Storied Past – 16

“Do you know him?” Ramona whispered, not wanting the other bed to eavesdrop.

“Well he, I, I mean he was in the shop a few weeks ago and was hitting on me.”

“On you? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure it was him. Wait, do you know him too?”

“Honestly, I wish I didn’t, but he,” she lowered her voice to where she was only mouthing the words. “He’s the one who attacked me that night, Becky!”

Becky’s face lost color as the news sunk in. “Yikes! That changes a few things.”

Ramona took Becky’s arm and led her out of the room.

“I have not seen this guy since that night, Becky, and I’m not going to let him get away again until I’ve straightened out a few things. I mean it. I feel like pushing his gurney back out into the street and letting that truck have another try!”

“I’m sure you do, Ramona, but look at it this way. Maybe God allowed this to happen to him so he could stop and think about life for a change.”

“I don’t know. What he’s been doing might be pretty hard to change. I mean, look, he charms all these women, has his way and then disappears. He gets what he wants and escapes any consequences. Pretty good gig, from his perspective.”

“Ramona, I know you will remember that there are rules about life; rules that say whatever you sow, you will reap. In other words, at some point, you can’t escape those consequences. It may be that now is that time.”

“Are you saying that because I left church looking to have fun; because I wanted to enjoy my friends and party that I deserved what I got? I didn’t deserve getting pregnant the first time I was with a guy and it wasn’t even my own choice! I was raped, Becky and he needs to pay for that, not me!”

The girl slowed down for a minute to let a nurse pass. Becky spoke up first.

“I’m just saying that along with pursuing justice there is also a bigger picture here. None of this took God by surprise. Not your legalistic background, not the early death of your mother, not your exploring the fun side of life and not the rape. The fact is He still and always has loved you, Ramona. You have been handed a challenging situation now and how you work through it will set the tone for the rest of your life.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, this guy hurt you deeply, I know. Even though your choices put you in a vulnerable place, his actions were very wrong. The facts at this point are that you are pregnant and whether you choose to have the baby or not, it will change your life from what you probably thought it would be.”

“That’s for sure!” Ramona sighed.

“So when I said it didn’t take God by surprise I mean He can accommodate any detours you may take on the way to becoming who you already are.”

“I’m sorry. That sounded pretty confusing, Becky. Becoming who I am? If I already am then why do I need to become that?”

“Ramona, you were born with gifts, a calling and a destiny. You are a unique, one-of-a-kind creation. You have dreams, passions and needs like we all do. But it takes time and opportunity to realize that calling and actually become who we were wired to be.”

“OK,” Ramona replied. “I think I am starting to get that. But how do you know all this stuff? I never heard it in church. I think we mostly were taught we had to become holy, stay holy and then . . . and then, well I don’t know what because I never made it that far. To be a Pastor or a Pastor’s wife was the highest achievement anyone could hope for.”

“That is a calling, but it is not the calling for everyone. There are so many places to serve God and each other and none is better or worse than another. The key is to find that calling you are passionate about and do it with excellence.”

“I guess I did an excellent job of screwing up my life. I wonder if I can ever undo the mess.”

“Ramona, there are some things that can’t be undone. The good news is that there is hope. Hope that despite the mess we may have made, God doesn’t throw up his hands in despair and say something like, ‘There you’ve gone and done something even I can’t fix, Ramona. Good luck, you’re on your own!’ He wants to be in your life and help you become who He created you to be.”

Ramona stared at the still life print on the wall behind Becky. It was faded from so many years hanging in this one spot. At one time the colors were brilliant and happy, but now they were all some varying shade of lavender, bleached yellow and faded red. It struck her that what she had become was a still life image without vibrancy.

Just a few months ago she thought the church couldn’t stop her and the whole world was waiting to show her a rocking good time. Filled with excitement to open each prettily wrapped “Box of Chocolates,” she quickly admitted naivete when one of the first boxes she opened contained a snake; which bit her badly.

She closed her eyes. A tear stole out from one side. Becky noted this and immediately asked God for direction in her response.

“Let’s go home, Ramona. We both need some rest.”

 

Driven by the wind, a steady rain started hitting the window by Paul’s bed rather hard. Along with the darkness, it accentuated the isolation that Paul was feeling. Here he was in this hospital bed; no one he knew was anywhere close and not really able to call anyone just yet.

His parents were divorced and his father moved to the east coast with a new bride. Within a few months, he passed away leaving his mother still in the small town 30 miles away. Paul’s job in sales brought him through Maple Valley every few weeks, which is why he ran into Ramona that night in the roadhouse.

