The Steps that Led Me to Murder

Sometimes we think we’re so righteous.

Sometimes we think there are things we wouldn’t do.

But often it’s not because we’re so good that we don’t yield to more temptation but because our experiences are so limited, so sheltered, so privileged.

I thought about that the day I tried to kill our lizards.

One of my kids, I will not name her in this post but you can guess which one she is, had a relentless desire for house pets. One of her parents, I will also not name his name in this post but you’ll get the idea, was no match for her pout in the pet store. (The other parent, ME, wisely avoided entering all pet stores with said child.)

We had two cats which were wonderful creatures. We’d also had a poodle who was not. He smelled. He barked. He howled. And he didn’t like to pee outside when it rained (or was cloudy, damp, or slightly humid). Anyway, we’d lucked out one February night when he disappeared (I mean, sadly, one February night, he disappeared.)

We were in pet loss recovery when this child’s OTHER parent thought a stroll through the pet shop might move her grieving process along.

Oh, it moved all right. Right into an expensive and tedious relationship with an aquarium full of anoles.

Have you ever cared for an anole?

They are tiny lizards that look kind of cute until you learn they’re more high maintenance than rare orchids. They require one kind of special heat lamp by day and then a different type of heat lamp by night. They need their environment “spritzed” with filtered water several times a day. Their entire aquarium needs to be changed and cleaned regularly.

To top it off, they live on live crickets. Yes, that’s right. We bought pets to feed to our pets – which also requires regular trips to the pet store which must be avoided with one particular small member of our family who seemed to have been directly descended from Noah.

Anyway, little Miss Noah Jr. loves animals but she tires quickly of the actual care and maintenance of said pets. And, of course, the parent who indulges her at pet stores worked a full-time job so the parent who knew better than to drag her into pet stores was left with the day in and day out care of this crew of lizards.

Day and night. Night and day. Change the light. Clean the cage. Spritz the cage. Buy the crickets. Feed the anoles. Change the light. Clean the cage. Spritz the cage. Buy the crickets. Feed the anoles. This endless ritual was tagged onto caring for actual humans who also needed daily care, cleaning and feeding, homeschooling and caring for two cats.

Sometimes I comforted myself with the thought that every pet dies. How long can anoles live, after all?

A really long time apparently.

After months and months (and oh, the miraculous return of our smelly, high strung poodle after four months missing! My cup runneth over), I found myself casually Googling the life expectancy of anoles, potential diseases, their causes, etc.

Then, after even the pet loving child stopped staring into the aquarium, moving on as she had with the miracle dog’s return, I started doing not as thorough a job of cleaning the cage and found myself buying sub-standard crickets from a kid on the corner. I spritzed less often. But the hardy anoles seemed to thrive on my neglect.

I noticed the cats seemed fascinated with the lizards so occasionally I left the wire top slightly askew but apparently our cats were so pampered and lazy that the effort of hunting for food had been completely bred out of them. (Hey, we could have done a homeschool unit on the food chain!)

Finally, I found myself one morning leaning over the mesh wire covering of the aquarium holding a can of Raid. “One good long spray”, I thought to myself, “how bad could it be? They’re just lizards, after all. They’ve had a good life. Probably better than most lizards. And no one will ever know.”

“Mom, what are you doing? That’s not the water spray bottle?” Caught in the act, poised in position to murder.

“Oops. Silly me. You’re right. Heh, heh. Just a little mistake there.”

I think I’m so tough and so principled but apparently I can be broken simply by having to care for a tank of thankless lizards for a few months.

Sometimes we think we’re so righteous but maybe we’ve just been so safe and secure for so long, we haven’t run up against a wall of temptation that seemed like the only way out.

There is a verse in Psalm 125 of the Songs of Ascent that says this: “The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.”
 The righteous can only suffer evil for so long before they are tempted to use their own hands to do evil.

I try to remember that when I hear about choices other people make – people who live in conditions far different from mine. People who have bigger problems than demanding pets.

Sin is sin is sin and deserves the Lord’s judgment. But, before I judge someone else’s sin, I ask myself what I would do if I lived in their situation. Without the Lord’s help, would I make better choices?

I think about that moment (and many others far worse) when I would happily have committed reptile-icide if I hadn’t been caught and I thank Jesus for His presence in my life. I pray the Lord’s prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

The anoles eventually died. The poodle lived on and on and on. And I continued to pray the Lord’s prayer, especially when that OTHER parent brought home a gift for the child who was grieving her last anole– surprise! – Guinea pigs! (I wish I was making this stuff up!)

