Hearing From God by Positioning Yourself Rightly

There are times when I think God is quiet towards me when, in fact, he is speaking but I’m unable to hear. Why?  I’ve discovered several reasons, but one of the biggies is how I position myself spiritually. The way that we listen to God and others is important. Deficit listening skills affect every relationship. I didn’t comprehend that for years because, well…………..I didn’t listen well. Clear communication with God and others around me is crucial for healthy relationships, so it’s a good idea to think about what kind of receiver I am, on the listening end.

In our early years of marriage, I didn’t understand that my husband is a thinking-first, internal processor while I am a feeling-first external processor. When we disagreed, I started throwing a lot of words and ideas at him, wanting him to toss the same back to me. Sometimes he did holler back, mainly to  defend himself, but eventually he’d exit the premises, so he could think. Alone. Quietly. I misinterpreted that as a lack of caring, which I usually shouted at his retreating back. We needed to learn to communicate more productively when we disagreed.

In the book of Habakkuk, chapter two, the prophet has finished quite a list of complaints to God about the unpunished evil in the world around him. God replies and Habakkuk complains more. Then, a marvelous change occurs in his attitude, and he re-positions himself completely towards God.  Instead of shaking his fist at the heavens, he takes a humbler posture.

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post.  There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint “Habakkuk 2:1.

Commentator, Matthew Henry’s wisdom about this verse is powerful.

“When tossed and perplexed with doubt about the methods of Providence, we must watch against temptations to be impatient.  When we have poured out complaints and requests before God, we must observe the answers God gives by his word, his Spirit, and providences; what the Lord will say to our case.  God will not disappoint the believing expectations of those who wait to hear what he will say unto them.”

In the past, I used the same poor listening skills with God that I used with Ken, expecting him to fit through my narrow funnel of hearing.  When Habakkuk positioned himself rightly, God told him profound things and inspired him to write a few of the most beautiful verses in the Old Testament. (See the bottom of the post for my favorites.) God wants to speak weighty things to me today. I don’t want to miss any more than I already have in the past. What can we learn from this prophet to improve our God-listening skills?

  • Designate quiet times and spaces in each day.

Most of us live in a crazy, loud world compared to ancient times. Media, traffic, families, workplaces and such create a lot of noise.  Whether Habakkuk went to a literal watchtower or a figurative one, there is an implied quiet there. Ancient watchtowers were often manned by one or two people, high in the sky, away from the bustle of their communities. Whether it’s a quiet room in your home, walking trail or even your bathroom with the vent fan running, (my mom used to do this for quiet) it’s so important to carve out physical quiet in your day, specifically to talk with God and listen.

  • Be prepared to wait.

God does not move on our timetable.  That’s an important fact to wrap our 21st century minds around. He may take days, weeks, months and even years to respond to a prayer request or complaint. Think about the lapse of time between all the Old Testament prophecies about Christ and his date of birth. Being impatient with him demonstrates a lack of trust. We are implying that he is doing nothing, simply because we can’t see his movements.

 

  • Accept that the answer you receive may not be the outcome you expect.

Notice that Habakkuk says, “how he will answer my complaint,” in verse one.  In the first chapter, the prophet implies that God is not doing what Habakkuk thinks he should do concerning the evil Chaldeans, who are oppressing the Israelites, but here I see a change in his attitude. There used to be times when I looked for that one right answer from God. When it didn’t come the way I imagined, I felt disappointed. I missed entirely the other things he did instead in those situations.  He is Alpha and Omega who sees the entire picture and knows what is ultimately best. We see a limited viewpoint of any set of circumstances, colored by our own perceptions, experiences and prejudices.  God is not limited by any of that junk.

I want to position myself in a spiritual watchtower where I hear and discern the words and movements of God in my world and the world around me. I long to pray effectively, lined up with the will of God. Wherever you are in your God-listening skills, are you ready to come up to the next level?

 

Treasures from Habakkuk

(all from NLT)

“For as the waters fill the sea, the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the Lord.” 2:14

“But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.” 2:20

“I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works.” 3:2

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren…yet I will rejoice in the Lord!” 3:17-18

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” 3:19

 

What To Do When It Feels Like God Isn’t Listening

In the past, I dabbled with the thought that God was ignoring me. I knew this was false, yet I use to agonize during God’s silent seasons with me. For example, he seemed quiet on the matter of me finding a teaching job for many years, although he faithfully opened other career doors of opportunity for me. When fraudulent behavior and unethical corporate practices decimated my husband’s business like a tsunami, some days, I only heard the roar of the waves.

When you are a leader, these types of experiences are unsettling since people under you often expect you to be a God-hearing vision caster 24/7. Parents can feel the pressure from children, spouses from their mates and so on. Every true God-follower will experience deserts and dry seasons in their faith and just as Satan pounced on Jesus in the wilderness, he waits to attack us in the same places. Starting with Adam and Eve, our enemy tries to trick humans into doubting God’s character, particularly his love and power.

I remember praying faithfully and fervently for a couple’s broken marriage relationship that still ended in a bitter divorce. I know God does not override our free will to choose sin, which is what one partner did. Although I hurt deeply for this couple, I also struggled that through the whole, agonizing process, I couldn’t seem to see God’s hand moving in their situation. By faith, I know he is always active on behalf of his children but at that time, I felt like my prayers hit a wall and then slid back down.

Nowadays, I’ve learned to trust God’s heart when I can’t see his activity, and it seems like evil is winning. It’s a faith stretcher.  I’ve met many Christians who experience that struggle of feeling like they are faithfully conversing with God, but he isn’t talking back. These are not new, 21st century feelings.  The ancient prophet Habakkuk cried out to God with similar emotions.

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save. Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore, the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:1-4).

God answers the prophet and reveals his plans for judgement on the wicked. Instead of finding comfort in that, Habakkuk is in despair. He rails on God some more concerning the activities of evil. I remember times when I landed in similar valleys where I struggled to believe the truth of God’s word because it seemed so far removed from present, painful circumstances.

God doesn’t scold Habakkuk in his brokenness and despair. Instead, he says, “Okay, I’m going to share more of my plan with you and I want you to write it down and then see that the message is spread around your country.” In the next post, we’ll dive more deeply into what God said and Habakkuk’s change of heart. For now, may I share a couple ideas on what to do when you find yourself feeling disconnected from God, in a valley of doubt and discouragement?

