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Friday, December 28, 2012

An Issue of Guns or Grief?

One-by-one, row-after-row, the flickering candlelight illuminated the darkened sanctuary, spreading to reach me as I stood with my church family. It was late on the night of Christmas Eve. Candlelight flowed throughout the slowly brightening room like lava down a mountain. The familiar melody hung softly in the air as the congregation sang.

“Silent night, Holy night; all is calm, all is bright.” I felt my throat tighten, my lips quiver, and sensed the unlit candle in my hand tremble. Truly, for many across our nation, nothing in their life was either calm or bright. No, I did not know any of these people, personally. Still, how can we, as human beings, not be affected by such horrible suffering in the face of violent tragedies?

One Friday, such a short time ago, a gunman opened fire on school children and their teachers, having killed his own mother before leaving the house. Just this day, Monday, another man used the same model gun to kill volunteer firemen responding to a burning house. Earlier in this season of Christmas shopping, the same model weapon killed innocent shoppers in a Portland mall. But, this wasn’t the first month we had heard of this particularly popular semi-automatic weapon, it had also been used to kill unsuspecting movie-goers in Colorado.

Yes, the gunmen had more than one weapon, but all had the Bushmaster AR-15 in common. Lest you think these might be the only ones out there, statistics show that 1.5 MILLION of these particular guns have been sold in the last five years. Startling as that figure is, there is one even more frightening. Once the New Town massacre hit the politicians’ voices, people feared a ban on the guns; or, at least, a ban on their 30-round magazines. Once that news hit, gun dealers reported selling more Bushmaster AR-15’s in one, single day than the total sold in the last three years!

The Bushmaster AR-15 is advertised as semi-automatic, because it only shoots one bullet at a time, albeit very fast. However, there is a U-tube instructional flick that will show any interested party how to use a common rubber band to turn it into a fully-automatic weapon; thus rendering the civilian version the same action as the military’s M-16.

The cost of such a hand-held killing machine is around $1200, new, and $800 used. Those coveted magazines run about $350, so it isn’t cheap to keep even one of these weapons for target practice or self-defense. At least, none of their owners are trying to make us believe that they have the gun for hunting game animals for the family’s winter meat.

Last weekend, authorities in Los Angeles had a buy-back, and were amazed at the volume of weapons their citizenry turned in. More than 2500 guns left the hands of LA residents in a matter of hours. Many of the people said they did it to show their sympathy for the folks in New Town, since they couldn’t go there to offer their condolences. But, while a sincere gesture of compassion, is this really going to change what the bad guys, who kept their semi—automatic guns will do next?

I was born and raised in a State that hosts hunters of wild game every year and for various specific seasons. Having been around guns all of my life, I have no objection to a family owning a rifle…it’s the military-style weapon that I object to keeping in a civilian home. However, my opinion doesn’t really matter, does it? The guns are already out there and something needs to be done to protect the innocent.

Some politicians declare stricter gun laws will make a difference; while those opposing that say that stricter gun laws will only let the bad guys have the fire power and the innocent, good guys won’t be able to defend themselves against the bad.

One radio broadcaster pointed out that guns were not the issue at all. On the very same day an extremely disturbed young man was gunning down innocent children and their teachers in Connecticut, a man in China was slashing elementary school kids in a wild frenzy of murderous rage in China.  Even more grievous was the broadcasting of his killing actions over the internet…one tiny child throwing her bloodied arms up to cover her face as he continued his attack. The Chinese government simply declared that the man was suffering from mental illness. Goes without saying, doesn’t it?

As tears filled my eyes, I steadied my now-flaming candle but had this thought, “God, there is nothing at all we can do to protect people against such things. Laws won’t stop the rage that sends a young person into such a fit of deadly violence. Removing guns won’t keep people from building homemade bombs to blow up buildings occupied by innocent people or children at a day Care Center. The violent computer games have been out there too long; a recall won’t make a difference to the present generation. Besides, who legislates boundaries on this multi-billion dollar industry, and gets re-elected? Oh God, the geni is out of the bottle and there isn’t anything we can do to shove it back and return to more innocent days.”

I began to feel the slight warmth of my flickering candle and sensed the Lord’s response “Isn’t there anything?”

Suddenly, a story I’d read long, long ago popped back to the front of my thoughts. A young man, who lived in San Francisco, felt so lonely that he made a decision to test out the value of continued life. He said that he would walk from his apartment to the Golden Gate Bridge. If, as he walked those couple of miles, a single person smiled at him or said, “Hello,” he would turn around and come back home. If, on the other hand, there was not a single smile or greeting, he would climb up on the bridge and fall to his death. He had written a note to that affect and taped it to the mirror in his bedroom. Should he return, he would remove the note and keep it as a reminder that there was one person that counted him worthy of a greeting. Should he jump, someone would find the note. Sadly, the police found the note, following the death of the young man.

Could I not have done something to save his life? Well, I wasn’t there that day, but it did make me wonder if I found myself too busy on any day to greet the passersby on the sidewalk with a simple “Hello.” Back in those long ago days, those folks so depressed quietly took their own lives in the midst of their despair. Today, however, these troubled folks want to be remembered for an act that no one else has been able to accomplish so people will know who they are. So many innocent lose their lives before the one who finds his own life not worth living. He made the choice for them, a choice he had no right to make.

Often, we later learn that the killer had been bullied in school or just plain ignored by his peers. Can we not improve this situation? Can we not show kindness, and teach our kids to show kindness and common courtesy, to others in school, church or wherever the people who don’t fit our mold seem to be found intersecting with our own lives? How many innocent lives could be spared by simple acts of kindness shown to the boy or girl who doesn’t look like they have any friends…or are new in town so don’t know anyone at school?

