Preamble to “Journey with H”

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:

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 ways and 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.

Just a Nickname? — H

Just a Nickname? — H

When I was a kid, having a curiosity about everything, I read nearly every nonfiction and biography book in the children’s section of the public library. When the librarian noticed I was checking out the same ones over again, she suggested some children’s fiction books I might like.

She was right. I liked them. However, I quickly read through all of their Walt Morey, Jean Craighead George, and Little Pear books. Then, she said something absolutely beautiful to me.

“You do know you can go over to the adult section, right?”

I remember my eyes widening with wonder as I looked toward the adult stacks that filled two-thirds of the small, one-floor library!

Looking back to her, I asked, “I’m allowed to?”

She smiled and nodded. “Come on.”

I followed close at her heels as she pointed out a whole shelf of nonfiction nature books beside true-life animal stories. She seemed to be having fun taking me on the tour of what subjects to find where, emphasizing those she knew I was particularly fond of over in the children’s section. Then, I was released to the wilds of this new wonderland of reading adventures!

There, in the adult section, I found a couple books on yoga.

One of my favorites in the children’s section was a book of yoga stretches for kids. Glancing through these, though, I was turned off. There was a lot of talk about meditation and “centering.” Huh?

This was boring to me, and it wasn’t in the book for kids. So, I tried the next yoga book. It showed photos of a bearded, loin-clothed fellow stuffing a long, wet rag up his nose and it coming out his mouth. Gross!

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “Adult yoga isn’t for me.”

Just to my left there was a huge bookcase filled with Christian books as well as tomes describing the beliefs of other religions. I spent quite a bit of time over the next several years reading through many of these.

Back to yoga. I never “advanced” beyond the stretches, making them a regular part of my home fitness program. However, glancing through the weirdness and yucky ideas in the adult books spared me of other yoga practices.

When I got to college courses on grade school education, we were learning how to teach each subject. For the physical education portion, we each had to teach our fellow students a physical game or practice. I chose yoga. I told them I’d gotten the stretches from the world of yoga. I explained yoga’s origins. I described that, because I was a Christian, I wasn’t planning on teaching any of the accompanying meditation or spiritual beliefs that can go along with yoga. They seemed fine with that.

A year or so later, I asked a friend if I could “come do yoga” in her larger, more private living room.

She forcefully said, “no.”

I accepted that and did not try to persuade her to change her answer.

However, I had immediately felt unfairly condemned, so I wanted to talk to her about my thoughts on it. Knowing she was a Christian, I explained that all I did (and had ever done) were the stretches.

She angrily said, “I don’t care. I’m not having my kids exposed to it.”

“That’s fair. I don’t blame you. Again, just keep in mind that all I do are the stretches.”

I applaud her protection of her kids. Plus, even if we were best friends, she definitely had a right to say what went on in her home. At the time, though, this knee-jerk reaction and quick anger confused me. She’d been in sports in high school, and I’d watched some of her practices as well as football practices. A large number of their stretches were from yoga. So, what was the difference? Did she know she’d been doing yoga all along?

I realized, then, the problem. I’d called it, “yoga.” Had I called them “stretches,” it might have been fine.

As I thought about it, I got why she’d reacted. By this time, though, I was seeing the good in it. I was teaching the stretches to the elderly, chronically ill, and wheelchair-bound. In my experience, the slow, gentle movement and balancing poses were helping them tremendously, especially my fellow MSers (people with MS). I still wasn’t teaching beliefs held by other yoga teachers, and I’d explain it was because I was a Christian.

This is when it happened. As a term of endearment, my nickname from people became “Yogi.”

From then on, whenever fellow Christians heard or saw my nickname, they’d inevitably talk about the food-loving cartoon. Knowing the potential flip from a happy remembrance of a campground bear to angry revulsion over “yoga,” I simply affirmed I do like picnics and changed the subject. In other words, I just let them think of me as that cute cartoon!

