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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Journal 2005. While I obsess over what I’m going to wear at my next school reunion, my mind hopscotches over the years to comments such as:
You’re going to wear THAT?
Are you pregnant?
What an ugly lime green dress!
What were you thinking!
Your skirts are too long.
Those colors don’t match.
You could be pretty if you would just . . .
Why can’t you dress like . . . ?
Frumpy Missionary Kid!
You look like a cowgirl.
You wore THAT at your wedding?
You have no sense of style.
Let me fix your makeup.
How powerful words can be! Even when I dress up, I feel frumpy on the inside. Lord, have mercy on me if my words have ever hurt another person.
Why should other people’s opinions matter? First, I guess they want me to care. And I do—to a certain extent. But sometimes I don’t. I can’t live my life by other people’s standards. Who gets to decide, anyway, what is fashionable or ugly? What’s fashionable may not look the best on me. While teens and pre-teens go through their identity decisions, their wardrobe choices may look strange to me, but they fit into their culture of acceptance.
I find I shop best when I have someone along to give an opinion. Why don’t I trust my own judgment? My family would say it’s because I don’t have good taste. But why does one person get to decide for another what clothing is acceptable or not in society? Who gets to decide what’s in and what’s out?
Do I dress to match who I am on the inside? Or do I dress to cover up what’s inside? Maybe some of both. I dress comfortably—I learned that initially from my mom but reinforced it through experience. If I’m uncomfortable, my focus is on self. On the other hand, if I dress casual when the situation calls for formal, I stick out. My philosophy is to try to blend in and avoid extremes.
The visual: I’m on a stage in the center of a spotlight, and the audience is laughing at me. But then I hear, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” The spotlight fades, and a strong beam shines into my heart revealing the impurities as well as the lighter spots where truth has entered. Better to be more concerned about getting rid of the dark spots than worrying about the body, which is now hidden in shadows.
Clothing is just an outer shell, but if it draws attention to itself instead of to the light inside, it may be time for a wardrobe makeover, both inside and out. Perhaps I should ask the King of Kings about His opinion rather than my family’s or my peers’.
A 2022 Focus. My insecurities about clothing choices have faded with the healing of hurtful words. I now understand that comments reveal more about the heart of the person who said them. But I also acknowledge the benefit of a second opinion when I go shopping. Anyone care to go with me?
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.
Journal 2005. At the beginning of the century, an infected tooth sent inflammation raging through my body. I didn’t know the source at the time, and it took three doctors to help me get it under control. Vioxx makes my ears ring constantly, and I’m about to try Celebrex instead. I wonder how I’ll respond to it. Right now, I’m relatively pain-free—as long as I don’t overdo. Hands, feet, eyes, and back are the weakest.
I want to record my journey with pain, and I start while I’m feeling fairly well. I know my perspective will progressively change over time—just as emotional healing changes us inwardly. Right now, I want to avoid pain. It gets in the way of my to-do list, but I don’t want to be dominated by it.
I don’t want to be a whiner or a complainer. I don’t want to be a baby, but I also am no hero when it comes to pain endurance. I’m quick to run to relief wherever I can find it. I don’t want the attention or focus to be on me, but when I’m hurting, I need to let people know so that they don’t expect too much of me. I pretty much want to be left alone to my misery. Chronic pain vs. temporary seems different, however. If it’s temporary (like a cut finger or the flu), I’ll tell all. If it’s chronic, I’ll keep my mouth shut unless I know a solution.
I don’t want my life to revolve around my health. But if I were sick with cancer, it would have to. That’s where my focus would lie. In my emotional healing journey, I’ve allowed myself the luxury of focusing on the pain so I can get through it and past it. Why am I so reluctant to do the same with the body? It’s so temporal—yet it is the vessel God gave me by which I function. What good does it do anyone if I’m in bed? Guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
A 2022 Update. Today I am off all medication and doing much better. Unfortunately, in 2016 a bout of shingles attacked my right eye, and I’ve battled flare-ups once or twice a year ever since. But I’m not in pain, so all is well. I’d prefer not to have to learn any more pain lessons, please.
The Scene: I am inside my house, facing our big picture window while a friend stands outside facing me. We each have Windex and some paper towels in hand. I wash my side. She washes hers.
The Need: A clean window
The Conflict: I can see her dirt; she can see mine. We can’t see our own.
The Cause: The light shines through differently from each of our perspectives.
The Solution: Trust. Trust the other person to point out the spots I missed. Keep rubbing till she nods her approval.
The Lesson: That’s what friends are for. A trusted friend is invaluable for pointing out my dirt. My job is to respond in gratitude for helping me get my soul-window clean—not to get angry that she pointed out my dirt.