Don’t move that Bible for me!

bible

“Don’t move that Bible for me! I don’t get that many chances with God!”

We were headed to lunch when I scooped up my Bible from the passenger seat to clear a spot for the social work intern to sit. Her protests would have amused me, except she seemed in dead earnest. In the ensuing discussion she described her upbringing in a strict Catholic tradition. Her earliest faith memories had stuck, as a perspective of “As long as I don’t mess up and offend God too badly, maybe He will let me into Heaven.” Those early experiences were her only concept of God.

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End of a life? Or end of an era?

File Aug 03, 6 45 21 PM

For me it marks the end of an era.  The passing didn’t make the news, but it certainly affected me.

You see, my earlier single years were impacted by a touch much gentler, more personable, and certainly more genteel than my own. That touch was embodied in three special ladies — two sisters and their first cousin. They and their families took me in, in a manner of speaking, and quietly changed me. While time and circumstances were to push us all in different directions eventually, there was a few years’ interlude that marked my life to this day.

I had never been a “girlie girl”. Just wasn’t. I remember thinking from a young age about what I would “be”, and I hate to say it, but I don’t recall the vision of becoming a wife and mommy competing well with “scientist” or later “psychologist” or the one that eventually  stuck, “social worker”. I went straight from high school to senior college to graduate school to a career, and though I dated some along the way, I wasn’t particularly in a hurry to “find someone”.

Not long after moving back to Mississippi from my year-long attempt to follow my dreams in North Carolina, I had begun to seek God more seriously than ever before, and had been filled with the Holy Ghost at age 26, which began another phase of life, serving the Lord with all my heart. When a few years later I moved to a community nearer my church, I was brought into contact with this group of ladies from an older time. Their desire to exercise biblical hospitality simply bowled me over. It was Sister Grace, Sister Hosey, and Sister Montgomery. (They weren’t nuns, we just use the term “Sister” as one of endearment and respect within our Pentecostal church family.) I’m not sure why two of the ladies were addressed by their last names and the other by her first, except that “Sister Turnbough” might have been a mouthful — few were even sure how to spell it — but most of all, “Grace” just seemed to describe her best.

The events that would draw this reclusive young woman into a family I didn’t know began not long after I moved into the tiny rental house. A knock on my door one Saturday morning brought me face to face with one of the ministers of our church. He had just come from Sister Grace’s house, almost directly across the road from mine. He had prayed for her, he said, but was concerned that she was in pretty bad shape and needed someone with her. My immediate thought (not at all seeking to be the hero in this story) was, “Doesn’t she have family around here? Why me? Besides, it sounds like she needs an ambulance more than companionship.” But, having been “raised”, spiritually speaking, to be in obedience to the ministry, I just said I would go, and went on over. That morning literally changed my life.

The fact is, the woman did need an ambulance, and anyone else probably would have already called for one long before. But Sister Grace truly had the faith of a child, and it had already brought (and would continue to bring) great miracles in her life. She was probably having a stroke. Her face was so distorted it was grotesque to look at, and whatever was happening had affected all her limbs. Seeing the look on my face, she assured me she’d been prayed for and knew God was going to work. The ambulance idea seemed a little difficult to bring up just then, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to pray with her just a bit. Perhaps I could explain my delay to her family.  After a few minutes of prayer, she announced, “Susan, I believe He’s touched my feet! I feel it! Let’s praise Him for touching my feet!” Through my anxiety about possibly letting this woman die on my watch, I began to join her in praising God for touching her feet. In my way of describing it, the Holy Ghost fell in that living room! In a moment’s time, we were worshiping and praising God like it was a high church service. As we praised Him, she announced, “He’s touched my legs! Let’s praise Him for touching my legs!” and here we went again. This continued and progressed until I saw her face go back to normal, and she was as whole as anyone who’d never been affected by anything unusual. I was not only greatly strengthened in my own faith, but my spirit was melded together with the spirit of this woman in a way that nothing else could have done. It would sustain me in years to come, and in ways I could not have imagined at the time. She would later skip down the hall of a hospital as doctors whispered behind her about tumors that had been on her liver on previous MRI’s, but not on the ones they’d repeatedly run that day.

Sister Grace was a package deal. Her own sister was a couple of states away, so her cousins who lived nearby had to fill in the gap, and Sister Hosey and Sister Montgomery, the two with whom she most closely shared her faith, were the dearest it seemed. They all three lived on land their grandfather had owned, as I recall, and had a quite a history in common growing up. They’d just about fall out with each other at times, but at the core, they’d have done or given anything for each other.

In those days, people “set” with each other. I know, that’s not the right word to use (and I still have trouble remembering where to use “sit” and “set” in writing), but the terminology was, “Come and set with me sometime.” These three ladies, and others in their family, would take turns visiting in each others’ homes, just to talk and enjoy one another’s company. We do that on Facebook and other social media now. What would happen if any of us  knocked on the door of a friend and said, “I just came by to set awhile”?

I began to find myself drawn into the “setting”, and over the years some of my rough edges were knocked off. Not gossip sessions, the predominant topic of conversation was the goodness of the Lord and encouragement from His Word. For readers who haven’t known me for a long time, this was major. Being shy and retiring is a rather substantial trait in my birth family of Thigpen’s. (Perhaps that’s why our family reunion has continued for 83 years: our fore-bearers knew they had to create an annual exception just to stay in touch with their kin.)

There were some interesting moments, many of which went against the grain of my plain ways and preferences. Conversations like these. . .

“I want to come see your ‘tiques sometime…” Sister Montgomery was a confirmed ‘tique (antique) collector, as were the others, and going “tiqueing” with her girls or sisters was a highlight. My quick response was, “Sister, you’re welcome to come walk all through my house, and if you see a ‘tique there, you let me know.” It had never crossed my mind that I should consider collecting anything old. To this day, though, if I see an interesting piece of glassware or pottery, it immediately gets turned over to look for a date or an imprint of any kind to show its value and age. And, yes, she’d find a few if she could come today. I even have one or two that Sister Hosey’s delicate hands were able to glue back together after my clumsiness damaged them, as though nothing had ever happened to them.

“One day you’ll have a little girl with long dark hair. And you’ll go shopping together…” If there was one thing Sister Montgomery liked more than ‘tiquing, it was out-and-out shopping. The only thing I was less likely to do than collecting antiques was shopping for enjoyment. Going to a store was a necessity in my book: what you did when you needed a specific item, and you should surely get it over with as quickly as possible. The thought of going to a mall made me wince. It was absolutely not something you did when you wanted to kill a few hours, and certainly not with a child in tow. My daughter is now twenty years old (with long dark hair), and somehow over these years she has shown me that shopping — with someone you love — can bring a great deal of enjoyment. In fact, earlier this week, I shopped til she dropped.

Sometimes, there were gentle rebukes. . .