At this point, it was already a long-standing part of my email address. [It still is, though I’m trying to get everyone moved over to one of my other ones. Why? I don’t want the nickname or my email address to lead others down a harmful path, thinking Christianity can flow righteously with Hindu or New Age beliefs.]

My full “religious journey” is a long write-up. For now, I’ll just cut to the chase and say that I eventually ran from an abusive man who claimed to be a Christian, ended up running from God in the process, and truly did get involved in New Age and shamanism.

Eventually, I started making steps back toward Jesus and the Bible I had read so avidly as a kid. What I hadn’t expected was that the Bible and New Age beliefs could be mixed so well that I could be deceived into thinking I was still serving God. One can sincerely want to follow Jesus while still being led, via superficial reading of His Word, toward all kinds of troublesome theology and extrabiblical philosophies.

Nowadays, my husband talks about Satan claiming to be Jesus someday. Is it already happening? These extrabiblical principles are subtly infiltrating the Church. It angers me that Satan is gaining this foothold! It angers me that I fell for it. I hope that, by looking at my story in this and upcoming posts, you will be inspired to take heed and be watchful.

Ephesians 6:10-20 (LEB): “Finally, become strong in the Lord and in the might of his strength. Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil, because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Because of this, take up the full armor of God, in order that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.  Stand therefore, girding your waist with truth, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and binding shoes under your feet with the preparation of the good news of peace, in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you are able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one, and receive the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and for me, that a word may be given to me at the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for the sake of which I am an ambassador in chains, that in them I may speak freely, as it is necessary for me to speak.”

God’s Wagon, God’s House — H

“God’s Wagon, God’s House” — H

When I was a child, I loved spending time with Dad whenever I could. I could tell he treasured that time with me, too. He was a high school teacher and a freelance carpenter, so most of these father-daughter times took place in the summer when he was maintaining our property or helping someone with their home projects.

I followed him like a puppy. I did this because I adored him. He was a willing, patient tutor for a kid with an ongoing stream of curiosity. He would explain what he was doing and why, taking time to show me the most efficient way to use tools and accomplish the task. He’d take these opportunities to visit with me about our lives, about the world, and about the people around us.

Whatever this hero requested of me, I did. I trusted him. I knew what he asked came from his love for me. It was to teach me for a future need, or he knew it would lead to something I’d enjoy, or because he saw some immediate danger I didn’t, like that time he caught me in the act of making wings I could use to fly off the top of the swing set.

He sat me down and reasoned with me about the flimsiness of cardboard, the frailty of the human neck, and the reasonableness of various heights. He was right, of course. Test flights from the tree stump were a better plan.

I look back now and realize I was also copying him a lot. I watched him constantly. Whatever he was doing, I wanted to do the same. [No, he wasn’t a pilot. (grin)] I was his “little disciple,” really. He didn’t claim to be a Christian, but his deeds and ways did emulate Christ. I was thankful for his love and his discipline. Yet, not all of us saw his rules the same way.

I still remember the day he asked my oldest sister and her husband not to come in the house.

Why was he in the doorway, keeping them from coming in?

They were smokers, and they were drenched in the smell of it.

My dad answered their request for an explanation. “Both of your sisters are highly allergic to cigarette smoke.”

“Well, we won’t smoke in the house, then.”

“But, it is still on your clothes, and even that will make them sick. I can visit with you outside.”

“Never mind! We’ll just go home!”

They angrily went back to the car, and we didn’t see them again for a year or two. This incident comes to mind when talking about God’s Law.

Several years ago, I came upon Psalm 119.

v. 48) “I revere thy commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on thy statutes.”

v. 52) “When I think of thy ordinances from of old, I take comfort, O LORD.”

Then, I got to verse 97: “Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”

I took it to prayer, “Father, I can’t say that. I want to, but I can’t truthfully say that. If this is about all those ‘thou shalt not’s’ and strange commandments back then. I don’t even understand a bunch of them. What does it matter if our clothes are made with two different fibers? And, I’m a vegetarian now. I’m not even going to eat a goat, let alone boil it in its mother’s milk. A portion of these don’t even apply to our lives today. Yet, this writer is saying he loves the law and meditates all day on it. What is there to think about? I want to be able to have this enthusiasm for You, and the Psalms have been so valuable to me all my life. I want to relate, but this psalm is so foreign to my life. I don’t get it. Help me see what I need to see here.”