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Changing Paper Towels for God

“I don’t get you at all.” The gentleman remarked to me. “You have more joy than you have a right to! Sometimes, it kind of ticks me off because I just don’t get it.”

It sounds like he was being rude to me but I knew he was honestly baffled. I work a part-time job at the Y changing paper towels. OK, it’s more than that but from his perspective, that sums up what I do.

In fact, this particular gentleman once sat across from me in my big glass office when I held a position of some prestige in his eyes as the director of a tutoring agency. I advised him on an effective educational plan for his daughter and he paid me a lot of money to do it.

That was five years ago when I decided to try my hand at homeschooling, caring for my family and working full-time. I rocked at that job. It paid good money. I doubled the income of the agency in one year.

It nearly killed me.

The time commitment, the constant push to make more money, the demands of wealthy parents, the relentless drive of a never-satisfied (and somewhat unbalanced) boss and the endless needs of clients took their toll on me. My family life suffered. Home schooling suffered. My nerves suffered. The only thing that was healthy was my bank account.

So, one day, with my family’s enthusiastic blessing, I resigned.

And started changing paper towels in the workout room at the Y because that’s where God really wanted me.

And something happened.

People with healthy bank accounts, big offices, and titles began to envy me and they couldn’t even figure out why.

I talk with them every day in the course of my job. People with enough money to retire early. People with money that works for them. People traveling, enjoying good health, living the good life, able to spend hours working out each week. My job is to listen to them, to serve them in pursuit of healthier lifestyles, to change paper towels when they run out. (and my assignment from God is to be a light in their midst.)

There are problems in my life. My husband’s health. My anemic bank account. The ups and downs of an older teen and a twenty-something in transition. Unemployed relatives. Plenty of stress.

In the minds of the people I listen to every day, I should be miserable. I should envy them. I should be a mess.

Instead, they see something so foreign to them they can’t even name it.

It is well with my soul.

One woman actually asked me this a few months ago. “Tell me something. I have everything I ever planned to have and I’m retired with time to devote to whatever I want – why do I feel envious of you? What is it you have that I don’t?”

They don’t much like the answer.

“Jesus.” I replied. “Jesus is what you sense is different about me.”

She waved me off, dismissed my answer with a “Pshaw” and a shake of her head. That can’t be it.

But it is.

Because of Christ, because of His presence in my life, I am happier with a life full of trouble changing paper towels at the Y than the people who surround me enjoying all that life has to offer.

I don’t always wear my happiness on my face or in my emotions, believe me. I feel stress. I have carried so much stress for so long I’ve actually done damage to the muscles in my right shoulder and neck. I’m undergoing physical therapy to try to fix it.

And yet, even with that, on a level about soul-depth, all is well – so well, in fact, that it can be detected by everyday mortals.

It is well with my soul.

Psalm 125:1-2 says this: “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”

The Songs of Ascent don’t sugar coat the trouble that pilgrims to the heart of God endure along the way but they recognize that through the trouble, God is with His people. And so it is with me.

Maybe one day, I’ll sit in another big office and my bank account will burst with health. Maybe I will travel and enjoy retirement. My husband’s health has improved and this is good. The Lord leads His people into high places just as surely as He leads them into the lowly ones. There is nothing wrong with titles, good salaries, or high-powered careers. What is key is going where the Lord leads.

But this I know: I would rather change paper towels in the place where the Lord wants me to be serving the people He sends in my direction than sitting in a place of prestige serving only the goals the world says are worth pursuing.

The Lord surrounds me just as surely as the mountains surround Jerusalem. And if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, so He also surrounds you. Wherever you are. In a luxurious office or changing diapers in a duplex, defending clients in court or cleaning other people’s homes. If you are following Jesus, He placed you where you are to serve those you encounter. To be a light. To be salt. To testify that Jesus makes the difference no matter where we are.

I change paper towels for God. It is well with my soul.

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Airborne Threats to the Troops – True Weapons of Mass Destruction

Every war has them.

The voices on the radio.

Velvet vipers, serpent sirens worming their way into the minds of soldiers far from home, filling their thoughts with lies and enough half-truths to be truly dangerous.

Different names for different wars. Tokyo Rose. Hanoi Hannah. Axis Sally.

Luring soldiers to them with music from home, their silky voices breaking in with announcements:

How many of their ranks had been killed. The futility of their cause. How they were forgotten or hated at home. How their loved ones had moved on. How the war was already lost but no one had bothered to tell them. How they should surrender. Give up. Prepare to die.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Propaganda travels through the airwaves like a well-aimed arrow, a sniper’s bullet, a smart bomb.

It’s been a weapon in every war.

