When Sheep Die

Jesus compared his own to sheep. In John 10 He taught that His sheep know His voice and do not follow another. In Luke 15, He spoke of searching for the lost sheep and bringing it home.

Sheep are sheep. Not too smart. My neighbor has four. They have a nice pasture with a little stream amid some tall spindly trees. There’s a wooden fence to keep them in and a shed to shelter them and house their feed.

These sheep are quiet and serene. You don’t see the sheep parading around with a shepherd’s staff leading the flock. They don’t make commotions. They rarely run. They do not chase wolves or even the stray dog. They make no plans. They eat, they enjoy their pasture, eventually they are sheared of their wool, and they have lambs, making more sheep. They exist in a world all provided them—a world directed by the shepherd.

Sometimes the sheep graze on a poisonous weed and they die. This happened to friends’ sheep this summer. At first it was a mystery. The pasture looked fine, but then they found the weed, rising up out of the grass. It must have looked good to the sheep.

Other gospels always look enticing. It sounds good to have all sickness healed; all financial troubles wiped away, all suffering cease. But it is a false gospel that kills.

Last month, a church plant I once loved was closed. They say it was finances, but behind the scene was sin, that refused to come to the cross, and a gospel that focused on power, hope, and healing, but failed to press discipleship.

Paul resolved to know nothing but the cross and Christ crucified. The cross is foolishness to many, he wrote in 1 Corinthians, but to those who are being saved by it, it is the power of God. People like the power of God, but not the cross. We want victory without death.

The agony of victory is the cross. There can be no new life without death of the old, no flowering plant without burial of the seed. There is no other way than to put away the old ways, to conquer sin, to take captive our thoughts, to die to what we once were and be made new. God’s grace is there to equip us, but the renewing of our minds and our ways also requires great obedience on our part, and it is continuous.

Hardship and brokenness are convincing bedfellows. Go through enough and eventually you realize that you need help—from God and God alone. You may “experience” the love of God in listening to well-staged worship, but you won’t know it until you realize the depravity of your sin and the endless enslavement you’ve made in serving yourself.

Then you will know the love of God who sent this Jesus to hunt the lost sheep. The narrow path leads to the cross and your freedom.

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Fed by fear

The world is full of fear.

My email inbox fills with reasons to fear. One email bears a cute picture of four mutts and the racist message that the dogs are being signed up for government assistance since they are all “mixed race and color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no clue who their daddies are. They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care.”

It continues: “So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify. My dogs get their first check next Friday. Is this country great or what?”

Everyone knows we can’t trust the government to do what is right. The bailouts fed the rich; our taxes feed the undeserving.

The editor of a local monthly comes in to deliver papers with news of a Food and Drug Administration shut down of a “farm to fork” dinner. The government is gaining control of the food supply, he warns, and when that happens they will control us. Not him. He has food stocks shelved high in his basement. His mother-in-law eats venison canned 18 years ago and it is still as good as the day she canned it.

Fear fuels our revolving world. So we fight. We protest. We occupy. Another email tells me just who supports that movement: the American Nazi Party, Hezbollah, the Communists, and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Birds of a feather flock together, the writers warn, and more fear descends.

Scripture tells us not to fear. The Lord takes care of us. Look at the flowers in all their splendor, Jesus taught. Look at the birds with nothing to have and everything to eat. Elijah driven to the wilderness was fed by ravens beside a brook. Joseph sent to prison was gifted to interpret dreams and elevated to save his land and family from famine. Paul placed in chains was able to share the gospel with Rome.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

And yet my screaming soul drives me out, day by day, to gather and store up, stewing as I bring in the sheaves. My cupboards are full of canned goods; mental lists require more. My clothing stands guard at each closet. The fuel tank rings full, and the wood is ranked high against winter.

The house is ready, but what about the temple?

In that dwelling place of the Holy Spirit within me, what whispering voice do I hear?

Fear screams a thousand messages: “Save your money! Stock the shelves! Buy guns! Buy gold!” At my antiques shop, with customers dwindling, fear hisses across the counter: “List some stuff on eBay, sell! Get some money while you can. Do it now while there’s still time!”

