Sister to Sister: I Might Need a Seaweed Wrap

images-1It’s been a steep learning curve for me in the March Digging Deep study of prayers in Jonah and Habakuk. I’ve told the story of Jonah scores of times to my children when they were preschoolers about that small prophet being swallowed by the giant fish. I can still hear a tiny Caleb filling in the blanks as we would tell and retell the story:  “So dey dus frew him overboard and a big fish dus swawowed him wite up!” (You have to be a preschooler’s mom to read that!)

But there’s so much more to that account…a story that Jesus verified in Matthew 12 as being true and literal.

I was blessed to have Flori Barber on the podcast with me earlier this week. You can watch the archived edition HERE. There were three pertinent lists given during that podcast from Jonah’s prayer as he wrapped his head around truth in the belly of the fish even as his literal head was wrapped in seaweed (Jonah 2:5). So much wisdom was discovered in that sea creature’s belly. Truly, that fish vomited a good deal more than he swallowed and Jonah was on his way, at least for a time, to do the bidding of Jehovah.

Several have requested the lists, so here they are:

Flori’s “Lessons Learned from the Prayer in the Belly”:

  1. When we pray we must acknowledge God and approach him with a penitent heart.
  2. We must humble ourselves and admit our wrongs.
  3. We should thank God for saving us.
  4. We should not just pray for help/deliverance, but pray for strength and knowledge to do what we can do on our part.
  5. We should repent and turn away from sin
  6. We should acknowledge that God is where we find salvation.

Cindy’s “Lessons Learned from the Prayer in the Belly”:

  1. Sometimes, hitting “rock bottom” is the wake-up call that I need.
  2. When I attempt to get out of God’s sight, He will make sure it happens. (vs.4)
  3. The deeper the sin and sorrow, the greater the salvation. (vs. 5)
  4. When I believe the devil’s lies, I burn my own bridge to mercy. (vs. 8)
  5. Repentance requires action. (vs. 9)

Jonah Prays the Scriptures:
Jonah 2:2…………….Psa. 18:4-6; Psa. 22:24; Psa. 120:1,2; Lam. 3:55.
Jonah 2:3…………….Psa. 88:6; Psa. 42:7.
Jonah 2:4…………….II Chron. 6:38; Psa. 31:22
Jonah 2:5…………….Psa. 69:1; Lam. 3:54
Jonah 2:6…………….Psa. 16:10; Job 33:28
Jonah 2:7…………….Psa. 18:6
Jonah 2:8…………….Psa. 31:6
Jonah 2:9…………….Psa. 3:8; Psa. 50:14; Psa. 50:23

Sister to Sister: Do You Play in the Elevator?

elevatorWe were checking out of the hotel, Glenn and I, …pulling our loaded cart from the room on the 2nd floor, when we heard it. At first the shrieks were so piercing and frantic that we thought someone down the hall needed a spanking. You know, we thought we were hearing the typical out-of-control child. (You know this child. People call him “out-of-control”, but he really controls just about everything about his family.)

But the screaming got closer to us and, turning around, I saw a three or four-year-old curly-headed boy, tears streaming, panicked cries getting louder and louder, running and peering into every nook of the hallway. It was obvious this child was lost from his parents. I started toward him when the stairwell door opened and a young man said, “Charlie.” At that instant Charlie turned toward the voice and ran into the man’s arms. Charlie’s father said only, “See Charlie…that’s what happens when you play on the elevator. I told you.”

I know Charlie was having fun. The magic doors were open and it was such a temptation to run into the elevator. Then it was fun to push the “1” button when the doors began to close and make them open right back up again. I know his father, busy checking out in the lobby, had said “Charlie, get off the elevator. You’re going to get hurt….Now, Charlie!” But Charlie had to push just one more button. This time he pushed the “2” and the doors closed. This time they did not re-open. This time the elevator began moving and Charlie began screaming hysterically.

Do you play in the elevator? Oh, you know where this is going. I mean, when your Father tells you what to do to avoid being hurt, are you still lured into areas of experimentation with the very things your Father has told you to avoid? When your Father bids you come away from the dangers and draw closer to Him, do you sometimes procrastinate, intending all along to go to Him, but just “pushing one more button” or “watching the magic doors open” just one more time?

Sometimes I think we play in the elevator with entertainment choices. We know the Father is calling us to purity, but we forget that the choices we are making can move us farther away from His protection. Finally, while we are quite oblivious to the danger, the doors may close and we may no longer be even in close proximity to the Father and His will.

