See how the river meanders through the trees. It’s not concerned about how it moves, just that it is moving. Your life is like that river. It twists and turns around circumstances and events. Sometimes it moves quickly, like when there are rapids, and other times it seems to swirl in a corner not going anywhere for a while. Sometimes the flow is peaceful, other times chaotic and confusing. Sometimes it flows over great depths, other times dances over the rocks in shallow areas. But regardless of the movements, the river keeps flowing until it achieves its goal – to get to the sea where it can become one with something much greater than itself.
What is your river like right now? Wherever you are, know two things.
One, it will change sooner or later. You never know what’s around the next bend. That may not seem like a good thing when you’re flowing gently and light is dancing along your surface, but it’s an awesome promise when strong currents are hurtling you along, drenching you as you crash into and over all kinds of obstacles.
Two, know that God is there with you every inch of the way.
And because He is, you can have peace no matter where you are, as long as you keep your eyes on Him.
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
We all see it. The growing division between those who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t is both heartbreaking and scary. The condemnation, name-calling, and judgment being flung by both sides is horrendous for anyone, but especially for Christians. Aren’t we supposed to act like Christ? Aren’t we supposed to bring light and peace into our society instead of promoting fear and darkness? Or is that what we are trying to do when we point out how ignorant, misinformed, selfish, fearful, brainwashed, careless, and divisive the other side is?
As always, I went to the Bible to see if I could figure out if what we’re doing fits God’s way of doing things. After all, we are His image bearers and are supposed to be revealing His nature to those around us.
God doesn’t use fear tactics – or does He?
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20: 18-21 (This happened when the Israelites heard God speaking to Moses, giving him the Ten Commandments.)
God doesn’t create disunity – or does He?
Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Matthew 10:34-35 (This is the same word peace as used in John 14:27 when He said “Peace I leave with you…”)
God doesn’t name-call – or does He?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our father, we would not have taken part with them in the shedding of the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Matthew 23:13:29-33 (Jesus said this to the Pharisees for claiming they wouldn’t have killed the prophets like their forefathers had.)
That was eye-opening to me. Maybe we are doing what we should be doing. But then I took a peek behind the curtain. I looked at the why.
What I discovered was – and this is crucial – EVERYTHING GOD DID AND SAID WAS RELATED TO FOLLOWING HIM AND LIVING IN HIS KINGDOM. He was concerned about the spiritual health of His people. He wanted them in a relationship with Him and used these tactics to warn them away from everything that would harm that relationship, or to point out his enemies who were threatening that relationship.
However, that is NOT what we are doing. What I see and hear in our behavior these days is not about our relationship with God. It’s not about following Jesus, but about following our opinions, our feelings, our rights, our consciences, our leaders, our chosen experts, our understanding, our fear, etc. It’s all about us and how we want to live.
Satan is a counterfeiter. He’s using God’s tactics against us by twisting them to fit his own agenda. He has us killing, hating, lying, deceiving, judging, hurting, segregating, rejecting, and suspecting each other. And I’m not just talking about non-Christians. Although they are engaged in the same behaviors, they have an excuse. We Christians do not. As long as Satan can keep us acting like this, he can effectively shut down our influence in our society.
What do we do?
Put our eyes on Jesus – and keep them there.
Obey Him first.
God knows what’s best for us. For many Christians, getting the vaccine is fine with Him. For many others, it is not. God knows what we don’t. Maybe the vaccine will save the lives of those who are told to receive it, while it will keep those who are told not to get it from a serious adverse effect. I don’t know, and it’s not my place to judge anyone concerning this.
I think if Paul were alive and writing Romans today, he may have included vaccines in the following passage.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:1-4
Each person needs to pray and discern what God wants them to do and not project what they decide onto other Christians.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us live to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Romans 14:5-8
Whether we get the vaccine or not, it’s important that our decision be out of obedience to God, and not out of fear, rebellion, pride, or peer pressure. And we must not shove our decision in the faces of those who decide differently, nor discriminate against them in any way. I think vaccine passports might fit this.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:20-23
Jesus wants us spending our time here on earth serving others, not tearing them down. We need to be working on bringing people closer to God, not participating in things that cause separation. We need to keep our focus on the spiritual and not the earthly.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:24-26
Instead of bickering, let’s seek ways to serve each other. Let’s reject anything that divides us so that we can be one as Jesus prayed that we would be. Let’s quit unwittingly playing Satan’s game and spend our time doing what Jesus calls us to do.
