Have You Experienced Being Indivisible? How About Iraq?

If you are in the military, have a loved one in the military, or would like to get a little better appreciation for the sacrifices and challenges facing those who are giving their lives to protect our safety, then I want to encourage you to watch Indivisible. (By the way, I’m guessing the pressures and problems would be very similar for any military personnel from a democratic nation.)

Indivisible (2018) is based on the true story of Army Chaplain Darren Turner, who was deployed to Iraq back in 2007, fresh out of seminary and basic training.

This left his wife, Heather, alone at Fort Stewart to care for their three young children among the community of other women whose husbands were also deployed.

Every deployment is dangerous and gut-wrenchingly difficult, but Darren ended up supporting the Special Forces, which was sort of the hardest of the hard!

I have a son in the military who was deployed to Iraq, and I can vouch for the constant strain and fear that I battled as a mother, who spent many hours on her knees while he was gone.

Indivisible does a masterful job of relating the terrors and traumas of war. Will our loved one survive? Will he be injured? Will he recover?

Even if he survives, will he be able to overcome all the horrors of death and destruction that he’s experienced?

What about the wives who’ve been left behind, who are constantly plagued by an emotional roller coaster of worry while trying to be emotionally stable for their children?

For many families, life is never quite the same after living through a deployment, and trying to rebuild a strong marriage bond is more of a challenge than some marriages can handle.

The lessons that Darren and Heather learned (and have been willing to share) are critical for young couples who are serving in the military. I wish every person in the service or who has a loved one in military service would see this movie!

It’s raw. It’s real. It’s sad, but there’s also a message of hope for a light at the end of the tunnel of PTSD and broken hearts.

God made a way for Darren, Heather, and a bunch of brave young soldiers and their wives, and He can do the same for you.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NABRE).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (30): Stretch Out Your Hand


What an invitation! A man with a withered hand was in the synagogue when Jesus came in to teach. As I am preparing this meditation, I am still sporting two external pins in the little finger of my right hand, and it makes me painfully aware of how debilitating it would be to live life without a functional right hand! Even basic self care and simple household chores like preparing and cleaning up meals, washing and folding clothes, ironing, cleaning, shopping, trying to write—everything is harder, and some things simply can’t be done with one hand. How much harder must it have been for a man in the agrarian culture of ancient Israel, where his livelihood probably required the strength of two hands and arms. Clearly, he needed help!!

Reading the passages (listed below), it is despicably obvious that the religious leaders had no compassion. (Lord, is it I?) They weren’t hoping that the man with the withered hand might be healed; they were just looking for an excuse to accuse Jesus of breaking some law so they could stone him and get rid of him. Why did they want to get rid of him? Because he was incredibly popular, and they feared losing their power over the people. That’s it? Yep! Pretty much! Well, they also didn’t understand him, and they didn’t like his unconventional approach to life.

Jesus knew their thoughts. He knew they were plotting to kill him . . . on the sabbath day. He was angry and grieved because they were so hard hearted, so he said to them: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?”

The Pharisees were totally unconcerned for the man with the withered hand, so they didn’t answer. To them, it was like playing a chess game, or worse yet, they were like hungry tigers prowling around, just hoping for Jesus to make a false move so they could trap and destroy him.

In a stunning display of power and wisdom, Jesus simply told the man to stretch out his hand, which the man did, and when he did, he was instantly healed! Good overcame evil! The Pharisees left to plot Jesus’s murder while I imagine there was great rejoicing within the synagogue. No one who saw this miracle would ever forget! In fact, it says that after this event, Jesus “withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all” (Matthew 12:9-15). He healed them all—not a few, not some, but all of them!

The scriptures don’t tell us how the man’s hand became withered. It could have been caused by a careless accident on his part, or disease, or as the result of his very heroically trying to save someone. The cause of the problem was not an issue, but the man’s faith was. He had to attempt to reach out. He might have said, “Why are you asking me to do something I can’t do?” or “Heal me first, and then I’ll stretch out my hand.” But, he didn’t! Instead, the man with the withered hand obeyed Jesus, stretched out his hand and was made whole!

