Hurry, you’re running out of time!

I’ve been reading through the Bible in a year, backwards. It’s been a pretty good experience so far. I have probably only read through the prophets in the Old Testament once or twice before when I was very young and I have no memory of them. I have heard sermons on various sections over the years, have read different chapters occasionally, but I don’t have a good understanding of them. So it’s been good to read through them again. 

 I just finished reading the book of Jeremiah. I have to admit it was pretty heavy going in many chapters. I kind of felt like I had to wade through the doom and gloom before I could move on and read my Psalm and Proverb and chapter from the New Testament. But as I reached the end of the book I noticed a theme that got me thinking. And pondering. And praising. 

Throughout the whole book God is having his prophet tell his people that judgement is coming. And he lists all the reasons that they deserve judgement. They have turned from their God. They have embraced idols and all the sin that goes along with the worship of idols, including sacrificing their children in the fires. They have continually refused to listen to God’s prophets. The wealthy and ruling peoples treat the poor unfairly and harshly. They have been given multiple opportunities to repent and return to God, and they won’t. So finally, judgement is coming. 

God tells them what the judgement is going to be, but even as he berates them and tells them why they’re about to be judged, he keeps calling for them to repent. If you will just turn from these wicked ways, come back to me, I will forgive you. And they don’t. And the judgement gets closer and closer and God keeps telling them, you’re running out of time, judgement is coming. Repent. And they don’t. 

And then the judgement arrives in the form of a conquering nation and even then God says, look, turn yourselves over to your enemies and then at least you will live and one day I will restore you. And some people listen, but many don’t. And the conquering nation is there and they are trying to fight back and God keeps giving them one more chance. Just turn yourselves over and you’ll escape with your life. And they still don’t listen. 

When I first started reading it felt like a book about judgement. Punishment. Harshness. Anger. But as I finished it I walked away feeling like I had just read about everlasting mercy. Enduring love. God saying, ok, the consequences for your actions are finally coming on you. But look, there’s still hope. I can still fix this. Come back to me and I can help you make it right. 

Over and over again God sent Jeremiah to warn his people. Stop! Don’t you see death is on the horizon! Come back to me while you still can! And Jeremiah became very unpopular. People got tired of hearing the same gloomy message. They had other prophets, false prophets, who were telling them all kinds of happy things, like God loves you and he’s going to make your nation prosper! Forget about the fact that you are no longer following any of God’s laws and mandates. Forget about the fact that you have adopted all kinds of other gods. God still loves you! He wants you to be happy! Those were much nicer prophecies than what Jeremiah was giving them. 

But God loves his people, and he gave them a way back to him all the way up to the very end. His mercy is everlasting. 

It gives me hope. I read the book of Revelation and it feels scary. Judgement. Chaos. Punishment. But God never changes. I believe he will be offering his love and his salvation all the way to the bitter end. Because he doesn’t want us to die. He wants us to come to him. Judgement is a result of our sin, a consequence. It is inevitable. But he sent Jesus to take that punishment for us. And if we turn to him, we will be saved. But we have to turn. We have to stop listening to the false prophets who tell us God would never punish anyone. Hell isn’t real. God just wants everyone to be happy. And instead listen to his very urgent message. You have sinned. Your sin will be punished. Soon. Quick. Repent of your sin, turn to me, and I will save you. 

Hurry. You’re running out of time. 

Sin and Bad Dreams

I just woke up from a horrible dream. In the dream I was sleeping around on my husband. And then someone walked in on me, right after the fact, and they could tell what I had been doing and the look of shock and disappointment on their face was horrible. And I started making up all these lies and excuses, but I could tell they didn’t believe me. And they left and I sat there knowing that I would never have peace until I confessed what I had done, but how could I confess? My husband would divorce me and then it would ruin our kids’ lives. And I knew I would just have to keep this horrible secret forever and I was just covered in despair. 

And then I woke up. And I had to go through some self talk to calm myself down. Have you slept around on your husband? No. No I haven’t. Are you planning on sleeping around on your husband. No. No I’m not. Ok. Then this is not your worry. You don’t have to carry these feelings around. Let it go. It was just a bad dream. 

But then honesty had to kick in. Are you capable of sinning like this? Umm. Yes. My heart is just as sinful as the next person. There have been rough times in our marriage that, if I had been faced with the exact right temptations, I might have succumbed. But, God’s grace has kept me. 

And then I just had to sit there and cling to that. God’s grace has kept me. 

From so many things. 

And then I had to think about the nature of our God. He is God who can unravel any mess that we make. What if I had been in that situation? What if I had confessed such a sin? Maybe my husband would have divorced me. Maybe not. But I do know that God would have been faithful to work in my heart. To bring me to a place of repentance. To take me through a path of healing. To help me deal with the sin issues in my heart that led me in that direction. And throughout all of it, he would have stayed with me. 

