I walked away from my faith once.

I told God that everyone was always trying to tell me what to do.  That I only had control over what I believed in.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  I really did say that to Him.  And then I gave some speech about how I was going to exercise what little control I had and say ‘no’.

Of course I was young.

I would have had to be.

Anybody with experience and maturity knows that control and decision-making, the process of disbelief and unbelief, and even believing, look quite a bit different than the scenario I created.

My choice meant that I would not pray.  I would not read my Bible.

This wound up being very hard for me to do.

I found myself feeling very lonely.

I was, am, an introvert by nature.  In those days I feared and avoided people.  As a result, God was my best friend.  He was always there, and I was always talking to Him.

At that point I had been reading my Bible every morning and every evening for years.  Literally.  When I was twelve, I was filled with a sense of spirituality and promised God that I would read my Bible at the start of every day, and at the end of it, until death joined us in Heaven.  I was sitting in the hall at my aunt’s house.  I was a little awed at myself for the commitment I had made, and a little impressed too.  I think I had secretly been wanting to make a promise to God for a while, ever since I heard something, or maybe read something, about how serious and intense it is when we make a promise to God.  Heaven forbid you break a promise to your Creator.  I thought the whole idea was romantic and terrifying.  I was so intimidated and wanted to not be intimidated.  I wanted to be the saint that would make a promise.  And keep it.

I didn’t keep that promise.  In it’s entirety.  On the other hand, I spent the next 15 years in the Word, twice a day, just about every day.  To suddenly not be doing it, on purpose, actually hurt.

I think I was even fiending.

By day three I caved.

I had the emptiness of a few days without my God.

If I really was in control over what I believed, than I was choosing Him.

My spirit had been unable to detach from His.  I needed to speak to Him in the hallways of my school, in the dampness of my basement bedroom.  I had to begin each day with Words of encouragement and end each one with Words of solace.

I hated the choice I had made to walk away from Him.  The only person I was hurting was myself.

I haven’t looked back since.

Thank you, God, SO MUCH, for taking me back.

Okay.  Let’s do this.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'”.

I’m hearing all of the questions and accusations that are flying at me, and I feel like I’m trying to dodge them all like I’m on a middle school playground and a wall of my peers are trying to pelt me with kick balls, except that it actually feels like they are trying to kill me, that they might even want to kill me.  Did anyone else ever feel like that playing dodgeball?  I don’t think it was a very fun game at all…

Let’s hone in on the very first words that God speaks in Chapter 2 verse 16, “You are free…”.

Enter free will.

Technically free will was ingrained in mankind when we were created, but this is where we are seeing it for the first time.  Free will.  What is it?  The dictionary says that it is the ability to act at one’s own discretion.  According to the Bible, we could say that free will is the ability to make choices that may or may not align with God’s will.  We were created in His image, and in our innermost beings we understand what is His will, both by the helping power of the Holy Spirit, and by the guiding light of the scriptures.  We must decide if we want to align ourselves to that, to reach for the outstretched hand of the Spirit or to ignore it, to shine the truth into our lives or cover it up.  Perhaps most beautifully, I heard it said that we cannot make someone love us.  No matter how much we may love them, we cannot make them feel the same way in return.  And what a glorious, amazing, wonderful thing it is when they actually come to love us in a genuine and real way.  There is nothing like it.  If we become so narrow-minded as to say that humankind did not ask to be created, we can only look to when we establish our own families.  We wanted a family because we know that a family can be the greatest thing on earth.  Those babies never asked to be born, but they were/are.  So now we must also set standards to be kept.  Since the fact of choices is inescapable, we must help our little ones, and ourselves, to make the very best ones, the ones that will be the most beneficial.

Please do not be mistaken.  God did not put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to be a temptation.  Essentially, it is a symbol.  It was a real tree, but Adam and Eve knew that they had free will.  It was a reality that needed to be addressed.  If it wasn’t a tree, it would have been something else.  Choices are always there, tree or no tree.  We need to stop being mad at Adam and Eve.  Someone, somewhere in time, would have committed the first sin.  It would have been you.  It would have been me.  Up until this point we see God knowing what is good, over and over and over.  God knows what is good.  We can enjoy this good by trusting Him and obeying Him.  This isn’t as bad as it sounds.  It’s really not.  This brings us to the second half of the first sentence.

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.”

Obeying God doesn’t mean we can’t do something, it means we can do SO MUCH.  Instead of focusing on one tree it’s not a good idea to eat from (uh oh, there’s that word good again), let’s focus on the entire garden that we are free to take part in.  An entire garden!  Who cares about one tree when we have an entire garden?  But we do, don’t we?  Somehow, we always seem to care about the one tree.  I would like to challenge you to stop it.  Just stop it.  When you feel that rising up inside of you, that ‘what if’ and that ‘but but but’, just stop it.  Just say, “Stop it.”  Because the story isn’t over yet.

When we decide that God doesn’t know what is good we must decide what is good on our own, and that actually doesn’t work, because only God knows what is good.  From the beginning, He made only what is good.  Not okay, not bad, not average, but good.  It was all ALREADY good.  And then came humankind, with free will.  Would they say, yes, this is good.  It is good for me. Or would they say, wait, I want something else.  The creation of woman is the absolute pique of God’s goodness, and bestowing that on us.  Same as God made man for Himself, He made woman for man.  If Adam were alone there would be no one to share with.  And sharing is a joy.  That’s what this is about, people!  Not taking!  It’s about sharing!

God is eternal, and He was willing to share that with us.  When man decides what is good for himself, he sacrifices that longevity.  In every sense of the word.  Even though God said that if they were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die, it didn’t mean that they would drop dead in an instant.  It meant that they would move into their own autonomy, which would be outside of God’s original plan, which included eternity.  Death, decay, destruction, those were the alternative.  Man didn’t really know that, but they were willing to take the chance.

It seems that we are always willing to take the chance.

I am so thankful that God sent His Son for us.  He didn’t want to give up on an eternity with us.  I cannot even think of a life without my own children, and if you don’t have children you can close your eyes and think of someone that you could not give up.  You would do anything to keep them in your life.  It hurts and it hurts and it hurts to think of that.  If you aren’t able to picture someone, than you can have God, Elohim.  You really can.  He provided the way for us, because He feels that way about us.  He made us, and He wants us.  We just have to choose if we want Him.  I do, and I choose Him, and there is not a single day that I regret it.  Don’t get me wrong, I am constantly practicing my free will, but I am so grateful for the Son, who made it possible that I can still enjoy fellowship and the prospect of eternity in Heaven with my Creator.

If you are anything like me, you probably get embarrassed when you think about Adam and Eve being naked, but not just that, they weren’t embarrassed!  They weren’t even trying to hide from each other.  They weren’t trying to play it cool, posted up behind some bushes.  They weren’t even exasperated, like, “Man, I’m still naked?  I’m so tired of being naked!  It’s so uncomfortable.  It gets awkward after a while, man.” They were never like, “Oh my goodness, Adam, I wish you didn’t have to see the way my thighs jiggle all the time.”  Or, “Hey, Eve, you aren’t comparing me to that animal over there, are you?”  This is a really important bit of foreshadowing, because later, after sin had entered the world, Adam and Eve were suddenly ashamed to be naked.  This wasn’t the Emperor’s New Clothes here, where they thought they were prancing around in a cute sundress and a comfy pair of shorts and breezy v-neck, only to realize to the horrifying screech of a record player that they weren’t.  It’s not like a naked dream where they suddenly stopped dead in their tracks, looked around, and thought, “What on earth am I doing?”, henceforth trying to hide until they could find a way to get covered.  Unfortunately, there were no neighbors with clothes hanging on the line to dry.  These people realized that they were naked under God’s judgement.  They realized that their good wasn’t actually good at all.  The fruit doesn’t open their eyes to goodness and enjoyment after all.  The coveted knowledge that was to make them like God actually caused them to see that they weren’t even like each other, and they didn’t like it.

They wanted to hide.

It seems that no matter how hard we try, we can never hide from the truth.

 

 

 

No one is quite sure where the garden of Eden was located. Also, it seems that the garden was not so much called Eden, but rather it was inside a region known as Eden. Supposedly we could find an area that might be Eden, since the Bible tells us that it was in the ‘east’, and how a river flowed from it and then broke off into four other rivers. It would seem that we could trace these rivers back to a point of origin, but Luther made the tremendous observation that the pathways of said rivers, and all other topography, would have been obliterated by Noah’s flood. As it stands, only two of the rivers can be identified with any type of certainty, and it seems that the exact location of Eden will forever remain a mystery. I think there is a reason for this, although we are not given one in the Scriptures. It seems to me that a physical place on this physical land mass where human beings were in actual, physical communion with God, in perfection, would forever be unreachable.

