I had a dream last night. It was like I was lost and had amnesia in an old Western movie. (chuckle) I was wandering the land, trying to find a group of people that might be “my own.”
One group seemed friendly enough, but they didn’t seem “it.” I kept walking.
When I came upon a stream, I waded it and found another group. There was a lot of bustling and planning going on. They were working on wooden objects on the ground, and I thought, “Hey, maybe these are my people. I’ll stick around at the edge of the village and watch.”
However, in this second group, after listening to the chatter, I realized they were scared about something. They were working together at a feverish pace. It was like they were preparing for war.
As I stood there just on the edge of this second settlement and tried to figure out what they were making on the ground, I heard rushing footsteps from the direction of the stream I’d crossed.
The first group was running toward us, weapons in hand.
For the first time, I realized that these raiders (whom I’d thought were friendly when I’d gone through their village) had skin and clothes emitting a strobing, greenish light with a coating of jagged, floating blocks of white. It was like they’d become cartoon characters.
Looking back at the people on this side of the stream, they were emitting a bluish light with a similar “cartoon coating” of white, jagged splotches. However, somehow, the blue group was not only diminished in number but had also found guns while I’d been looking at the raiding party.
There was the sound of a shooting gun, but it was from “our side.” A blue man next to me fell down. Looking on the ground, I saw it was only a blue-painted, wooden figure. I saw another blue man, very real, jump up from the ground near me and fire at another blue “man” in the distance. In the smoky air, shadows worked just right for me to see that a rope was released, allowing the fired-upon “blue man” to fall stiffly to the ground. Another wooden man had “died.”
Interesting! The blue group was trying to display to the oncoming green group that they were at war with themselves. I thought this clever. But, would it fool the raiders?
I’d backed toward the stream enough that I was now among the green group. Since we’d met previously and they knew I was a stranger to the lands, they did not attack me. They had, however, stopped in their tracks and watched with delight as the blue group seemed to be killing themselves quite nicely. There was amusement and relief because, “Well, hey, if they’re going to do our job for us, we can claim the ground with ease after they have cleared themselves off.”
The green group turned around and walked back across the stream, disappearing into the distance.
I looked back at the blue group. They were still firing weapons, but seemed relieved that the raid had not yet occurred. Perhaps the green group would come back later, unprepared to see a large, blue group fully on alert and ready to defend their land from invaders.
How long before the green group lost patience with waiting for this faked civil war to end? Would they invade anyway, if they saw “the civil war” still raging?
When I awoke, I thought about the idea that the first group looked like regular humans as I’d passed through. The second group had looked just as human when I first came. However, once they neared one another, that’s when I could see that their skin glowed different colors. Yet, they were both cartoon-like, too. I’m reminded of Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches: https://youtu.be/hzMhmk2sWzU
As a person, where do I belong? In the blue group or the green? If I’d walked further, would I have found “my group?” What color would they emit once another group came near? What color would I glow, if and when I became a cartoon character?
Some think the Native Americans were peaceful, as a general rule. Some think the pilgrims were peaceful, as a general rule. There’s division over it.
But, look from the distance of not being a part of either group…no specific ancestry. No country of origin. Just plain ol’ human.
To deny that any race, ethnicity, religion, or any other way of dividing ourselves has a history of violence toward others is to deny our humanity.
Let’s stop revising history. Let’s, instead, look at human history from the beginning of time and see ourselves for who we are, no matter how we choose to categorize ourselves.
We humans are violent, as a general rule.
No matter if star-bellied or sporting green hue, we humans are human no matter what we do.
To pretend we’re better than that guy over there is to pretend we’re not human,
really, just a scared, wooden square.
So, how do we humans achieve that label of “most significantly better?”
Well, I’d say, my friends, we need think on the thinking in God’s love letter!
How can an entire group of people be taken captive? You’ve likely seen the graphics where someone renders an overhead shot of a large, herded huddle of people being guarded by one or two guys with guns. How does this happen?
Granted, there are many stories where one or more breaks from the crowd and overpowers the culprit(s). On September 11th, Beamer, Bingham, Burnett, and Glick confronted the four hijackers of United 93, bringing the plane down before it could hit its intended target. There are accounts of individuals rushing school shooters or tackling someone who is threatening others with knives. We consider them heroes, and rightfully so.
John 15:13 (TLV) says, “No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”
What of those left back in the huddle, though? Were they just not “hero material?” Were they so used to acting as a group, for the sake of the group, that they decided, “a risky move will get us all killed,” perhaps? Did they wonder, “What if I’m responsible for something bad happening to all these people when it could be prevented a different way?”
I think of the WWII-era Nazi soldiers storming neighborhoods to gather up the targeted people for “relocation.” Before they became groups in trucks or on the death trains, they made individual choices. Some rebelled and died there in their homes or on the street. So, in those neighborhood raids, those who remained to be gathered were the more docile folks?
Ah, now, though, we are bringing religion into the mix. Did the Jews go “as sheep to the slaughter?” Did their religion tame them into being more timid? Or, are the gentle ones, perhaps the peacekeepers, the ones who are drawn to religion? Therefore, they are an easily conquered people?
Yet, look at historic groups taken captive. They are a mix of personalities and trades. Did the warriors among them already resist and die? So, all who remained were the ones who “turned the other cheek” or are somehow too slow or too weak to fight?
Once gathered together, though, they often outnumbered their guards. Had they put their heads together and concocted a plan, wouldn’t that have been worth a try?
Maybe the average citizen doesn’t think like that. We all have independent plans. Yes, there’s often a family or company goal. But, once we are gathered into a larger group, not all goals match. Most don’t generally train to work together against a common physical enemy. But, maybe that depends on how large of a group is threatened. If the entire country is threatened by an enemy, the citizens therein usually ban together and fight in the name of that country.
In the military, the leaders train soldiers to obey their commands. Eventually, those soldiers work together as powerful, close-knit units, especially once on the battlefield. There’s a common goal, and all have sworn to accomplish it.
I guess, when I think about it, the same thing happens when there’s a common “cause.” Within a country, a group of like-minded people will ban together to pass around inspirational, arousing rhetoric and “get on the same page” to create forward movement toward the goal. And, there are those who are passionate about their chosen cause, no matter the cost. Others seek out a cause just to feel a sense of belonging or for some other gain unrelated to the cause itself (mercenaries, for example).
Let’s boil it down again to the individual within the captive group. Have you ever placed yourself there, in your mind? Would you be one of the early rebels shot in place, perhaps as an example to onlookers who see what happens to those who resist? Would you go peacefully, at first, figuring you can plan a revolt or an escape later? Do you think of Joseph and turn to God, figuring He’s in control and must have a reason He’s allowing you to be enslaved?
What drives that choice in the moment? Is it personality? Is it training? Experience as a leader? Who it is that is threatened? How often you’ve worked in a group setting? Self-confidence? Beliefs/religion?
Ratcheting it down further, I think about me and what I’d do. In public, in group settings, I appear to be a docile person. Folks would likely see me as an easily-led lamb. Honestly, I don’t know how I would act in a setting where I am part of a threatened group. I look back in my own history for possible answers.
When an “ex” was angry with me, raising his hand to slap my face, I stepped toward him! Nose-to-nose, I squinted and assertively whispered, “You follow through with that and you won’t see me again.” His shocked look matched my own inward surprise at myself. His hand dropped to his side, and I walked away. Yes, I eventually left him.
Similarly, I’ve gone toe-to-toe with violently angry people in defense of someone else. I know that it was confidence and power from God making that happen. But, none of those were situations where I was in a group being jointly threatened. Would I think and act differently as part of a group? I’m not sure. I’d hope to be within God’s will in however I am to behave.
And, that’s just it. If God brought about this captivity as a punishment of the people as a group, is fighting it the thing to do?
What about Joseph? His captivity led to the salvation of many.
Look at Jesus. He didn’t resist arrest. It was part of the overall plan of salvation. He walked that path willingly for each of us. He was thinking like the hero He is. Like the heroes on the Flight 93, He acted for the sakes of the larger group outside the plane…the greater good. But, is it the same sort of group dynamics?
Did every passenger on the plane want to die right then and in that way, for the same cause?
Jesus acted alone on behalf of the threatened group. He died alone so that we might live.
Had each of the plane passengers had the time and ability to vote on what to do, what would have happened?
How would I have voted?
Would I have joined in the effort to thwart the enemy’s plan?
As a Christian, in any setting, aren’t I faced with that vote every day? Wasn’t I faced with that vote when called to follow Him in the first place? I knew the risks. I know the risks. Father, help me to choose well.
In town the other day, I saw a mother and her child. They used the crosswalk to get across the street in front of us. They caught my attention because of HOW they went across. The mother was stiff-legged and stiff-armed, walking like a robot. Her little girl was imitating her. Their smiles and laughter told me of their delight in one another.
I kept watching them as they went down the sidewalk, the mother in the lead.
Her daughter wasn’t beside her, so she looked back.
With a knowing, loving smile on her face, she had stopped, turned partway around, and stretched out her hand for her daughter to come hold.
The girl saw the reaching hand. But, first, she fingered a chain stretched across a stairwell.
Still, the mother waited. Her expression remained the same. There wasn’t irritation. There were no reprimands. No expressed urgency. Just that Mona Lisa smile and the hovering, still, outstretched hand.
In the process of going toward her mom, a pretty flower got the girl’s attention. She remained on the sidewalk and examined the flower.
Staying still, the mother waited. The love remained on her face. The offered hand didn’t drop.
Meanwhile, the girl stayed on the sidewalk and was slowly making her way closer to that hand. Then, something at her feet caught her eye. An ant, perhaps.
The mother remained, still smiling, still ready to hold hands for the journey ahead.
It seemed to me like that’s the relationship we can enjoy with God.
This mother and daughter knew each other. The bond was evident. The journey was together. They weren’t holding hands in the crosswalk, but they were still together, still delighting in one another. They weren’t holding hands yet on the sidewalk, but the mother was still watchful. The little girl had obviously been trained to use the crosswalk and to stay on the sidewalk.
Did the little girl have to run up and grab her mother’s hand immediately?
Had the mother seen danger, would she have leapt into action or shouted a command?
I have no doubt of that.
If danger had suddenly loomed, would this little girl have responded immediately because of the change in posture or change in voice?
I think that is likely. Trust and love had already been established.
How do I know that?
I base it on the look of affection that little girl had given her mom as she imitated the robot-walk and they crossed the street the way only those two in their own little world could have.
I base it on the fact the little girl looked and saw the offered hand and started moving that direction.
I base it on the stillness of the mother and the steadfast love exhibited as she remained and watched with quiet understanding.
Although I couldn’t hear anything the girl might have been saying, I know most kids would be giving a running commentary and belting out questions about the chain and the flower and the ant and the sky and that tree over there and…
Although we turned the corner and I never saw whether or not their hands ever connected, do I think they did?
I think it is likely. And, I don’t think it would have been the first time they held hands. Probably not the last.
And, once their hands finally connected and the mother led the way, did the child know the destination? I don’t know. Does it matter?
What if the child had managed to run off, get lost, finally find out where home is, and went running to the door? Is this the likely scenario?
