Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Thoughts

Being Obedient

"Jesus Christ expects to do with us as His Father did with Him. He can put us where He likes, in pleasant duties or in mean duties, because the union is that of the Father and Himself. 'That they may be one, even as We are one'” (My Utmost for His Highest).

This Chambers' writing really inspired me to pause and reflect on Christ and His submitting to the Father's will and death on the cross. In that act, one can see the great evil that is in mankind as the religious leaders plotted to kill an innocent man in an abhorrent and torturous way. They did not just desire his death, they wanted him to suffer both physical pain and humiliation. And, as I think on it - I am always and forever astounded that God decided to give His life as a ransom for my soul - for our souls. Jesus decided to have no pride, no prestige, no power - and instead He obeyed the Father. Where would mankind be today if Jesus had refused the cross because it was not a pleasant duty? We would have no hope and be hell bound. A sobering reality.

Christ's sacrifice happened so long ago that I think that it sometimes loses its divine meaning. A meaning that is directly related to me and to those I see daily. The cross of Calvary is ugly, blood stained and represents agony. I do not like to stay there in my thoughts long. I would rather think on the other stories of Jesus - his birth, walking on the water, feeding of the thousands, allowing the children to come to Him, healing the blind, the lame and raising the dead.

The cross is not the story that I want to dwell because it points out a harsh truth: my sin was part of the ugliness. My sin .... therefore, my act. I do not enjoy thinking of myself as not just one of the bystanders but one of the accusers. Therefore, I quickly push past this story. I turn away from this scene from antiquity and quickly look to Sunday and the resurrection. After all, a risen Savior is much more pleasing to to ponder. But, the harsh horrible reality is this - if the cross had not transpired - if Jesus had said, "No way, this is much too much to expect," I would still be standing alone in my sin and have no hope.    

Gratefully, Christ did not shun His Father's request. He submitted. This week, I have thought on these truths. I wish that I would constantly keep in my mind the obedience of Christ. But, Holy Week will pass and life will continue. Responsibilities, joys, sorrows, the daily activities begin to plant their presence in my mind more than Calvary. Yet, I continue in my religious actions. I read the scriptures. I pray. I sing. I worship. And, I foolishly think this is all God requires. Quietly, God makes His will known. He requests something of me. If the task is pleasing to me, I will respond happily but when it is not one that I find appealing my heart begins to harden. I have great difficulty in understanding why God would want me to do unpleasant duties. Unfortunately, I allow my pride to come between me and my obedience to God and His design in my life. I have forgotten Calvary. I question God especially when the task is painful and I do not understand the purpose and I come to a faith crisis.

Because I know the scripture I turn to James and read,

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing...  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has [m]been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:2-4 & 12, NASB).

My prayer this passover season is that I will remember Jesus and His obedience all year long. That I will hold it in my heart as a reminder that suffering is indeed part of the sinful world. But, this knowledge holds a great promise.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:18-23, NASB).

Be Blessed,
Debbie

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Review of Noah directed by Darren Aronofsky



         The 2014 movie, Noah, has been the subject of controversy among many conservative Christian groups. I tried to limit my readings of reviews (on both sides) and basically only saw a few things linked on Facebook and heard some comments from Father Jonathan Morris on Fox and Friends. I was not expecting a great Christian epic or a true rendition of the Genesis account of Noah. This was probably a good thing. I wanted to see why I was hearing the many negative rumblings of the movie. I realized that the director, Darren Aronofsky, was raised in the Jewish tradition. I fully expected that the writer had taken liberty in the telling of the story. I imagined that I would also enjoy a good performance from Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins.

         First, do not go to this movie if you are hoping to see the narrative of Noah as told in Genesis. You will be disappointed. Actually, this movie has little to do with the Genesis account of the flood story. I would put this movie in the genre of fantasy. Neither the storyline nor the characters bear much resemblance to the Jewish/Christian version. Instead, Aronofsky’s movie has been cast as another one of the flood accounts that is incorporated into more than 500 civilizations’ myths or legends of it. In these accounts there are some major components that appear in most of them: 1) warning of pending storm, 2) a boat is built, 3) animals and vegetation are stored, 4) a family is spared, and 5) birds are sent out to find dry land.[1]