We are introduced to this secret garden in the second chapter of Genesis. Take a moment to remember that the first chapter of Genesis was given as a guideline to Creation, and the second chapter further expounds on it.

In verse 4 we see, for the first, the name ‘LORD God’. Before this God was known as ‘Elohim’, the God, the Creator, the author of everything from before to forevermore.  Now we are introduced to this concept of LORD, which is YHWH in Hebrew, more familiarly known as Yahweh (the Hebrew language has no vowels), which means “the God Who is with You”.  Together they stand for “The God Who is with you is the true God”.  We don’t see this name designation before mankind was been created, because there was no one to say it to.  This term is used very rarely, and it always reflects a special relationship between God and man.  Immediately after the creation of humans, there is an exclusive and delicious covenant between them and their Maker, between us and ours, who is still the same, LORD God.

There is a lot in these early chapters of Genesis that is off-putting to people.  I would encourage us all to take a step back and evaluate the source of our frustration, and to be aware that if we cannot take seriously, and even literally, these troublesome and conflicting passages than we are setting ourselves up for failure throughout the rest of the Bible.  Even these chapters in Genesis are meant to be taken as they are, and it is our duty to dig deeper, to fill in the gaps, and find out how they apply to the rest of Scripture, and even to our present-day lives.  After all, it IS just the beginning…

I have heard it said that already, in the second chapter of Genesis, the Bible contradicts itself.  I have even heard an entire sermon preached on this assumption, and the point of the sermon was to say that the Bible contradicts itself, so don’t focus on the doctrine of the Bible, instead focus on the need to make people feel loved.  I understand that the strongest point this pastor was trying to make was that Bible-beating doesn’t do any good, and I would agree with that.  However, discrediting the Word of God discredits the need for the Word, which is the need for Christ, Who is love.  Without a faith in the Bible, we will not be able to love the way that we need to.

Instead of taking the passages at face value, which say in Chapter 1 that animals were created before man, and then man was created, and in Chapter 2 that God made the animals and then brought them to the man, who was presumably created first in order to have something brought to him, we go back to what we know about the Bible.  First, it is not a Western document, and chronology to the authors is never really a priority.  Second, English is a translation.  Third, that we need to put on our thinking caps when reading the Bible.

When verse 19 says that God formed the beasts of the earth and then brought them to man, it is merely a reiteration.  The actual tense of the verb ‘formed’ (some translations say ‘had formed’) is pluperfect, which is the past of the past.  We see pluperfect tenses all throughout these beginning chapters, and it’s the same thing as adding ‘had’.  Pluperfect is the same thing as past perfect in modern day English, and it refers to something that occurred earlier than the time being mentioned.  God HAD formed the beast of the earth, and THEN He brought them to man to be named.

I have heard it said that the Creation week could not have been a week at all, because there is no way that man could have named all the animals in an actual 24 hour period (he hadn’t even learned how to talk!) forget about being created himself, and there is no way that his sleep and the creation of Eve could have been squeezed in there.  This is all just grasping at straws.  If God could even create in the beginning, why couldn’t it be in the blink of an eye?  If man was made in His likeness, than He was created with cognitive and even creative capabilities.  It isn’t impossible at all for man to name the animals over the span of a few hours: a dog is a dog is a dog, and a horse is a horse of course, we don’t have to assume that every breed was signified, especially since most of them have been developed over time.  As for Adam being put to sleep, since God was putting Him to sleep it is more than plausable that Adam didn’t have lay there tossing and turning, waiting to drop off, and it probably only took a few minutes to take a rib and fashion the woman.  What is one woman after the Creation of the entire universe?

The creation of woman is probably one of my favorite parts in the Bible.  The Bible doesn’t indicate that Adam was lonely, and longed for a wife.  It merely says that God established that it was not ‘good’ for man to be alone, as He was not alone in the Trinity, and as all living creatures were given their own kind.  We aren’t meant to think that God had an ‘aha’ moment, like He realized He had forgotten something.  Once again, we see our Creator paving the way, showing us that He understands what is good, and that only He can give it to us.  We see that Adam and Eve are unlike the other animals and creatures when Adam first sees his new wife, and he cries out, “Bone of my bone!  Flesh of my flesh!”  It is a beautiful union, and every living being has its own place.

Verse 15 of Genesis 2 tells us that man had been put in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it”.  Verse 8 already established that man had been put in the garden, so what is the emphasis on working it and keeping it?  Although it seems simple enough, I wanted to say a little something about this because it is so special.  Our English translation loses the uniqueness of what has happened with the word ‘put’.  In verse 8 ‘put’ is a simple verb.  God put man in the garden.  However, in verse 15 we see the same ‘put’ that was used in reference to the rest and safety from God putting His people in a secure place, like the Promised Land (Deut. 12:10), and we see a sort of dedication as in Moses putting aside manna to be carried in the ark of the convenant, with which to remember God’s faithfulness (Ex. 16:33-34).  We can establish that man was put in the garden to rest in the safety of God’s presence, where he can fellowship with his Creator.  To ‘work it’ and to ‘keep it’ should actually be read as ‘to worship’ and ‘to obey’.  This becomes clearer in the next verse, when we see the very first command…

Ah, the command.

Which means we have to start talking about the tree.

The tree, the tree, the tree.

And by ‘tree’ I should actually be saying ‘trees’, but we always seem to forget about the first one.  The tree of life.  Instead, we focus on the second one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Let’s all take a moment to catch our breath.  Let’s focus on not getting flustered and up in arms.  Let’s reflect on the amazing week of Creation, and how we were created in God’s likeness.  How He made us to be in communion with Him, and how no other living creatures are like mankind.  That is very amazing.  No matter how much we may like our dogs, they don’t hold a candle to our actual best friends.

 

 

Before the beginning there was God.

This is the first thing to believe, before any of it can be believed afterward.  And everything that comes afterward is what makes it possible to believe the first thing.

And then came the beginning.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

This beginning is not the beginning of time, but the beginning of a time period.  Time has always existed because God has, and time would cease to exist if God ceased to exist.  There was eternity, and then there was the beginning.  Since the ancient Hebrew language is complex and elusive, it has been said that ‘the beginning’ refers to a separate period of time before everything else began, or it has been interpreted that it was the actual beginning and everything happened as it says in English.  In a way, I like the thought of it being the time before time.  It isn’t millions of years, because nothing is happening; it is a prelude to prove a point.  It says that God created the heavens and the earth, but that He was not yet ready to do His work within them.  The pause here seems to say that the heavens and the earth were created, but if He hadn’t done what He did next (made them inhabitable, and full of His creation), there would be no story.

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

When we step outside of everything that this verse could mean, and actually explore what it does mean, we find a lot of purpose, and care, and symbolism.  It wasn’t a time of chaos, of boiling particles and natural disaster.  It was the earth, like it says it was, but it was formless and void, or empty.  We know that the earth is not actually formless, and it certainly isn’t empty, and so we take what the phrase means in Hebrew, and we find that it merely means ‘uninhabitable’.

Intrigued?  Because this is intriguing.

So there sat the earth, prepared in the beginning, and the Spirit of God was there.

The earth is God’s divine blessing.  He took the time to prepare it for us, for humankind, and He safeguarded that gift by a call to obedience.  There is a purpose to how it was pointed out that the earth was formless and void, uninhabitable.  It all could have just started at the beginning of Creation week, but we can also take a moment to really appreciate what the author took time to enunciate: what came first.  A beginning with an end in mind, and from the first verse of the Bible every other verse follows.  They thread through one another and the beauty and complexity is breathtaking.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  There is a Creator, and He is God, Elohim, not just “a god”, but the God, and to Him be the honor and glory and power, for being the Creator, and creating the earth for us, and creating us.  From this phrase we also know that the last things will be like the first things (Isa. 65:17).  The origin of the world was so deliberate.

God set up the universe.  He had not yet made it good.  The first chapter of the Bible repeatedly shows that God knows what is good for humankind, and that He will also provide it.  It was part of the design, since the beginning.