Let’s be the light of Jesus in these dark, confusing, and broken times.
The words for afraid and fear in Exodus mean just what they say. I’ve heard people try to explain them away (God loves us so we’re not supposed to be afraid of Him.) But the original words make it clear that yes, if it serves to keep our relationship with God right, we might need to remember just how fearfully powerful He is.
be afraid,” תִּירָאוּ֒ (tî·rā·’ū) Verb – Qal – Imperfect – second person masculine plural Strong’s 3372: To fear, to revere, caus, to frighten
the fear of Him יִרְאָת֛וֹ (yir·’ā·ṯōw) Noun – feminine singular construct | third person masculine singular Strong’s 3374: Fear, reverence
The original word for peace used in Matthew 10:34-35 is the same one used here in John 14:27. Without doing a lengthy bible study on these verses, I would say that Jesus is talking about an inner peace and an outer peace. He gave us His inner peace, one that we will have no matter what happens around us. However, choosing Jesus over everything else threatens the peace of family relationships if not everyone is a disciple. Jesus didn’t come so that above all we would live in peace. He came so that above all people would be reconnected with the Father through Him. Turning to Jesus frequently results in ostracization, accusations, rejection, and condemnation by family members who don’t understand the change and feel threatened by it. I would add that obeying Jesus may have the same results at times.
peace εἰρήνην (eirēnēn) Noun – Accusative Feminine Singular Strong’s 1515: Probably from a primary verb eiro; peace; by implication, prosperity.
Here’s Matthew 10:34-35 in context. Jesus is talking to His twelve disciples just before He sends them out to preach and heal.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against their parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by al for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have not fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs on your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before me, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:16-39
To be God’s friend, and not His enemy, (see previous blogs) we need to obey Him. Obedience is not easy. It comes with a cost that affects us and often the people around us. It’s a serious decision, one with huge impacts and grave consequences. It’s a decision that we have to consciously make.
Jesus said to consider the cost to being His disciple.
It cost Noah a career change, at least temporarily. The Bible is not clear what Noah did before he built the ark, but it most likely wasn’t large-scale construction or wild animal care.
It cost Abraham his homeland. He had to leave his father and most people he knew to go where he knew not. I doubt any of them understood why Abraham was leaving them, especially if every question they asked was answered with, “I don’t know. God just said to go.”
It cost Moses his comfort zone to have to speak to the pharaoh, and the initial impact of his obedience resulted in harder living conditions for the Israelites.
It cost Esther her safety as she faced death for breaking the king’s law.
It cost David his lifestyle. He went from a quiet, peaceful life as a shepherd to a dangerous, stressful life as a king.
It cost Jeremiah his freedom. When leaders didn’t like his prophecies, they sometimes locked him up or threw him into a well.
It cost the wise men their time as they went in search of the Child. The Bible doesn’t say, but their families may have been left behind on a journey that may have taken at least four years. If so, I doubt their wives or children were very happy about it.
It cost Mary and Joseph stability in the early years of their marriage as they had to keep moving from one place to another in order to keep their new baby safe. I can imagine what their friends might have said: “You’re moving again, because of a dream?”
It cost Paul his pride. He gave up everything he was proud of – his zeal, training, knowledge, status – to become a servant of Christ.
It cost numerous Believers their family, friends, and even lives. Imagine the attitude of the unbelievers in their lives (both family and friends) as the Believers chose the new cultish belief over everything else.
Obedience requires knowing who to obey. These people in the Bible all obeyed God, which frequently put them at odds with societal and religious norms. We need to do the same. Jesus didn’t say to follow the church or church leaders. He didn’t say to follow society. He didn’t say to follow the government or other organizations. He said to follow Him. He sent us His Holy Spirit to ensure we could hear Him, and He gives us His grace to empower us to respond obediently.
