“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
I sat on the tailgate of our pick-up truck outside of town and watched a huge storm come together. I could see for miles as it formed over the vast space of Kansas prairie. The low hanging clouds looked like the underside of an egg carton and had an ominous, stunning, reddish color. The cool breeze was a welcome relief at the end of a hot and humid summer day. I was newly wed and had just moved to Kansas with my husband who was gone on a military field exercise that day. Unfortunately, he left this naive German girl without any instructions about the dangers of this type of storm. While my neighbors headed for the basement I headed for the hills to watch a storm. It was only when the color suddenly drained from the sky and the breeze turned violent that I became scared and headed home. On the news I heard of a tornado that touched down close by.
I was reminded of this adventure the other day when a tornado of a different kind almost touched down at our house. Hot air was rising in attitudes and demeanors. Faces that were normally bright became flushed with strange colors as the conflict grew. I was getting angry about the negative attitudes toward me and felt disrespected. Unlike in Kansas, this time I took shelter immediately. I went to the bathroom and locked the door. I texted a couple of my friends and asked for prayer.
There on my knees in my bathroom I sensed an unlikely answer:
“Why are you offended? Do you really deserve respect?”
Luke 17:5-10 came to mind.
The apostles asked for Jesus to increase their faith. I wonder if Jesus’ answer took them by surprise. He told them that they only needed little faith to accomplish great things. Did they already have what they needed but didn’t exercise it?
Then Jesus told them a parable. He asked them to identify with a certain master over servants. However, He suddenly turned the tables and let them know that they were not like this master, but like the servants. He reminded them that their duty was to serve, not be in charge. He explained to them that the way to more of God was less of them.
When the storms of life hit me, I am tempted to exercise more of me. I tend to dig deep to find more of myself. I pull my spiritual boots up and try to be strong in my faith. My human nature tries to overcome the storm by a matching force. I fail to realize the power of God and that the way up is the way down – to my knees, acknowledging my need for Him. Here my demands for respect and being heard turn quickly into recognizing His greatness and that I depend on Him for everything. Only in humility can I understand that He deserves to be served. This attitude toward God quickly relieves the heat on which storms feed.
I praise God that nothing touched down in our home the other day – except weak knees on a bathroom floor. The only damage to report was a crush to pride. I think that just might be how storms pass.
“So you also, when you have done all
that you were commanded, say,
“We are unworthy servants,
we have only done what was our duty.'”
“Lord, help me to do my duty as Your servant.
Help me to love You with all my heart, mind, soul, and body
and love those around me in true humility!”
When I stepped outside to take care of my flowers, I found a beautiful surprise. The setting sun was in a haze and its color stunning.
For a moment I forgot I was an adult and sat in the grass next to my phlox cushions. I stuck my camera into the blossom pillow and took some pictures.
Creation speaks, ascribes to You,
Each day and night, Your works of art.
Make me like phlox in bluish hue
With gentle voice proclaim Your heart.
Let all my soul with silent sound
Like lilies of the valley ring,
Their bells resounding from the ground
Like them with adoration sing.
Let me with morning glory say,
When she draws in my wand’ring eyes,
Like her in sunrise give You praise
For making man, the earth and skies.
Let me bow down with Columbine
When she hangs low her humble head.
Like bleeding hearts stretched in a line,
My love display from earthen bed.
Revive my worship and my praise,
While there’s still time and flowers bloom.
Lift up my voice – with nature raise
For seasons will change all too soon.
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Matthew 6:28-30 (ESV)
“Lord, help me to praise you. I know you made me. I get easily sidetracked and focus so much on myself. Help me to focus on your glory and amazing love for us!”
(pictures and poetry, Heidi Viars, 2019)
Someone once said, “As Christians we stand at the gates of hell and redirect traffic.” When I contemplate our efforts as Christians in evanglism, I am reminded of the ending scene of the movie “Schindler’s List”. Years ago that scene left me undone and made (and still has) a big impact on me, a native German. My grandfather who was born in 1925 fell for Nazi propaganda while indoctrinated in the Hitler Youth. I tried telling him about the Lord in a letter, after I had come to the States and became a Christian. The letter arrived a day after he passed away. Maybe it’s because of this deep sadness over my family’s past that this particular scene etched itself onto the wallpaper of my mind as a warning and also encouragement. I think of that scene especially when it comes to my lack of motivation to speak the Truth. In many ways Schindler redirected traffic; in many ways I fail to do this.
Schindler was an accidental philanthropist though. In order to keep his business afloat and continue his pompous lifestyle in Germany during WWII, he employed Jews in his factory. The factory later became a safe haven for over a thousand Jews and kept them from a sure death in a concentration camp. In this scene, as he is about to flee from the Allies as the war ended, he has become a different man and recognizes the worth of human beings. He is overcome with a love for his fellow man. Instead of bringing hell up from the pit, as the Nazis did, he brought heaven down to earth, even with his faulty motives.