We already know that we cannot read the Bible like a piece of modern, Western literature.  It is an ancient manuscript, and the author of Genesis had a specific purpose for writing the way he/she did.  The first chapter of Genesis establishes the respect that God, who created the universe, is the only God.  He deserves our respect because He created even us.  The first chapter is a set-up for the second chapter, and the second chapter goes in and expands on certain parts of the first chapter.  There aren’t loopholes in Genesis, and there isn’t room for speculation.  The words that were chosen were chosen for a reason, and we must read them as they were meant to be read.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

At this point, a common question is asked: Did this mean that there was light before there was the sun?  Since the Bible says that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the 4th day?  Some say that the correct interpretation of the heavens implies “sun, moon, and stars”.  You don’t have the heavens without the heavenly bodies.  However, those heavenly bodies were ‘formless and void’.  They were not yet useful.  God had to make them good.  This seems like a very valid standpoint.  However, that would leave Creation day number 4 with God not actually creating anything.  Perhaps the most solid belief is that God did indeed create light and darkness without the heavenly bodies.  After all, He is God, and this would not be hard for Him, or even impossible.  It could be that He did not want the sun to be revered too highly.  It could be that He was introducing the fact that He is the light of the world, and when we get to Heaven the glory of His presence will be the only light that we will need to see by (Rev. 21-23).

God calls the light and darkness to their jobs, and He creates the day.  He establishes that there is evening and morning, and He calls it the first day.  Before He does anything else, He establishes time.  He specifically chooses to set up a system that the creatures of the earth will operate by.  Since He made the day before anything else we have no reason to believe that it was a different day than the ones that came later.  Days were not longer at the beginning of the earth.  If it were so than the earth would not spin as it should, and life would not exist, and the entire Creation story would have never been written.  The author wants us to know by the word he uses for ‘day’ that he is talking about a 24 hour period.  And from the day stems the passing of days, the seasons, and the progress of life on this earth.

He calls it good not because it is ‘good’ by default, since He is God and He made it, but because it is beneficial to humanity.

Now, God can continue, because nothing else He intends to put on the earth would survive without the structure of the day.  A simple 24-hour-period, to be the foundation of all of history.  This is why it is all so beautiful.  Don’t think for a minute that God is not deliberate.  He is so deliberate, and it is to show that He is sovereign.

He goes on to make the sky and the clouds on the second day.

On the third day He gathered the waters together so that dry land could appear, and called them ‘earth’ and ‘seas’.  On the Earth he called the vegetation to grow.  This is different from when He said, “Let there be” and then there was.  Here He is assigning the vegetation to grow up out of the earth, and He is assigning the earth to nourish the vegetation.  It starts the way it was meant to perform.  Nothing changed with the passing of time.  It was meant to be a certain way, and it was made that certain way.  And all of those trees and plants were given seeds of their own kind, and we see that even the plants were meant to produce their own kind.  God called all of this good, and this was the third day.

On the fourth day the Hebrew text reads that God says, “Let the lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day and night”.  In keeping with the theme that God has been standing in as the source of light, we see Him now giving that job to actual ‘bodies': the sun, moon, and the stars.  We see that sun is given to rise and set, and the moon is meant to wax and wane, and with this process the seasons will be established.  The vegetation cannot be fruitful without the process of the seasons, and neither can the animals which were still to come.  The author then says, “And it was so.”  So it was so.  The next verses are purely commentary as they reiterate.  Once again, God saw that this was good, because this would be beneficial.

On the fifth day God filled the waters up with the sea creatures, and He filled the skies with birds.  He assigned them to each other, and He blessed them to be able to multiply and fill the earth with their beauty for all of time.  He called all of this good, and it must have been such a glorious thing to watch the first living creatures roam His wonderful creation, and this was the fifth day.

On day six God created the animals.  The author uses a different ancient word here than the one that was chosen to describe the creation of the vegetation.  Vegetation was produced from the land, but the living creatures were made directly by God.  Life of living being originates from God, and is to be distinguished from the rest of the physical world.  And they were good.

After the creepy crawlies and rolly pollies, God takes a different approach, and instead of saying, “Let there be”, He says, “Let us make.”  Not only that, instead of being created “according to its own kind”, they were made “in [God's] image”.  Not only were they like themselves, there were also like their Creator.  What a bold move on the part of the Creator, to imbibe His characteristics upon a Creation.  It seems that He would want to share something with us, and indeed He did…

“And God blessed them…” (Gen. 1:28a).  No sooner did God create His humans than He blessed them.  He simply couldn’t wait to do it.  He tells them to be fruitful and multiply, and this wasn’t said as a command, but as a blessing.  He goes on to give man ‘dominion’ over everything on the face of the earth, and to reproduce and populate the whole earth, and to enjoy every part and piece of His entire creation.  Not only that, but He says that He has provided food for every kind of living being, in the plants that He took time to create earlier, and so nothing about existing and reproducing has to be hard.  Having dominion over the earth isn’t supposed to be work, He has already taken care of it.  Not only was all of this good, but it was very good, and the sixth day was over.

God rested on day 7 as an example to us.  We were created in His likeness, and from then on what He does we also are supposed to replicate.  Resting is a service given by God to be given back to Him, where we take a break from all of the reproducing and having dominion and enjoying all of the vegetation, to be still and remember what He has done.  He has done everything.  And He did it all for us.  Not only are we to perform an empty display, and offer lip service, we are meant to treat this day as HOLY (Gen. 2:3).  We are meant to reflect on how alike we are to God, and to recognize the goodness that surrounds us.  If He is resting, how much more do we need to?  Taking part in this rest is a willingness to be in His likeness, and it shows our faithfulness to Him.  The rest that He took then, and subsequently gave to us, will also be given in the future to those that are faithful (Ps. 95:11, Heb. 3:11).

Thank God for that.

 

 

Is it really necessary to continue learning (or would it be called re-learning) the same lessons throughout life? It has been so frustrating to me, the thought that I must go up and down the same roads over and over again. What is the point of learning them if we must just learn them again?

Then, I think I figured out that we aren’t re-learning the lessons. That isn’t what happens at all. We learn them the first time, or whenever it is that we are actually able to learn them, sometimes it is many more times later. Then we pass through that season of life. What we learned ceases to apply, and so it probably goes to the back of our minds. It’s like studying for a test, or taking a class. We need what we need to learn, and then we forget it when the class is over. Class is done, it’s time to move on to the next one. We learn something different for the next class, and then we must forget that material in order to take the next class. So on and so forth until we have earned our degree, and we don’t really realize that everything we learned before actually helped us for the following classes. We took bits and pieces from each one to help us get to the ultimate goal.

That seems to be how it actually works. Right now, in my life, I am not actually re-learning a lesson. I am merely going through another time where something I learned previously has to come more to the forefront. I am struggling to remember how it goes, and I am feeling betrayed by life. I am even feeling that God isn’t on my side, and that He has forgotten about me. It was then, in the darkness of that lonely mindset, that I came to understand I was not being tried and tested. I was merely living. Life was happening to me. And a lot of life looks the same, over and over, just a bit different. I didn’t have to look inside of myself and dread digging up old skills, exercising muscles that I hadn’t used in a while. I was going to be tired, and sore, but I didn’t have to be bitter. When I realized that it was not being done ‘to’ me, that it was all just happening, I felt strength instead of weariness. I felt that I could do this [again] because I got through the first time, and there wasn’t actually going to be a finish line (that part will come later). It wasn’t actually about me at all. I just needed to hone those skills, tap into those resources, use them, and not take it personally. Perhaps someone else was learning a lesson, and I just so happened to be stuck in the crosshairs.

Maybe we do have to learn lessons over sometimes. But not all the time. Not every time. I probably will do better some times than others. But it helps tremendously to know that I am not being aimed at. It’s not like I’m the only one standing under the cloud. We are all under the sky, and sometimes it rains, and sometimes it is raining over here but not over there, and I am never the only person getting wet, with a little rain cloud following me around. Sometimes I might run through the rain, splashing, and sometimes I might use the proper equipment to stay dry, and sometimes I might pull over to let the storm pass. I think there is a song somewhere about singing in the rain, and I am not much of a singer, but I imagine singing in the rain would probably make someone a much better singer than they would be on a bright and clear day.

Whatever the case (as a dear friend of mine always says), if this is as hard as my life gets, I guess I’ll take it. Maybe not all the time. But at least today.

I love the Bible.

I really do.

