GOING HOME

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14:1-4 (ESV)]

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” [John 11:25-26 (ESV)]

After a brief stay at hospital, we’d brought Gert, my 102-year old mother-in-law, home to die. Although she was a woman of faith, she seemed frightened of the journey that lay ahead of her and kept calling for her mother and father (who’ve been gone for more than half a century). When I shared this with the Hospice nurse, she asked if I’d told her that it was all right to leave. Since Gert was in a state of semi-consciousness, I questioned whether she would understand but the nurse assured me that hearing is the last sense to go.

That day, as I sat at her side, I read to Gert from the Bible, prayed with her, thanked her, and reminded her of her favorite memories. I knew them well since, not wanting to lose her amazing history when we lost her, I’d asked her about them (and written them down) several years ago. While talking to her that afternoon, I remembered a story Gert told me. Beginning with, “I believe in prayer!” she told of a cold winter day when she’d met some friends at a resort across the lake from her house. On her way home that evening, she took a short cut across the frozen lake (probably something the twelve-year-old had been told not to do). “I heard the ice cracking all around me,” she related, “and, believe me, I honestly thought I was a goner that time!” Sure that she’d fall through the ice and no one would ever find her, the terrified girl recited everything she had ever learned in her Sunday school classes. Having seen the “Star Memory Certificate” she’d received as a girl, I knew that included the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the 23rd Psalm, and all of the books of the Bible.

I reminded her of that cold winter night when she was a child and how her faith had gotten her across the ice and safely home to her mother and father. Telling her I understood the walk was frightening, I reassured her that she wasn’t a goner and we’d all know where to find her. Reading from the book of John, I reminded her that God had prepared a room especially for her and that, across the daunting lake was that room and her home: a home where the lights were on, the fire was lit, and her loved ones were waiting for her with spritz cookies and a warm cup of cocoa. Calmed and almost serene, Gert went to her forever home early that evening.

Gert once told me she loved the 23rd psalm but added that she always skipped “that one line.” Sunday afternoon, when I read that beautiful psalm to her, I included all of its comforting words. I spoke to Gert of that dark valley and God’s reassurance that He is beside her, just as He was that cold night ninety years ago. While I’ve always thought of our Christian faith as comforting to those who mourn, that afternoon reminded me of how comforting it is for those taking their final journey through the dark valley of death. Although neither family nor friends can accompany us on our last walk, we will not be alone and, waiting on the other side, is a beautiful room  prepared especially for us in our eternal home.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. [Psalm 23:4,6 (ESV)]

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WORRY AND PRIDE

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)]

tropical water lilyWhen the Israelites sent scouts out to Canaan, they were doing due diligence and getting the lay of the land. Let’s remember, Moses had only asked them to scout out the land, not to determine how or whether they should proceed. But, when they returned, ten of the twelve reported the Promised Land was the land of giants who were undefeatable. In spite of Moses’s leadership, the reassurances of Joshua and Caleb, and God’s promises and power, the Israelites pridefully decided they knew more than God and chose fear instead of stepping out in faith.

Right now, while I’m not looking over the Jordan to Canaan, I’m in the land of waiting—between tests and results, between diagnosis and treatment. On the plus side, at least I won’t be here for forty years as were the Israelites! Nevertheless, the land of waiting can turn into a land of fear and worry. Our “what is?” evolves into “what if?” Instead of scouting Canaan, we scour the Internet, sift through contradictory information, imagine assorted scenarios, try to make sense of medical terms, research, and recommendations without benefit of a medical degree, and turn unknown challenges into undefeatable giants.

It occurred to me that, to a great extent, my worry is the result of pride. The Israelites trusted themselves more than God and, apparently, I trust myself and my research more than either my doctors or God. Could I really think that I, whose only medical degree is that of Dr. Mom, am smarter than my doctors? There’s a fine line between understanding a condition and self-diagnosing or treating it, between concern about something and worry over it, and I’ve crossed that line. Having already researched the qualifications of my physicians, I was satisfied with their credentials, so why did I think I should second guess them? I must remember that God didn’t ask the Israelites for their opinion about Canaan; He asked them to trust Him. Not trusting our doctors can be a mistake but not trusting God is a sin!

I’ve been pridefully leaning on my own understanding when I should be leaning on God. He’s the one in control of my tomorrows and whatever they may bring. My prayer is no longer that I become more enlightened and better qualified than my doctors but that God leads me to the right doctors and gives wisdom to them.  We can worry or we can trust God, but we can’t do both! Let us cast our anxiety and cares on Him, our Great Physician.

