Tuesday, January 29, 2008
A perfectionist never sees the things that are going right in a situation. Instead, a perfectionist sees all the things that are wrong. Put a perfectionist on a construction site and he won’t see how much progress has been made, but he will see how much is not done. On top of that, he/she will pull out that yardstick and point out all the problems with what has been completed.
Up until a few years ago, I was unaware that I had serious problems with my own perfectionist tendencies. I didn’t really believe I was a perfectionist. But the Lord knew. He began dealing with me through some research I was doing for a paper on, of all things, perfectionism, more specifically, religious perfectionism. I thought I had selected the topic but maybe I didn’t. As the paper progressed, I didn’t like what I was discovering.
My studies included Jim Jones and David Koresh. Recognize the names? I found that at one point they both were very religious men, both with Pentecostal backgrounds. But they could never reached a place where they thought they could attain perfection as they perceived it -- they were never good enough to suit themselves. They moved from church to church, searching for perfection. In the end, they created their own religions to fit their perception of perfection. As you know, they failed miserable and destroyed not only themselves, but a great many other people as well.
Now most perfectionist do not become a Jones or a Koresh. However, the tendency to perfectionism appears to be strongest among religious people and we tend not to see it in ourselves. I wanted, no, I needed to understand why this was so.
I discovered that somewhere along the way someone (probably a disillusioned perfectionist) came to the conclusion that we BECOME perfect by what we DO -- our actions, or our behavior make us perfect. Jones and Koresh turned to that belief with a vengeance.
Most of my life has been spent trying to please everyone. The only person I never tried to please was . . . me, because that was selfish, a sin, an imperfection. I discovered the all consuming aspiration in my life was to BE PERFECT and to do that I had to please everyone. My every thought, every action, every desire had to pass someone’s inspection or I was worthless. I actually cared what people thought about me to the point that what I thought about me was unimportant. And I was drowning in a sea of failure. Why? Because it can’t be done. Human perfection is unattainable, at least, what humans perceive of as perfection is unattainable.
I found myself being torn apart by something I could not control. All the years I had spent trying desperately to do the right thing, say the right thing, look the right way, and think the right way were wasted. No matter how hard I had tried, I had failed. Someone ALWAYS complained. I never did or said the right thing. My appearance never measured up. I never looked the “right way”. And as to my thinking, well, everyone I meet thinks differently than I. I could not change what I was -- HUMAN. I could not be perfect.
The primary definition of perfect is “without defect or blemish.” Therefore, anyone with even the slightest physical, mental, or emotional defect can never be perfect. We are all too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too stupid, too selfish, too lazy, too busy, too ugly, or too mean. Our teeth are too crooked, nose too crooked or long, our hair too curly, too straight, too short, or too long. Our feet are too big, or too flat. Our legs bow, our eyes cross, and our teeth buck. Our ears are too big and mouths are way too big. Never mind those spiritual defects.
Each time I have one of these “spiritual insights” into my nature I have been devastated by the impact of the discovery. This time I broke down and all I could say was “Lord, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. I’ll never be good enough. No matter what I do, it is never enough.” I spent days crying and struggling with the revelation.
Believe me, if you ever get to this point in your life you will find that all the things you thought were so important mean absolutely nothing when you measure it by the perfectionist yardstick. It still comes up short of perfect. From a child, I have heard the instruction on living a holy life. I have followed it to the best of my poor abilities and to the complaints of many. To other perfectionist, I have never been good enough. And as a true perfectionist, I can tell you I never met anyone I thought was good enough to go to heaven, especially me. Nuts, huh?
Recently, I heard someone ask what if we get to heaven and find we are standing next to Paul? How will we ever measure up? Now a statement like that strikes terror into the heart of a true perfectionist. When I heard it I felt an overwhelming sadness. Truly there was no hope for me. I could never get to heaven if God measured me by Paul. I was depressed for days. (You should know that perfectionist have self-esteem problems.)
I prayed and repeatedly said, “Lord, I am not a Paul. I can’t be a Paul. I don’t know how. Tell me what to do.” For days, I prayed but the old feelings of worthlessness were back. The voice of perfectionism is cruel and continually taunts the perfectionist.
Finally, when I was quietly mulling it over in my head one evening, a quiet voice whispered, “No Cindy, you can’t be another Paul. You can’t ever do the things Paul did. But I didn’t create you to be Paul. If I wanted a Paul I could raise one up. If I wanted a Peter, I could make one. I created you to be uniquely YOU. I wanted you just as you are, capable of things only you can do. Paul couldn’t do the things you can do. I want you to do the things you can do, not the things Paul could do. And when you stand before me, you will not be measured or compared to Paul or anyone else. When you stand before me, I won’t see anyone but you. I won’t see anything but your heart and it will be measured by mine.”
What am I saying here? I wonder about people who tell me how much they do and how good they are. Why are they telling me? And I wonder whose yardstick they are using. Mine? Theirs? Yours? Then I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Be ye perfect, even as I am perfect.” Wow, that is some yardstick. I doubt any of us want to be measured by that one. Yet, that is the very measurement used.
So what did Jesus do that made him so perfect? If you think that what you wear is going to determine where you go, you’re in for a shock. Modesty is important, but we are going to be naked before the Almighty. And He will be looking into our hearts before He looks into our closets. The Bible doesn’t tell me much about Jesus’ hair or clothes. Just as in Jesus’ day, today every religion had it’s own uniform.
The Bible does tell me what he thought, how he acted (his attitude), where he went and with whom he associated. It tells me what he taught about living and dying. It tells me all about the heart of God but only precious little of the social life or what was fashionable during that time. I, and anyone else who studies this, have to depend on secular books to learn about the majority of the politics, fashion, and cultural practices of Jesus’ day. Social anthropologist have discovered this information from sources other than the Bible. And those sources are plentiful.