Opening the door, the mother says, “Depart from here. I don’t know you!”
Matthew 7:7-14 (LEB) — “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you, if his son will ask him for bread, will give him a stone? Or also if he will ask for a fish, will give him a snake? Therefore if you, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him? Therefore in all things, whatever you want that people should do to you, thus also you do to them. For this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate, because broad is the gate and spacious is the road that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it, because narrow is the gate and constricted is the road that leads to life, and there are few who find it!”
Let’s stick to the narrow sidewalk, beside Him every day and grasping at those opportunities to imitate Him and to grab His offered hand. It is a wondrous thing to be called His son or His daughter!
Late last year, I had been listening to the YouTube videos of a pastor I thought was a Messianic Jew. I was learning a lot of Jewish history that helped me see the Bible in new ways. Then, though, I came across one teaching that didn’t jive with what I knew from Scripture about Jesus. Listening to more from him, I realized he was Jewish and was saying some correct things about Jesus, but was thinking of Him as an excellent teacher and A son of God rather than THE Son of God. I was thankful for what I had learned that did hold up under scrutiny. But, I moved on.
Meanwhile, in its recommendations, YouTube listed a video that drew my attention. The descriptive title was a Bible question I’d been puzzling about. The video supposedly answered the question. So, I clicked to watch.
Following along in Scripture, it made sense to me. I prayed. I studied some more. I was satisfied.
“So, who is this person?” I wondered.
I clicked on their channel to find multiple Bible questions and their answers.
I went to the “About” section.
“Okay, good. We’ll see.”
I kept reading.
Hmmm. She used “apologist” as one of the labels for herself.
Although I was truly clueless about what “apologetics” is, I had a bias against apologists because I figured they “made apologies” for Scripture.
My thoughts stood in rebellion: “No one needs to make apologies for my Father’s words!”
I paused, though. I pondered.
“Perhaps I’m wrong about what apologetics is. Yet, maybe these are the argumentative types who potentially give a bad name to Christians.”
“Wait, though,” I continued, arguing with myself. “This video was fine. She sounds like a reasonable, respectful individual. And, I’ve sometimes been seen as argumentative simply because I stick by what I’ve learned from the Bible is true. Same goes for others I know and love. This self-proclaimed apologist just answered my long-held question. I am satisfied with this answer. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll listen to just a couple more videos on this channel.”
Several hours later, I was not only familiar with her material, I’d found videos where she’d collaborated with other apologists. I’d gone to the channels of those other apologists and learned some things. They, in turn, had collaborated with other apologists. Before long, YouTube was recommending the work of other apologists.
“Hmmm. Maybe I’ve been really misunderstanding what apologetics is. These people just seem to be seekers. Some are pastors, but some aren’t. The difference between them and the seekers I know in person is that they’ve used social media to share what they’ve learned.”
My thoughts continued. “And, they are tenacious seekers. I like that. They not only refuse to give up on God or the Bible when faced with a puzzle, they sink their teeth into the challenge and plunge ahead. I like people like this. I want to be such a people.” (grin)
Then, I was faced with a question, “Am I already an apologist?!”
When one is a thinker who picks up on seeming inconsistencies or “conflicts within Scripture,” there can be a strong temptation to treat the Bible in certain ways:
* Toss it aside as a whole, or,
* Focus only on parts and ignore other parts, or,
* See it as just another book with segments that are inspirational but no more special than the books held aloft by other religions.
From what I’ve seen and heard from favorite apologists, they seem to have similar traits:
* When they have been or are faced with “hard questions,” they have the tenacity and stubborn faith to cling to the Bible and really “study it out” until they are satisfied, at least temporarily, with an answer.
* They’ve done this studying-until-satisfied process enough that they’ve become awed by the sheer genius and wonder of what the Bible really is. They come away, saying, “Surely, the hand of God accomplished this feat!”
* All are driven to reach out to others with what they’ve found.
Based on my observations, my favorite apologists have these practices and perspectives:
* If you think one part of the Bible conflicts with another part, it isn’t the Bible that is wrong; it is the reader’s current confusion or lack of knowledge. Keep digging.
* Some have live question-and-answer videos. They seem to all practice this: If you don’t know, say so. If whatever you say next is a guess based on what you do know, say it is a guess.
* Encourage others to read the Bible.
* Pray, asking for wisdom and understanding. Read the context. Keep reading the Bible with the hard question in mind. Study Bible history and Jewish culture. Listen to what other Bible scholars have found and see if their explanations are valid.
* Now that I have this answer, I’m going to put it out there and see what sort of feedback I get. I may be wrong. I don’t currently think so, but I’m willing to learn. I trust my fellow Christians to engage with me so we can learn from one another. I may someday modify what I currently think. That’s part of the learning process. I trust my viewers to point out where they think I am in error.
What I think and do when I am faced with a hard question:
* I go to the Bible first in order to see if I can find the answer. Sometimes, I find it, and I am satisfied. Sometimes, I don’t, so I figure someone has done a study of Bible history or Jewish culture that I haven’t. So, I go see what I can find from others. Inevitably, I find that someone else has been wrestling with the same question.
* There are sometimes missing or unsatisfactory answers as I go through the writings and videos of the apologists I trust most. Same goes for commentaries from Bible scholars I trust most. Either I haven’t found the right commentary or video yet….or, it’s a question that I myself need to keep searching out.
* I’ve found that, if I don’t let go of the question nor the Bible, an answer often comes. After all, we are told repeatedly to wait on God.
* When that answer comes, I see that as a signal I need to do my part and share that with other believers. Perhaps others, like me, have said, “It is possible that the answer isn’t to be grasped right now, but I have faith it will be.” And, the treasure I have found might be an answer to their held faith! Maybe their wait is over because God worked through me.
So, as I read commentaries, watch videos, and listen to sermons, I think the answer to what I puzzle over may come through someone else. Or, maybe there’s a question someone else is puzzling over that I can help answer.
I’m thinking this phenomenon is by design and is yet another excellent reason for the body of Christ. And, if none of us have a Biblically-sound answer, it may be we’re not supposed to know now. The “aha moment” will come later in earth’s time or once we are all face-to-face with our Saviour.
Mercifully, we’re actually told of one answer we won’t get through study — the day and the hour of His return.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:35-36 ESV)
That leaves room for a lot of fruitful learning! Being told what we won’t know tells me we can still study to try to find other answers.
Yet, what if I’m just not finding an answer?
It is a temptation to focus on the current “thorn” rather than see all that has gone right. Sometimes, when there isn’t an answer to a question yet, I avoid getting discouraged by thinking back through all the answers that HAVE been found. I consider all of the satisfaction I have received in what the Bible says — what I have already experienced as true.
I find that keeping a journal or taking notes of thoughts and discoveries during Bible study is really valuable for this purpose. Reading back through my journals and notebooks helps to strengthen my faith and warms up my Bible-studying “muscles.” It helps me see how and where I have grown over the years. It makes me want to learn more and grow more. It makes me hungry to devour more Scripture. It causes me to want to follow Him even more closely.
“Hard questions.” That is what one of the apologists calls them. They can also be called “doubts.” It is normal to have doubts. I choose to believe anyway, waiting on the Lord. I think doing so is part of the growth process. Faith is what one must have in order to cling to the Bible even harder when faced with doubt. Like Jacob continuing to wrestle, I trust that an answer has been found by someone or will be found, perhaps by me.
What I try to do in the face of doubt:
* Pray. Talk to God about it.
* Dig into the Bible harder.
* Go to the apologists and pastors. See if what they share makes sense. If not, then it’s a case of needing to add “yet” to that negative statement in my head:
— “I don’t know the answer…yet.”
— “None of the apologists are talking about this…yet.”
— “Pastors/commenters aren’t addressing this. Maybe they aren’t seeing this issue…yet.”
Maybe the doubts are an opportunity to step from passively consuming what others are feeding me toward joining the army that is actually doing some of the feeding.
May that opportunity give glory to God and to His Word!
We’ve kept Saturday as the Sabbath for decades, but we are fairly new to the concept of mindfully keeping the other Biblical festivals (Genesis 1:14; Leviticus 23), making God’s other appointed times as our recognized holidays. In the past couple years, we’ve been doing so privately. See the blog post about that.
For the first time, this year we planned an event for the body of believers to attend. We did so for Pentecost/Shavuot, which is a festival Sabbath. So, Saturday was our weekly Sabbath, and Sunday was one of the seven festival Sabbaths. We thought we’d share with you what that event was like.
Our chosen “theme” for this year was the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, including Who He is (with an emphasis on the fact He is a Person of our Triune God).
Below, we’ll share the “script” we used. All the attendees were to follow a path as the mixed multitude being freed from Egypt, going through the “wilderness,” and arriving at Mt. Sinai. We’ll also note within the script the “stations” of learning and what was located at each one. It was a park setting, so our starting position, stations, and “Mt Sinai” were a garbage bin, parking lot, trees, picnic bench, hill (Mt. Sinai), and ending at an outdoor amphitheatre. Our pastor and a church elder took turns reading and taking inspiration from the script (words in bold) as we were stopped at each location. Instructions and tips in brackets. Our comments to you, the blog reader, in parenthesis.
As people arrived, they mingled together at a quick snack bar filled with finger foods that might have been found in the Promised Land (dates, figs, fruits, bread, nuts, pomegranate juice).
Then, we made our way to the start (“Egypt”).
[PRAYER: Ask for God’s teaching. Thank Him for His Word and for Holy Spirit.]
[START: Garbage bins (representing starting out in Egypt; spiritually, in bondage to sin/garbage).]
[ON DISPLAY: Two loaves of homemade, leavened bread.]
(Yes, we know that they carried no leavening nor leavened bread on the journey. These were props for the start when talking about the two loaves for wave offering. Then, while the group was walking through “the Red Sea,” a festival facilitator quietly moved them to be on display at “Mt. Sinai” when the group arrived.)
Elder/Pastor: This festival is a Sabbath called Feast of Weeks or SHAH-VOO-OAT. In history on this day, we entered into a covenant relationship with God at Mt. Sinai. Also, in Biblical history on this day, PENTECOST occurred. (Talking points below.)
Jesus died as the Lamb of God on the day and hour when the lamb in the Temple was to be slain on Passover.
Jesus rose from the grave on the Festival of Firstfruits.
40 days after Firstfruits, Jesus ascended to Heaven.
The 50th day after Firstfruits is the Feast of Weeks.
In Jesus’ day, on the Feast of Weeks, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples at what we now call, “Pentecost.”
“Pentecost” means 50. You “count omer” for 49 days, starting the day of Firstfruits. Then, on the 50th day is Feast of Weeks or Pentecost.
50 represents jubilee, freedom.
As we somewhat re-enact the journey of the mixed multitude fleeing from Egypt into the wilderness, we will have 6 stations where we will learn more about the Holy Spirit and one about the Mt. Sinai experience, 7 stations in all — one for each Sabbath during the 49 days.
(Each sign had the station’s name, a unique “flame” made with colored office paper, and the number associated with the station so the leaders knew what text in their 3-ring binder corresponded.)