We were all to prepare food for our church’s anniversary service. This was a big deal. Ministers from everywhere would be there to celebrate with our church and pastor, and the meal we provided afterwards was always something to behold. I was assigned a dish completely foreign to my culinary talents at the time: punch-bowl cake. Mercifully, Sister Montgomery offered for me to join her and her daughters for a group cooking effort in her kitchen, and she walked me through every phase of the dish. One of the layers of cake and pudding and strawberries and whipped cream wasn’t being applied into the punch bowl to her satisfaction, and I had to be directed on how to get it just right. “When I make something for the church,” she admonished, “I want it to taste as good as it can taste, and to look as good as it can look.” To this day, when I’m arranging my brownies on the nicest platter I can find (sorry, but the punch-bowl cake thing just didn’t stick) I remember that my true assignment is to make sure they taste as good as they can taste, and look as good as they can look. I’m trying, Sister.

Beyond the things that had to be done to tune up my gnarly person, there were other moments that made a serious impression on me, just by watching:

The peculiar way Sister Montgomery’s face and voice changed when holding or talking to, or even speaking about, little babies and children — pure delight, devotion, and focus on that little one, as if the greatest gift God ever gave humanity had been placed within her grasp. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone so devoted. The particular way of burping my own baby when she came along was taught by her as well: “stirring” as she called it, worked a whole lot better than the traditional up-on-the-shoulder-back-pat technique. “You have to stir babies,” she’d told me, which was demonstrated as placing the baby upright on your lap, with a hand on the chest and a hand on the back, then ever-so-gently easing her around in a circular motion from the waist. Worked every time, as I recall.

There came a time when Sister Montgomery said she felt we should begin to have some home prayer meetings. I was all for taking more time to pray together. We started meeting every afternoon, with Sister Hosey, and Sister Grace, and several daughters, granddaughters, and others — up to eight or so ladies. I can honestly say that some of the most powerful prayer meetings I ever experienced were there front of that chair where I knelt in Sister Montgomery’s living room. After a few months, though, a day came that would change her life forever. Her beloved husband, Buster, became very ill and was soon diagnosed with cancer. Though the prayer meetings were somewhat disrupted as she focused her sole attention on caring for him, she recognized God’s preparation: “How could I ever have faced this if we hadn’t already been praying beforehand?” Her faith never wavered, even though there came a day she had to let him go. One night as she prayed alone by his sleeping form in a hospital room, a vision of the Lord Himself appeared at the foot of the bed, assuring her of His love and care during that time. It affected all of us, and strengthened her greatly.

Time and readers’ attention spans would fail for me to tell of the warmth added to my life by accounts of how the family came to God one at a time: first Sister Hosey’s daughter, Kathy, who prayed for the rest of the family until God had His way in many of their lives; Sister Hosey and her son, Jackie; Sister Hosey’s and Sister Montgomery’s mother; another son, Kenny; Sister Montgomery’s daughters, Betsy and Janie, followed by Sister Montgomery and her husband; and eventually Sister Grace (hopefully they’ll forgive me if I recorded that out-of-order or left out someone).

They loved to talk about the goodness of the Lord, and when they got the chance in person or on the telephone, that is what they’d do, for as long as both parties could spare to do it. Years ago, Sister Montgomery and I literally talked all night long about Scripture and God’s goodness, and things we’d seen Him do in our lives and the lives of others. I remember the precious craft items Sister Hosey would make by hand, bringing them to sell to raise money for the church.  I felt a bit condemned that I wasn’t more “crafty”. I treasure memories of Sister Montgomery quoting their mother during church testimony services.  Sister Dykes, who I was not privileged to meet, was well advanced in years when she received the Holy Ghost, but fully understood the essence of living a godly life: “Ninety-nine and a half percent won’t do,” she’d said. “It’s got to be all the way in living for God.”

I vividly recall images of shelling peas as a community, an event the three would gather for as faithfully as prayer meeting. It took lots of hands to get those peas shelled right away, most important because “vegetables start to lose their natural sugar the minute they’re picked, and you have to put them up as quickly as possible”, Sister Montgomery had explained.  It was intended to let me know that I wasn’t just being included; my fingers were sorely needed (pun intended).  I hear the echos of her young grandsons as they strolled through her kitchen: “Fix us something we can drag through some syrup”, they said, which she immediately knew meant sausage was to be fried up, and she gladly complied.

We began to lose them a ways back: seven years ago, Sister Hosey slipped away on Easter Sunday, precious and faithful to the end, though cancer had brought her many, many miserable days. Three years ago, Granny Grace, confined to a nursing home for years due to major health issues, prayed her way on over to the other side. Just last week Sister Montgomery left on a Sunday night to join them for an eternal visit in the presence of the One they most adored. To me, it represented the closing of a chapter I’d never even expected to have written in my life, but am so much richer because of.

It really does make going to see them a more precious thought than ever.

 

Blessed like David or Just like David?

I have no doubt that many people familiar with the biblical story of David — “The Poor Shepherd Boy Makes it to the Throne of Israel” heartwarming saga — would like to identify with the elevated king. After all, God promised him that he would bless his house, as in the sons God would raise to sit on his throne, forever. That’s a long time. Who wouldn’t want to be blessed like that? God also promised to subdue David’s enemies and make his name great in the earth. Generations following spoke of “the sure mercies of David”. Not a bad Old Testament hero to be aligned with, right? Most would be thankful to find themselves and their families under the fountain of God’s favor, “blessed like David”.

But how many are willing to be “just like David”, a man after God’s own heart? We rightly consider this phrase from Acts 13:22, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart” to be declaring David’s heart to like or in the fashion of God’s heart. But what if an equally valid perception is that David was in pursuit of God’s heart, as in following after Him closely to have that very heart in himself? A case could certainly be made for that perspective as one looks back over the direction of David’s life: seeking God, praying, praising, wanting to please Him, fighting with all his might against the enemies of the LORD, yet walking away from his own enemy, Saul, when it was within his power to kill him, preferring to wait for God to fight his personal battles for him. These are all actions, the results of strong desire coupled with hard work.

Once there came a time in my life that I was stirred up to hunger for whatever God had for me beyond the faith I had known growing up as a child. I could say at that point I began to be after God’s heart. Answering that hunger, He sent people into my world who had tasted something of God that I had only imagined before that time. I could see it in the way they lived, hear it in their speech, feel it when I was around them — in church or out. I  began to draw closer to them to see what this was about. At every step of that walk, I had a choice to make. I could be comfortable dabbling in their experience from time to time, enjoying what I felt when I was around them, or I could work toward getting that for myself. God had to confront me at one point, in ways that left me no doubt it was His work, to make me realize I had lingered around the edges long enough, and the opportunity wouldn’t last forever. I had to choose to follow, or He would move on and leave me comfortable with where I was before.