The tragedy of the dream, I think, is the pain and suffering I would have caused my husband and children. Why do our sins always end up hurting other people? And knowing that God could bring me to a place of repentance and healing, but what about those wounds I would have inflicted on my family? I would have no power to heal those wounds. Only God could. And I would have no power to force my loved ones to turn to God for that healing. It would be completely up to them what they did with those wounds. 

It brings home how completely dependent we are on God’s mercy and grace. We truly live in a sinful dark world. And we are capable of the worst sins imaginable. And it is truly a miracle that Jesus would be willing to come down and offer a solution to our sin problem. He died on the cross and took the punishment for all this sin that we humans so easily commit. If we turn to him and repent of our sins, he will forgive us, and cover us with his own goodness. When God looks at me, he no longer sees sinful Esther. He sees Esther covered in Jesus’ goodness. Clean. Acceptable. And when I submit myself to him, say Your will be done in my life, not my own will, he is faithful to lead me down a path of goodness. 

And yes, while I live on this earth, I will still deal with sin issues that pop up here and there. We are on a path of change, while God works in our hearts to slowly make us more like him. But my God is big enough to unravel every mess I make. And I cling to his grace and mercy. 

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Increase My Faith

We went camping as a family this last weekend. It was a lot of fun. Canoe camping. We drove into a National Park, put into a lake and then paddled over two hours before we got to a creek/small river. We took our canoes out and then had to carry our stuff up the bank, down the trail about the equivalent of a city block to our campsite. We got our tents up, a campfire going, cooked some supper. The kids were running around the woods having a lot of fun. Suddenly my daughter started crying and grabbed her chest. She ran over to me. Mom! My chest hurts! I need my inhaler! Ok. I got this. I went and got my ziploc bag full of all my emergency medicine that I always have with me on these trips. (Be prepared!) I pulled out her inhaler with her spacer, handed it to her, she went to press the button and something was wrong. The actual medicine tube had fallen out of the casing. There was no albuterol. Just the plastic casing. Crap. 

Ok. Take a deep breath. (Me, not the asthmatic kid.) I stood there, holding her in a hug while I rubbed her back. It’s ok. Let’s get you out of this woodsmoke and stop running around. We’ll find a nice quiet place to sit till you feel better. I could tell she was starting to panic. I was trying not to panic. We just stood there quietly for a while. I got a camp chair and moved it away from the smoke. Sat her down. My brain was racing. Ok. People had asthma long before inhalers came around. I took mental stock of what I had. I could pound on her back to help loosen things up? I remembered that in my medicine bag I had some essential oils. We could put some in boiling water and have her breath in the steam with a towel over her head. Ok. We can do this. I stopped and prayed out loud for her and she slowly calmed down. 

It was bedtime. The girls were all going to sleep in their own tent, but this had thrown my daughter off. She asked to sleep in my tent. Sure sweetie. Then it was a domino effect as the other girls decided that they weren’t brave enough to sleep solo if one of the sisters was missing. So then I had three extra kids in my tent. And an empty tent all set up. My husband abandoned ship and took one of the little boys and they went and shared the abandoned tent and I layed down, surrounded by little ones. 

As I lay there in the dark my heart was pounding and I found myself fighting off fear. Yes, my asthmatic child seemed to be doing better. But what if her asthma got worse? I imagined us jumping into a canoe in the middle of the night, paddling for hours, and then driving trying to find a hospital for her. My other daughter said her head was hurting and she had a runny nose. What if it was Covid? What if she suddenly got really sick in the middle of the night, and here we are, out in the middle of nowhere??

And I found myself casting out a desperate prayer, God how do I stop living in so much fear? And he answered me. I lay there and God showed me image after image in my head of how I view Him. My warped understanding of Him. My default worldview that has me thinking of God as someone distant who constantly disapproves of me. I come to him as a slave to a harsh master, crying for mercy, but not sure about getting it. And then he brought to my mind a dream that he had given me back when I was nineteen years old. In college. I didn’t even know what a prophetic dream was back then. I just knew that the dream had been different. I told my roommate, I think God was trying to tell me something in a dream. And after I told her about the dream she said, Yes! God was definitely telling you something! I wrote the dream down. But, I still remember it vividly. 

I won’t go into all the details of the dream. But it was essentially, God loving me as a groom loves his bride. And I thought how different, how much stronger my faith would be, if I could fully grasp how loved I was by God. How my prayers would seem different. Asking for help from your lover is so different from asking for help from a Master. I know that if I asked my husband for something, he would want to do it for me. Just because he loved me. And he would take pleasure in giving it to me. 