         Aronofsky’s Noah contains those elements. The scripture contains those elements; however, even the components in the movie are altered from the Biblical account. I need to point out that Aronofsky asserted in an interview with Christianity Today that he told this story based on the midrash tradition, in which Jewish teachers create stories meant to explain the deeper truths of the Tanakh.[2]

         Aronofsky’s version begins with Lamech, Noah’s father, being killed while Noah was a boy. By my calculations using the ages and years provided in Genesis 5, this was not the case. Genesis 5 asserted that Lamech was 182 years old when Noah was born. He lived 595 years after Noah’s birth. Noah became a father when he was 500 years old to Shem, Ham and Japheth. Noah’s sons would have known their grandfather for ninety-five years. Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah lived 6 years longer than Lamech.  In Genesis 7, it is recorded that the floods came when Noah was 600 years old. His father would have been dead only 5 years and his grandfather was still living. According to Genesis, Methuselah died the same year as the flood. We do not know how he died – whether in the flood itself or before the flood. Aronofsky had a scene where Methuselah died in the flood. This could have happened. This leads to another question: was Methuselah an unbeliever or was he a martyr?

         Genesis affirmed that God gave Noah detailed instructions as to what was going to happen to the world, how to built the ark and the numbers of living creatures that would be saved on the ark. Aronofsky’s account has Noah greatly confused and needing to find his grandfather to seek his advice.

         In Aronofsky’s account Noah decided that man would die out with his family. Supposedly, a girl that Noah rescued and raised as his daughter was barren. She was to be Shem’s wife. Noah did not allow his other sons to have wives. They were not on board the ark during the flood. This created a conflict between Ham and Noah. Ham became aware of an intruder on the ark (the man in the movie who had killed Noah’s father when Noah was a lad) and he nursed him and allowed him to live.

         The barren wife becomes pregnant and gives birth to twin girls; therefore, Noah decided that he needed to kill them in order to obey God. However, at the last moment he spared his granddaughters because “love wins out.” There is no mention of Shem having twin daughters while aboard the ark in the Genesis account.

         Finally, one the oddest parts of Aronofsky’s movie were these giant stone monsters with lights shining forth from their eyes. According to the rock beasts, they were the fallen angels who (unselfishly) came to help Adam and Eve after they were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Because these fallen angels had compassion on Adam, God punished them and covered them with rock. These creatures were shown throughout the movie as helping Noah and his family. They were also portrayed as the major labor force for the ark. Right before the flood, they were shown as being repentant and were freed from their rock prison. Where each was emancipated a powerful light left the earth. Everywhere they had stood – the floodwaters from below the earth were released.

         I have no problem looking at this movie as fantasy. My complaint with Aronofsky is that he used the name Noah and then tried to incorporate sections of the Bible into this story. Clearly, this movie does not portray the biblical Noah. However, that is not my issue. This story comes across as fantasy and myth while pretending to tell a Jewish and Christian story. The ridiculous nature of the events in this movie will serve to alienate non-believers who see the movie. My fear is that Aronofsky has helped to promote a world that was once ruled by superstition but that Noah’s sense of love and morality over-ruled God’s design to kill out mankind. Noah is cleverly designed, New Age propaganda that promotes man’s version of righteousness as superior to God’s, thus allowing mankind to continue after the flood.







            [1] “Flood Legends from Around the World,” NW Creation Network: Defending Biblical History, April 13, 2014, accessed April 13, 2014, http://www.nwcreation.net/noahlegends.html.
            [2] Peter T. Chattaway, “Darren Aronofsky Talks to CT About 'Noah'”, CT: Christianity Today (March 25 2014): 1, accessed April 13, 2014, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/darren-aronofsky-interview-noah.html.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Does God Always Bless His Children?