You see, it was not just about experiencing the more powerful prayer, the deeper understanding of the Word, the livelier worship, the more authoritative preaching: rather it was the doctrine — the truth in the Word of God — that had to be obeyed before I could enjoy that power and closeness to God I saw in them. Action was required — obedience to the Apostles’ doctrine summarized in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Before that point in life, I thought I knew all I needed to about living for God. I had been a rank sinner for awhile, but had come back to the roots of the belief system I was part of growing up, and was doing all I knew to do: teaching a class, singing in the choir, being faithful for every service. In the lives of people who are sincere in what they believe, and practicing that with all their hearts, there often comes a time when, as with Cornelius in Acts chapter 10, God will take note. “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God,” the angel told Cornelius. But when God took note of him, He didn’t just pat him on the back and tell him he was doing a great job,and “Carry on!” No, he told him where to find a man of God to tell him what he needed to do.

How many, many people have had this same visitation in various forms, yet responded, “What? I’m doing what I’ve already been taught to do, what my family is doing, what my friends are doing. What do you mean someone is coming to ‘tell me what I ought to do’?” I tell you it happens just this way over and over again, to people who confess that they are just like David, after God’s own heart. I understand it because I know the struggle I faced in considering “jumping off the deep end” as my family and friends considered my choice at the time.

I am very logical and methodical, and the last thing I wanted to do was something irrational or foolish that would be a major, public choice. But my prayer, over and over, during the time of consideration was “God, I don’t understand this, and I’m not even sure all of it is right. But if I’m wrong, You show me, because I don’t want to miss You.” I assure you God went to great lengths to answer that prayer. My heart’s cry was to follow Him. In ways I won’t go into for the sake of your time, He met me where I was and did little things, minor miracles in my book, to show me this was, in fact, Him. I knew in my heart of hearts that if it was God who was leading me, I would follow Him anywhere, no matter what it looked like or what it required, because I was ready to abandon anything to have all He wanted for me. I had become, in that sense, just like David. I took the leap of faith so to speak, and when I obeyed what the Apostles preached, I got what the Apostles got: the Holy Ghost and fire.

One day, after I’d had the Holy Ghost only a short time, I remember standing at the mirror in the bathroom of my little apartment, getting ready for work. All of a sudden I was overcome by an indescribable sense of sadness and pain, and in a moment’s time was in a heap on the floor weeping and sobbing, though I knew not why. I cried out to God in agony. As plainly as I could ever feel Him impressing anything on my spirit, the words came, “Do you want this part, too?” Through tear-filled eyes and a with raspy voice, my response was a resounding “Yes!”, for I understood then that this was the burden of prayer that could move mountains in hearts and lives, both my own and those of others. This was the immediacy of being able to be moved by God for whatever His purpose was, not merely the things I knew and thought to approach Him with. This was the walk I had seen in the others that drew me to this way in the beginning. It was my professing to be His servant, to acknowledge that I was “not my own”, but at His beck and call. That was the deeper part of what I had hungered for, without even understanding what it was.

It’s been thirty years. I can tell you that wasn’t a phase or a fad. When I obeyed what I was shown in His word to obey (it sounds simple, but I assure you the steps of Acts 2:38 matter), He changed me forever, and this is still the best life I could ever imagine. Ups and downs? Sure, but always deep calling unto deep, to find more of Him.

So, what about you? Are you only willing to be blessed like David? Or are you sincerely desiring to be just like David? I’d love to hear you thoughts and comments.

The Pack

I had gone. . . with a multitude that kept holyday (Psalm 42:4)

King David wrote in Psalms of going with the throng of worshipers to the house of God. Though sometimes he went there alone, he often spoke of testifying to the congregation — telling of God’s wonderful works and ways to a group of God’s people — which gave him strength.

We, too, serve God in a community of believers. That is His plan. When we are born into the kingdom of God it is through the action of a church, which is the mother of us all, giving birth to a new saint of God.

We start off in the center of the pack, so to speak. We want to experience what God is doing through His people. We want to be closest to the front, the leadership, the place where excitement comes about. We somehow know it is the safest place to be. The lovers of God’s Word and of new saints of God know it is the best place for their newly born children of God to walk.

But life doesn’t simply flow along this way until we die. God said in His word, “It is impossible but that offences should come, …” (Luke 17:1) Though these feel like accidental intrusions on our happy journey, they’re actually part of the process of forming us to the mature saints of God He wants us to be. When we walk along we will experience some pain, some weariness, some unexpected actions in life that allow us to grow. But during these seasons we can find ourselves failing to step as high, to walk as briskly as we had. If we aren’t careful, we may not even notice that we are no longer in the center of the pack, but lagging toward the rear.

When the children of Israel crossed the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land, they were plagued by those who lurked along the way, waiting for the rear of the columns to come by, so they could rush out and take some of the weak and the frail, or those who’d just grown weary and lost the will to keep up. It is certainly the same today for those who are on their journey from the Egypt of our past to the promise of life forever with our God.

Should we look up to realize we have gravitated to the back of the pack, we must recognize we have become more vulnerable to attack without the strong support of those who would gladly surround us during our struggle. Sin or distraction or pain or loss or the anger of offense could be causes of our no longer keeping pace with those in the middle of the pack. But once we do allow ourselves to lag behind, we must realize that we are steps away from disaster. If those who would come alongside and attempt to support and prompt us to move to a safer place are refused or rejected, our situation is becoming grave.

There can easily come a time when we find ourselves stumbling at something that we once would have stepped over, or been helped to see and go around, and we fall. No other explanation for it. We just fall. At this point, we have the responsibility to choose what we will do next. We can falter in our resolve to make it to the Promised Land and turn aside to see what we can put together to just get by until death comes.

Or we can begin to try to catch up again. Often those who fall or stumble are not that far behind the group when that occurs. They could catch up. It is the most crucial time of their eternity. They can choose to struggle back to their feet and lean forward with all they have to get back where they need to be.

What would that look like in reality? Prayer, repentance, seeking God for restoration, reading the Word of God on their own consistently, and staying faithful to services at the house of God will help build stamina into one on the journey of a lifetime.

It just may be that realizing how close they came to disaster can cause them to quicken their steps and stay in the middle of the pack for the duration. Not doing so could cause them to suspect that life outside the pack isn’t so bad after all, luring them to linger there a little longer — until sudden destruction comes.

Real struggles cause real consequences. But there is a choice. How does God see this balance? Consider these Scriptures:

Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. (Hebrew 12:12-13) This is spoken as a commandment; in other words, this is what you are to do if you find yourself weak – you have a responsibility to press forward and try to regain the strength to keep walking.

And looking round about upon them all, he [Jesus] said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. (Luke 6:10) Someone whose withered hand was beyond help and hadn’t been straightened out in many years was told to straighten it. There was a part of the solution he was held responsible for.

Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. (Job 38:3) After all Job had been through, when sympathy would be the expected response from God, the exact opposite was the case. God directed him to stand up like a man and hear what He would declare to him.

God truly loves us, and feels our pain, but He does expect us to use the tools He gives to move forward, at least in spirit when we can’t do so in the flesh. If we’re constantly leaning forward, we’ll still be headed in the right direction, even if we stumble.

Stay with the pack.

The Bible Study tab on my homepage has the information you’ll need to start this journey if you haven’t done so. Check it out and let me know what you think, then. . .

Keep walking.

Sweet aromas? Offensive odors?

So there you are, snoozing away.  All is calm, quiet, peaceful. Then you hear it:  the whine.  Not one of the kids this time — no, this is the whine of flight, the high-pitched sound of tiny wings. Near your head. You feel the brush of six little feet against your face, and “whack!”, you’ve slapped yourself right out of a good nap.

With advanced education and efforts for mosquito control, there are fewer incidents of this nature at my house these days. I am thankful.  Besides ruining naps, the nasty things carry serious diseases in their minuscule frames.

Have you ever wondered how they find you even in the dark?  I recently read the answer.

You smell.

I know, that’s an offensive thought, but really, you do.

Mosquitoes are genetically wired to detect the carbon dioxide you exhale, along with subtle scents given off by your skin.  So all that is required for you to attract a mosquito is to be. . . alive. They fly around in the dark — hungry, wondering where their next meal is coming from — until they feel the clouds of CO2 pushed from your lungs closing in around them.  They’ve found the smell that is so sweet to them: the signs of life, which of course is accompanied by the blood they crave. I know, that’s disgusting.

So after I read this awhile back, something began to come together in my mind. If our breath attracts insects that are almost unseen, is there a parallel in the spiritual realm?  There is for most things. God is a Spirit. He makes His angels “ministering spirits”.  Satan and his fallen angels (devils) operate as spirits also.

I assure you I don’t walk around wondering if everything occurring is set in motion by some spirit or another, but it cannot be ruled out that there are influences from that side of reality. If there are spirits obeying a master who, as the Bible says, walks about seeking whom he may devour, wouldn’t it be realistic to think there is a way to signal to them that we are vulnerable?

These spirits are not omnipresent, nor can they read our thoughts — but they can hear our words and watch our reactions in various situations. There’s a smell they’re drawn to.

The Bible doesn’t record Satan having to walk Eve over to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to tempt her.  Not to put words in where they don’t belong, but was he watching her and perhaps noticed her gazing at it one day? Had something begun to work in her heart — a curiosity, a comparison of that fruit to the wonderful things she could have, a sense of ownership of that garden she’d helped tend for all those years and should be able to handle every part of by now (1 John 2:16 records the elements of this and every sin: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life)? Did Satan see something that alerted him to the time being right to present his ploy?

Notwithstanding spiritual attacks when we are living right — just because we are a threat — it stands to reason that we can become more or less vulnerable to some things by our actions. God Himself warned Cain: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. . .” (Genesis 4:7).  Cain was angry over God’s acceptance of Abel’s blood sacrifice as opposed to his harvest of his field — God’s preference for one over the other was obvious to Abel because of God having to slay an animal to make coats of skin for Adam and Even when they’d sinned at that tree.  This story unfolded with Cain maintaining his anger until he was standing over the bloodied body of his brother.  Not the outcome you’d expect from the second generation of God’s Creation, right? Yet Cain’s clinging to anger had opened him up to the influence of the darker side of his own nature, and undoubtedly that side of spirit world eager to wreak havoc as well.

I’ve heard it preached that drug use and feeding one’s heart on music of a darkened nature open us up to spirits that would oppress or possess us.  Are there other things that give off an aroma in the spirit world that would make us attractive to them? Does the stream of breath from our bodies — speaking blessing or cursing, bitterness or praise — determine what we are attracting from the other side?

There are incredibly horrible thing happening in the world today.  Those who weren’t raised to be terrorists no doubt had no aspirations to bring murder and mayhem to the world as they grew up. Somewhere, somehow, something changed. We prefer to think there was some factor in the lives of those who do carry out attacks or kill their kids or do other horrible things that could not be a factor in our own lives.  But is that always a given?

Less newsworthy, but more pervasive, are the families that crumble due to long-standing anger and infidelity. Where did that start?

Somewhere there was an attraction or even a wound to the spirit that wasn’t dealt with, and a thought, a seed, began to grow and be watered.

What’s the remedy?

God loves worship, praise, and speaking right things concerning Him. His Word records that He is drawn to it:  “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord harkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name.”  (Malachi 3:16)  But God desires more than to simply hear the voices of those who care to praise Him.  He is looking for the signs from you that they are open to:  repenting of the sins and attitudes that invite His Enemy to have a field day with them, to take the step of washing those sins away in His blood by being baptized in Jesus’ name, and having Him fill them with the power of His Spirit, the Holy Ghost.  He’s attentive to the words from our mouths that draw Him near.

God notices what we say.  The Enemy or his minions, when passing by, hear our words as well.

So what are you attracting?

When my daughter opens the window of her shaved ice stand to take an order or serve up a cup of sweet, colorful shaved ice, waiting flies tend to seize the opportunity to dart in past her.  She works to exterminate them, of course, but the scent of sugar seems to give them courage to brave any pest control. Never one to let a problem linger without investigating a solution, I bought her one of those fly traps with the liquid attractant to hang out back.  You know, the stinky stuff.   Coming to open the shop on the 4th of July, it seemed every fly in the county had been invited to the party. Even more than the smell of sugar, they were drawn to the smell something dying.  The trap had to be quickly disposed of, because it tripled the problem rather that solving it (now there were more and bigger flies trying to come in). The experience made me think.

What do we smell like when we’re holding on to anger, guilt, and refusal to forgive?

King David, who wrote so many psalms, said this, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.”  (Psalm 19:14) If we were to make that the cry of our hearts, wouldn’t our attractant cause the dark side to at least see us as less than an easy target?

That verse is the last in a psalm that praises God for His works and Creation, uplifts His Word as the only thing that can change us on the inside by converting our souls, and asks for God’s help to be kept from sin, that it would not have dominion over us.

We have choices.  Fight back. Pray. Praise. Read God’s Word and ask His help to obey it.  Then follow where He leads.

Smell good.

 

WHEN A COAT IS ALL YOU HAVE

This isn’t a post about being without earthly possessions, though it wouldn’t be a bad thing to call attention to — there are certainly people in that situation.

Instead it’s a reference to a message Bro. Aaron Dutton preached recently, and its after-affects in my heart. I’ll try not to ruin the message for any who might have the chance to hear him preach it elsewhere, but its effect was profound.