Many religious people have come to equate perfection with what we do, where we go and what we wear. We even have scripture for it. “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.” We read a thousand things into those eight words. Holiness is about where we go, what we wear, and how we talk. Right? Well, while it is important, that isn’t exactly right. This one of those cases of a whole generation being taught something out of context. What it actually says is:
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;” Hebrews 12:14-15.
Follow peace with ALL MEN? Root of bitterness? Defilement? What do they have to do with holiness? I can be holy and bitter? No. I can be at war with friends, neighbors, family, and church and still be holy? No. I can remain pure in my heart if I dress right, walk right and spit white but spread gossip, spite, and strife in the church or on the job? NO. You can’t BE holy if you have bitterness and are not following the way of peace. Peace and holiness must go hand in hand or bitterness will spring up and defile us. As a result, we can’t see the Lord. That’s the WORD. Bitterness DEFILES, and bitterness arises because we have not followed both peace and holiness. And it defiles not only us but those around us. Strife separates, divides, and destroys peace. If that is true, then a bitter person, a person at odds with anyone can’t see the Lord -- even if they never associate with anyone outside the church or cover themselves in a sack from head to foot!
Just think. It won’t matter if you never touch an alcoholic drink, tobacco, drugs, or used curse words. It won’t matter how you dress. It won’t matter that you never looked on anything ungodly, or participated in things considered ungodly by others. NONE OF IT WILL MATTER. If there is one single flaw in your heart you have wasted your time. If you join a convent and shun the entire world, you must still follow peace and holiness. Peace and holiness are a state of mind and heart, not a state of dress, place, or action.
James 3:2 states, “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” We all offend. Follow peace.
Colossians 3:14-15 says that “. . .charity is the bond of perfectness. . .” and to “. . .let the peace of God rule in your hearts. . . .”
Charity is the cement that holds it all together. In the dictionary, there are half a dozen definitions but charity in theology is defined as “The virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love.” However, my favorite definition of charity is “Benevolence or generosity toward others. Indulgence or forbearance in judging others.” The synonym for charity is mercy. Astounding.
Now get out that yardstick you’ve been using and check the measurements again. Compare them with the perfect balance of God’s Word. “Thou shalt not have in thy bag diverse weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house diverse measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Deut. 25:13-15) Before you go measuring anyone by your yardstick, you better be sure it measures up with God’s.
No one is going to measure up to your expectations. You won’t measure up to your own expectations if you compare yourself with others. But we aren’t supposed to compare ourselves with others. Our example was Jesus and the slogan “what would Jesus do” better be more that a bracelet on your wrist or a pin in your lapel. His expectations are all that matter. His Word is the yardstick by which we will all be measured.
Trial and error is the way God designed life. He gave us a map to follow, too. However, I know for a fact that there are a lot of folks out there who can’t fold a map, let alone read one. But there is always someone out there who would have me think that they are the only one who can read the map correctly.
Mama taught me that the best teacher is the Word and experience, with experience often making a believer in the Word. She would tell me how I should do but then she let me decide what I would do. She always warned me in advance, “You know what is right because I have told you. If you chose to do something else, you will be accountable for the consequences.” Most of the time, after a lot of thought but sometimes after experience, I would agree with her. For those times when I didn’t, I often regretted it.
With my own children I learned the wisdom of that. When they were little I could pick the boys up and put them where I wanted them and order them to stay. Usually they did. Once they become thinking, reasoning beings of size that became impossible. Ordering around a 200-pound male is much the same as ordering the refrigerator. You either have to move them physically, or you have to out think them. There is no need to hurt myself just to make a point.
So, there have been a lot of times that I let my sons do things that a lot of parents would try and prevent their children from doing. Why? Because, nothing I said would sway them if they really wanted to do it. I always, then and now, give them the facts as I see them, I tell them what the Bible says, and let them decide. Your children are a lot more intelligent that you think. I wish I had a dime for every time one of my sons said, “You were right, Mom.” I would have retired years ago! I strongly recommend that parents of very young children start collecting dimes now; you won’t regret it. Of course, you will have to give them the dimes!
Truthfully, most of us failed self-control 101. It is a skill that the majority of children never learn until they are 40. We usually repeat the class several times before we get it. I think my boys have repeated that class a total of 9490 and 7665 times respectively. To the math challenged, that is once a day. They would have repeated it more but it was too much work.
When my sons were small, I always tried to view things as they would see it. I would get down on the floor and play with them when they were crawling, looking under tables and through chair rungs to see the world the way they saw it. I watched for things that could hurt them that I would not normally see on my own level. As they grew I continued to get on their level, looking through the heartaches of broken and lost toys, skinned knees, bruised shins, failed drivers tests, lost first loves and broken friendships. I looked through the ridicule, mockery, and intolerance of the masses. When they became “adults” I still tried to see through their eyes only to find that now they towered over me and it was they who could not see from my perspective. And they lacked the wisdom to realize it.
It is a hard lesson for a parent to realize that all the years spent binding up wounds and kissing away hurts will probably never be repaid until after you are gone. And yet, I would do it a thousand times over to have the joy of bright blue eyes smiling up at me, of wet, sticky kisses, of tiny hands patting my cheek, and fat little arms wrapping tightly around my neck and cutting off my air. I would stand over a thousand emergency room beds and watch stitches put in heads, packed broken noses, and bandaged broken arms. I would do it again for all the tickle giggles, chocolate smiles, and bedtime stories.
I looked across my backyard last week and for just a minute, I saw two little blonde boys racing across the yard, their laughter echoing through time. There is no greater heartache than that of being a mother. And no greater joy.
Al and Joe took were neighbors and were in the habit of walking each day after work along the road next to the orchard. They each had their own path but sometimes their paths crossed. They would speak politely but walk on. It just so happened that one day they met along the road and fell into step. From that day on it seemed they were always walking together and so it became a routine they both enjoyed. Aside from their daily walk, they seldom saw each other.
Early one Saturday morning they got to discussing how lovely the orchard looked with it’s ruby red apples among the green leaves. Joe stepped into the field to the nearest tree and looked up. “What a wonderful apple. It is the prettiest red I have ever seen. I bet it is so sweet and juicy.”
