Don’t Blame God

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Nearly eight years ago, I sat at dinner in a restaurant with my husband and three youngest children. My youngest son, six years old at the time, was behaving a little strangely. While waiting for the waitress to take our order, he drank his water, then he drank mine, then he drank his nearest sister’s water. I wondered what he had eaten that made him so thirsty. As the dinner was served he continued to drink everything he could reach every time the waitress filled our glasses.
That night, after everyone was in bed, I went downstairs and looked up symptoms of diabetes. At that point, my son had only two of the symptoms. I hoped that the crazy thirst was just a fluke. The next night, as my son got out of the bathtub, I noticed that I could see every rib. Sudden weight loss is another symptom of type 1 diabetes. Again I put everyone to bed and retreated to the basement. This time I begged God to spare my son. I pleaded with Him to give me the diabetes instead. Normally my prayers ended with “Thy will be done,” but not this time. I was NOT ok with my son being sick and I made that very clear.
At the doctor’s office the next morning, the diagnosis was confirmed. My beautiful little boy was doomed to constant finger pricking and insulin injections and counting the carbohydrate value of everything he ate or drank for the rest of his life. There is no cure. We were sent to spend three days at the children’s hospital to stabilize his blood sugar and learn how to cope with this disease.
I brought my Bible along to the hospital, but I didn’t read it that week, and I didn’t pray at all. I was angry at God for giving my son diabetes, and I was hurt that He had not answered my prayers. Like nearly everyone I know, I believed that God was “up there” controlling everything that happened in my life. If only I had known then what I know now.
Many Christians believe that God is good, and that whatever He does, He does for a reason. They believe that someday they will understand why He caused or allowed every rotten thing they have experienced, just as I eventually became resigned to the diabetes and told my son I didn’t know why God gave it to him but to just trust Him because He knew what He was doing.
Fast forward many years to the time I began to read the Bible with the revelation that it is all true. Jesus said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” That makes it pretty clear that if there is stealing and killing and destroying going on, it isn’t Jesus doing it.
When Jesus was on the earth, He healed the sick, He fed the hungry, He gave sight to the blind. He willingly suffered all the punishment we deserved so that we might have life. It is the thief, Satan, who comes to steal our joy and destroy our lives and kill us by war and crime and accident and disease. Why doesn’t God stop him?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He planted a beautiful garden that contained everything needed by mankind. And it was all good. There was no sickness or crime. There wasn’t even bad weather! So what happened? We know about Eve and the forbidden fruit, but why was that such a big deal?
God had given mankind dominion (power and authority) over the earth. Once God says something, He never goes back on his word. So even though man did not do what God intended, God could not take back the authority that he had given. It’s like you give your daughter a car and tell her to use it to get to school and work and wherever they need to go. You give her only one rule: never let anyone else drive. Off your kid goes, and pretty soon, she picks up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker is a really smooth talker and convinces your daughter that everything will be so much better if she lets him drive. He gets behind the wheel and proceeds to start speeding, driving recklessly, and mowing down little old ladies. That’s not what you wanted the car to be used for, but you did give it to your kid. Once you signed the title over, there’s only so much you can do. When the hitchhiker goes spinning out of control, your child is going to pay the price.
So God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, and they handed it over to the devil when they chose his smooth talk over God’s intentions, kind of like your daughter let the hitchhiker drive. And that’s the deal with God and the earth. God still wants good things for us, but He is spirit, and he can only act on earth through people. He gave us free will and never violates it. We can choose to act in accord with His will and reap the blessings He has promised us, or we can go our own way and suffer the consequences.
God did not choose for my son to have diabetes any more than He chose for Cain to murder Abel. God created mankind perfect and whole; there was no disease in the Garden of Eden. That original sin opened the door to all the corruption that is in the earth today. Sometimes our suffering is a result of choices we have made, sometimes it’s a result of someone else’s choice, and sometimes it’s just a result of living in a fallen world that has been corrupted by every wrong choice since the time of Adam and Eve.
Eventually, through studying the Scriptures, I came to realize that God is still good. He does still love us and want good things for us, just like we want good things for our children. He sent Jesus to get our authority back from the devil, and as believers in Jesus we have His power to defeat the works of the enemy. I am in the process of learning about the authority I have and learning how to use it. I have stopped blaming God for what the devil does to us and what we do to each other. Instead, I thank God that He has given me, and all believers, everything we need to live an abundant life.