Lots of thoughts flood my mind while considering this passage:

*Is there any part of me (like my heart) that is withered?
*Am I jealous of anybody who is doing God’s work in a novel way?
*Am I so focused on keeping the laws that I fail to focus on compassionate care?
*Am I willing to stretch out my hand?
*Am I afraid that God can’t or won’t heal me because my problems are “my fault”?

Jesus is still working miracles of healing today. Sometimes he cures physical problems, but most significantly, He heals our spiritual diseases, forgives our sins, and transforms our lives. Are you feeling a need for healing, hope, renewal, strength? I feel a need every day! As D.L. Moody used to say, we are “leaky vessels” and need constant refilling with the Holy Spirit! If so, will you join me in this prayer? “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit” (Psalm 143:5-7).

Texts for today’s meditation: “And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:10 And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.11 And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.13 Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.15 But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all” (Matthew 12:9-15).

“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him” (Mark 3:1-6).

“Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?10 And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.11 And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:9-11).

Downside Up is Upside Down

Downside Up
 
Sorry, little fly.
Wings sail on wind, not water.
What a sad shipwreck!

There are definite problems with going to sleep at night with unresolved pictures and problems on your brain. For instance, the night before I was going to write a haiku about this image, I woke up several times with different takes on the poor, lifeless dragon fly I found in the wake at Daytona Beach.

Bye, Bye Dragonfly

Such a tragedy!
Even though you’re all washed up
You can’t eat supper.

Even though by midnight I could see some dark humor in playing on words, I found myself grieving the loss of this tiny, shiny life. His fragile wings were still intact, and he looked completely whole, like he should be struggling to free himself and fly away. But, in reality, he had no life left in him. He had drowned.

Of course, everything in life reminds me of other struggles and challenges, such as those that I, my friends, and my loved ones face. I grieve for every person who is tempted to do something they weren’t created to do and won’t be able to handle. I grieve for everyone who thinks they can live below where there is no air. God created us to live and thrive, but it’s our responsibility to stay above the surf . . . upright.

Fulfilling Our Purpose


Made to soar, not swim.
No fly is built to backstroke.
Sleep now; it’s your wake.

Drugs, sex, alcohol . . . whatever siren is calling you, please don’t flirt with the waves. You’ll be enticed out into the deep, where it’s way over your head, and sin will win in the end. Escape while you can!

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren” (James 1:13-16).

P.S.—If you noticed my photo yesterday, I still have pins in my little finger which are not scheduled to come out until next week, and as the external pins have now become internal pins (from banging them too often accidentally), it’s likely to be a very miserable process to extract them, leaving my paddy paw quite sore. So, if you’ll indulge me, I know it’s now May and I no longer have “April is National Poetry Writers Month” as an excuse for writing shorter posts, but I may continue until I have a full set of fingers for typing again! 🙂

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (20): Sin No More

Not “You have sinned,” but “Sin no more.” Jesus never ignores sin, nor does he deny its existence, but from the moment he engages us, he points out the true future course he wants for us: Sin no more. Simple. Straightforward. Staggering.  The man Jesus is addressing had been sick and unable to walk for thirty-eight years. That was longer than Jesus had been alive. How could Jesus have known that the man’s illness had been related to sin? In John 9, we read the account of Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth. On that occasion, when Jesus’s disciples asked whose sin had been the cause of the man’s blindness, Jesus defended both the man and his parents, saying the blindness had not been caused by sin.  How did Jesus know these things? Who can come up to a complete stranger, look inside their heart, and know the state of their soul? Who can heal the lame and blind? Only God! This is one of the many ways in which we know that Jesus was more than just a compassionate healer and teacher. Jesus was God in the flesh!

God incarnate came to earth, not simply to live as an example for us to follow. He came to earth to die for us so that he can save us. However, after he saves us (just as Jesus saved the lame man), he gives us his example to follow! Jesus lived a sinless life, and he tells us to stop sinning—to die to ourselves and our own ambitions . . . to give up our own agenda for success and let the life of Christ live itself out in us. Furthermore, he adds a warning, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14).Are you struggling with some sin that has disabled you? Have you made an idol out of some person and it’s ruining your life? Or, maybe you thought everything was going to be perfect if you could only have (fill in the blank with anything but God), but you have whatever and it’s still not perfect? In fact, it’s not even “okay.” You’re hooked. You’re addicted. You’re immobilized.

