What’s being hidden?

Oh my goodness, what a question! The paradox here is that so much is being hidden we can’t even recognize what it is that is being concealed!

But we have to start somewhere so let’s start with a clue from the world of literature. Every epic saga contains a protagonist and an antagonist. The antagonist, who is clever, deceitful, manipulative, and enticing is typically engaged in battle against the protagonist. After many failed attempts at directly assaulting the protagonist, the antagonist will modify his methods. If he can’t hurt the protagonist, then he will hurt those who the protagonist loves.

Well, my dear readers, this is the point at which we can begin our investigation in exposing what is being hidden. For the book that exposes this epic saga is the Bible. In the Bible the epic battle between good and evil or God, the protagonist, and Satan, the antagonist, is disclosed. Stands to reason then Satan’s first plan of attack would be to conceal the truths of Scripture. Why?

The further removed humanity is from God and His plans for them, the more room Satan has to work. By being unaware of the Truth revealed in the Bible, mankind will discard the existence of God. Therefore, when belief in God is discarded, who’s going to believe in the existence of Satan?

Deception and manipulation are his primary tools to destroy individuals and thus in turn hurt God. For mankind is not Satan’s main target. God is! He hurts God by hiding the Truth from individuals and making them unaware of what is Truth.

So what about those who have been somewhat exposed to the Truths in the Bible? What is Satan’s line of attack with them? Keep them confused about who God, Jesus, Jesus’s death on the cross to pay for our sins, and the Holy Spirit is. All is hidden, if Satan can distance us from God’s word.

So what does Satan want to hide from those of us who are believers?

Well, mainly the Truth contained in the Bible. For the more familiar we are with God’s Truth, the less likely Satan will be able to hide Truth. And as believers, who have had the Truth unveiled, we understand that the more time we spend in God’s word and in prayer, the stronger we will become. We will gain insight into what is a lie and what is Truth. We will know the Truth and Satan’s attempts to hide it from us will utterly fail.

VOICES!

Watching my country rushing headlong into chaos is disturbing. Maybe a bit scary? Add noticing how the church, individual Christians; not organizations, travels a path so compromising it can hardly be recognized as Christian, is even more disturbing. Something needs to change, right? But where do we start? We start by identifying our inner voices. (There’s more than one, you know. Thoughts are the threshold into our minds.

Examine this with me:

First, we entertain a thought. That thought will generate certain related feelings. Those feelings will then fashion and shape our behavior.   Psychologists say that if behavior is to be changed, then the flow must be interrupted, either at the initial thought or at the feeling point.

So, it’s all about the voice we listen to.

Let’s start with those in the world who follow a voice devoid of God’s input.

People following such a voice, embrace actions void of clear boundaries of right and wrong. Our culture tells these individuals, that to be true too oneself is the path to follow. Even if that means rejecting what use to be true, or if it means we must redefine truth, or reconstruct truth. 

Therefore, the thoughts swimming around in these individuals’ heads is their guiding voice. Initially, it probably is quite heady to throw off everything that has encumbered them (in their opinion) and do whatever they want whenever they want. If they desire to call wrong right then they give themselves the freedom to do so. They are their own boss (god?) now. Horribly, their freedom is a false freedom. They think they are liberated but when reality dawns they find themselves in a bondage defined by the enemy of their soul. And for some, it’s too late!

Now let’s consider those who would call themselves Christian-like. 

The voices swimming around in their heads are often contradictory. There’s the voice from today’s culture, the voice of self, and the voice of right and wrong. (The source of right and wrong thoughts may or may not be influenced by God’s truth). Therefore, which ever voice they give most attention to speaks the loudest, and is the one they follow. The problem here is that they would not be able to tell you for sure if they were true believers of God. They don’t know God’s truth well enough to say for sure.