Al moved to get a look. “Well, I don’t know. It looks all right but you can never tell. I think the apples that come though my plant are the best looking in the world.”
“You work in an apple plant?” Joe looked quizzically at Al. “I didn’t know that.”
“Well, it’s a fruit and juice plant but I am an apple inspector. It is my job to inspect every apple that comes through the plant to insure that only the best apples are allowed into our packages or juice.”
“Apple inspector? Wow. You mean that if it doesn’t pass your inspection, it won’t be in the juice?”
Al pulled his shoulders back, hitched his belt and sniffed. “Yep. That’s the way it works. It is my job to make sure the bad apples are identified. Bad apples are dumped.”
“So, what do you look for?”
For a minute Al pondered. “Well, we look for bruising, cuts, scars, color, and bugs.”
“Hmmm. Well, all these apples look fine to me.”
Al shook his head. “You can’t tell just by glancing at the tree. No, you gotta examine it real close to find any flaws. I mean, you can’t find scars and bruising just by looking at the tree from here, now can you?”
Joe hesitated and looked the tree over. “Well, no, but why would bruising, scars and cuts be on he fruit that is still on the tree? I mean, I would think that would only happen in storms or if the fruit gets knocked off someway and lands on the ground. But even then, it might still be good to eat. If you don’t mess with the fruit it won’t get bruised up. Fruit on the tree just needs to be picked and eaten.”
“Only perfect apples get in my juice.”
“Well, why would color matter? I mean a good apple can be any color.”
“Color could indicate ripeness. We want apples that are just the right stage of ripeness. I mean the juice could be bitter if the apple is not ripe enough and the taste might be a little off if an apple is too ripe. No, I have to be real careful about color, too.”
Joe studied the tree. “I still say these apples look great. I didn’t eat this morning and I am kind of hungry. My mouth is watering just looking at them.” Joe reached up to the apple nearest him. “Just look how plump it is and how shiny.”
Al shook his head, “I’m telling you, Joe, unless they are inspected by a trained eye you shouldn’t mess with them. There might be something wrong with this tree.”
Joe hesitated but pulled the apple off and sniffed it. “It smells good, too.” He bit into it eagerly. He closed his eyes, “Mmmmmmm, Al, that is the best apple I ever ate. I am so hungry. Try one, I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“Not me. If I want apples I get ‘em at the supermarket . . . after they have been inspected. Besides, I don’t really care for them much. I see so much bad fruit it kinda turns you off them after awhile.”
Al and Joe resumed their walk. Joe munched on his apple in silence for a long time. Finally, he said, “Al, you ever think about another line of work?”
“Well, why do we need fruit inspectors?”
“So, unsuspecting folks don’t get sick from eating bad fruit?”
“Don’t you think a person could inspect their own fruit and determine if it is bad or not?”
Al didn’t respond directly but said, “Well, the owner might not be honest enough to admit he had bad fruit. Fruit inspectors are necessary to keep folks honest. We insure the safety of the innocent. Anyway, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. What else would I do?”
Joe munched his apple for a moment then a light seemed to go off in his face. He looked at Al and said, “Maybe you could GROW apples.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance . . . .” Galatians 5:22-23.
We have all read or heard that verse dozens of times but one Sunday morning as the Bible class teacher read, something went off in my mind that I can only describe as a small nuclear explosion. I was awestruck as a new understanding broke over me. As I hurried to write down the thoughts before they slipped away, I remembered something else. Several weeks earlier, on the preceding page of my notebook, I had made a few notes regarding another scripture.
“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matt. 7:20.
Weeks before those scribblings had led nowhere but that Sunday morning the pieces of the puzzle fell together perfectly and the picture that emerged was breathtaking. On Sunday night, while getting ready for bed, came the story A Walk Through the Orchard.
There is one basic question that we all ask when faced with the realization of eternity. “What must I do to be saved?” Most of us believe that we know the answer. But then, I took a walk through the Orchard.
In the Garden of Eden, Eve walked thorough the orchard and passed beautiful, sweet-smelling, fruit-filled trees. The fragrance of the ripe fruit permeated the air around her. But Eve didn’t’ stop and savor those fruits. Instead, she journeyed to the center of the Garden and looked on the one tree she had been forbidden. As she gazed at that fruit, a craving pulled at her soul and consumed her. Her mind registered the visual image of a tantalizing fruit. The image she saw answered three questions that her craving had provoked. She saw that the fruit was good for nourishment, it looked good, and it would make her a better person.
But Eve was not hungry. She had no reason to be. Nourishment was never truly a factor in her craving. There were thousands of trees in the garden from which to choose. She could have walked up to any other tree and picked the fruit of her choice. Any other fruit in the garden would have fulfilled her every need and she could have eaten as much as she wanted. In fact, all the other fruit in the garden would provide nourishment, it would look good, and it would make her a better person. She lied to herself. But, instead of walking away, she looked at the forbidden fruit, the bad fruit. She picked it, she ate it, and she died. We have all been inspecting fruit ever since and, like Eve, it is not because we are hungry.
In Mark 11:12 and Matt 21:17 is the story of a fig tree that Jesus approached in search of figs. When he saw the leaves but no figs he cursed the tree and the next day it was withered and dead. Interestingly, Mark is careful to note that it was not time for figs yet. So, Jesus cursed a tree that didn’t have fruit when He needed it. Jesus was hungry. Jesus was searching for good fruit. He needed something to eat right then, but the tree was bare. Because the tree did not provide for the need, he cursed it. And the tree died.
In A Walk Through the Orchard, Al and Joe marched along different paths for a time but eventually they fell into step. All along their way were trees filled with fruit. Al knew all about fruit. But Joe was hungry. Joe began to search for nourishment. And it is to the heavily laden trees along his path that he turned. He searched and satisfied his hunger with good fruit. But Al, who knew so much about fruit and had fruit all around him every day, had none to share and had no desire for good fruit. In fact, Al was afraid to eat any of the fruit that hung within his reach because he had not inspected it. Al viewed his lot in life as a protector of the innocent. It was his job to root out the rotten fruit. He lied to himself. In reality, he wasn’t protecting anyone.