Sometimes we play in the elevator with physical lusts. How many teens, like King David, have figured out that lust leads to actions that you can’t undo? It leads to regret that you just can’t fix. Sometimes it puts you on a path that will keep you out of heaven. Sometimes, the doors close.

Sometimes we play on the elevator with our lust for material things. We know that we need to get our priorities aligned more perfectly with the Father’s, but we think, “Maybe I’ll just pursue this one more career goal, obtain this one more possession (that will require me to seek the kingdom second, financially, for at least 24 months, till it’s paid off), or try to get into this prestigious circle of friends. Once I’m there, I’m getting serious about Christianity.” The only thing is, once we’ve “pushed that button” there’s always one more to push.

Sometimes we play on the elevator with our parenting. We think about how we should be having Family Bible time. We know we need to get started. We know that we have got to be more consistent in discipline. We know we need to be memorizing scripture with our kids. We do hear His call from the “lobby.” But, you know, we’re just thinking about what’s right there in front of us at the moment. Playing around is just  more fun than being so serious and conscientious about listening to the Father. “There will be plenty of time later to step off the elevator and “straighten up” my act.”

And then, so often, it happens. The door closes and we are tragically separated from the Father. We’re not even on the same floor of the building. And, at last, we “get it.”  Our lifestyles have come to mirror the entertainment choices we made. We laughed at sin for so long that it became tolerable in our lives and homes and we are paying high prices for our lack of discernment. Our children did not think we were serious about morality, at all, when we were laughing at immorality. Or perhaps we look around and find that it is almost time to die and we are very rich in things that we are soon to leave behind, but we have no treasures in heaven. Our families somehow missed the importance of seeking the kingdom. How did that happen? Perhaps we, as parents, procrastinated the years of childhood away and we find that the door has closed. The opportunities to draw close to the Father are no more because the Father is nowhere in our proximity. How did we get on “the second floor”?

God doesn’t pull punches about playing around with sin.

“…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” (II Cor. 6:2)

 “That’s what happens when you play on the elevator, Charlie. I told you.”

Sister to Sister: When You are Crunching Acorns

Acorns_fallingIn the past few days, I have gone to a retreat without the required bedding, towels and soap, I have face-planted in front of an audience that was gathered around a campfire, I have discovered a double-booked Saturday just a few days before I was supposed to be speaking in two places, I have had a wicked stomach virus, and I’ve traveled several hundred miles alone and spent multiple hours in doctors offices and waiting rooms. I’ve canceled a couple of trips so that I could make different trips that were more urgent on that particular day. In short, my course–the regularity of planned events–has been altered many times.

Have you ever thought about the fact that God never says “Uh-oh!”? He never changes his plans because things aren’t working the way He wants them to. We serve a God Who always follows through. This time of year, when you find yourself crunching acorns beneath your shoes, driving through colorful foliage or running back into the house to get that coat you haven’t worn since last March, remember He is a God upon Whom you can count. He is faithful. He delivers. Nature obeys Him—the winds and the waves, the faithful ocean tides, the stars in their courses, gestational life, seedtime and harvest. The hosts of heavenly angels are situated even now at His command. All of life obeys God.

But you and I have a choice. Sometimes I wish I did not. After all, if I did not have the choice, I would be like the birds flying south or the squirrel gathering acorns. I would always be doing His Holy Will. But it’s only in the choice that He can find in me devotion, appreciation and submission. He has given me the freedom to love Him in return…or not. And, when I choose to love Him, my indestructible connection between heaven and earth takes its shape. I am the only one who can burn the bridge that spans the gulf between the Faithful God and the vulnerable woman I am.

I’m in verse 39 of Romans 8. Dark nights and storms and mean people and serpents and terrorists and surprise situations are there, too. But I am the inseparable. They are just the unable.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38, 39).

Seasons of the Heart

When the crimson leaves have fallen
And cool winds breathe a sigh,
I stop beneath a barren oak
And wistfully think, “Why?”

Why must flowers lose their blooms?
Where goes the butterfly?
Why does autumn bear this chill?
Where do the birds go and why?

The squirrels don’t forget to find acorns.
The fields never fail to turn gold.
The mice find my barn for the winter,
And I’ve turned another year old.

Every appointment of nature
Is met with the greatest detail.
How can all heaven and earth do His will
And I, in His own image, fail?

If I could, like stars in their courses,
Or that gold harvest moon in the night,
Follow the course He has charted
And change when He thought it was right;

If I had no fear of tomorrow;
If I trusted in God’s wisdom more,
Like the squirrel I’d be ready for winter;
Like the bird flying south, I could soar.