If we offered a kind word, maybe the hurting individual wouldn’t take up a gun or a knife. The real solution to the crisis facing our schools and young people today, won’t be resolved by assigning people with guns to marshal the area, or, as one State has chosen to do, teach their educators to use guns. Where is the security for the little kids in that? I mean, little kids are afraid that they will get in trouble for chewing gum in class, should they worry that the teacher will turn them over to the police to put them in jail; or worse yet, that their own teacher might lose it and shoot them?

Let’s seriously consider what we can do, one smile at a time, to stop the massacre of the innocents. This doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t need a committee to vote into law; we’ll just be good citizens and respect others, showing them common courtesy. These folks you pass on the sidewalk or in the aisle of the grocery store are fellow sojourners on this earth; let’s let our smiles make them feel welcome here, shall we?

Don’t misunderstand, I do think that we should teach our kids not to talk to teenage or adult strangers, but if there is a new kid in school, we can teach our kids to help the child feel welcome in their class. Many of these disturbed individuals had their troubles begin in grade school; this is where we need to focus on prevention. Don’t allow your child to bully another and don’t ignore it if your child is being bullied.

I do believe that the real issue is not so much a gun in the hand of any individual, as it is the grief in the heart of the troubled person. We may be able to do something about this ourselves, one child/one smile at a time. While the politicians work out what laws they believe will slow the present release of deathly violence, we can be practicing caring and compassion as a means of prevention. Let’s work at teaching our children how to accept kids for their human value, regardless of their clothing or shyness. And, finally, let’s all be a little kinder to one another and smile a lot more in 2013, shall we? You just never know what a difference it may make in the life of a stranger!

****Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas: The Magi and the Star of Bethlehem

“We three kings of orient are bearing gifts; we travel so far; field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.”O-oh, star of wonder, star of might, star with royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us by your perfect light.” Such familiar words, but it was only last year that I learned just how profound their meaning.

The Magi were a group of men referred to as “wise men”, “scholars”, and even “kings”. There were different groups of Magi. Some were those involved in occult practices, from where we get our word “magic”. Some of the Magi were not astrologers, but astronomers. The difference is that the astrologers use the stars to predict the future; whereas, the astronomers study the stars to discover what God was showing them. The familiar three, whose exact names vary depending on which culture consulted, are believed to have been from the Eastern Group.  Balthazar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia and Gasper of India were Jewish men who worshipped the true God. They were watching the configurations of the planets and stars, because they believed that God would send them a sign of great importance. Like all of the Jews, they were expecting the Messiah to come one day. These Magi were not telling fortunes, but trying to understand what the God who made the stars and planets was trying to tell them. They were convinced that the Star of Bethlehem would lead them to the place where they would find the Messiah. They had been waiting for this sign for a long time.

There is a marvelous DVD out there that will show you in graphic detail just what it was that the Magi were looking for and what they found. You can see for yourself by clicking on the link at the end of this post.

Mr. Rick Larson, a lawyer not a preacher or astronomer by profession has seriously studied this event in response to the Lord’s leading.  Some amazing facts have emerged. The quick summary is noted here:

3 BC at the time of the Jewish Festival, Yom Kippur (September): The indication from astronomical configurations was that the King of the Jews (Jesus) had been conceived by a virgin.

2 BC (Nine months later… June): An extremely unusual astronomical event occurred, making it clear to these three Magi that it was time to leave Babylon (near present-day Bagdad) and head out towards the Star that had risen in the East over Judea. They believed, with all their hearts, that this was the sign that the baby had been born who would be the King of the Jews, the Messiah. They wanted to worship him.

Months later, they arrived in Jerusalem and began to inquire just where the child was-- the King of the Jews. When King Herod learned of their search, he called for the Jewish leaders who let King Herod know that the event was expected to take place in Bethlehem. King Herod met with the Magi, asking them to get back to him as to the exact location of the baby king, so that he, too, could come worship him. Of course, he had no intention of worshipping Jesus but God took care of that in His own way and that is yet another story! Back to the Magi…

The Magi found that they did not need a map, or any directions, to find the place where Jesus and his parents were staying. Looking up to the sky they saw the brightest star that they had ever seen. They followed it to Bethlehem and, as the Scriptures said, the Star stopped right over the place where Jesus was! The day that the Magi found the Baby Jesus and presented their gifts to him? Why, December 25th, of course! No kidding! The Jewish people used a different calendar than we do, so that date does not have the same significance to them as it does to us; but still, one can believe with confidence, confirmed by science, that the very First Christmas that was celebrated with the gifts from the Magi was on our own December 25.

See the evidence for yourself:

****Have a very Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas: The People, Conclusion

Central to the First Christmas photo would be Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus. Jesus was
already mentioned in “Christmas: The Reason for the Season”, so let’s take a look at his earthly parents. Mary was a devout Jewish girl, probably a teenager, who lived in the Galilee with her parents. Joseph, a carpenter and devout Jew, loved Mary. Mary had been promised to Joseph. When their engagement period was completed, they would be married in a Jewish ceremony, full of lively, traditional Jewish dancing, and tables loaded with the scrumptious, celebration foods. Every girl and boy looked forward to that day. But, sadly for the young couple’s dreams, it would not play out that way for Mary and Joseph. Before the wedding plans had been completed, the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to give her God’s plan… for the world but, closer to home, for her immediate life. God had chosen Mary to carry the baby that would be conceived by His own Holy Spirit. It was necessary to bring salvation to the world. Mary knew, for sure, just what a wrench that would throw in the works of her own life, but her commitment to the Almighty God settled her response. “According to Your word, O Lord, be it unto me.”(See the account in Luke 1 and 2) Of course, she did what any of us would probably do when hearing that this was not the only unusual event going on in her family: In about three months, elderly Elizabeth would deliver her first baby! Mary headed straight for Elizabeth’s house, where she stayed for the first three months of her own pregnancy. No doubt Elizabeth was a great help to Mary.