           When good things are happening, it's easy to see the blessing of God... but what about when bad things are occurring? Are God’s blessings evident during those tough times? Personally, I believe that God is ALWAYS blessing his children.
            I say this with deep faith. Mark and I have walked and are still walking in heartbreak in regard to Christi and Bobby. Yet, I know that God has been in the midst of our lives during these many years. I have waited for my storybook ending that has not come. However, life moves forward - there are daily joys and sorrows. We have been blessed with precious friends and those who would be our enemies. Sadly, often those enemies have come in the form of men who would call themselves brothers in Christ. The works of Satan have been evident. Through it all, our hope has remained in Christ. Bad things happen in this life. But, when one looks closer past the evil that accompanies life in this world a great truth is revealed.
            God is present. And, more importantly his presence is abiding. He is the underlying anchor that holds my heart and mind. He is whom my mind lingers on in the still of the midnight hours. All my hope, all my longings rest in the truth of the scripture, which was fulfilled in the living Christ. This world is fading. It is fallen. It is not my home.
            But, in my despairing moments, I can succumb to self-pity. I can compare my life to others - others that have not seen the suffering I have endured. Others who never knew anything but their parent's love or their siblings warm embrace. Others who were able to watch all of their beloved children grow and mature. Others who never watched a husband's career put to ruin by lies from adulterous pastors. Others who seem to have it all: all the financial security, all the praise from men. Even now I as write these words, sorrow and pain swell up in my heart. So, I push past the hurt, the anger, and the ugliness.
            I have sat with Job in the ashes and begged for God to remove me from the earth. I have wished that I had never breathed my first breath. I have paused in the deepest darkest places in my heart and wished for some semblance of revenge - of payback - of shame for those who have hurt me and those I love. My thoughts have not always stayed on Christ.
            Still, I find that I return to Him. I return to the Word. I pick my Bible up and challenge God to comfort me in my anguish. Often, my eyes are not able to focus on the letters but God prevails. His Spirit within me begins to beckon my wounded soul with long remembered verses.... "Be Still and Know that I am God." "I will never leave nor forsake you." "In my Father's House are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you." "You are the apple of My eye and I will hide you under the shadow of my wing.".... Finally, His words transport my heart, my spirit to Him and his loving shadow. And, I see Him.
            I see my Lord. Not the Lord from paintings - of the Jesus in a flowing white robe with the sad eyes holding out His hands to me. I see Jesus. I see Him beaten, bruised, weary.... and joyful. I see Him strong and not simply holding out his hands to me but seeking me and calling out my name. And finally, I feel His Spirit within me reminding me of a single simple truth, "I died that you may have life abundantly. I died to pay the price that sin requires. I died for you because I love you."
            Jesus is always blessing me through this one eternal act - He died to save me. He starts in my spirit. He assures me of His love and He takes the blinders off my heart so that I can see His goodness in the midst of the pain of this world. I see my husband's face. I hear Michael and Paul's voices. I am reminded of precious friends who are better to me than family. I remember that I was born in a free country. I remember that blessings in this world are mixed with the sorrow.
            But, there is one blessing, one truth that is not mixed with any sorrow. I will never experience eternal damnation. I will never be separated from my God. I have instead been made into a new creature that I might see God's face and abide in His presence.
            Romans 8:18 asserted, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (NASB).
            My blessing is far greater than I deserve. My blessing is the privilege of a relationship with the Son, the only Son, of God.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Finally seeing my daddy after 25 years.

My father is now in a nursing home and I was finally able to see him. I tried to see him when he was arrested out in California but he refused to see me. The following is part of our conversation from Monday, July 22, 2013. I wrote this the day I saw him. My daddy seems to be in the beginning stages of dementia. However, he was very verbal and aware of his surroundings. He is very frail.

July 22, 2013

Unfortunately, I didn't recognize him at first but Mark did. Mark asked him if he was Marvin. My dad said yes - he was Marvin. I bent down so I could see his face and asked him if he was Marvin Maple to which he said yes. I told him that I was his daughter, Debbie. He looked straight into my eyes and said, "Debbie." I asked him if he knew my middle name and he told me that it was Denise and that I was his daughter, Deborah Denise. With that, I started wailing (it wasn't pretty) and tried to walk away because I thought that I was going to be sick. However, as I began to walk away, he grabbed my arm with both of his hands and wouldn't let go. At some point while I was crying, he let go with one of his hands and started patting my arm. I finally walked back in front of him and asked him if he knew why I was crying. He said no and asked me why I was crying. I asked him why he thought I was crying. He said that maybe it was my birthday or something. I told him it wasn't my birthday and I was crying because I was finally seeing him after 25 years and that he knew me. He lifted my hand to his face and began kissing it. He said, "I wouldn't have known you if you just walked by but I know you now. You are my daughter, Debbie."