Our enemy has been using it since the Garden and is a master in the art of lies and half-truths. He is the prince of the air and is skilled at finding his target: our minds – pathway to our hearts.

It happened in ancient Israel, too.

When the Israelites reached the Promised Land, their own spies returned from recon with the propaganda of their own fears: “Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky.” Deuteronomy 1:28a

Jeremiah cautioned the people with these words, “Do not lose heart or be afraid when rumors are heard in the land; one rumor comes this year, another the next, rumors of violence in the land and of ruler against ruler.” Jeremiah 51:46

When Nehemiah led the people in rebuilding the wall, they faced an assault of ridicule, lies and threats – rumors on the wind. The people nearly lost heart but Nehemiah understood the danger of propaganda and took action.

He set some of the people to stand armed guard while others continued the work. “After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.” Nehemiah 4:14-15

This weapon of war has not changed. In fact in these times, it has become a weapon of mass destruction.

Modern Christians face a steady onslaught of lies and half-truths that now sail through the airwaves with the speed of a text, a tweet, a headline, a heartbeat.

Technology has advanced but the message is the same:

How many of our ranks have been lost. The futility of our cause. How we are forgotten or hated at home. How our loved ones have moved on. How the war is already lost but no one has bothered to tell us. How we should surrender. Give up. Prepare to die. No one is coming for us. No one is coming back.

Listen today and notice how many avenues there are in your life for the enemy to deliver this message. The media you face. The conversation of coworkers. The challenge of your teens. Lectures from professors. The music you hear. Statistics quoted by a friend or loved one. Even from a fellow soldier – a message not of encouragement but of despair. Even your own fear.

Compare that to the number of avenues for the truth to reach your ears, your mind, your heart. Does something need to change?

How about the words that come from your lips? Are they shields of faith for those who hear or do they weaken the walls so that those who hear are more vulnerable to incoming artillery?

Psalm 125, next in the Songs of Ascent, begins with a truth that does not change.

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” Psalm 125: 1-2

If you trust in the Lord (not in rumors or yourself or the media or the visible church) – if you trust in the Lord, you are like Mount Zion which cannot be shaken but endures forever!

In the moment, I feel shaken. In the moment, I do not feel like I will endure forever. But that is a rumor on the wind. That is a message from Earthbound Evelyn of the propaganda airwaves.

The truth is that the Lord surrounds me like a wall of mountains. He is my fortress. He is my stronghold.

The enemy can shout taunts at me from the other side. They can send messages on the air and do considerable damage to my spirit if I let them but the truth is that they cannot reach me – not really. Not in the long run.

Who I really am is safe with Jesus Christ and will return with Him. Colossians 3: 3-4 says “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” And He will return.

The voices of propaganda abound. The air is thick with their lies. We must train our ears, our minds, our hearts to the truth. As we climb higher to the heart of God, we must erect the truth around us like a barricade, like Nehemiah’s wall.

To whom are you listening today? What words fill the airwaves around you? Are you losing heart? Perhaps it’s time for a long steady assault of truth. Press in to God, loved ones.

“Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

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I Would Like You to Meet My Invisible Friend

When my daughter was very young, she had an invisible friend. He was a penguin and his name was Louie. My husband traveled frequently and Hannah’s creative, imaginative way of coping was Louie.

Louie’s chief occupation, it seemed, was annoying Hannah’s older brother. Wherever Zack wanted to sit, Louie was already sitting and Zack was in constant danger of crushing the fragile penguin.

Apparently, Louie also had the ability to move with lightning speed from chair to chair so Zack would have to play a harrowing game of “guess where Louie is sitting now?” before Hannah would clear the way and inform him of the one seat currently unoccupied by her imaginary friend.

Louie was capable of causing even greater mischief than that, however. After a couple months of Louie’s existence, I thought to mention him to Hannah’s kindly Sunday school teacher.

“Hi, Mrs. ____, I just wanted to let you know that I am aware of Hannah’s imaginary friend, Louie and I’m wondering if he shows up in your classroom at all.”

“Oh dear, Louie is imaginary?”

“Yes, he’s an invisible penguin, why?”

“I am so relieved to hear this. I was beginning to have concerns about this “Louie person” who would come to stay at your house whenever your husband was traveling!”

OK, so I imagine Louie the invisible penguin had managed to send my name to the top of several prayer lists before I could clear things up!

Invisibility is a tough trait in a friend. Just ask the Israelites! They struggled constantly with serving an unseen God.

Other nations would stand beside their giant bronze or wood idols and the Israelites would proclaim their God to be greater and more powerful.

“Oh, really?” The enemy nation would respond. “If He’s so great, then show us your God.”