The man with the food piled high decreed: “What’s coming is going to make the Great Depression of 1929 look like kindergarten.”

Day by day, I wonder at how I have lived to see this great end time fear. In childhood, it was as distant, as sci-fi as Big Brother and 1984, as remote as the Mark of the Beast, and today it is as close as the next email, the next headline, and the next fellow’s words.

And what of trusting God?

The warnings of scripture are as clear as the answer. The righteous live by faith.

Today, fear’s war of words began as soon as I checked my inbox. And His Spirit held my temple firm. God’s promises are my storehouse. His word is my fuel. His righteousness my garment. His hope my joy, His joy my strength. His very nature prompts my praise. Though the whole world quake with fear, He is my portion and the Rock on which I stand.

Turn again to Psalm 27 and read it through:

The LORD is my light and my salvation—
   whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
   of whom shall I be afraid?”








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Swimming or serving?

    A young friend posts on Facebook: Christ died for me so that I could dance with Him.

Everyone likes that, except the Spirit within me.

    It balks at the subtlety of experienced-based religion and explains why I hesitate to plunge in.

The metaphor arises from the sweltering heat we are having in the East.

    Experienced-based religion dances in the pool and refreshes itself. It makes Christ into a culture that serves men who “believe”. Christ’s gospel carries cups of cool water through the staggering heat to a parched and dying world that needs His love.

While the religious splash around in the cooling waters, those who take up His cross and head out to the world experience the miracle of living waters flowing from their emptiness and into the thirsty all around them.

    Is your religion about what you are getting or about what you have received? Is it about inflow or outflow?

    The old Charismatic song boasted “We’re going to dance in the river!” It’s time for the church to stop dancing in the river and start taking the waters to the thirsty.

    No one dances at the foot of the cross. We weep. We see the price He paid for our sin. We behold His sacrifice and come face to face with our depravity.

    Having written that, I feel like one of those old-timey preachers shaking his finger and waving a black King James. We could use a little of that, minus the culture of works, to remind us of our need.

    But I am no old-timey preacher. I’m a rebel girl who wasted most of her life seeking fulfillment outside of God and wasted more of her life seeking personal fulfillment with God. I want to save others from the subtle heresy of me-centered religion.

    Christ’s gospel preaches: Take up your cross and follow me. It isn’t easy to dance while you are doing that. It’s hard. It means crucifying every bit of what you think you are entitled to get and enjoy.

    It means leaving the comfort of home and church, to speak truth to people, whether they want to hear it or not. It means reminding others that we can do nothing to add to what Christ did. We don’t get Brownie points with God through what we do. God looks right into our hearts.

    So what is your heart looking at? That inviting pool or the cracked and dry land where men die daily?


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Got Stuff?

The lush green of a Pennsylvania summer grabs at the breath with unparalleled beauty amid the return of perennial bloom. Crops wave in the country and fervent warmth dissolves the last memory of winter’s chill, fostering the myth it just might not return. All is lovely, a toe spreading, arm opening, head lifting season of delight, but for a singular blight that clamors forth in the midst of this bliss.

    It creeps from the basement and down the attic stairs. Out of the closet dark it spills, spreading, spewing—till at last it belches forth upon the sunlit lawn, staining the green with the ugly secret contained within.

    It is the American yard sale, the seasonal revealing of our Too Much Stuff. The past decade of our nation’s brazen excess sprawls unashamedly and gross, like the hairy roll of a beer bellied man bursting with a Cyclops’ eye from beneath a shrunken shirt.

    Here are the Skittle-colored tot clothes stacked as anti-loaves of bread upon the folding tables, the plastic cartoon character toys, the video games, TVs too square and large to be tolerated, car seats worn bare and stained. Purses and shoes reveal fashion sense in furious disfavor. Paperbacks picturing pristine Amish lasses offer tales of temptation by the man posed just over her shoulder. On to the VHS tapes and DVDs incompatible with BluRay, the CDs recalling Madonna’s youth or ours, and–Lord help us–cassette tapes by the yard.