He had few friends since leaving high school due partly to an itinerant work schedule. Craving the popularity he once enjoyed, he replaced the hard work of building quality relationships with manipulative encounters. His inattention to a proper work ethic and several bouts with too much alcohol had resulted in dismissal from his job a few days before the accident.

Truth be known, he had slipped into a depression. That foray into church a few nights before, though he didn’t realize it, was a desperate cry for some kind of help. He had heard about Jesus somewhere in the past but really had hoped to talk to some friendly face. If only he had seen one!

– To Be Continued –

Storied Past – 11

This is a continuation of a fictional story I started several months ago. All episodes are available on this blog in the archives. The characters are fictional but certain events are in my own history and perhaps yours. Thank you for reading.

Ramona hurried back into the small town bus station with her suitcase and the small flowered bag that Edith had been carrying. The contents, a soft blue blanket and a box containing a baby pacifier, still left Ramona with a cautious hopefulness that somehow, some way this horrible experience could be rectified.

It was dark outside by now and the station was quiet with only a few main lights on. She checked for the next bus north and groaned when she read that no more buses were scheduled that night. What would she do? Sleep on one of these hard benches, she concluded. That didn’t sound fun at all but after finding a corner with some privacy she settled down for the long night ahead.

Wednesday night prayer meeting was well underway. Three hymns had been sung (in their entirety, except for omitting the third verse) when Pastor Marlowe got up to read the prayer requests to everyone.

“Sister Jacobs called in and requested prayer for herself. She has extreme pain in her left shoulder and really wants to be here on Sunday. Her grandson has been on her heart for weeks, too, as his parents seem to be going farther away from God. Please pray for them.”

“And don’t forget Ramona Beckett. You all know she has left the Lord and is careening down a path that will take her to certain disaster. I saw her father this week and he is so broken up over it. Pray that God will sustain him in his resolve to keep the faith. Pray that he will recover quickly from this heart attack.”

Everyone nodded with a knowing affirmation of the serious nature of Ramona’s recent failure. Several other requests were listed and then they all knelt down for the requisite time of petition and thanksgiving.

Near the back a tall, good-looking young man sat awkwardly, wondering how he could gracefully exit without drawing attention or conversation. “This is so weird,” he thought. “I sure made a mistake coming here!” No one had greeted him yet, although several young people glanced his way when they entered at the start of the service.

When he realized now that everyone had their faces buried in the pew he decided he could slip out relatively unnoticed. It did seem that they had some kind of ritualistic agenda that he didn’t understand and they weren’t about to include him anyway.

Outside on the sidewalk, Paul decided this church thing was a bad idea. Lately he had felt some strange feeling of . . . regret or something. Not guilt, mind you, just a strange uneasiness that something was missing, so he thought maybe it was church.

He couldn’t put his finger on it. Since he started high school, he had always lived life as he wanted and at full speed. A basketball star since tenth grade, he went on to lead the team as point guard, captain and then to the regional playoffs. Of course, the perks were there; keg parties, grateful adoring fans, and girls. Always girls. His charming personality seemed to get him anything he wanted, with whomever he wanted. Life was sweet; until just recently.

He ambled down the sidewalk, deep in thought. There was an empty, unfilled place somewhere inside that craved attention. For all the women he “conquered,” he should feel self-satisfied and in control. After all, didn’t he actually live the life most men can only fantasize about?

Suddenly, without warning, his consciousness snapped back to acute awareness. But it was too late! The law of physics will not allow two material bodies to occupy the same space at the same time; the truck settled any question about that.

Becky answered her phone. It was 9:30, Wednesday evening. Marcy was hysterical.

“Becky, Becky! Are you there Becky? Sumpin’ turrible bad, Becky. Come quick, sumpin’ turrible.”

“Marcy, what is it? Where are you? Are you OK?” Becky was alarmed now.

“Yeah, Becky, I’m OK but he isn’t!”

“Who isn’t? Is Jeremy OK?”

“Not Jeremy, Becky, him, some other guy. I don’t know who but he might-a got dead, Becky.”

“Well where are you, Marcy?”

“Uh . . . uh, on Main Street, just past that church what you said Ramona went to, just past.”

“Right! Wait right there; I’m going to come over. Is the ambulance there?”

“No, it just happened! It’s turrible bad, Becky. Please hurry. I’m gonna’ pray for him, OK?”

“Yes, Marcy. You pray and I’m on my way.”

Ramona drifted in and out of fitful sleep, if you could call it sleep. The bench was getting harder and less conformed to her body. She considered the possibility that even natural substances had conspired to insure that she would continue to be miserable.

