Safety and Surroundings

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Today began like any other day in my normal routine, but it didn’t end that way.  It was one of those days – and I’ve had a few of them over the years – where life just completely stops me in my tracks and gets my attention.  I catch my breath, exhale a sigh of relief, and fall down on my knees to God.

My morning started in the usual way.  I woke up and scanned my phone for messages and glanced at my calendar.  My daily tasks start running through my mind – it’s trash day, I need gas, I have a meeting in the office – and I look at all the other breaking news alerts that have become far too common in our world.  Then I saw a grieving post from a friend on facebook.  Another classmate from my child’s younger school days had overdosed and committed suicide.  That is the second classmate in the two years since my son graduated high school.  Two funerals by the age of 20.

I cried out to God.  I cried out for mercy.  Mercy for our children, whom Satan wants to destroy.  Mercy for our country, and for the challenging times we live in.

And then as I do every morning before I leave the house, I prayed for “safety and surroundings”.  That’s my way of praying for the safety of my family for the day and for safety in our surroundings that we encounter – the people and circumstances we meet along the way.  And then I headed out to work.

On my way back home that afternoon, the traffic slowed down to its usual crawl on the interstate.  Five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I noticed the car behind me changed lanes as soon as the traffic slowed down.  It seems people are always trying to jump into a faster lane.  And then in a split second, I glance back up to my rear view mirror to see a large camper coming very fast toward me.  Within inches of hitting the back of my car, the camper miraculously swerves into the next lane.  I saw the camper was also pulling a large trailer with a car on it.  I don’t know how the driver was able to maneuver such a large vehicle and trailer at the last minute without hitting me or anyone else in the next lane.  Then the camper continued swerving to the outer lane where it almost hit the concrete wall before coming to a complete stop.  The driver must have been very shaken, because once he finally stopped, he did not begin to move again for at least another minute or two.

I began to cry.  I couldn’t believe what I just saw.  If the other car previously behind me had not changed lanes a few seconds earlier, the camper surely would have hit them and they would have hit me.  I don’t know how the camper missed hitting all the other cars in traffic, or how it was even physically possible that he did not hit my car.

I immediately thought back to my morning prayer of safety and surroundings.  Once more I cried out to God.  I thanked Him for His mercy on my day.  For His protection.  For His miracle.  For my life.

I have no doubt that prayers are essential to getting through this life.  No matter how late I may be in the morning, I will always stop and pray and begin my day first by talking with God.  It’s too important, because I never know how an ordinary day will turn out.

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In Jesus’ Words: The Last will be First (Matthew 19:23-30)

1673225-inline-750-homeless3In these uncertain and crazy times, we always ask “Why?”  We search for truth and meaning, and at the same time question why are things so unfair.  We only have to turn on the news for a few seconds to make us feel this way.  If it were not for my Faith and my personal and close relationship with Jesus Christ, I would definitely feel uncertain and unsafe in this world.  But we have God’s written promises to assure us.  They assure us that even though mankind may fall short, all things are possible with God.  And as far things being unfair, God reminds us about that too. “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  This is very different than what we so often hear in the world.  Rest assured when reading God’s Word today.

~ Matthew 19:23-30  Possessions and the Kingdom ~

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You.  So what will there be for us?”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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Why would a loving and compassionate God send people to hell?

whyThis is the question a co-worker asked me a few weeks ago.  It is an important question, and honestly, a difficult one to try to answer.  My friend was having difficulty reconciling what she saw around the world with her Christian beliefs.  “There are a billion muslims,” she said, “I can’t see how God will send a billion people to hell when they are only following the only culture and traditions they have ever known.”

She asked this question a few days before the Paris terror attacks.  I don’t know if our conversation would have been different if it had taken place after the attacks, but I do know that the day before any tragedy seems to be a normal day just like any other.  And when tragedy strikes, we immediately start searching for the truth.  The truth does not change based on circumstances.  It is the same the day before and the day after.

The answer to her question is not a simple yes or no.  But there can only be one truth to the world, and this question can be answered adequately and rightly without having to compromise on that truth.

God is Just and Fair.  He will do what is Right. (Psalm 145:17)

I began to explain my answer to my friend and followed it up with some references.  Many people have this same question, so I have written my answer below in four statements that I hope will also help others.  After all, everyone wants to know, and there is nothing we can do to change the answer once we die.