Probably my favorite thing about the Bible is the way it depicts God.  It shows Him to be a warrior for His people, coming with a sword, and an army: He does not take injustice lightly.  He will vanquish His people: and I am one of them!  Can you believe what an amazing feeling that is, knowing that I will be vanquished?  It’s enough to let me surrender my battles, to give Him all those little feelings, and the huge ones too, where I think someone has treated me poorly, or something went terribly wrong.  He can decide.  He is the warrior.  He can vanquish me.

He is a roaring lion.  That simple phrase is so incredibly packed.  Lions generally live in prides, with one male being the dominant leader.  He conquers the uprisings, and maintains order.  He is known to circle the periphery of his pride, keeping an eye out for predators, always on the ready to protect, and He NEVER shirks his duty.  Everyone else works together knowing that He will keep everything as it should be, and they need only do their part.  The sound of His voice clears the countryside for miles.  The image of a roaring lion is truly breathtaking.

But what about when the Bible contradicts itself?

Because it does, right?  I mean, everyone knows that.

Aside from the incredible depiction of God as Sovereign, Mighty, and Creative, the Bible is my favorite book for it’s unwavering reliability.  Not surpsisingly, the Book about a perfect God, a sovereign Being, and an all-knowing Creator, contains no organic contradictions.  Any seeming mistakes are purely man-made, and assumed by man, which is not surprising since men are good at making mistakes, and they are good at pretending like they never do; they are even better at thinking that they should be God.  It has to be the Bible’s problem, right?

I don’t know how many times I have heard people say something about the Bible because that is just what everyone else says about the Bible.  There is no interest in getting an actual answer, it just seems right since it is a popular viewpoint, and when someone doesn’t really want to believe something they will say whatever it takes to make them feel good about the decision they have made.

The Bible doesn’t waste time trying to convince people.  “Believe in me because…”  It lays out the facts, it sings God’s praises, it gives the examples, and the rest is up to us.  It is up to us to pursue the evidence; it is up to us to take the plunge.  More often than not people want to be ‘sold’ on something.  They must be begged, cajoled, convinced.  They need the small print, and a lawyer.  They are afraid of being had, so they try to ‘have’ the would-be ‘haver’.  “I don’t want to look like a fool, so I will say that the Bible is foolish.”  But they won’t do the work themselves.  They need it to be done for them, because if God really wanted them to believe in Him so bad, He would come knock on their door, open His briefcase, and say, “I can offer you these plans for this price, and won’t that be nice?”  God isn’t a traveling salesman.  He is a warrior.  He isn’t on trial; He is a roaring lion.  He doesn’t need you to grade His work, and He doesn’t have security problems.

Many people who call themselves Christians have a hard time accepting the Word of God as complete and concise.  They assume that it is merely a rough draft, a loose kind of guide.  However, a belief in the Bible is the foundation of the entire Christian system.  One cannot claim to believe in God but discredit His very words of instruction and encouragement.  Not everyone believes all of the components about the Bible are true, and a lot people choose to read them and interpret as they will.  Understandably, this method leaves the unbelievers to assume that the material of the Bible is inaccurate and absurd.  Not even it’s own supporters will support it entirely.

People develop contradictions when they fail to read the Bible as it was meant to be read.  An ancient text of Middle-Eastern descent cannot be read as a modern, Western piece of literature.  Sequence was not a priority for the writers of the Bible.  That simply isn’t how authors wrote in that time and location.  Most of the Old Testament was written as a song, because it was sung.  It was written as poetry, not as matter-of-fact, and for some reason that really bothers people.  The Hebrew language is complex and intricate and, lo and behold, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew.  Many people/places/things have different words to describe them in the Hebrew language.

A lot of times, especially in the Old Testament, a verse will represent one situation (God created the earth, and He was pleased with it.), and not too many verses later an opposing idea is depicted (God repented of what He had created, and He was saddened by it).  When the history of the Bible is studied, it is easy to see that fifteen hundred years passed between these two passages.  During that time was what Christians refer to as the fall of man.  God could no longer remain satisfied with His work after that, unless a similar change had taken place in Himself.  He would have had to become okay with imperfection.  And God doesn’t change.

The books of the Bible were written by different authors.   That fact that they say things differently is actually a credit to the Bible.  If everything was too clean it would look like a hoax.  When people get on the witness stand and tell the exact same story, the same way, it is a red flag that they have conspired and concocted.  The Bible is full of the words of God and of good men, as well as the words of Satan and of wicked men.  The phrase, “You shall surely die”, were words spoken by God, where “You shall not die” were words spoken by Satan.  They are contradictory statements, but they are spoken by opposite individuals.  It is important to ask: Who is speaking?  Are they recorded as inspired language, or are they matters of history?  Does the writer endorse, or simply narrate, what has been written?

Each ancient writer chose to arrange their work in their own way.  Some of them were historians, so they elaborated extensively.  A different author could choose to omit or expand to suit his purpose and personality.  They haven’t ‘left anything out’, they merely chose not to use certain information.  If we have to study everything else to learn it, why don’t we also study the Bible?  It is rich with history, and when we start learning the history, the Bible begins to come alive.  Does anyone remember the uncomfortable story of when Jesus sent a legion of demons into a herd of pigs, who then threw themselves off of a cliff?  What an odd and unsavory bit.  How awkward and obnoxious it seems.  If you were to research the location and time period of the story, you would find that the people who lived in that town were pagan, and practiced pig worship.  It is appropriate then to see the demons wanting to go into the pigs, and even more appropriate that the pigs would be destroyed, as Jesus would not spare the demons from torturing a human being only to allow them to be worshiped.  I love learning these things!

It goes without saying that the passing of time was employed differently during the times of the Bible.  If two ancient writers seem to be in disagreement about the time period of a certain event it becomes our responsibility to investigate whether or not they are using the same chronological method.  We don’t get to assume somebody got it wrong somewhere.  Fahrenheit may read 212, and Centigrade reads 100, but we know that they are both saying the same thing.  The Jewish people referred to a year in it’s entirety.  For example,a child born in the last week of an ending year was considered a year old as soon as the new year began, even though only a few days had passed.  (This method is still practiced in certain areas of the East).  The last hour of the day would be seen as the whole day which is why, even though Jesus died on a Friday evening and rose again on a Sunday morning, it is referred to as Him being three days in the tomb (since Friday is considered an entire day, as are Saturday and Sunday).  No discrepancy, only a different method of computation.

I already mentioned that the Hebrew language is difficult and extensive.  Thus, in ancient Arabic, there are 100o different words for the word ‘sword’, 500 for ‘lion’, 200 for ‘serpent’, and so on.  The Hebrew language has at least 50 words to describe a body of water, 12 for ‘darkness’, 23 for ‘wealth’…  Many people had different names (Jacob was also Israel), and a lot of times someone’s name changed after a certain event, and this custom still takes place sometimes in certain cultures.  So when people begin to get excited about how the Bible says that the animals were created before man, but then it says that the animals were created after man, it would be crucial to evaluate the method of how that book was written, and then evaluate the original Hebrew words.  You would find that the contradictory phrase would be verified after the correct explanation of a word.

John Wesley developed a fabulous system for determining if something is ‘of God’.  It consists of four different sources, to be evaulated in order: Scripture, tradition, reason, experience.  It is a fascinating and reliable method.  First and foremost someone must study the Scriptures, and see what they have to say about it.  I once heard a minister preaching on John Wesley’s method, and then use the controversial Creation passage to say that Scripture didn’t say the same thing, so the important thing is not when or how something happened, but that it isn’t important!  Treating people well is what is important.  I agree, treating people well is crucial.  But she approached the Bible as a Western piece of literature, and was able to therefore convince her congregation that since the Scriptures are unstable we shouldn’t be focusing on them, but on how we make other people feel.  This was a sad situation that could have been avoided if she had done what she had been called to do: evaluate the Scriptures.  Instead of defending the handbook of our belief system, she encouraged it to be tossed aside.

There is no denying that the Biblical manuscripts sustained some discrepancies, but these were very much man-made.  Men make mistakes, even scribes.  One ancient figure meaning one thing can look almost identical to a different figure that means something else.   It would have taken an absolute miracle for no copy errors to be made.

Dogmatic prejudice seems to be the largest contributor to the Bible being accused as inaccurate.  Men go on about how the Bible needs to be treated like any other book, but then they treat it as they wouldn’t dare treat another book.  In all fairness, the criticisms are more inconsistent than what they claim to be criticizing.  I think people tend to be hostile towards something they don’t want to believe in, and we will always find a way to disprove something if we want to.