No matter what you’ve done or how lame you’ve become, Jesus can heal you, and he will if you want him to. I met a man at an art festival several years ago who thought there was no hope for him to be saved because he’d divorced his wife some twenty+ years before and married another woman. He was overwhelmed with relief and joy to know that it does not matter what sins we’ve committed in the past. Jesus died in payment for every sin that each of us has committed, and he offers to save us and heal us at any point in our life when we ask. That’s the wonderful news!

The other piece of wonderful news is that Jesus does not condemn us. He doesn’t say: “You sinned!” But, he points us to the future and says, “Sin no more.” How? Well, I have no clue. I can’t look into your heart and tell you anything, because I’m not God. But, Jesus is and he can! Ask him, and he will tell you how to keep from sinning from this point going forward! Once we’ve surrendered our lives to Christ, his Holy Spirit indwells us, and he will lead us into lives of truth, love, and peace if we just ask. So, just ask, and “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:9-14).

P.S.—I just reread this and realized that you might get the impression I am saying that we “can” or “will” never sin after we believe in Jesus. I wish that were true, but it’s not. I have been a Christian for over 50 years, and I still struggle with sin. But, here’s what I think: Jesus is telling us what we should do, and what we should aim for. We should attempt to live pure and holy lives that are free from sin, and we should have as our goal to avoid “every appearance” of evil. Once we have given our lives to Christ, we need to recognize evil for what it is and repent every time we sin. We need to give up any way of life that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and Christ. We need to agree with Christ about what is good and what is evil and pray for the Holy Spirit to help us “turn away from evil and do good; let him [that’s us!] seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV). Sound more possible?

 

Sacred Fire (inspired by A.J. Sherrill)

Last night, Alan and I celebrated our 46th anniversary! Such a joy!! This morning, as I was reflecting back over our marriage, it occurred to me that when I prepared my last blog (on how Christ can heal us), I hadn’t really made any particular connection to the every day struggles we all face, but I listened to two messages Sunday night that were so good, and so appropriate, that I want to share the gist of them with you. Throughout the course of my life, the two hardest conscious struggles (probably more significant unconscious challenges) relate to self control in what I eat and what I think about. I’ve always felt very “normal” (if such a thing exists), so my guess is that these almost come as standard weaknesses on most human models coming off the assembly line. Can you identify?

A.J. Sherrill (a local pastor) taught a two-part series called “The Soul of Sexuality.” I’ll put links at the end and highly recommend them as healthy soul food to help you manage your appetites (maybe not as much for food, however).  In turn, A. J. gives much of the credit for his teaching to Richard Rohr, a little monk from Albuquerque, with whom he spent a week some years ago, trying to understand life. You may think a monk wouldn’t be the best resource for understanding how to cope with our innate sex drive, but think again. Any monk who has actually been able to keep his vow of celibacy has spent his entire adult life trying to figure out how to handle his own drives.

Even as a married woman, dealing with sexual impulses has been challenging! I remember when I was mid-forties, asking my spiritual mentor (who was about 80), when men stopped making passes at women. She nodded thoughtfully and replied, “Oh, maybe sometime between 75 and 80.” I was shocked and felt doomed! Would I never be free from unwanted male advances? Men I love, just like I love women. But, men challenging my commitment to my marriage, I do not appreciate. It’s not funny, and it’s not fun. Worst case scenario, it can actually be tempting, which was terrifying when I was 40 and my husband was way too busy to pay attention to me.

So, I used to complain to the Lord, “Why did you make us sexual beings, anyway? Why couldn’t you have made us without sexual passion???” One of the most helpful resources I found was Living with Your Passions, by Erwin W. Lutzer. (It came out in 1983 but is still available on Amazon.) After reading Lutzer’s book, I came to a somewhat grumbly surrender to the thought that God must have known what he was doing and determined to learn how to live a moral life despite my immoral heart, but I wasn’t thrilled about the challenge.

After studying the Song of Solomon for ten years, I decided that God intends our chief love to be spiritual, and that as we’re drawn into a love relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we find joy and strength that surpasses human love . . . an energy and beauty that causes those around to marvel: “What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies” (Song of Solomon 6:13: the dance between our soul and the Trinity [my interpretation]).