Images of Edith kept floating by in her sub-consciousness coupled with sounds of snoring from some itinerant on the other side of the small station. Ramona pulled her coat more tightly around herself and over her ears to minimize the irritation.

“What” and “why” were the interrogatives that initiated her linear thinking. What did this bizarre experience mean and why had she experienced it. She had heard of visitations people have had from angels but mostly that happened to more deserving, spiritual people, not sinners like her. Edith drifted back into view, snoring with a pacifier perched precariously in her mouth, a blue blanket pulled up over her ears.

Becky ran all the way to where Marcy was. Red and blue lights flashed up the street behind her as she arrived on the scene. A light drizzle compounded the misery and drama of the late evening.

Marcy. Where was Marcy? Then she saw her; crouched on the ground next to a bloody heap, undistinguishable as a person at first glance.

Becky gasped. Surely this was the end for Mr. Whoever-he-was. As she quickly knelt down next to Marcy she could hear her simple prayers of intervention.

“Oh God, please let him live if he don’t know you. I know you so please listen right now. If he ain’t saved, don’t take him away ‘til we can get him saved. Amen!”

“Amen.” Becky echoed.

“Excuse me, folks, I need to get to him,” the paramedic interrupted.

“Oh, sure.” Becky pulled Marcy back from the near corpse. “Let’s stand back here, Marcy. We can still pray.”

“OK, Becky. He’s gonna be awright, though. God tole me. He’s gonna be OK. I don’t think he knows Jesus yet but he will ‘cause he’s gonna be OK, Becky.”

The paramedic team proved it’s proficiency by speedily and carefully loading Paul up on a field gurney and into the back of the ambulance. Minutes later he was rushed through the Emergency doors of the Hospital and into surgery.

Ramona jerked fully awake. What time was it anyway?

“Oh no, really?” she thought. It’s going to be a long night. Only 9:30! Her tummy felt really strange. No, it wasn’t the baby. She knew it would be too early for that: just a weird sensation. She would sure breathe a sigh of relief when some of this would start making sense!

Favor Flavor

There is an aspect of grace that I haven’t thought much about. When the phrase unmerited favor is the definition, my mind usually fixates with the unworthy, unmerited, I can’t earn it part. That is, I focus on the fact that it is not about working to be good enough for God’s love. I think I get that piece, and it is very important, but I want to explore the other word. What about the object of that statement; the favor part?

Maybe you were the favorite child, the one who got the new clothes and toys while your siblings got your hand-them-downs. Or perhaps you weren’t the favorite and you got the cast offs from your brother (even if you were the sister). I was the favorite one on which setting the benchmark of discipline was exercised because I am the oldest. I was the guinea pig, the test case. Talk about undesired favoritism!

Favor can apparently be institutionalized. There are world organizations that confer “most favored nation status” on those nations whom the organization wants to honor (or pander to). Politicians do the same with certain PACs or demographics for the purpose of getting re-elected and maintaining power.

We know some folks who are party favors (gifts and trinkets given to us when we attend an event) who we love to be around because they make us laugh and keep things exciting. We hang around them because we feel good about ourselves and forget about the stresses of everyday life. In this context they are a gift to us, a favor we don’t earn but enjoy above our regularly scheduled life.

Speaking of regular life, there are some folks who don’t seem to have favor or blessings of any kind. They talk about never getting a break. They have a poverty spirit; always struggling for their needs while “spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Not all who possess little are like this and I want to steer away from measuring favor as the amount of material goods one has. Neither do I want to infer that these people are not followers of Jesus. But we probably wouldn’t consider favoring another if they lived like jerks or lived selfishly or stupidly. Nor do we care to be around them.

There are also those who have a great deal of stuff you wouldn’t care to hang with. They are selfish. They disdain others who are “out of their league” and use power and influence to manipulate and control others. If you are this way, the stuff you have may attract those who are covetous but don’t really favor you. You may have influence or power and others will want to be around you for what you can give them or do for them.

Why do we instinctively pull away from these types of people? Isn’t it because we don’t want to be around them or their ilk? This natural revulsion might clue us in that we were not created to be or live in such a manner?

You’ve met people with favor. You and others want to be around them; perhaps hoping some of their blessing might rub off on you. They are people who are enjoyable, who make you feel valued; people who are wise and discerning, who care, who are generous. Their character and actions are just and gracious, kind and benevolent. But it seems that not all followers of Jesus have this favor.