The Bible has awakened intellect inside of us like no other book, and I think that is why God chose, and allowed, to have the Bible recorded in such a way that would encourage us to really learn it.  Jesus Himself spoke in such a way that would test the character and motives of men.  He said, “Unless you eat my flesh, and drink my blood,” because it would be repugnant to someone that was insincere.  Many of His followers chose not to follow Him anymore after He said this, but this was to the benefit of the ministry, since they were choosing not to seek out the meaning of the words.  They were proud and superficial, and could not well serve the Lord.

I have often been skeptical of certain passages in the Bible.  I could go on and on about which ones, and where they are.  Each time that I dug into the troublesome passage and studied it, I grew even more passionate about my beliefs, and fell even more in love with the delicacy and richness it presented me.  I only needed to care about it as much as it claimed to care about me.

The antique Bible has been preserved in such a fashion that far out-weighs any other ancient manuscript.  And that’s saying something.

The Bible is a powerful tool.  Yes, it has been abused, and that is truly heart-breaking.  But when people have chosen to truly follow it and it’s principles we see, all across history, even to this day, revivals, servanthood, miracles, people going to the ends of the earth, feeding of the poor, educating the unreachable, ministering to the dead and dying, fresh water, clean food, life skills, healthy habits…  Compare a society that believes to one that does not.  The result will be staggering.  True following of the Bible cleans the spirit, strengthens the heart, and blesses the person.

 

Life is hard, BUT God is good.

This might be the biggest BUT of all, because life IS hard.  Sometimes we just stop there: Life is hard.  Period.  We need to stop putting periods up.  And, goodness gracious, we really need to stop putting up those exclamation points.  Life is hard for everyone.  We all have hardships.  Sometimes they don’t even begin to compare to the hardships of another, and that’s just the honest and un-beautiful truth.  There are people whose skin is literally peeling off of their bodies because they don’t have enough food, and I still think my life can be hard.  We all lose people, forever, or sometimes for just a little while.  We all lose money, property, the feeling of self-worth…  We all second-guess and double-check.  The instability and uncertainty is hard.

That is a basic fact of life.  It is uncertain.  It just is.  No matter how secure we may feel, no matter what we may possess, or the people we may know, deep down inside we all must admit that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  This can be a truly hopeful thing to stand on, or it can seem like a dreadful curse.  People do some crazy things because they don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  It doesn’t matter how much life experience we pack into today.  It doesn’t matter how free we seem to think we are.  Tomorrow is a different day.  This can instigate people to live selfish lives, or it can encourage them to be selfless.

This is the part that I like: BUT God is good.

Life is hard, because every day changes, because every moment is a secret, BUT God is good.  That part doesn’t change.  There is ultimate security, stability, and certainty in that statement.  I suppose you have to want to believe it for it to be true.  If you don’t want to believe something, it just won’t resonate for you, no matter how obvious it may seem to someone else.  If you don’t want God to be good, you can make Him look however you want Him to look, and He really will look that way to you.  I have definitely known some hardships in my life, for sure they don’t involve malnutrition, and I still know that God is good.

When we say that life is hard, do you know what God says?  “It’s hard for you, BUT it’s not hard for me.”

Oh my goodness.

That phrase took the breath right out of me.  And it just did it again.  I am a small person in a sea of people.  Life swirls around me, catching on other people’s lives, pushing other people’s lives, being pushed by others too.  I am so weak, and so tired.  Sometimes I am just downright pathetic.  That is the blessed time where I have somewhere to go with my pain and frustration and hurt.  I have somewhere to go and drop off my baggage.  Everyone else can choose to do the same: go to God with that bag full of “This is hard, and this, and this…” and drop it off.  Or continue to schlep it around for the rest of your life, and probably beyond.

God is so ridiculously personable.  Our egotistical minds is what makes Him look otherwise.  He reaches out to us every moment of every day.  When I finally decided to try and see what that looked like I saw beauty, and love, and freshness: in my friendships, in nature, in my home.  It didn’t matter if my home burned down tomorrow.  For sure it would hurt.  For sure it would be HARD.  But this home was given to me, and so will the next one.  No worries.  For real.

I heard a tremendous story about a man.  He lost his wife.  He was overcome with pain.  I can’t begin to fathom what the feeling of losing my spouse would be like.  I have lost people, and I have been afraid of losing people.  None of that compares to what I feel when I think of losing my husband.  It could totally happen.  The more time I spend with him, the more irreplaceable he becomes.  How could anyone spend ten, twenty, thirty years with their spouse, lose them, and move on?  This man did.  He lost his wife, and his life looked like ashes.  This is what he said, clinging to a friend, tears soaking his shirt, “I lost my wife, BUT I will not lose my God.”

If the previous phrase took my breath away, that last one just about knocked me over.

What a glorious, glorious prospect.  We can lose anything, anyone, and at anytime.  BUT we don’t have to lose our God.  Life is hard for us, BUT it’s not hard for Him.  Life is hard, BUT God is good: because we can’t lose Him, because it isn’t hard for Him.

That man could have never dreamed that two years later he would be head over heels in love.  He would be a newly wed again and, get this, a stepfather to TEN children!  That same friend who had held him while he was sobbing after the death of his first wife, saw him sitting on the sofa, completely covered by beautiful step-daughters.  Yes, he lost one woman, and he gained many more.  This man knew that life was hard.  BUT he also knew that God is good.  He experienced the hardship; he experienced the goodness.

You can fill in that blank.  “I lost my ____.”  But don’t put the period there.  Choose something better.  “I lost my ______, BUT I will not lose my God.”

God is good.  Notice Him today.  Thank Him today.  ‘Til the end of your days, and the beginning of the next ones, you won’t regret it.  I know that I haven’t, and this hard life of mine has barely gotten going.

 

 

Dear Ones,

Sometimes I think to myself that you cannot possibly teach me more than you already have.  And then you do…

When I stepped into motherhood I simultaneously packed my baggage and embarked on another journey.  These journeys would run parallel for a time, and eventually intersect.  Along the way I would become whole, and real, and eternally grateful for the chance I got to become a better person so that I could be a healthy parent.

I could have never foreseen the intense of amount of pain that I would go through.  I was ripped up, chewed up, and burned to the bone.  Every day I was learning how to dress and clean the wounds, old and new.  I did this because I knew that if I did not there would be infection.  Infesting.  Poisoning.  And eventually: pollution.  More than anything I did not want to pollute my family.  There were parts of me that I needed to access and carve down, recycle and reuse; there was a bonfire inside of me, all day, every day.

My first prayer for you is that you never think you won’t ever need help.  There is always room, and time, for self-improvement.  Every day we should be working on ourselves, from the inside out, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Do not be a person that is chronically against admitting that they can be wrong, or are perhaps suffering, or even that you may need to change.  These people wind up chronically hurting and using the people in their lives, often even losing them.  The earth is constantly going through seasons.  The planets are continuously orbiting and rotating.  The animals are adjusting themselves according to all of this.  Why wouldn’t we?  There are always opportunities in our lives to step back, look at ourselves, evaluate and assess.  I pray that you can take healthy criticism, but mostly that you can criticize yourself in a healthy way.

As I left myself to become someone else, someone better, someone stronger, someone more beautiful, I discovered the intensity of how much Jesus wanted to come through for me.  He wanted to be the same Jesus who put coins in the mouth of a fish, instead of just pulling them out of His pocket.  He wanted to be the same Jesus who not only redeemed the woman caught in adultery, but also told her to go and sin no more.  The same Jesus Who spent His life doing nothing but good, even while people made fun of Him, and targeted Him, and eventually killed Him. 

He showed me that He knew my pain.  His generosity was met with skepticism time and time again.  His grace was mocked.  His mercy was twisted up and used against Him.  His love was accepted and then discarded by His closest friends, and He was taken advantage of by others who claimed to love Him back.

More importantly than knowing my pain, though, He showed me that there was a purpose for it.  That I was actually not supposed to leave this world unmarred, unstained, and unscarred.  He didn’t.  Even after He was resurrected His scars remained.  I never thought of that as significant before.  I just assumed that of course He would bear the marks of His ordeal.  However, His body had been restored.  It didn’t need to maintain those marks.  The Father allowed them to remain as a testament, as a story, to show the purpose.  This is what happens when we lay down our lives for others, for Jesus: and it is beautiful.  Every scar I bear transforms me that much more into the image of Christ.  They are beautiful on Jesus.  They are beautiful on me.    