“‘And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day of your bringing the wave offering’s sheaf—there shall be seven full weeks. Until the day after the seventh Sabbath you shall count fifty days; then you shall present a new grain offering for Yahweh. You shall bring from your dwellings for a wave offering two loaves of bread made with two-tenths of an ephah of finely milled flour; they must be baked with leaven—the firstfruits belonging to Yahweh.”
Acts 2:1-11 (ESV): When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
[POINT OUT TWO LOAVES OF BREAD]
We know that, for the Feast of Weeks, there’s a wave offering of two loaves of leavened bread. (The elder pointed out that Bible doesn’t tell us what the two loaves represent but that some scholars say one loaf represents the Jews, and the other loaf represents the Gentiles. Some say the Old and New Testaments. Some say they are the two tablets given at Mt. Sinai, the first loaf representing the Law regarding our relationship with God and the second representing the Law regarding relationship with our fellow man.)
In Acts 10:44-48, it talks about another day when the Holy Spirit descended upon people: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”
[Pass out bags to the attendees.]
(Each adult got a gold mesh bag packed by a couple ladies in our church. See photos above; Contents: a small journal on a ribbon (some had a black cover with white writing; made by one of these sweet ladies), pen, baggie of Skittles.)
(Each kid got one of the filled gold bags in a 9×12″ colored canvas bag, along with 2 coloring pages (Moses receiving the tablets on Mt. Sinai and the apostles with tongues of flame over their heads), an extra pen, and a 10-pack of crayons.)
NOW, FOR OUR JOURNEY. In your bag, you’ll find a pen and a mini-journal for the trip. If there’s a word or thought that stands out to you, write it down or even draw on the circles, either while at the station or later when you think back on our journey. Kids, in your bag, you have a pen, crayons and pages to color. If you want, you can write or draw on the back of the coloring pages.
Bring your bags, for you might discover things to put in them.
God freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. They chose to trust God, following Him into the wilderness.
Exodus 13:20-22 ESV—And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
Exodus 14:19-22 ESV — And the angel of God who was going before the camp of Israel set out and went behind them. And the column of cloud set out ahead of them, and it stood still behind them, so that it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. And it was a dark cloud, but it gave light to the night, so thatneither approached the other all night. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and Yahweh moved the sea with a strong east wind all night, and he made the sea become dry ground, and the waters were divided. And the Israelites entered the middle of the sea on the dry land. The waters were a wall for them on their right and on their left.
[HAND COLUMN OF CLOUD TO VOLUNTEER TO CARRY.]
(Column of cloud made by a brilliant fellow in our church. White balloons tied to a long, sturdy stick. A teen volunteered to represent the Column of Cloud, carrying this along in front of us.)
[RED SEA KIDS TAKE THEIR STATIONS AND PREPARE TO “PART.”] (We had two blue foam boards. Each kid stood with his foam board close to the other, then they parted to let the people file between them, following the Column of Cloud. The multitude, thus, transitioned from the parking lot to the grassy, tree-filled “wilderness.”)
(Station 1) Water (sign tacked to a tree; bowl of “water droplets” at base of tree)
In the Old Testament, we learned that, in the wilderness, God gave the Israelites food and water — manna to eat and water from a rock. In the New Testament, we know Jesus started His ministry by being baptized in water. John was the baptist.
John 1 ESV — “19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 4:4-14 (NIV) — “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
1 Corinthians 10:1-4 ESV — “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ESV — “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
[GIVE AWAY BREAKABLE GLASS “DROPLETS” (Blue-tissue wrapped) TO KIDS.]
(We ended up having enough for some of the adults, too. They were made using 1″ glass craft gems. The flat side is coated with colored nail polish (clear with glitter first, then swirl lines of light blue then darker blue, then coat fully with darkest blue, then finish with a layer of clear coat.) Photo below shows an unpainted and a painted gem, each looking down through the clear, rounded top.)
(Station 2) Dove
(Sign tacked to another tree; festival helper quietly carrying paper bag.)
John 1:14-18 ESV — “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him. John 1:29-34 talks about that moment: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
In Matthew 13-17 ESV, we read that God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God were all present during this baptism John is talking about: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The Israelites were led through the wilderness for 40 years.
[GIVE AWAY PAPER DOVES TO ALL.]
(Several industrious ladies in our church made origami doves. It was quite a flock! A paper grocery sack full of paper doves was given to a kid for distribution to all journeyers.)
(Station 3) Attributes of the Spirit (sign tacked to a tree; white-painted 1″ wooden craft coins sprinkled in grass around tree)
If you want, we can email you the scriptures where these concepts and others can be found in the Bible. Meanwhile, listen to these Biblical statements about the Holy Spirit.
He was there in the beginning, where the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. (Genesis 1)
Derived from “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit” by R.A. Torrey:
“Statements, which in the Old Testament distinctly name the Lord or Jehovah as their subject are applied to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, i.e. Isaiah 6:8-10 refers to Jehovah while in Acts 28:25-27 Paul quotes Isaiah and applies the passage to the Holy Spirit. Then also read John 12:39-41 where the same passage is ascribed to Christ.
“So in different parts of Scripture, we have the same passage referring to Jehovah, the Holy Spirit, and to Jesus. In Isaiah 6:3, the angels cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy. Each Holy refers to one of the Godhead. ‘And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.’…A further suggestion of this tri-personality of Jehovah of Hosts is found in the eighth verse of the chapter where the Lord is represented as saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’”] [Exodus 16:7 where the murmuring is against Jehovah. But, in Hebrews 3:7-9, this reference is referred to and we read, ‘Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith,…When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years.’
“This leaves it beyond question that the Holy Spirit occupies the position of Jehovah (or Deity) in the New Testament.”
“The name of the Holy Spirit is coupled with that of God in a way it would be impossible for a reverent and thoughtful mind to couple the name of any finite being with that of the Deity.” [1 Cor. 12:4-6: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”][Tell kids to search in the grass for the 1″ white coins.] Each coin has on it one of the many titles the Holy Spirit holds.
(As the kids found the coins, they graciously gave them to the teens and adults who then read them aloud to the group. Each coin contained a title for Him on one side and the supporting Bible reference on the other.)(We didn’t get a photo of the coins, but here’s one of the tree.)
(Station 4) Fruits of the Spirit and Gifts of the Spirit (tacked to deciduous tree: station sign; paper heart with “faith, hope, love”; Fruits of the Spirit ribbon, paper leaflet listing the Gifts of the Spirit )(hanging from branches of nearby evergreen, at kid height, cardboard cut-outs for each Fruit of the Spirit)
Galatians 5:LEB — 13-15“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” 22-26 — “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such things there is no law.Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh together with its feelings and its desires. If we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
[Tell kids to go find the Fruits of the Spirit on the evergreen and they can check if they have them all by looking at the ribbon list on the deciduous tree.]
(The clever kids counted the number of fruits listed, then counted the number of cardboard cut-outs they’d found. ((chuckle)) Again, they, then, graciously passed the cardboard cut-outs to individual adults at random.)
GIFTS 1 Corinthians 12ESV — 1-13 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?But earnestly desire the higher gifts.And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 13ESV — “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
[GIVE ONE HEART TO EACH PERSON.] (One talented lady in our church made origami hearts. She and the kids passed those out to everyone. They were white so that they could be colored or written on, if desired.)(The pastor and his wife also got glass heart ornaments filled with sweet-n-sour Nerds (colorful candy bits).)
(Station 5) Wind/Breath and Still, Small Voice
(station sign tacked to a tree; Voice rock set at base of tree; bamboo wind chimes hanging from a branch and gently tapping notes; 10 sparkly silver and iridescent pinwheels stuck in dirt of a nearby flower bed)
With His Voice, God spoke creation into existence. Genesis 1 again, 1-3 LEB: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth — Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light.”
John 3:1-8 LEB — “Now there was a man of the Pharisees whose name was Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to him at night and said to him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one is able to perform these signs that you are performing unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is an old man? He is not able to enter into his mother’s womb for the second time and be born, can he?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born of water and spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘It is necessary for you to be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’”
Jesus rose from the grave on Firstfruits. The counting of the omer (the 49-day count) starts on the first day of the week (Sunday) after Firstfruits. Let’s read about something that happened on this first day of the count. John 20:19–23 LEB — “Now when it was evening on that day—the first day of the week—and the doors had been shut where the disciples were because of fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ And when he had said this, he showed his hands and his side to them. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
Acts 2:1-4 LEB — “And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in the same place. And suddenly a sound like a violent rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. And divided tongues like fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability to speak out.”
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 LEB — “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all these thingsare from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as if God were imploring you through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him.”
Back in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah was afraid for his life and went one day’s journey into the wilderness and said to God, “It is enough now, Yahweh; take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” (verse 4), God didn’t deal with him harshly. God took care of him.
1 Kings 19:5-8 ESV — “He lay down and fell asleep under a certain broom tree, and suddenly this angel was touching him and said to him, “Get up, eat!” He looked, and behold, a bread cake on hot coals was near his head and a jar of water, so he ate and drank. Then he did it again and lay down. The angel of Yahweh appeared a second time and touched him and said, “Get up, eat, for the journey is greater than you.” So he got up, ate, drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights up to Horeb, the mountain of God.” So, he’s on Horeb, the mountain of God, which is another name for Mt. Sinai. This is where God spoke through the burning bush to Moses. This is where the Law, the Covenant, was given to the people. So, Elijah finds a cave on this mountain.
9-14 RSV — “And there he came to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.’ And he said, ‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.’”
Then, God sent Elijah out to anoint a king over Syria, a king over Israel, and Elisha as a prophet in his place.
We need to have moments of rest to drink of His Living Water He gives us and eat from the Bread of Life, His Word.
[Time of silence, listening to the wind in the pinwheels perhaps. :)]
[HAVE KIDS EACH TAKE A SPARKLY PINWHEEL.]
(Station 6) Oil (picnic bench with clay oil lamp filled with olive oil; bell jar over the lamp, since it was a windy day)
[Designated adult helper lights lamp and places jar over it.]
Oil as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit’s presence and action is clear in the anointing of prophets, priests, and kings.
Isaiah 61:1-3 LEB — “The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me,because Yahweh has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captivesand liberation to those who are bound, to proclaimthe year of Yahweh’s favor, and our God’s day of vengeance, to comfort all those in mourning,to give for those in mourning in Zion, to give them a head wrap instead of ashes,the oil of joy instead of mourning,a garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. And they will be called oaks of righteousness,the planting of Yahweh, to show his glory.”
Acts 10:34-38 LEB — “So Peter opened his mouth and said, “In truth I understand that God is not one who shows partiality, but in every nation the one who fears him and who does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the message that he sent to the sons of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—this one is Lord of all—you know the thing that happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism that John proclaimed: Jesus of Nazareth—how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him.”
Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins, Matthew 25:1-10 LEB: “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. “The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”
(Station 7) Mt. Sinai (tacked to a tree at the top of the hill above the amphitheatre: station sign; sign with question, “Which commandment is most important?” and Mark 12:29-31)
[Present: Commandment Tablet(s), 2 loaves displayed on a tray, big white hearts to give to kids]
Redemption was found at the Cross through Jesus. Revelation was given at Mt. Sinai through the Word of God, via Jesus breathing on the disciples and their receiving the Holy Spirit, and via the Holy Spirit descending on those in the Upper Room. We were taken out of Egypt, redeemed from sin. But, without the revelation and help from His Spirit, we would regress back into the slavery of sin.