For instance, say they are facing a choice about an action they desire to take. They run it by the world and the world says go for it. They run it by their self-centered desires and there seems to be some hesitancy. Why? Because the voice of right and wrong says, “This is wrong.” Then self gets on the microphone and says, “Look, maybe this use to be wrong, but times change. There are extenuating circumstances now. Besides, if I’m going to be true to myself, then I should do this.” So the voice of right and wrong grows undistinguishable and is no longer the guiding voice. However, though all but buried, the voice of right and wrong has not been silenced completely, if they are truly God’s child. My concern here is for those who are being deceived by the wrong voice!

So what about the voice of those who identify as Christians?

Guess what, we hear three voices as well. We call it, the voice of God, the voice of our flesh, and the voice of the world. The difference is that while God’s spirit is the prevailing voice in a believer’s mind, the voice of our flesh, and the world are in constant competition with God’s voice. Therefore, by connecting daily with God through prayer and His word, we keep the microphone of God’s voice turned up, drowning out the deceptive and destructive voices of the world and self-centered thinkings.

Not the gift that was expected…

EXPECTED GIFTS

Has that ever happened to you? I am in the midst of a learning experience that is transforming how I perceive the gifts God is giving me. The gift I was expecting has not arrived and apparently is not going to. I have spent days trying to reconcile myself to this realization. As time passes, God has to drag me by my heels on this journey that I’m coming (slowly) to realize has been intended to reshape and mold a new image of what I perceive as God’s gift. (I don’t always cooperate like I should!) The gift I find myself struggling to receive is vastly different from the gift I was expecting.

The gift of faith, the gift of patience, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of mastering how to not fret, the gift of resting in my LORD, the gift of having God’s perspective on the situation, the gift of trusting God to provide what I need when I need it, the gift of perseverance in doing things God’s way, the gift of learning how to focus on other’s needs over my own, the gift of learning not to judge, the gift of peace.

During Christmas my mind ponders what it must have been like for the Jewish people to receive the gift of the Messiah. Just think with me for a minute, It had been hundreds of years since their Savior had been prophesied. And over the span of that time, perhaps their expectations of their Messiah was shaped more by what they wanted to see rather than what the Bible revealed.

The Bible foretold of coming King as in Jeremiah 23:5

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. ESV

And Micah 5:2 Described a ruler

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.ESV

Isaiah 9:7 Foretold of a time of unending peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. ESV

The Jewish people it seems were always under oppression; from without and as well as from within. It must have been hard to hold on to the hope that someday things would be better for them. I feel verses that described their Messiah as a poor and suffering servant, like the following verses in Isaiah, would attract less of their attention.

Isaiah 53:7 AND Isaiah 53:3

UNEXPECTED GIFT

Time and oppression, must have created a longing for their Messiah to come and set everything right for His people. They would be all too willing to join in the fight for that victory. I think I can understand why it was so difficult for many to picture that a baby, born in a lowly manger, to a virgin no less, was their conquering ruler, king, Messiah!

 

Not the gift they, or we, could imagine but a gift that far exceeded any of their, or our, expectations.

The Gift of Serving…

While caring for elderly parents, life gets put on somewhat of a hold for the caregivers. With their parent’s passing, a caregiver may feel a sense of release from the demanding requirements of caregiving as life returns to a more normal pace. Yet, all of this mixed in with feelings of venturing into life without that parent’s sustaining presence can be a rough and challenging road. 

Mother was an anchor for me. Caring for her opened a volume of opportunities that affirmed my faith in God. Though there were some really tough moments, especially toward the end, with every situation, I gained a closer understanding of what it meant to serve God. For through the years He taught me that in serving my mom, I was serving Him. To be honest, I failed more times than I care to admit. So let’s just say, over time I grew in awareness of what God was expecting from me as I cared for Mother. And that’s important. 

Our first Thanksgiving without Mother and now with Christmas approaching presents a void to be dealt with. Everywhere I look I am reminded of her. I stand on my front porch and crowning the nearby hill stands the house that she lived and died in. The place where I said my final goodbye. And all throughout my house and yard, are physical reminders of her loving care. Her life and the impact she had on mine, is now a store of memories. But I’m learning it is those very reflections that will fill the void . 