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Overwhelmed with gratitude

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Last night I dreamed I was about to be murdered. I did not want to be killed, and I tried to get away. But when I knew death was inevitable, I was just fine with it. As the knife cut into my neck, I shouted,”Jesus, I’m coming to see you! Mommy, I’m coming to see you!”
I don’t have a death wish. I have everything I need in this life and so much more than what I need. I have a fantastic family of uniquely gifted people, great friends, satisfying work, and plans for an even greater future. But I’m okay with leaving this life behind. The glorious paradise that God has prepared for those who love him is far superior to even the blessed life I have now. As grateful as I am for the here and now, I’m utterly amazed at what God has planned: a world without sickness, strife, or pain.
I don’t know how long it will be before I leave this earthly life. I’m in no hurry, but when the time comes, I’m ready!

Why Did He Have To Die?

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When I was a kid, we went to church on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter.)  We would interactively read through the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  The readers would take the part of Pilate (“What is truth?”) and Peter (“I don’t know him!”) and we, the congregation, would be the crowd.  “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

The priest would play Jesus, but he didn’t say much.  I always thought Jesus could have said or done any number of things to get himself out of the crucifixion, but he didn’t. Every year I would root for him, and every year he would meekly die a horrible death, forgiving the very people who were killing him.

Why?  I asked people, why did Jesus die? And they would say he died to forgive my sins.  It didn’t make any sense.  He forgave other people’s sins just by telling them their sins were forgiven.  Why did he have to die for mine?

I didn’t know until many years later that the separation between God and man was so absolute that there was no way we could cross it by ourselves.  We tend to judge ourselves by comparing ourselves to the people around us, and by that standard we can always find someone who is “worse” than we are.  I didn’t know it then, but God doesn’t grade on a curve.  He is holy and absolutely perfect, and to deserve to be in His presence, we have to be holy and perfect too.

One scripture says “The wages of sin is death.”  Wages are what you deserve to be paid for the work you have done. According to this, if I were a defendant in court being accused of having sinned, I would be declared guilty and sentenced to death. I have sinned and deserve to die.  But the rest of the verse says “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  How did I go from deserving death to getting eternal life instead? To being able to stand before God with a perfectly clear conscience?

When Jesus was tortured and crucified, He took the punishment for my sins and for the sins of the whole world; past, present, and future.  He paid all the debt we all owed to God.  And more than that, He suffered every kind of pain and torment so that we would not have to suffer them.  He defeated the devil so that we don’t have to be controlled by sin any longer. On the cross, He willingly exchanged His perfect righteousness for our sin!  If Jesus had not died, the judgment and punishment, the guilty verdict, would still be hanging over me and all of us, and there would be no way for us to pay it off. Other scriptures say that Jesus gave us the power to become children of God rather than children of the devil. Think about what it means to be a child of God.  If you could choose your parents, would you rather they be good and loving and generous, or would you choose ones who were hateful and violent and out to destroy you?

Like most parents, I love my children.  I want them to have good health and good relationships. I want them to find work that they enjoy and to be surrounded by people they love and who love them.  I want them to have peace, to be free from stress and worry, guilt and shame.  I want them to know that I love them no matter what they do.  And that is what God wants for His children.  I love being a child of God. I love knowing that what He wants to give me is better than anything I could ever get for myself.  Now that I know why Jesus died, and what His death accomplished, I am eternally grateful that he did.  I finally understand why they call the commemoration of His death Good Friday.

Feelings

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A couple weeks ago I spent much of a Saturday driving from Minnesota toward my childhood home in Indiana.  It is a drive I have made countless times over the 26 years since I moved “up north.”  I’ve driven it in every season, alone or with family, under all types of circumstances.  In all those trips for whatever reason I was driving, there was a constant.  My parents would be at the other end, and they would be happy to see me whether I was visiting for a week or just stopping by on my way through.

This trip was different though, because I was driving to my mother’s house, but my mother wasn’t there.  She went home to Jesus about six weeks ago.  Every time I thought about it, I felt like sobbing.  When I thought of my father trying to go on without his wife of almost 70 years, my heart broke. It hurts!