I imagine the Israelites looking at one another until one would respond “OK, He’s invisible but He’s right here. You just can’t see Him, that’s all.”

Sometimes the nation of Israel would weary of serving a God no one could see and they would fall prey to the temptation to worship idols or rely on kings or great shows of wealth and power. This never led to anything but trouble and it would be easy to judge them for it if I didn’t struggle with it myself.

Recently, after a stressful work situation, I was debriefing with a professional counselor who asked me about the current stresses in my life outside of work. He asked me what kind of support I have.

“I do have a strong relationship with God and He is a source of support.” I replied.

“Well, really I was looking for support outside of yourself.” He responded.

“I have family and friends but God’s really my biggest help. Wait, are you saying He is NOT an outside support?”

“A belief system is a wonderful aid in life but we do need outside resources.”

“So,” I replied carefully. “Are you saying you don’t believe that God is an outside resource? Are you saying that my faith is helpful but it’s all from within me?”

“Exactly. If God is real for you and you derive strength from that, then that is good.” He smiled as if I’d finally understood a challenging math problem.

“What if I tell you that God is a being, a separate entity that exists, is real and with whom I have a real relationship? What if I tell you I talk with Him and I hear from Him and He provides actual help to me?”

“Yes, well, that’s very interesting, isn’t it?” He replied as he made a note in his file, no doubt recommending that I be watched for other signs of mental illness.

It’s not easy serving a God no one can see.

People can see other people, money, diplomas on walls, big houses, nice cars, fit bodies, beauty, followers on twitter, hits on blogs, ratings, poll results, bank accounts and titles. They can’t see the God we serve.

So when we tell them He is our help in times of trouble, they worry about us. When we tell them we stand up for an unpopular truth out of obedience to Him, they are angry with us. When we invite them to enter into a relationship with Him, they think “What good is it to have the friendship of an invisible God?”.

They’re thinking Louie the penguin. We’re talking about the most powerful being in the Universe.

Even more reason for us to continue to testify along with the Psalmist that the Lord is a present help in times of trouble. It is as vital and as difficult to testify to now as it was in the days of ancient Israel.

1 If the LORD had not been on our side—
let Israel say- 2 if the LORD had not been on our side
when men attacked us, 3 when their anger flared against us,
they would have swallowed us alive; 4 the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us, 5 the raging waters would have swept us away. 6 Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. 7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. 8 Our help is in the name of the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 124

But testify I shall. The Lord is with me. He is my helper, my rock, my deliverer, my salvation. He hears me when I call and He answers me.

Do you testify to the presence of the invisible but living God in your life? What is your testimony today?

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How I Escaped Cheapside and Changed My Stars

Sometimes I forget I can change.

Does that ever happen to you?

There are times I feel stuck, trapped, in bondage to a pattern or a circumstance or a habit and I’m tempted to despair or to give up hope.

Does that ever happen to you?

Then, God uses something to remind me of the truth.

I have a few “guilty pleasure” movies and one of them is “A Knight’s Tale” starring Heath Ledger. It’s the story of the son of a poor thatcher who grows up on “Cheapside” in London but eventually wins a knighthood through courage, purity of heart and fairly unbelievable circumstances but, hey, it’s not an historical documentary, it’s a story.

When he is just a small boy, his father apprentices William to a great knight. As he bids the lad good-bye, he offers him the hope that “perhaps he can change his stars.”

William impersonates a knight for much of the film and “passes” as a noble but of course, in time, he is found out and must endure the contempt and ridicule of the arrogant upper class snobs that he ever dared try to rise above his station.

At last, however, the prince of England, who has recognized William’s heart and integrity, vouches for his nobility and awards him a knighthood that can never be challenged.

I love that moment.

Until that moment, William was without hope. He was guilty of the charges against him. Bravely, he refuses to run away. He chooses to face the consequences for his actions, not expecting the prince’s gift of salvation.

This is my story – and yours, as well, if you have turned to Christ.

Because, we were all born on Cheapside. Our worldly inheritance is a legacy of sin that dooms us to a lifelong poverty of spirit trapped in the squalor of an evil kingdom of darkness.

Some of us, though, set out to “change our stars”. We face ridicule and contempt when we do and usually our first efforts are in our own strength – we impersonate what we wish to become. Eventually, our fraud catches up with us.

But here is our hope.

Jesus is the true prince of this land and he wanders among us seeking out those who are willing to stop running, willing to acknowledge their shortfalls and willing to own up to the consequences. When we accept His sacrifice for us – He does, indeed, “change our stars”.

