Pause and think about it!

Archive for January, 2013

Peter helped me out of the Pit

Many people might say they know me—relatives, of course, but a variety of others. Some have known me since childhood, others since college, others in ministry situations, and others in academic settings. For the most part, these people would likely say I’m an extrovert, enjoy being around people, never depressed, a straight shooter. They might even say I’m organized, follow through with assignments, encourage others, and have a positive outlook. However, at times I have seen myself quite differently.

Like the Apostle Peter, in my teen years I had made a decision to be a Christ follower. I was determined to go where He sent me and to allow Him to use me to help others. However, the scripture, Take heed when you think you stand, lest you fall (1 Cor. 10:12), had not yet carved its way into my mind and spirit. Actually, The Message Bible further amplifies this thought: “These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.”

Peter was faced with humiliation and disbelief at what was happening, separated from friends, watching the One whom He esteemed to be the Son of God being arrested. He couldn’t comprehend what was happening and ran away from his commitment to follow Jesus till death. In fact, he denied even knowing Him—not just once, but three times. He was angry, felt betrayed, became bitter and resentful. Peter did not intend or plan or expect to fail. Nor did I.

Decades ago, having endured slander against my pastor-husband—false reports due to lack of understanding of who he was and what his goals were—I was forgiving and had no bitterness toward the people involved. I felt I understood their perspective, and even though they were wrong, I forgave and held no offense. Some time afterward, several wrote letters of apology.

Years later, I was dealing with my full-time job, raising my children, caring for my cancer-ridden husband and his physical and emotional pain, and assisting in his pastoral duties. When those closest to me began separating themselves from us, I stood firm fully expecting that the God who delivered from the flood, the fiery furnace, and the lion’s den, would also deliver me. I was believing God would do something miraculous and praying that my husband would be healed and we would grow old together and enjoy life and ministry. But he got worse, and his behavior was sometimes disruptive—no doubt fueled by the invading cancer and the drugs pumped into his body to halt its spread.  Again, I agonized yet tried to understand the withdrawal of a number of friends and co-workers as they verbalized their concern with their pastor being ill. Some said,  “If only he had enough faith, he would be healed.”

But the day came when I realized that some people were blaming me for not intervening to curb his sometimes erratic behavior. Instead of standing on my confession that Jesus would deliver us both, I became bitter, resentful, angry and downright ugly. I lashed out at those few people who had stood with me before but now distanced themselves. In retaliation, I attempted to expose their shortcomings and failures. Although I didn’t deny Jesus, I did deny His power because I tried to work it out myself in tongue and pen with vengeance–and that’s a recipe for sure failure.

For weeks I walked around feeling the accusing, fiery darts of the enemy. I was spiritually and emotionally paralyzed and don’t remember a lot of details from this time period. However, it was as if I was in a protective bubble while I continued to fulfill my daily responsibilities. Little by little, I was able to regain equilibrium, but just when I felt like I was free, the anger and sting of betrayal–perceived and real–would hit me again.

I don’t recall exactly how long I walked around in this cloud. After issuing apologies and requests for forgiveness, there came a wash of tears of repentance. In my distress, I cried unto the Lord and He heard me (Psa. 120:1). Like Jesus forgave Peter, He forgave me and directed me to strengthen my brothers and sisters (Luke 22:32). Times were still tough, but God who knew my heart directed my steps. I was learning to “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble me, corrupting many” (Heb.12:15b). My bitterness had only impaired my own life but, if not cancelled, would also pollute the lives of those around me. Thank God and others for forgiveness and new-found emotional freedom and for those who stood faithfully with us through the long battle.

Finally, after 13 years, my husband was declared cancer-free and the time together that I had dreamed of came to pass—a wonderful summer with a healthy, happy husband. But it was short-lived. There came a quick and consuming reappearance of cancer; and four-months later he was gone to his heavenly home. Cancer took him, but Jesus received Him in 1999.