Back in Nazareth, Joseph is as surprised as everyone else to learn of the new baby boy Zechariah and Elizabeth have just had. Mary is full of joy and sharing the details. When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, herself, he is so hurt. How can this be? His love for her would not permit Joseph to even think of stoning her. In fact, he wanted to spare Mary the social pain of disclosure, if he could. He planned to just quietly divorce her/break the engagement; no one would need to know why. Then, Joseph had a visit from the Angel himself! What an incredible revelation the Angel brought Joseph! Mary had not been unfaithful to him after all. Joseph should believe her and trust her. He should proceed with the marriage as planned, though, of course, there would not be that week-long celebration now. God was in the whole thing and Joseph could trust God. This was an important assignment God had given the young couple. God would help them through all the difficult times.(You can read about Joseph’s struggle and encounter at the end of Matthew Chapter 1.)

The Shepherds outside Bethlehem were given quite a privilege the night Jesus was born. Usually shepherds were so often “unclean” because of their work in the field with the sheep. It would be pretty hard to keep away from the excrement or anything dead that the law said would defile them. Of course, they would not be permitted in the religious ceremonies or Temple services if considered “unclean”. It was not often that the shepherds were keeping their sheep near any city, because a large flock could really affect the local air fragrance, you know. But, this was a special time of year, and those sheep were special sheep. They belonged to the priests and it was their order that kept the sheep near Bethlehem around the time of the Passover. (Yup, that would not be in December … we will get to that later.) It is fantastic to realize that the Lord God had the angels just over those “unclean” shepherds’ heads, declaring the best news the world would ever hear—right there sitting in their filthy, smelly clothing. But, that was not all; God encouraged them to go see the Baby Jesus, just as they were right then! Sure enough, the shepherds headed out and found the Baby Jesus. No one told them to get out or called them unclean. Even as a baby, Jesus was there to unite and not divide those who worshipped the Father God!

The “Three Kings” from the Orient are often in the Nativity set or drawings but, in truth, they were not in the picture with their gifts until Jesus was about six months old. They visited Jesus at his house, not the manger; but I don’t mind having these three characters in the Nativity scene, do you? It is a good reminder of that First Christmas, even if it was not the first day of Jesus’ earthly sojourn. (More on that later.)

Lastly, most scenes also picture the Angel Gabriel—and a few more angels if your Sunday School has more children than speaking parts for the drama! There is little doubt that there was, indeed, an angelic presence near this very special manger the night of Jesus’ birth!

****Christmas The Magi and the Star of Bethlehem…Next Post






Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas: The People

If asked to recall the “people in the Christmas Story” you might find the image of the Nativity popping into your mind. Or, if you are like most of us, you will need to check the ceramic /porcelain figures put out on your coffee table, or displayed at the front of your Sunday School room to be sure you didn’t miss someone! Even so, it is highly likely you will miss someone if you rely on the Nativity display alone! This familiar scene is so much like the posed family photo we have all come to know so well at holiday seasons. You know the kind, someone is missing from the group because he slipped off to the restroom but there were so many people in the house that no one missed Uncle Jake until the photo was emailed to everyone a week later! The Nativity scene is a very modern image, actually. In today’s photo fixing/touching up world of computerized family photos, one can add to the photo those who were not really there until months later! Uh, that would be the Magi who were a bit late for the manger party, but did make the First Christmas on December 25 (I’ll get back to that a bit later.). Let’s take a look at the cast of characters the Lord God had hand-picked for this Christmas drama, a true story.

Those playing an important role but not in the photo include the following:

Isaiah, who had been dead for hundreds of years before Jesus was born, can be excused from the photo shoot, of course, but Isaiah should be remembered when reviewing the story because his role was an impressive one, indeed. Maybe we could put his face in one of the cloud-like hazes up in the corner of the photo? Okay, so what did he do? He had a job I would not have wanted, but I am so glad that he was willing to be sent to give the words God had for the people. He prepared them to readjust their thinking about the entrance of the Messiah to planet earth. One mention probably caused some raised eyebrows, for sure.

Isaiah Chapter 7, verse 14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Uh, well, they’d never seen that before, so maybe there will be something really special about this boy. Or, equally as likely, they figured Isaiah had missed part of the communication scripted for him. How could such a thing happen! On the other hand, Emanuel means “God with us,” so even the name draws our attention to God’s plan. Next, Isaiah gave a bit more detail. Okay, so the Messiah will not just show up on the scene as a full-grown man, and take charge of things. The Messiah will grow up from a child, but he will be a prince, then, since he is going to sit on the throne of King David. Yes, Isaiah’s prophetic words began to sound really good to the people,

Chapter 9 verses 6-7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

Now, that was exactly what the people were waiting for! So why would I not like to be the one delivering such a message of hope in their time of trouble? Well, because the fulfillment of those words did not come for more than four hundred years. Those who doubted Isaiah, and, probably made fun of him about the virgin birth thing, never lived to see that what Isaiah had said was exactly what happened! Sure, Isaiah knew the truth in his heart, but he would be on the other side of Heaven before he would be able to release that contented smile of knowing he had not mistaken what the Lord had asked him to say.

Elizabeth and Zechariah should be in the picture, perhaps over to the left of Mary and Joseph.  That way, their six-month-old John could be captured looking down at the Baby Jesus, from the arms of his own elderly father, a respected priest. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, was the very first of her relatives to know about the pregnancy.  It was Cousin Elizabeth who had encouraged Mary those first three months, while waiting for her own delivery date to come. Besides, the Holy Scriptures said that John would be the one charged with letting people know that Jesus would come to save them from their sins. Surely, Little John should be in the Christmas family photo.