We are no longer bound by generational sin, by habit, by horoscope, by circumstance. We have the power to rise above, to transcend, to transform.

It isn’t immediate nor is it without work or warfare but it is ours – a nobility bestowed upon us that can never be challenged.

There will still be those who mock, ridicule and pour contempt on our attempts to escape Cheapside. Their scorn can discourage us in the moment but God’s word reminds us that their voices will one day be silent.

Psalm 123:3-4 ends this way: “Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt. We have endured much ridicule from the proud, much contempt from the arrogant.”

I think it’s interesting that this is here in the Song of Ascents and yet, I understand. As pilgrims journey to ascend to the heart of God, those who remain behind call out to them. Perhaps, at first, with pleas to return but then those pleas turn to mocking.

I have close acquaintances and relatives who look for me to do wrong. They search my life for “unchristian” behavior so they can point it out or use it to show me, and themselves, that this “Christian thing” doesn’t work. Sometimes it seems they rejoice when I face difficulties, as if that is proof that God does not love me and I am foolish to believe so.

When I struggle with sin, they use this against me and sometimes I use it against myself.

But then I remember God’s mercy.

Then I remember I can change. I am free to change because of Jesus. I have the hope of change because of Him. I am now of noble blood.

I grew up in a small town called Hope Valley. When I was young, people called it “Hopeless Valley”. All I wanted to do was escape.

Now, though, I live again in this town and I am here joyfully. Now, through Jesus, I have learned that where I come from, who I come from and even the battles I face do not determine who I am or who I become.

I have escaped Cheapside because it isn’t about the geography of the land, it’s about the geography of the soul.

I am a citizen of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and I have received nobility and a knighthood that can never be challenged. I am a citizen of eternal Hope.

Others can laugh or mock or ridicule but as we ascend to the heart of God they will be harder to hear.

We can change. The power of Jesus is the power to change.

Escape Cheapside with us! Come for the journey. You, too, can change your stars.

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Too Long Have I Lived Among Those Who Hate Peace – A Different Ground Zero

I am a Braveheart believer.

I believe we are at war in the spiritual realms and that requires courage, action and stalwart faith of the highest degree. I believe in standing firm and sacrificing my personal comfort and desires for the greater good. I believe in speaking truth at all costs.

But I also believe in fighting the true enemy on the real battlefield and not confusing the victims of evil with the forces of evil.

This is the battlefront: remembering in both our personal lives and in the marketplace of public exchange that Satan is the enemy – not our lost relatives, not our deceived neighbors, not those who follow other religions, not those who disagree with us within our own faith.

It is hard to keep this straight.

Gethsemane hard.

Requiring hours on our knees and submission of our minds, our emotions, our wills, our rights – submitting all this to God hard.

But it must be done.

This week I began a meditation on the Psalms of Ascent. These are fifteen Psalms beginning with Psalm 120 sung by Jews and Christians throughout centuries of politics, oppression and war.

To ascend is to move, climb, or go upward, to mount, to rise above. In the flood of headlines, personal struggles, spiritual oppression and my own inner life, I need to climb to higher ground in order not to be swept away.

The first line of Psalm 120 says this: “I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me.” This is a both a cry of help and a word of hope. Since the beginning of the world, those who called on the Lord found that He answered. He will also answer us now.

The second part of the Psalm is a plea with God to save the Psalmist from lying lips and deceitful tongues. In an age where deception is rampant and the father of lies uses this weapon on every front, I am one with the Psalmist in a desire to be saved both from those who use deception and from the temptation to fall prey to it myself.

And finally, my heart is one with the Psalmist when he cries out in the last verse “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”

Peace is hard work.

Gethsemane hard.

Requiring hours on our knees and submission of our minds, our emotions, our wills, our rights – submitting all of this to God hard.

But we serve the Prince of Peace. Jesus Christ.

I am a Braveheart believer. I am not afraid to do battle.

But Ground Zero is my own soul.

Jesus calls me to die for what I believe but my first death is to sin and my continual dying is to my own self. This is not the stuff of headlines and it’s not likely news to go viral on the Internet but it must spread from believer to believer like the bread and wine of communion.

Now is the time to ascend. Now is the time to call on the name of the Lord. Now is the time to be purified and saved from deception. Now is the time to be men and women of peace among people who clamor for war.

Now is the time to battle the true enemy and this enemy does not dwell in any one country or faith or ideology or office or individual. This enemy must be fought on every front with weapons that are not of this world.

The only fire we should set this week-end is at the altar of Jesus Christ where our souls can ascend and be ignited by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can both announce and represent the Kingdom of God on earth.

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Image credited to : http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/06/11/songsofascension/