Humans bear the image of God, the Imago Dei. We are the crown of creation, each and every person, the young, the old, the able, and the disabled, no matter color, race, culture and background. Ideologies that say something different, come from hell. God expresses the value He gave us through His love for us. A great love needed a great expression. God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son Jesus to the world so all who would believe in Him would have life with Him now and forever. This was, is and always will be the greatest news.
Standing at the gates of hell sounds like dangerous business. I don’t like the heat and don’t like to tell people that they are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. However, when I am moved by love, I am emboldened to speak the Truth. When I allow Christ’s love to transforms my heart I become a tool in His hand that redirects the traffic, so that He can save “One More Person”.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other,
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Since we have expanded our family from three to six kids a little over four years ago by adoption, we have experienced many ups and downs. Certain circumstances, past memories, new wounds, reckless words, or the lack of patience, have often catapulted us seemingly all the way to the bottom making us feel like we have to start all over.
When I am confronted with my own weaknesses (and sometimes even my lack of faith), I have to be so careful not to start on a downward road of condemnation.
“How stupid are you?”
“What are you thinking?” or
“You should know how to do this!”
are ammunition from the enemy. They come like arrows into my valley from the side of the mountain and make me weary, make me want to quit.
Galatians 6:9 says,
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Discipline is staying in the game. Finishing well as Christians is only possible if we keep our eyes on Jesus despite the setbacks and challenges we face each day. Perseverance is coming to the Lord every morning (and throughout the weary day) and finding Him already waiting. His mercies are there, sufficient for our day.
“Lord, I want to be strong, but often find myself worn out from fighting. I know you are there, waiting for me with an everlasting kindness and compassion. Father, help me to do good and not give up!”
It was a rough night. The pain in my hand kept me up for most of it. Even before the sun came up and the first light of day came into the room, I could see my hand was swollen and terribly infected. A red, painful streak was making its way from my palm to my wrist. I felt weak and assumed that the infection was causing a fever. It wasn’t just the pain though that caused my sleepless night; I couldn’t get this man’s bloody face out of my mind. Over and over this question haunted me. What if he truly was the Son of God?
It was just before sunrise, when I headed to where I thought they buried him. On that hill a few days ago, Joseph was descriptive of his own tomb when he spoke with Nicodemus, another religious man. He clearly talked about where he was going to take him. I got dressed and set out on foot. The walk made me tired; With each step I felt weaker. The closer I got, the more regret I felt about the way I had treated him.
I arrived as the sun rose. Someone was sitting on a large rock next to the tomb. When I came closer I was blinded by what I thought was the rising sun. With both of my hands I shielded my eyes to be able to better see.
That’s when He touched my shoulder from behind. He said my name. How did He know my name? I turned and saw His face. I had seen it all night, bloody, beaten, and with those gory thorns. I could not see any evidence of torture now. He smiled at me. His eyes filled with a kindness I had never seen before. All I had done to Him flooded into my memory. I felt naked, exposed, and so ashamed.
Then He grabbed my aching hand with his, turned my palm up and laid His other hand over it. He said my name one more time while looking at me. In an instant, I felt the fever and pain leave. I looked down and the swelling and infection were gone. He was too.
This past week someone asked me to imagine what it would have been like to be there at the scene of the cross, to assume someone’s point of view. The following made its way from my heart.
It just stuck there in the ground, bloody and tangled, in an eerie sludge of reddish mud. I watched my comrades twist it together earlier, while we all made fun of him. Hours later, I saw a man named Joseph (I think he is from Arimathea) take it from the dead man’s head. The way he treated the body sent shivers down my spine. While he cradled the beaten leftovers of that prophet, he carefully and gently pulled the thorny branches from the back, sides and forehead and wrapped him in white linen. He left the crown on the ground and took the corpse with him.
Something pulled me toward this crown. I picked it up and immediately felt one of the thorns pierce into my palm. The pain was sharp and made me angry. I threw the cursed thing back to ground. When I tried to pull that thorn out, it was covered in blood and I couldn’t tell if it was his or mine. I drew my sword from its sheath and picked up the crown with the tip. That’s how I carried it home.
That was three days ago. Looking at this crown now makes me feel sick. I didn’t care about that man when all my buddies drove those thorns, those long pointy thorns, into his head. I laughed with them. I actually spat on him. But now, looking at this gory thing, I wonder.
Our groaning nature’s overcome
By means of thorns, grown out of sin
Worn as crown by God’s own Son
To show Him as prevailing King.
But … He arose! Above all stands –
A thorny crown no longer needs.
And one day all the crowns of man
Be laid at Jesus’ conquering feet.