Now, as to those who are in the Nativity portrait…

****Christmas: The People, Conclusion… Next Post


Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas: The Plan

“If only we could just see God. If we could touch Him, and look Him right in the face. Yes, then we could believe the things that are written. Then we would have no trouble obeying His commandments. We would know for sure if only…?” Perhaps, that is why folks throughout the history of mankind have been so quickly convinced to make a god out of wood, stone or metal. So, okay, they wanted to see God with their own physical eyes. God had a plan so it was possible for the span of one human lifetime. However, just as is true for our own sojourn on earth, the lifetime had a purpose, a mission. When that mission had been completed, regardless of what anyone may have thought, the lifetime sojourn on earth was over. The Servant returned to His rightful place in Heaven.

Our original question was “Why Jesus and not Mohamed, Buddha or one of the millions of Hindu gods?” Well, the answer is simply one of history and logic. Of all the created beings or things that man has ever strove to worship as his god, there is only one who was there in the very beginning, Jesus. Anthropologist and archeologists have found evidence that mankind, as far back as the Neanderthals, had a spiritual belief system—so, at least 70,000 years ago if not longer. Fast forward 60,000 years or so, agriculture began to dot the landscape, adding more gods for the people to worship. We hit the fast forward button again, noting Hinduism joined the scene around 4000-2500 BC (or BCE.) Some suggest that Judaism was next on the scene around 2000 BC, though one might find evidence that it was earlier. Next, Buddha was born into a Hindu family. The belief system known as Buddhism was launched around 560-490 BC. Jesus’ birth marked a dramatic change in the way the world noted time. The years were now “in the year of our Lord” (AD) instead of BC, before Christ.* Mohamed was born around six hundred years later. By 622 AD, Islam had joined the world’s religions. No, if the plan should come out of the Creator’s drawing board, there was only one who was there before anything and anyone else, Jesus and only Jesus. None of the others had found a way to planet earth, until Jesus and the rest of the Creation Team, put him/it there. We know that wood and stone can be carved or chiseled to make images that people can set up on a shelf to worship, but we also know that they would not even be there as raw materials to carve or chisel if the Creation Team had not chosen to put them here in the first place!
Since the problem for the people was, clearly, one of obeying their Divine Creator, then it should be the responsibility of the Creator to come up with a plan. And what a plan it was! Jesus would leave Heaven, and spend time on earth. They would see Jesus. They would touch Him. They would hear Him speak of the very precepts and commandments that Father God had always held as the way for them to keep their own relationship with the Godhead solid. Then, when the fullness of time had come, Jesus would also provide the sacrifice for them, the final sacrifice. It was for this ultimate purpose that he had come.

Because they were expecting a fully grown, regal prince of a man to walk onto the stage, they were taken by surprise when Jesus’ life began just as theirs had, as a newborn baby. No, that was not what the people had in mind at all when they thought about a Conquering King, their Messiah. They just could not get their heads around that notion.

Jesus did grow into a fine and gentle man whose strength was in His own relationship with the Father God, the very thing He wanted to model for us while he was walking this same soil with the common people. Jesus boldly proclaimed truth. He did not shrink away from the religious leaders, who tried to dispute what He knew to be true. Jesus was the son of a carpenter, a common blue collar worker’s boy.

Most of us would not think of entering the scene as a commoner if we were royalty! We would want to let everyone know that it was time to glance an adoring look at the one riding on that stallion all decked out in gold braid, right? That would be the way we would distinguish ourselves from the masses. But, Jesus never wanted to distinguish Himself from the common people; He wanted to identify with them, and show the people that he did understand their daily struggles and challenges. It was for them He had come.  It was for them that he would lay down His own life; His sinless lifeblood would purchase their freedom from the bondage of sin and the eternal death that awaited them. That was the plan. God’s people had been looking for their conquering Messiah for many generations. They were waiting for Him and His arrival just could not come soon enough! Knowing this, God was careful, and thorough, in His preparations. More than 400 years before that cozy manger scene played out in the little town of Bethlehem, God had his prophets declaring it would happen just as it did, baby and all!

*Time is now recorded as BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) instead of BC and AD.

****Christmas: The People… Next Post


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas: The Reason for the Season

Okay, so we all know from greeting cards, lapel pins and buttons, bumper stickers, plastic Jell-o molds, Christmas wrapping paper, and even the carefully written phrase on colored package ribbon that “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season!” I get that, but my question is this: Why Jesus and not Mohamed or Buddha, or one of the three million Hindu gods that tower above the landscape all over India? Why is it that Jesus’ birthday is the one that influences the whole world, even changing how we record time*? Yes, Jesus is, definitely, the reason for the season; but, why? Mohamed’s birthday is also heralded by his followers, including a global celebration. In fact, the followers of Mohamed celebrate the birth of Jesus, because they accept that Jesus was a great Prophet.

Backtracking a little bit, we find another question to answer first: Why did Jesus decide to make His own, personal, sojourn on earth so long after He participated as part of the Creation Team? In an earlier blog I shared the first verse in Genesis (Old Testament) and the first verse in the Gospel of John (New Testament) where we see that there is nothing at all on earth and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are letting us in on the way everything was “In the beginning…” John continues with Jesus as the focus. Genesis goes on with the details of how the Trinity sculpted the landscape, filling it with everything we would need to live on earth. Wouldn’t you think He would just drop in to check it out when everything was still shiny and new? No, it doesn’t work like that. The Creation Team had decided that mankind, created in their own image, would have free will--the right to choose to obey their Creator’s rules or go their own way. The Triune God would not make the humans into robots who have no choice at all in the matter. Father God wanted to have relationship with the created human beings they had fashioned in the image of the Godhead.