We read the story last night of Jesus with his disciples out on a boat in a storm. And the disciples were all freaked out and Jesus stops the storm with his words. And then in Mark 4: 40-41, 

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Do you still have no faith? And then they ask, Who is this? And that seems to be really key to not being afraid. Having a true understanding of who our God is and having faith that he will stay true to his character. Religion and law teach us that God is someone that we are constantly trying to appease by being good, following the rules. Relationship with God is different. It’s understanding that he First Loved Us and then he Made A Way for us to be reconciled to him because of his Great Love for us. 

I feel like I have been on a lifelong journey to move from the position of viewing God through Law to the position of viewing God through Grace. I’m not there yet. But, I feel a lot more like I know how to pray. I know better what needs to change. God, let me understand you better as a God of Love. Let me walk in a fuller understanding of your Grace. Increase my faith. 

Giving Testimony in the Messiness

A friend recently exhorted in his writing that we should give our testimony often. And it’s funny, because I had something good happen, and I thought, I should give testimony about that! But, then that something good twisted and ended up not being so great. And my desire to share kind of faded away. Because it didn’t turn out all smooth and neat the way I was hoping. It’s still messy. Still incomplete. Still a work in progress. But there is so much to give testimony about, especially in the messiness! 

Once again, it’s been a rough week. At one point in time, I felt like I had walked to the very edge of the abyss and was looking down at the sure promise of great sorrow and anguish. And I had no words to pray. I found my mind just repeating over and over again, Mercy Lord. Have Mercy. And the analytical side of my brain chimed in, “Why are you saying that over and over again?” and the parable that Jesus told about the widow who nagged the Judge for justice came to mind. I will nag and nag and nag until I get justice simply because the judge is tired of my nagging. Except it wasn’t justice I wanted. Just mercy. 

And God was merciful. In small measures. 

The situation is not resolved. I don’t have a tidy neat package where I can point and say, Look, a miracle! Isn’t God good! 

Instead I have the testimony that I am alive and moving. My children are alive and moving. Hope still reigns. I am still determinedly putting one foot in front of the other. The world is still turning. Night and Day are still happening. There is beauty in each day, along with sorrow. God’s word is still true. His promises still stand. 

And so I stand in the Assembly and give my testimony of God’s goodness to me today. My eternity is secure. I am not alone. And each day I move an inch or two closer to knowing more about God and his goodness. 

Is Prayer Enough?

Have you all ever read Isaiah 58? The other day, I was moving things around in my dining room, and a Bible that had been on a side table was set on the dining room table. I went to eat breakfast and there was the Bible, lying open right where I usually sit and eat. How nice. I sat down and looked to see where it was open. Isaiah 58. I started reading. And it kind of felt like I was suddenly sitting in the Principal’s office being read the riot act. 

I will summarize. Basically, God says, I’m not interested in your fasting and praying if it’s not accompanied by acts of mercy and justice towards the people around you. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot concerning our country. Before the upcoming election, and even throughout this momentous year, I have heard a lot of Christians, from all denominations and political stances, calling for prayer for our nation. I have often heard people quote, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, I will heal their land..” and then we are all called to pray for our country. Except that the verse they are quoting actually says, 

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

We seem to forget about that “turn from their wicked ways” part. Isaiah 58 gets pretty detailed about what God thinks of as “wicked ways”. 

Isaiah 58:6 -7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke? 

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

I don’t believe it’s an either/or kind of thing. We’re not supposed to choose between fasting and prayer or social justice. One without the other is empty. I am not trying to put a yoke of condemnation on our shoulders. In this world where we are overwhelmed by all our responsibilities, being told that you should be out feeding the poor and lobbying for social justice, well that just feels heavy and impossible. But, saying, it’s too much, I can’t do it, is also a cop-out. 

Each of us has talents, gifts, and resources. We can use those to help those around us. We can send that extra spending money to a homeless shelter. If we have time to volunteer, there are endless possibilities. We can write letters. We can call our local government offices. We can serve people in our community through one-on-one relationships or through supporting others who have time for that one-on-one. For those moms with young children who are in the trenches and barely hanging on, you can befriend someone at your church who is new. Maybe reach out to another young mom who desperately needs fellowship and encouragement. For those who are housebound, you could write letters to people in prison, start researching the issues in your community, email people with influence. There is SO MUCH we can do! 

We all desire the grace of God on our country. But I am going to say that prayer is not enough. If we want to see changes in our country then we need to follow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. God’s heart is for the homeless to be fed and sheltered, for the worker to earn a living wage, for people to be treated with love and respect. 