Jacob, the son of Isaac and father of the twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel, had spent many years in the certainty that the coat he had been given one terrible day was evidence that he would never see his beloved son Joseph alive again. Joseph was Jacob’s obvious favorite, the first son of the wife he most loved, and the jealous older brothers had chosen to finally remedy themselves of this thorn in their sides by selling him to a band of traders — making him a slave — when Joseph had been sent by Jacob to see how they were doing with the sheep they were tending. For a cover once they’d done the deed, Joseph’s beautiful coat, the very symbol of his father’s favor, was dipped in animal blood and taken home for whatever conclusions his father would draw from seeing it. The evidence was strong enough to convince the heartbroken jury of one that it was over. Joseph was never coming back.

We spend a lot of time sure of some “never’s” in our lives, as well.
But there would come a day when Jacob was told that the “dead” son was in fact very much alive and was sending for Jacob to come to where he was. He looked up and saw the evidence with his own eyes: a stream of wagons Joseph had sent for him, loaded with provisions for the journey to Egypt, where Joseph was now second ruler over all the kingdom, with enough corn for their starving family to survive the rest of the famine.

O, joyous day when that “evidence” he’d clung to in sorrow was proven to have been a lie! He would never have to wonder again, never have to listen to the false testimony of that coat again! His eyes had seen the proof.

There have been times in a period of prolonged difficulty that I’ve felt joy, I’ve seen my faith rise, and known God was telling me that He would in fact have His way in the end of my difficult situation. He would answer. He would work. I’ve even seen times where there were results, breakthroughs, that seemed as though the end of the long dark period was at hand. But I’ve seen things appear to slip through my fingers, again. A new layer at times added to complicate the situation.

And when I looked down, it appeared what I had left … was still that coat.

You see, the only thing Jacob had for years and years was the coat. Joseph was out there somewhere. But Jacob had no idea; he only had Joseph’s bloody coat. What could Jacob have done? We only read about his decision to grieve until he died, refusing all comfort. The sons who had so cleverly ridded themselves of a troublesome brother had also lost their father in the process. He was never the same again, and they were no more in his favor than when Joseph was among them.

Great loss, and great trouble, can bring great burdens. Jacob had those things to deal with. But would he have had a choice in his response? Consider the situation that came upon Job. Could Job have also said, “I will go to my grave grieving for my sons and daughters?” Of course he could have, and all the world would have said that was appropriate. But we are forever inspired by Job’s responses: “The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

I know that I serve the God who made Heaven and Earth, who robed Himself in flesh so that He could come and shed His own blood for my sinful soul, the God who found a way to reach fallen man, and fill us with His Spirit, and walk with us daily, to shed His love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Is anything too hard for God?

Does it matter if I’m looking at the wagons or the coat today? Can I be like the widow before the unjust judge who just kept showing up at the place where her help was coming from? Can I be like the Syrophonecian woman who turned the refusal of Jesus to heal her daughter into her miracle, by simply saying “Yes, Lord…”, and that hour received what she was so desperate to have?

I know that my Redeemer liveth. If things are to be fixed, they will be fixed by His power, His hand, His Spirit, His Word, and in His way and His time. His question was, “When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the the Earth?”

From Jacob’s story, I can conclude that when all I have is a coat, I can know that my God is still working on my behalf. I don’t know when the wagons are going to come. But I believe there’re dust and rattling wheels in the distance. As Job also said, “Though He slay me, I will trust in Him.” God loves me, and He will not fail, and I can choose to worship and praise Him when I cannot see. The coat does not have to steal my joy.

There may be more days with no good news, days that continue to come for weeks or months or even years after the message we’ve heard preached that inspired us to high hopes.

Yes, there will be days when all we have in our hands is a coat. How do we walk through those days? As though in our hearts, we can see the wagons that are on the way.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

We underestimated our enemy

9/11 is our modern “day that will live in infamy”.  Like the first day to be so designated, it probably didn’t have to happen.  in-depth research by the 9/11 Commission revealed gaps in communication among agencies, lack of immigration enforcement, and failure to heed warnings that certain individuals posed a threat, among many other factors. In our wildest collective national dreams, no one could picture illegal immigrants, trained as pilots on our soil, wreaking total havoc on businessmen and women, simply “guilty” of going to work, and on grandparents travelling to see their grandkids. To a deadly degree, we underestimated our enemy.

And we haven’t stopped.

We expect of our government a level of excellence in detecting and immobilizing threats to both national and local security. If a Boston Marathon Bombing or a Shoe Bomber incident occurs, we demand answers as to why they couldn’t prevent such an attack or near-attack, and rightfully so. But I warrant there is an Enemy many are still underestimating, perhaps even some who read this.

A new way to die

I remember quite clearly on Tuesday evening, 9/11/2001, after our church’s specially called prayer meeting, turning to a fellow church member  and stating,”We learned a new way to die today…Go to work and sit at your desk until a plane-load of innocent people crash through your building.” Why did I say that? Because we had never thought of that being a way to die before that date, but we can never think the same about security at work, or anywhere else, again.

Notwithstanding the political implications of failing to learn from the past, I certify you that many people seem unsuspecting that the Enemy of our souls could still be using weapons of mass deception, which he introduced in ancient times, even on us. Consider this:

All the same

When Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh, and Aaron cast down his rod, as God had directed Moses in the wilderness as a sign that God was with him, the rod became a serpent. Pharaoh’s magicians  immediately threw down their rods, which also became serpents. How? By God’s power? Of course not. By Satan’s power?  Well, there are only two options, and we’ve ruled out the other one, don’t you agree?

So are God’s power and Hell’s power equal? Absolutely not! The rod of Aaron ate up the rods of the magicians — a demonstration of superiority that the pharaoh-worshipping, God-hating, heathen magicians could not mimic.  Would the demonstration of two powers have appeared to be equal, initially, to the untrained observer? Absolutely!   

Now, consider who we’re talking about here: The sworn Enemy of God Almighty, and the sworn Enemy of your soul. Yet so many live life as if this Enemy would never use such a trick again. He would never allow some doctrine or religious system that is not of God, but claims to believe in all the tenants of Christianity, to produce signs and wonders and good feelings and good works, again. If people are basically good and they do good works and they feel something they believe with all their heart is God, then to many, it becomes vicious, self-righteous, judgement to suggest that they are not truly following God according to His Word.

They underestimate our Enemy.

The origin of what appear to be options

The root theology of many religious groups today, including the Catholic Church and all mainline denominations that branched off during the Protestant Reformation (this includes Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc.), is to insist that the Godhead is best understood as a trinity, and that failing to stand on this idea is heresy. What is not taught is where and when the doctrine emerged.  

For the period of history covered by the Book of Acts,  through around 64 A.D.,  the primary teaching of the church was that the true implementation of Jesus’ charge to the disciples to go into all the world, making “disciples of all men, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”, was to baptize in the one name that encompasses all of these: Jesus (see Acts 2:38, Acts 8:16, Acts 10:47-48, Acts 19:5). A wealth of scriptures explain how they knew the “name of Jesus” had to be what Jesus meant by what He said.