I had not touched him. He had taken my arm and hand. I had not known what to expect when I saw him. I didn't know if he would yell and tell me to go away and refuse to see me. I didn't know if he was going to be in a coma since I knew none of his health issues. I only knew that I had to see him. As I stood before this man who had stolen my children, slandered my husband and me, and been the cause of so my pain and heartbreak in my life - I realized that it did not hold me captive. There was no bitterness - there was only forgiveness and an overwhelming love for my father.  I reached down and hugged him and he started kissing my cheek and I cried some more.

I asked him if he needed me to get him anything and if he was hungry. He said no that they would be feeding him soon. I asked him if he was happy here and he said yes. I asked him if he was being taken care of at this place, again he said yes. I found myself wanting to somehow protect him.

I asked him how Christi and Bobby were. He told me they were fine. I asked him how old they were and he told me around 7 and 8. (That's the age they were when my parents did this...) I told him that they were not 7 and 8 anymore - but were both in their thirties. He seemed surprised a bit but then appeared to remember they had grown up. I asked him if he could tell them the truth and he told me that he couldn't tell them the truth. I asked him why he couldn't and he said that he could only tell them what they wanted to hear. (I am not sure exactly who the they were that he was referring to....)

I told him that I loved him. He said that he knew that I loved him. I asked, "Daddy, how do you know that I love you?" He said, "I know because you have always told me that you love me. I know that you love me by the way you have always treated me."

I told him that I had prayed for 25 years to see him again. I told him that I prayed everyday for him and momma.

I asked him what happened to momma. He said, "Debbie, she died." I asked, "How did she die, daddy?" He told me that he didn't remember but she had died. I asked if he had buried her and he told me that yes he had buried her in Ohio. I said, "Did you bury her in Byer, Ohio." He corrected my pronunciation. And, then said yes. My father was born in Byer, Ohio.

I showed him pictures of Michael and Paul. I asked if he would like to see them. He said that he would like to see them - but then asked me if I thought that they would want to see him with everything that happened. I told him that I thought Michael would but that I wasn't sure about Paul since Paul was pretty protective of his momma and knew how badly that he had hurt me. With that, he started kissing my hand again and looked down at the floor. I asked him if he wanted a picture of Mark, Michael, Paul and me and he said that he did. Mark went to the car to get the picture. Daddy asked me, “Debbie, who is that man that you came in with?” I told him it was Mark, my husband. He seemed to search my face and then he said, “Oh, Debbie… that was Mark?” I said, “Yes, daddy.” He just hung his head and wouldn’t look at me for a moment. So, I began telling him happier memories.

We talked some more. I talked about things we did together when I was a teenager. I told him about the boys. I told him what Mark did for a living and what I did for a living. He never let go of my hand. He kissed my hand probably 20 to 30 times. I finally told him that I needed to leave and he asked me to please take him with me. I told him that I wished that I could. He asked several times, he said, "Debbie, I want to go with you." Mark finally said, "Well, Marvin, if things had been different, you would be living with us because Debbie never would have put you in a place like this." My dad looked down at the floor.


He asked us to take him to his room and the nurse at the desk informed me that he couldn’t be out of her sight.  This upset him and he tried to talk with her as to why he couldn't go to his room. She talked very mean and degrading to him and I felt helpless to defend him.

I told him that I loved him and that I never stopped loving him. I asked him if he remembered telling me that he couldn't tell the children the truth when he first made the accusations against Mark and me because, "he had gone too far and there was no turning back for him."  He said that he did. I told him that it was never too late and that I hoped he would tell Christi and Bobby the truth so that I could have my children back before he died. He kissed my hand again.

I asked him if he remembered what he told me when I was a little girl when I asked him if he really thought Jesus was real. He said that he did - but I reminded him anyway. I said you told me that you weren't sure if Jesus was real - but that you became a Christian just in case he was real - that Jesus was your safety net. He smiled me and again told me that he remembered. I went on and said, "Daddy, I want to assure you that Jesus is real and that He loves you and forgives you. I also love you and forgive you and that this is only possible because Jesus is real. I am here because Jesus is real." He kissed my hand and told me that he wanted to go with me.


Daddy kept looking at my hands and rubbing my hands. I finally said, "Daddy, I have your hands. I never realized that I had your hands." He smiled and said, "Yes, Debbie. You have my hands because you are my daughter." I replied, "Yes, you are right. I have your hands. But, I look like momma." He looked at my face and paused. Then he said, "Yes, you look like your momma."