The heavens and earth shout His glory.
The sky is the work of His hand
I, too, have a place in my God’s world.
I, too, must attend His command.

Seedtime and harvest, death before life;
In His good time may I take my place
As the whole world gives way and all nature obeys,
In the seasons, may I see His face.

CCSig

Blueberries and the Book (The Exciting Conclusion!)

About Last, but Not…Well, Last AND Least 

On the day of the firstfruits, my biggest temptation was to grab a whole handful of big, delicious berries and fill up my basket in a hurry. Those big clusters of ripeness just made me want to grab them by the fistful. I soon learned to be a bit more discerning, though. What I didn’t see, at first, was that in the middle of those clusters were some tiny white berries, as yet barely exposed to the sun and needing several more days, even a week or two, perhaps, to mature into usefulness for pies, jams, bowls of cereal and ice cream. Picked in the big cluster before their time, they would yet be hard, bitter and difficult to digest. 

You know where I’m going. In every congregation there are those who are young and immature in the faith. Before they really become useful to the church, they need more exposure to the Son. They need a little time to grow. They need a little extra attention when the faithful are being productive. One day they will be ready to be useful. But for now, they just need to grow. Hands that are busy in the “bush” need to take special care not to make these young ones fall before they reach maturity. Hands need to be careful to preserve the potential of those who are still growing.

How do we identify those who are immature, perhaps spiritually needy, or in danger of falling? Here are some catch-phrases that might be typical of those who are not yet of age, spiritually:

“We want to be sure our needs are being met.”

“Let me tell you what THEY are doing down at MY church.”

“When I was sick, only two people even visited me.”

“I didn’t get too much out of that service.”

“We need to go somewhere that has lots of teenagers.”

“I know the Bible says__________, but I just don’t think God would…”

“I hope they hire a preacher who is in his thirties like we are.”

“That sermon was pretty good, but it was too long.” 

“We’ve got to get on the road, so we won’t be staying for class.”

“ I’ll do it if you can’t find anyone else.”

“If we join your church, do we have to attend on Wednesday nights?”

“ I hope my kids don’t have to miss the gospel meeting. Maybe their games will be over by then.”

The list could go on, but you can see that these types of statements reveal a heart that has yet to grow to be more concerned about the well-being of others than self. We’ve all seen this wonderful transformation to unselfishness occur in the lives of friends who are in the Book. Sometimes personal trials make people more cognizant about the needs of others. Sometimes our genteel treatment of those yet young in the faith, along with our prayers can make the difference. 

Let’s remember that growth occurs at different rates and let’s make every effort to preserve the potential of young and growing members. Often that will mean deferring our own plans or even depleting our cash-on-hand. But remember, they will mature, and when we are patient and gentle, productivity for the greatest Cause on earth will be multiplied.

Woe

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!–Isaiah 5:20

As I read through the book of Isaiah, I’m noticing that God is pretty fed up with Judah. The word “woe” is repeated several times as God descries the sinful state of His people. I think we, in America today, may be calling down the “woe” too. I believe we, as a society, have become pretty adept at calling evil good, and good evil. We call the acceptance of the sin of homosexuality “tolerance.” The sin itself is “an alternate lifestyle” and the announcement of it is “coming out.” We have parades to honor the participants in this sin. We call fornication “making love.” We call adultery an “extramarital relationship” or “an affair.” We call killing unborn babies “terminating a pregnancy” or even sometimes “contraception.” We call the organization that does the majority of these killings each year in our country by the family friendly name “Planned Parenthood.” We refer to filthy books and movies as “containing adult content,” and houses of reveling and lasciviousness “gentlemen’s clubs.” We call idolatry lots of more palatable names from “new age religion” to “self-realization.” We refer to drunkenness as a “disease” and to worship that forsakes the Biblical pattern as “progressive.” Mothers sometimes forsake their families and say they are “finding themselves” and fathers sometimes just “move on with their lives.” We call evil good.

Perhaps even sadder to me than the positive spin we put on sin by renaming it is the way we are enamored with immoral lifestyles when they are flaunted by celebrities. We put sin in the footlights and celebrate it.The icons of darkness dazzle us. Demi and Angelina and Halle and J Lo. Brad and Johnny and Leonardo and Jake. They sparkle and shine and we watch and emulate. We put darkness for light. More commonly reported, in these Hollywood “families,” than two married people expecting a child, is a diva and her fiance’ playing at the beach with their child, or a pregnant celebrity walking along the shoreline in a bikini with her lover. The words “celebrate” and “celebrity” obviously derive from the same root. What makes us celebrate and what makes us mourn in America today? Are these, respectively, the same things that make God celebrate and make Him cry? The lights of Hollywood don’t really illuminate. They are darkness.