Yet, over time, the exact thing that Jesus and the Apostles warned believers  would happen after their time on earth not only began to happen, but multiplied:  “Beware of false prophets…” (Jesus – Matthew 7:15), “After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you…speaking perverse things…” (Paul – Acts 20:29-30), “…there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies…” (Peter – 2 Peter 2:1), “For there are certain men crept in unawares…denying…our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Jude – Jude 4), “For many deceivers are entered into the world…” (John – 2 John 7).   By the second century, the voices that clamored for a shift from baptism in Jesus’ name to a formula that incorporated the titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost, no doubt insisted that nothing was to be lost, but rather gained, for the Early Church by making this change. (Note that the Book of Acts records no baptisms being performed where these titles were used in place of the name of Jesus for baptizing believers). By the third century, the new doctrine was becoming law, and the original doctrine was beginning to be excluded from the official debate.  Didn’t Jesus warn his disciples: “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake?” (Matthew 10:22, 24:9,Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17)

Though it is impossible for both ideas to be right (i.e., baptizing exclusively in the name of Jesus vs. baptizing in the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), they were put forth to believers, first perhaps as being equal, then as the trinitarian formula being superior, somehow, to the “only name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved”, Jesus (Acts 4:11-12).  Though there is much to be said on the formula for baptism and the understanding of God as One, notice what happened in history around the time the relatively new doctrine was adopted as the official one at the First Council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D. The Great Persecution of the church, under the Roman Empire, ceased around that time. The Council had been convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine, with the stated intention of bringing “unity” to the church.  The doctrine of One God whose name is Jesus, (called “modalism” by theologians) was outlawed, and documents supporting it destroyed. It continued to be reported on from time to time by opponents continuing to work to stamp it out. 

Is it uncomfortable to think that banning baptism in the name of Jesus, in favor of one that leaves out the only saving Name, was the price paid by the powerful Early Church and its descendents, for being relieved of persecution?  Not all of them took this option, of course, but the records of their history is sparse, as noted above. Is it odd at all to you to believe that the actions of the Apostles as recorded in the Book of Acts were supposed to be overridden by later theologians? Does it seem most likely that what God really meant by the Great Commission was not truly discovered until 200-300 years after Calvary? Or does it seem possible that this is a duplicated “rod-serpent”, put forth to distract from the original?

Does the idea that the basic theology of your church, if it does not insist on baptism in Jesus’ name exclusively, and the teaching of God as One, and not a trinity, descended from this act (which essentially instituted the Catholic church as we know it)? It is incredible for you to believe that your Enemy could have pulled off an illusion of this proportion on modern society, to the point that good people fight against the original doctrine of the Apostles (or at least bristle at the suggestion that it should now be taught and followed exclusively)? If so, then you have seriously, and perhaps tragically, underestimated your Enemy.

So your basis for being sure you are right, and this is wrong, is the fact that you feel so strongly about what you’re doing, and are surrounded by others who are the same.  Is that a safe basis for being sure the doctrine of the Apostles is no longer the only doctrine safe to base your eternity on?  Can I share with you that I have friends and former co-workers who are just as adamant about their conversions to Mormon theology and the Jehovah’s Witnesses as I am to what I say and as you are to what you say?  They are faithful to what they believe and recount with excitement their conversions to what most readers of this blog — whether they share its theology or not — would consider false doctrine. I realize they teach a different view of Jesus and hell and other things than mainline denominations, but they are sincere and are good people, the same argument many use to justify their unwillingness to change or investigate the scriptures behind the One God theology.

An ever-evolving threat

Shortly after the birth of my daughter, the fear of potential harm caused me to pack a bag and leave the home I’d rented for a number years in the hands of the husband who had joined me there, just three years before.  Most of the possessions that meant anything to me were necessarily left behind.  As the separation became prolonged, and legal options for protection led to the unsavory process of divorce, several people questioned the safety of my things still quartered where an angry and unpredictable man was dwelling.  I confidently replied that what I knew of him was that he of all things was not a thief, and I truly believed with his other considerable deeds and potential ones that his pride would not lead him to taking what was not his.  You learn a lot about someone during a divorce.  Once a court decree finally restored those things to me, some of them that I treasured most were marred permanently from being hid in a location somewhere that exposed them to moisture. I had grievously underestimated one who should not have been, but had become, my enemy.

People often cling to a belief that is being challenged, because of their not being sure of the alternative.  They are somewhat comfortable with what they know, even when it does not fully fit the facts presented. Often, someone becomes interested in seeking a change, or more truth, for a time, but are unsure of where to safely inquire about it. That is a real concern.  Every flavor of “Pentecost” that Satan can dream up and is still dreaming up, has been evolving for nearly two thousand years: those who seem to worship as Pentecostals, but still teach a trinitarian form of baptism; those who teach Baptism in Jesus name, though not exclusively, and with no standard of separation from the world; and those who teach the doctrine and a standard of separation, but have no true balance, no joy, or have been affected by the tares Jesus spoke of, to the point that people are made merchandise of, and those who associate with their churches are left bitter toward even the real, true church, should they find one. But there are still those that have the power of the Holy Ghost flowing in them, with sincere and unpretentious worship, and  alignment with the commandments of the Apostles to baptize in the name of the One who bought our salvation with His blood.

Know the real

You know –if you’ve read the Book of Acts–that teachings of the Early Church are different from your own, if you’re part of a religious group that insists on the trinitarian formula for baptism.  Two thousand years’ worth of theologians’ reasons why this shouldn’t bother you have been thrown at you up to this point. But make no mistake: day after day, someone is being taught a Bible study about the foundations of the Apostles’ doctrine and why it applies today, and is seeing that they were misled by their denominational teaching up to that point. If you feel any curiosity at all about what you’ve read, and if you’ve never had someone who believes that baptism in Jesus’ Name is the only saving message, and who lives a life that you could point to as being separated from the world, and possessing the power that God intended for the church to have, to sit down with scriptures and show you what they base that belief on, you owe it to yourself to seek that out. 

You may contact me through the Comments section of this blog, the Contact tab of this website, email me at SusanJenkinsMS@gmail.com, or visit our church, First Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ in Bay Springs, (www.fpcbaysprings.com)  if you’re in this local area.  I challenge you to size up your Enemy, and make sure he hasn’t pulled you in with one of the oldest tricks in his book.

When did the Gospel change?

Is the church today supposed to be like the church in the Book of Acts?

If not, when did it change?

Some things very obviously changed from the Old Testament to the New:

1) sacrifice for sin was completed by Jesus’ work on Calvary (Hebrews 10:1-18)
2) eating foods prohibited under the Law of Moses was clearly done away with by the Lord (Acts 10:15; 1 Tim. 4:3-5).