Take time to read the Old Testament, but read it from the point of view of Father God, not just like a world history lesson. Over and over the people God has made are doing great and things are going hunky-dory. No problems. Then, little-by-little, things begin to change. The better things are, the less they remember God. The easier it is to just skip that Sabbath Day worship, and those special religious holidays that hinder work one day a week (or more if we are talking the Passover or Yom Kippur.) The more they skipped participating in a special religious observance/festival or worship service, the easier it was to skip another one. Before long, they discovered that their enemies would make an alliance with them that could prove financially beneficial. These alliances would also allow them to expand their armies, if only they would bow down to the gods of wood and stone. Uh, well… okay, why not? It doesn’t mean that they need to believe in them, right? Who would know the difference?

Next, the foreigners wanted to marry their daughters; and, hey, how about letting them give their daughters to your sons, too. That would make you stronger in the region; that’s for sure. Hmmm, they weren’t so sure about that one, because they knew that this kind of alliance through marriage was expressly forbidden by God. But, well, the majority reasoned thus, ”We are here and they are here so why not just join our families as well as our forces and make one huge happy people group in the land.”

Why not? Because the One Who created them told them not to do that; that’s why! God, in His wisdom, knew all too well that it would not be his people who would be influencing the foreigners to follow the Holy Almighty God; but, rather, that the foreigners would be infiltrating His people, and turning their hearts away to worship gods of wood and stone that are not gods at all. Of course, God let them do it, with disastrous results every time.

At the point of maximum suffering, the people cried out to God to help them, promising all kinds of returning to do the right thing, if only God would deliver them from these people, who turned out not to be a good alliance after all.  God would deliver them. There would be great rejoicing in the land of God’s People. They were faithful to follow God’s ordinances and precepts every day… until they weren’t. Off they went again, listening to the Deceiver. Again, things went badly for them, as God stood off, just letting them do things the way they wanted to do them. Again, a desperate cry for help. Again, God forgave them, believe their professions of repenting and doing things God’s way. Again, the celebration over the deliverance and, again, back on the straight and narrow! Until next time, that is.

The people not only refuse to listen to God’s prophets when He sent them, but they killed them! Something had to be done!

*For those not old enough to remember, not long ago time was measured by BC (meaning Before Christ) or AD (meaning in the year of our Lord…after Jesus came to earth. Now, time is noted as BCE, Before Common Era or CE, Common Era, without letting us in on what determined the change, if not Christ’s coming.)

****Christmas: The Plan… Next Post


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Beginning of the End, Conclusion

Sitting on the sofa, Curt’s arm around my shoulders, he presented his radical new idea. “Honey, how about we join the university students’ Key Club? They have one right here with the married students living in this complex. It’d be fun.” Not wanting to display my total ignorance, I silently whipped through my mental files, trying to find any occasion where I would have heard about this club.

“I have no idea what a Key Club is. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it? Where did you hear about it?”

“From Julio*. He is one of the guys I hung out with this summer. He and his wife live down the street from us. We walk right by their place on our way to campus. Maybe we could go over there and visit them sometime. What do you say? His wife could explain better than me, probably.”

“His wife? I don’t know Julio, let alone his wife! What can she possibly need to explain to me? What are you talking about? Didn’t you hang out with your bunkmate? You wrote about him in the only letter I got from you all summer. He sounded like a nice guy, and you had planned to study the Bible together.”

“Oh, yeah, well…uh, I didn’t see Rick* all that much. I was mostly with Julio and the guys from here. Anyway, how about it? Let’s join the Key Club!”

“What do they do at this club? Is it something where we rotate homes and play cards at a different home each week, or what?” I could see Curt begin to get a bit nervous, but he continued.

“Well, not cards, exactly, but I guess people could do that, if they wanted to. It works like this: The couples all come together at one person’s house on, say a Friday night. Sometimes it’s the men, and sometimes it’s the women, who have the car keys. If it’s the guys, for example, they form a circle in the living room, and toss their car keys in the middle of the circle. Then the wives form a circle where the guys had been. Each woman selects a set of keys. The man, who matches the keys, goes with that woman for the night. They can go out to dinner and then to his house or whatever they want to do. That part is decided by the people themselves. The main thing is that the place they go to is the house on the ring of keys, since both the car and house key would be together. Julio says that he and his wife have been in this Key Club for as long as they’ve been students here. It’s great fun, according to Julio. He says his wife agrees, or he wouldn’t do it, of course.” I wasn’t so sure ol’ Julio wouldn’t do something of that nature, even if his wife didn’t agree. But, that wasn’t my concern.

My concern was why in the world Curt ever got the idea I would want to do that…or be okay with him doing it? What did the marriage vows we’d taken mean to him…nothing? If he was determined to sleep with someone else’s wife, I couldn’t stop him. But, as for me…as sure as God made little green apples, I wasn’t going to be sleeping with anyone else’s husband!

“I don’t think I really have to answer you, do I? Curt, I committed my life to the Lord, and I meant it. I didn’t do it because I wanted to be part of the in-group or something. I did it, because I believe what the Bible says. Can you really sit there and tell me that you think God will bless our marriage, if we decide to join such a Club?”

“I know you’re serious about God and all. But, Julio said that the Key Club has really increased their enjoyment in making love with one another. You learn different things to bring pleasure to one another and…” I began to cry, interrupting his discourse.

“Curt, I can’t do that. I really can’t.” I doubt that he heard my strangled whispers, but I think he knew I was not excited about his proposition.

“Okay, well, just think about it. I know it’s a new idea and all. Let’s just take some time to think about it, okay? We can talk about it later. What was it you wanted to tell me?”

