Monday, November 26, 2012

Why I Quit Celebrating Christmas (The Modern Way)

Busy beforehand; let down afterward. That’s how I felt when celebrating Christmas on the fast track of American culture. I was concerned that a politically correct, generic holiday was obscuring the real meaning of the season with each passing year.

Imagine my delight when I finally found the answer in the way Christmas was honored in Christian homes and churches in the past. Now, I still enjoy all the glitter and glow, but through more Christ-centered traditions. Although some church communions still follow these customs, most Christians in the United States are not familiar with the term “Christmastide”.

The Christmastide season is observed in the following ways:

Advent: Begins the fourth Sunday prior to December 25

The Feast of St. Nicholas: December 6

The Feast of the Nativity: (sunset December 24 to sunset December 25)

The Twelve Days of Christmas (sunset December 25 to sunset January 6)

The Feast of Epiphany: January 6

 Advent means coming or arrival. Its season begins on the fourth Sunday prior to the Nativity. It is a time of preparation and expectation.

A new candle is lit each week around a special wreath that focuses on a message shared in homes and churches.

Different communions have their own devotionals, but the following is one that my family has used for years that focuses on God’s coming to earth four times:

Week 1: We look back on the promise and fulfillment of the Messiah's first coming to earth as humanity's Sacrifice and Servant to reconcile us to God.

The Good News: God keeps His promises in the fullness of time!

Week 2: We focus on the promise of Christ's second coming as Judge and King to remove every trace of the tragic consequences of evil and set up His everlasting Kingdom.

The Good News: Flawless justice will right every wrong in the end, and we will live forever with God!

Week 3: We give thanks for knowing Jesus as personal Savior in life and death—a relationship that makes us unafraid before a God who comes quietly for His own every day.

The Good News: We fear neither the trials of life nor the sting of death, for we have been placed securely in Christ--sealed unto unconditional acceptance--now and forever!

Note: The Advent Wreath traditionally contains three blue-violet candles, signifying Christ in both roles as King and Savior. We cannot separate the manger from the Cross; Christ’s arrival in the earth makes no sense unless it is seen as the beginning of His redemptive mission.

The third candle, however, is pink for rejoicing. This reminds us that even in the middle of our introspection and repentance, we can still rejoice. We belong to a merciful God who is always available to help us.  I like the way The Message Bible translates Hebrews 4:14-16:

 Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.

Week 4: We invite Christ to come anew into our hearts and homes. We don’t want to miss the miracle of the Incarnation—Christ in us—that revives and graces us to go into a new year and carry the message of reconciliation to the world.

The Good News: I can renew my relationship with Jesus!

Nativity Eve: The four candles representing hope, peace, joy, and love have been lit. Now, the white candle in the center is lit—the Christ Candle—for the One who was, who is, who is to come.

am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8)

Gifts are meticulously wrapped and holiday menus set, but the question remains...this year, how well have I prepared for the Advent (coming) of Christ?

Christ first came to earth as a babe in a manger long ago. He became one of us so He could carry humanity’s sins in His own body and bear the punishment unto death. This sacrifice ended mankind’s estrangement from God, thereby making eternal reconciliation available to whosoever wanted it.

That was his role as a suffering servant. When Jesus comes to earth again, it will be as humanity’s rightful Judge and King. Have I prepared for that day? How does knowing this truth help me steward my life and witness before others?

Although Christ will return visibly to earth one day, individuals pass into their chosen eternity every day. Am I prepared for the end of my personal time? Are there any unsaid words, deeds, or reconciliations that need to be addressed?

At the end of human history, God will weigh all motives and actions on a perfect scale of justice. No one will escape his or her recompense. No one! Thus, can I trust Him to eventually and surely right all wrongs, even though I may not witness justice during my lifetime?

Even for the Christian, there will be an accounting of one’s earthly life. What endures through the test of honesty will be our final gift to Jesus. How well do I cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works to conform me into the image of Christ?

What is the condition of my heart where Christ dwells now by the Holy Spirit? Is it cluttered with useless and broken things that block the light?  Is God crowded in there...somewhere?

A good time to toss out junk is before another Christmas comes and goes, and you find yourself unchanged. That's the purpose of Advent. You light a candle and take a few moments each day to pray during the busiest season of the year.