God loves us all the same but some people have more favor than others.
– Bill Johnson

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was highly favored by God. She had his favor. Take a look again at that wedding where Jesus made some excellent wine from ordinary H2O. When Jesus said that his time had not yet come, the plans were changed. Why? Because of Mary. Mary was so favored by God that the time of Jesus’ miracle working days were started early.

Another story; this from the early church:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 ESV

I believe the apostles were favored with grace because even though they had just been released from prison, they had such integrity of character that they didn’t allow circumstances to bring resentment, fear or intimidation. They didn’t withdraw to some addiction to find solace or comfort. They didn’t even seek justice for being mistreated.

What they did do was ask God for strength and power to resume ministering just like they had been doing–only ramped up a bit. God favored (graced) them with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit, unity, miracles and community support.

So how does one live so that favor is upon that one? Let me bring it closer to home. How do you and I live so as to have favor with God and humanity?

Divine favor is a unique quality. It is about who you are, not your stuff. People want to be around you because there is something you are that they respect and honor (honor is closely associated with favor; they often seem to be present together).

There may be a time you need something to happen but the facts or the rules or history may be against it coming to pass, yet it happens because someone, perhaps not even intentionally, will arrange it so. There seems to be components of character that invite favor.

Other times, because of who you are, your integrity, your character or reputation, people of influence will honor you with favor when others would not have been able to achieve a solution, success or position.

When we are favored by God, doors will open in front of us. Pathways ahead will be groomed clean and resources will be provided without struggle on our part. People, prompted by something they don’t even understand, will choose you, have favor toward you, call you to a greater position, give you material blessings and honor you because of your character and the favor of God. Sounds like a party I’d want to attend!

Back, in Style!

Driving back from a long time away, I’m half listening to my offspring’s offspring singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing for the ‘leventy-eth time when I catch what admittedly my hardness of hearing suddenly seems to be hearing.

“ . . . Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners back in style.”

At first awareness, I laugh. Well, the history of God and sinners has always been the predominant narrative of culture, even when powers that be distract us from this most important conversation. Since Genesis chapter 3, God’s story of attractive love has been both underlying and overshadowing his creation.

I can assume from the little bit of the history of civilization that I know, there have been times, eras maybe, that the story of redemption was “out of style.”

We know from a review of the ancient Israelite stories that they were “on again, off again” in their loyalty to JHWH, seeming to prefer and cultivate a flair for other stylish gods.

Immediately following Jesus’ murder, persecution came into vogue, by which the dominant culture tried to force all subjects to dress the same and have the same worship style. Live like a Roman and worship the Emperor as god. The true God was relegated to the closet.

Later, Constantine brought God back into style; he made it chic to be Christian. God is once again in! Churches fit for kingly worship were erected. Complex administrative flow charts became the thing to design. Smart and stylish fashions were created and pompous rituals invented for the elite to meet and show off. But like all apparel and customs eventually do, the fickle consumer or power hungry despot always clamors for something new and improved to dazzle the crowds.

There were long extended eras when the fad was turn or burn. “Look like us, act like us, believe like us, buy our baubles and worship our gods because that’s what we’re selling.” Take the Dark Ages, for example. Years passed when the good news message was shrouded by misguided crusaders for the richly clothed. God’s Kingdom pattern for a joy-filled life was again hidden in the back of the closet.

There are many examples in human history that show this capricious dynamic in spiritual drama. This, of course, is an abridged version of the ongoing story of this dance between God and his human creation.

Then, in the middle of the last century, after a solid showing of the Holy Spirit where common folks clothed themselves with holiness, some provocateurs of cheap, imported, knock-off grace paraded their wares on the catwalk of Christianity. Many bought into the look and feel of a look-alike at a fraction of the cost. It was described by St. Paul as “a form of Godliness but denying the power.”

One could be seen and thought well of, even wow other believers, by displaying the latest adornments and add-ons of Christian comportment. Best dressed and accessorized with the finest worship show technology, the quickest to share your prayer language or slaying in the Spirit skills or the most skilled with theological put-downs. Not all, but too many of our fellow travelers have been swindled by the look of popular faith instead of dressing in the relational robes of authenticity, congruence and integrity.

As I think now about her singing I am suddenly reminded of the supplanted word in that song; reconciled. That is what the whole story is really about. Not how we look or dress, not about ostentatious, self-centered posturing to distract God from our real condition. He knows you and me and loves and calls us to himself anyway.

Reconciliation needs to be back in style. It is what will escort Shalom and the Kingdom into our culture eager for relevance and purpose. Restoration, repairing, mending and healing are all words that convey what God has been trying to effect in his beloved creation since snakeskin became passé.