  • Feed your spirit man rich food. The old saying is true; whatever you feed grows and whatever you starve dies. Even though devotions and Bible study might feel like a chore, don’t forsake them; they will strengthen the best part of you and help take your emotions out of the driver’s seat. Storing up God’s word in your heart and mind gives the Holy Spirit the materials he needs to help you climb up out of your valley.  
  • Read Stories of Other’s Successful Journeys through the valleys of despair.

There are hundreds of books and websites available where brothers and sisters in Christ share their narratives on overcoming debilitating circumstances. I’ll list a few below.  Also, there’s a great website I worked with for awhile entitled, “Why Is This Happening?” (whyisthishappening.org) Great stories from overcomers are available on the site.

  • Spend your prayer time on others needs more than your own.

My prayer times used to become myopic during valley times, until I learned the discipline of casting my cares on God and then moving on to intercede for someone else’s situation. God wants to know that we trust him with our stuff.  Jesus set the perfect example of caring more for the tragedies of others rather than his own, many times. Dying on the cross, he spoke to John about caring for his mother, Mary, and also taught salvation to the lost soul crucified next to him.

  • Continue in the last clear direction God gave you until he gives you a new one. My former pastor, M. Wayne Benson used to say, “If you’re not hearing from God right now, then keep doing the last thing he told you to do.”  Don’t equate God’s temporary silence towards you, with indifference. Whatever Satan may be screaming at you, remember, as the Newsboys song says, “The cross has the final word.”

One of the beautiful things about seasons is that they change. You may think that impossible right now, during your winter, but spring will come to your life again.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3 ESV).

Recommended books:

You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Turbulent Times,” by Max Lucado.

“It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way,” Lisa Ter Keurst

 

 

Hope When You Feel Helpless

When feelings of hopelessness edge into my heart, its first cousin, helplessness, often accompanies. Yesterday, both tried to climb over walls I’ve put around my heart to guard it against such things. Some pernicious health issues created a pathway to my wall and carelessly, I let the cousins start climbing.  Their hands made it up over the bricks of morning worship and prayer and even beyond the lessons from my current devotional study about displaying God’s glory in our lives.  Just as they began to fling their legs over the top of the wall, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a power verse. “Greater is he that is in me than he who is the world!” (I John 4:4)

I belted that phrase and then sang a scripture-based song, “Whom the son sets free, is free indeed. I’m a child of God, yes I am!” The last I saw hopeless and helpless, they were running away with their ears covered. They will most likely attempt to breach my walls again because my health situation is not resolved, and Satan is nothing if not persistent. This is not my first fight with him on this battlefield but when I stay in step with the Captain of the Host, victory comes.

There are many ways our enemy tries to attack our faith in God’s power and love, and for some of us, it’s directly on our physical bodies. For others, it’s our families, our finances, jobs, churches, mind and emotions or any other place in our lives where Satan thinks he can advance his army.  Sometimes he confronts me on multiple fields of battle. Truthfully, there have been days when I’ve allowed hopelessness and helplessness to climb the wall and camp out in the garden of my heart for a time. Let me tell you, once you let them all the way in, it’s tough to get them back over that wall.

The forces of hell will plot against God’s kingdom until the final judgement. I find hope and strength for my battles throughout scripture, but today I want to point you to a passage in the book of Nahum I recently discovered. In the first chapter, the prophet describes the fierce anger of the Lord towards the enemies of his people.

“The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and rage. He takes revenge on ALL who oppose him and continues to rage against his enemies. The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he NEVER lets the guilty go unpunished. He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.  The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet. At his command the oceans dry up, and the rivers disappear. In his presence the mountains quake, and the hills melt away; the earth trembles… “Nahum 1:2-6 NLT (emphasis mine).

I love what commentator Matthew Henry, says about this passage. “Let sinners read it and tremble, and let saints read it and triumph.”  For Satan, his army, and those who choose to align themselves with darkness, this passage, and others like it, are terrifying. They’ve experienced God’s wrath. I don’t think only Egyptians screamed when the Red Sea crashed down on them or that only the inhabitants of Jericho quaked when their mighty walls crumbled.  Wherever evil resides, the unseen world of darkness exists in tandem.

For the believer, these types of scriptures are assurance that God sees every injustice against his children, whether in the natural or the supernatural, and will deal with every perpetrator of wickedness in ferocious ways.Your feelings of helplessness or hopelessness may come from sinful acts committed against you by humans but understand there is always a vile puppet master pulling the strings behind them. This is why Paul instructed the church in the book of Ephesians, that Christians are not wrestling merely with humans and we best be wearing our spiritual armor.

It’s Satan’s delight to keep our vision horizontally focused on enemies we can see in the natural, pitting Christ followers against each other and against unbelievers.  Passages like the one in Nahum remind us that this is a vertical war between good and evil, with the outcome already determined in heaven.  Satan knows this and is simply working to take as many spoils of war as he possibly can, namely the souls of men.

If he can distract me with hopelessness and helplessness about my own situations, how likely am I to see and respond to the needs of others in their broken moments? Maybe a fellow believer falls because I’m not there to throw my arm around them and help them to the med station. Or perhaps my unbelieving friend sinks deeper into the enemy’s darkness because they can’t see my lantern pointing the way to the Light. That’s why scriptures like Nahum’s first chapter are so powerful and affirming. They remind us that we are marching with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s the God who piles up seas then tumbles them down and crushes giant walls like brittle leaves. He’s always working on behalf of his children and against the forces of evil whether we can see it in the natural or not.

I’ve developed a phrase that I roll out repeatedly, to speak to my soul when I find it trending towards hopelessness.  I say, “I don’t know exactly what God’s gonna do, but he’s gonna do something.” Then I choose to focus on the tasks God places before me and the needs of others rather than continuing to stew about my own situations.

Be encouraged today by the knowledge of God’s power and might inserted into your circumstances. Sometimes I am helpless to change sinful or painful situations to any great degree, but God never is and loves to demonstrate his authority over heaven and earth on behalf of his children. Here’s a few more passages to meditate on concerning his power and might.

Job 26:7-14, Psalm 136,  Isaiah 14:27,  Isaiah 52:10, Psalm 66:7, Ephesians 1:19-21,

 

Hope for Those Who Love Prodigals

The agony of loving a prodigal can be unbearable. As I’ve wept and prayed with their family and friends, they’ve taught me valuable insights. First, when someone who walked with God chooses the world instead, life can become a roller coaster. Wee hour phone calls slam you with news of arrests, overdoses or other dire circumstances. Often those with substance abuse problems steal from family and friends. Their new “friends,” are people who can’t take care of themselves, let alone anyone else. They are rarely trustworthy people and often add to the self-destructive lifestyle of your prodigal.