I am so thankful for that. 

May these truths be true in your lives, dear ones.

The sweetness of surrender leads to the most empowered freedom possible.  I pray that you come to know this.  That you can embrace responsibility for yourself.  This is a two-fold wonderful process.  First, it means that you can experience injustice, but that you don’t need to justify yourself.  That day will come.  The battle has already been won.  Accepting this releases us from all of the pain, the strain, and the stress that we would otherwise incur.  You will spend your whole life waiting to get something back that cannot be returned to you.  That is the core of forgiveness: acknowledging that whoever has wronged you cannot give back what they have taken, and then moving on.  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”  We must accept Christ’s forgiveness on the grounds that we simply cannot repay Him.  Also, we must extend forgiveness in acknowledgement that we cannot be repaid.

Humility is the practice of not always needing to be right, or heard, or understood.  It is no one else’s job to make you feel better, or right, or beautiful. 

Grace is a tricky thing.  It goes hand in hand with forgiveness, truth, and love.  It is the sister of mercy, and the mother of humility.  But grace is not a free pass.  For anyone.  Including yourself.  The Lord extended His grace to us, and we must then choose to conduct ourselves in a grateful manner.  How tragic to take advantage of Grace!  At the same time, don’t let others trick you, even using the name of Jesus, into not keeping boundaries.  As human beings we are flawed and selfish.  Others will often expect you to fill the holes in their lives that they can, and should, be filling on their own. Maintain boundaries, dear ones.  We must openly acknowledge when someone else is treating us in an unhealthy way.

Sometimes the Lord will ask us to extend grace that we think will be impossible to extend.  This is where you must allow Him to bridge the gap.  He knows the hearts of everyone and sometimes, based on what you do not know, He will require you to pursue someone that you hate the thought of pursuing.  Sometimes He will tell you to take a step back.  Same as Jesus’ love is relentless, so must ours also be.  Ask Him to show you what that looks like.  If someone shows a change of heart, we must be ready to receive them.   

All of this has been monumental in my life.  As I have applied what I have learned I have felt the mountains move inside of me.  I cannot move the mountains inside of anyone else, nor do I want to, but by now I literally know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Remember: we cannot expect someone, anyone, to believe that God is love, that Jesus loves them and all of us, if we are not displaying that love. 

This means that we cannot hold nonbelievers to the same standards that we live by.  This makes absolute sense.  Someone who does not embrace the same life choices will not live the same life choices.  This is not the same thing as saying, “To each their own.”  It is crucial that we maintain our integrity.  But that doesn’t mean that we should only interact with people who have the same values.  Choose your closest friends as people who share the same beliefs, and will help you nurture and protect them.  But show love and respect to anyone and everyone, same as Jesus did.  Every last one of us was created in God’s image.  We have an obligation to represent Christ accurately.  We can learn how to do this by studying the Gospels.

Which brings me to a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.  Jesus was the most generous individual.  He donated His entire life to the health and well-being of others.  If we are to be like Him, we must do the same.  Your father and I are always looking for ways to help others: with our time, our resources, our words.  We never say, “We have no money… We are broke…”.  That would be a grievous untruth, and inherently ungrateful.  We have experienced times of financial strain, and times of financial surplus, but we will always have more than most people in the world, and the Lord will always provide.  Trust in Him to fill your needs.  That may not look a certain way, a way that you might want it to, but He can use you in any and all situations.  

Be content.  Be at peace.  Both of these are choices. 

The ultimate way to find fulfillment in this life is to see a need and fill it.  We don’t have to expect to change the world.  Just that one person.  I hope that someone would find you worth it, if you had a need.  So also, I hope that you find others worth it.

I pray wisdom in your relationships.  That you would never be intimidated by peer pressure, and succumb to it.  That you would accept your responsibility, and leave others to accept theirs, and that you would never allow yourself to be manipulated.  This means that I wish you would never be a people-pleaser, allowing yourself to be mistreated to pacify someone else, and that you would never be cold, thinking that someone else is not worth your time.  Don’t give in to the instinct that you must be heard, and that you must be understood.  We can never take back our dealings with others, and may that instigate you to be compassionate and careful.  Don’t say something just to say it, based purely on emotion.  Let your words serve a bigger purpose, and be beneficial to all parties.

I hope that this is how you know me as you grow up.  I was recently reminded that every day that I know Jesus should see me looking more like Him.  I don’t want to become harder, and more set in my ways, the older that I get.  I know now that I do not know everything, or deserve everything.  It is my goal to keep knowing that.  If anything, the older I get the softer I should become, as I will more intimately know the endless possibilities of this world and life. 

I will read this often, dear ones, to be reminded of what I am trying to teach you.  I hope that I can raise you to be honest with me.  To be able to communicate to me if you feel that I am not hearing you, or treating you in a way that is not ministering to you.  I want to be able to love each of you in a way that will reach each of you individually. 

When I tuck you in at night I pray that you will become people of strong character.  This is not a catch-all type of prayer.  It takes great courage to believe in something in this world.  It is so easy to become careless and complacent.  It is much easier to shrug your shoulders and decide you will do what everyone else is doing, or only what you want to do.  Be warned that you can still have a successful and happy life, even if you are not holding onto convictions.  But you will not have joy, and you will not have peace, and eventually you will not even realize that you are missing these things, and you will accept that living half of the life you could be living is okay.  This is not how we were meant to go along.  We were meant to live in favor with God and man.

There is nothing wrong with having personal convictions.  People will try to make you think this.  We don’t need to validate others, or be validated in return.  It is good to listen to others, and it is always right to be respectful, and we must never judge others.  But we must also be able to say, “I disagree.  I have an opinion, and it is different than yours.”  Or even, “Don’t sell out on yourself, or on God.”  I say again, it takes great courage to believe in something in this world.  It takes strong character not to make excuses for the people we are close to. 

There are always answers.  I have spent a long time studying the Bible, and getting to know Jesus.  I pray that I spend every day doing so.  Before you let someone try and shame you into turning from your beliefs, before you find the wrong answers in the wrong places, please hear me: there are always answers.  The Bible is always right.  I have invested my life, my heart and soul, in pursuit of the evidence, and the evidence is overwhelming.  Pursue the evidence.

Why do I say pursue the evidence?  Because your heart and soul and mind will not always alignInstead of re-writing your life every time this happens, take is as it comes and cling to the truth.  Everything around us is constantly changing.  With millions of people on the planet, how could it not?  We are just one person, constantly interacting with others just as insecure as we are; it is foolishness to think that things must look a certain way, or that we must feel a certain way.  It is then that we must cling to the truth all the harder, and go back to the evidence.

Never base your life on your feelings.  It leads to desperation, and then to selfishness.  Feelings change constantly, because our stimuli is constantly changing.  Don’t hold tight to those feelings, as if they must be protected because they are yours.  Accept that our feelings are not always reality, regardless of how real they feel inside of us.  There is great release in being able to feel something and then say, “I do not accept that for my life.” 

The most hurtful people I have known are those who demanded to be treated a certain way, who sought to be heard first and agreed with, who deigned to prove points in their relationships, and who tried to rewrite natural laws to better accommodate themselves. 

Seek to be strong; seek to be healthy.

That was the greatest journey I ever embarked on.  To be a strong, healthy person because I realized that I was going to be setting the tone for your lives.  We only get one life.  We only get one chance.

What are you choosing to do with yours?

There is always a choice.  We don’t get free passes.  Excuses don’t cover us: our age, our stage, our phase, our right… Instead of focusing on others, on what they are or aren’t doing, focus on you.  Invest in you.

Always, LOVE.

 

 

 

 

 

“…In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

This is the greatest news I have ever read; the most hopeful message I have ever heard.

It is here that Jesus acknowledges the different life we will all lead: different than the one He intended for each and every one of us.  That life is troublesome.  That people are troublemakers.  That situations, and feelings, are troubling.  To all of that, He says, “I know.”  He once experienced the beauty of the perfection that He had originally designed.  He then experienced mankind’s design, and how trouble had become part of that

He acknowledges the upset of order.  The finality of the statement shows that this is how it has to be right now.  If He were to remove the trouble He would removing the troublemakers, and then it would all be over.  No more chances: for anyone to respond to Him; for anyone to do anything good; for anyone to do anything selfless.  In His grace, even in His mercy, He doesn’t want that.  Neither should we.  All day, every day, is a second chance…for everyone, everywhere.

