 2012 Journal. After a client processes a painful memory, often his or her response is, “I feel so much better” or “the pain is gone” or “I feel lighter.” So it’s a little startling when someone comes out of a session exclaiming, “Jesus is so wonderful!” or “God is amazing!”

These words remind me a little of the responses from those whom Jesus healed while on earth. I suspect more of them exclaimed, “I’m healed!” or “I can see!” or “I can walk!” or “My leprosy is gone!” Very few responded with “What an amazing Healer!” This is not a criticism, but an observation. We most often respond based on how something affects us. It’s human nature.

In 2009, Angus Buchan, a South African evangelist, had a heart attack while speaking to a large crowd, and he was air-lifted away to a hospital. Feeling helpless, he heard God say, “It’s not about you, Angus. You’re just the messenger.”

Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said that at her funeral she wanted nothing to be said about her—only about Jesus. Honestly, I’m not there yet. I want to hear what people would say about me at my funeral. Even in death, apparently, I want the spotlight to be on me. I pray that by the time I die, I’ll be ready to fade into the shadows and put Jesus center stage. After all, it’s not about me, but about Christ and what He did.

Photo by Marcelo Jaboo on Pexels.com

How to Make a Good Decision

From my 2012 Journal. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out, but once I did, following these protocols for making a decision has saved me a bucket load of embarrassment and regret.

  1. When faced with a double-bind, work through your feelings about each side individually, one at a time. Once you feel at peace no matter which side you choose, your solution will be much clearer to your rational mind. Emotions cloud your ability to choose wisely. (If you need help working through your feelings, give me a call!)

Example: If I choose Option A (accept a new job offer), I’ll feel some fear. If I choose Option B (stay with my present job), I’ll feel some regret.

  1. Want to know God’s will? Make no decision to move forward until you’re at peace about it first. Then you’ll be able to hear God’s voice more clearly.

Example: A classmate of mine in college felt great angst about his passion to become a missionary pilot. Somewhere he’d bought into the lie that God would never give him the desires of his heart; he was afraid that God was just testing him. It seemed obvious to me that it was God who had given him the passion in the first place, and I told him so, but I didn’t know then how to help him work through his emotions.

  1. Never confront someone, write a letter, or send an email or text while you’re triggered. You’ll say stupid things you’ll regret, and the cleanup from the mess you create will be harder and take longer. Always come to peace in your heart first, and then say what you have to say. (I’m speaking from experience here, folks.)

Example: I doubt if you need one. We’ve all done it!

Violence and Lies

For the rich men of the city are full of violence [of every kind]; Her inhabitants speak lies and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth (Micah 6:12 AMP).

From my 2009 Journal. Because I grew up in a loving home, sheltered from violence and hatred and evil, it was hard for me to conceive of men willfully choosing murder, crime, and destruction. And then I began working with SRA (Satanic Ritual Abuse) victims, and I listened for hours to unspeakable stories of raw evil and witnessed the results of perpetrators’ horrible deeds. When I read this verse, I can now begin to imagine the horror of an entire nation involved in wicked choices. No wonder God was upset with Israel!

I think there are two kinds of people: wounded (that’s most of us) and evil. A frightened and vulnerable teenage girl who aborts her baby is in a different category from someone in the occult who rips a child from his mother’s arms and places him on Satan’s altar (See 2 Chronicles 28:3). Worshipping a false god can be done out of pain or ignorance; but once a person witnesses evidence of God’s power and still chooses the fake way, that’s foolishness. Someone who chooses the violence of human sacrifice, however, has crossed over into the enemy’s camp. God’s judgment is severe for evil men.

The second half of this verse reveals the source of evil choices: lies and deception (coming from The Father of Lies). Most of our emotional suffering is a result of believing lies. Bad things that happen to us can be painful in the moment, but the lies we believe about the event keep the pain alive. And where there’s unresolved pain, there’s often destructive behavior.

Victims of extreme abuse can go either way: become perpetrators themselves or reject all things evil and run to God. What a joy to watch the latter find healing from their trauma. These overcomers have a special place in God’s kingdom. They are my heroes.

Evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. (The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel)

To read more about child sacrifice, check out https://www.worldvision.org/author/caleb_wilde, 5 things you need to know about child sacrifice in Uganda. (Unfortunately, the USA is also guilty.)

It’s Not All About Me

Each man’s eternal rewards are proportional according to his faithfulness and not to his earthly recognition or the lack of it. (From a commentary on Jeremiah 33)

From my 2009 Journal. Though I grew up in a tribal village in Africa, I fear I now think more like an American—touting individualism rather than tribal values. So when I hear God’s prophetical words to Jeremiah: I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security (Jer. 33:6 NIV), I want to ask, “What good did it do Jeremiah to learn that God would restore Israel in the future?” He’d never live to see it. Why should he care how many descendants David’s throne will have when he (Jeremiah) is being hurt, mocked, and imprisoned? The future won’t affect him personally!

But there’s that thing called “hope.” This earth, this life isn’t all there is. There’s a bigger picture. I’m just one speck in the Grand Plan. I’m part of the Global Tribe. My part is miniscule, but important, in God’s eyes. It’s not all about me and only me. God was showing Jeremiah that his life was not in vain, that His calling on his life was important for the greater good.