Secondly, your pain is intensified when your wandering soul is a parent who carries children along in their wild current. This complicates boundaries and availability. How often does one offer resources to the unstable parent, for the sake of the child?  Complex questions arise in these gut-wrenching situations.

Third, there are many kinds of prodigals. Your prodigal may be a high functioning, productive member of society, yet they want nothing to do with God and his people anymore. This describes my Uncle Donald, a vice president for a large pharmaceutical corporation. He grew up in a Christian home, professed a personal faith in Christ and then turned his back on God for his entire adult life until near the end. His younger sister, my Aunt Mary Lea, chose the same spiritual path, while functioning well in society.

Fourth, parents instinctively want to blame themselves for the choices of their prodigal child, but they shouldn’t. All humans make their own choices to respond to or reject God’s grace and love extended specifically to every person, regardless of home environment.  My mother and her sister, Miriam, grew up in the same home as Donald and Mary Lea. They both loved and served God their whole lives. Did my grandparents do everything wrong with Donald and Mary Lea and everything right with the other two? Doubtful.

I include my own family’s story to encourage parents who might be agonizing over their family dynamic in light of a wayward child. Franklin Graham, director of Samaritan’s Purse Ministry, son of evangelist Billy Graham, lived a wild life, until he turned 22. Franklin will tell you that Billy and Ruth Graham were amazing, godly parents. Unfortunately, some children from solid, Christian homes choose sin for a season, for reasons they don’t even fully understand.  They break the hearts of everyone who loves them.

Prodigals are featured throughout scripture including the one in Jesus’ famous parable. Manasseh, king of Judah during the prophet Nahum’s season of ministry, went completely nuts for sin. Bible scholars declare him to be the most evil king in all of Israel’s history. The surprise in Manasseh’s story is that his father was Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings.

Manasseh’s story is a fascinating one told in 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33.  To summarize, he became King at the age of twelve and in early adulthood, dove into the worship of Moloch, to the point of sacrificing his own child in Moloch’s fires. Most of Israel followed him into idol worship, child sacrifice and immorality. The Bible is silent on the reasons for his descent into madness. That’s a wise example for anyone judging parents of prodigals.

Before Manasseh’s tale turns for good, it becomes much worse, for him and Israel. God loves his people too much too allow them to continue in sin without intervention.  He sends the Assyrian army to brutally conquer Judah and take Manasseh away as a captive. The original Hebrew text indicates that the Assyrians pierced either his nose or his cheek with a large ring attached to a chain and led the humbled king off into captivity in chains, like a pig to market.

As horrific as this is, God cared more about the condition of Manasseh’s eternal soul than his earthly life. That’s why he sent Nahum first, then the Assyrians, when Manasseh refused to repent. The same is true of your prodigal. God may allow excruciatingly painful circumstances into the life of a wayward child to recapture their attention and their heart.  During his captivity, Manasseh repented and transformed entirely. He is mysteriously returned to his throne and allowed to rule Judah until his death. The Bible gives no more details as to why the Assyrians did this but the point is that he came back as a very different king.

He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel” 2 Chronicles 33:15-16.

God’s grace reaches into the prodigal’s chosen pigpen, although his mercy may be severe at times, like it was for Manasseh and Judah.  He loves mankind too much to allow people to choose hell as their eternal home, without allowing them a taste of it here on earth. This is where discernment, wisdom and the leading of the Spirit is critical in your relationship to a prodigal.  Only God can instruct you when to help them and when to leave them to the consequences of their own poor decisions as painful as that may be.  Only God can redirect a wayward heart back to himself.  We serve as prayer warriors against the dark kingdom and as lighthouses on their journey home.

The fifth thing prodigal’s families taught me is not to try and get in between them and their destructive relationships, without a clear directive from God.  Although our intentions are to rescue, they are usually not perceived that way. We may find ourselves cut off from our loved one entirely. Take comfort that God sees all evil doers and will deal with them himself. The entire book of Nahum is a judgement against Assyria, for conquering Judah, even though Manasseh and the kingdom were steeped in sin. Read the short book to see how God feels and behaves towards those who mess with his children, even wayward ones.

I’ve watched the endless power of God’s love and provision towards those who love a prodigal. He supplies comfort when everything turns sideways. He grants discernment to determine when to intervene and when to stand back.  He sends the Holy Spirit to groan with them during prayer times and weep with them when there seems to be no change of heart in their loved one.  He understands our situations intimately and He cares deeply.  He is always a source of hope in hopeless situations.

Hope for Hopeless Situations

When I am confronted with hopeless situations in my own life or my people’s, the temptation to circle the drain emotionally is almost overwhelming.  As a One on the Enneagram temperament scale (see links below) I’m already tilting at windmills, trying to right all wrongs. When a situation becomes “hopeless,” things are seriously akimbo, some which can’t be rectified on this side of heaven. This is when I am most thankful for God’s assurances in his Word, that He is in control when life is out of control. His compassion is as near as the mention of his name.

Phrases like, “There’s nothing more we can do,” and “There’s no way out of this,” or “This can’t be fixed,” used to take me down to a low, scary place where I questioned God’s goodness and love. When my husband nearly died of pneumonia, at the age of 27, I railed at God for a few days before godly friends and family guided me back to the narrow road of faith. I wish that was my only memory of questioning God’s character in painful circumstances.

These days, I tell my emotions to carry on in the back seat a while as my spirit drives the rest of me to better places, many of them in Psalms, like 119:76, 9:9, and 46:1. God’s comfort is unfailing when everything and everyone else is failing, unstable. There is a gem of a story about this topic hidden in the book of Nahum. I say hidden because, so few believers take the time to read the minor prophets. My pastor husband calls them the “white pages” of the Bible. I missed the story entirely until yesterday, when I took the time to learn about this interesting prophet and his audience.

First, Nahum is part two of the story of Nineveh, with the book of Jonah being part one. The city’s repentance in Jonah’s day, lasts about a hundred years before they once again become bullies, conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and threaten the lower kingdom of Judah. Judah’s troubles don’t end there. Their ruler, King Manasseh, ranks on the top five evil Israelite king list, and leads his countrymen into idolatry and human sacrifice. Imagine being a sincere follower of Jehovah in a homeland melting down its morals at idol’s feet and about to be invaded by Assyria. I wonder if they felt hopeless.