The candle signifies willing introspection...a welcoming of the Lord into the neglected nooks and crannies. It’s an invitation for Him to sweep them clean; then, fill with His light.

I know many of you have already decorated your tree or are in the throes of getting it up so you can enjoy its beauty before Christmas. No doubt, you will probably take it down the day after Christmas or before the New Year arrives. (As a child, I heard that leaving a tree up after New Year's Day was bad luck!)
In earlier times, Christians did not bring the tree indoors until Nativity Eve, the 24th. Homes were already decorated with greenery, but the family waited to decorate and light the tree on that night to symbolize "lighting the way" for the Christ Child's family.

Although I bring in a tree and decorate it throughout Advent, I wait until the 24th to light it. For me, it symbolizes that we always have room for Jesus in a crowded world where too many turn Him away.

The controversy among some Christian denominations regarding a holiday tree seems to center on one portion of Scripture taken out of context: Jeremiah 10:1-5

"Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD, 'Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.

Be not afraid of them
; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good'."

The entire chapter clearly addresses idolatry and the making of wooden idols to worship.

If Christians want to take the above Scripture at face value by not bringing any decorated "trees" inside, then what are we to do about ornamental trees at weddings with bows and ribbons? What about funeral wreaths?

It all goes back to the motive in one's heart. For instance, although many seek guidance from the stars, sailors use the stars to navigate as a gift from God--not paying homage to the creature, but the Creator.

We have written evidence from early church history that the evergreen tree was used to teach new converts about the Trinity before 500 A.D. Therefore, whether it's at weddings, funerals or Christmas, we take what God has created and use it the way He intended--for His glory and praise.

The beginning of the Feast of the Nativity (or as it has come to be known as Christmas Eve) is a time of great anticipation as the tree is lit. Then, family and friends gather for a meal before heading out to services. The tree traditionally remains up until the end of the Feast of Epiphany. (Jan. 6)

You see, years ago the Church did not recognize the Christmas season as
officially beginning until the Feast of the Nativity drew to a close on the evening of December 25th. Christmas then lasted twelve days (from sunset to sunset); hence, the Twelve Days OF (not after) Christmas.

While Advent was a serious time of personal preparation and the Feast of the Nativity was a holy day of worship, the Twelve Days of Christmas were full of laughter, presents, feasting and fun.

We are overfed, over-indulged, and too tired to do anything the evening of December 25th; but in the earlier days, dusk signaled that the festivities were just beginning. God had received His "first fruits" of worship. Now, TWELVE days remained for the faithful to celebrate the joyous reality of "God with Us" with family and friends.

In the days ahead, I’ll tell you more about the real St. Nick and post fun ways to celebrate his legacy of giving. Additionally, you'll discover the meanings of the three Nativity masses, learn how to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, find out what the early church did on December 31st, and read about the colorful Feast of the Epiphany--wonderful, old traditions that can easily become your family's Christmastide!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Almost Missed My Boaz

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I was scheduled to go into the hospital for my second round of chemotherapy on the holiday, but my oncologist gave me a reprieve. I'll head to Abilene next week instead. Since many of my Facebook friends and fellow writers are posting what they're thankful for this time of year, I guess it's my turn.

Before I even met my husband George, I received two, separate prophetic words from well known, seasoned prophets that God was sending me a "Boaz". I'm sure you remember the Bible story of Ruth. Her mother-in-law was Naomi.

Because of a famine, Naomi's husband left Israel with his family and ended up in Moab. He soon died, but the family remained in the foreign land for ten years. During this time, the two sons married. However, both tragically died before any children could be born from their unions.

Naomi and her two daughters-in-law faced a meager existence. One day, news came that the famine had ended in Israel. Naomi told Orpah and Ruth to return to their homes so they could find new husbands and bear children.

At first, Orpah and Ruth insisted on going with Noami. Only when she reminded them that staying with her would doom them to barren and lonely lives did Orpah turn back. Ruth, however, could not be persuaded to leave Noami's side. From this commitment comes the famous passage:

"Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: they people shall be my people, and thy God my God." (Ruth 1:16)

Noami arrived home in Bethlehem, broken and embittered. It just "happened" to be at the time of the barley harvest. In order to get bread, Naomi sent Ruth to glean (pick up the leftovers) in the field of Boaz, a distant relative, hoping he would be kind to her plight.