Though I’d like to think otherwise, life is not all about me–or as my mother used to say to my preschool self: you’re not the only pebble on the beach.

Grandson Noah who needs more help than he thinks he does to navigate his world

A Paradox of Emotions

From my 2009 Journal. Can you be happy and sad at the same time? Have joyful, high energy while experiencing peaceful, low energy? Be angry yet calm? Can you be a dynamic general while speaking softly to your troops?

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O Daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King comes to you; He is [uncompromisingly] just and having salvation [triumphant and victorious], patient, meek, lowly, and riding on a donkey, upon a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 AMPC).

These two lists of adjectives sound antithetical. “Triumphant and Victorious” generally indicate boasting over conquering an enemy and jubilation over self-prowess. How can Jesus come “patient, meek, and lowly” while being triumphant? There is a different noise and energy level: one is loud and boisterous with a celebratory atmosphere. The other is quiet, reflective, somber, gentle, easily imposed on, and submissive. Lowly by definition means low in status or importance, humble.

The only way I can reconcile these two lists is that the PEOPLE were acting triumphant and victorious, whereas JESUS’ position was meek and lowly, patient with the people. They wanted to crown Him King (as was His right) and so He didn’t stop them. But neither did He stop His march toward death. I don’t think Jesus’ emotions matched those of His followers.

Conflicting emotions make me think of funerals. You feel relieved when a loved one dies after a prolonged and painful illness. You acknowledge the joy of the person who is now in heaven and whole in mind and body, yet you feel deep grief at the loss of the relationship.

Or maybe it’s how you feel when someone gives you a surprise birthday party. Everyone is excited and anticipatory, but you may feel dismay that you didn’t come dressed appropriately for the occasion and also humbled that so many people love and care for you.

What situation creates a paradox of emotion for you?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Just Follow the Instructions

From my 2009 Journal. When my three girls were getting ready to live on their own, I gave each of them a homemade cookbook filled with our favorite family recipes. (See below.) What I knew by intuition and experience didn’t always translate onto paper, however. Apparently I did not give precise enough instructions, for I’d frequently get a phone call asking me to clarify an ingredient or procedure.  

In contrast, when God gave instructions to His prophets, He was detailed and precise. One day He spoke the following to Jeremiah:

  1. Stand in the court of the Lord’s house (where and with what posture)
  2. Speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship there (what to do and to whom)
  3. Speak all the words that I command you to speak; diminish not a word (what to say—precisely, fully, accurately) (26:2)

And so Jeremiah obeyed. But after he finished Step #3, the people, priests, and prophets seized him and threatened to put him to death.

Jeremiah’s response is most interesting and gratifying. He obeyed God out of a peaceful heart because he had already grappled with the fear of the results of his actions.

Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing (Jeremiah 26:15 NIV).

My first takeaway is that God’s will was accomplished through Jeremiah’s obedience. Second, obedience does not guarantee comfortable results! (Gulp)

When God gives instructions, He is the expert. He knows the intended outcome as well as the steps to achieving that goal. His instructions are clear and precise. When God speaks, it is in our best interest to listen . . . and obey to the letter.


Intro to Katie’s Cookbook:

Dearest Katie-Bug,

I’ll never forget the day you came into my bedroom early one Saturday morning and announced that pancakes were ready. You were so small, you probably had to stand on a stool to reach all the ingredients. I was astonished. “How did you . . . ?”

“I read the instructions,” you replied.

Up to that time, your classic experiments with ingredients in the kitchen consisted of getting a small mixing bowl, a big spoon, and anything in the cupboard you could find:  a little flour, some sugar, a pinch of various random spices. And when you were satisfied with the results, we would bake the concoction at 350 in a disposable pie tin. Incredibly, sometimes the product was edible! You were so proud of yourself and your creations.

Of my three girls, you were the most interested in what went on in the kitchen—until it came time to clean up, and then you would suddenly declare you had to go to the bathroom; and off you went, conveniently waiting till the task was done. You were most intrigued with the creative part of cooking—like decorating Christmas cookies. Your latest endeavor was decorating a gingerbread house. Remember your attempt at making stroganoff for your dad while I was in California!? But you became a master at turning out perfect macaroni and cheese.

Here are some of our family’s favorite recipes—some yours, some your sisters’ favorites. Keep them safe, for when you get to college, it’ll save you a phone call or two to find out how to make . . . (no, there’s no recipe for making French fries or ice cream!)

May you continue to hone your skills in the kitchen so that you can minister to others, perhaps to your own family some day.

I love you with all my heart,

Mom


Chocolate Chip Scones

1 ¾ cups flour                         1/3 cup butter

3 T sugar                                 1 egg, slightly beaten (reserve some)

2 ½ t baking powder             ½ c chocolate chips

½ t salt                                    4-6 T cream or milk

Combine dry ingredients.

Cut in butter, add egg, choc chips.

Add enough milk so dough leaves sides of bowl.

Knead on floured surface gently 10x

Roll into a circle ½ inch thick

Cut into wedges. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Brush with little bit of beaten egg.

400, 10-12 min.