God wanted to break the slave mentality of His chosen people. He took them out of Egypt, then He began taking Egypt out of Israel. God gave us the gift of His Word and the gift of His Spirit so that we can transform and be spiritually free.
Ezekiel 11:19-20 ESV — “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”
Ezekiel 36-26 ESV — “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Jeremiah 31:33 ESV — “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
[Each kid gets a large, unique paper heart.]
[Tell them to pick up an Exodus 20 hand-out sheet as they make their way to sit on the amphitheatre terraces.]
(One of our talented singer/musicians was seated in front of us, guitar and portable speakers ready for use.) [Once people are seated, tell them to take out baggies of Skittles.]
(A neat thing happened here. Some of the folks had eaten most of their Skittles. Others hadn’t. Since we each needed 10 Skittles, those who hadn’t eaten many or any shared with those who didn’t have 10. <3)
(The Elder read aloud each of the 10 Commandments that had been rephrased as promises by Jill Morikone on a 3ABN Sabbath School Panel episode. After each promise was read, the elder shouted, “God is good!” Singer shouted, “God is good?” The attendees shouted, “God is good!” Singer quietly confirmed, “God is good.” We each ate a Skittle. Another promise would be read, then the process repeated.)
From Jill Morikone: “We see God’s promises in the Ten Commandments… The word in Hebrew isn’t ‘commandments’ at all. It’s simply the ‘words of God,’ or you could say the ‘sayings of God.’ When you look at the Ten Commandments, or the ten words, the ten sayings, we tend to look at it in language of ‘do’ and ‘don’t,’ ‘thou shalt,’ ‘thou shalt not.’ But, if you look, it’s actually written in the second-person, singular imperfect. You may say, ‘What in the world does that mean?!’ The imperfect verb form notes action or state that is still in progress. So, it’s not something that’s completed nor something that’s already done in the past. It’s something that is still in progress. The same verb tense, the same wording, is used in Judges 6:23, ‘And the Lord said unto him, “Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.” Now when you hear that, Pastor Johnny, I wouldn’t think, ‘Now that’s a commandment, “Don’t die.”‘ What do I think? ‘That’s a promise.’ You’re not going to die. The same thing in Psalm 91, verse 5, this same verb tense, ‘Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;’ so when we read that, we don’t think a command: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ It’s a promise; you don’t have to be afraid. So, I took the liberty to rewrite the Ten Commandments, this is Jill’s version — Ten Promises:
You will desire only Me, nobody and nothing else.
You will have no need for other gods or other support systems because I will give you everything that you need.
You will reverence and respect Me — My Name and My Character — and will do everything you can to guard our relationship.
You will delight in spending time with Me on our special day, the seventh-day Sabbath; no interruptions, no distractions, just quality time with Me.
You will love those who have given you life and respect the family that I gave to you.
You will respect others’ lives and hold them sacred as you would your own.
You will delight in and love the spouse that I gave to you.
You will have enough with what I have given to you and will have no need to take from somebody else.
You will speak truthfully and well of your neighbors and associates.
You will be content with what I have given you and will rejoice in My gifts for your life.
“That is the promise of grace that God gives to His people.”
(Then, our singer taught us a new song, Kadosh, and we all sang it.)
Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh
(Holy, Holy, Holy)
Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh
(Holy, Holy, Holy)
Adonai Elohim Tz’va’ot
(O Lord, Our God, Lord of Hosts)
Adonai Elohim Tz’va’ot
(O Lord, Our God, Lord of Hosts)
Holy, Holy, Holy.
Holy, Holy, Holy.
O Lord, Our God, Lord of Hosts.
O Lord, Our God, Lord of Hosts.
Asher hayah V’hoveh v’yavo
Who was and Who is and Who is to come.
Asher hayah V’hoveh v’yavo
Who was and Who is and Who is to come.
To us, observing God’s Festivals seemed more applicable to a Christian’s life than observing man’s holidays. For years, we’d already been keeping one of these appointed times — seventh-day Sabbath. Therefore, it seemed natural to include the other appointed times He asked us to remember and observe. So, we incorporated His appointed times into our worshipful remembrances throughout the year.
Do we sacrifice animals? No. Jesus is the Lamb of God who died once for all, as is mentioned in Hebrews 10 and other passages.
Our first year of observing the festivals (2019), we jumped in just before Unleavened Bread. So, being new at this, we did a lot of research about what leavening is, what’s allowed in the house and what is not, what we needed to do with what is leavened, etc. Feeling satisfied we’d done what we could to remove all leavened products from our property, we observed the 1st and 7th day Sabbaths and we didn’t have leavened bread for a week. On the eighth day, we probably bought bread. (chuckle) (wink)
Hubby did a bunch of research on the “Jewish calendar” and what the Bible says about watching for the new moon to determine the start of each new month. It talks about gathering together to visit and see if the moon can be glimpsed, so we began having “new moon gatherings” at our house in order to enjoy one another and visit about God.
We didn’t do much for Firstfruits, as I recall. Just read about it, and I remember I did a study on the differences between barley and wheat. I’ll try to remember to post that here sometime.
Weeks/Pentecost 2019 — We observed the associated Sabbath, and I thought about the Holy Spirit and what I’d learned in several books I’d read in previous years about His being a Person.
Trumpets 2019 — I’d gotten hubby a shofar as well as a pocket trumpet, and he had begun blowing the shofar whenever one of us spotted the new moon. So, by the time this came around, he could blow the trumpet. We observed the associated Sabbath.
At this point, hubby was doing most of the research on the festivals. So, I was just kind of going along. I was excited about observing them, but I was busy enough with other things that I just went with what he was researching and telling me of what he learned.
Day of Atonement 2019 — I know we observed the associated Sabbath, but I don’t recall whether or not we fasted because I wasn’t writing in my “spiritual journal” at the time. I had the journal. I just wasn’t writing in it.
Tabernacles 2019 — I do remember this one. We observed the 1st day Sabbath, and we slept outside. Personally, I was excited about the latter. When I was in college, I’d sometimes drag my mattress outside and watch the stars until I fell asleep. It was a special privilege of having the freedom of being on my own. So, I was looking forward to sleeping under the stars again. Then, it got really windy, really cold, and really wet. We slept on the roofed part of the deck, but the wind drove the cold and rain sideways under the roof and right at us. It was an especially memorable time. (grin)
Then, there was the Eighth Day directly after Tabernacles. In our research, we didn’t know what we were “supposed” to do for it other than observing it as a Sabbath. So, we did that.
2020 — So, go back to Leviticus 23. We’d already been observing the 7th Day Sabbaths, as commanded, so next on the list is Passover. Well, there’s this COVID thing that makes this year rather interesting. Hubby had been doing research about the timeline surrounding Jesus’ last several days, death, and resurrection. He’d printed out that research, and it was stretched out on the table. It was nice to look at that chart as the times of the Festivals were going by.
Unleavened Bread 2020 — We banished the leavened bread from the house, and I learned how to make unleavened bread that wasn’t all that bad. Observed the associated Sabbaths, of course.
Firstfruits 2020 — By this time, hubby was still doing a lot of research and writing a book about the festivals and Biblical prophecies. I was doing some research on subjects mostly unrelated to what he was reading.
Weeks/Pentecost 2020 — We observed the Sabbath, of course. I don’t remember much beyond that. It has been kind of a blur where the days are blending into one another. What year is this again?
Trumpets 2020 — Hubby’s improving on the trumpet. He blasted it well at the start of the associated Sabbath, just like he has been on Friday evenings at sundown. I do wonder what our neighbors think. (chuckle) Maybe they think we’re Jewish. Maybe they think we’re looney. In all seriousness, by this time, I was starting to really dig these festivals. Remembering Him like this had started to become special times for me, and we had started calling it “God’s calendar” instead of the “Jewish calendar.”
Day of Atonement 2020 — I remember it this year. We observed it as a Sabbath, and we fasted.
Well, not long after, I was miserable with kidney stones. As I laid there on the bathroom tile, staring up through the skylight, I remembered that I should always be thankful in all circumstances.
So, I thanked God for the blue sky that turns into beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I thanked Him for trees, since I could see the tip of a tree that towers over the house. I thanked Him that a tree hadn’t yet fallen on the house. I thanked Him for a roof over our heads, food and clean water, friends who have become family, family members that are friends, etc.
WARNING: Doing some research after the troublesome time had passed (grin), I learned that if you are prone to getting kidney stones ((reluctantly raises hand)), you shouldn’t fast from food, even if you do drink a lot of water. Hmmmm. I’m told there are all sorts of ways to fast rather than quitting all food cold turkey (heh!), so I decided I’d need to do some research on how I could still fast correctly without tormenting my body quite as much as I had this year. (grin)
Tabernacles 2020 — “Yay!” I thought, “We get to sleep outside and gawk at the stars!” We put out mattresses under us this year. That was smart. Last year, we’d learned that hip bones, knees, elbows, etc. all dig through the sleeping bag, a couple layers of blankets, and into the wooden deck quite noticeably by morning!
This was almost the last festival of the year, so I really wanted to “make it count.” I wanted to observe the Sabbath. I wanted the shofar to be blown. I wanted to sleep outside every night. I was so excited to be under the stars again and do some praying that I didn’t sleep much that first night. I learned some things. The next night, I slept more, but I still learned some things.
One of those things I learned was that the booths were temporary and made flimsy enough to be able to see the night sky. I wondered why. But, then, I slept in the same spot on the deck every night, and I was waking up at the same wee hour just as the moon appeared in my line-of-sight over the roofline. Observing it from night-to-night in relation to the roofline, I was amazed at how much change there was to the moon’s trajectory, appearance, and timing over the course of only a few days.
“God’s calendar moves fairly quickly,” I thought.
As I stayed awake until the first bird chirped, I checked the time on my phone. Yup, about the same time every morning. “God’s clock is pretty nifty, too. I bet if one was out in the wilderness every night and every day like the Hebrews were, you’d really get into the rhythm of His creation. You’d be able to know the seasons, the time on the clock, when festivals are supposed to be observed…all that by just observing God’s creation and being still.”
Not long after that revelation, the forecast was moisture and cold. It was left up to me what we’d do. We both knew it was going to be physically miserable out there, much like 2019 Tabernacles was. But, I’d been blessed by His lessons so much on previous nights. I prayed and wrestled with the decision.
“Do we have to sleep outside every night of Tabernacles? If we lived in a place where it was freezing and there was snow, would we? What was the weather for the Hebrews back in the wilderness? Shivering from the damp and cold probably isn’t healthy for us, and much of the commands from God are His way of trying to keep us healthy. If we open the curtains and put the mattresses right next to the windows, we’ll still be able to see the stars and moon if it clears up. Yet, we are supposed to sleep outside. God will take care of us. That’s the point of this, right?”
So, we put the mattresses out.
In the amount of time it took to gather our pillows and sleeping bags, the mattresses got quite wet and cold. Ugh. That decided it.