There are Christians who feel a need, who believe it is their job, to inspect the fruit of others. In reality, they are searching for that which is missing in their own lives. They have no fruit to fulfill the needs of those seeking nourishment nor are they seeking nourishment for themselves. They don’t desire fruit anymore. All their time is spent on inspecting, searching for the bad fruit, not producing. They are barren and only by pulling the fruit off others, do they feel useful.
The problem is, when you start handling fruit, you damage it. You leave bruises, scars, and wounds from all the rough handling. Sometimes, the fruit will be so ready to eat that it can be easily knocked off the tree or bruised. Fruit that is knocked on the ground may never be eaten because it is so badly damaged from the fall. As a result, someone will go hungry because the fruit that was there to nourish has been destroyed.
Christians are NOT called to be fruit inspectors. Jesus never suggested that. At the time Jesus stated Matt 7:20, the disciples were not born again; they were not yet Christians. Jesus was talking to sinners and warning them of false prophets. He was telling sinners that if they were hungry there would be signs telling them where to get nourishment. Later, when he cursed the fig tree, he gave a profound example on the fate of those who fail to feed the hungry. The hungry are supposed to be the fruit inspectors. As Christians, we are expected to have the fruit available to feed the hungry. If we don’t, we will die.
I grew up hearing about winning souls but I never heard advice on exactly how one is to do that in a world where no one wants to listen. And suddenly, in one awe-inspiring moment and with brilliant clarity, I knew. It is the fruit that feeds the hungry. Fruit saves a dying world from starvation. Fruit sustains the weak. Fruit provides nutrients for growth. Fruit answers a craving for sweetness in a bitter world. We can preach a thousands sermons, recite the entire Bible on a street corner, but if there is no fruit hanging out there in the branches, the hungry will look elsewhere to be fed. And so, as I sat through that Sunday morning service, I had an overwhelming desire for fruit. I wanted it so badly I could taste it.
I found myself ashamed. I realized that far too often I spend time inspecting the other trees in the orchard for bad fruit and not worrying about whether or not I am producing good fruit. How many have come by needy, looking for nourishment and gone away hungry because they found nothing. God help me! I want fruit, so much fruit that the boughs break under the weight of it, so much that the fragrance fills the air around me. And I want to be hungry! I want to see a starving world fed with the fruit that satisfies all hunger. Winning the lost is not done with pretty speeches but rather by feeding starving souls. I don’t want to be a fruit inspector. I want to be a producer of fruit. God give me fruit so that anyone who takes a walk through the orchard can be fed!“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22
Saturday, January 26, 2008
During an adult Sunday school class, our teacher mentioned a time when, as a young man, he heard some older Christians in his church commenting on the behavior of young people as the power of God fell on them. They called it “wildfire”. As he said that term I recalled a time from my own past as a teen-ager. A similar thing was happening in my home church in Alabama. And while God moved, I heard a chuckle and the whispered, “It’s just wildfire.”
I was so struck by this that I paused in listening to search my mind on the subject. “What, exactly, is wildfire?” I asked myself. My previous understanding of the word was that it is a random, very quick, very hot fire that is soon extinguished. People use it to describe fads, shallow experience in the spiritual and some types of forest fires. Wildfire used as I understood it, was simply something that becomes hugely popular or destructive, dies out and is never heard from again.
When I got home I got my trusty dictionary and looked up wildfire. What I read set wheels turning in my head. Wildfire is not what I thought. There are five definitions in my American Heritage College Dictionary. They are as follows:
1. A raging, rapidly spreading fire.
2. Something that acts very quickly and intensely.
3. Lightning occurring without audible thunder.
4. A luminosity that appears over swamps or marshes at night. Also called “ignis fatuus” or “foolish fire.”
5. A highly flammable material once used in warfare.
Throughout my life, I have often noticed that when the power of God falls, it acts as a raging, rapidly spreading fire. It moves quickly and intensely, spreading across the room in a wave of spiritual heat, sparing only those who resist. When it’s work is done, everything that can be consumed in the human heart, is consumed.
We have all seen summer heat lightning or wildfire. Usually the sky is cloudy, threatening rain. The air is hot and so thick you could cut it. Then lightning streaks across the sky, over and over. There is no sound, just those amazing flashes. You think the storm is coming, may fervently hope so, but often nothing happens. . . at least, not where you are. Actually, the center of the storm is so far away you can’t hear the thunder, and you never experience the effects of the storm. Light travels about a million times faster than sound. At the origin of that lightning is a raging storm and those beneath it feel its effects, often intensely. So too, those who only see spiritual wildfire, seldom experience the effects of the spiritual storm.
Before flashlights and electricity, the countryside was a dark place. Swamps and marshes were even darker and marsh lights have led people to their deaths. The more common name for this type of wildfire is “will-o’-the-wisp”. An unwary person can be lost if they are not aware of the nature of this wildfire. Once thought to be lost souls doomed to wander, we now know that this wildfire is the burning of a gas produced in swamps and marshes. This gas, called methane, is created by the natural breakdown of decaying matter.
Methane is a very useful but highly explosive gas when combined with air, oxygen, or chlorine. It can ignite spontaneously and results in a very hot fire. The fuel in some acetylene torches is formed from methane. The heat generated by an acetylene torch can reach up to 6000 degrees and will burn virtually anything. Obviously, wildfire is not something to play with or treat lightly.
Greek fire was the name of an ancient weapon, probably a primitive form of napalm, used by the Byzantine Greeks. Upon striking the target, this material stuck, spread, and burned. It was used in two ways: as a missile hurled from a catapult, and in flame-throwers. It was very useful against ships because it burned even under water. One text states it may even have changed the course of history. In AD 716-718 the rulers of Constantinople, who were Christians, destroyed the wooden fleets of the Muslim Arabs who had besieged the city. As a result, this blocked the spread of Islam into Europe. If you fail to see the significance of this one use of “wildfire “ you have missed it all.