We may not think God is calling us to do something but He is. He has a job for us, a mission to accomplish, a stand to take, or a light to shine. We may not like it. We may be in denial. We may question it. We may procrastinate. We may talk ourselves out of it. We may twist it to fit what we want to do or believe. But none of that excuses us from obeying Him. His mercy allows us time to grapple with what He wants us to do, but eventually we must decide to obey or disobey. There are no other choices.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?… So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-28, 33)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up the cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. (Genesis 9:20 ESV) or Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. (Genesis 9:20 HCSB)
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from our country and from your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:10) Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘the LORD did not appear to you.’” (Ex 4:4) But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Ex 4:10)
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.”And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many,and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.”The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” (Exodus 5:1-23)
So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud. (Jeremiah 38:6)
“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:16)
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “’And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. (Matthew 2:1-7)
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and he took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. (Matthew 2:13-15a)
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth… (Matthew 2:19-23a)
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:3-7)
For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8)
After all, I go to church regularly, tithe consistently, give of my time generously, read the Bible daily, and say my prayers faithfully. I am nice to people and work hard to take care of my family. I believe in Jesus, accepted Him as my Savior, and am baptized. I follow the Ten Commandments the best I can.
There’s no way God and I are enemies!
Are you sure? James 4:4 says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
You can’t be friends with both God and the world because you can’t live by both God’s ways and the world’s ways.
The world says everyone can find their own way to God, and that each way is as valid as the others. God says Jesus is the only way. Acts 4:11-13
The world says everyone is a child of God. God says we become His children when we accept Jesus. John 1:12
The world says it’s okay to do whatever makes us happy. God says not to let sin reign in our bodies, making us obey its passions. Romans 6:12
The world says everyone should choose their own gender and sexual orientation. God says there are only two genders – male and female – and that appropriate sex is only between a man and his wife. Genesis 1:27
The world says name-calling, ridiculing, lying , cancelling, violent protests, retaliation, and discrimination is okay when done to those who disagree with them. God says to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us. Matthew 5:43-45a; Luke 6:27
Your behavior, attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, actions, and reactions reveal whose side you have chosen. Have you compromised, rationalized, justified, and given in to the world in order to fit in or to have an easier, more comfortable life? Do you go along with whatever the world says to avoid being insulted, hated, ostracized, criticized, or misunderstood? Do you allow or ignore wrongdoing instead of standing up for what is right?
If so, you are propagating the enemy’s agenda instead of God’s agenda and spreading the darkness of the evil one instead of reflecting the glory of God. You are not only in the world, but have chosen to be part of it.
And that makes you God’s enemy.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:18-19
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-13
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Romans 6:12
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, John 1:12
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 1 John 3:10
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Eph 2:2-3
“You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45a
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, Luke 6:27
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Luke 6:22
I’ve heard it ever since I became a Christian. I’ve even said it myself.
But is it true? Is God your friend?
God’s friends believe in Jesus, but believing in Jesus doesn’t make you His friend. Just ask a demon. (On second thought, don’t.)
God’s friends go to church, but going to church doesn’t make you His friend. There are plenty of church-goers who aren’t even Believers.
God’s friends live their lives doing good, but doing good doesn’t make you His friend. Lots of people spend their lives doing good in a great number of ways – including witches and New Age followers.
God’s friends give generously, but giving generously doesn’t make you His friend. Some atheists are extremely generous.
God’s friends follow church rules, but following church rules doesn’t make you His friend. Not even following the Ten Commandments makes you His friend. In the New Testament, Paul had a lot to say about living by the Law, and it wasn’t good.
God’s friends read the Bible, but reading the Bible doesn’t make you His friend. Some people search it for ways to debunk Christians.
God’s friends love Him, but loving God doesn’t make you His friend. People love celebrities (think Elvis), but that doesn’t make them friends.
So what does make you His friend?
Jesus answered that in John 15:14 “You are My friends if you do what I command you.”
He didn’t say…
You are My friends if you do what the world commands.
You are My friends if you do what religious leaders command.
You are My friends if you do what your heart commands.
He said, “You are My friends if you do what I command.”
Obedience to what God says. Jesus said a lot in the New Testament about how He wants us to live. And He continues today to tell us what He wants us to do, usually through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. He speaks to us through the Bible (and other books), through other people (both Christians and non-Christians), through circumstances (both good and bad), and through a quiet voice we can sense in our hearts. He is not limited on how He speaks to us. The methods He chooses are not all the same, but no matter how He speaks, His voice is recognized by His people.