We brought the mattresses in, dried them off as best we could, and got set up beside the living room windows.
Indeed, I was blessed with the sight of the moon and the planet that had been accompanying it every night so far. I couldn’t compare it to the roofline, but I’d already observed on previous nights that the planet and moon were moving away from each other. I could see that such was even more the case on this wee hour of the morning. Interesting that I’d awakened at the same time I had on nights we’d been outside.
Would I still be able to hear the first chirp? Nope. But, the choir of birds later was loud enough to penetrate the walls.
The next night was kind of misty and cool, but nothing like the previous night. It was left up to me. To me, it wasn’t a “have to” sort of thing, but I wanted to sleep outside again because, as I told hubby, “I don’t want to miss the blessing of a lesson God might have for me.” I’d still learned some things the previous night, but sleeping more directly in His Creation made me feel like I was more in His house, seeing the calendar on His wall and watching His clock. I wanted to get to have that experience some more. I wanted to get to spend more intimate time with Him, learning at His feet. And, once again, I learned some things.
Before I was really ready for Tabernacles to end, the Eighth Day arrived. We kept it as a Sabbath, but I knew life would be returning to normal. Our normal bed. Man’s calendar on the wall, telling us when to do what. Man’s clock on the wall, ticking out times for meetings and meals.
And, it was over. The festivals were behind us for another year. I was disappointed this year.
“That was such a sweet time with You,” I whispered to Him. “I wish it wasn’t over.”
I told hubby of my disappointment, too. That’s when he reminded me that I was forgetting how Leviticus 23 starts.
“Oh yeah! We still have a weekly one between the Eighth Day and Passover! Seventh-Day Sabbaths! We get to have that every week!”
The disappointment about the festivals being “done” melted away. I still get an appointment to spend quality time with God every week! What’s more, the Bible is still right here! I get to read that whenever I want…at least until it is maybe taken away someday. One thing that will never be taken away, though….I still get to talk to God anytime I want!
And, suddenly, I realized that the festivals had become something really meaningful for me. As the year had progressed, they became more and more special to me. I was more drawn to reading the Bible. I craved more time with Him. When I read about God’s people being led through the wilderness or sinning as a group, I no longer pointed and said, “He led THEM,” or “THEY sinned.” It became, “He led US out of Egypt,” and “WE sinned against Him by turning to other gods.”
That relationship I’d had with Him when I was a kid…that intimacy I’d spent much of my adulthood trying to regain… I grew back to that. And, maturity and experience makes me thankful and not take it for granted, bringing a promising richness I hope to grasp and treasure with all my heart, mind and soul. I enjoyed a deep, refreshing, renewed taste of Him, and I wanted more! I picked up my spiritual journal and started writing in it. I began researching about the festivals for myself.
And, as I thought about that, I finally understood what hubby was talking about when he called the festivals “God’s Plan of Salvation.” I hadn’t comprehended before what they had to do with salvation. Perhaps all the rest of the church understood this, but I really didn’t….not until now.
The festivals show the progression of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt (bondage to sin), a covenant relationship recognized at Mt. Sinai, and the entrance into the land promised to them.
The 2020 festivals represented my progression into more intimacy with Him…more stillness and listening at His feet.
I started studying the Tabernacle for myself this time, instead of relying on what others told me….others who’d studied it for far longer and far deeper than I ever had. They’d drawn out maps of it and made models. They knew this stuff, so I thought, “Why should I bother going back to read about it myself?”
But, the festivals have so much to do with the Tabernacle that I wanted to read about it myself.
And, that’s when I saw it. As I was gazing at an artist’s depiction of the tents around the Tabernacle in the wilderness, I thought about their observing the festivals.
Passover — In Egypt, they had spread the lamb’s blood on the doorposts and huddled within their dwellings. I remembered paintings of the families inside their protected homes while death visited other families. I looked at the tent dwellings in the artist’s rendition. “What was Passover like in tents in the wilderness?” I wondered.
Unleavened Bread — I thought about trying to remove every scrap of leavened bread from our house. I looked at the painting and pictured their removing every scrap from their tents.
Firstfruits — I thought about the Israelites going out to their fields to mark the plants that broke through the soil first so that they knew which ones were God’s when it came time to harvest. Yes, they went to the Temple to give offerings and sacrifices, but these are all things they were doing in their homes and their own fields, too.
Pentecost/Weeks — I looked at the lampstand depicted in the Holy Place. I thought about those who conquer having their names written on white rocks. I thought about God’s names. The Holy Spirit entered the disciples, and they were aflame with Him. The Holy Spirit is a Person; I knew that from my reading. But, why is “the” in front of “Holy Spirit” so often like that?
I whispered to God, “You, Abba, have a name….several. Jesus, You have a name….several. What is the Holy Spirit’s name so I can stop using ‘the?’”
Hey, I decided, I think I’ll just try to stop using “the.”
And, look, my focus is now in the Holy Place on the painting.
Trumpets — It’s an announcement. Of what? God’s voice is sometimes said to sound like a trumpet. An announcement that He’s coming? Why do we need to know? We need to prepare, for the Day of Atonement is coming up.
Day of Atonement — “‘Day of Forgiveness’ is what hubby’s been calling it. Hmmm. I was looking at the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. This veil was rent. Jesus’ body was torn up, and He died. But, He arose. Because of what our High Priest (Jesus) did for us, we may now enter in.
I’d just read Exodus 33 and was struck by the knowledge in verse 9. “As Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and remain at the entrance, and the LORD would speak with Moses.”
I thought about how the Temple is filled with smoke on the Day of Atonement.
I thought about how only the High Priest goes into the smoke-filled Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement.
Tabernacles — In my mind, as I gazed at the painting, I pictured now being in the Most Holy Place, reverently learning at His feet, sheltered in His Home, listening to the tick of His clock on the same wall where His calendar hangs. His Home. My Home because He calls me His own.
Do I HAVE to watch for the new moon? We forgot to one month recently, and I was disappointed. Yet, I didn’t feel like I’d committed a crime. I just felt like I’d missed out on a special time with Him.
Do I HAVE to keep the 7th Day Sabbath? It is a commandment, but it’s something we get to observe every week. And, that’s special, and I can make every day between now and the next festival special because I get to be with Holy Spirit anytime anywhere.
Do I HAVE to observe the other appointed times? Is it a commandment? Reading in Leviticus, it seems pretty important to Him. Observing them isn’t one of the traditional Ten Commandments, no. But, the festivals have become special to me. I really don’t care if it is a “HAVE TO.” I’m now looking forward to Passover, and I can now understand why maybe the Jewish people inserted things like Hanukkah and other religious holidays. More times honoring God.
And, something kind of struck me about the verses like Hosea 6:6 (CEV) — “I’d rather for you to be faithful and to know me than to offer sacrifices.”
Doesn’t that sound like the cry of a parent just wanting to hear from His kid?
Parents and aunts and uncles of teens know what this is about. The teen will understand the desire for communication once they are old enough with kids of their own. Meanwhile, kids still have a lot of “HAVE TO’s” with which to contend.
Did we HAVE to do sacrifices?
Do we HAVE to keep the Ten Commandments?
Do we HAVE to observe the festivals?
Sometimes, we need to do the “HAVE TO’s” until they become “GET TO’s,” and it is then that we have entered into intimacy with Him in the Holy of Holies….in the Promised Land.
Then, on the ultimate Eighth Day, I’m thinking there will be one whale of a celebration that we are finally all home with the Bridegroom!
Thank you, hubby, for researching this stuff. Thank you for quietly writing about something really important and reaching out to serve in excellent ways….in a way that transformed my 2020 and built up my spiritual life. Together, what we are doing leads to “more” in our lives, allowing us to live more abundantly. I’m ever so grateful for that fact and for Him.
H’s Journey Through Religion, Part II (Middle School)
Up until this point, I’d spent most of my reading time in the Old Testament. However, at school, the Gideons distributed pocket New Testaments. Before this, I hadn’t thought about the concept that the Bible would be separated into two parts – the “Old” and the “New,” and I wondered why they were giving out only the last part. Yet, it was small enough to carry around with me, so I plunged into it, devouring it just as hungrily.
I’d already grown to love the God of the Old Testament and I had recognized Him easily in this last portion of the book about Him. It was exciting to read again about His time actually walking around as a human, and my love for Him deepened.
After this, I decided to try church again. It seemed like maybe I’d find God’s family there. I kept picking the same church because it was the only one I’d ever been invited to. I had the idea that a person must be invited to a church before you could attend there, like for a special club. Plus, Dad had grown up in this denomination. He hadn’t been able to explain the “no instruments, no dancing, and no Heaven until baptism” part any better than Kevin had, but I asked Dad if he’d take me. He did, and even Mom went along this first time. I remember hoping her attendance would miraculously change her.
Once there, I realized that the same ideas were being practiced. Logic told me now that the :no dancing or instruments thing” probably wasn’t a matter of their having “not read this part yet.” They were talking about Jesus, so they’d read what I had.
And, the communion plates were to go by me because I hadn’t yet been baptized. Quietly holding back tears, I reluctantly passed the plates myself without taking part. Even more so now, I understood communion as a time to remember and be thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and to worship God as His family (fellowship). I wanted to be a part of His family. I needed the brothers and sisters I’d read about having in the Church. I wanted my family to be part of His family.
In preparation for coming and arguing against their beliefs on water baptism being a requirement for salvation, I’d read a lot about what the Bible says on it. As a result, I saw it as an expression and symbol to God and fellow believers that you love God and want to do everything possible to please Him, to basically give every aspect of yourself toward His service.
When I went to the pastor about it and asked him to explain, it didn’t help. I respect him for his patient efforts, and we are friends to this day. I pointed to the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Neither of us could say that he had been baptized; yet, look at what Jesus said to him.
Once again, not having been invited to other churches, I stopped going. But, there’s a praise in this; these couple of visits caused me to learn two hymns that have stayed with me and become favorites: (He Could Have Called) Ten Thousand Angels and Morning Has Broken. In the Gardenwas already my top favorite, since it was on a couple of my parents’ albums. Music was a huge part of our lives. My sister and I spent portions of our allowances on our own music, and our parents had cabinets and boxes filled with albums we all enjoyed.
My thoughts, upon looking back now:
I find it interesting that I somehow escaped the struggle that some do, at least judging by comments from adults I’ve listened to since then. Some wrestle with the thought that the Old Testament God is, at best, a cranky, strict Person compared to the sweet, all-loving New Testament God. At worst, that ancient guy is a violent, wrathful dictator who demands blood in order to be somewhat pacified. To me, God didn’t change, and Who He was and is? Well…He is awesome and always has been!
I also note that the restrictions about dancing and musical instruments bothered me when I was younger, but that wasn’t my focus when I got older. Then, it was the water baptism belief I struggled with most.
Another thing that strikes me, looking back, is that the New Testaments were passed out at our public school. I’m thankful for that, but it is wild to see how much times have changed.
I still ponder the amazing thing that my mother went with us to church. It makes me wonder how much that day’s attendance played out in her future. I hope to be able to ask her someday.
Friends have wondered what Mother’s Day was/is like for me.