 What an encourager the Lord is.  The best part about this passage is that He begins verse 33 before the part about ‘trouble’.  He starts by saying, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace…” 

 All throughout His Word our Heavenly Father is encouraging us.  Verses that talk about undying love, unprecedented protection, and ultimate freedom.  He wants us to be optimistic.  He is.  He wants us to be light of heart.  Sure, He knows that this world went wrong.  He sent His Son to redeem it.  He was, and still is, willing to be a part of it, even the pain.  Anyone who rejects God and His enormous goodness on loosely based accusations of injustice, invalidity, you-name-it, have nowhere to go with that pain, their pain.

He extended an offer of adoption to me, and I accepted, and regardless of how someone may treat me, or what butterfly effect I am caught up in, I can always take heart.  There are so many orphans out there, choosing to be orphans… I choose not to be one of them.

 He doesn’t tell me that He will take away my pain.  That He will make it so I never experience pain again.  We both know that is impossible.  There is no point in trying to fight something that is everything.  Stubbornness will get me nowhere.  He tells me to come to Him with my burdens, and I am happy to do so.  He tells me that He will always help me bear the weight.  I cannot pass up an offer like that.  I look all around me, and see and feel the world surrounding me, and I know that I could not possibly bear it on my own.  He tells me that I can have joy in everything, and I have finally discovered what that truly means.  It doesn’t mean that everything will be ‘a good time’.  While enjoyment is not possible in everything, joy certainly is.  The pain I have felt drives me to the feet of my Savior with a passion and intensity that takes my breath away, and there is nothing more wonderful than needing Him.  Without that pain I would not seek Him, I would not be desperate for Him to remove the weight of it before it crushes me down and I suffocate underneath it, heavy and alone.  When I feel the pressure of my emotions, the straining of my soul, I begin the race; a race against myself and everyone else.  I will always cross the finish line, and even if I don’t cross it in this life I know I will cross it in the next, because He promises that the war is already won.  It is only my job to persevere, because it is promised that I cannot lose.  And from every time that I do cross the finish line, and the tears stop flowing because there is a little less need for them, I absolutely know this to be true, and I am so joyful.  I am so hopeful for that final finish line.   

 As necessary as the trouble is, it is just as necessary to counter it with Hope and Endurance.  Don’t forget to tell your face!  I heard that explained in the most accurate way possible: sometimes Christians communicate with the right words but, unfortunately, they give off a negative vibe that speaks much louder.  The excitement of Victory doesn’t shine in their eyes, and the joy of Hope doesn’t resonate with a smile.  Those expressions should come with knowing the Lord.

Don’t forget to tell your face!

Don’t forget to tell your fellow believers’ faces!

I plagiarize here, but this person wrote it best: Are you willing to let someone critique your vibe so you can be the best you?  And if it’s hard to have your vibe critiqued, it’s got to be that much more challenging to have someone critique our faces…

The simple fact is that believing in Jesus IS hope! It is hard for me to be hopeful.  I tend towards skepticism.  I become overwhelmed by negativity when I see the magnitude of it around me.  I have felt that it is impossible to function in this [troublesome] world.  That my beautiful Christianity must be guarded from the ugliness of everything else. 

 But then I learned that I had bought into a lie.

You see: He has overcome the world.

 The battle is already won.

We linger because the Lord is merciful.  I knew that I needed to be taking my energy of paranoia and investing it in a much better way.

 I needed to accept that my troubles were not a personal vendetta against me; that they weren’t the very hand of God, or His blind eye.  They were merely the result of troubling people, a broken system, and my own bad choices.

 I needed to take God at His Word and begin each day by laying those troubles at His feet, and exchanging them for a burden of hope.  I find that this one is much easier to carry.  Who wouldn’t rather carry the same weight of incense, as opposed to the same weight of …something that smells the opposite?  You get my drift.  Some people really have no idea how very badly they smell.

But what does Hope look like?

To me, it meant accepting that maybe politicians were dictating serious decisions about my life, and my freedom, but that they didn’t dictate my day to day.  I learned that I could pay taxes while undeserving parties received that money, or that I could always follow the rules while people all around me break every last one them, endangering themselves and others, never being held accountable, but such things needn’t determine the quality of my life.  My husband could lose his job time and time again, and we could even lose our house, but it wasn’t going to be forever.  Nothing is forever. 

He has overcome the world!

I don’t need to raise my children thinking that they must be segregated.  Indeed, I must be raising them equipped to be amongst their peers, at all ages and stages of life.  I don’t want them to think that they are too precious, too angelic, to go out into this world, and that this world is polluted by heathens, instead of simply other human beings that are people just like them, all originating from the same place, and hopefully going to the same place in the end.  They need to be able to hear swear words, take a punch, look strangers in the eye…and say, “Jesus loves you.”  It is called the armor of God for a reason.  If Jesus Christ bore scars, marks on His physical body from being banged up in this troublesome world, than we should be blessed enough to also receive our wounds.

And receive them with Grace.

And counter with Hope. 

There is a thing that happens when Good is missing, and we generally call it Bad.

Bad always results in suffering, either indirect or direct, personal or projected.  And where would we be without suffering?

I think for most people this question is obsolete.  It is hard enough to just get past the word: ‘suffering’.  It is a loaded word, pregnant with hallucinogenic properties.  When we hear it, when we read it, when we think about it, there is an involuntary reaction that manifests in many different ways.   Stoicism, anger, bitterness, resolution, rebellion, sympathy… The reaction, though, is always one of mourning.  It is instant and tangible, and the spark is lit that fuels the emotion.  We immediately think of our own suffering.  We immediately think of the suffering that has fallen onto our loved ones, which in turn caused us to suffer on their behalf.  We think of Big suffering, such as the Holocaust and the Crusades.  We think of Personal suffering, such as our failed relationships, our illnesses and diseases, our sense of loss at the death of someone we were close to.  We think of how we have suffered at the hands of others, and how needless that was, and what an impact it has made on our lives.  We think of Scary suffering, which is all over the news and can happen to anyone, and which triggers a sub-suffering due to the anxiety: the ministrations of a serial killer, the school shootings, accidents as the result of negligence.

Standing alone, suffering is the ultimate injustice.  It is the truest agony.  It is the blackest hole.

I think we do not realize, though, that suffering is never alone.  If it were than it would not be suffering.  It would merely be Life; it would be total reality.  As it stands, suffering walks hand in hand with Hope; for many it is the conception of Faith (and for just as many it is the deterioration of it).  It is the precursor to Peace.  It is the forger of Love.  It is the recognition of Goodness, and it is the backbone of Compassion.

If we take the reverse journey: would we have compassion without suffering?  If we did not see the pain in someone’s eyes, if we did not watch strangers crying in their cars, if it was not depicted so dramatically in movies, would we even care at all?  I think we would continue about our daily lives with very little reason to interact on a deeper level.  Instead, we reach out to others when we are hurting; we expect them to console us, to feel it with us, to care.  And all of that is instinctual.  We must train ourselves, or be trained, to react differently.  The most regrettable thing is when there are those of us who have never experienced the caring.   If only every human being had at least one other human being to be all of these things to them…  Alas, without that one person, relationships remain two-dimensional.

If we did not suffer we would not recognize good things.  Sometimes that recognition can be out-and-out jealousy.  When we have those good things, when we are through the suffering, maybe they are not so good as we imagined they would be, or maybe they are the sweetest reward.

In everything there is balance.  That is the very law of nature, and nothing can be done about it.  We either fall deeper in love with people when we are suffering, or vice versa.  Ties are formed when the raw wounds are soothed and healed by another, and we see the power of what it means to love when someone stands by our sides at our most ugly, at our most wretched, and they help us to put ourselves back together again.  Without that suffering, which we should know by now is inevitable (why are people still so surprised when it comes?), there would not be any need for the ties.  There wouldn’t be any need for anything, really.

There would be no respect for peace at all if there was no suffering.  You might argue that naivety is peace, because there has never been any suffering, but I counter that naivety is its most basic definition:  it is simplicity, and nothing more.  To be naïve is to be inexperienced, and it is no secret that a human being must become subject to experiences in order to have life.  Peace is the sweet cloud on the other side of the opposite spectrum, and that is what makes it so delicious, and so seemingly unattainable.