Do what you can, and then trust God with what you cannot do. [Craig Groeschel]

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

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WHERE WAS HE? (Daniel – part 3)

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)]

Frabel - Naples Botanic GardenSomeone was missing from yesterday’s story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace: their good friend Daniel. When Nebuchadnezzar’s giant statue was erected on the plain of Dura, word was sent to all of his officials to assemble there for the statue’s dedication. We know Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were there because Daniel reported that they got tossed in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow to an idol. But what of Daniel? He’s the one who chronicled the event: the one who wrote that all of the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and provincial officials were present. Daniel gives no explanation for his absence at the dedication of the king’s golden statue.

We’d like to think that Daniel remained back in Babylon for some important task at the palace, was elsewhere on a vital mission, or even sick in bed. We want to think Daniel wasn’t there because, if he’d been in Dura that day, he should have joined his friends in the furnace. Four men would have been sent to certain death unless, unlike his friends, Daniel had bowed to the idol! Daniel, however, is our hero: the wise prophet who later braved a king’s wrath to pray and survived being thrown into a den of lions. We never want to think that our heroes are real people, with feet of clay, just like us. When we look at the Bible’s heroes, however, they really are every bit as flawed as are we! Among others, we have drunken Noah, lying Abraham, impatient Sarah, deceitful Jacob, thieving Rachel, temperamental Moses, jealous Miriam, weak Aaron, immoral Rahab, psychotic Saul, adulterous David, sex-addicted Solomon, bad dads Eli and Samuel, the thieving publican Matthew, and Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus. They all disappointed God and sinned at one time or another.

We’ll never know if Daniel was in that fiery furnace with his friends, far from Dura that day, or if he bowed to the idol. Oddly, the remote possibility that he might have bowed his head to an idol doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t disturb me because we have a great God of second (third, fourth, and more) chances. If Daniel sinned that day, along with prophecy and history, his story is one of forgiveness and redemption.

What we do know is that that God continued to give Daniel wisdom and revelations during the more than seventy years he served the four rulers of Babylon. We know that, when another opportunity arose to honor his God by rejecting idolatry, Daniel did the right thing. Perhaps he was inspired by his friends’ faith. In spite of knowing that he’d face certain death in a lions’ den, Daniel remained faithful and continued to openly pray to God rather than to the king. “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully rescue you,” said the king, and God did. Daniel, at the end of his story, was as faithful to God as were his three friends that day on the plain of Dura.

For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions. [Daniel 6: 26-27 (NLT)]

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WHAT WOULD YOU DO? (Daniel – part 2)

Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. [Isaiah 43:1b-3 (NLT)]

climbing asterOne night King Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream and asked the court’s wise men to interpret it. Whether he couldn’t remember it (as happens with dreams) or, being obstinate, wanted to test the soothsayers and astrologers, we don’t know, but the king expected them to tell him the dream’s meaning without his revealing its content. Indignant at their failure to do so, he ordered the execution of all of Babylon’s counselors (which included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Daniel approached the king and asked for time so that he could discover the dream’s meaning.

That evening the four men pled with God for His mercy and, during the night, the dream’s meaning was revealed to Daniel. After praising God for His revelation, Daniel correctly interpreted the king’s dream. In appreciation, the king praised Daniel’s God, chose Daniel for his court, and appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as administrators over Babylon. While Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that Daniel’s God was the greatest of gods, he never understood that Daniel’s God was the one and only God!

A large statue, only the head of which was gold, had been part of Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream. Perhaps, thinking he could change prophecy’s prediction that his kingdom would come to an end, he erected an enormous statue on a pedestal that was entirely overlaid with gold. When all of the officials were gathered around this ninety foot colossus, it was commanded that everyone, both foreign and Babylonian, was to bow to the image and worship it; those who disobeyed would be thrown into a blazing furnace. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down, the king flew into a rage. Even when they were given a second chance, the men refused to worship the idol.

This was the kind of furnace used to bake bricks or smelt metal. We’re not talking third degree burns here; with a temperature of 1,800 degrees, they’d be cremated! The three, however, had faith in the God they served. This knew the God who kept them healthy and gave them wisdom was both good and powerful. Although confident that He could save them, they also knew that He might not choose to do so. Placing their lives in the hands of God, the three friends stood strong! Although thrown into the furnace, the Angel of the Lord saved them, and the men exited the furnace unharmed.