It was once a season for frolic, a delight for buyers, but as the recession tightens its grip, there is a new spirit upon the land. It is a desperate desire to get rid of the evidence—to make the stuff go away and, with it, the reminder of what we once spent on our every whim.

“We’re downsizing,” the sellers say, eyes pleading “Please take it!”

For others, there is no luxury of pride. The sell off is more immediate. Cash is needed. These are the ones who never had excess, even in good times, and they are scrambling. At the flea market, one or two has come on a gamble and is now desperate to raise enough gas money to get back home.

When the economy suffers, the stuff rolls out, but what if there is no one to buy?

Flea market buyers stroll by, amusing themselves with the displays and taking in the weather. A $10 item gets an offer of $5. At the antique show, wares that once sold get few glances. Shoppers pause at a rare cabinet, shaped like a spool of thread, priced $500. “Ten years ago, I sold one for $1,600,” the seller says.

The downturn produces a boom for the bottom layer; for the truth is we cannot overcome our need to consume. Many continue to buy, even if now the tag reads 50 cents instead of $50. Mini vans race the rounds of the yard sales, disgorging riders. They buy used what they once bought new.

Many make their pilgrimage to the local thrift shop daily, compelled by bargains. On Friday afternoons, the auctions close on items in the thrift’s silent offer case, and the same faces return to pop their bids dollar by dollar toward ownership of a used Coach purse or an antique bowl.

In the aisles at the thrift, a woman hunches over a wheeled grocery cart, humming as she fills it. Her purse sunk into the child’s seat, cradles a panel of decorated walnuts with plastic eyes and felt feet announcing “No one here but us nuts” for 35 cents.

The shelves at the thrift are constantly full: worn Teflon pans, Dollar Store dishes, coffee mugs advertising businesses now closed, tins from chocolates, baskets and books, chunky heeled shoes and chiffon neck scarves, jackets and sweaters. Rack upon rack. Some items retain tags from the original store. After the yard sales, the donations pour in. “They couldn’t sell these!” crows a volunteer, holding up a pair of spike heels like a murder weapon.

What cannot be sold is expunged. It is an exorcism of excess made possible by simply pulling up to the Thrift shop’s back door. The store rooms are stuffed to the ceiling like a barn readied for famine. The stock is testimony to a turning, a departure from the days of Must Have.

At my antiques shop, across the street from the thrift store, a few shoppers browse, whispering to each other: “I don’t need any more stuff.”

Pretty dishes have not sold for years. Furniture goes in fits and starts, but mostly sits. I can sell an $18 chair for the yard, a tin pail for flowers, silver plated iced teaspoons. Little things don’t make such a dent in the wallet or conscience.

In my shop, a Chinese grad student, here to study economics, waits as his wife browses. He explains that his own country is feeling the ripple. Americans are not buying what they did. His own people are too set in their ways. They save too much, he says, citing 30 percent. They put money away to take care of their needs if crisis comes. If the Chinese had some kind of welfare, like the U.S., then maybe they would spend more and save less, he says.

He is practicing his English with me, and I am stunned.

When I close the shop, I bring in the open placard and the red, white, and blue antiques flag. At the corner, the telephone pole is plastered in neon orange announcing the latest yard sale down the street.













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Marching Orders

I spent Father’s Day digging in hard packed soil. Stabbing the ground with a garden trowel, I chopped clods into bits, loosening soil around plants still spindly after a month in the ground.

I blamed the seeds, the seedlings, the weather, and the top soil provider. But the fault was mine. I had been too busy to go out and work the land.

The weather was wet this spring, and the rains pounded the new top soil into a hardened crust. Then came the sun. Now we needed rain. I looked out the kitchen window to the garden below and pondered. One broccoli struggled to rise; the rest remained as thin as the day they were planted. A lettuce prospered, but three others limped along. The hard ground ensured few weeds. I had no reason to work it. I waited and wondered.

That said, many will realize that I am a new gardener. Finally, it dawned on me that I needed to till the ground. My plants needed some air.

Earlier that morning, I’d been reading again from Ezekiel 37. “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, we are cut off.”

I am cut off, I thought.

Sunday is the day I am cut off. I don’t have a church home anymore. I can’t stomach the Charismatic doctrine at the little church plant where I was once a friend. My childhood church promises safety, but, for me, sterility.