But what if we can’t hear Him? Jesus said we would know His voice. If we don’t, maybe we aren’t really His friend. Maybe we’re living our lives for ourselves. Maybe we’re allowing Him in some places in our lives, but not in others. Maybe we pick and choose which of His commands we follow. Maybe we don’t care enough to pay the cost of His friendship; instead we take His grace for granted. Maybe we don’t know that He can and wants to be our friend.
Is God your friend? I hope so. If not, He’s not the one holding back.
John 10:27-28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
John 14:21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
The sounds coming from the door indicated that it was back. She hadn’t heard it the first time it had come, nor had she been prepared. Maybe she should have been since she had known it was around, but who would have thought it would be able to do what it did? But this time she was ready. Hopefully her extra precaution was adequate to thwart its plan, and it would soon leave.
She remembered when the bear had come just a few days ago. It’s ingenuity in gaining access to her half-basement had taken her by surprise. Bears are not supposed to be able to open closed doors but this one had. She had thought, as many people do, that keeping the door closed made her home safe from dangers on the outside. Finding evidence of the bear’s entry into her home proved that idea wrong. Only a flight of steps stood between the bear and the heart of her home. It could have made its way up those stairs and through that door, putting her entire family in danger. Or she could have gone down those stairs thinking everything was normal only to run into the bear face to face.
She had heard the stories. She knew the danger. It had only been by the grace of God that she hadn’t been in the basement when the bear opened that door. If she had had her head deep inside a washing machine, stretching to reach some wet clothing, or if she had been making noise tossing toys into a plastic bin in the back corner, she might not have seen or heard its approach. She could have been trapped and the result could have been deadly. She had to take a stronger stance. She had to find a way to secure that door.
So, she had made a plan. It was a simple plan, yet logical. She locked it. The bear might know how to twist door handles, but there was no way it could get past the dead bolt.
The beast did not come back the next night, nor the night after that. Days turned into weeks, and still no sign of the bear. Was it coming back? Maybe she was safe. But just in case, she continued to lock the door every night.
Now, on this night, she was glad for her diligence. Again she hadn’t heard the stealthy approach of the bear, but she heard the door rattle. Quietly she went out onto the top floor balcony and looked down. The bear was there, pawing at the door handle and looking around. As she watched from this height, she noticed with surprise how small it appeared. It was almost like she could reach down, turn it around, and send it on its way. It didn’t look nearly as lethal as it would have if she had been standing in front of it. Keeping a safe distance from it while staying as high as possible was the safest way to avoid the danger it brought with it.
The thought occurred to her that, from where she stood, she might even be able to control the bear. She could shout at it and make it go away with nothing but her voice. But she knew it was better to ignore it than to start a battle she might not win. Sooner or later it would go away, but only after it had discovered that the way in of yesterday was no longer a way in today. She would still need to stay alert, always searching for and securing vulnerable areas, for she had no doubt that it or others like it would be back. But on this day, she could smile.
On this day, this bear was not coming in.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Mallory sat at the kitchen table, chin resting on her hands. Glumly she thought about her house, or what her house had become. She no longer recognized it. Over the last six months, Jag had made his mark in every room, and was beginning to hint that he needed her bedroom to house the rest of his family when they arrived. She knew she had to make Jag and his siblings leave. But there were too many of them to physically force them out.
Mallory had gone to the police only to be told there was nothing they could do. She was the one who had invited him to move in and to make himself at home without any sort of lease. Once his mailing address had been established at her house – done when his siblings had written to him – he was in effect a tenant. And tenants had to be evicted. That required a lengthy process involving formal notices and court hearings. In the meantime, as long as he didn’t damage the property, Jag had the right to privacy and the freedom to do what he wanted, including letting family members move in. When she had complained that he had sold her personal items and kept the money, she had not been able to prove it so the police could do nothing about that either.
Sighing, Mallory got up and looked around. How did she end up where she was? Living in a house that seemed like it was no longer hers, at the mercy of strangers and helpless to change it? Regrets filled her with cold despair. So many things she should have done.
She should have made Jag sign a lease when he first moved in.
She should have limited the rooms he had access to.
She should have stopped him the first time he overstepped his boundaries.
She should have involved the law as soon as he messed with her personal property.
She should have made his sister leave instead of leaving the door open for more siblings to join them.
She should have been more assertive and less understanding.
But how was she supposed to know how far he would go? She would never have done to anyone what he had to her. Now it was too late. All she could do was accept the reality of what her home had become, and hope someday, after a long, difficult battle, to get it back.