Then I would think about my mom and where she is now: in heaven with the Lord she served so long and so well, and with the many family members and friends who preceded her in death.  Her body is no longer broken and all her happy memories are restored.  I am SO HAPPY for my mom!  Soon I am smiling through my tears, and the tears dry up as I picture the reunions one by one: her parents, her sister, her grandson, the baby she lost, her friends…

This is how it works.  As long as I focus on the loss, on the hard things, I am sad, even desperate.  But as I reflect on the truth that my mom lived 90+ years and was more than ready to go home, I wouldn’t bring her back if I could.  Instead I look forward to the day I see her again.  This is a reminder to me to focus on the bigger truth, to look at the good in every situation, and not to dwell on whatever pain is affecting me.  There is good and beauty all around, if I take the time to look for it.  God is indeed good!

As I Have Loved You

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Last time I talked about how grace is a gift- how we don’t earn God’s love or acceptance by our behavior.  He just chooses to love us.  It is so good to know that God loves me no matter what!  It means I can stop pretending to be perfect.  I used to try to find an excuse for everything I did wrong, and I was constantly spinning the truth to show myself in the best possible light.  I’ve learned that I can just say, “I was wrong.  I’m sorry,” and it’s over. The world will not end if someone knows I messed up. If God isn’t holding it against me, why should I worry about what anyone else is going to think?  The point is, I’m not perfect, and God loves me anyway.

If it is true that God loves me even though I mess up, then it is also true that He loves other people the same way.  It is pretty easy to find excuses for my own misbehavior but I can be pretty bad about holding everyone around me to a higher standard than I hold myself.  Somewhere I got the notion that it was my right and duty to judge people according to their behavior, and to punish them or at least point out their failures. I didn’t realize that setting myself up as judge was more destructive to me than to the people I was judging.

It is easy to believe that “God loves everyone” in an abstract way; but it took some growing for me to accept that “everyone” includes people I disagree with and people who have hurt me. He loves the rich and the poor, the leaders and the outcasts.  Jesus ate with sinners, He fed them, He taught them, He healed them, He cast out their demons.  Ultimately He died for them.  He really loves them.  He really loves us.  Each and every one of us broken human beings is precious to Him.  If God, who is perfect and holy, can forgive sinners, shouldn’t I?

Jesus said these things, and I would have to believe that He meant for us to actually do them.

“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”    

“Do not repay evil for evil, but answer evil with good.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

As I have loved you.  The kind of love Jesus displayed, the kind of love He commands us to give, is radical, expensive, extravagant, boundless.  It is the most powerful force in the universe. 

My take is this: If a man insults you and spreads lies about you, speak well of him, do him a favor, buy him a cup of coffee.  Repay evil with good.  It is amazing what a little bit of generosity can do to change a bad situation. 

If someone has hurt you deeply or repeatedly and there is longstanding enmity between you, you may not be able to buy them a cup of coffee.  What you can do is this: pray for them. Every time you think of them, pray that God blesses them and brings good things to them.  As you “pray for those who persecute you,” you will be released from the pain they have caused you, and it will be replaced by God’s tremendous love toward that person.  Keep praying until the day you are able to look them in the eye and say “I forgive you.” At that point, it will be a joy for you to see them, and you truly will wish them to be blessed.  The other person may be changed, or they may not.  But the pain they caused you will be gone.

Love is the only power greater than hatred.  In the end, love really does conquer all.

 

I Don’t Owe God Anything

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You’re reading this, so the title must have grabbed your attention.  It wasn’t my idea– I was planning to write “Lessons from a Triathlon, Part 1”.  But I was in my kitchen doing kitchen stuff, singing along in my head to some song on Pandora, when it hit me: I don’t owe God anything.  Have you ever received just the perfect gift or act of kindness from someone, at just the right moment, so you wanted to laugh and cry at the same time? That’s how I felt when I realized this.

I was raised in a tradition of doing stuff (and not doing stuff) for God.  There were lots of rules and expectations, and I was actually taught that even though my sins could be forgiven if I did x, y, and z, every sin I committed would leave a residue on my soul that had to be burned off by suffering.  Other traditions don’t go so far as burning off the residue of sin, but a lot of them give you the impression that God is angry with you every time you sin and/or pleased with you when you do stuff like go to church, give to the poor, read the Bible, and pray.