Father’s Day is the double whammy—the orphan’s slap. My father died at 58 of a brain tumor. I don’t have a dad to celebrate with anymore. I receive advance emails of the church bulletin from the Mennonites, my tribe of birth. The sermon title “The Ministry of Fathering” prodded like a hot poker. The orphan inside said: I’ll just stay home.

Out to the ground I went, chopping up frustrations. No church, cut off. No dad, cut off. My husband arrived home from Father’s Day breakfast with his dad. “Do you want a pick?” he asked.

I rarely work till I blister my hands. I’m mostly a writer and a thinker.

“Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man.”

I loosened the ground around those puny stalks and wept that it was me who left them so, unable to breathe and live and thrive. Alive but stunted, they stood in horrid testimony to ground not tilled. Outside, inside.

In my mind, I hear Oswald Chambers reminding me that discernment is not for criticism; it is marching orders for prayer.

Ezekiel 37 gave me marching orders nearly 10 years ago, when I arrived home starving from the prodigal road. I was the dry bones needing life, and I was set amid a valley of dry bones, cut off by parochial sins, hemmed in by mountains of Plain People tradition. But I realize now that I have often failed to prophesy, failed to pray. I have mostly stewed over being kept silent, by tradition, by foolishness, and by my own hesitation.

I bury myself in work. Elijah sniveled in his cave.

“Then you my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.”

This land I’m on, up against the mountain, looking over our gorgeous farming valley, was once my father’s land, his “little place out in the country.” I sleep where he slept.

He climbed the mountain to sit on a “prayer bench” log and pray. He was an elder among the Mennonites, who grant that right to men. I lay in a hammock escaping into someone else’s best-selling memoir, wondering what to do with this Voice inside, rising this morning from dreams of women chasing me on horseback, a restlessness forcing me to pierce this hard-packed ground.

Puzzling out the irritation, I see taped to the sanctuary wall, this reminder: “Upon the plains of hesitation, bleached the bones of countless thousands, who at the threshold of their victory, sat down to rest, and while they rested, they wasted and died.”

Here I am again, in need of Air, and the bones in the valley remain very dry. He asks us all: Can these bones live? Will the slain of the Lord arise, wash themselves in the blood of the Lamb, and put on white garments? Will we become that beautiful bride awake and ready for His return?

Revelation calls for patient endurance from the saints, our lamps lit with holy oil, our bones alive.

“So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”

Today, there’s promise of rain, and out in the garden the puny squash plant has raised a blossom flag.






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Clean up time

I spilled coffee on the little rug in my sanctuary. A splotch of brown on ivory, right at my feet. The room is tiny and cramped, meant for prayer and Bible reading. Every day, I wrinkled my nose at the spot. I envisioned removing everything from the room, a serious chore, and turning the rug so that the spot would be hidden on the far outer edge.

In the basement, I found some Dollar Store carpet cleaner, probably 10 years old. It won’t work on a coffee stain, I thought. I should have tackled it right away, but I didn’t notice it, till the spill dried. And there it stayed.

A strawberry-rhubarb pie ran over in the over, making a gooey mess. I used a metal spatula to get the worst of it, before it hardened to glue. Days went by. “Don’t use the oven!” I told my husband.

Two weeks ago, I finally found some chat time with a friend from my old church—the one I left because I could not support their charismatic doctrines, because the cross was obscured. She said I’d be back, and I said I would not. Not while this person and that were there. I carried a grievance born of rejection. That’s silly when it is the Lord Himself who calls you out. But it’s human.

The conversation, and yet another with two Charismatic friends–one still thinks it would be grand to go to Toronto—rekindled the eye-rolling impatience I have with this movement’s frivolity. And, I came to see, that it also stirred up the hurt inside and brought the stain of bitterness to the surface.

You cannot suppress deep-seated emotions. They pop up in many ways. For me, it is in irritations at the smallest things (the coffee pot water ran all over the counter this morning) and in anger.

Today, I finally got down on my knees and took a Brillo pad to the oven. It cleaned up before the breakfast bacon finished cooking.