I thought about little Molly; the forlorn gaze of those beautiful brown eyes staring back at me. She needed love, lots of love. Molly needed parents, who would love her to wellness, but those parents had better be committed to loving one another, or there wouldn’t be room for her in the hard times ahead. Molly had enough of her own problems, without taking on the problem I just learned we had.

“It’s about Molly, a two-year-old. No one wants her and she is so beautiful. I’d hoped we could go visit the home where she is, so that you could meet her. I had thought we could love her, and care for her, and she’d be well, but…” I left my sentence hanging, as the tears rolled down both cheeks.

“You mean take care of someone else’s kid? How about having our own kids first, at least.”

“It’ll be too late for Molly then,” I interrupted, choking out the words. “She needs parents now, but I can see it won’t be us.”

“We never talked about adopting any kids.” He sounded like this was about the worst thing he could imagine, whereas, I had always thought I would be caring for kids not my own one day. The case of Molly’s need made me face something I’d not expected to be a problem for us, because there were so many things Curt and I had agreed upon in life…well, the Curt I knew before military camp, at least. I didn’t know him now, nor what he believed or what his thoughts were. I’d need to find out where I stood now. Was I married to a man who longed to be an adulterer?

A short time later, I moved into the dormitory for upper classmen on campus, while I tried to sort things out. One year later, the marriage was annulled. I never saw little Molly again, and don’t know what happened to her. As for Curt, he re-married and had three sons.

Do I regret what happened and my part in the demise of the marriage? Yes, I do. Would I have done things the same way, if I had to do it over again? I would never have committed adultery for Curt, but I do think I could have fought harder to keep him. In reality, I ran scared. I was too immature to really want to see how to change the situation. I was just afraid of getting pregnant, and being left to parent a child alone, when Curt got tired of not being a part of the Key Club scene. I was also finding I was afraid of him because of his aggression and language. He never acted like he would hit me or anything like that; but, he was not himself, and I was just plain afraid. I regret that as I do not think God is ever in favor of a couple dissolving a marriage as easily as ours was. Maybe it would have ended the same way, but I do regret my panic that caused me to cut and run.

That awful day at the courthouse, the lawyer said I was now, “Free.” That was not true, though. Yes, according to the letter of the law, I had never been married, since that is what an “annulment of a marriage” actually means. I didn’t have to ever indicate on any legal form that I had been married, neither did I have to answer the question in the affirmative, should anyone ask.

However, I was never “free” of the bond that uniting in marriage had created between us. Folks rarely asked if I’d ever been married, but when they did, I answered honestly, not according to the letter of the law. I later learned that a spiritual connection is created when a couple unites…the two do become one. There is a kind of spiritual ripping apart when that union is broken. That is what I was feeling, not relief or “freedom.”

How grateful I am to know that God understands me and the entire situation. His love forgives and heals. Though God’s truth is absolute…after all, He is the one Who created us…His mercy is also extended to those who, truly, repent of wrong-doing. God understands the mistakes of our youth and immaturity. We need only be willing to repent (turn away and make a change) to receive his forgiveness. Unlike the law in our land, God will never say we “were never married.” But, God will be there to help us through our repentance and needed change. It’s not easy, but it is possible, with our understanding God.

Related Posts:

The top three on this list show clear signs that we should have waited a bit longer, but those things are better seen after the fact, of course!

Just How Engaging Is Engagement?
Just How Engaging Is Engagement?, Scene 2
Just How Engaging Is Engagement, Conclusion

Marriage License, Who Needs It?
A New Chapter Begins
Beginning a Home

The start of the dominos that ended in the final scene of our marriage:

*Names have been changed.

****Have a good weekend!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Beginning of the End, Scene 3

Parking the car in the lot, I quickly spotted the other military wives and joined them. Most were happy that the summer of being alone in the house was over. A few had small children that they were trying to keep track of during the wait; they were especially glad to soon have their child-rearing partner back. We had arrived on time but, of course, the transport had not. Engaging in small chatter only went so far; we just wanted our men back and to get home.

At last, the doors of the Smoke Jumper School opened and young men poured out. There he was; tanned and his blond hair bleached white by the summer sun. I jumped up and down, waving so he would find me in the crowd of wives. Of course the other vertically-challenged women did the same, but my shrill whistle, finally, made him turn his head. As always, that smile melted my longing heart. My guy was home; all was right in my world!

All the way back to the car, we looked like every other childless couple there…kissing and hugging as we searched for the right car in the parking lot. Those with children glanced at us; was that envy in their eyes?

I snuggled close to Curt for the miles back to our married-student apartment. This was when I learned that his unit had been assigned as paratroopers. A lot of his duty was spent learning how to jump out of planes. He had sprained his ankles on one of the practice runs with some kind of simulator, but they were fine soon afterwards. As he joked (or maybe not), the Army wouldn’t have cared; he’d be expected to jump when the time came, solid ankles or not.

“You look like you’ve dropped a lot of weight. Didn’t the Army feed you guys?”

“Oh, yeah, they fed us alright. We ran to get the grub at the Mess Hall three times a day.”

“Ran? Why did you run? Were you that hungry, or did they not always have enough, or what?”

“Well, there is a well-known fact with which I see you had not yet been acquainted, either. Jumpers don’t walk; they run everywhere they go…and I do mean everywhere. We ran to the head and back (toilet), we ran to the Mess Hall, and if the food made us sick; then, we ran back to the head. We ran to get in formation; we ran when the day was over and we were dismissed to barracks. Mail call? We ran both ways and then we ran to find a private place to read mail. We just didn’t put those feet to the outside ground, unless they were running.”

“But, why in the world did you sign up to jump out of planes? I’d have been horrified if I’d known you were doing that.”