Boaz just "happened" to walk by the parcel of land where Ruth was gleaning and asked, "Whose damsel is this?" Turns out, all of Bethlehem was already abuzz about the young stranger. Villagers were impressed with the great love and care demonstrated toward Naomi by this Moabitess who had left everything familiar to start a new life in Israel.

Wealthy Boaz was immediately taken with Ruth. He gave her unrestricted access to the best parts of his fields to glean, and told the reapers to leave generous portions behind. At mealtime, he personally made sure she was well fed and forbid his workers to touch her.

Let's fast forward to the marriage, which takes place after a rousing, unorthodox proposal from Ruth and Boaz's tense, but winning negotiation with another relative who could have legally claimed Ruth for a wife. Noami was happy again. Not only were her fortunes restored, but she also had the joy of raising her grandson.

There's so much more to the romantic story of Ruth. You must go back and read the entire book to grasp the miracle. But here's what I always remember when I think of Ruth: the field she gleaned in one day became the field she owned the next.

All it took was a Boaz...a man of great wealth and strength. Even his name means "by strength".

In 1997 I met my Boaz, but I didn't realize it at first. All I saw sauntering into church that Sunday was a self-assured Texan--complete with Stetson and a big, rodeo belt buckle. I quickly got out of his way. And that was that for several months.

I was an associate pastor and dean of our church's Bible school. George would often come up to the office during the week to give money for various outreach missions. I have to admit, I was struck...not only by his generosity, but by his preference to give privately.

I always liked to pray with folks who stopped by, so one day I ended up being the one to pray with George while everyone else was at lunch. Only a sentence or two had been spoken before he interrupted me.

"Ma'am, I don't mind you praying for the kids to be blessed with the offering for their mission trip, but I always name my seed."

I looked up. "What do you mean?"

"Well, a farmer knows ahead of time what kind of crop he's gonna get 'cause he planted its seed in the ground. For a couple of years now, I've been naming the harvest I want from God. This is my seed."

"Okay. So what do you want me to agree on as your harvest? " (I asked in my best pastoral tone, I might add). In the back of my mind, I was thinking it's probably finances. George was very generous, but far from rich on a construction foreman's salary.

"A wife."

"A wife?"

"Yep. Been sowing seed for her for some time. Not just any wife. I ain't wasting any more time or money. No more dating. I'm done with all that trial and error stuff."

With a little laugh, we joined hands over the check and prayed. He left, and I went back to work without giving another thought to the strange prayer request.

Easter Sunday rolled around a few months later. George was in the office prior to the morning service, check in hand for another project. A friend, knowing my lifelong love for chocolate, had given me a Cadbury Easter Egg. Just when I was about to take a scrumptious bite, George bolted around the corner and almost knocked me over. I stumbled into his arms.

Awkward for something to say, I blurted out."Uh, want a bite of my Cadbury?" (I know. I get the ribbon for stupid remarks.)

Before I could recover my composure, the rude buckaroo bit off half of my chocolate egg! Shocked, I paused for just a few seconds and looked at him up close--uh, really close! Our eyes met for the first time...I mean, in a way I've never seen before. He had the bluest, clearest eyes. And caramel goo was dripping from my fingers.

Then, something strange happened in my stomach. Sort of a "hiccup" is the best way I can describe it...or maybe like a somersault or a "da-doo". I turned to go the bathroom and clean up. I whispered to God, "This isn't what I think it is, is it? No, of course not. I'm just getting a little stomach virus. Yeah, that's it."

I walked out and got ready for the service. Despite trying to brush the notion aside throughout the morning, the thought just wouldn't leave: I just shared a Cadbury Easter Egg with my future husband.

Yet, I resisted the relationship at first. George just did not fit the profile of a Boaz. Let me ask you a question: when you think of the Biblical Boaz, what first comes to mind? Material wealth and prominence? That's what I was thinking, too.

I almost missed God's best for me because I was sizing up the guy in the natural. I failed to judge as God does--by the heart, not by appearances or status. Even after we were married, I continued to assume that God would bless my husband with great wealth one day. If not, then in the end I would have to admit that either I missed God or the prophetic words were false.

But here's what I want you to know: I DID marry a Boaz after all! Not a "one day will be", but a Boaz in the here and now. So, I know you may be asking...Did George come into a windfall of a promotion? Did he invent a better Shamwow? Did we win the lottery? No, no, and another no.