Growing up, it wasn’t the greatest because no gift seemed “good enough” to be pleasing to her, even if I’d saved up for something grand or spent long hours creating something I thought would be just right.
In grade school art class, we had to bring a bar of soap from home so we could each carve it into a turtle for our mother. I thought mine was awesome with sparkly sequins all over it! I even decorated the soap box so he could have a pretty home to stay in! I just knew I’d done well this time.
When I presented it, along with the handmade card we’d been encouraged to make, these are the words I remember being said in disgust as she looked at the wonky turtle in her palm: “What the &*%# am I supposed to do with this?”
I don’t know if she liked the card or the box. The words I heard and the look of disgust echo forward from the past. I’d heard similar words and looks about me instead of that turtle. So, the rejection was felt.
That was how I saw it from my viewpoint as a kid.
As an adult, I would hope I’d have the love and tact to thank a child and gush over whatever gift with which they chose to honor me. Also, from this older viewpoint, I look back at mom and wonder if it somehow comes from her being a child of the Depression era and rationing during World War II. From that perspective, could I see that her statement was a criticism about the teacher’s choice to take a practical bar of soap and turn it into an impractical “sculpture” with scratchy sequins? Truly, what was Mom supposed to do with it? That isn’t quite it, though. She’d treasured impractical gifts from others. So, there was something more involved.
Back then, it felt like I’d failed to please her. More significantly, it was that expression on her face — the set of her mouth as she looked at the turtle with distaste. It was the same look I often received from her.
Now, looking back with logic and love, I realize that her focus was “off.” Instead of recognizing the loving gesture from the giver, her focus was on the gift. She didn’t know how to see and love me. She didn’t know me, the giver. In her eyes, the gifts were inadequate in quantity and quality because that’s where she focused.
In church yesterday, the sermon was partly about biases we have as we come to God and His Word. It made me think back to the many stories from people about their parents and how they grew up. When people describe their fathers, I can often see how that relationship affects how they see our Heavenly Father. If a person’s relationship with their earthly father was/is strained, abusive, or absent , there’s work to be done to separate how those dynamics work in comparison to how a healthy “Creator and created” bond should look.
I know my phenomenal Dad’s love contributed greatly to my perspective of God. I am so blessed in that! However, did Mom’s hatred for me and self-loathing do anything to negatively affect my bond with God?
My first thought is “no.” We’ll see if that changes by the time I finish writing.
My caution of her created in me a caution of people, both male and female. Anyone has the potential to sin, to be harmful to themselves and others. I’m included in that broad sweep.
Yet, God has taught me that people can be forgiven with His forgiveness. I’ve also learned that people have the potential to love. I’m included in that broad sweep, too.
In the after-church discussions, hubby was sharing with a friend the subtlety of a Biblical truth being overlooked. Our friend was glad for it because a possible “blind spot” of his might be getting wrestled through. I also hunger to know my blind spots and have them erased, so I understood that desire. That’s why I’m thinking about this today.
Did Mom’s hatred and self-loathing negatively affect my bond with God? When I say, “no,” am I overlooking something? Do I have a blind spot here? Perhaps.
Is my caution of people at an unhealthy level? If so, then such does affect my relationship with God.
I currently don’t think it is at an unhealthy level, for either gender. That thought may change as God leads.
The next question seems to be, “Why hasn’t that caution been cranked up to “too high?”
Many have looked at my upbringing and express shock that it isn’t somehow more visible in my actions and words. I think that is due to God’s work in my life, so I am thankful.
Perhaps it is because of that very caution of people that I seem fairly “unscathed,” for that watchfulness is also turned on myself as a potential sinner. I have seen the state of humanity, which includes me. Beyond a shadow of doubt, I know God’s help is needed in order to corral my sinful nature.
The next question is usually, “Why isn’t that inward-focused caution beating you down, though? Why didn’t your experiences harm your self-esteem? Why didn’t these enemy attacks turn you into someone with self-loathing? What causes this self-confidence and sense of worth?
God’s Word tells me I have the potential to sin. He also tells me I have the potential to love. That’s my choice. I am no different than anyone else in that regard. Mom wasn’t different in that. Neither was Dad. My Heavenly Father tells me that we are all the same in that ability to choose. So, if I don the glasses He gives me, I can view all with some caution because of that free will; yet, that shouldn’t stop me from also choosing to forgive and love.
Is Mother’s Day still a terrible day for me? No.
How do I know that, through God, I am getting close to reaching that good balance between caution and forgiveness? Perhaps it is partly because I have chosen people I consider to be mother figures for me, and I wish them well on this day. Perhaps it is because, if she was still alive, Mom would still get a call and a card from me.
Maybe the greatest thing that has spoken to me about where I am with people (and also God) is the fact that, even though I have birthed no children of our own, there are those who say “Happy Mother’s Day” to me because they consider me to be a “bonus Mom” or think I have motherly qualities. That touches me right to the core and seems to keep me all squishy and tender inside. 🙂
Thank you, dear Giver, for these gifts You’ve given me that are all wrapped up in human flesh. Thank You for wrapping Yourself in flesh and giving me You. Happy Mother’s Day, Father!
I wrote the bulk of my autobiography during my 20s. Then, as a separate paper, I wrote specifically on my encounters with religion. These posts are built significantly upon that separate paper. Then, at the end of each part/post, I will give my thoughts on what I’d written.
When I became an adult, I discovered how many had been praying for me and my immediate family. Those praying included Dad’s sisters and mother, cousins, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. Never underestimate how many quiet watchers are lovingly conversing with God about each individual. If you are an intercessor, thank you for demonstrating that love for others.
Warning on this post: For mature audiences only. Read my comments at the end for more.
“In the beginning…”
Heh. Okay. In my beginning, God was there. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t just know God exists. My immediate family didn’t talk about God, but perhaps I noted that Grandma prayed at mealtime when we visited. Either way, God is.
As a result, I wanted to learn more about Him. So, I asked my sister, “April,” how to do that. Her teenage reply: “I don’t know. Go ask Dad.” (grin)
We were 7 years apart in age, and I was a pesky little sister. April loved me, but other things occupied her mind right then.
I went to Dad. He pointed me to a Children’s Bible Story set and a Bible he’d quietly put in the bookcase upstairs where my sister and I had our bedrooms.
In the Bible, I discovered what other people had experienced of God. Enthralled, I read it for hours, devouring the concepts and principles hungrily…eagerly. In these younger years, my reading stayed in the Old Testament because…well, books are meant to be read from the beginning, right?
Dyslexia and other challenges made me a slow reader. In spite of that, books and the library were a retreat for me. The Bible wasn’t any old book, though. There was something significantly different about it. I drank deeply from the Bible because, through it, I was recognizing God as my Protector, Comforter, Friend, and Heavenly Father. I needed Him!
Whenever my mother caught me reading any of the Bible, she was angry, sneering and mocking. Don’t hold that against her, though. She simply made several wrong choices in her life.
I believe she was seeking experiences with the God she’d learned about in church in her youth. But, I don’t think she sought Him in the Bible. Thus, she was wooed by our enemy into saying “yes” to his advances. She listened to his lies about her and about those around her. I know this because she’d say them.
Looking back, I wonder if there was something that initially caused her antagonism toward Christians. Perhaps it was only what she read, but maybe it was some event from her past, too.
My parents had a big bed with a headboard full of reading material. Mom didn’t seem to mind my browsing there. This is where I found a book about the cruelty in a convent as well as one written to give the negative “inside scoop” from a relative of Mormon leader, Joseph Smith. Also, this was where she kept her stacks of well-worn FATE magazines.
I had watched Mom pore over each FATE issue she received, so I was curious what she found there. They were filled with paranormal stories, most being creative and interesting. That also drew me in to read more, so I understood…until I got to one disturbing story about a couple where the husband was killed in a horrific accident, the wife took his head home, and it came alive to talk to her.
Distraught and horrified with the imagery described, I’d gone to her about it, asking if she believed it to be a true story.
Being a night nurse’s aide in a small hospital, she was stationed in E.R. a lot. She answered my question by telling me a graphically-detailed story about the remains of a man who’d committed suicide by lying in the middle of the highway and getting struck by a truck.
I was confused about the relevance, and her story only served to disturb me further. My internal knowledge of right and wrong told me, then, that a healthy, loving adult would not have told this story to her young child. How long had her mind and heart been this way?
A family story my father and brother told was that they had to pull Mom off of my oldest sister when she had been a teen. Mom had tackled her, was sitting on her, and was trying to choke her. So, something hadn’t been quite right for a very long time.
Voodoo and the occult enticed Mom further toward darkness. She purchased a Ouija board, a preserved rabbit’s foot “good luck” keychain, and a crystal ball, firmly believing in their “powers.” I knew this because she talked about them in that way. She also wasn’t debunking the superstitious and paranormal concepts in TV shows I watched like Bewitched and The Addams Family.
An excerpt from my autobiography:
Dad, I don’t feel good.”
He reached to feel my forehead. “You do feel a little warm. How don’t you feel good?”
“Sick to my stomach.”
“Why don’t you go rest on the couch. I’ll be in soon.”
“Can you stay home today?”
“I’d like to, but I can’t. Your mom will be here.”
Inwardly, my heart fell, but I tried not to let it show. I mumbled, “I know.”
Settling on the couch, I mentally began preparing for the day. I smiled weakly when he walked to my side. He settled a warm blanket over me and nestled a bucket on the floor nearby.
“I’m sorry you’re sick so much, honey.”
“You didn’t do it,” I said, aloud.
Inside, my thoughts added to that statement, silently whirling around but remaining unspoken: “You didn’t do it, but maybe Mom did with the voodoo doll. If I don’t believe in it, it won’t make me sick. Don’t believe, and you won’t be sick. Don’t believe, and you won’t…”
A previous afternoon, as I was staying home (sick again), I’d watched a sitcom where one of the characters had a voodoo doll. Mom must have been watching, too.
Some days later, she beckoned me to come to the upright piano. It was wisest to do as I was told, so I went to her. She got an item from the top of the piano and held it in her closed hand near my face so I could get a good view. Stiff hair was sticking out here and there between her fingers.
When she opened her hand, I saw that it was a homemade cloth doll with long hair, just like mine. Looking closely, I realized she must have saved some from my last haircut. The eyes and mouth were crudely sewn patches of black thread.
At that moment, I had forgotten about the sitcom, so I didn’t know what to make of the doll. I looked up into Mom’s face and wondered what I was supposed to do with it. She was smiling, so was I supposed to treat it like a gift and take it from her hand? But, was this her trustworthy smile? It didn’t quite look like it. Even if it wasn’t, am I to quickly say, “thank you,” so I don’t get into trouble?
I was deciding I’d best wait for her to say something when she brought my attention to her other hand. She had several stick pins on her open palm.
“Do you know what this is?” she said, slightly raising the hand with the doll. “This is you. If you’re not good and do what I tell you to do, I’m going to use these pins in the doll. You know how it works.”
With that, she put the doll on top of the piano where I could just barely see a part of it over the edge. But, I was not tall enough to reach it, perhaps not even if I did have the strength to move the piano bench and use it for help.