Other examples may exist of changes for the New Testament believers, but the point is that we know of these because they were clearly outlined in scripture: by commandment, by teaching, and by recorded practice of the Apostles and their converts.

Was the change for good?

Few argue that we should still be sacrificing animals for sin or abstaining from eating certain meats. God, through His word, changed the way humanity was to serve Him before the Cross to the way we are to serve Him since the Cross. The Cross is the Great Divide of history. Nothing since has been, or ever will be, the same.

But to compare the practice of the general church world today with that of the New Testament church, whose founding and practices are recorded in the Book of Acts of the Apostles, one would think there had been a second Great Divide.

The early church believers were baptized in the name of Jesus when they believed, as recorded in Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10 and Acts 19. But millions base their salvation and that of their family on the idea that somehow, somewhere, the adamant insistence of the Apostles on the Name of Jesus for baptism (see Acts 19:1-8) became obsolete.1

Secondly, the salvation experience of the New Testament church was always accomplished by believers receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. Acts 2, 10, 19 clearly specify this and no scripture indicates any converts were saved without it. But the general church world today fights the idea that tongues are the required evidence that the Holy Ghost has come in, and that salvation is incomplete without it2..

More changes?

My question is this: where and when did that Gospel message — first preached by Peter at the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost — change? Can you point to the second Great Divide that changed history forever–again? And where in scripture are we prepared for this new method of salvation? Where are we told that we were to scrap the Acts 2:38 message and go with something else?

The Cross was foretold in virtually every book of the Old Testament. The outpouring of the Holy Ghost was prophesied in Joel and Isaiah. With all this preparation for the first Great Divide, where is the preparation for the change many are living under today, with a doctrine that says that is no longer necessary?

And what about a new doctrine? Some people obviously are following a new one because they are unwilling to do the first works they Apostles did. Where are there references in the Bible to the doctrine changing in the future?

You will find the scriptures giving many, many warnings about false teachers, false Christs, and a perverted Gospel3. If you do your research on church history (which is where you have to go to find anything about people baptizing in the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, because it didn’t  ever occur in the Bible), you will find this change made by a council of men in Nicea, over 300 years after Jesus came.

How safe is your plan?

SO, you can believe that was the plan of God, without any reservation: that this gospel of the kingdom, which Jesus said was to be preached unto all nations and then the end would come, was only in effect for the first 300 years, and then was summarily changed by a council of men? Although no prophecy in Scripture prepares us that there would be a later version of the gospel that was equally valid and more effective than the first, you’re comfortable believing that somehow what happened for the early church was for them only and that this change was the will of God and in his original Divine plan? You’re perfectly OK with staking eternity on that?

Want to know more?

If you would like to delve deeper into the scriptures and see for yourself what they say, a personal Bible study is a great way to connect. Leave a comment below or use the comment section of the site to request more information.

 

Why do many fight against the notion that the Name which is above every name — the Name of Jesus — must be called over converts being baptized? They base an entire doctrine on the one scripture that is meant to explain why the Name of Jesus is the one needed for baptism: Matthew 28:19-20 tells us that by baptizing in the Name of Jesus (as the Apostles did exclusively), we are baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. That’s exciting!

2 The scriptures in 1 Corinthians 14 — where Paul is explaining the role of speaking in tongues in a church service to Christians who obviously have spoken in tongues when they received the Holy Ghost – are mistaken by many to override his other statements saying: 1) Tongues are for a sign (14:22), 2) Forbid not to speak with tongues (14:39), and 3) I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all (14:18).  Jesus himself said tongues would be one of the signs which would follow them that believe (Mark 16:18) — he didn’t say, they would follow for a while or until a new doctrine came along.

Matthew 24:24, 2 Corinthians 11:13, Galatians 1:6-9 are only a few of the many references to false teachers, false apostles, false Christs, and a perverted Gospel.

So, what gets you?

You’re strong, successful in your sphere of influence, important to people close to you — perhaps even to some you’ll never meet in person.  That didn’t happen by accident.

To accomplish what you have, you’ve chosen carefully the paths you’ve taken, rejecting what wasn’t compatible.  To maintain what you’ve achieved, you’ve guarded your perimeter:  you’ve set and kept boundaries, the realm of safety that only admits the influences you choose.  You continue to protect yourself and those closest to you — the ones you’re responsible for.

But I submit to you that there’s a flaw in your plan, a weak place in the field of well-thought protections with which you’ve surrounded your family, business, and career.  You may somehow realize that is the case, or you may be oblivious to the fact that anything is wrong.

Nature has a parallel

Removing brush that was previously cut but left in place at the edge of my yard a few days ago, I found most of the bushes light from drying and easy to handle. When one branch unexpectedly tugged back as I tried to pull it out of the surrounding growth, I looked more closely to determine why. My examination showed an attachment that had formed to the bush well before it had been cut. Something the size of a few strands of human hair had wrapped slowly and quietly around that branch while it was in the process of growing to its present size.  A thorny vine, which eventually made my handling of the brush a bit more uncomfortable, had proceeded to make itself at home in an otherwise healthy, strong plant.

I thought how quickly, subtly, and painlessly the direction we have chosen can be affected by something we hardly notice until its effects have forever changed the outcome of our plans, goals, and dreams.

The danger of safety

The great story of Samson (the closest thing I find in the Bible to our modern concept of a super-hero), is that of a man whose incredible strength came from his separation to God. Before Samson was even conceived, an angel of the Lord had directed his parents in how to raise him as dedicated to the service of the Lord – what to do, and what not to do.

Samson was not, in himself, a strong man, but the Spirit of the Lord came upon him when it was needful to do so, and by that strength, he took out thousands of enemy warriors in a day, single-handed, with the jawbone of a donkey for a weapon. He once pulled up entire set of city gates and carried them on his shoulders, and he continued to outsmart his enemies, while taunting them with his strength.

But over time, Samson took for granted this power (there is no recorded time when he prayed, built an altar, or worshiped God as his forefathers had done).  A woman he loved, Delilah, was approached by the enemies Samson was to deliver his people from, and offered wealth to sell him out. There is no record that she even argued with the people who asked her to betray him.  The woman he loved repeatedly prevailed on Samson to tell her the source of his strength, and though each time he offered her only some ruse in reply, she immediately acted on whatever he had said would work to quell his power, even inviting the enemy to apprehend him once she rendered him powerless.

Somehow, in the midst of this obvious effort to do him in, Samson managed to hold tight to his sense of security, and as Delilah pressed him over and over with her “if you really loved me, you’d…” ploys, he finally broke and “told her all his heart”.  He gave away the secret of the one thing that God had given him as the source of his strength, knowing it was something that she could easily take away from him.