And do we put sweet for bitter and bitter for sweet? The Bible says His words are sweeter than the honey in the comb. Yet, we find parts of that Word, even statements of THE Word incarnate (John 1:1) to be so bitter that we just reject them. Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19:9 was extremely bitter to the hearers of His day and it remains so to this day.

Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

The plain teachings of the Word about the purpose of New Testament baptism, the singular nature of the church, and the qualifications of elders are other examples of “honey”–the Word of God–that men taste and find too bitter to swallow. Isaiah pronounced woe. “Woe” is great sorrow or distress. Great sorrow is the ultimate end of those who get good and evil all mixed up.

That Was Epic!

So perhaps we do go a bit overboard on the fireworks display for New Year’s Eve on the Holder side of the family. But this year we really had a lot of fireworks on hand. Grandaddy had asked Ben to get them at the Fireworks Superstore on the Alabama/Georgia state line, since he thought his local store wasn’t going to be open. Turns out his store did open up and he bought a bunch, himself. But, somehow, through splotchy family transmission lines, Ben didn’t get that memo. So we had a Grandaddy-sized double stash on the premises.

It was kind of hard to wait till dark. It was going to be a good, clear and relatively warm night for fireworks and some of the guys had them pre-stacked and ready to rock, out on the basketball court. “A smooth, hard surface that’s a good distance from any trees” –that’s what the directions required.

“Well, since the court has trees, on either side, let’s just set this concrete block out in the pasture a few feet from the court. We can launch them from there and the kids can all watch from the basketball court.” Good plan. Good stash. Good food, first, and then we’ll just wait for dark.

It was sweatshirt weather. Nobody even had on a coat. We extinguished all lights, so the glow of the fireworks would be brilliant. And it was. We could only ever-so-briefly recognize each other in he momentary reflection of the vibrant exploding gases in the sky. We’re always all over that court, taking photographs, laughing, bumping into each other and jumping at the loud blasts. “Piedaddy,” as the grandfather is affectionately called, was sitting on one end of the court in a chair positioned where he could get the full effect.

Then something went frightfully wrong. One of the huge boxes of fireworks jolted when the fuse hit the first rocket. The entire box of near professional-sized displays fell sideways off the block and the remainder of the rockets fired off with super speed in the direction of the cars, the house, the grandfather and all eighteen spectators. Laughter, for those who knew the danger, quickly turned to screams of terror. My brother, John went over and stood in front of our dad, to protect him from the speeding balls of fire. Children were shouting at each other as they looked for hiding places. I was shouting from behind a bush at Glenn to “Please get off the concrete!” as he lingered around the exploding box in a useless effort to try and stop the seemingly eternal blasts from continuing. It was reminiscent of some of the war movies I have seen.

But when the last blast had sounded and the last ball of fire had been extinguished, we immediately accounted for every person. Only two men had taken direct hits: Caleb, who had his hand in his jacket pocket and (believe it or not) whose large ring had deflected the fireball, and Blake, who had a small cut on his abdomen where he had actually been hit and somehow it cut him, even through his clothes. A few moments earlier, the patio had looked like it was on fire. There was fire on top of the house which had to be 60 yards or so, at least, from the launching site. There were people running and screaming and Glenn was dancing a jig out there on the court. And, then, at the crucial accounting moment, everyone was safe and we just might all live to do this (well not this, EXACTLY) next year.

Here are a couple of lists that come to mind upon reflection.

Things that could have prevented potential disaster:

  1. The “fireworks director” could have used a little more experience. Sometimes lots of things in life require a bit more.
  2. The base of the launching site could have been a little more solid and smooth. Sometimes a better foundation is very helpful.
  3. The spectators could have been a little further from the launching pad. Sometimes distance from the action is a plus.

Things that likely did prevent potential disaster (or at least a mishap):

  1. Enoch, who is the shortest member of the family had just been instructed to “Go and put that bag of potato chips back in the kitchen. Those are to go with the dip, later.” Now if he had been hit, it would have been in the face and not the abdomen.
  2. Sami, who has a knack for bringing up the rear, was in the house–in the bathroom, to be exact, so she was not bringing up the rear in escaping the explosion site. She hadn’t even made it out there yet. (It would have been good if we could have heard her yelling that she was okay, however, when, at the accounting moment, she was nowhere to be found.)
  3. Someone shouted, “Close that door, Enoch!” just as he slammed the sliding patio door and it was immediately hit by a ball of fire headed directly for him.
  4. The ring.
  5. The amazing safety precautions that were taken for the rest of the show once we gathered our senses and continued with the rest of the fireworks.
  6. Those who hit the ground behind the bushes or the workshop.