Then, showing her teeth in the untrustworthy grin that had been starting to form earlier, she looked down at me, nodded contentment with herself, scowled, and walked into the kitchen.
I stared up at what I could see of the doll and shuddered. I thought of the crystal ball she kept on her bureau and wondered if she’d used it to find out I had stuck my tongue out at her behind her back the day before.
My eyes fell on her “women’s magazines” stacked on the nearby bookshelf. She kept her Fate magazines in their bedroom. These were the good ones. Perhaps she knew I’d looked at one of her Good Housekeeping magazines in the stack, even though I’d been very careful to study and memorize the arrangement before touching them. I’d tried hard to put them back in exactly the same order and the angles of the edges exactly the way they had been in relation to each other.
She stepped back into the room and pointed to the very same magazines on the bookshelf.
As if she had been reading my mind, she snapped, “And, don’t be touching these again.”
It was amazing how she could do that.
She went back into the kitchen, and I just stood there, thinking about her crystal ball.
“No, she can’t see anything,” I assured myself. “It’s just a hunk of glass.”
I started pondering my techniques. I must have been a few fractions of an inch off in aligning the magazines back the way they were. That’s all.
I prayed, “Why is she always so mad at me? I’m trying to be a good girl.”
Sitting beside me on the sofa, Dad chuckled. “I know I didn’t make you sick, honey. I just wish you felt good. I’ll see you tonight.”
He kissed me on the forehead, picked up his briefcase, and left with a wave back at me.
I wanted to scream after him, “Dad, please don’t leave!”
But, no, it was best not to say anything.
Inside, I tried to counsel and steel myself for the day: “She’s going to say and think whatever she wants, so just ignore her. Be quiet and try to feel good. I don’t want to go to school, but it’s better than this. But, if I throw up there, they’ll call Mom to come get me, which will make her madder. So, just lay back and try not to be sick anymore.”
I settled into the couch, steadily feeling sicker, I decided I would be as quiet and unobtrusive as I could all day. If I was barely there, surely she would not find something to get mad about.
Shortly, Mom entered and looked out the front window toward the car.
“Yes, Mom,” I muttered in my head, “the coast is clear to start in now.”
She must have deemed that to be true, for she wheeled around to glare at me.
That look was on her face again. It was a familiar look by now, but no less heart stopping with each repetition. This was going to be a long day.
“Sick yet again. I swear you just live to make me wait on you hand and foot.”
“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll take care of myself.” I tried to sound as innocent and reassuring as I could. “I won’t be any trouble to you.”
Scowling, she went into the dining room out of sight.
The nausea was really starting to overwhelm me, but I dedicated every brain cell toward thinking about other things – anything but the increasing need to throw up.
I stared at the overhead light and counted dead bugs. I pretended I was an elf, mountain climbing on the drapes as they swished back and forth…back and forth. Oh no!
Thankfully, I hit the bucket. I was still having painful, dry heaves when I opened my eyes to see Mom’s foot beside the bucket.
Her voice pelted me from above. “You aren’t really sick. You just fake it so you can have someone wait on you hand and foot. You don’t care about me or what this does to me. All you think of is yourself.”
Staring at her shoe, I was still overwhelmed with nausea. I felt like throwing up on her foot, but had nothing left. Besides, it would only serve to make matters worse. I had visions of her dumping the bucket over my head in fury.
She snatched up the bucket and fled to the back recesses of the house.
My mind drifted again as I rested my head back on the pillow.
“I don’t think the doll is on the piano anymore. I bet Dad asked about it, and she couldn’t explain it. I bet she still has it, though. Just hidden away somewhere. Probably in the same place as the crystal ball.”
The crystal ball was no longer on their bureau, but I suspected it was in a drawer. I hadn’t seen the Ouija board since I’d refused to “play it” with her. I doubted she got rid of it as I had pleaded with her to do. I figured she’d stuffed it away in her closet.
Now, resting here, no matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I slept. Perhaps she would kill me in my sleep, as I suspected she would do someday. Today, maybe it really didn’t matter.
There were such threats, toward both Dad and I. All this is an incredibly long and complex story all by itself, so I’ll move on.
The important thing to get from this and keep in the back of your mind is that I was right in the midst of a violent spiritual war. And, God, through His Word, was walking me right through that battle zone every day.
It wasn’t all bad. Dad tried hard to make up for all the heartache and scariness. At one point, when Mom was at work, Dad showed me his old antique Bible. What a special treat for me to glance through it! He had gotten it from his parents just before he went to World War II. Nestled on my lap, its weight and the gold-trimmed edges of its thin pages contributed to the image in my mind of its being an old treasure passed down from wiser generations. Before he put it away, he told me it would someday be mine. Wow! What a promise!
During these years of reading, my favorite story was that of Elijah. What fascinated me most about his story was the idea that he had developed such a wonderful companionship with God. In fact, one day when he and God were walking along, Elijah was so enveloped in the interaction that he didn’t even notice when he’d walked right on into Heaven with God. That is the impression I’d gotten, perhaps from the Bible Story series. Anyway, I wanted that kind of companionship with God, a friendship that intense.
I wanted to remember to be in continual communication with God like Elijah seemed to be. So, I wrote on tiny pieces of paper and taped them in strategic locations all around my bedroom. To be a little bit cryptic so as not to get in trouble with Mom, I simply said, “Elijah” and “Remember Elijah.”
Dad, being observant, asked me about them one time, “What’s this?”
Knowing I could trust Dad, I said with enthusiasm: “Every day, I want to think of Elijah and how he was a friend of God’s. I want to be, too.”
Dad smiled. I don’t remember what he said right then, but I imagine it was something encouraging. He was like that. I do remember a time when he put his hand on my shoulder, got teary-eyed, and said, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Perhaps this was that time.
Dad was the best moral example for me as I was growing up. He did not preach the Bible; he lived it – every day. I have never faulted him for our family’s lack of church attendance. I once asked him why he didn’t attend church. He explained that he’d grown up going to a congregation with strict rules, and his family attended several times a week. In his words, he had “burned out” on church. But, he added, “I want you to feel free to go to church whenever you like, though. Just ask, and I will take you.”
I was around nine years old when a neighbor asked if I’d like to go to church with her. That Sunday, for the first time in my life, I entered a church building.
“Kevin,” my fellow mud-pie maker from next door, and his family were there! In fact, I knew and liked many of the people at this church. Here, I could visit with others about God and do so to my heart’s content. No one would belittle or sneer at me here for reading the Bible. No one here would tell me to shut up, if I talked about my Best Friend. And, because Mom wasn’t there, I thought I’d finally found a haven in which to relax and lower my guard a little.
To top it all off, only the nice kids from school were attending this church, so I wasn’t going to get bullied. I was ecstatic about the idea of attending every week.
There were three or four rooms just off the sanctuary. Kids my age were taken to one Sunday school classroom while I was guided to a different room for kids a few grades younger than me. I admit I was disappointed with that and sat close to the door so I could listen to the adult studies taking place in the sanctuary. However, my teacher came over, closed the door, and encouraged me to pay attention to my “own lessons.”
It disappointed me that the kids were separated from the adult session. I knew what the adults were talking about. I’d read the Bible, and what I was learning from listening in on the adults had real-life application for me at home. I wanted more than Noah’s Ark stories. I needed more than that.
The strangest part for me, though, was when I discovered I was not allowed to take communion. I’d read about this. I knew what the ceremony meant. I was bewildered when my neighbor passed the trays around me and to the adult on my other side. I felt like I was being told I wasn’t good enough to take part.
My neighbor operated a daycare in her home, so that’s probably why she picked up on my curious yet hurt expression. She apologized and explained that I couldn’t participate yet because I needed “to learn the meanings to it all and get baptized first.” What’s more, she added that I couldn’t go to Heaven until I was baptized!
Wait…huh? What in the world was THAT supposed to mean?! I’d have to tell God about this one! Because of experiences at home, I was petrified of water. Not only did I need to overcome that fear to partake of communion, I also had to do it to be with God someday?
I didn’t go to church again for a while. Kevin and I still played together, though. After this first visit to a church, I was very curious and pelted him with questions as we were creating chocolate milk (dirt and water) and carrot cake (grass cuttings and mud, “baked” in the sun).
I’d seen drawings of church buildings in Ideal magazines, and I had noticed some things missing from his. I asked him why there wasn’t a piano in his church.
He said that it was “against his religion.”
“Why?” I asked. I couldn’t fathom why a piano would be wrong.
He just shrugged and added that the only music allowed in church was singing. He added, “We aren’t allowed to dance either.”
“You mean in church?”
“Anywhere. It’s against our religion to dance.”
This was the shock for me. I often twirled and leapt around our grassy yard. Sometimes, I was trying to learn how to fly (without cardboard wings, at this point). Mostly, though, I pretended I was a ballerina like the one that twirled in Mom’s music jewelry box when she opened it. These moments were filled with joy and the kind of inner laughter that comes naturally between children and their Creator, so this prohibition confused me.
I said, “But I read in the Bible where good people were dancing for God. That was wrong?”
“I don’t know. We just aren’t supposed to do it,” he said, handing me a mud chocolate cake (colored black with decayed toadstools).
My experiences at the church and this talk with Kevin sure got me to thinking.
Day after day, I continued to read the Bible and the Children’s Bible Story series. Now, I was searching intently for answers. What is allowed? What is wrong? What is God REALLY like?
Was God this exacting? Maybe I had to look for the best ways to show Him that He’s loved. In my eyes, we all needed to concentrate on keeping Him from getting lonely, since He’d created us in order to keep Him company. If it was wrong to dance and play instruments, what other ways could we show Him we liked having Him around? Maybe I hadn’t understood something.
With these questions in mind, I combed through what I’d read so far in the Bible. I came upon the story of Abraham and Isaac.
You mean, if God is to understand how much I love Him, I have to sacrifice something I love? Just then, I looked down at my cat, trustingly rubbing against my leg and looking back with slowly squinting eyes. He wanted me to reach down and pet him, as usual.
“I love him,” I prayed. “I would do it, I guess…for You. But, he wouldn’t understand. I don’t even understand. This is what You want?”
As I snuggled my feline best buddy, I thought, “If he somehow knew what I was wrestling with, would he be stretched out here so trustingly?” I agonized over this story for a day or two and decided God would have to come booming in to tell me to do it, and I’d have to have no doubts whatsoever that it was Him and knew for sure it was exactly what He wanted. I’m so glad my walk with Him had matured to this point.
Meanwhile, I again found the passage I’d thought about when hearing Kevin describe dancing and instrumental music as being “off limits.” I carefully read again about David singing, dancing, and playing instruments. I puzzled over it for a few days.
Then, I simply accepted a truth that made sense to me.
I figured everyone read the Bible from start to finish like I did. So, the people at church just must not have gotten to the part about David dancing and playing instruments yet. They were adults, but perhaps they read even more slowly than I did.
My thoughts, upon looking back now:
I find it interesting that the things I experienced around me in my home and saw on TV were scarier for me than stories I read in the Old Testament — those very things that the churches avoid in classes for kids and, sometimes, even in church services.