That time, I was not caught off-guard. I had learned how easy it is to fall into traps of the enemy. Now when I begin to feel bitterness or resentment toward someone, I confess it to the Lord—as often as necessary. I do not ever want to repeat that feeling of sliding into the pit. Yes, I had been sliding, but Jesus rescued me. Like David, He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground 
and steadied me as I walked along. (Psa. 40:2, NLT) And as Job said: God rescued me from the grave, and now my life is filled with light (Job 33:28, NLT).

“You may fall on your knees and pray—to God’s delight! You’ll see God’s smile and celebrate, 
finding yourself set right with God.
 You’ll sing God’s praises to everyone you meet, 
testifying, ‘I messed up my life—and let me tell you, it wasn’t worth it.
 But God stepped in and saved me from certain death.
 I’m alive again! Once more I see the light!’  And believe me, now I aim to take heed when I think I stand, knowing full well how easy it is to be ensnared and fall” (Job 23:26-28  Msg).

To Peter, I say: You followed Jesus closely as one of His inner circle. You promised never to leave Him—yet you denied him under feelings of betrayal and pressure of accusation. Because of your experience, you would have understood my emotional pain and spiritual wavering. When you realized what was happening—and that Jesus had told you it would happen—you came to your senses and went out and cried and cried and cried—tears of repentance. Tears of “how could this have happened to me when I loved Him so” (See Matt. 26:75).  Jesus had mercy on you, forgave you and called you to “feed His sheep.”

Peter, the Holy Spirit used this incident in your life to help me out of the pit. Thank you for telling your story. It encouraged me!

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UPDATE: Pastor Jamie Wright at Grace Life Church in Culloden, WV, preached an awesome message entitled “Can you smell that?” talking about Peter sitting by the fire after betraying Jesus… but, thank God, there came some time later a time sitting by another fire when Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?…Feed my sheep!” No longer did Peter smell the fire of his betrayal, now he smelled the fire of love. You can listen to his message here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KU3cv7h9DFY 

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I Almost Let Go (Kurt Carr)

I almost let go.

I felt like I just couldn’t take life anymore.

My problems had me bound.

Depression weighed me down.

But God held me close, so I wouldn’t let go.

God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go.

I almost gave up.

I was right at the edge of a breakthrough but couldn’t see it.

The devil thought he had me; 
but Jesus came and grabbed me,

And He held me close, so I wouldn’t let go.

God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go.

So I’m here today because God kept me.

I’m alive today, only because of His grace.

Oh, He Kept me, 
God Kept me, 
He kept me, 
So I wouldn’t let go.

(Thank you Talma and MFC choir for introducing me to this powerful song.)

_____________

(c) C. Yvonne Karl, The Alabaster Box, 2013, Updated 2016

yvonnekarl@gmail.com

Come hell or high water…

As a child in the 1940’s, the concept of hell was succinctly expressed in the hymns we sang. My family often attended revival meetings in country churches held for the purpose of bringing the unredeemed into relationship with Jesus Christ. Two of the most popular hymns sung at the end of the sermons were “Lost Forever” and “Eternity,” and the words are still with me today: Lost, forever! Lost, forever!
 Oh, how sad! Oh, eternity! Long eternity! 
Hear the solemn footsteps of eternity. (See words below.)

This era preceded the Rock and Roll take-over of “When the Saints go Marching in,” and I can still hear the congregation singing with gusto from Acts 2:20: “When the sun refuses to shine…” and “When the moon turns into blood…” As a little girl, I would come home at night and have nightmares because I wanted to “be in that number when the saints” went marching in. I didn’t want to be lost forever in long eternity.

Some of the evangelists openly confessed they wanted to scare the hell out of us, and for many it worked. Today with the emphasis on the Love of God, such a theme sounds brash, crass, and unloving—but their motive was admirable. They were exhorting us to move out of our sinful ways and into the path that leads to abundant life here and eternal life hereafter.