On one of our hikes, a while after that prayer, I was discussing this with hubby. As he does, he said something quite thought-provoking. When our own nation was new, we chose to govern ourselves with Biblical principles. When Israel was a new nation, they were needing to learn how to live with one another in healthy, sanitary, loving, and God-honoring ways. So, out of love for them, God gave them guidelines on how to make that happen. As technology and understanding have developed for humanity in most nations, medical and sanitation practices as well as neighborly laws have progressed to match.

Any new group of people needs to form guidelines of conduct – corporations, nations, clubs. Humans need laws to corral us into being civilized. The laws adapt as the group grows, but the reasons behind the laws remain the same.

When you look at Israel’s laws (past and present) and America’s laws (past and present), one can find similarities in them. Most can be categorized into the ten buckets over there in God’s wagon — the one that makes tracks overflowing with abundance (Psalm 65:11). Each bucket is labelled with one of the Commandments. The wagon itself is labelled, “Matthew 22:36-40.”

When I think about and study all the “strange Old Testament laws” in light of the culture, available tools at the time, and God’s ways, they start to make sense.

God didn’t give Adam and Eve a jumbo jet. He didn’t give Moses a hang-glider. He gave them Himself.

He gave us all Himself via His Word — His Law, which includes His Love. When I meditate on His Word, I do want more and more time with Him. I’m understanding the enthusiasm of Psalm 119 now.

However, there’s something new I’ve been chewing on as I wear Jesus’ easy yoke attached to God’s wagon. For the moment, there’s something in Matthew 25 that has been “a burr under my saddle.”

It’s Jesus’ story about the ten virgins. Those who were ready went in to the marriage feast with the bridegroom, but as for those who weren’t ready and came late, he answered the door and said, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

I’ve been pondering all sorts of questions about this story. What is the oil? What is the significance of the lamps, and what is the act of “trimming” them? What does “being ready” mean? What are we to “watch” for?  But, the hardest question has been, “That seems really harsh, Father. All the virgins waited and watched. All the virgins fell asleep. Yet, you knew only half of them? How could this be?”

I’ve been reading a book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It’s called, “Boundaries.”  It’s a slow read, for I’m writing down lots of quotations from it in my journal. I’d like to share a few of those here:

p. 36 – “We are responsible TO others and FOR ourselves. ‘Carry each other’s burdens,’ says Galatians 6:2, ‘and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ This verse shows our responsibility TO one another. Many times others have ‘burdens’ that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; He saved us. This is being responsible ‘to.’”

p. 37 – “On the other hand, verse 5 says that ‘each one should carry his own load.’ Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular ‘load’ that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own ‘load.’”

It went on to describe how a person’s burden can be something in excess, a crushing boulder they cannot carry alone. Or, it can just be a “load,” which is the cargo of daily toil.

p. 37 – “Problems arise when people act as if their ‘boulders’ are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their ‘daily loads’ are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”

The authors go on to explain that in one’s boundaries, one needs to have gates to let in the good and to force out the bad.

p. 39-40 — “The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines Himself as a distinct, separate being, and He is responsible for Himself. He defines and takes responsibility for His personality by telling us what He thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes.”

So, as I think on that, if I allow my neighbor his own personality and the autonomy to decide who gets to come into the bounds of his house that he built on his own land, why would I not accept that God has boundaries of His own for His own house He built on His land He created? I should extend God the same courtesy to think, feel, plan, allow, not allow, like, and dislike as He pleases. And, He’s given me the courtesy of writing all this on the Invitation to His house so I understand all this ahead of time.

So, when He and I arrive at His door during the marriage feast, could it be as simple as my having loved our Host and my fellow guests enough to have had the “smoke of sin” washed from me and from my robe before we are to go in?