“Uh-huh. Well, I think you’ve been away from the military world too long if you think they asked us what we wanted to do for the summer we were enjoying their hospitality. We arrived, we stood in formation, we snapped a salute as they handed us our orders; and, then, we ran to the paratroopers’ barracks. No one asked us if that would be okay with us, you know.” I groaned my sympathy. Of course, Uncle Sam made all the decisions; I’d forgotten how it was back then.

But, Curt was home now, safe and sound. That was the most important thing. Believe me, the Army was the last thing on our minds when we stumbled through the apartment door in each other’s arms!

There was an unfamiliar roughness to our lovemaking, but I just attributed it to the urgency related to the weeks of abstinence. I became afraid when Curt’s normally gentle, musician’s voice turned foul. He’d never used such bad language, and never used the Lord’s name in vain before this, in my presence anyway. What had happened to the kind, loving man I’d known since I was ten? He went off to military duty, but he didn’t come back.

“Curt, why are you talking like that? It’s awful.” He shrugged his shoulders as he replied, while walking out to the living room.

“It’s no big deal. It’s just the way we talk; it doesn’t mean anything.”

“Well, it may not mean anything to you, but it means something to me. Do you think hearing that spiteful way you use the Lord’s name blesses Him? It’s so disrespectful.”

“Give me a break, will you? Just let it go. I’ve got something I want to talk to you about. C’mon sit here beside me.”

“I’ve got something I wanted to talk to you about, too, but maybe not today. I’m just so shocked at the ‘new you.’” Curt smiled down at me as I took my place next to him on the sofa. Wrapping his arm around me, he tossed out his proposition.

He was so excited to tell me his new idea. All thoughts of adopting little Molly* dissolved; I was so dumbfounded. I really had never seen this one coming.

*Name changed.

****The Beginning of the End, Conclusion…Next Post

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Beginning of the End, Scene 2

Entering the home of Liz’s neighbor, one couldn’t help but be impressed with the atmosphere of calm. Mrs. Matthews* greeted us warmly and ushered us in to meet her foster kids. Liz had tried to prepare us, but I still found their various situations put a huge lump in my throat.

“Mike*, has been here the longest. He came when just a toddler.” Before us lay a small, but obviously grown man. “He has some congenital disorder not yet described in the medical literature. He is unable to do anything more than a six-month-old baby could do, though he is trying to learn to sit up.”

The man-child had a broad smile on his face as he giggled at his foster mother and frowned a bit to see us. Then, he held out his hand for us and I took it. “Hi there, Mike. Aren’t you a handsome boy?”

He was, too. His smile just melted our hearts, when he finally decided we were okay to have around. I never saw him move his legs, so not sure he could. He must have been a physical challenge for Mrs. Matthews to care for. She agreed it was hard to move him at times, but she often had help for bath times, etc.

One-by-one we met her charges. All were obviously well cared for and seemed to radiate her love for them in their smiles. Then we headed for the room with the youngest kids. One little girl grabbed my attention right off. Perhaps, it was because of her crib. It looked like a mini-padded cell to me. I couldn’t take my eyes off the child. Mrs. Matthews noticed.

“So, you want to know about Molly*, do you?”

“Sorry; I didn’t mean to stare.” I felt like my eyes were locked into Molly’s gaze.

“Oh, it’s okay. Molly’s doing well right now. I so wish we had a single-child home for her. I think she’d do better and, perhaps, would progress a bit faster. I’m sure she could do better, but this is the best we can do, for now.”

“She looks so small and vulnerable. Why is she in that…well, uh, special crib?” Molly was in a clean, cotton dress…so full of colorful designs. Sitting there, just looking at me, I smiled back at her. She didn’t smile at me.

“Molly was normal when she was born but soon began displaying animal-like aggression. She’s been here about a year now. Molly’s two years old. Isn’t she a pretty little girl?”

Indeed, Molly was beautiful, even without a smile. How much more, if she would smile. The two-year-old moved normally but the sounds coming out of her mouth were more of a growl than words.

“Do you know what she’s saying, Mrs. Matthews?”

“Not really. I know she can talk because I’ve come in on her talking to the other kids in normal English. Short phrases, but normal words. She won’t talk to any of us, though. Hers is such a sad case. The State just wanted to institutionalize her, but I begged them to let me have her. I’m not sure how long she will be able to stay here.”

While I was struggling with emotions, little Molly began to crawl in a pacing back and forth fashion. She moved her head like she was searching for something. Then, without any warning, she threw herself at the wall of the crib. I was glad it had been so well-padded; Molly could have been hurt badly.

“She does that off and on; hence, the need for the padding. I do think she would be better if there was someone to just hold her more, but I don’t have time to hold her for hours and hours. Besides, what do I know about these things? Hers is an extraordinary case and, maybe, it isn’t just prayer and motherly loving that she needs. If there was someone interested in trying…well, who would take a child like Molly in their homes; no one would so I just love Molly as best I can.”

I wanted to take Molly, right there and then. I wanted to try to help her out of that animalistic state and get a smile on that lovely little girl’s face. I longed for her to be a happy, normal little child; and, in my own innocence, I felt I could do it, if given a chance.

We left Mrs. Matthews, walking back across the street, but I never forgot about Molly. My friends joined me in praying for Molly. I told them I wanted to try to help the little girl, and, as soon as Curt was home, I’d tell him about her. Maybe we could come visit Mrs. Matthew so Curt could meet Molly, too.

In fact, there wasn’t a waking hour of the return road trip that didn’t find Molly and thoughts of her popping up in my mind. I could hardly wait to tell Curt all about the beautiful child.