As I sort through all the abundance of memories, I have so much to be grateful for. For something beautiful happened in those final days that will continue to be my focus and sustain me. 

I have watched as my children and grandchildren spent time with their grandmother and great grandmother. I listened as my children taught their children about what honoring Granma looked like and meant. The impressions they made took their source from what God had to say about honoring our mother and our father. 

They learned that it wasn’t always convenient or easy to care for a parent. They were taught that sacrifices had to be made to their choices of how to use their time and in making their schedules. And all along they were bolstered by the earlier memories of Grandmother’s spunky and loving ways in caring for them. I could not be more grateful that my children and grandchildren were able to form a perspective of caring that was shaped by what they learned as family pulled together to take care of Granma. 

And as we gather for the holidays, those memories are a sustaining source of thankfulness and joy. His promise that one day we will be reunited because we have accepted God’s gift of Jesus, replenishes me daily. 

Because God has overcome this world, we are the recipients of gifts more valuable than anything we could possibly find under our Christmas tree. And for me, this particular lessons on showing my love through serving those I love is a gift I pray I will continue to unwrap. 

A Most Unusual Birthday

Author’s Note: A few years ago, A Most Unusual Birthday, was published in a collection of Christmas stories by Essence Publishing. With a few minor changes, I am posting it here. I hope you will enjoy this slant on celebrating Christ’s birthday.

By Janet Lane

Bobby trembled with excitement! Today was his birthday! For days, he had anticipated the celebration his family would make of his special day.  He especially looked forward to the birthday tradition he and his three older sisters had of having their own way all day. 

If Bobby wanted to have his sisters wait on him hand and foot, or get them to do his chores, he could get away with it on this one day only. Bobby knew he had to be reasonable when he made a demand, though–his sister’s birthdays would roll around in a few months, and if he made them do anything that would warrant a payback, he would definitely suffer when his sisters next celebrated their birthdays!

Bobby had been planning what he would get his sisters to do for him. Cleaning his room was at the top of the list, as that was a chore he wasn’t particularly fond of. As a matter of fact, Bobby had several chores in mind that he was most willing to turn over to his sisters for a day.

However, this birthday was proving to be very different from any he’d ever celebrated with his family before. For instance, his mother started preparing for it earlier than usual–a whole month in advance. Bobby watched, with confusion and curiosity, as she busily decorated almost every room in their house. She strategically placed “Happy Birthday” banners throughout the house. She even put a banner on their front porch and added lights!

Bobby’s dad was behaving just as strangely as his mom. Where he found them, Bobby didn’t know, but his dad had bought several CDs all about birthdays, and was playing them in his house, in his truck, in Mom’s car–anywhere there was a CD player. In the evenings after supper, the family gathered around the DVD player to watch videos all about–you guessed it–birthday celebrations.

Well, the day of his birthday finally arrived. Bobby comforted himself with the thought that all the strange happenings leading up to his birthday would soon make sense. He sniffed the air for the familiar aroma of the breakfast pancakes Mom always fixed on the morning of her children’s birthdays. He strained for the sound of his family’s footsteps and muffled giggles, as they ascended the stairs to wake him. Though he was wide awake, he customarily feigned sleepiness, to encourage the efforts of his family to awaken him with their boisterous rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song. Mom, predictably, would capture these moments on her phone’s camera to preserve every moment of the celebration.

Arriving in the kitchen, Bobby would expect to find on his plate a tall stock of pancakes decorated with a single, lighted candle. He would make a wish, blow out the candle, and open just one of his birthday gifts. Later, there would be a festive birthday party where he would open the rest of his presents. 

Usually, his grandparents joined them around the table to enjoy a dinner of Bobby’s favorite foods and a delightfully decorated birthday cake. And Bobby knew that Mom would not fail to hang the birthday flag in his honor from the front porch, so that all who passed their house would know someone within was celebrating a birthday.

Bobby forced himself to lay quiet and still, with his eyes closed, waiting for the familiar birthday sounds to begin. But nothing happened! Curiosity drove him out of his bed, in search of an explanation. After all, the preparations for his birthday had been very unusual, and Bobby figured his family had planned an unusual celebration for his special day, as well.