Mallory stood at the entrance to her living room, stunned. Her furniture was gone. All of it. From the softly padded recliner couch and elegant glass-topped coffee table to the six-foot wooden bookcase and large wall painting – everything had been replaced with cheap thrift store pieces. A long piece of driftwood stood where her grandfather clock had been. In place of her thick floral area rug lay a threadbare remnant. The walls were bare except for a curling poster of a band she had never heard of.
Anger built in her as the shock wore off. Jag! It had to be him. Who else had the lack of respect for her things as he did? Ever since he had tossed her boxes of memories into the dump a few months ago, she had been watching him closely but he had shown no signs of removing anything else. Other than giving her excuse after excuse for not moving out, and constantly forgetting to clean up behind himself, he had been a decent guest. Until today.
“Jag!” she called down the hallway. “Jag! We need to talk!”
The door to the guest room opened and Jag stepped out, closing the door behind him. “You’re back?”
“Yes, I’m back.” Mallory motioned to the living room. “Did you do this?”
“You’re back early,” he said as he sauntered towards the kitchen. “I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“Come back here. We need to talk.”
Jag continued walking. “Sure, but first I need a drink.”
“No! Now.” Mallory’s voice shook with tension. She didn’t like confrontations, and she had overlooked some of his behavior to avoid them, but this was too big to ignore. “What did you do to my living room?”
“Our living room.” Jag said as he disappeared around the corner.
Our living room? Mallory stood facing the kitchen, indecisive. Should she follow him and force the discussion? Wouldn’t that send the message that he was in charge? She didn’t want that, but waiting meekly for him could also send the same message. The sound of a hallway door opening interrupted her thoughts. With heart racing, she whirled around. If Codee was at work, and Jag was in the kitchen, who was in the hallway?
She didn’t have to wait long to find out. A head covered with dark brown curls peeked out around the corner and called out softly, “Jag?” When she caught sight of Mallory, she gasped and withdrew back into the bedroom.
A woman? Jag had a woman in his bedroom?
Seething now, Mallory started for the kitchen but was met by Jag carrying two bottles of water.
“Jag –“ she started, but he cut her off.
“Just a minute. I’ll be right back.”
Mallory watched him walk to his room, hand one bottle through the doorway, and then walk back to her, all with a smug smile on his nonchalant face.
“Yes? Is something wrong?” he asked as he continued past her into the living room. Sitting on the worn out couch, he put his feet up on the battered coffee table, leaned back, and clasped his hands behind his head. “What do you need to talk about?”
“What… where… how…” Mallory sputtered, not knowing where to start. She raised her hands in an all-encompassing gesture. “This!”
“Do you like it? It was all free.” Jag continued smiling.
“But what did you do with the furniture that was already here?” Mallory stopped. No! He couldn’t have! Not wanting to know but having to, she asked “You didn’t dump it, did you?”
“Of course not. That stuff was worth some money.”
“So where is it?”
“I sold it.”
Mouth open, Mallory stared at him. He stared back, unfazed.
Closing her eyes, she tried to control her anger. “Why?” she finally managed to squeeze through clenched teeth.
“I needed the money.”
“But it wasn’t yours to sell.” Loss filled her as she opened her eyes and looked around.
“Sure it was. I live here, too. Besides, you have so much, I figured you wouldn’t miss a few pieces.”
“You’re wrong on both accounts. You may live here, but it’s my house. MY house. You’re just a guest. And I do miss my “few pieces”. It took me years to save up to buy that furniture. And for you just to sell it while I’m out of town for a few days, how dare you?”
“Calm down. It’s just furniture. It’s not like I sold your dog. If you’re not happy, you can just buy more.”
“That’s not the point. You sold what wasn’t yours. Where’s the money? That’s not yours either.”
“I gave it to my family. Things are really hard for them right now. I figured they needed it more than we do.”
“Didn’t you think you should have at least asked first? I might have been able to loan…” Mallory stopped as a crash came from Jag’s bedroom. Pointing towards the hallway, she demanded, “Who is in your room?”
“My sister. She lost her house and I told her she could live with me.”
“Don’t worry. I got her a separate bed.” Jag got up. “I’ll go see what happened. I told her not to try moving the TV by herself.”