God selects Nahum as the prophet of the hour.  Most of his prophecy first assures his countrymen that Nineveh’s aggressions will not go unpunished.  Every evil thing they’ve perpetrated against God’s people, God will now rain down on them.  Read the book and visualize for yourself, it’s a very short read.

Secondly, God might choose to stop speaking to Hebrews so immersed in sin they are sacrificing their own children in the fires of Moloch and Baal, but he doesn’t. Instead, he sends them a prophet whose very name means “comfort.” God sends compassion to his few, faithful followers, with skin on. Isn’t that what we need the most when we are facing hopeless situations with no easy resolutions?

Inside God’s detailed plans for bringing justice to Nineveh and the Assyrian empire, he inserts treasures of comfort for those still listening, desperately trying to obey him in their fallen culture.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him” Nahum 1:.7

“The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines” Nahum 2:2.

We need lots more Nahums in the body of Christ, people who lovingly remind us of God’s faithfulness and goodness.  I want encouragers that follow Nahum’s example. Gently remind me that God sees everything that’s gone wrong for me and mine. Nothing escapes his notice. His ability to be present with me is constant. Then, I need the assurance that even when the outcomes of situations are wretched and pain-filled, he is my ever-caring refuge of compassion and strength.

In this age of 24/7 news and social media, too much of what I see and hear can be negative. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a walled off Christian, ignorant of and unwilling to interact with the sorrow and suffering of this world. As some did for me, I want to speak good news and peace into dark places for other people, the places where Satan thinks he’s had the last word. Nahum echoes Isaiah 52:7 when he says, “Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace” Nahum 1:15.

Christ our Savior and Prince of Peace is unchanging and ever available. When I invite his presence and carry his words of assurance to those facing hopeless situations, the atmosphere changes. Broken hearts can start to mend, wobbly knees stabilize, and weary minds are refreshed when I carry mercy and courage into the trials of people’s lives. I want people to associate my name with comfort, just like Nahum.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

Resources to learn which Enneagram number you are and then what to do with that information.

  1. The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile https://www.amazon.com/Road-Back-You-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/dp/0830846190
  2. The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile

https://www.amazon.com/Path-Between-Us-Enneagram-Relationships/dp/0830846425/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=ARK25595S822WDB4PDG6

  1. The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr https://www.amazon.com/Enneagram-Christian-Perspective-Richard-Rohr/dp/0824519507/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1KCL9TILOJ4J9&keywords=richard+rohr&qid=1561577490&s=books&sprefix=Richard+%2Cstripbooks%2C161&sr=1-3

 

 

Trusting Our Righteous Judge

Receiving a summons to appear in court, is a knee-quaking moment. The sheriff at my door seemed jaded and looked at me as if he believed me to be guilty of the crime represented in the envelope. I felt like a criminal.

Years ago, we unknowingly hired an unscrupulous lawyer to take care of some legal business for us. He handled the business satisfactorily, but his disorganization concerning billing and contracts led him to believe that we signed a contract for him to do further work for us. When he tried to bill us for work, we didn’t agree to, and he hadn’t done, we called repeatedly and explained to his part-time secretary that he was mistaken, and no such contract existed.

The foolish man insisted on suing us, and we appeared in court. As defendants. Suspected criminals.  Our assigned judge asked if we minded him handling a couple bail cases before he proceeded with ours. Like we would say no? This provided more time to try to stop our hands from shaking.

Beefy sheriff’s deputies escorted two ridiculously large prisoners into the courtroom, both in hand and leg shackles, and seated them five feet away from us. All the movies and stories I knew about jailbreaks, prison shanks and such ran through my mind. I silently prayed while trying to appear unfazed by this terrifying development. We didn’t find this turn of events calming.

At that time, we felt no peace to spend more money on lawyers and Ken represented us himself before the judge. The smug look across the aisle, on the face of the lawyer representing our dishonest lawyer, made us question that decision. Truth isn’t always enough to prove innocence.

Quickly, it became clear how disorganized and mistaken our lawyer proved to be.  No documents could be produced proving his case and we possessed many that proved ours. The judge scolded the representing lawyer and we enjoyed a David beats Goliath moment, as the judge ordered us to pay only our agreed-upon fee.

I recalled those feelings of terror in the courtroom, when I read through the book of Micah.  A prophet to both Judah and Israel, Micah carried the message of God’s anger and impending judgement to sinful Jews.  Chapter two reminded me of our plight as defendants along with all the stories I’ve encountered about people who’ve lost homes, businesses and savings through fraud.

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them.  They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2)

Our dishonest lawyer caused us weeks of stress and many hours of time as Ken organized our case. God observed similar scenes in Judah and Israel, and his rage boiled. Wicked Hebrews stole houses, lands and fortunes from their own people, apparently with forethought and glee.

Just as in ancient Israel, fraudulent behavior is not limited to the world but sometimes crops up amongst believers also. Churches and relationships are fractured as a result. This type of behavior is contemptible to God. He expects better of his children.  To the evildoers of Judah and Israel he said,

I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves” (Micah 2:3).

God’s nature and character are unchanging.  What angered him three thousand years ago still lights him up today. Delayed judgement sometimes leads people to think it will never come. God’s laws of sowing and reaping will always apply however, and as Hosea said, “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

If you are a victim of fraud, cheating, being lied to, etc., God sees it all.  He’s recorded every penny, relationship, possession and job taken from you. You may be living in reduced circumstances due to the sin of others.  Although our case with the disorganized lawyer ended well, at another time, a large corporation our business affiliated with, cheated us and other agents, out of significant sums of money through illegal business practices. The loss of revenue forced us to reduce our staff and move to smaller offices.  Years later, when a case came before a judge, on behalf of agents, he ruled for the corporation, unjustly.

Remember, your heavenly Father, who sees the fall of every sparrow, cares deeply. Confronted with the choice between forgiveness and bitterness, with God’s grace, Ken and I chose the process of forgiveness. Please note I said process. As a result, we maintained our peace and intimacy with God and made room for him to work restoration in our lives.  You can choose the same.  Pray for those who wronged you. They are walking in unawareness of impending judgement, which never turns out well.  Read any of the minor prophets for confirmation of that.