A.J. took it a step further, and I love what he had to say. The “why” of sexuality is about “beauty, mystery, and meaning . . . Your sexuality is an echo of a larger cosmic mystery unfolding, which is the story of Christ and the Church.” “God is not a stoic force; he’s a passionate lover.” (I’m putting everything in quotation marks but they may not be perfect; I was typing as fast as I could!) God is Israel’s husband (Isaiah 34; Jeremiah 31) and in the New Testament, we learn that we, the Church, are the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5). From John 7 and 15, we can infer that our marriage to Christ is designed to flow into the stream of life and bear spiritual children and spiritual fruit. In John 14 we are offered the Kiddushim—the covenant of love—and now we’re just waiting for the Huppah, when Jesus comes back to receive his bride (us!).

“Information in the head is not the same as intimacy in the heart. We were made for intimacy.” “Ya had” means to throw out your hands. Let go! Let God dwell in us so much that through us He will produce fruit! Hebrews 12—throw off all false lovers and fix our eyes on our true lover, Jesus. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating our love covenant with Christ. He wants us to understand how much we’re loved and feast with him. He has never forgotten us or forsaken us, even though we have failed him and had other lovers and idols. Come and feast with him. Let him heal you!

The first message dealt with vertical love; the second message with horizontal.  A.J. offered three scripts for how sex is handled in our culture: Erotic play, Intimate connection, and Covenental Promise. He offered some excellent quotes thinking through the value and power of sexual energy (a couple of which I’ll write out for  you below), and he ended with an invitation to reach a “higher altitude” for viewing. “Sexuality is the best instrument for learning self-control There are times when offering yourself is a gift and when withholding yourself is a gift.” If you’re in a relationship right now, he suggested that you “Talk with your partner about what you want without finger pointing, but by offering your longings, not your complaints. Complaints create emotional distance, but longings are redemptive. You’ve trusted God with your soul. Will you trust him with your body?”

“A healthy sexuality is the single most powerful vehicle there is to lead us to  selflessness and joy, just as unhealthy sexuality helps constellate selfishness and unhappiness as does nothing else . . . Sex is responsible for most of the ecstasies that occur on the planet, but is also responsible for lots of murders and suicides. It is the most powerful of all fires, the best of all fires, the most dangerous of all fires, and the fire which, ultimately, lies at the base of everything, including the spiritual life.” —Ronald Rolheiser

“The fire of sex is so powerful, so precious, so close to the heart and soul of a person, and so godly, that it either gives life or it takes it away. Despite our culture’s protests, it is not casual and can never be casual.” —Rolheiser

So, in light of Jesus healing the lame man—and offering to heal us too!— if you’re restless or unhappy with your sex life (or lack thereof), this is a great time to let Jesus heal your wounded heart! Consider watching the two messages (which together are shorter than a movie!):

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-1

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-2

I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Some Timely Tips for Doing Life with Your Adult Children

Do you (like me) find yourself wondering what you did wrong when you hear what one or another of  your adult children is thinking or doing? As would be obvious to all who are living through the honor of interacting with adult children (but perhaps not a no-brainer to young people): It’s actually a lot harder than it looks to be good parents to grown offspring, even really, really admirable grown offspring, like mine. Alan’s being the medical director of maybe the world’s largest Christian psychiatric hospital hasn’t really made us professionals either.

However, as we’ve been floundering our way through this stage of life, we came across a great resource that has significantly encouraged us, so I want to recommend it to you! We read it to each other while on our Southern Caribbean cruise these past two weeks, celebrating our 46th anniversary. Ever since, we’ve been ending our daily prayers for our kids with this mantra: “God, we release our children to your loving care and tender mercies” (from page 115).

Doing Life with Your Adult Children walks readers through the various cultural mindsets of the different generations (all five of them) sharing Planet Earth at this time, reminding us that “our job as parents is not to agree with all the values of our children’s culture but to have a greater understanding of how culture influences the way they think and act.” This has been a game changer for us. Up until now, we’ve wondered why our kids didn’t just naturally take on our values. Surprise! Faith in the Bible, love of country and family . . . even gender identity based on DNA is no longer the norm. Of kids brought up in church, some 60% will drift away in college, making lifestyle choices that would curl the hair of our parents and make our grandparents roll over in their graves.