Mallory sank on a nearby tattered armchair. She wished she had never invited Jag to stay with her. Even though he had had a good reason for what he had done, it didn’t justify his actions. She wanted him – and his sister – to leave. But with nowhere else to go, they would end up on the street, and she couldn’t force herself to do that. She had to find another way. Maybe his sister would be more cooperative, and then, in turn, influence him to show more respect.
Mallory got up and headed for Jag’s room. It was worth a shot.
“You can’t do that. Those were my boxes.” Mallory stood facing Jag, hands on her waist.
Jag looked up from his lunch. “It’s my room, my things,” he answered smoothly. “If you wanted them, you should have moved them last month like you said you would.”
“I’ve been busy, and there’s really nowhere else. The attic already if already filled with Codee’s things.”
“That’s not my problem.” Jag took another bite of his sandwich.
“Not your problem? Of course it’s your problem. You got rid of something that wasn’t yours. What did you do with them?”
“I took them to the dump.”
“You WHAT?” Mallory roared. Taking a deep breath, she lowered her voice and said through gritted teeth, “Get them back.”
“Can’t.” Jag stood up. “There’s been several storms since I dumped them. They’re trash now.” Leaving his plate and glass on the table, he headed for his room. “You’re better off without them, anyway. Trust me.”
Mallory stared at the forgotten plate, trying to grasp the loss of her childhood memories. Among the contents of those boxes had been photographs, cherished toys, favorite books, her grandmother’s quilt, and yearbooks dating all the way back to elementary school. None of it could be replaced.
The tickle of tears on her cheeks woke her from her nostalgia. Wiping them away, she took a deep breath. Maybe it was all for the best. She hadn’t opened those boxes in years. If they had been as important to her as she thought, wouldn’t she have done something with them by now? Jag was probably right. She was better off without the clutter. All she really needed were her memories.
“Are you sure you’re okay with me staying with you for a while?” the man asked as he shifted from foot to foot at the bottom of the steps.
“You are very welcome here. Where else are you going to go?” Mallory answered, holding open the front door. “Besides, there’s plenty of room here. Come on in.”
“Thank you.” He climbed the few steps and, tipping his head at Mallory as he passed her, took a step into the small foyer.
Mallory closed the door gently before moving around him. “While you’re here, feel free to make yourself at home. When Codee called telling me you need a place to stay for a few weeks, I was thrilled to help.” She led him into the living room. “What’s your name? Codee told me but I don’t think I heard it correctly.”
“Yup, that’s what she said. That’s an unusual name. Where –“
“My father had a thing for odd names,” he interrupted. “Call me Jag.”
“Okay, Jag. Would you like something to eat or drink before I show you your room?”
“No, thanks. I ate at the shelter before coming here. Codee was very kind.”
“Yes, she is.” Mallory pointed through a doorway. “Your room is this way.”
As Mallory led Jag down a long hallway, she pointed to the first door on the left. “That’s the bathroom. I usually use the master bathroom so you and Codee will pretty much have this one to yourselves.” She stopped at the next door. “And this will be your room. I want to apologize ahead of time for its condition. I kind of used it for storage, but the bed is comfortable and I put fresh sheets on it this morning.”
“It sounds great.” Jag sighed. “Just being off the street is enough. I don’t need any fancy rooms.”
Mallory opened the door and motioned for Jag to enter first. “Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Jag’s eyes wandered around the room and he let out a soft whistle. “This is for me?”
Mallory nodded towards the side wall. “Yes. Sorry for the boxes. I tried to keep them to that one wall so you would have plenty of room to get around. As soon as I can, I’ll move them to another area although I’m not sure where yet. They contain-“
“It doesn’t matter,” Jag cut her off. “They don’t bother me. This bed is all I need.”
Mallory frowned, irritated at being interrupted again. “Well, maybe. But it bothers me. You shouldn’t have to deal with it.” She noticed he was still standing just inside the doorway. “Please, make yourself comfortable. There’s a table by the window where you can set your backpack. And there are towels in the bathroom for you to freshen up. I’ll be in the kitchen. You might not be hungry but I am. Join me whenever you’re ready. ” Mallory took one more look at the stacks of boxes, and then turned to go. But before she went through the doorway, she caught a glimpse of Jag dropping his dirty backpack on the freshly cleaned carpet as he headed for the bed.
“So much for following directions,” she mumbled. “But maybe he’s just tired, poor guy.”
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.