We only have to look at the fates of most of the disciples to know that angels won’t always save the faithful from incineration or open the doors to their prison cells. The disciples were imprisoned, beheaded, crucified, stoned, and beaten. Sadly, in some places, martyrdom of Christ’s followers continues today. The three men’s statement of faith is one of the strongest we’ll find throughout Scripture. Knowing there was no chance of survival, would we trust God as did they? Could we remain as faithful and strong as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. [Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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PERSEVERING PRAYER

O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. [Psalm 88:1-3 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronLast month, a man crashed his car into the frigid waters of the Klamath River in California. Although the accident occurred around 3:00 in the morning, the nearly submerged upside-down car wasn’t reported until 5:30 AM. The dive team finally was able to attach a cable to its undercarriage and tow the vehicle to dry land at 8:00 AM. By this time, thinking it a recovery rather than a rescue operation and with airbags blocking the windows, no one expected to find anyone alive in the car. When the team commander opened the door, however, he heard the words, “Help me!” The car’s driver had survived nearly five hours in icy water while breathing from an air pocket in the car. I have no idea whether the man was a believer but I imagine he might be one now.

This morning, I thought of that man when reading Psalm 88. Although I think the psalmist, Heman the Ezrahite, was writing metaphorically about death drawing near, being “as good as dead,” standing “helpless and desperate,” in “the darkest depths,” with “wave after wave” engulfing him, in a “trap with no way of escape,” and with terrors swirling around “like floodwaters” that engulfed him completely, those words sounded as if they could have been penned by the driver of that submerged car. Alone, in darkness, in a frigid river, desperately trying to keep his head above water, fearful of running out of air, and thinking he’d met his end, I wonder if that frantic man prayed as passionately as did Heman in his psalm.

In his prayer, the despairing Heman doesn’t mince words; nothing is concealed. He lays his miserable life out for God (and everyone else) with brutal honesty. Grieving and in desperate need, estranged from friends and loved ones, he complains that darkness is his closest friend. Yet, in spite of his list of afflictions, there are no accusations, calls for revenge, or anger; there is just woeful resignation, acceptance, and entreaty.

While this is a psalm of lament, it is also one of trust, hope and perseverance. Freely expressing his discouragement and complaint, the psalmist calls to the God of his salvation. Knowing that God is sovereign over his suffering, he also knows God is sovereign over his relief. Even though it seems as if his prayers aren’t being heard, Heman tirelessly continues to pray, crying out to God “day by day” and at night.

I’ve never been gasping for air in an upside down car submerged in icy water and I don’t think I’ve ever been as desperate as Heman must have been when he wrote his psalm. Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse me from my often sporadic, passionless and perfunctory prayers. Why does it seem that we must be in trouble, in desperate straits, in need of rescue, or in deep despair before we are as forthright, fervent and constant as Heman in our prayers? Shouldn’t every one of our prayers be said with the same level of urgency, ardor, honesty and emotion? Could some of our prayers remain unanswered simply because we haven’t offered them as earnestly as did Heman? What will it take before we pray with his passion? I certainly hope it doesn’t involve an overturned car floating down a river.

When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart. [John Bunyan]

I am in a trap with no way of escape. My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O Lord; I lift my hands to you for mercy. … O Lord, I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day. [Psalm 88 8b-9,13 (NLT)]

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. [James 5:16b (NLT)]

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THE OMEGA

I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” [Revelation 1:8 (NLT)]

alpha and omegaIn the book of Revelation, when Jesus says He is the Alpha (the beginning), He also says He is the Omega (the end). He’s not talking of alphabets but rather the absolute beginning, revealed in Genesis, and the absolute end, revealed in Revelation. God had the first word when He spoke the universe into existence and He will have the last word when the world as we know it ends.

Much of the prophecy in the Bible is frightening and it was meant to be. Jeremiah’s warnings to Judah were as urgent as the weather alerts on our phones that tell us to take cover because of an approaching tornado. That kind of warning, while frightening, is meant to save lives. On the other hand, there are other prophecies in the Bible that give us hope. Consider Isaiah’s prophecies of a Messiah, the many prophecies that the people of Judah would return from their captivity in Babylon, and Revelation’s hopeful words that describe a time when death is gone, evil disappears, there are no more tears and sorrow, and all things are made new.

Hidden in Revelation’s joyful news, however, is the prophecy that there will be a final judgment which, depending on the person, can be good or bad news. For those who put their faith in Christ—who thirst of His water—there is nothing to fear; Jesus is forever. For those who ignored previous warnings and failed to put their faith in Christ, however, the eternality of hell awaits.

That Jesus is both the Alpha and Omega is a reminder to all of us: be ready! There will be a time when everyone will give an account to God of his or her life. Jesus is not the omega the way Z ends the alphabet. He’s not like the last page of a book with a finite number of pages. Jesus is the end of an eternal and everlasting book. Whether that never-ending book is set in the New Jerusalem, where God lives among his people, is entirely up to us.

And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. [Revelation 21:6-8 (NLT)]

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