We are saved by grace through faith. Not by works, but when we have faith and grace, it should compel us to do works. 

James 2:14-17

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

I would like to suggest that while we are praying for our country, we also add to that prayer: God show me what I can do to help the homeless, the oppressed, those who are under a yoke. Show me specifically something I can do to help. 

In Jesus Name Amen. 

Here is Isaiah 58 if you are interested in reading the whole thing:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.

    Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion

    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;

    they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right

    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions

    and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

    ‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,

    and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today

    and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

    only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

    and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness[a] will go before you,

    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

    and your night will become like the noonday.

11 

The Lord will guide you always;

    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

    and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

    like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

    and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way

    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 

then you will find your joy in the Lord,

    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land

    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

“Hillbilly Elegy” and Jesus

I’ve been reading a new book, “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance. It is a memoir of growing up a hillbilly and a commentary on the working white class from Appalachia. 

 

I just went and read several reviews of the book, now that I have finished it. I find it very amusing that I was completely unaware that this book was actually a cultural phenomenon to explain why Trump was elected. I was also unaware that it is a Pro-Republican book and that a multitude of Universities across the country chose this book for their summer reading, and apparently that choice shows how racist and conservative these Universities are. I found it especially amusing to read a review from someone who actually lives in Eastern Kentucky Hillbilly Country who claims that since Vance did not technically live in Eastern Kentucky, he had no lawful claim to the title “Hillbilly”.  (I find this amusing because I was born in Eastern Kentucky, and all the years I lived there, it was always made very clear to me that I was “Not From Around Here”.)

 

So, in my ignorance, I thought it was a book about a boy growing up in a poor, dysfunctional family and an attempt to pinpoint what things in his childhood actually enabled him to rise above this upbringing and end up doing well for himself. And at the same time, an attempt to understand why his particular culture (hillbilly) is the way that it is. 

 

I’m not going to even attempt to analyze this book in it’s political context. I’ll just tell you what I took away from it. Dysfunction is everywhere. People do crazy things. It doesn’t make sense. The dysfunction and craziness affects a child’s ability to grow up into a stable adult. Some kids can be helped. Others can’t. So far, we don’t have any way of measuring who is going to “make it” and who isn’t. Though we can statistically say that the majority of children growing up in dysfunction will take that lifestyle into their adulthood. 

 

So, what do we do? What should our response be to such gloomy news? 

 

This week I read some interesting verses in Luke 6.  Here’s what verses 30-31 say:

 

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

 

I remember when I was 20 years old. I was living in Haiti for four months, staying with friends. I went out with an old childhood friend of mine and we were walking through the marketplace in Cap Haitian and an elderly man approached me and asked for money. I brushed him off and kept walking. My friend confronted me. Why didn’t you give him any money? You have money! What would it have hurt to give him some? 

 

I was shocked. Having grown up in Haiti, being surrounded by people begging any time you went out in public, I had adopted the habit of just saying no. There were too many people to help. I didn’t have enough money to give to every single beggar, so I simply didn’t give to any of them. My friend’s accusation was a jolt to my system. Maybe my approach was wrong? 

 

Shortly after this I went to Chile for 5 months to stay with my brother, sister-in-law and their new baby. Chile also has a multitude of beggars. As I went out with my brother, I watched as he gave something to every single child that approached him. He commented that he had been convicted that he should give to anyone who asked him. I decided that I too wanted to be like that, and I adopted the habit of giving to anyone who asked me. 

 

Over the years there has been the occasional person I have said No to, simply because I felt very much like I was being “handled” by a professional and I hated the feeling of being taken advantage of. But, later, after walking away…I have always felt bad. I am not called to decide whether someone is worthy of my charity. I’m just called to freely give. 

Yes, there have been situations when I have helped someone and then they have continued to ask for help and continued and continued to the point where I felt like if I helped them in the way they were asking, I would simply be enabling them. In those situations I have said, No, I can’t give you money, but I can help you with something more longterm like getting a job or finding housing or enrolling in school.

 

Taking this back to the “Hillbilly Elegy”. We are surrounded by people who have been or are being harmed by living in a dysfunctional home. Some of those people will respond well to help, whether it be mentoring, counseling, encouragement, opportunities, education…others will not respond well. No matter what help they get, they will remain stuck. So, what should our response be? Well, Jesus said to help everyone. He didn’t give any addendums over whether that person was worthy of help, or whether it would be a waste of time to help, or whether that person was a lost cause. He just said to help people.

 

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6: 35-36.

 

So, that is my take away. This is a crazy world, full of hurting people who simply aren’t making it. All I can do, and what I am called to do as as Christian, is help wherever and however I can.