Not to fear! Hold on. Keep being faithful to what you believe is right and good. More than half of our wandering children will come back to their roots and faith. Meanwhile, author Jim Burns offers all sorts of helpful insights into what’s going on, what the culture is teaching, and how to love your kids and grand kids in ways they can actually feel no matter what they believe. One of many principles (similar to Dr. Gary Smalley’s advice on how to treasure your spouse) is to treat your children and grandchildren with AWE: affection, warmth, and encouragement. Amen? No matter what your young adult is thinking or doing, every “child” (grown ones too) needs big doses of real, genuine, open-hearted love, the way our heavenly Father lavishes his love on us.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t set boundaries or allow our kids to struggle with the consequences of their choices. The book also gives some helpful suggestions for how to engage your “failure to launch” young adults and help them mature into responsible, independent adults. There are also tips on how to become better in-laws (such as “wear beige” . . . “keep your mouth shut and the welcome mat out”) and how to interact with your grandchildren in ways that will leave a legacy of love for them.

From the very beginning—which describes a scenario I’ll bet every couple has experienced—to Chapter 1: “You’re Fired!” (PRINCIPLE 1: YOUR ROLE AS THE PARENT MUST CHANGE) to the very end, laced with ideas for how to party down with your grand kids, the book kept us engaged and learning!

Interested? I actually had an advance copy, but the book is coming out March 26, 2019 and can be pre-ordered from Zondervan or Amazon online. If you buy it, I hope you appreciate it as much as we have! Parenting parents is a tough job!  🙂

Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).

Free Dental Day Coming Up Tomorrow (February 8, 2019): Need Help? Want to Volunteer?

Tooth pain hurts!  That’s why our son, Daniel
(who’s the dental director at Exalta Health here in Grand Rapids),  has been facilitating free dental days several times a year for the past few years. Each Free Dental Day, there’s been a wonderful group of very capable volunteers
who donate their time and expertise, which is good, because there’s also a long line of patients waiting outside
well before it’s light in order to get dental care that day.

(Many patients are uncomfortable having their pictures taken, so I couldn’t take any photos of the line, and fewer than half the patients in the overflowing waiting room agreed to let me take their picture, so the majority of them were actually behind me in the hallway when I took this photo.)

           Exalta at its heart is motivated by the love of Christ.  It’s a charitable outreach to those who are uninsured
and find it nigh unto impossible to pay for health care. This includes many young adults who no longer have parental support, as well as people of all ages who are out of work, homeless, or have low-paying jobs. Exalta also reaches out to refugees and has a large Hispanic-speaking population. They’ve been blessed by many Hispanic Christians who’ve taken an interest in the work, including this couple, who met at Exalta and are now newly married! This year our volunteer coordinator had the bright idea to do a press release, so a camera man  and a news reporter from Fox News visited  to interview patients and let Grand Rapids know what’s happening here. Not long afterward, Channel 13 News came to interview Daniel,and do a story on Exalta! Of course, the publicity was exciting, but that’s not why anybody helped. We helped because it’s good to help! We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus to love others wherever we go. Still, I hope the exposure in the news media will make the public aware of the opportunity both for service and to serve. In addition to care that can be provided by dentists and hygienists, an oral surgeon was available for some of the more challenging work. Exalta has a panoramic X-ray machine to help with diagnostics, and patients can receive free eye screenings or counseling services if wanted.Caring for many patients in a timely manner takes tight coordination, including people who can translate, triage, and guide the patients. Just keeping packets of instruments sterile is a HUGE job
(which I know from trying to do it sometimes). It’s tricky trying to find just what you need when you need it, and faithfully restocking the drawers is a challenging labor of love! As photographer, I got to appreciate first-hand the beehive of activity . . . and the sense of satisfaction that comes from a job well done. So, if you need some dental care, or if you have time to volunteer, call Exalta Health in Grand Rapids and get plugged in
for their next free dental day, which is tomorrow, February 8th, 2019. If you can’t help tomorrow but are interested, they need volunteers with or without medical training every week day, so please call!
https://www.exaltahealth.org/

(All photos taken during Exalta’s last free dental day, November 2, 2017.)