I had only received one letter from Curt the whole summer, but I figured the Army kept their officer candidates pretty busy. Besides, the goofy Army paymaster sent his check to Curt’s mother, instead of to Curt’s wife, so maybe she got letters intended for me, too? Since the lone letter had been written the first days of duty, speaking of his wonderful fellowship times with his fully-committed-to-Christ bunkmate, I didn’t worry about his failure to reply to my numerous letters to him. I should have.

The day I readied myself to fetch Curt at the Smoke Jumpers School grounds, for that is where his military transport plane would drop the guys in our area off, I reviewed how I would tell him about little Molly. I’d written to him about each of the conferences as the summer progressed, the road trip and not being able to be in the wedding, but had not mentioned Molly or the home we visited. I thought it best to wait until we could talk it over face-to-face. We’d discuss it and pray about it together. Little did I know, Curt had another proposition he was rehearsing to discuss with me as he flew back from the military base. What a shocker!

*Names have been changed.

****The Beginning of the End, Scene 3…Next Post

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Beginning of the End

"What do you think about us all having a little vacation?” I was to be one of the attendants in a high school friend’s wedding, so thought it might be fun to make a road trip out of it with some of my university buddies.

“Sounds great! We could drop by and visit some of our IVCF friends along the way.” Pam had a super idea and we began planning our route.

“I just got a letter from Liz; she could really use a visit. She’s finding life a bit tough without her Christian friends around.” Pam was right; I’d had a similar letter from Liz.

“Okay, let’s figure out how much farther that will take us passed the wedding and how to manage it.”

It turned out to be quite a distance farther, but we all really wanted to see Liz light up when we knocked at her door. She’d be so surprised.

“Anybody got gas money?” Always the realist, I needed to know the details ahead of time.

"How about we just let the Lord help us over there? We can pool our money and then see how the Lord might provide as we have need.”

“Terrific idea. We can tithe on every amount we receive and send the cash back to Pastor Dan.”

I listened to my adventurous friends and tried not to remember the trip Pam and I had taken through Patty Canyon a few weeks earlier. Hadn’t worked out quite like we planned. (See Multiplication Lesson Part A for the whole story.)

“I will agree with the trip, guys, but I have only one condition. We need to not go past the point where we have enough gas to get to the next town and just hope we don’t run out of gas.” Laughter all around let me know that the Patty Canyon story had not been forgotten. “We go only as far as we have money to go. If we get to the last city we have friends to visit, but no money to go farther, we don’t just head out anyway and hope God provides the money or multiplies the gas, right?”

”Oh, Sojourner, where’s your sense of adventure? It’ll be fun!”

Truly, I was being taken in with their excitement and, at last, agreed to go and let the Lord lead where He intended to provide…no farther. I didn’t want to get stranded somewhere and I knew God would get us there and back, if it was His idea in the first place. It just might be since He, too, would care about how Liz was faring without her Christian friends.

The morning of departure arrived, a bright and sunshiny day. The three of us pooled our money, followed by a prayer that God would protect us and provide for us during the journey. We all agreed not to ask anyone for money.

Stopping at the first home, we piled out and reveled in our reunion with our Christian friend. The afternoon was such fun. As we prepared to leave, one of his parents approached us, having heard our plan to visit our university Christian buddies. “Here, just a little to help you on your way.”

I looked down at my palm, seeing the folded bills he’d pressed into my hand. “Oh, uh, thanks! That’s really nice of you.” The heat spreading across my face let us all know that this was a bit embarrassing for me. I’d never taken such a gift before this, but was, definitely, in no position to say we didn’t need it. We did. I was excited that God had urged this father to help us. Good-byes said, we got back in the car.

“You see, Sojourner, God wants us to make this trip. Look how God prompted that guy to share with us.”

“Right you are. I’ll prepare the tithe on it when we get to my parents’ house tonight.”

Mom and Dad were away but had offered us the use of the house for the weekend of the wedding. As promised, the first thing I did was get an index card, address the right size envelope to Pastor Dan, and affix $1.50 to the index card. It was marked “tithe on our first offering of help.” We planned to drop it in the mail the next day when we left town.

While my two buddies hung around, I headed for the wedding rehearsal. They’d be married in the church just down the road from my parents’ home. Then, there was a rehearsal dinner afterwards.

The evening went well and I was thrilled to see my high school friends again. It seemed like old times being there in St. Anthony’s Parrish. The dinner that followed was terrific, as was any full meal at a restaurant to a struggling university student.

The next day didn’t go at all as planned. I woke up ill and simply couldn’t make the wedding. I had to call my best friend from high school and tell her I couldn’t come. I was just sick at heart, as much as the rest of me. She was a nursing student and her roommate was there for the wedding. Fortunately, Linda and I were about the same size. Shortly after the phone call, I passed the box holding the beautiful formal dress out the front door to the waiting brother-in-law.

By late afternoon, I was well enough to continue our journey. It was only a short distance to our next stop, where we would stay for a few days, so I was confident I would be okay to leave.

We located a mail box and dropped our tithe off. We found out later that Pastor Dan had used it as an illustration in a sermon, before depositing it in the collection plate. We knew our church family was praying for us.

Arriving at Liz’s house, the expression of astonishment and joy that radiated from Liz was enough to have made the long trip worthwhile. The four of us had a marvelous time getting caught up on the summer’s happenings. We had much to share as there had been so many conferences at the church throughout the weeks of summer. Even just the telling of our trip there and the unsolicited offerings we had received to get us over to her house and back, thrilled her as much as us.

The day before we had to start back for the university where we lived, Liz took us across the street to meet an incredible neighbor. The lady cared for kids no one else wanted, right there in her own home. What I saw there, indeed, ended up setting a change in motion that I had never anticipated. One that had nothing at all to do with this adventure.

****The Beginning of the End, Scene 2, Next Post