Lessons:

  1. It’s a bit ironic to think about the fact that the beautiful exploding balls of fire that we “ooh and aah” about when they are up in the sky aren’t pretty at all when they are chasing us at waist height. It’s kind of like some of God’s blessings. They are very pretty when experienced in the place God intended them to be. And they are quite dangerous when experienced otherwise. (I’m thinking of marital intimacy vs. fornication, here.)
  2. It’s sobering to think about how that, once those little bombs are detonated, there’s no stopping them, slowing them or reversing their direction. Sometimes sin is like that. We can reverse our sin as long as it is in the thought stage or the desire stage. But once we take certain actions, we cannot alter decisions. There is often no undoing the damage of sin.
  3. It’s strange to think about how that not one of us out on that concrete pad was thinking about imminent danger. We were doing the same activity that has brought us delight on so many prior occasions, when, suddenly, we found ourselves in a seemingly desperate situation. Sometimes temptation is like that. The devil loves to find us when we are comfortable and unaware of danger. It’s at those times when we feel relaxed being close to the fire that we become susceptible to being burned. “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov. 6:27).
  4. There was no chance that Sami was going to be burned because she was not at the event. All of the people out there on the court were at risk. But, since she was not there, she never even felt threatened. She was completely safe because she was somewhere else. Sometimes events are best unattended. While the fireworks show was an innocent event and the mishap was unexpected, some events where sinful activities are occurring, should be permeated with the absence of Christians. Parties where drinking is involved, dances, and places where the normal clothing (or lack thereof) might cause lust are best completely avoided. You will not be in danger of participating in the typical sinful behavior that occurs in these environments if you are simply not there.
  5. Unselfish big people can protect weaker, smaller people.My brother is 6’8 1/2”. While my dad was behind him, there was no worries about Dad’s safety. Isn’t it that way spiritually,as well? If bigger, more mature Christians will watch out for the weaker Christians, their survival rate will soar. Galatians six, verse one, tells the one who is spiritual to restore the one who may be overtaken in a fault. I Corinthians 8 is all about the stronger taking care not to wound the conscience of the weak. And Jesus pronounced His woe on the one who would offend the little one or cause him to stumble. He actually said it would be better for a millstone to be hung about the offender’s neck and for him to be cast into the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).
  6. Sometimes it is better to just get out of a situation in which you face danger. All I wanted that night was for everyone to clear the area. I did not want my husband staying behind to try and manage that box of fireworks. I wanted EVERYONE to get gone and get hidden. Some “fires” in our lives are like that. Joseph ran when faced with the temptation of Potiphar’s wife. I often tell young girls that the best defense against fornication may be a good pair of Nike’s and the king’s highway. If you feel tempted to commit a sexual sin, just get out of there!
  7. It was really good that Enoch obeyed the voice that yelled “Close that door!” He didn’t know there was a war zone outside. He could not have known there was danger. But he obeyed anyway. We, like children, must obey the Father’s voice even when it doesn’t compute in our human brains. Obedience just when it makes perfect sense to me is not real obedience.
  8. The distance traveled by those little fireballs was truly amazing. The launching site really was pretty far away from the house. Yet, when those rockets started traveling an unobstructed path in the wrong direction, they were unstoppable. Sometimes influence is like that. It can go a long way and do a lot of damage if it gets started in the wrong direction. I have talked to older members of the body who would give anything if they had just been faithful to the Lord while their children were growing up. But now they are old. Their children are grown and are far away from the faith. These elderly Christians are full of faith, but their influence went a long way in an earlier time when it was pointed in the wrong direction.

Miriam, who is thirteen said this: “Now that it’s over and everyone is safe, I am officially allowed to say, ‘Those fireworks were EPIC!’” They were. It’s funny now to think about that picture of people who are fairly large and who had just overeaten running like crazy from colorful little bombs and tripping over each other. It’s cartoonish now to think about Blake on the ground and Abel (who weighs a hundred or more pounds less) thinking he could go “scoop up whoever was wounded over there.” It’s nice reflecting on lessons learned from the fireworks Armageddon. But I don’t think I want to do it again anytime soon.