Did he remember that everything he’d told her so far, she had tried? What did he do after disclosing to her the real truth of how to disable him?  Run?  That would have been a sensible plan, but no, he didn’t.  Did he at least ask her to promise not to use the information against him?  No record of that.  What did he do?  He put his head in her lap and went to sleep.  In the place where he was in the most grave danger he’d ever faced, he behaved as one who felt perfectly safe.  If you’re not familiar with how the story turns out, I encourage you  to read it for yourself, (Judges 13-16), but suffice it to say that, after that night, he was never able to feel safe again.

The chink in your armor?

Your flaw may very well be simply feeling you are safe in your own strength and ability.  You’ve done all you can to help your family be financially stable, functional in society, and happy with one another.  Those things are all good. Who gets the credit?

The Apostle Paul, one of the greatest figures in history, leader of the early church, and author of  at least half of the New Testament, summed up his abilities this way: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18).  Was that some notable false humility from a super-spiritual leader? If you read the context of that chapter, he acknowledged the struggles (really failing to get it right sometimes) that he faced with doing the right thing, then asked, “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  He answered his own question with, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Paul couldn’t do it, but he knew who could.

In the “Never let ’em see you sweat!” society in which we live, confessing that we are not the ones to bring and to hold our own personal world together seems like the weakness that would get one eaten alive.  But that is just what we must do to have real security: trust in the one who made us, and who came to live among us and to redeem us.

Hey, last week even the government recognized that it isn’t totally in control of things that matter, as evidenced by NASA’s advice  to Congress on the best course of action, should a large asteroid be found hurtling toward Earth: “Pray”!

Calling out to the One who alone can add the extra layer of security we could never attain, is the only true way to have security. Jesus is the only one who is powerful enough to safely hold you and your personal world. He’s also the one who holds all the world (and that includes all the asteroids) in his hand.

Two things I bet you can’t do at one time

Walk and chew bubblegum!  Oh, you’ve got that one?  Great!  (Just don’t leave your gum on the sidewalk when you’re done.)

Pat your head and rub your tummy! Good with that one, too?  Wow, we’re getting somewhere.

How about saying “Thank you, God” for your job while griping about your boss?  What? A little harder?  Any takers? Anybody?

I think you get the picture.  Thankfulness is an antidote to numerous negative thoughts and emotions: anger, loneliness, depression, jealousy, selfishness, and other ills as well.  It’s cheaper than therapy, and in fact may be used by therapists at times (I think they call it “reframing”).  The kicker is, you’ve got to do it.  It’s not automatic. You have to hit the brakes on the negative thoughts and reign your mind in to start thinking of what’s positive in your life.  Not simple or always easy — and it goes beyond just the “power of positive thinking”– but virtually anyone can do it.

Lifestyle of looking up, leaning in

Our pastor preached a message a  little while back on the “attitude of gratitude”.  Isn’t it amazing how those words already rhyme so we’ll remember them?  It can sound almost trite to repeat, but the phonetics help keep the concept handy in a sort of survival kit for our spirits.  Like the list of wrongs you can right with apple cider vinegar, the things you’re unable to keep in your heart when an attitude of gratitude is cultivated continues to grow the more you think about it.

Consider these:

  •  list three things you’re thankful for about your wife (don’t leave out seemingly mundane things like finding clean socks in your drawer and knowing there will be toothpaste in the cabinet when you need it). Now, hold those thoughts and picture yourself yelling at her for burning the toast.  Feels kind of icky, doesn’t it?
  • as your eyes water at the sight of a fellow church member’s new ride, start thinking of all the times your just-about-to-be-qualified-as-a-classic has been there for you when you needed a way to go, and tell God “thank you” for allowing you to have what you have and tell him “thank you” for blessing your brother. I promise your eyes will clear up and there will be more peace in your heart.  And you may even have the urge to shine up that old car!
  • as a single mom, you find yourself drifting dangerously into the realm  of  “how can I raise these kids alone with that so-called husband out of the picture and supporting us to the negative degrees of 10 (as in not any) — I’ve got to find somebody.”  Start to list things that God has done for you since you’ve had those kids — times he’s sent a neighbor by to offer help, or that rebate check from an over-payment on a doctor bill that came unexpectedly, but just in time, or when a trusted adult at church took up time with your son to show him how young men were supposed to conduct themselves.  Feel like you can hold on a little longer, until God brings who He has in mind, if that’s His plan?  I thought so.  Works every time.

Not just for “churchy” folks

In my years of working in the mental health field I’ve observed the efficiency of teaching someone, even with intellectual disabilities, a positive behavior to replace a negative one, and then reinforcing the positive one more often, so the negative one would eventually go away.  The trick was selecting a behavior that simply couldn’t be done while the negative one was in progress. It is an “incompatible behavior” — for example, you can’t be late and on time at the same time, or use your hands for manipulating a puzzle while using them for some behavior that has unwanted social or even health consequences.

Put simply, being thankful is an incompatible behavior with most negative thoughts.

Where’s that in the Bible?

Yep, it’s in there.  In fact, it’s the attitude God commands for our approaching Him: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise, be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4). This is one of many places where thanksgiving is not only encouraged, but commanded.

Think of how you feel when you hand your kid a gift you worked hard to provide, and have them either trash it or heedlessly turn around and ask for something else.  We’re made in God’s image, so amplify our feelings exponentially and the God “in whose hand thy breath is” (Daniel 5:23) feels much more the same way. And above all, this kind of thankfulness does much more than just make you feel better.  Drawing near to God, who made us and everything there is, is the answer for weathering, and calming, the storm.

What all can’t you do while being thankful?

It’s hard to complain about the rain while being thankful a farmer somewhere was able to grow the wheat that made that wonderful sandwich you’re savoring. It’s even hard to complain about what you had to pay the doctor, and the surgery clinic, and the pharmacy,  while being thankful it was just the tonsils you’re having to contend with (if you need a dose of thankfulness there, research a specialty children’s hospital, and read the stories of children they treat).

As our pastor mentioned once, a certain POW in a Vietnam prison camp found it difficult to complain about the pain he suffered from the inhumanity being practiced against him, when he realized that his feeling pain meant he was still alive and able to fight back within his spirit: he had not given up as he’d seen others do.  Corrie ten Boom’s sister challenged her to thank God for the fleas in their concentration camp barracks, as recorded by Corrie in The Hiding Place.  Though Corrie resisted the idea, she forced herself to say, Thank you for the fleas,” only to realize days later that their clandestine Bible studies had not been disturbed by guards in this barracks as in others.  Why?  You guessed it:  the fleas! The guards wouldn’t even come near them because the fleas were so bad.

The bottom line?

No one thing is going to answer everyone’s problem, and many are the folks who suffer worse things than I can imagine.  But though none is free to choose their circumstances, all are free to choose their response.  In so doing, we may be also securing the insight and response of Almighty God, who resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

What about you? Have you found an “attitude of gratitude” to be a source of strength in your life? Are you otherwise good at doing two things at one time? I’d love to hear your story.  Please leave a comment, if you’d like to share.