1. The answer lies not just in what we see in the world today, but in an overall understanding from the beginning of people in our world.  This is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible.

No other book explains the historical beginning of time and records the genealogy starting with Adam.  The Bible represents 40 authors, 66 books, written over 1600 years, in 3 continents and 3 languages.  It describes the human race in completeness – all races, cultures, and religions.
*fun fact: There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In triplicate (3), this equals 66, the number of books in the Bible.  Three means complete.

Two-thousand years passed between Adam and Abraham in the book of Genesis.  This is significant because God does not establish his first covenant with people until Abraham.  Abraham is considered the start of religion as we know it today.  The book of Genesis does not give us a lot of detail during those first 2000 years, but we do know the earth had become very evil and God destroyed it with a flood during Noah’s time.

God is known to punish people for evil, but He always gives them fair warning ahead of time.  Grace has been present from the beginning.  Anyone who heeded the warning, sought God and repented from their evil ways was saved from destruction, no matter what they had done in the past.

The people of Noah’s time were warned for many years. (I Peter 3:20)
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were warned ahead of time. (Genesis 18:22-33)
The people of Nineveh, though very evil, were warned through the prophet Jonah and they listened and repented, and were saved from destruction.  (Jonah 3)
God’s own covenant people through Abraham had become very evil themselves in about 600 BC.  They worshipped other gods, sacrificed children and participated in cannibalism, and their own priests had become corrupt and evil.  The prophet Jeremiah warned them for years, and his prophecy came true when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC and the few thousand remaining were held captive in Babylon. (Jeremiah and Lamentations)

2. God will not condemn someone for what they do not know.

How were people saved or judged before Jesus’ time?  And what about those in more recent times who still have never had a chance to hear of Jesus or read a Bible?  Remote areas of the world, certain cultures, Native American Indians who lived prior to the western colonization,  young children, and the mentally handicapped are a few of these.

Prior to having a knowledge of Jesus, people were saved by faith in what they knew up until that time, and by faith in the promise of a coming Savior.

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Hebrews 11:4)
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/before-Jesus.html

3. God the Creator can reveal himself through his creation, and will make himself known to each of his created.

Just like a baby knows its mother, we instinctively know God our Creator.  It is our heart (soul) that decides whether we want to follow God and what He has revealed to us.  Reading a Bible or attending church is certainly helpful but not a requirement.  God has been known to use His creation to reveal Himself, especially in Old Testament times. (Psalm 19:1-4)

This is part of the mystery of God.  We do not know how God reveals himself to each person, but we can trust that He will, and everyone is given a choice.  But we must be very careful here… for those of us that have knowledge, we are judged on that knowledge.  Even Satan and the fallen angels had knowledge of God and they chose differently.

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/never-heard.html

4. Finally, because God loves us, he will not leave us without hope or without choice.  He has sent a Savior for all people.  A Savior is not based on who we are or what we’ve done, but on what the Savior has done for us.

By nature of who God is, he cannot be a part of sin or evil.  God poured out his final judgment on sin through the ultimate sacrifice, His Son Jesus, who took the punishment on the cross in our place.  Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).  God’s plan to redeem his people was complete.  Jesus’ burden was so heavy during the time of his crucifixion, that I believe this was because he was thinking of each and every one of us by name – past, present and future.

There are different ideas on the exclusivism-inclusivism of Jesus, but the basic truth is this:

Jesus came as Savior to all the world. (“Go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said” Matthew 28:19).  His death and resurrection covers the righteousness for those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, and as the promised Savior for those who have not yet heard and will believe.  This makes Jesus still the one Savior for all the world, as prophesied from the beginning of time, and the one true path to God.  He is our intercessor to God.  Through Jesus, God no longer sees our sin but sees the righteousness of Jesus within us.

There is no need and no truth in having many paths to God to cover our various traditions, personalities, character traits, races, cultures, circumstances or changing times.  God never said we had to work our way to Him either.  By Faith (true repentance) and by Grace present from the beginning, One Savior covers it all; fair and just and complete.