Sometimes wildfire is necessary to clear the way for growth. As anyone who understands nature can tell you, a forest can become overgrown. The useless undergrowth of weeds and shrubs choke out light and air, causing a decrease in young, healthy trees and eventually, diseases which can kill off a forest. Nature has taken this into consideration and fixes it, often by lightning wildfires. A lightning wildfire will rapidly and efficiently clear the undergrowth without causing undue harm to healthy trees. Once this useless undergrowth is cleared, young trees quickly sprout and grow. As trees age and die, young trees are waiting to fill their place. When Yellowstone burned so badly several years ago people were surprised at how quickly it began to recover. Within a year, new growth appeared everywhere and wildlife increased dramatically. The conservation officers revealed that the seeds of most of the conifers in Yellowstone would not germinate, or sprout, until they were heated.
“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” Acts 2:3. Looks like wildfire has been around a long time. Perhaps we all need a little wildfire.
Oh for the wings of the morning
that I might mount to the stars,
To pull back the curtains of heaven
and look on His face from afar.
The power and majesty awesome;
The beauty and glory untold;
The love and compassion beyond measure,
And worlds His hands gently hold.
Friday, January 25, 2008
I have to work tomorrow so this will be brief and I'll be back as soon as I get a minute! Busy, busy week! I am getting a new computer in a week or so. It is ordered, just waiting on Dell to build and deliver. More on that too. Working on Mist, believe it or not. I just have been so busy with work and in the evenings I've kind of just loafed.
So, I will have a lot to cover when I catch a break. Take care. I do race by blogs and read up so, you'll see my smoke here and there!
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
It is a lovely room but not real. The reality is that I have no place like that in my home or anywhere else. When my children were small I had a spare bedroom all to myself where I wrote, sewed and had private time to read or pray. Now, they are teenagers needing their space. When I work there are phones and people. At home there are phones and people. Sometimes I want to run away just to be alone.
Our hectic lives often make it difficult to keep up with all the demands, especially women in the ‘90’s. More often than not we will have a full-time job, in addition to one or two children. If you are a Christian working mother, there are even more demands on your time. Non-Christian women may have time for a hobby or some form of entertainment, but Christian women have church services during the week. In addition to attending a ladies or prayer meetings, she must also find time to have daily prayer. And let’s not forget the cooking and cleaning. It is no wonder some women come to church looking like they just participated in a marathon, were mugged or never went to bed the night before. As for cranky, well I dare any man to try it for a week and still smile.
I’ve been many kinds of mom, stay-at-home, army, working and homeschooling. For five years I was a college mom. I was a full-time student with two children at home in 1992-1994. My husband’s job took him away from home for weeks at a time. Most of the time I was tired. No friends or family lived nearby to help with the kids or help out if my car broke down or if I became sick. And instead of offering to help with my load, my Christian “friends” criticized me for missing one service a week.
My day was long. I got up, got the kids off to school and was at school myself by 8 or 9 a.m. Upon my return the kids were usually already there. I helped with homework and cooked supper. Then I cleaned the kitchen, did laundry, got the kids bathed and helped with unfinished homework. I might have had time to relax but usually the boys were in bed by 9 o’clock so I could do my homework. I went to bed around one or two a. m. At 6:30 I began again. Saturday I cleaned the whole house and did laundry.
Donna became my best non-christian friend in college. One morning, during a break, we were discussing our harried lifestyles. As we discussed all the demands on our time she made a profound statement. She said, “We need wives.” We often joked about how much was required of us and how our husbands came in and got their favorite chair, asked for supper, and took a nap. It wasn’t really funny but it helped us deal with the frustrations. After college we both went to work. When we compared notes we found we were still doing the day job and the housework while hubby napped.
So when did I pray during the five years it took me to finish school? There were days when I was at home alone for several hours. I did a lot of studying then. I used some of that time for prayer. “Free” time remained a rare thing.
Every morning I drove 15 miles to school alone and in the afternoon I returned home. In semesters when I had a night class once or twice a week I made up to four round trips a day. On those frequent trips, I noticed people talking on their car phones, singing with the radio or just riding. I seldom listen to the radio in the car and I don't have a car phone. So I began to talk to the Lord. I told him of my worries all the way to school. At times, I drove to school thanking God for all He had done for me. I cried on my way home because I loved Him so much. Often I would arrive home unable to remember the trip.
I repeatedly apologized to the Lord for praying in such a manner. Many times a voice would whisper: this isn’t really praying; you look so silly talking to yourself; what will people think; and God doesn’t listen to this kind of praying. But I kept praying. I had to! I needed to talk to Him.
It reached the point that every time I got in my car I began automatically to talk to God. I didn’t realize how far it had gone until the day one of the boys and I had to go somewhere. As soon as I got in the car I began talking quietly to myself and he said, “Mom, who are you talking to?” I just stopped and stared at him. I was so startled I didn’t know what to say. I had instinctively begun praying the moment I started the car! That was the day I learned one of the many truths about God.
The scripture in Thessalonians which says to pray without ceasing has always puzzled me. I have pondered the idea of constant prayer often, but I didn’t see how anyone could do it. I discovered I was wrong. We can become so used to praying that it becomes instinctive, even in strange and unusual places. We can automatically break into praise and worship without thinking about it. Instinctive prayer! What a concept.
Some may say if you aren’t kneeling, it isn’t prayer. Too bad for the man with no legs. I once heard someone suggest that you can’t have a real relationship with God without an hour a day in prayer. Perhaps they had a whole hour every day, uninterrupted, in private. I don’t. Not many people do and so they just don’t pray at all. After all, if you can’t meet the requirements, why bother. Right? Wrong.