God and sinners ARE back in style! If you and I can set aside our robes of ambivalent, apathetic, filthy or obsolete shrouds of spiritual death, and be reconciled to God, we will be in a position to influence and lead culture to dress in right relationship with the king whose birth we celebrate this week.

I wish a Joyous Christmas Season to you all. May you be especially blessed and dressed in his righteousness alone.

Your Kingdom Come!

Of Gardening

Do you have a green thumb? Good! I need some help with my tomatoes. I have constant trouble with weeds and I don’t even water them. I don’t know where they come from; I only know there must be weed seeds down under that I can’t see.

Our heart garden has similar character-istics. In our future, and our past, lie seeds of fear, anxiety and worry. We water and nurture them by agreeing with their proposition and affirming what they represent. Only faith and trust can frustrate their germination into an unwanted patch of thistles and briars.

These seeds of potential grief are in each of us. They are planted there by generations past of whom many existed but never really lived. Let me back up a bit.

Many of our fathers and mothers lived very difficult lives. Every day was a struggle to survive. Not all had this experience but very few in my social circle have always had lots of money. However, even those with means had challenges of character; we all have challenges of character. This is what the fruit of these seeds attack; our character. So really, I am not referring to an individual’s ability to buy happiness but the ability to live happy, fulfilled and faith-full lives, irrespective of the stuff.

How do these seeds present when they mature into full bloom? Many ways.

Because of fear and anxiety many of us never live into our God-inspired dreams. We fret, worry and live below and apart from the blessings, calling and provision for which we have been created.

Sometimes we may not be ready to step into our ultimate calling because we have not dealt with character issues in our own lives. We miss the life of Shalom because we cannot trust His Ways fully. (Remember, more than simply peace, Shalom means an environment that is welcoming of the Kingdom of God; a state of being.) So, we are afraid to believe in the process, or even fail to participate in the process of forming our character.

Have you ever faced a temptation and failed? Yeah, so have I. Ever have a “moment” where you recognized that you failed the same thing last time? Yup!

“Get to the point, doc!”

Well, what do you think is happening in these moments? God is trying to get us to pass the test of character so we can move on and into our calling. For me, I need to learn to avoid situations that weaken my resolve and dedication to my calling. These can bring doubt about my call, chase away Holy Spirit and blunt my effectiveness in prayer or ministry.

Another way we allow these seeds of unbelief to invade our garden is fear of provision. Other words, we don’t trust that God is in control and will supply all our needs. I’ve seen extreme examples that manifest in things like hoarding. This type of fear and worry attacks and destroys character.

The heart of man cannot hoard. His brain or his hand may gather into its box and hoard, but the moment the thing has passed into the box, the heart has lost it and is hungry again. If a man would have, it is the Giver he must have;…Therefore all that He makes must be free to come and go through the heart of His child; he can enjoy it only as it passes, can enjoy only its life, its soul, its vision, its meaning, not itself. – George McDonald

I need to trust His provision and that He will supply all my needs, even though I can’t see it. When I do trust, my character is purified because I refuse to let fear and anxiety grow into weeds that control me.

Another thing that these evil seeds feed is immediate gratification. Because we don’t trust God for our future we want to grasp and clutch everything we can for fear of missing out. There is a difference between living in the moment and living for the moment. The first may affirm a life lived in faith, the latter borders on Hedonism. Let me explain.

One of the most difficult things to be done in our culture is to enjoy each moment as it comes; to be present with life. Driving, working, doing laundry, helping with a child’s homework; all can be experienced and enjoyed more fully when we devote our attention to the task or event at hand. In my mind this is living in the moment.

Living for the moment may mean we mortgage the future for present consumption. The system of credit in our world has been devastating and been the cause of ruin to the character of many. Yes, it has enabled us to have and enjoy things we otherwise would not. It has also been the source of conflict in marriages, families and on a larger scale, national financial instability. Fear of missing out on something, anxiety and worry when the payments cannot be met . . . see those seeds sprouting?

There are many other fears and anxieties. The fear of loss of control, reputation, beauty, health, status, wealth; there is even the loss of eternal salvation from not being good enough.

Someone once told me, “Worry is grief by faith.” It also prevents us from entering into that place of greatest joy; God’s best.

It is faith that takes us through uncertainty by simply enabling us to live and accept God’s purpose and plan. Yes, it is the building of character through that exercise of faith that brings us into our destiny. Can we live in the dark existence of unknowing without allowing fear and worry to grow? Can we live in faith alone? Living with a faith that takes us into and through our existence of tension, turmoil and conflict develops within us the ability to accept our living so.

Now where did I put that Roundup?