I took the Dollar Store carpet cleaner to the loft and soaked the coffee stain. With a few swipes of a wet rag, it vanished.

In the midst of wiping it away, Wisdom brought Truth into focus.

Our Bible study last night focused on Galatians 5 and verses 13-15: You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Pausing before the Lord, I said: I don’t want this anger. I choose obedience. I am rejected, but so were You. I am misunderstood and ridiculed, thought misguided. Far worse was said and done to You.

Our Bible study teacher shared of being reviled by church brothers—his reputation shredded. The Lord told him: Don’t fight the nails.

I sat here thinking: I’m still fighting the nails, stewed in pride, tempted to anger.

How I wish my stains could vanish as quickly as that coffee spill. Then I realized: submitted to the Lord, they do.




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Thoughts on John 13

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” John 13: 3-4

Knowing He had all power, Jesus begins to serve.

He washes the disciples’ feet. As is often the case with all of us, Peter wants to direct the situation. First he doesn’t want his master to wash him, then, told it is necessary, he wants an extra wash. He’s a master of destiny.

It reminds me of the way I want healing for hurts, but when I am willing and in ways I understand. Like Peter, we tell Jesus how it should be.

Washed, the disciples return to the table.

Then Jesus serves a man who is about to betray him, handing bread to Judas and telling him “What you are about to do, do quickly.”

There’s not a trace of bitterness for the one who chooses betrayal over fellowship.

Nor is there bitterness for Peter, who loves Christ but will also betray him, three times denying he has been with Jesus and is his follower.

Knowing all things were under His power, Jesus served.

Knowing those close to Him would fail Him, Jesus served.

Knowing the frail loyalty of men, Jesus redeemed us.

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Under the work load


    My father ached to be in business.

    Instead, for years, he worked for another. Until the desire, the irritation, and all the worries festered and propelled him into business for himself. Now, he was A.J. Metzler Electric, a tradesman, driving a van full of tools from daylight to dark.

    He was busy.

After some years, he and my mother, who often helped him out, began to wonder how they might slow the pace. She was 52 and he was 49. They were taking a trip to California, to visit me and help me update a newly purchased bungalow. We put in black and white kitchen floor tile (never do this unless you love scrubbing floors) and made other improvements.

    They drove out from Pennsylvania and they drove home. Days later, my dad woke up in a seizure. The ambulance was called. Doctors delivered the news. He had a brain tumor, and cancer killed him.

    If he was alive today, at 71, he’d still be driving his work van, pushing the hours of daylight.

    Just as my husband does in his mechanic shop, just as I have done in mine, getting up before dawn to set up an antiques show hours away.

    I hope I never have to work for someone else again, but I’ve come to see that a small business is like a backpack on a hike. It’s always there, and you know it. You feel the weight, and you relish the supplies inside. But it can hold a parachute to get you to where you want to go, or it can be a ticking time bomb that will lay you low.

    My husband and I have both come home worn by the irritations of the day, of dealing with people used to a Burger King world, people who want the best price and the job done now, shaving everything to the bone for themselves without a thought for how the small business person stays alive. The American Pickers have it right when they say: There has to be some meat on the bone!

A few years after opening my antiques shop, I went through what I’ll call the Year of Being Tested. One old lady sold me a load of negligible treasure, and then wanted it all back. I made a deal with a couple cleaning out, and their granddaughter accused me of thievery. I bought a large piece at a yard sale at the asking price, planning to pick it up later, and the seller resold it to someone else who told her it was worth more, and then accused me of taking advantage of her.

Used car salesmen, mechanics, antique dealers, not people, just a category of those who can’t be trusted.

The Bible tells us to count it all joy when we go through times of testing, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4. Jeremiah 12:5 asks: If you’ve run with men and they’ve wearied you, how will you run with the horses?

During that Year of Being Tested, I learned: there’s plenty of stuff in the world. Stuff can go back. Provision still comes

I learned the importance of not bringing irritations home. Home was for refreshing, resting, getting away from work. It is not for taking out your grouse on your spouse.

“If you can’t deal with your industry without being ugly, then get out,” my husband told me.