But Bobby was not at all prepared for what he saw when he turned the corner and entered the doorway of the living room. There his mom, dad, and his three sisters were surrounded by opened presents. They were still in their pajamas. Mom, of course, was videoing the whole thing.

Bobby, unable to contain himself another moment, rushed to the middle of the room. With bitter tears, he pleaded, “What is going on here? I don’t understand! Why are you opening presents? It’s my birthday! Where are mygifts?”

As Bobby lay sobbing in a crumpled heap on the floor, his family gathered around him and began singing, “Happy Birthday.” Bobby placed his hands over his ears, trying to shut out the painful insensitivity of his family’s singing. Then amid all this confusion, he heard his youngest sister, Rachel, say, “Wake up, Bobby, wake up! It’s your birthday, Silly! Wake up!”

Next, he thought he heard his oldest sister, Dorie, suggest, “Let’s sing the birthday song again, only louder. Maybe that will wake him up.”

Kathy, his middle sister, responded to Dorie’s suggestion by pouncing on her little brother, as he lay crumpled in a heap on his bed. Dorie and Rachel joined forces with Kathy, and Mom–of course–didn’t miss getting a moment of this family fund on video!

As Dad gathered his sleepy son into his arms, Bobby realized he had been dreaming–no, he’d had a nightmare! Then Bobby heard the welcomed and familiar words of his father. “Bobby, wake up son. It’s your birthday! Mom has your pancake breakfast waiting for you, and everyone is ready for you to blow out your candle!”

Bobby rubbed his tearful, sleepy eyes as he gave each member of his family an enthusiastic and grateful bear hug. What a tremendous relief! He had not been left out of his own birthday celebrations after all!

May this story serve as a gentle reminder to remain sensitive to our Savior,

whose birthday we honor, and not be guilty of leaving Christ out of his own

birthday celebration.

Thanks for things I was not so thankful for!

Thanksgiving is upon us. And when we stop to ponder what we are thankful for, all sorts of reasons come to mind: family, friends, our Country, our jobs, our church, our provisions, food, shelter, clothing, our military, God’s beautiful creation. And that’s just scratching the surface!

But I want to focus on something just as wonderful, but perhaps not so obvious. How about all those hard times in our lives? Those times when we experienced rejection, humiliation, abandonment, pain, suffering, betrayal, disappointment, How on earth, we may ask, could we possibly be thankful for these?

I recall a time in my life when I encountered a time of huge disappointment and betrayal. It proved to be a pivotal point in my life. I had made a major decision that apparently many of my community did not agree with. It sent ripples of negative gossip throughout. Even affecting my home-life. For weeks I endured the fallout.

Yet, after a time of several conversations, but more importantly time spent with God in His word and prayer, I arrived at the following conclusions. The turmoil I battled with was due to the fact that some key people of my community opposed my decision. Being the people pleaser that I was, their disapproval was hard to accept. But then a friend reminded me that when I seek to please God, there are always going to be those who would not agree with me. His advice was a game changer for me.

That whole ordeal taught me some much needed and powerful life lessons. God tenderly brought me to the understanding that I was to seek to please Him, not people. By choosing to please God, not man, in this trial, I learned that I could hear from God and act on His guidance whether others agreed with me or not. God grew my faith and I became wiser for having walked this difficult path.

Because of the light God shed onto my life in that instance, I found that my gratitude to God over rode any bitterness I may have felt towards those who had talked against me. It was a lesson I needed to learn, so it took a hard thing to teach it to me. The best reward was that I harbored no ill feelings toward those who had disagreed with me.

Years later, the ones that had instigated the event, came to me asking forgiveness. With assurance, I told them I had already forgiven them. I shared with them how God had put me in a classroom that taught me how to stand on my own two feet spiritually and receive a word from God. That pleasing Him was far more important and necessary than pleasing others.

Being a people pleaser entrapped me. But this ordeal set me free of that. I have thanked God time and again for opening my eyes to my weakness back then.