Years ago I first heard that “it is by grace you are saved, and not by works.”  What is this grace?  One story I heard involves a person who is wronged by another and instead of punching the offender, goes out and buys him an ice cream cone. The point was, grace is something good God gives us with complete disregard to what we actually deserve from Him.  But why?

The piece of this that hit me that day in the kitchen was that grace is a gift.  If someone gives you a gift you can’t pay for it, or it isn’t really a gift.  You aren’t expected to get them a gift in return (in theory anyway.)  The nature of a gift is that the giver gives it freely, out of love for the recipient. 

Now we are getting somewhere: God gives grace out of His love for us. Though I had heard about it all my life, I never had the least understanding of God’s love until I had kids.  Think about it:  A baby girl is born.  She is incapable of anything but crying, eating, spitting up, filling her diaper, and (hopefully) sleeping.  What good is she to the parents?  Yet they will do everything in their power for that kid, out of love.  There is no chance that the baby is going to pay them back for their sacrifice any time soon, if ever.  But the parents still want to give her the best of everything.

That’s what God’s love is like, at least a little bit.  Compared to Him we are helpless and useless (not to mention horrible to each other,) and yet He gives us everything- not because He needs or expects us to do something for Him, but because He chooses to love us. We are His children because He wants it that way.  Not only does He not expect us to pay Him back, He says we can’t receive His love except as a gift.  We can’t buy salvation and we can’t earn it.  That ubiquitous verse you see everywhere, John 3:16, sums it up.  God so LOVED the world that He GAVE His Son, so that everyone who believes would have eternal life. 

Grace is a gift.  It’s free.  The verse says “Everyone who believes.”  Not “everyone who goes to church, gives to the poor, reads the Bible.”  Not “everyone who holds onto the correct doctrine.”  Not even “everyone who does more good things than bad things.”

It’s free.  He gave it.  I received it.  I don’t owe God anything, and that’s something to shout about!

Why I Did A Triathlon

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Last fall, I decided to do a triathlon. I told a lot of people about it, and generally got one of two reactions. People either said “Way to go!” or they asked “Are you crazy?” Some people asked why, and I told them I had only one item on my bucket list, and it was to finish a triathlon before I was 50.
That was sort of true, but I made up the bucket list and put the triathlon on it because I was not ready to talk about the real reason. That story is more complicated and much more interesting than a bucket list item.
I had trouble with my joints from the time I was a kid, and it grew progressively worse as I aged. It was common for me to lie in bed at night and do a mental inventory of my body parts, trying to find something that didn’t hurt (the top of my head, the little finger on my left hand) and to focus on that one pain-free area so that I could fall asleep. Eventually I had one doctor diagnose me with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrom, and another tell me that I could delay the inevitable with braces and surgeries, but that I’d end up in a wheelchair by the time I was 60. I did wear braces for years, on my wrist and my legs, and had a couple of surgeries to alleviate the pain and other effects. I was about to schedule surgery to have my wrist fused. Then God spoke.
I was reading my Bible, something I’ve done pretty regularly for the past 15 years, and God spoke to me, saying, “It’s all true.” Now I thought I already believed that the Bible was true, but it turns out there were a whole lot of passages that I didn’t understand, by which I mean that I couldn’t reconcile what they said with what I saw around me. Instead of wrestling with those passages, I would skip over them until I came across something I did understand, and that I had no trouble believing.
God clearly meant for me to take Him at His word, and I began to read with a different approach. One of the things I read was that Jesus healed me- provided physical healing- when He was beaten and crucified. (1 Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:5) I grew up believing that God could heal me if He wanted to, but I wasn’t healed so apparently He didn’t want to. That view of mine didn’t match what Scripture says though, so for the first time I really believed that God was right and I was wrong. Jesus also says, many times, “your faith has healed you.” I continued to study, and that built up my faith, and I was healed of the joint issues (among other things, but that’s another story.) Praise God! My braces are on a back shelf in the closet and I am in better health than I have ever been!
I’ve never been any sort of athlete, but I chose to do a triathlon to demonstrate part of what God has done for me. I had a great time at the triathlon yesterday, praising God and celebrating my new freedom. It was awesome!