When my heart is right and clean before God, it’s easy to hear his voice. He shares wisdom and insight with me concerning instances where I’ve been wronged.  Sometimes he tells me to let it go and assures me that he will deal with those individuals. The other agents, in the situation above, paid big dollars to take their case to court. God did not give Ken and I a green light on that because he knew the outcome and didn’t want us to waste our money. Bitterness might have led us into a case God didn’t want us involved in.

Other times, God directs me to confront people and hold them accountable for wrongdoing, like the unscrupulous lawyer. We could have paid his dishonest fee, and he would have dropped the court case. In that instance God told us to stand and fight.

I’ve discovered there are no simple formulas for responding to those who sin against me. Only intimacy with God empowers me to forgive and go forward in knowledge and discernment concerning those who wrong me.  I encourage you to start every day with God speaking to you through His word and prayer. I trust my Righteous Judge to empower me to deal with every complex, unfair circumstance that intersects with my life, and you can too.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

If you are currently dealing with or trying to recover from circumstances in which you were wronged, I encourage you to read the following Bible accounts. Understanding how God directed these folks to behave towards their enemies helps me understand His ways and methods in these types of situations.

  • David, God’s chosen king for Israel, runs from King Saul’s murderous rage for many years. Check out his attitude in these portions of his story found in I Samuel, chapters 24 and 26.
  • Joseph’s journey to ruler of Egypt involved treachery and deceit from those closest around him. Read Genesis 37 and then 39-41 and observe Joseph’s demeanor and behavior.
  • Caleb and Joshua were ready to take the promised land as soon as they spied on it. Instead they were defrauded of living there for forty long years because the other ten, cowardly spies spread evil reports amongst the Israelites. Read Joshua 14:6 to the end concerning Caleb’s reward.  Joshua was not only given the honor of replacing Moses, read Joshua 19:49-50 to learn about his reward. Why did God bless them so generously?

What kind of attitude do you think they both maintained during those endless years in the desert?

 

 

Joel- The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Within hours, sometimes minutes, life can change from order to chaos.  Natural disasters, accidents, violent acts and crimes of the heart leave a path of destruction behind them much like Joel describes in his book.  “Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them a desert waste…” (Joel 2:3 NIV). Many things we think of as foundational, can be swept away with no advance warning.

For me, an iconic visual of grandeur to ruin are movie scenes when the White House (home to American presidents) is overwhelmed by an invading power.  When bombs explode the white, exterior pillars into a thousand directions, and the American flag is left smoldering in pieces, I feel something visceral while telling myself, “It’s just a movie.” Part of me knows that but for God’s protecting hand, cinema could become reality.

The book of Joel, is a warning to Israel that sin will push away God’s mighty hand and leave them vulnerable to destruction. Not only those caught up in sin would be hurt, but the lives of faithful followers of Jehovah would also be turned upside down.  A stark contrast existed between Israel’s present state in the promised land, and their former lives as Egyptian slaves. Before, the bounty of the land belonged to their masters. Now they owned the most productive acreage in the middle east.  The miles of fields and vineyards became significant symbols of God’s blessing and their national freedom, much like the American flag and White House.

God planted his chosen people in a new Eden reminiscent of the first garden. When the original Eden fell, the world flipped for humans. Perfection became a memory and God rolled out his plan of redemption, to restore us to our intended homeland. Gifting Israel with their own country “flowing with milk and honey,” demonstrated to the existing world, life as God’s special people, beautiful, abundant, like the original garden.  For believers now, the Promised Land serves as a type for Christ’s earthly invisible kingdom, with all its wonders, and our eternal homeland in heaven’s paradise.

Joel’s first chapter is brutal in its descriptions of a land stripped bare and that’s exactly how some of you feel in this moment. At some point, most people experience something that creates that sensation in their lives, where people and things are ripped away. What remains looks like a barren landscape. Just like those images of the White House, and the prophet’s descriptions of locust damage, our dreams, relationships, homes, churches, jobs etc. can be decimated by circumstances, sometimes beyond repair.  Often, we don’t realize we lived in abundance until suddenly, we don’t.

Compare these two descriptions from Genesis and Joel.  God wanted Israel to understand that the bounty he re-created for them in the Promised Land could be taken in the same way humans lost access to Eden.

 

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation; seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.”  Genesis 1:11-12

 

“Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes- joy and gladness from the house of our God?  The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods.  The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up.  How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.”  Joel 1: 16-18

You might feel like you’ve moved from lush to barren, bounty to lack. You can’t see any way that what you’ve lost can ever be restored because there isn’t even a seed of hope left in your situation. Take encouragement from Joel 2:25-26. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…you will have plenty to eat, until you are full.”  The end of your story is not yet written, the Author is still at work.

Some theologians believe Joel described an actual locust invasion.  Others say these verses symbolize the coming Babylonian invasion of Israel in the 5th century, which will leave the land wasted, as described.  Like some theologians, I believe both things are true. History records a massive locust infestation during the 9th century, when Joel lived and prophesied.  I think God used this natural event to speak to Israel about the long-term consequences of their disobedience and as a warning to future generations of believers.

Portions of your life may be in ruins due to your sin or the sin of others.  You may be an unintended casualty of another’s rebellion against God’s Word and his ways.  If your own disobedience resulted in a terrible loss, this is a hard thing to bear.  During a financial desert season in our lives, Ken and I counseled with an older pastor, intimate with great loss.  Once the pastor of a large, successful church, a married man with a wonderful wife and spacious, well appointed home, he lost everything, except his wife, due to adultery.

He shared details of his fall, like the eye damage his wife suffered from intense crying, and the shabbiness of the house they could afford, once he lost his ministry.  I’ll never forget what he said to us that day.  “Ken and Sharon,” he stated very solemnly, “what you are experiencing is painful, yet I am certain it is not a chastising, but a trial God is allowing for his greater purposes.  Now, try to imagine all you are experiencing occurrs because you sinned against God. Let me tell you that the agony of that nearly did me in, but God is faithful.”

Just as God eventually restored that pastor back to ministry, he can bring new life and opportunities to any believer who will acknowledge and confess sin.  There will most likely be a time of humbling and setbacks, but God is always eager to return his children to Eden.

What if  you are experiencing a locust swarm created by someone else’s sin, like our pastor friend’s wife? Your first job is forgiving.  When the behavior of others results in our loss, Satan is ready to pounce and build a stronghold of anger and self—pity inside of us.  Not everyone in Israel sinned against God. Some remained faithful and certainly young children were innocent of the charges God brought against his people. Yet, due to sin, the entire nation went into captivity in Babylon a couple centuries after Joel’s warnings. The promised land lay ruined by the invading conquerors, just as Joel prophesied.