Of course, I can say that to him a few dozen times a year also.

By telling you my dad’s story, I don’t mean to insinuate that being in business killed him. It was his dream and he loved it. But, if he was here today, he’d also say it consumed him, as it has all of us.

Many of us in rural America have to depend on our own ingenuity to create our job. My town alone has lost at least 500 jobs, if not more, in the last few years, with three major employers closing down. We have to get beyond being consumed by our business if we want to survive.

One key is learning how to deal with the stress of dealing with others. Because now, it won’t be your boss taking the flack, it will be you.

As a Christian, I take the hard times to prayer, asking for cleansing, endurance, and insight, and, yes, praying for those who despitefully use me. I had this saying on my desk during that hard year: “Be kinder than necessary for everyone is fighting some kind of battle.”

My hardest customers taught me to love the nicest ones. I am learning patience for all the tourist questions–even “What’s your best price?”

Writing this, I know that soon again I’ll be tested. But more than making money, I want to represent my God well in this world, to reveal that life is about more than getting for me. It is about taking time for the small moments. Stop your work van and savor some natural beauty for five minutes. Step back from the job and count your blessings. Take a moment before answering that complaint, breathe a prayer, and shed some pride.

We will all fail, but try again. Graces gives us patience to answer those same old questions, to make the deals, and then turn the key to head home and rest. Grace is what stops the time bomb from ticking.








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When worship music isn’t

    I used worship music to alter my state of being.

    And it was used to control me.

    If the pastor wanted us to love others more, he played (for the 33rd time) Brandon Heath’s “Give Me Your Eyes.” Can you see that woman crossing the street? Brandon’s eyes as he coolly regards the world?

    Worship music was not about worship. It was about manipulating me into a certain state of being.

    If I was down, I used it to pump me up. If I was up, I used it to get me higher.

The church found worship music useful too. It could pump us up or break us down. I did it when I preached–picked a video to drive home the point, punch up a sermon meant to move men.

Hearts wept at videos awash with music meant to pierce and crack open shells.

    We no longer needed to wait on the conviction of the Holy Spirit…we only had to turn up the volume.

    Week after week after week.

    The Spirit won, praise God! I got sick of it. I never wanted to watch another video again! No more hype, no more manipulation, no control. I wanted the silent breath of the living God. And I got it.

    Freedom fell the day I finally hit the off button on the car radio, silencing the No. 1 hit in today’s Christian music! (Why did we even have ratings for what is supposed to be worship? Why do we like songs and elevate artists if it is about worshipping our Creator?)

    Silence, quiet, stillness.

No more masking with noise in the name of religion.

    Now, I could hear what was raging inside, what was crying, what needed the touch of my Maker. I could invite Him in and trust Him to heal me, lead me, lift or sift me, as needed.

    I didn’t run.

    I was not being manipulated.

    I was being met and cleansed and loved.

    Healed, even.

    Nothing manmade required.

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Nit Picking & the Law

I was thinking how irritating Christians can be in their nitpicking, when I realized that I was guilty.

My thoughts were on the failed prophecy of Harold Camping and Family Radio that judgment day would begin May 21 with a tremendous earthquake sweeping across the globe. I wondered how the group could ignore Matt. 24: 36 where Jesus says no one knows the day or hour of His return, not even Him.

So, I checked out their website. Apparently, they had unlocked some Biblical Da Vinci code released in these last days and knew not only the day but the hour: 6 p.m. in each time zone.

If you are alive, you know this did not happen.

Now come the funsters, the pokemeisters, the hahaha told-you-soers. Atheists, heathens, God-haters, and Christians alike. Facebook was alive with photos of a new billboard to replace the now obsolete May 21 Judgment Day warnings. This one says: That was awkward. “No one knows the date or the hour…” Matt. 24:36.

Many of my Christian friends reposted photos of the new billboard and the “likes” popped like corn over a campfire.

This bothered me because I had read reports of how people who sincerely believed this prophecy gave up everything to hit the highways in emblazoned RVs just to warn complete strangers of imminent judgment. It bothered me, because, right or wrong, they do believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that He came to redeem mankind. That makes them my fellow Christians. And they were proclaiming Christ with boldness most will not muster.