I have found that it is often those hard things we experience in life that teach us the greatest lessons. And for that we can always be thankful.

Desiring a better country…

October 19, 2022 as Mother lay in her own bed, in her own home, with family keeping vigil, she drew her final breath. She left her earthly country home for her heavenly country home. Her life here may have spanned a hundred years, but it was never designed to be her permanent home. It was never meant to be. Her earthly life was the proving ground for the home God was preparing for her in heaven.

As a young adult she gained citizenship into her heavenly country by accepting personally Christ’s death and resurrection. Then lived out her life guided by the precepts of her destined heavenly home. Expectedly, the growing up years of my siblings and I were flavored with these principles.

Therefore, the celebration of her transition to her new country home played out against that background. A background that colored all that we experienced in the present with the shades of God’s love and plans for us individually. As she loved her family unconditionally, she represented the unconditional love of God for His children. While we messed up on more than one occasion, all of us knew that Mother’s love and forgiveness was as constant as the sun rising. It’s the same with God.

During Mother’s home going and celebration of life afterwards, reminders of God’s tender care of those He loved continued to unfold. The fulfillment of Mother’s longing to live in her own house in her declining years and to transition from there to her heavenly home was, I believe, God’s gift to her faithfulness. God’s finishing touch was in holding back the predicted rain and gifting us with the splendor of a exquisite autumn day as we said our final goodbye’s at the cemetery.

Family bonding grew even stronger as we came together to celebrate her life. It was family that conducted the funeral. So we all were intricately woven. That’s God’s plan is it not, to bring family together in such times to share the strength God has given each of us. And in doing so, we are able to go out from that place stronger than when we came. Maybe even finally to have the realization to lay aside those choices that have distracted us and prevented us from honoring God with our lives. Or even blocked our way to understanding what it meant to have a personal relationship with God.

Mother’s home going reminded all of us that life in this earthly country is not permanent. The day WILL come when we will experience the outcome of our personal choices here on earth. It’s unavoidable. Desire a better country, as Mother did.

Reframing a frame of mind…

Caretaking is a demanding task. And I think the caretaking of the elderly is beyond demanding. Some caretakers, however, seem to have something within them that equips them to push beyond the exacting requirements of the task. I can’t really claim to be one of those.

Taking care of my 100 year old mother (who still lives in her house, very near mine), while also helping my husband take care of his 96 year old mother (who lives with us) has stretched us to our limits. I told my children the other day that I feel like Bilbo Baggins when he said, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Yep, he nailed it.

The other day, I was talking to my oldest daughter and she brought up the term of reframing. We were talking about my frame of mind as I was attempting to fulfill the requirements of caring for my mother and mother in law. My frame of mind tends to focus more on the demands made of me concerning the restrictions to my daily life, and the emotional wear and tear such tasks create.

For the last 4 years, I have prayed and sought God’s strength. His mandate to honor my mother weighed heavy on my heart. Especially, when my words and or attitudes seem to contradict such instruction. But though there were too many days when I failed, I continued to reach out to God for His grace and mercy. My desire was to be a good Christian daughter to my mother. She had taken good care of me as I was growing up and now it was my turn to do the same for her.

Have you noticed my focus, though? Yep, I was at the center of it.

Interesting to me how God introduced the concept of reframing then orchestrated an occasion that revealed what my focus should be. I was talking to the sweet lady who stays with my mom in the evenings. She was sharing with me some very attentive things she had done for my mom that morning. I wanted so much to say something that revealed the depth of my appreciation. Then I believe God gave me this response, “Thank you for being Jesus to my mom.”

I carried that comment with me all day. It became increasingly clear that whatever I did for my mom in the process of caring for her, would be Jesus loving and caring for her through me. I had my reframe! Now my focus was Jesus and carrying out His will as I cared for my mom.

Just putting a different frame around the caretaking task, drew my focus off myself and onto Jesus. Whew, what a relief! What peace! Sad it took me so long to grasp the concept.

What does it mean to think like a Christian, or not?