George's work takes him all over the United States. Every three or four years, he's given a new assignment to build or upgrade a municipal water treatment plant. (Right now, we're primarily working in the Texas area.)

Due to our nomadic lifestyle, we don't have a permanent home full of fine things. We don't take vacations to exotic locations; we don't have fat bank accounts or 401 K's. But we have seen some beautiful places. We've made good friends. We have wonderful relationships with our family and three grandchildren. What kind of price can one put on such things?

Over the past fourteen years of marriage, I've witnessed George turn to prayer to pull us out of difficult situations. He prays until He hears in his heart a God-sent word or instruction, then He obeys it.

I'm not saying that I'm married to a perfect man. Far, far from it. My Texas George is similar to King David--an "earthy" man of great passion and intensity. David was an all or nothing kind of guy, too--a fierce warrior one day, a gentle, weeping poet the next. The king was capable of both impetuous anger AND anointed worship. That's my George.

David often mixed up his gazes and glances. You know...when to gaze and when just to glance at something in the world. Remember Bathsheba? What a mess he made! Although we've never had a real Bathsheba problem in our marriage, there are other things equally as beautiful and seductive that can entice men with the temperament of a King David. Nevertheless, I have a man who, like David, has grown in his walk with the Lord. Instead of allowing his past to stop or define him, he has pressed even harder into the ways of God. And like David, he has become a man after His Father's heart.

George took up the gauntlet when I was diagnosed with a tumor in my ascending colon. He never left the hospital through two misdiagnoses, a battery of tests, and ultimately delicate surgery to remove the tumor and re-section my colon. One day, I convinced my husband to go home for a few hours to rest and wash a few clothes. It was a Friday. We were told not to expect any biopsy results until Monday.

The doctor came in and gave me the news just hours after he left. I called George. He grew quiet; I could tell he was stunned by the report. He said he'd get back to the hospital as soon as possible, and then fumbled to say good-bye.

My cell phone rang thirty minutes later. It was George. This time, his tone was different. It was resolute. He was determined, not defeated.

"I've just prayed. Honey, we're going to get through this together. Now, I want you to know I'm your cover. I'm your shield. I'm gonna fight for you and see you into the clear. So, you just be at peace." Then George ended with one of his favorite phrases: "I've got this!"

I cried, so thankful for the gift God had given...a gift of a true Boaz...more precious than any earthly wealth or possession. I finally understood what the prophetic words I had received so long ago meant. They were genuine after all!

Difficult days continued and again, George rarely left my side. Oh, he had his moments! I discovered my rip roarin', former rodeo rider and macho construction man hates needles and the sight of blood! When the nurses came in to "fiddle" with me, as he called it, he'd make another trip to the bathroom or down to the snack bar. He complained about his flimsy, World War II cot...and just when he would drift off to sleep, a nurse would come in to do some more "fiddling" with his wife. Some of them got a kick out of his colorful language; others did not.

My chemotherapy requires about a sixty-hour stay twice a month in the hospital. I go in every other Thursday, and George takes off early on Fridays to stay with me until my release. Yes, he endures the cot, the interruptions, and hiding in the bathroom when the "fiddling" starts. Interestingly, he is not gifted with great patience for people; but what makes up for this lack is a heart that loves a challenge. It's coupled with a dogged perseverance to keep his jaw locked on the prize to the end.

The softer, poetic side of my Davidic warrior strolls the halls with me, taking charge of the IV pole that drives like a broken grocery cart. We finally learned how to dance a slow--VERY slow--Texas Two-Step while I'm hooked to the IV. (No one has walked in on that scene...yet!)

When I'm in pain, he holds me and sings our favorite love song (Don Williams' "You're My Best Friend). My Boaz has bathed me, cleaned up my embarrassing messes, fed me, and styled my hair.

The other night we were preparing for bed. Most of the time, I can successfully cast down fearful thoughts of future "what if's" and "what will be's", but I had wrongly begun to entertain them early in the day. I wondered if I'd get to minister again in churches and conferences as before, or if my book and writings would ever be received by wider audiences. By bedtime, they had become fiery darts in my mind. I confessed this to George.