However, as much as I longed to carry him out of this place and carry him to Georgia, I couldn't. I had to leave him. I told the nurse who had spoken so harshly with my father that I would be sending him cards and pictures and that I wanted him to get them. She snapped at me that all the patients got their mail. I walked down that hall and left my daddy. I couldn't look back. I got into our car - and wept.

I wrote the following note the day after I saw my father.  I had more time to digest the visit. I have to say that I don't think that I have cried with this much anguish since the kidnapping. This writing was in response to some dear ladies' prayers and encouragement.

July 23, 2013


Ladies, thank you for your prayers and love. I do need them. I was overwhelmed at my compassion toward him. I have preached sermons on forgiveness, written about it and taught on it. I always hoped and prayed that if I ever encountered him (and momma) again that I would certainly know with all that was within me that I had forgiven him.

When I saw him yesterday, and knew that he knew me.... I cannot describe my emotions, my feelings, but at that moment I knew. No longer does doubt hinder or linger in my heart. I know. I wanted to pick this frail man up and carry him out of that place. I didn't want to leave him. Christ in me. That verse became so alive. Instead of wanting to tell him all my sorrow... all the agony and pain and hopelessness that he and momma had bestowed upon me.... I just wanted to protect him.

That is the picture of Christ.... despite our sins... despite our lack of faith and times of rebellion... Christ simply loves us. He longs to take us under the shelter of his wings and protect us. We simply have to choose Him.

So, here we are at the end of my daddy's life. I would love to carry him to my home to a place prepared for him; however, I cannot because of his actions. 

Mark said something deep and profound... he said, "Debbie, maybe God has blessed your daddy by allowing him this dementia because now he is free from some of the guilt."

While I am unable to carry daddy home because of his choices... because of the lies he and mother told.... God is still able to redeem him. If God gives my father any clarity... true clarity... pray that it is for true repentance and acceptance of Christ. This would mean more to me than his speaking to Christi and Bobby. While I long to hold my children, I long more for my father's salvation. I know that while we had Christi and Bobby... they were taught of Christ. I know that they have in their hearts all of those Bible verses and passages that I memorized with them. I do not have this assurance about my daddy. You don't choose Christ as a safety net.... you choose Him because He is the only true Savior and Son of God.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sadness


Sadness can sometimes just creep into your life when least expecting it. All right, I admit that I have been pretty sad lately with Mark's momma being so ill and hearing that my father is in a nursing home, too. When you are estranged from your family, you discover news in unexpected ways. Tonight I found out (thanks internet) that my grandfather had died this past November. I found his obituary in the Tennessean. My heart is just aching. At least in this obituary - my family actually had my name put in as a surviving granddaughter. When my grandmother died a few years back - I wasn't included in that one.

Honestly, you would think that they wouldn't be able to hurt and wound me anymore - but alas, they do. I wish I knew how to stop caring about and loving people who hate you. There are days when my sorrow over my family just shreds at my soul. Thankfully, God has never left me alone to bear this burden. I admit there have been times when I felt like I was alone. Those days (weeks, months....) were horrible. Usually, those times occurred during hissy fits. Unfortunately, I have had hissy fits right in front of God. Since I was raised in the south, let me assure you that I know how to pitch an excellent hissy fit. Most southern women have mastered them. Mine actually start off rather quiet. Then, I proceed to slamming doors and objects. When that doesn't produce in me the needed result, I go to talking to God that quickly progresses to sobbing and throwing myself on my bed and burying my head in my pillow. Since I no longer produce tears due to Sjogren's disease - I desperately try not to have my crying fits because when I cry I about destroy my eyes with mucus, which dries on them and them, rips my cornea. Fun.

I admit, I would love to have a hissy-fit right about now. I would love to just cry and cry and then cry some more. Instead, I sit here with my heart about to break (into how many more pieces I do not know since it has already been grated) and a lump in my throat that is causing me pain when I try to breath.

However, since I know that I do not need to continue in this state, I am going to try and find comfort in the Word of God. I am going to try and trust Him and believe that He will and has fought and won this battle for me. Instead of screaming at Him, I think that I'll mediate on His Word and pray that His healing balm will comfort my soul.

Me, Grandma, and Papa on my wedding day - Dec., 1979
                                    

Mark and I were able to find my grandfather's grave when we were up in Tennessee to bury his sweet momma. We put the roses on their grave. I was able to tell them both good-bye and I laid on their grave in the wet grass and wept.