Who should I listen to?

Before becoming a Christian, our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors were ruled by our personal desires. The aim of such desires is to fulfill thoughts centered on self, not God. Such thoughts and desires are heavily influenced by society. And if we allow today’s society to define what is good (instead of God’s word) then we enter a world darkened by the absence of God’s truth. As a result, our self-centered thinking sets the course of our lives, not God’s truth. So, if God’s truth is not our ‘go to’ authority on what is good for us, then what is?

The authority of inner feelings is now hailed as the authority of the day.(Back in the 60’s when the ideology of the day was “if it feels good do it” is nothing more than an update but with a wider following today on that same ideology) Better yet, if society endorses our feelings then we can feel free to express those feelings. And guess what, those thoughts will reinforce the idea that this is truly who we are! Back in the day, we called it rebellion. Today we call it expressive individualism.

The problem with this is that if an unchanging absolute authority does not define truth for us, then truth becomes something that is in a state of flux. What we determine as truth and what we reject as not being truth today, cannot be counted on to be the same tomorrow!

In contrast, upon becoming a Christian, our desire to please only ourselves, is put aside for the desire to please God. That voice inside our head telling us what is right and what is wrong, finds its source in the word of God. A Word that is absolute and unchanging.

Yet, as Christian we know that as long as we are alive, we now have two voices that compete for control of our thoughts. (Keep in mind that thoughts determines attitudes, and attitudes forms behavior.). Additionally, we know that the voice that speaks the loudest is the one we focus upon. Therefore, in order for God’s truths to speak the loudest we must be able to readily recognize it. If we do not consistently absorbs His truths, by spending time daily in God’s word and with God in prayer, then the voice of our flesh will take advantage of this lack of knowledge and drown out the Voice of truth.

Remember, to think like a Christian we need to have a sense of how God would want us to think. We aren’t going to know that unless we become familiar with what God thinks, right? And, the main place to find that out is in His Word. Otherwise, we will be allowing what we think to be determined by our self-centered nature.

What does it mean to show Christlike love to others who have rejected God and/or His ways?

Even as we lived a life of disobedience, even as we rebelled against God’s standards of living, even as we rejected the existence of God, even as we refused to take God and Christ’s death seriously, God allowed Christ to be sacrificed for us. He didn’t wait for His ways to make sense to us before He offered us a solution.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8

Admittedly, it’s hard to have loving feelings toward those who boldly reject God and His ways. Our world is upside down these days. Right is wrong and wrong is right! And what is more alarming is this deception has seeped into some of our churches! We Christians struggle to figure out how to stand strong in our faith without alienating those who have rejected God’s ways.

This is a prime dilemma that Satan eagerly takes advantage of. Ever hear the silent voice that says, “If you are kind and accepting of this person who lives in a way that mocks God and His ways, then that’s the same as condoning their sin.” You see, Satan has us focus on this fiery dart in order to deter us from verses like Romans 5:7-8.

What we fail to understand is that we can be kind and forgiving towards those who have fallen prey to the enemy’s deception, without compromising our faith values. How can we be kind and forgiving? By understanding the complex truth of separating the person we have issues with from the sins they have embraced!

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,… Matthew 5:43-44

It’s a slippery path to find ways to separate the sinner from the sin, of course. And our upside down world has made it even harder. But acknowledging that God loved us while we were still living in our sin, should empower us to do the same for others living outside of God’s will. This will provide us with the motivation to care enough about that person to deliver God’s truth to them with kindness and compassion. (Perhaps, we have been guilty of delivering the truth without the compassion?)

While we may be rejected and even persecuted by those we have attempted, with loving kindness, to be honest with, we must be prepared for this. Courageous love demands that we be truthful, whether they reject us or not or whether they reject God’s truth or not.

Personally, I don’t think there’s ever been a time when God’s truth has been so distasteful to so many. And these days we must count the cost before delivering His truth, for we could be made to suffer for it. We must keep in mind this world is not permanent; eternity is. And where we spend eternity is determined by what we do about God’s truths while we live here on earth.