There are only a few times I remember going to Dad with questions about what I read in the Bible. When he didn’t understand it either, he said so. When he thought he did, he made sure I knew it was just his opinion about the meaning.
I think Holy Spirit did a fantastic job working with me on what I read in the Bible. From my viewpoint, my God could do anything. If eyes were gouged out or even if people were killed, He could heal them or bring them back to life, if He wanted. He rescued the three from the fiery furnace, after all. He miraculously replenished the oil and flour for the widow and her son. He brought kids back to life. All that was no big deal for Him.
To some, Bible stories straight from the Bible are too graphic or scary for kids. However, to me, the Bible didn’t go into gory detail like the stories from FATE or like Mom when she would try to tell me what she witnessed in the emergency room. In modern times, have you sat beside a video gamer and watched the screen as they play some of the violent games? Not much is left to the kid’s imagination. The Bible is tame.
Dad had simply pointed me to the Bible and the Children’s Bible story series for reading about God. I had access to both. When one looks at the Bible from an adult’s viewpoint, the mature imagination is filled with images and thoughts from all of their experiences and from movies and shows. Even if a kid has some of that imagery and experience, I think Holy Spirit can be trusted to reach that kid as a unique individual, explaining the Bible understandably and in an appropriate way.
I look back on the story of David and remember thinking in pretty simple terms of David liking someone he shouldn’t because she was already married, then making sure her husband died so he could marry her. That was more than one commandment broken in the same story. That explained it as much as I needed to know.
Revisiting the story of Abraham and Isaac, maybe you noticed that I didn’t obsess over the idea that a father was going to stab his son with a knife. I’d read in the Bible about the animal sacrifices, yet I fled the scene whenever Dad was about to stun the fish we’d caught and fillet them. Isaac was a beloved and promised son – a human with more value than a fish! Why was I not freaked out? It said Isaac was bound, but my imagination didn’t go to a dramatic scene of Isaac struggling against Abraham. In fact, in my imagination, it looked to me like Isaac was agreeing to it in trust of not only his earthly father but also His Heavenly One. Maybe the son would be brought back? I didn’t know. I just kept reading in trust of God for whatever was going to happen next. And, it worked out. No surprise. Then, see how God worked with me on what it meant in my little world of a cat I adored and how I didn’t turn into a killer.
Baptism was a scary concept for me because it involved water. I didn’t get that fear from the Noah’s ark story. I was already fearful because of my own experiences.
I didn’t think in terms of “denomination” back then. I figured all the Bible-reading churches held beliefs found in the Bible…well, for at least as far as they’d gotten in their reading at the time. (chuckle) If something they believed didn’t “jive” with the Bible, I figured they just hadn’t gotten to that relevant area in their reading yet.
I remember thinking, when I read Mom’s short books about the abusive nuns and some of the stories about Joseph Smith, that these folks just hadn’t read the Bible. It really was that simple to me. Mom was the way she was because she didn’t read the Bible, which was obvious to me from her behavior but also because she didn’t like it when I read it.
The Bible, especially my favorite part (Psalms), was filled with writing about struggles similar to what I was going through. What a great comfort to know I wasn’t alone! Other people had gone through bad stuff, and God was right there with them the whole time! He comforted me with His Presence, too. In other words, I learned early that: 1) Everyone goes through bad stuff; 2) God is here as a comfort and never leaves, no matter what happens; 3) God steps in and helps when and how He sees fit. This knowledge was sufficient for me.
My autobiography is filled with personal stories like the one included here. The voodoo doll story scratches the surface of what went on in the life of this little girl. I am still in awe and ever thankful for what God brought me through and how. He is amazing!
Father, in the name of Jesus, if Your discernment, love, and wisdom are to be found in the words on this blog, may they be found by the reader (and writers) and kept tight in our minds and hearts. May all other words and concepts fall to the wayside and not find soil in which to grow. I take it as Your truth that we all fall short of Your glory and Your perspective of perfection. Please help us to rely upon You and Your will in not only what we all share with others but what we bring into our belief system from others. Thank You for guarding our ears, our minds, our souls, and our hearts, preserving them for You. Help us to have ears to hear and eyes to see what You are saying to Your Church.
With the global pandemic and unrest of the last year or two, some are feeling like the end times are nearer and nearer. In that position, there seems to be a lot of focus on the potential things the enemy is doing to lead the elect astray.
It is a good thing to be watchful and alert. Jesus, Himself, addressed this: “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came up to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you! For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will deceive many.'” (Matthew 24:3-5 LEB)
So, there are understandable concerns. Am I going to be one of the elect that caves? Am I going to make a wrong move? Is the enemy going to pull a fast one, and I lose my footing without even realizing I was off the path?!
How do we find the narrow gate talked about in Matthew 7? How do we remain level-headed and not filled with fear? How do we have faith like Daniel in the lions’ den, hope like Moses in the wilderness, and a heart like David’s as he faced Goliath? How do we gain that confidence?
Keep our focus on our God. Prayerfully read the Bible. A lot. When we go about our day with His Word (instructions and love notes) streaming through our minds in relation to occurrences around us, I think this happens: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28, KJV)
I think our mutual enemy likes to see fear, confusion, and chaos. I do think he wants us to focus on him in the spotlight while he works subtly and quietly in a more vulnerable location. He dances before our eyes while he works around to a spot where he can stab us. We can get distracted by a big uproar in the news over there while he is sneaking his way into the churches.
So, yes, we can get deceived, as Eve was. Sometimes, we are not deceived but we still make a choice that is pleasing to our fellow rather than to God, as Adam did. Same fruit. Both sin. Same promise from God for both. Same promise for each of us.
1 John 1:5-10 — “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (RSV)
Go on into the next chapter — “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His Word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” (1 John 2:1-6 RSV)
* * *
When I went off to college, I was new to extensive interaction with churchgoers. Thankfully, I met some fabulous people. But, then I came across those who used the Bible as a weapon against me and others.
It was a mess, and I ran. In that flight, I gave up on the Bible and who I thought were Christians.
And, I tried to run from God….heh…you know…the One talked about in Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV): “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.”
Now, I’m back to clinging to Him. I don’t want to run or to stray again, so I’m staying in His Word and relying on Him to hold me.
Indeed, there is chaos in this world. It can get tiresome, I know. It can get confusing about what is true and what is not. It is easy to throw up one’s hands and go, “I give up on humanity. They’re all a bunch of loonies and meanies!” (chuckle)
When I feel like that, there’s a snippet of Scripture I remember that brings the whole context to mind and what I learned from it. That lesson is what reels me back in. “…let us not grow weary of doing good.” (Galatians 6) It gently says to me, “Don’t give up on humanity.”
That promise from 1 John 1:9 is great for me. It’s also great for that person who is, at the moment, behaving as the enemy. They can be forgiven, as I was. They, too, can be cleansed of all unrighteousness. God is faithful and just. I am so thankful for those who did not grow weary of being instruments of God to guide me back to Him.
I’m saying these things about people because, when I wrote most of my autobiography, it was not long after the events occurred. The upcoming posts from me about my journey through religion are extracted from that autobiography, mostly written during my 20s and early 30s.
So, although you, as the reader, are not getting the “full flavor” that would come from details, you will likely hear some of the hurt and snarky perspective from the “freshness” of the feelings that arose from the experiences described.
However, 20+ years later, the bitterness has faded into forgiveness. The hurt has been transformed into prayerful understanding. As I read through these writings now, I can look back and realize I have the real potential to behave just as hurtfully toward others. I often need a note floating in front of my eyeballs that says, “Be gentle and loving. Chill!”
That said, there’s a reason I’m sharing here. As I run the course, I am not to be mute about the hazards and traps! I’m to be helpful to my fellow runners. Brief video on this: https://youtu.be/2Pmhs6aVezo
I don’t know whether you caught my earlier allusion to being fairly isolated from the body of Christ up until my college years. There were some lessons I learned after longer exposure. (grin) I think the most useful lesson for me was the first one on this list:
People are just people, whether they go to church or not. Most have the same motivation. Most just want to be respected and loved. We just have different ways of trying to gain that love and respect.
Because of this motivation, we all have moments of thinking the world revolves around us.
Regardless of our beliefs, people can be a poor representation of who God is. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Not all who say they are Christians are fully trustworthy.
Not all who are leery of churches are untrustworthy.
We are made in His image; not the other way around. To me, this is one of the many reasons why we are to make Him #1 in our lives.
We all seem to go through distinct places in our Christian journey, and we aren’t all in the same place at the same time.
In a Christian’s walk, there are deserts. There are oases. There are quagmires. There are high points above the tar pits. There are places where you stand and wait, a place where He will take care of the fight and reveal Himself as the LORD, as in Exodus 14.
It SEEMS to me like I’m in a better location than I was because I’ve been studying the map so much more than I had. Yet, pride goes before the fall, right? I need to lean heavily on the One who created the map. Otherwise, in thinking “I’ve got this” and running out ahead of Him, I could easily land myself in the very next tar pit. I know this because I’ve done it. No matter how hard I try on my own, that’s where I can end up.
Again, I must remind myself to be drenched in His Word and have an ongoing communication stream with Him.
I strayed from Him. Yet, God is good. Our ever faithful Shepherd will listen to the cries of His sheep. I can be there, up to my armpits in muck or even floundering in deep waters, but He is able to rescue. He’s made promises about this.
Psalm 40:1-2 (RSV) — “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.He drew me up from the desolate pit,out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock,making my steps secure.”
Psalm 18:16 (RSV) — “He reached from on high, he took me,he drew me out of many waters.”
The whole of Psalm 40 is good. All of Psalm 18 is worth reading, too, for it shows the quick and mighty delivery method He can enact for us. Boom! Smoke is rolling from His nostrils, and He means business, people! He’s saying, “Step aside! That’s My Child!” Whoa! You can see in Psalm 18 that, unmistakably, the Rescuing Steam Engine is a’comin’!
Both psalms were favorites as a kid, and I leaned on the promises there a lot. I saw Him work just like He promised He would. I still do, when I’m actually stopping long enough to watch (eye roll at myself), which I’m trying to do.
In upcoming posts, I am going to write about my journey in “religion.” Sometimes, it was a walk with Him. Sometimes, I strayed. Looking back, I know He was always near and listening for my cry.
Psalm 23 was a source of comfort in my childhood. So, now, as I ponder the act of sharing with you about my road, I think of Psalm 23:4 (RSV) — “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
One last thing I want us all to keep in mind: We sheep are not dumb. I honestly don’t think that’s why we are called “sheep.” I think it is because we are small and defenseless on our own. We need the Shepherd. I personally am comforted to know that He can prod me back into His fold with His staff. I personally am comforted to know that He can roar in and combat the predators away with His rod.
When I willfully and/or pridefully go astray, thinking I can handle life on my own, that’s when I get into trouble. This sheep is an adult with free will, but I need Him in order to live in this world. I am not wise and discerning on my own, nor am I gentle and loving on my own. May it be that I turn to Him for both.
Matthew 10:16 (ESV) — “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
** On a side note, I tend to quote my favorites in RSV because that’s the Bible version I had access to when I was little. Its cadence and melody is what resonates for me, giving me the “down home with God” comfort I experienced in Him.