Consider the prophet Daniel and his friends, carried away to Babylon.   Instead of allowing themselves to fill with bitterness at the injustice of it all, they rose to positions of power and influence because of their godly response to horrific circumstances.

 

Painful trials come to everyone at some point. Seasons will come when we feel lost and empty.  How we respond, be it repentance, forgiveness or bitterness, will determine what happens next.  

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

  • ADDITIONAL VERSES about God’s ability to redeem and restore. Make a copy of these to keep with you, put in your Bible or place around your home. (NIV) Personalize these verses and then speak and declare them out loud over your circumstances of loss and brokeness. God’s Word is alive, unlike any other book.  Speaking it out loud will change the atmosphere around you and your soul within you.

 

 Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so, you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.  Isaiah 61:7

 

Heal me O Lord, and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.  Jeremiah 17:14

 

“But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” declares the Lord.  Jeremiah 30:17

 

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.  Job 42:10 (Don’t discount this verse, thinking somehow Job was more deserving of special treatment than you are.)

 

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. I Peter 5:10

 

 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. Zechariah 9:12 (“Double for your trouble,” as Joyce Meyer likes to say it, is a reoccurring theme in the Word.)

 

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. Psalm 71:21-22

 

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3

 

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. … Ezekiel 37:1-10 (Read this entire passage and then be bold enough to start speaking the Word out loud to the dead, dry areas of your life.)

 

  • Stand on verses specific to your situation.  Wherever your place of loss and barrenness lies, God’s Word can speak to it.  Ask him to help you seek and find his promises that are more specific to your situation.  Remember, a lack of faith grieves God.  Choose NOT to spend your life grieving what once was.  Grief is a  necessary season, but not a lifestyle.  Stand fast on the Word and expect God to do new things in your environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • For a fascinating video about locust swarms, check out this link. Imagine this on your property, leaving it stripped of anything green. Makes God’s promise to restore everything the locusts eat more meaningful when you understand the devastation they can create.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bx5JUGVahk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

In a church where we served, Ken and I endured a steady stream of criticism from a small group of members, concerning worship music.  They believed older hymns and choruses to be far superior to anything written after 1960. We disagreed. So did much of the congregation. Some Sunday mornings, one or both of us might be verbally assaulted/lectured after a service about the spiritual viability of some of our choices.  Loudly. In the narthex. With guests and other members nearby.

Planning our first Christmas Eve service in that church caused no small amount of anxiety for the two of us.  We pictured a scene erupting after one of the best attended services of the year (so we were told), with a narthex full of out of town guests and visiting community members.  We knew we needed to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, but we questioned our ability to hear him.  Our music list and worship order went through several overhauls before we felt locked down.

The week of Christmas I felt rounds of nervous nausea.  Always, before, I eagerly looked forward to Christmas Eve services as wondrous, candlelit events, gathered with family, worshipping together with joy.  This year, joy went missing, and I prepared for a holy war.  I couldn’t imagine our critics going quietly, if we “messed up,” Christmas as one of them predicted we would.

The service itself went off flawlessly. Trios, duets, congregational singing and solos all wound their way around the sanctuary, like a large Christmas ribbon, tying us all together into this special moment.  Even our antique sound system, for once, didn’t scream feedback at us. From my limited sight line behind the piano, all the faces I could see wore expressions of peace and appreciation.  I couldn’t see any of our negative commentators.  Were they sitting as they usually did, arms folded across their chest, scowling at everyone on the platform?  My stomach clenched at the thought.

After the service, dozens of people spoke to Ken and I, and the other participants, expressing love and appreciation.  Maybe the judging team didn’t come?  Oh wait. Trapped in a throng of folks all jostling to wish each other “Merry Christmas,” while finding their coats, I spied a man pushing his way through the crowd towards me.  A loud, large man.  A man who usually only spoke to me or Ken to lodge complaints.

Helpless to move out of his range, I imagined the beautiful atmosphere of love and fellowship torn apart like a toddler with a Christmas package. I braced for impact and asked God to help me respond rightly. He wedged himself in between several people to plant himself right in front of me.  Whatever wind blew, by now my mouth felt desert dry and my throat so tight, I felt no confidence in my ability to say anything back.  I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped when he looked me in the eye and said, “Nice service,” then just as abruptly, turned his back on me and pushed his way back through the crowd.

I’d love to tell you we developed a marvelous relationship with this man, but we didn’t.  He criticized until the day we left, but that’s not the point of this story.  Here’s what I think happened that night.   I’ve seen this phenomenon occur since then with lost people, skeptics, critics and the like.  Sometimes folks come into Christmas with skewed expectations and unbelief, determined to remain aloof or critical of certain environments.

Location doesn’t matter whether it’s your home, church or any other place believers gather to celebrate the birth of Christ. Something supernatural happens when the Christ child is worshipped and people love freely. Even the hardest heart can be softened in that moment as perhaps God reminds them of Christmases long ago before their hearts formed into concrete. Or maybe he shows them a glimpse of what life could be like without all the negative emotions they carry daily.  I think that’s the theme of Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol. Thanks to the three spirits, Scrooge is given the gift of new sight and clearly understands the choice that every human must still make, whether to walk in The Light or live in eternal darkness.  Sadly, some will forever choose the shadows. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pray, expectantly with faith, that your Scrooge will choose to see the radiance of Christ and want to live within his glory and wonder.

As you gather together, Christmas week, you may be expecting critics, skeptics, and such to squirrel up your events also.  Some of you might be estranged from family members so they won’t be showing up for Christmas dinner, but instead leave a huge ache in your heart.  Some families are divided along the line of those who believe in Christ and those who don’t.  All of this can make this time of year tough if you are not armed and ready.

Remember, the whole Christmas story is one miraculous heart-change after another.  Sometimes our familiarity with the various details causes us to brush over the deep, inner work God performed in the hearts of key players in this drama using highly abnormal circumstances.   Joseph’s logic and human reason must be overridden to believe his little fiancée carried God in her stomach.  Mary, a young obscure girl, must accept God’s message that, here now, SHE is the prophesied, chosen one.  Shepherds, the outcasts of society, must believe they didn’t hallucinate and then act on what the angels instructed, to go find this baby inside a town that certainly didn’t welcome them.