Read more on this at: http://www.gotquestions.org/inclusivism-exclusivism.html

We want quick answers, even to tough questions, but the Bible shows us that God’s view and concept of time is not limited to our short timeframes.  But because our life on this earth is short, we have little time as individuals to decide what we want to believe and do.  Will it be based on a matter of convenience or a search for the truth?

~~~

My friend left our talk that night a little overwhelmed, but the next morning I noticed  she was smiling and talking to the taxi driver about Christ!  She had found her answer.

We may not find all the answers, but in finding God,
we will find the One who does.feet with waves cropped

Look for Hope

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My first experience after arriving in Bangkok was the taxi driver who was taking me from the airport to my hotel, at 1 AM, after having been in an airplane for 24 hours.  He got us lost.  We wandered through the dark and narrow one-way streets of Bangkok, circling around and around, looking for my hotel.  It is supposed to be a large, well-known American hotel chain.  How could he not find it?  “It must be on a main road,” I said.  “I’m sure there is a large entrance sign leading up to it…”, my voice trailing off as I look around at the streets that appear to be nowhere close to where we should be.  That was my first cultural surprise.  I was expecting large American style.

The taxi drove by the same obscure street at least four times.  I remember it well because I saw a Christmas tree in the window of a café every time we passed by.  How strange, I thought.  It’s early November, and in a city full of Buddha statues on every corner, here is this lone Christmas tree in the window, which seemed to shine off a light so I could see the silver garland appearing through the dark, unlit window.

When in distress, look for Hope.
In the dark, look for Hope.
Hope wins over fear.
Hope wins over evil.
Hope wins over despair.
Hope is Faith of better things to come.
Hope brings Peace.
Hope is Jesus Christ.

The taxi driver eventually found the hotel.  How did he find it?  He changed his view. He got out of the taxi and looked up into the sky so he could see the hotel towers rising above the dark buildings that were surrounding us.

This picture is not that same Christmas tree or hotel, but it is one I saw outside the window of my office building when I arrived back home.  In this old hotel converted to  apartments, one window stood out with a Christmas tree in it, in early November.  It reminded me again to always look for Hope.  Do you see it?

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My one bag

In recent anticipation of the looming tornadoes across the south, I decided to pack my bag. I’ve never done that before, but a co-worker’s advice echoed in my head telling me that I should be prepared.  Really, I spend my days as a project manager planning and preparing for contingencies and talking about risk mitigation, yet I don’t give much thought about my own.

I should know better too.  A tornado passed within feet of my house about five years ago and left a path of downed trees which I still see the effects today.  But back then I didn’t pay much attention, fully absorbed in my work and often mentally tired.  That particular day five years ago was one of several wake-up calls for me.

So this time, after hearing of the deadly tornadoes just a little west of me and heading my way overnight, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pack a bag.  I grabbed a tote bag and began walking around the house thinking of what I would carry with me if I only had a moment’s notice to evacuate and my house became destroyed.  Immediately I started to categorize things into two groups: replaceable or not.  That narrowed down the list significantly.  After packing the standard emergency items of flash light, a fully charged cell phone, and my purse with identification and money, I began to fill my bag with these few remaining items…

1. Contacts and glasses – because I need to see above everything else.

2. Sentimental jewelry – my grandmother’s wedding ring and a small custom-made necklace with a collection of stones I had received from family and friends over the years. Nothing too valuable but they are tangible memories from those who have passed, and I wear them as a part of myself.  Besides, they take up very little room in the bag.

3. Baby photo album – my son’s baby pictures are not digital or online, so these are precious beyond words.  You always see people in tears when they go through the rubble of their house and find a photograph.  It was hard to choose only one album, but I picked his first-born pictures.

4. Memory scrapbook – it’s a book where I’ve written letters to my son every year since he was born, and collected his various awards, accomplishments and school pictures along the way. It is 18 years in the making and priceless!

5. My journal and collection of writings – it is something for me to hold on to and to keep the human spirit going during a tragedy.

6. My computer with financial documents, notes, etc – I suppose these are on the cloud somewhere but I still need a computer to access them.

7. My work computer – I still had a little room left in the bag so I threw in my work computer.  I don’t want to have to redo any of my work.

8. Graduation cap and gown – as a final thought, I grabbed these off the dining room table. Everything else I collected has been from the past, but this one is for the present moment.  Nothing will stop us from celebrating my son’s high school graduation in a few weeks!  Don’t forget to live in the moment.

Though I’m grateful I didn’t have to use the bag this time, it was a good life exercise on deciding what is truly important; to stop and really think about my life and what I would take with me.  It’s a good exercise that everyone should try.

What would be in your one bag?

travel bag

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