He also confessed something. He said that up until the hour of my surgery, he privately struggled with the same thing. He knew the Word and was publicly standing on what it generally said about hope and healing, but inwardly he was not at peace because he had yet to receive personal assurance in his heart from the Holy Spirit.

Just as I was being wheeled into the OR, George said God spoke to his heart and settled the matter. Of course, this aroused my curiosity and I asked, "What did He say?"

"He told me not to tell you," he replied matter-of-factly.

For several minutes, I tried to pry it out of my husband, but to no avail. George turned over and I knew within a minute or two he'd be asleep. I usually admired George's ability to fall asleep so easily, but not this night! (Sleeping well under adverse circumstances is another trait he shares with King David.)

Just when I thought I'd never hear another word about it, George muttered, "I'll tell you this much. If you could see what God has for you on the other side of this valley, you wouldn't give those stinkin' thoughts the time of day. Now go to sleep!"

About a minute passed. "George, you know all I want to do is finish my course, my know, my reason for being here." (One of my lifelong verses has been Acts 13:36: “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed."

I didn't think he heard me, but then he slowly turned over and drawled. " All right. I'm gonna tell you one more thing, but you have to promise me that afterwards you'll go to sleep!"

"Okay," I said.

"I know you've always hung on to that verse in Acts."

"Yes. Acts 13:36."

My Boaz continued. "Diane, that's what will be said about you, too. So be at peace. I mean it. BE AT PEACE. Good night."

I breathed deeply, pondering his words and my legacy. Soon, light snoring was coming from my left. I chuckled...not only at George, but at the sudden realization that I, too, have something in common with King David.

You do remember David's genealogy, don't you? David's father was Jesse. Obed was Jesse's father; and Obed's father was BOAZ.

I am a very wealthy woman, indeed!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bitter Waters Turned Sweet

I'm touched by the many well wishes and prayer commitments from readers and friends. Several of them have walked the same path. Their personal stories and encouragements to "never give up" are fortifying me for the days ahead.

My powerport was inserted last Friday. Lying under the skin, it will enable me to receive my chemo infusions and give blood without becoming a pincushion. ( I have small veins that love to play hide and seek at the sight of a needle!)

I began my chemotherapy in the hospital yesterday. I’m scheduled for two days twice a month at Hendrick Medical Center, Abilene. My sister-in-law drove me over and George will be here the last night before my Sunday release. It’s a little after midnight. The West Texas winds are whipping against my seventh-floor windows, eager to find their way into the cracks of the old panes with rhythmic, gentle whistles. I find it oddly comforting.

It's quiet now, but this past week was busy. There was so much to do! Patients have to get dental work completed before therapy. Thankfully, my dentist worked me in last week and I was able to cross out another "must do" from my list.

In the refrigerator back home are cancer-fighting and immune-boosting foods that I've been eating since my diagnosis--kale, spinach, cabbage, salmon, white fish, chia seeds (labeled "flaxseeds on steroids") loads of great spices and seasonings--garlic, onions, oregano, etc. A big "thank you!" to my super sister-in-law and trained chef, Shana, who researched power-packed foods and prepared dishes for George and me during this difficult time. She blogs as Chef Texas Rose.

Fox Correspondent Jennifer Griffin was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2009 after discovering a small lump while breastfeeding her son. Her determination and advice for other cancer patients has helped me better prepare for what's ahead. It's the little things like lip balm, lotion for the dry skin that will follow, planning five to seven small meals a day and measuring success not one plate at a time, but often one bite at a time. Oh, and hydration, hydration, hydration!

Read her Tips for Getting Through Chemotherapy, as well as her blog.

I've been tossing around a title for these journal entries. I settled on “My Journey to Elim”. Elim was a beautiful, desert oasis of twelve springs and seventy date palms. The story is recorded in Exodus 15:22, but we need to go back a few chapters to set the stage.

The Israelites had just left over 400 years of slavery behind in Egypt, delivered by a series of spectacular miracles. On their trek through the desert to a better land, they camped at the edge of the Red Sea. Suddenly, they realized Pharaoh and his forces had followed! I guess the old boy changed his mind about letting his workforce walk away. You know how those dynasties loved to build. But more likely, it was all the tremendous silver and gold the freed slaves took on their way out of bondage--lavished on them by Egyptians glad to see the troublemakers go!