God is performing heart surgeries every day, and Christmas is still a season of miracles.    He chooses to partner with our prayers of faith to move over the most unlikely specimens one can possibly imagine.  Ask him relentlessly, to prepare and make room in the hearts of those in your world who are lost or backslidden far from his love. Trust that the same love that compelled Jesus to set aside perfection to enter our dysfunctional, damaged world, is still in play today.

 

 

A Thrill of Hope

The first Christmas after my mother’s death felt dreamlike, specifically the kind where you’re drowning or trying to run from something awful, but your feet won’t move. We lit our Advent wreath, decorated trees, baked cookies, shopped on Black Friday and carried out our other Christmas season traditions, but it all felt empty.

I first noticed the knifing pains of her absence on Black Friday, a shopping tradition she relished every year until the last few of her life.  The only significant memory I carry from that day is the large ball of choked back tears in my throat.  At one point I almost bawled in the endless check-out line in Kohl’s Department Store, reminiscing about the times I’d stood in that line for her, (sometimes with a snarky attitude) with a heaped cart of her carefully selected gifts.  Her back, deformed from childhood polio and a car accident, couldn’t tolerate long periods of standing, so she’d move on to the next store with other family members while Ken and I waited to check out.

I remember one year she spent in the hospital over the Thanksgiving holiday.  She still poured over all our family Christmas lists and made detailed notes for Ken and me about what to purchase, from which stores and what coupons to use.  I brought all our purchases to the hospital.  We laid everything out on top of the hospital bedding, for her to examine and be certain it met her standards.

While Mom spent her first glorious Christmas in heaven, we struggled to plan our extended family Christmas at “my Dad’s house.”  I felt sick simply saying that phrase, instead of, “Mom and Dad’s house.”  My sweet brother and sister-in-law, and their children, put up a tree and some of the decorations my mother collected and loved so dearly, around the too- quiet house, for my Dad. I believe that they chose wisely when they did this, but for me, seeing all her decorations without her, felt ghastly.  Some that she’d owned since my childhood sent me to the back bedroom to compose myself and not add to my Dad’s grief.

That whole year turned out to be a season of loss for me.  In April, my principal informed me that due to a very low student enrollment, my teaching job needed to be eliminated.  Two weeks after that blow, in May, my mother entered the arms of Jesus, somewhat unexpectedly.  The staff at her rehab center had scheduled her to return home within a few days but pneumonia struck suddenly, swiftly, lifting her to glory within 48 hours.

In the beginning of December, our dog, Kobi, left our lives, after fourteen years.  The accumulated sorrows of the year made this third good-bye so poignant.  I contracted bronchitis shortly afterwards and deeply missed the sweet presence of furry friendship during those long, quiet hours of recovery.  The pain of our parting set me in the same frame of mind I’d been in many years prior, when our last Labrador, Edwards, entered his well-deserved rest.  “No more dogs,” I declared again.  It’s ridiculous that I still didn’t understand my own nature.

At least this time, I caved, with no outside pressure. Now that I no longer worked outside the home, the quiet there felt unnatural, lacking.  Ken and I began a new search, wishing someone figured out how to breed a miniature Labrador.  We found the next- best thing in a little rescue dog named Bella.  Part beagle, part yellow lab, she fit the bill perfectly, weighing in at only 32 pounds with a lab shaped body topped by expressive beagle-eyes.

Two weeks before Christmas, we brought her home and began the painstaking process of re-training and re-orienting her.  Removed from animal hoarders, she was at first, high strung, suspicious of everyone, particularly men, and not at all housebroken, even though she was a year and a half old.  We couldn’t attempt to leave her home alone or at a boarding facility so soon after coming to our home and determined that she’d make the two-hour drive with us to “Dad’s house,” for our Christmas celebration.

Everyone did their best to share love and laughter that day. We tried to make it a good day for my Dad, but understandably, he remained quiet and withdrawn.  Inwardly, I decided we simply needed to get through this Christmas as best we could and hope next year dawned more brightly for my Dad.

We alternated between putting Bella in her crate and taking her for walks, concerned that she not cause any “accidents,” or stress for Dad.  Late in the afternoon we decided to tote her into the living room with us for a while, making her always sit next to one of us. Everyone fussed over her, except for my Dad who simply said, “Cute pup.”  Then, a remarkable thing happened.

Seated near my Dad, she walked away from me, to him, and rested her chin on his lap, gazing up at him with those soulful eyes. Before he could say anything, in one nimble leap, she jumped up and coiled herself up on his legs, heaved a sigh and laid her head down as if he was a comfy dog bed. Shocked, I started to get up to lift her off him, but he waved me away and bent his head towards her while he stroked her ears, saying things like, “Well, aren’t you just something.”  A genuine smile creased his face and he looked like himself again.  Everyone’s eyes looked a bit soupy in that moment.

Bella’s never done anything like that with him, or anyone else, since that day. Why did she approach this unknown man so peaceably? I believe it’s because God knew that he could restore some joy back to my Dad by nudging a little dog onto his lap.  He directed her to do that and assured her my Dad meant her no harm. (Six years later, she still cowers a bit around any strange man.)

Maybe you’ve got some empty spaces in your Christmas get togethers this year.  Death, broken relationships, geography and such can separate us from those we long for the most.  Some of you probably struggled to put up decorations or make holiday plans at all.   Expect God to do some “dog-in-the-lap moments for you too.  He is a master of creating unexpected joys in the least likely circumstances, if we keep our hope fixed on him.  He is the answer to every cry of the heart, our Emmanuel, our God with us.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new a glorious day…” (excerpt from “O Holy Night”)

 

 

 

Comfort and Joy

One dark, Thanksgiving Eve, we lost my daughter’s year-old puppy, on 40 acres of woods and fields behind my parent’s home. For one full year, Jennifer saved her money and dreamed of this dog.  In one unguarded moment, the pup disappeared.

Prior to owning this puppy, which Jennifer named Kobi, ( a Japanese word that means “joy,”) our family lived with Labradors and a German Shepherd/Collie mix.  The pain of eventually saying a permanent good-bye to our final lab, Johnathan Edwards, occurred about nine months after we changed jobs and homes, during Jennifer’s thirteenth year.

We adored Edwards, who prevailed with us through some difficult life transitions, steady, constant. When life is hard, there’s nothing quite like a peaceful, sizable dog, who isn’t frightened when you sling your arm around his neck and sob into his fur. When we discovered that our beloved boy suffered from congestive heart failure, and felt a great deal of pain, we needed to let him go.