So they were wrong on a date. I once thought all paths led to God, be it Buddha or Bahia.

Such ruminating led me down the rabbit trail to a pet peeve, recently aggravated by yet another super-spiritual Facebook re-posting exhorting anyone who believed in God to share as their status. You may have read these. I will only slightly exaggerating typical content: I love Jesus, yes I do! I love Jesus, how about you? If you believe in God, please re-post. Sadly, 97 percent of people will not repost this as their status. Jesus said if you deny Me before men, I will deny You before my Father.

They might add: If you don’t repost, you’ll go to Hell!

Such posts are nothing more than shallow self-righteous drivel, awash in condemnation, made worse by masquerading as devotion to Christ. The Jesus of the Bible looked at heart attitudes. He called thieving tax collectors out of trees and fisherman from their stink, and dismissed the super-spiritual status-conscious Pharisees as nothing but whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27).

Do you imagine there is a book in heaven where all your Facebook postings are recorded? Oh, look, on May 20 she reposted Heather’s repost of Sarah’s repost of Jill’s repost of how much she loves Jesus. But on May 24, she complained about the weather, and on the 25th she hated her job and her boss was a jerk, and on the 28th the guy you cut her off in traffic deserves a flat tire before he gets home. Let’s hope Jesus is not keeping track.

A short primer on condemnation: It makes you feel bad. It uses manipulation to make you DO something, promising punishment if you don’t do as you are told. In the case of the post, you must do a particular thing or Jesus will deny you.

Condemnation is used to control behavior. It is used by people concerned with appearance.

In real, not virtual, life, this morphs into the extreme. My central Pennsylvania Amish friends must wear only one suspender, if they are male, hold their dresses together with straight pins, if they are female, and drive only a horse and buggy, if they want to be pleasing to the bishop and to God.

True Biblical righteousness has no roots in manipulation and control.

The Bible says Jesus alone is righteous. Not people who do certain things the right way.

Col. 2:23: Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Peeved with all this, I realized I was just as bad as the people snickering at the still-here Doomsayers. For I was finding fault.

Why, I thought, why do we all do this?

The answer is Law. We all know the Law, Christian or not. It is written into our DNA: there are rules for living, an instinctual moral code that even children understand. Do this, do that: be a good person. Do this, do that: you are a bad person.

Only recently did I come to even slightly understand what had always been for me a very dense Biblical passage: Romans 7. I understood clearly “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” in verse 18, but the part about dying to the law, in verse 4, and much else was murky. Somewhere around verse 7 and following, the dark veil fell and I could not see. I recall a prisoner reading that section in a jail Bible study, stabbing the page with her finger and exclaiming “Tell me that’s not deep!” Oh yeah, said the stoner girls, oh yeah, said I.

A little revelation on death helped it come clear.

Here then is my translation: We are born married to law. We can’t help but sin. No matter how hard we try, we keep sinning. The very fact we’re told not to do, makes us want to do! But Jesus offers a way out. A dead man gets a divorce from law. If you’ve died to your own self desires, then you can make a new contract, not with law and sin, but with Christ. Now, you don’t do anything to be good, you submit to Jesus.

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Paul writes in
Rom. 7:25.

I think the reason I never got that passage before was that I didn’t want to be a dead woman.

Most of us don’t, and so, we can’t help but live under the slavery of finding our own righteousness, whether by doing good or, as someone once said, by being good at being bad. We nitpick and point fingers, make fun of those who get it wrong, puff off clouds of condemnation to reinforce our superiority, and put on fancy coats to cover up what sniveling cowards we are at heart.

Fortunately, Christ has compassion on sniveling cowards, or at least those who acknowledge they need help. He called the thief of taxes, Zacchaeus, down from his tree (see Luke 19) and said I’m coming to your house! Zacchaeus died that day. He died to his desires for money. He gave it all back times four and threw in half of his possessions for the poor. He chose what Christ offered rather the riches of the world. You wouldn’t find him pointing fingers at another.

Dead men don’t point fingers. They know their own guilt. They know who set them free.

So begins Romans 8.









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