The fledglings thought for sure they were trapped at a dead end, but God divided the waters and they walked on dry land to the other side. When the Egyptian army tried to take the same shortcut, the waters dramatically closed in upon them, drowning every man and beast.

After much rejoicing, the band turned from the sea and headed deep into the wilderness. The Bible records many ups and downs with God along the way to their new home.
It’s easy for us to pass a little judgment thousands of years later and say that the Israelites, after seeing firsthand so many miracles of God, should not have displayed repeated distrust in the face of new difficulties.

However, it’s not long before the Holy Spirit turns those pointed fingers around in our direction. Like me, you’ve probably never built a pyramid, but you’re as fallen as any Israelite who made bricks from mud and straw.

When you take a hit, it’s normal to lose your spiritual balance. I know I did when told I had a mass in my colon that was a stage 4 cancer. I pitched, I swayed...desperately trying to steady myself in God. I finally admitted I had no control. I let go and allowed the Holy Spirit to go to work. I no longer thought about a rescue, but simply the extravagant love of God, which cannot help but overflow a heart with thankfulness. It wasn’t long before that peace that passes understanding anchored me.

The Israelites were certainly thrilled that the Egyptians were gone, but now they faced a new crisis: three days of travel without water. I can somewhat relate. The surgery to insert my powerport was delayed. By the time I rolled into the OR, I had gone 14 hours without food or water. I had a headache and queasy stomach. Can you imagine how you'd feel after three days without what your body needs most to survive?

While traveling through the Wilderness of Shur, the parched stragglers “found” water just in time. Under normal conditions, the human body cannot live beyond three days without water. When you factor in rigorous walking and sweat loss, they could have been just hours away from death.

However, their jubilation was short-lived. The water they so desperately needed was too bitter to drink. In fact, the name of the place was “Marah” (bitterness). Here’s where it gets interesting and to many-- downright offensive. God deliberately led His people to bad water. (Remember, the cloud guided them by day and the pillar of fire by night. This was no accident!)

The late Christian author Jamie Buckingham, who personally followed the Exodus route and wrote about his experiences, stated that many springs in that area contain Magnesium Sulphate. We know the compound better as Epsom Salts. Most folks are aware it’s good for soaking sore muscles, but older readers, who grew up with mothers that employed home remedies for all sorts of injuries and ills, still shutter at the thought of taking a spoonful of the stuff to rid the system quickly of "what ails you"!

Some Bible commentators speculate that God guided the Israelites to bitter waters first in order to get "Egypt out of their systems". The Bible mentions many diseases and sicknesses common to Egyptians that God never intended for those in covenant with Him to have. Regardless of the intent, one thing was and remains clear for us today: we must continue to trust God to lead us to the answer and in the answer!

Are you familiar with the Scripture where David said, “You will show me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

Once shown the path, I cannot tell you how many times I ran on ahead to enjoy my answer to prayer with a quick thank you and a sigh of relief. I became fixated on the blessing and forgot that only in His presence—that intimate, face-to-face fellowship--could I experience fullness of joy.

So, what do we do when the water that looks so promising from afar seems to be just the opposite when it touches our desperate lips?

I cannot stress enough the importance of this lesson. Make no doubt about it--God still uses it to train those He loves! So many precious souls have stopped here in the wilderness. They no longer walk with God because they asked for something needful and tasted only dregs.

Because of the many Christians who have become casualties at Marah, it's good to remind ourselves of a Scripture that speaks clearly to the unchanging character of God. The Amplified Version brings out the full meaning of the Greek verbs that enable us to see the importance of persevering when tempted by circumstances to question the ways of God:
Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you.

For everyone who keeps on asking receives; and he who keeps on seeking finds; and to him who keeps on knocking, [the door] will be opened.

Or what man is there of you, if his son asks him for a loaf of bread, will hand him a stone?

Or if he asks for a fish, will hand him a serpent?

If you then, evil as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give good and advantageous things to those who keep on asking Him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
When you ask for a fish and it appears you received a serpent instead, just wait. Be patient. Persevere. Decide, like Jonah, that you will not observe lying vanities. The serpent may bite, but continue to "look up and live" (Numbers 21:4-9). Have faith that beneath the serpent’s wrapping is the fish you've asked for, and that it will be revealed in time.