His loss came on the heels of several other significant ones, and I decided, after three doggie good-byes, I couldn’t face it again.  At the time, Ken’s 70-hour work weeks left him little time to be with Jennifer and I, let alone a dog and he deferred to my wishes to end our season of dogs.

Jennifer disagreed passionately. As an only child, she missed Edwards dearly.  This became a source of contention between us until one day I said, “If owning a dog means this much to you, then pray and ask God to change my heart, and while you’re at it, save your money to buy one with a strong blood line.” (We lost a lab, young, due to a poor bloodline.)

God changed my heart. Jennifer saved her money, and we bought a new dog. Since we now lived in a much smaller home and yard, I insisted we downsize by at least 70 pounds yet find a breed not afraid of its own shadow and every fluttering leaf.  This describes the breed of Shiba Inu to a tee. Diminutive in size they are still fiercely independent and courageous.  Bred as small hunting dogs for the mountains of Japan, they are highly intelligent and frighteningly cunning.

Kobi entered our lives, and we realized that not only was her appearance nothing like our previous dogs, neither was her temperament.  In the United States, you must possess a fenced in yard for this breed and NEVER let them off-leash outside a fence as they will chase down a scent or a sight of a woodland creature until they are so far gone as to not be able to ever return home.  (Honestly, I don’t know how that all works in Japan, but this is what every Shiba breeder in the states will tell you. Hundreds of them wind up missing every year.)

Her quirky personality endeared her to us and we loved her whimsical ways once we learned how to reshape and manage her natural inclinations.  Shibas believe that anything within their reach belongs to them and act accordingly.  Therefore, Kobi snatched homework from the printer as soon as it came out the feed.  If guests left their purses or briefcases on the floor, she pilfered the contents and carried items around the house like prized chew toys. Her first year with wrapped Christmas gifts didn’t entirely work out well.  Even her bark didn’t fit with anything we ever knew about dogs, sounding more like a strangled yodel. Kobi made us laugh everyday and although her independent nature made obedience training more difficult, (some obedience schools will not even accept Shibas) she became a lovely little dog and fun companion for all of us.

Now, we come to the night we lost her on my parents’ property, which is bordered by miles of fields, woods and a busy country road.  She slipped away as we entered the house, halfway in the back door, when we removed her leash.  In that split second, she spied a rabbit in the cornfield and leaped away into the darkness.

Jennifer’s look of shock and fear expressed what we all knew.  The chances of ever seeing Kobi again registered somewhere between slim and none.  Ken and I sprinted into the field, hatless, gloveless, with no flashlights, for fear we would lose track of the sound of her jingling dog tags, which grew farther away by the second.   The thick clouds that night, made it impossible to see anything beyond the circle of light emanating from the backdoor, including all the dips and rolls of the recently farrowed cornfield. Our pursuit became a series of stumbles and tumbles while we desperately tried to stay within hearing range of her telltale jingle.

Another significant trait of Shibas is that they are virtually uncatchable.  They are one of the fastest dog breeds on earth. When speed is combined with an impish nature, these dogs interpret your retrieval attempts as a wonderful game of keep away. Obedience training is vital.  Your only hope with a loose Shiba is that they will choose to come to you.  Only a year old, the command, “Come,” still meant zippo to Kobi.

I don’t know how long Ken and I ran around that field but at some point, Ken, ahead of me by now, could see the outline of the woods, along the river, coming at us as we ran.  Sheer panic filled him as he contemplated all the woodland creatures within, just waiting for a lively game of tag with a little dog.  Finding her in deep woods that ran for many miles would be nearly impossible.

Ken plunged into the dense trees, still following Kobi’s sound. Throughout the time Ken and I ran around the field, we both kept crying for God to help us, protect us and stop Kobi which helped us keep track of one another.  As I came to the end of my strength, my frozen hands and ears started to voice opinions and despair overtook me. I stopped to breathe, pull up my hood, and warm my hands in my pockets. I listened for Ken but heard nothing at all, no sound of Ken or Kobi nor even the sounds of cornstalks blowing in the cold, North wind. All previous noises simply ceased.

I fell to my knees, part exhaustion, part prayer, and cried out to God one more time. Just as I heard a crashing sound in the woods ahead of me Ken’s voice rang out in the silent night.   “I’ve got her! I’ve got her!” “Head back to the house and let Jennifer know I’ve got her, okay?” He shouted, breathlessly, joyfully.

Only when we re-united at my parents’ home did we hear Ken’s miraculous story of how he came to catch Kobi.  When he plunged into the woods, he could hear her tags jangling, changing directions at a high speed.  He presumed she’d found a nest of some hapless rabbits or woodchucks to chase around the woods. Then, abruptly, the same silence I experienced, fell on the woods also.  The lack of Kobi’s jingle convinced him that she’d run out of his hearing and we’d most likely never see her again.

In that desperate moment, the moon broke through the tree canopy like a searchlight, illuminating a small clearing.  Kobi sat motionless, in the center of the moonlight. Disbelieving, Ken inched towards her.  She sat peacefully, staring at him with a quizzical expression, until he reached her and picked her up, tucking her under his arm.  As soon as he did, the moonlight disappeared.

In the ensuing 14 years of Kobi’s life, never again did she sit so still off leash and allow someone to pick her up as Ken did that night, not even when she became blind in one eye. He is certain that God sent an angel to detach her from whatever she’d been chasing and hold her tightly until Ken arrived.  Instead of a holiday season tainted by a loss, it became enriched by a miracle.

I don’t know what or whom you’ve lost that you are grieving this Christmas season.  God doesn’t always perform miracles the way we’d like, judging by the empty seats around many holiday tables this year.  The sorrows of this world sometimes threaten to eclipse one of the primary truths of Christmas; Jesus came as a babe to be our Emmanuel, God with us. He cares passionately, about everything that matters to us, even little lost dogs.  Just as he stayed by my side and Ken’s in the field, helping us to get back up, fall after fall, he will do the same for you. He may send a miracle your way, to restore a prodigal child, lost job, broken relationship, etc.  as he did for us, but even if he doesn’t, his love and compassion for you remain constant and sustaining.

You might feel like life has become a farrowed field of upheaval, strife, disappointment, heartbreak and unwanted changes.  He is with you. He is with you. He is with you, always.  He will take you through your challenges, sending goodness and mercy to dog your footsteps. God is always about redeeming what’s been lost.  That’s why he sent Jesus, our Emmanuel.