Others will say this type of prayer has no meaning because there is no conscious thought. It is true that no conscious thought is involved, but it is not true that the mind is not involved.
Every natural process in the human body is done without conscious thought. You don’t have to think about breathing because your body knows how to do it. You don’t have to tell your eyes to blink to keep them moist. Even your dreams are controlled by your brain without your conscious thought. And it is possible to learn to control your dreams while you are asleep. I’ve done it.
What could be more natural than to pray to the Creator? Words are formed in our mind and our mind tells our voice to speak. The Bible said “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Our heart and our mind appear to be linked. How could what I call instinctive prayer be meaningless if the mind/heart is involved in the process.
Prayer was meant to be just as natural as our breathing or our heart beat. It was intended as a means of constant communication between us and the Creator. We should find ourselves breaking into prayer for no reason, at unusual times, in unusual places. There should be prayer over our dishes, toilets, and car engines. I don’t mean roll in the floor, jump up and down, top of your lungs prayer (unless you want that, but be prepared for strange looks, especially from your children.). No, I mean conversation and thanks for all the blessings we have been given. God loves it when we just talk to Him! If we spent more time talking to God this way, we might find some of our heavy-duty prayers get answered a lot quicker and more often.
Perhaps we should stop worrying so much about a “special place” or a “special time” to pray. If you have either, use it and be thankful. If you don’t perhaps you should be more concerned with making the time special. Take a ride in the country or to work and make your time a place to pray.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Who wrote the Bible? How many times have Christians been asked this question by those seeking only to debate? It is a question that often leads to a feeling of frustration and aggravation for those who are expected to have the answer – namely, Christians. What a question. And those asking aren’t going to like the answer anyway.
Did someone just start writing these stories in the Bible and add to them until someone decided it would make a best seller called the Bible? Did God dictate the words to all those men in different centuries, cultures and languages?
Long before it was a written document the stories of the Bible had been handed down for generations around campfires. Oral stories were the only way to pass on the cultural identity of a people. In ancient cultures those in charge of carrying the history were taught carefully.
The “tellers” were told the stories long before they could talk themselves. They were expected to learn, remember and retell the events that defined the nation. To not do this would have been considered a terribly loss by the nation and in fact, there is one point in the Bible where the oral history and traditions were not being passed down.
“And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10
In God’s sight, this was a crime so bad that He punished Israel.
The first fully developed system of writing is only about 5,000 years old – far younger than the human race. Early writing was done on wet clay tablets with special pens and invented by the Sumerians. The shortest written item required painstaking time.
Even after the invention of writing the many cultures, including the Hebrews, still loved to recite the history of their nation. Read the Psalms of David in which he recounts great moments in Israel’s history. The Psalms and other historical poetry was written to read aloud so the nation would not forget.
Since each generation had more to learn, you can understand why it was absolutely necessary to invent writing. Try telling the history of the world on a cold winter evening.
So, the Bible was thousands of years in the making. It wasn’t even complete as we know it in Jesus’ day. Jesus and the disciples in their letters quoted from texts that are not even in our current KJV of the Bible! Many texts that were considered sacred by the Hebrews are not included in the KJV. In the Gospels they tell us that they could not include all the things that Jesus did. One of the things I learned in news writing was that there is a lot more of a story that you don’t know.
As for God dictating the words, well, the Bible said “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” not by dictation. For those who don’t know, dictation is where someone literally speaks to you and you write down their exact words with no omissions.
Inspiration, on the other hand, occurs when you see, hear, or experience something that stimulates you to action, it motivates you. All writing is “inspired” by something – good or bad.
Today there are those who say that because human bias is involved in all writing this “inspirational” type of writing the Scriptures can’t be completely true. It is accurate to say that human bias is evident in all writing. This is what causes skeptics to ask questions. And questions are not bad. They drive humans to seek answers!
For example, the Gospels have several instances of apparent conflicts. Examine the way one gospel will describe an event that is also described in another gospel. However, the differences are not because someone made a mistake.
I noticed this when I read the story of the crucifixion where Peter cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. In John’s gospel Peter is named but in no other gospel is he named as the person who cut off the servant’s ear. Why? They were all there. They all had to know it was Peter. And even though the gospels are written 50 years after Jesus’ death they would not have forgotten that night. Yet, only John named Peter as the offender. Why? And why did the others not name him in their description? Were they embarrassed or did they desire to spare Peter further embarrassment? Maybe.
Did John have a reason, other than accuracy for naming him? Maybe. Could John have been experiencing a little human jealousy of Peter? Remember, John was the beloved disciple but Peter had been given the keys of the kingdom given. We can’t know the answer and it may be nothing more than oversight on the part of the three other disciples. That alone intrigues me. I would find it hard to believe that all but one disciple forgot who cut off that man’s ear. It is an interesting puzzle.
Read passages such as this carefully and you may be able tell something about the personality of the writer by comparing the way writer describes an event with the same event described by another writer in another gospel.
Another instance is in the recounting of the Sons of Thunder seeking a special place in the kingdom. In Matt. 20:20 we are told that the mother of the Sons of Zebedee came to Jesus and asked that her sons be given places on Jesus’ right and left when he comes into his kingdom. Yet in Mark 10:35 it is James and John who come to Jesus with this request. So who did ask? Both stories say that the other ten disciples were angry with James and John for asking such a thing. Remember, the “right hand” in scripture denotes power.
Well, as a mother, I can believe that that mother just might have made this request. Matthew says she came with her sons, “worshipping him”. So she knew what power she was addressing. Or maybe the boys had asked Mom to ask for them. Maybe Matthew knew this and was simply being accurate.
Let’s say Mark also knew that the boys had put their mother up to this. In light of how women were viewed in that culture, at that time in history, it is conceivable that Mark may have discerned the source of the request and simply cut to the meat of the matter, not mentioning the mother. James and John were the ones desiring elevation; Mom was just a means to an end.