God delivers us FROM many threatening circumstances that we never have to face; yet, there are some things we must be delivered THROUGH. I don’t know why God didn’t bring to light the mass that was growing in my ascending colon until it had become a stage 4 cancer. Maybe things were going too good in my little world to listen. As theologian and novelist C.S. Lewis aptly stated:

"Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." – The Problem of Pain

After tasting bitter waters, the Bible records that the people murmured and asked Moses, “What shall we drink?” I, too, had plenty of questions for God.

Lord, I’m just fifty-seven, I still have many plans and dreams…book ideas and ministry assignments YOU gave me. How can this be?

And my family! The Army will transfer my son and three precious grandchildren to Hawaii in April before I finish my chemotherapy. They’ll be so far away! How can I possibly travel to Hawaii? Putting aside the issue of not feeling well enough to travel, how can we justify a trip when we are looking at astronomical bills we can’t possibly pay off in our lifetimes? (More on that story later.)

And another thing. I’ve always believed in divine healing. In thirty-two years of ministry, I’ve seen diseased and broken bodies healed by a direct touch from you. Why, you’ve even touched ME on several occasions. What's different now?

 God wasn’t talking. Was He angry with me? No. Deep inside, I knew I just wasn't asking the right questions.

Like the Israelites, I thought I was doomed. It was tempting to sputter out all sorts of pity-laden questions. I finally wised up. Instead, I asked only one more question:
“What would you have me do?”

Believe me; you get a quick answer with that one! God was right there--not chiding, but eager to help; compassionate, gentle--
just as the Word assures us in the book of James. (And in the days ahead, I’ll be sharing some of the directions and corrections I was given.)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5-7 NIV)
For now, the important thing to know is that I finally surrendered to God’s will to walk through this fire, not around it. The experience will be a blessing no less wonderful and divine than at other times He ministered to my needs.

Are you wondering what happened to the folks back at Marah? Well, Moses cried out to God and the Lord showed him a tree. He cast it into the spring and the waters became amazingly sweet.*

Creation Tips website reports that village women successfully use the tree Moringa oleifera to quickly cleanse the highly turbid water of the River Nile. Contaminated water can become tap-water quality within an hour or two! Although not currently found growing around modern-day Marah, conditions in that area are ideal for cultivation of this tree. No one can know for sure what kind of tree Moses tossed into the water, and some people may question whether it could be called a miracle if something like the Moringa Oleifera was used.

But here’s the point: Whether it was a tree the Creator “just happened” to make indigenous to the area or something whipped up for the occasion, the Israelites had to once again, by faith, make their way to the edge and taste. Note: God didn’t remove the people from Marah. He turned the bitter into sweet in the middle of their crisis!

God finally explained what He was after all along. Exodus 15:25 reveals that the Israelites were being tested. Since God knows everything about us to begin with, it’s clear the test was designed to show the Israelites something about themselves. We don’t truthfully know what’s in us—good and bad—until an event comes along that threatens our well-being. Only friction and heat can bring such hidden things to the surface. In fact, the Hebrew word used for “test” in the Exodus passage means “testing under stress”.

I ask...was God cruel or did He actually do the Israelites a favor at Marah?

The destiny God fashioned for them required a nation of former slaves to see themselves above life’s circumstances, not beneath. No longer would they be the tail—the brunt of jokes and the last in line, but the head of a new nation and gatekeepers to the expression of God’s presence in the earth! The Israelites could no longer afford to live with a slave mentality!

God's people soon packed up and left Marah. As they struck out again into the wilderness, I’m sure many weary travelers wondered what new challenge awaited them down the road. But much to their surprise, they arrived at Elim--a delightful oasis of twelve wells and seventy palm trees.

God has spoken to my heart to tell you, just as He assured me, that after every Marah is an Elim. Don’t give up. Don’t let disappointment and misreading the ways of God cause you to miss this beautiful place of refreshing and fulfillment!

You may be at Marah. I was thrust there by a diagnosis of colon cancer. Regardless of why we were led to a very bitter-tasting place in life, let’s look toward the Tree--the Calvary Tree--that can make the experience sweet. If we believe, Elim’s not far away!

*I’ve got more to write about Marah and the Covenant of Healing God established with His people after they drank and were satisfied…a Covenant that is just as valid today as it was then and available to everyone!