Hell? We find in the Bible that Hell appears as the English translation for Sheol and Hades—both alluding to the grave; Tartarus-darkness (2 Peter 2:4), and Gehenna-burning. In its primary description, it is the destination for non-believers after death. As soon as we hear this word, the picture that comes to mind most frequently is Fire.

However, we also read that it means a place where God is not (Matt.25:41); where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth as a result of bitterness, anger, and contempt for themselves and the bad choice they made to reject God’s love. Some people like the idea of being in a place where God is not but they haven’t thought through the consequences of their location nor the environment of that place.

In addition to eternal hell, we also hear about hell on earth which alludes to indescribable tragedy and incomprehensible abuse. The latter is often unavoidable as it happens when excessive weather phenomenon or disastrous accidents occur and when people exercise their free-will for evil which they inflict on innocent victims. For these situations, we have a verse of comfort in Isaiah 43:2 where God promises to go with us through these fires of life and through the floods of evil and tragedy that confront or immerse us.

In fact, we learn that in this life, we will have afflictions, persecutions, and problems that appear insurmountable. The Apostle Paul says none of them can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35). And Jesus Himself promised that He will always be with us even to the end of our life (Matt.28:20). To that promise I cling and determine to move forward and not get stuck in the hell-bent intentions of others.

Perhaps that’s the meaning of an expression I’ve heard all of my life: I’ll do it,  Come hell or high water. My research has turned up assorted opinions about the origin of this expression but none appears to be authoritative. However, all agree it means no matter what happens; no matter what obstacle befalls me, I’ll stay the course; I won’t be distracted. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all who profess to be in the family of God would adopt this determination? No matter what life deals to me, I’ll pursue Jesus. I will not permit anything to stand in my way of completing my life with faith in Jesus. We would say with Paul, I’ve fought a good fight; I’ve kept the faith. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming (2 Tim.4:7-8).

We often hear people say: Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, I’ll do such and such. Lord willing is a biblical expression: You should say, ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’ (James 4:15)However, to add and the creek don’t rise seems to give us an excuse in case we can’t follow through with our commitment. On the other hand, Come hell or high water, I’ll do such and such, gives us no way out but to trust Jesus is with us and go full speed ahead serving Him no matter what happens.

__________________________

yvonnekarl@gmail.com

(c) Yvonne Karl, 9 January 2013

You’ll get what you’ve got coming!

Give and it shall be given unto you. Although we often hear this scripture read preceding the offering in a church service, in context it refers not to money but to our moral responsibility to man and to God. Give friendship; get friendship. Give love; get love. Give criticism; get criticism. Give a cold shoulder; get a cold shoulder. We don’t always get back from the person to whom we give. Often we get back through other people. We may not get the return immediately; in fact, we may get it many years from the time we give. Whenever and however it may come, we do reap what we sow.  In other words, we get what we’ve got coming—even if it’s delayed until eternity.

We must expect to be dealt with as we deal with others: With the same measure that ye mete it shall be measured to you again. If we give lots of love and attention, in some way, shape or form, we will get the same lavished upon us—perhaps not by those to whom we give it but from others.

Consider these verses:

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you give it shall be measured to you again (Luke 6:38 ). But hear the true meaning in The Message version of the same scripture: Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity (Luke 6:38 Msg).

A man that hath friends must show himself friendly (Prov.18:24a).

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life (Gal.6:7 Msg)

His master replied, You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed?  (Matt. 25:26 CEB).  Should that not be reason enough for us to give honor and respect and love—even to the unlovely? Even when we don’t expect a return from that person?

Some will say, but my parents didn’t treat me right. The scripture doesn’t say if they treat you right, honor them. It simply says, if you want things to go well for you and live long, then honor your parents. (Eph.6:2-3; Ex. 20:12; Deut 5:16).

Scripture also says to love your enemies: You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you (Matt.5:43-48 Msg).

Introspection

What am I giving that I would like to receive back in abundance?

What am I getting that I don’t like? Did I plant it?

What have I got coming to me as a result of my actions and words?

yvonnekarl@gmail.com

(c) 8 January 2013