Let us not forget faith, which is such a touchy subject these days.  People become so uptight when the word is used, but it doesn’t even need to be religious.  Jesus did not invent the word ‘faith’.  It is a perfect word to describe one’s belief in Him, but Faith and Jesus are not synonymous, such as Music and Rock Star are not synonymous.  You can have one without the other.  Faith is merely a confidence, it is a belief that something is true without proof (please note that I use the word Proof, and not the word Evidence, which are also not synonymous).  It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it takes to be a believer in some religion, and that is just the honest depiction of the literal words.  I am sure any atheist would be outraged at this, and I am sure many religious believers would be indignant.  But you must believe that there is no God in order to call oneself an atheist, and that belief is based on the fact that there is no Proof.  To believe that there is a God an individual is willing to rely on the Evidence.  In association with suffering: the road of suffering always leads to decisions, and decision-making takes faith.  You can have faith that you are not a victim, or you can choose to believe that you are.  Either way is a life course, and you are making the decision to go down it.  Sometimes that faith is rooted in religion, as suffering opens our eyes to our infallibility, our vulnerability, our absolute mortality.  Sometimes that faith is completely self-reliant, and we believe that we are the only correct and trustworthy being.

Perhaps, most frighteningly, suffering is what really brings us face to face with the fact that we have no control.  You can argue the contrary, and I will allow that we actually have more control than we might think, but the truth is that we have control over ourselves and only ourselves, which is actually not the smallest control, as people tend to think, but indeed the largest.  Let us come out of the need to go global: what is one person’s control against billions?  Instead, we look at our own little worlds, and the people we come into contact with daily.  The control that we have to smile at the slow cashier, instead of hurting their feelings by being rude.  The amount of suffering that we have the capacity to inflict is unfathomable.  It jumps from person to person to person until, finally, the whole world is infected, and not just immediately, but for generations.  We have effect on people’s lives.  Only, the hard part is that we cannot control how others interact with us, and everyone else.  We can only control our reactions, and know that it will make a positive difference in the end.  It is so much better to endure the suffering than to inflict it.  It really is.   This is why respect is so important, why love is so crucial, and compassion so essential.  Strangely, some people spend their entire lives in denial that other human beings truly exist alongside them.  Or, even more horrifying, they just don’t care.

Hence, the suffering.

The compassion, the love, the peace, the goodness, the faith, the hope.

So what about hope?  If human beings, in essence, have only self-control, the most powerful and capable creatures on earth, brilliant enough to develop systems that connect every single person on the planet, rich enough to bend and mold the very earth surrounding us, and the water surrounding the earth, if these creatures have such limited control, what actually is Hope?  Hope is beauty, and it is married to Desire, and the offspring is Creativity.  Are you beginning to see that everything, even the good, is connected to suffering?

I am not a natural born optimist.  I have never been an optimist, and I always expect that optimism to me will be like peroxide to a wound.  I do not like the roller-coaster of optimism, and at times in my life I have seen hope as a great and grave weakness.  Even now, it is hard for me to decide to take action, to take control of my own personal sphere, and to hope.  What power is in hope!  It reminds me that my body is broken, and that my mind is unsafe, but that I can still get out of bed and contribute good things to my life, and good things to the lives of those that I come into contact with.  That is all I can ask; it is all I can hope for.

Three hundred sixty degrees has brought us back to suffering, and what it really means, what it is really good for, and how it pertains to God.  I think the most expected and readily applied question in regards to this topic is: why is there suffering?  And rightly so.  It is natural to ask this question, or else perhaps we do not really have an acknowledgement of the condition.

Every human being is designed for a purpose, and not everyone is willing to fulfill that purpose.  Not everyone is willing to accept that they make mistakes.  But it really does all go back to God.  He created the earth and gave man dominion.  Man decided he wanted to be like God, instead of being satisfied that he was created in God’s image.  He wanted more control than he was created to handle, and disorder came into effect.

For some reason, it is easier to get hung up on the flimsy argument of why man made a drastic choice, and whether or not God allowed the temptation and if so how could He, and that you could not expect the man to do anything differently since he didn’t know any better, and overall just how unfair it all is.  There is genuine rage at the injustice of God being omniscient, able to know everything, and how He still allowed things to progress as they did.  Why didn’t He just design it a different way?  The question causes people to turn their backs on God, to scoff at religion, to call the belief foolish and cracked.  I hasten to encourage us to remember that we are not God.  For some of us, this realization will be a relief, and the recitation of it will allow us to continue on in our lives in a more natural order, peaceful in the simple fact that the weight of the world is not on our shoulders.  For some of us, it will only fuel the fire.  These people apparently want that burden.  The real problem is not about whether or not God knows, the problem lies in the fact that we, human beings, do not know.  We just don’t.  We can go before Him for our guidance, we can study His Word for directions, and we can mingle with others of common belief to maintain clarity.  This was part of the design, and it cannot be rewritten.  Or, we can do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, and assume that the best has been done, the most effort has been given, and that all has no choice but to be well.

 Perhaps you have reached a level of acceptance that man made a mistake (and not God).  This is only the beginning of everything that came next, the most wonderful thing that ever happened.  And this is why I love God, and no other deity could ever measure up: He loved us so much that He wanted to save us.  No other higher power of any other belief system chose to save humankind.  Sure, they pose many options of how you can reach maturity by what you do with your life, but they did not decide to take the burden upon themselves.  They did not care about what we experience in our lives, and how much it just absolutely hurts sometimes.  They have left us to our own devices.  Not God, not His Son.  This is why Jesus Christ is awesome, and this proves His love for us.

Man chose suffering, and so suffering is on this earth.  But God designed a way to alleviate all suffering.  He understands that we still suffer while we are here, and He offers the solace that He takes our suffering into account, and that one day we will be justified, and He will bring everything to its full and natural order.  He reminds us that He suffered too, more than any other being because He bore the suffering weight of the entire world, and we bear only that of one person.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can see that the largest percentage of suffering occurs at the hands of other human beings.  This would be called “the missing good”, and it is less handsomely known as ‘sin’.  When good is missing, we allow the alternative to dictate our lives, and the largest cancer of these is selfishness.  From selfishness all fallacies are bred, and they feed on each other.  It would seem that, aside from natural disasters, disaster of all kinds is man-made.  Hunger and poverty are in direct descent of selfishness, and even now it could be eradicated in a miniscule span of time.  The problem lies in the fact that people have become quite comfortable, and have forgotten that sacrifice is to be pursued.  Sacrifice on behalf of others should be desired.  There are enough people with enough resources to relieve the pain that so many people endure every single day.  And yet the pain is not relieved.  Surely, that can not be blamed on God, for that is a choice that we each make every single day of our lives.  To sacrifice, or not.  Human trafficking:  by men, for men.  Abuse: by men, out of uncontrollable urges and unchecked delusions.  We decide every word that we say, and that word could make a positive impact, or it could cause suffering.

 Yes, there are diseases and death.  This is the most unfortunate part of the whole thing.  Death was never supposed to be.  Disease was not in the plan.  Both made their appearance upon invitation by man, and since we are descendants of men, we remain the recipients of such hazards.  Surely, there are accidents.  Sadly, we must endure a design that was not original, and is thus very, very flawed.

 I urge you not to rush to your next question:  why doesn’t God just end it all?  Undoubtedly, that will be glorious, and the concept is magnificent.  But we mustn’t allow ourselves to be naïve or, even worse, ignorant.  If God were to step in and replace the missing good, time would cease.  The cessation of time means the cessation of life and death as we know it.  The cessation of life and death means that every being will be reunited with whom they have chosen: the Good or the Bad.  This is it.  That is all there is to it.  The fact that the world continues as we know it is a mercy on behalf of God.  At any moment He could sweep away the pain and suffering, but to do that would be to sweep away the cause of the pain and suffering, and that is us, each and every one.  By allowing us to maintain our existence, He is allowing us a few more moments to realize the missing good in our lives.  He is giving us the opportunity to bring to light the missing good to others, and this only by taking example of His Son, who lived as a human being to be the perfect example.

A vast and heavy existence stretches between the span our lives.  As time passes, as the missing good grows larger and larger, the link that binds us all as humans is becoming more and more corroded.  Before long, we will be making decisions based on what the animals do, if we are not already there: how can I fill my own needs?  How can I ensure my own survival?  How can I make sure that nobody takes what is mine?  A meager and narrow existence that is.  The animal world must not be allowed to meld with that of humankind, or the suffering will become very great indeed.

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