Interestingly, in this example, if you take things literally, it appears that either Matthew was mistaken or Mark was mistaken. Or you might assume that after 50 years anyone might be a little unclear. A person looking for discrepancies latches on to this type of example to prove there are errors in scripture.
Since I believe the Word is true, I believe this is simply an example of perspective. In both of these examples the event did not change, only the way it is perceived changed. Two different writers saw the same event happen and wrote about it in different ways—the way they saw it.
That is why discernment by the Spirit is so valuable in reading scripture. You must be able to strip away the writer’s bias and get to the inspired Word. To say a writer has no bias is an error in thinking. Time is not a factor to God and His creation (humans) has not changed since He did the creating. The men who wrote the Bible were exactly like men today. Every writer leaves his mark on everything he writes. It is the very thing that helps Bible scholars identify books written by different authors, particularly when the name of the writer is not known.
In 2 Peter the Bible says, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Holy men of God, motivated or inspired by the Holy Ghost, wrote the Scriptures and prophesied. It doesn’t say the Holy Ghost spoke. It says they, the men, spoke as they were moved on.
What motivated the writers of the Bible? An old, little used definition for the word inspire means “to breathe on” or “to inhale.” God “breathed on” all writers of the Bible and they “inhaled” that “breath”. What does that feel like?
As a writer I can tell you that there is something inside me struggling, always struggling, to get out, to be said. That is what moves me to write. When I am able to put it on paper, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Writer’s block is a living nightmare to a writer. The struggle goes on but there is no relief.
I can also tell you that when God is the motivator a writer will often write things he or she doesn’t want to write but which a driving urgency demands that he write. And while God has often given me things to write, it is never easy to get it right. The things that come from Him are the hardest to put into words. It takes a lot longer too. I have to pray over everything I write, while I am writing it! Then I have to leave it awhile, pray, and start again.
I suspect a similar thing occurs with preachers. They choose the words they will use to convey a particular thought. However, the thought may not be their own but rather, the direction of the Spirit. Finding words that accurately convey the thought is often difficult. Two preachers may have the same thought but use different words to convey that thought. Again, it is never easy to get it right. And sometimes, when they are done, they still wonder if they got it right. Ask any preacher. I have no doubt that true men of God must earnestly seek the face of God before they can deliver a message from God.
So who wrote the Bible? It depends on who you ask.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Sarah spent the night with me and during the night, the shoulder that had been hurting suddenly blossomed into a headache. I slept badly and the headache exploded too. I had no medicine until this morning around 9 a.m. when some could go pick it up at the pharmacy.
So, I spent the latter half of the day, feeling as if I had been hit by a truck. I am still exhaused and on my way to bed. I've made the rounds but I don't think I can take another minute.
I am also sadly behind on Mist. Sorry. The last two weeks I was either running my legs off or I was laid out with a migraine. Not a fun week but I hope the next two days off will make up for some of it.
Friday, January 18, 2008
If you would like to stop by her blog and express your condolences, you can visit Alice's blog or Nancy's blog and leave her a message.
Be in prayer for this family.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I spent yesterday evening reading other people's blogs and found that by the time I went to bed, a lot of them had made me laugh. Others gave me food for thought. And for others, I stopped to say a prayer.
So, I am feeling better although still concerned about this issue. It isn't resolved and I don't know the answer.
Today I have been overwhelmed by the thoughtful and even beautiful responses from you, my wonderful friends. I am priviliged to call you friends, blessed to be called your friend. Though I have never met most of you, there is a place that you have come to occupy in my heart because when I have been in dark places you came and shone your light and beat back the darkness.
Alice and many of you, my multiply friends, have asked what you could do for me. You have all done a lot already.
Alice, I think, you did more for me by allowing me to share your burden of worry and concern for your sister. You allowed me to be a part of a very frightening situation you are going through. I could not be there for you in body but I could be there in spirit and prayer. That was my blessing from you. And you have made me laugh for over a year, girl friend! I couldn't ask for more! But I know you willingly give more. I can count on you for the direct, straight from the shoulder truth. Alice, a gun-toting female Will Rogers who has me in stitches at times... from laughter, not bullet holes.
Sheila, sweet, battle scared, warrior woman, creator of beauty with just a pot of paint, brushes, pencils and a thought. You make me smile and laugh and amaze me with your determination to find the right path. And whose grandchildren's smiles decorate her blog and warm any cold heart. In the midst of your own pain you stop and bind up the wounds of others.
Skeeter and Amy my spirit-filled prayer warriors, possessed with vast qantities of humor.
Oh, Skeeter, my NaNoWriMo partner and mother of all, with her servant spirit, nursing the wounds of all as she serves up a heaping dish of common sense and spiritual truth. Another straight shooter but with a needle rather than a gun. Encourager of the sisteren.
Amy brings all that is sweet and kind and caring. She juggles her worries for her little girl and husband, pulls her hair over her family turmoils while finding time to say the right thing at the right time. Compassion would be her middle name.
Tracey has her struggles with her health but still stops and offers comforting Word and prayers and humor. She's a Dixie girl too and I can get a whiff of southern pine when I read her blog.
Lisa and Sunflower always have time to pray for a problem and listen to a whine and dance, offer encouraging words, and still share the amusing moments of their day.
Alisone (I know her as Maeve) encourages and shares her daily woes and whoops with family, work, Mr. Dante, and the struggle to make her way in a world as a competent young woman with chutzpa. I can count on a laugh most of the time and a pat on the back all the time.
I can be certain that Jilly's blog with entertain me for hours. Whether it is the antics of her polka-dot doggies, her five kids, her mechanically inclined husband, a contrary washer or computer, there will be something to smile or laugh about.
This is only a few of those on my contact list. And I could spend all night relating what I have gained from each of you because each of you has given me something important. You shared your lives with me. You have shared your troubles, you frustrations, and your joys. And still you find time to hold out your hand to pull up someone else. I've traveled the world to Europe and back. I have found very few places where such a diverse group of people could offer so much human compassion, and friendship.
And today, a few new people dropped in to extend their hands as well! I
had to put down the burden to reach them. I am really feeling better because of it. I wish I could give as much in return. Thanks to all of you.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
No, in the grand scheme of things, I probably rank up there with day old bread or moldy cheese. You can get it real cheap and it will do in a pinch. You can actually cut the moldy part of cheese off an the rest is still edible. Oh yes, it is. Cheese is soured milk! Mold is only on the surface of the cheese. Beside, mold is where penicillin comes from, too.
No, thank you, I do not want any cheese. It doesn't cure depression or disappointment. I've had a couple of disappointments this week. And you know, I am tired of the same people disappointing me!
How is that possible? Am I stupid? And why do we feel disappointment? I can't understand what makes me feel lower than a snake's belly. I tell myself that "it doesn't matter, I'll get through it" but I don't feel better. Do you know that there have been times when I have said, "I won't think about it." And I don't! But I can't always do it. Sometimes, it's just in my face.
My thought as I pulled out of the parking lot at lunch today was this. "This doesn't matter. I will manage somehow. I always do. I'll just not think about it." Now, I'm one who hates lying to myself. If it didn't matter, I wouldn't be wasting my time and energy feeling bad about it. If it didn't matter I wouldn't be thinking about it. If it didn't matter, there is no meaning or purpose. If there is no meaning or purpose. . . I'm not fool enough to think that anyone actually cares but if there is no purpose, I don't matter.
No, there is no point to this blog, it is just my time to whine and dine.
David said "Is there a cause?" Well, yes, sometimes there is. But for the life of me, I can't figure it out. Sometimes, things just don't make sense. No matter how much I look it up in the dictionary, research the web, scour encyclopeidas and devour scripture. Sometimes there is just no reason for some things.
I suspect David spent a lot of time in the caves wondering about his position in the universe. He didn't go seeking the Kingdom, it came seeking him. When confronted with taking it, he ran rather taking what was rightfully his. No one could have wanted to be King less than David. Can't say I blame him either. He didn't run fast enough.
As a child and young boy he probably lay in the fields watching the sheep and dreaming of what he would be when he grew up while he wrote country music. Well, he wrote them in the country with a stringed instrument and they are about all the problems he has, and livestock. Hello! Cowboy alert.
I doubt if he ever dreamed of being the king. It would have been sacreligous. I suspect he dreamed of the huge sheep farm he would have someday, perfect wife and beautiful brilliant children. He wrote a song about that.
He didn't get the sheep farm. He had some beautiful wives but he did stupid things to get them and one was a jealous nag. Let's face it, his children were less than brilliant. As far as I can recall, they were all pretty much stupid except for one. And even that one had some stupid moments. And like all country music singers, he always had a song to sing about his problems. Some of them were pretty depressing. So, my guess is that David spent a lot of time feeling what I am feeling. Disappointment, depression, failure. I just don't have any songs. So, I write blogs.
I don't know why I feel abandoned and alone. Maybe because my hormones are off. Maybe I didn't sleep enough. Maybe ..... maybe it doesn't really matter.
However, over the course of today, one thing has become clear. If I had my life to live over again I don't think I'd get married unless he was a filthy rich. Then I'd spend my life cleaning him up. I'd own my own mountain in the Smokies and have armed guards at the entrance. I don't know if I'd have children unless they did genetic testing for intelligence. Since that is still experimental. . .
But I sure wouldn't hang around in caves writing country music. Its cold.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
I'm over here cheering. And praying for her. Keep her in your prayers, too.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
As many of you know, about two months ago Nancy was diagnosed with nasopharengeal cancer. It is an aggressive cancer and she was given weeks to months to live. Yes, it was that fast. I've asked all of you to pray for her numerous times and many of you have emailed me and contacted Alice through her site to let us know you were praying. I am thankful to have such caring friends on my list and I know that Alice has appreciated the notes and emails you have left for her.
Tonight, Nancy's time has run out. I don't know how many days or hours or minutes she has before God calls her name, but I suspect, from Alice's description of the past weekend, it will be very soon. The following is an excerpt from Alice's email.
Nancy had to go to the ER on Sunday, 01/06/08. Her left side was contracting and her had was 'drawing up'. She has lost control of her bladder and bowel.A cat scan was done - she has new lesions on her brain = the technicians quit counting after 20. Death is imminent - approximate time limit - a mere few days...She canNOT speak. But you can call her house or cell and ask to be put on the speaker, and Nancy will respond by writing on a white-erase board and someone will read it.
You can see this is not for the faint of heart. So, for this one final time, I ask you to be in prayer for Nancy and her family this week.
I am hoping Alice gets there before it is too late. It will be very hard if she doesn't get to say good-bye. I don't know what it means to lose a beloved sister. I have two younger sisters and the thought is beyond my ability to entertain. I know what I would be feeling were I in Alice's shoes. I know what I would feel if this were my child. Nancy's parents are still alive and must get through the passing of their little girl. Keep them in your prayers for the days to come. They will need it.
Nancy and Alice are my friends from 360 and just before I came over to Multiply, she got sick. Alice followed me over to Multiply and started a page for Nancy. I've known Alice over a year and met Nancy through her. We shared a love of writing. With each email, she encouraged me to keep pushing myself to write the story I am working on. I don't know if it is really as good as she said but I believe she knew what every insecure writer needs to hear. She fed me encouragement and lifted my confidence. If I ever finish it, Nancy will have played a big part. I am so thankful that I got to meet her, even if it was just a cyber meeting. I like her a lot. I wish we had an opportunity to actually meet and talk. I think we would have liked each other immensely.
Hug your loved ones close tonight. Tomorrow may be the day you have to say goodby. Don't waste your time on the foolish and petty arguments and disagreements of today. Bury them without grief. If at all possible, tell those you love them right now, before you close your eyes. They may not care today, but you can close your eyes knowing you did all you could, said all that mattered. And someday, they will be glad you did.
Good night, my good friend, Nancy. I am so glad for the opportunity to call you friend.