Amusement Park: Game Booths

Amusement Park: Game Booths

Legs still shaky from the roller coaster they had just exited, and not ready to chance another ride, Amalia asked Jesus if they could walk around for a little bit.

“Sounds like a great idea. I love watching people.”

Although there weren’t too many people, Amalia had to agree it was fun watching the ones that were there. Smiling couples, excited children, chatting seniors – everyone seemed to be happy to be there. The sun was bright and warm, filling the area with a sense of peace that could almost be touched. Amalia held Jesus’ hand and delighted in the pleasant fragrances of flowers and popcorn that drifted past her in the breeze.

Then they went turned a corner.

Things were different on this side. Gone were the peace and joy and light that Amalia had been enjoying. An ominous cloud seemed to hover over the various booths that lined the path, putting everything in its shadow. The booth attendees compensated by using a variety of artificial light sources. Amalia sniffed. What was that odor? It wasn’t very strong, but definitely unpleasant. However, she forgot about it as soon as she saw the first booth. A lady, dressed in a flowing purple and black robe, and wearing a matching turban, beckoned to Amalia.

“Come, let me tell you of your wondrous future! Would you like your palm read? Or would you prefer to gaze into my crystal ball?”

That sounded intriguing. Who doesn’t want to know their future? She started towards the lady, but Jesus held her back.

“No, Amalia. I hold your future. And I will reveal what is good for you to know. Don’t seek that knowledge from anyone else.”

“I know, Jesus. And I don’t believe she is for real. But what harm is there in playing along? It sounds fun.”

Before He could answer, her attention was drawn to the next booth filled with stars. Pinned on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and piled on the counter, stars were everywhere. Even the man behind the counter was covered in stars. She loved stars!

“Come right over here, young lady! Come see the heavenly beings that are all around! Forget your future – think of your present! These stars have great power, and can do wondrous things for you.  Have a problem? There’s a star for that! Need more money? There’s a star for that! There are stars for protection, for finding lost things, for bringing you peace. Aren’t they beautiful? They would look great displayed in your home. And you can even share them with your friends. Come, let me find just the right stars for your needs.”

“Look, Jesus! Aren’t these stars glorious?”0530201531 (3)

“You don’t need any.”

“But they are real, right? I mean, I can see the stars in the sky at night, so I know they are real.”

“Stars do dwell in the heavens, but they don’t do what this guy is claiming. Don’t look to them for your needs. Look to Me. I am all that you need.”

Amalia nodded, took a few steps, and then stopped. Maybe she shouldn’t want any, but they sure were tempting.

“What if I took a few home just for decoration? That won’t hurt anything because I will still look to You. I just like looking at them.”

“Amalia, suppose you had a friend who got married. She loved her husband, but wanted to keep some pictures of other men she found attractive in her home. She would never do anything with these men because she was totally committed to her husband, but their photos pleased her eyes. How do you think her husband would react?”

“He’d hate those pictures. He’d want her to get rid of them.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because he’d be jealous. He wouldn’t want share his home with other men. He’d want all of his wife’s affection. And it might hurt him to think she thought he wasn’t enough for her.”

“But they are just pictures.”

“It’s what they represent.”

“Just like the stars.”

Amalia got it. Just because something looked good didn’t make it good. And it made her feel good to know that Jesus loved her so much that He was jealous for her affection.

The passed the next booth, where a woman offered to contact Amalia’s “dearly departed loved ones” for her.

“Nope, keep walking.” Jesus said. “The only one who’s ever died that you’re allowed to contact is Me.”

“What’s wrong with hearing from someone else?”

“What do people seek from that communication?”

“A lot of people get comfort. Or maybe an answer to a question they have.” Amalia stopped. “Oh, I get where You’re going with this. It has to do with jealousy again, doesn’t it? You want us to go only to You for comfort and answers.”

“And, in this case, to protect you from things you can’t see.” He frowned at the woman. “Besides, most of the time, these people are just playing games. They get good at guessing, reading body language, and being vague enough to deceive you.”

The sound of guitar chords drew Amalia to the next booth. Several people were singing about God’s love. Hearts and flowers were displayed in tasteful ways throughout the booth. Amalia stopped. Finally a good, clean booth. One that Jesus would like, too.

“Hi, would you like to play?” asked the man with the guitar. “You can win some great joy and peace.”

Amalia nodded, but at the same time she noticed Jesus shaking His head. Confused, she turned to look at Him.

“What’s wrong with this booth? They are singing about God’s love. That’s good, isn’t it?”

Instead of answering her, Jesus addressed the man. “Who is God?”

“That depends, man, on who you want god to be. God takes many forms and has many names. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose. Come play our game – the grand prize is a free ride to paradise.”

Amalia shrunk back. Many gods? But their song had sounded so right, so beautiful.

Jesus smiled sadly at her. “Many people have been deceived. You have to look past the outside and see what’s at the core. Don’t let pleasant words deceive you also.”

They continued walking, passing booth after booth of people promising prizes – mighty wonders, or prosperity, or power to make you whatever you wanted to be – all with one catch: you had to pay to play. She tried to stop several times, but each time Jesus pulled her along with the words, “empty promises”. Finally she insisted on stopping at a plain booth where a sweet looking lady was reading the Bible.

“This one has to be okay, She’s reading a Bible!” Amalia told Jesus, and then greeted the woman.

The woman looked up, smiling at first, but then frowned. “If you want to play my game, you have to get rid of some things, like your earrings. And your colorful clothes. You’ll need to put on the ones I give you. Everything must be proper. We don’t want to displease God, do we?”

“But God likes colors…” Amalia began but was interrupted by the woman.

“We need to get rid of everything that might cause us to be prideful. See, it says here in the Bible that God opposes the prideful.”

“But…”

“And it says here,” she turned to another page, “not to be puffed up with pride.”

“But..”

“You do agree that these scriptures are in the Bible, and that the Bible is God’s Word, don’t you? So you have to obey them.”

“But there are many other scriptures. You have to read them all to get what God is saying. You can’t just take one or two out of context like that. When He said not to be prideful, He was talking about…” Again she was cut off.

“You can’t play my game if you don’t agree to follow my rules. And since my rules are from God’s Word, they are God’s rules. Anyone who chooses not to play my game is rebelling against God.” Her frown softened.  “I can see you love God. Come play my game, it’s the only one God approves.”

Amalia turned to Jesus. “Talk to her. Tell her the truth.”

“Come on, Amalia,” Jesus said, guiding her away. “Her mind is made up. She won’t listen to either of us.”

A few steps later, Amalia stopped again, shaking her head. “What is wrong with this place? I thought these games would be fun. But they’re not. And some of them are even scary.”

“Did you notice what they all had in common? They are all under a cloud of deception, so whether they meant to or not, deception was at the root of each. Once you walk under that cloud, it becomes easy to be deceived. And it’s not easy to walk away from it.”

“Unless we have You. You kept me safe from losing in those games. Why…?”

“Why don’t I do the same for everyone else? I try, but they aren’t listening like you are. And some, believe it or not, prefer the deception over the truth.”

“Well, I don’t want any part of deception. Let’s get out of here.”

This time when she started walking, she kept going.

 

What do you think is the greatest deception we face?

 

 

Scriptures:

Abominations (don’t do as the pagans)

Deut 18:10-14 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omen, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.

Lev 19:31 Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.

Rom 12:2 Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

 

Jealousy

Deut 4:24  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Ex 34:14  (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God),

Is 42:8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I will give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

James 4:4-5 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. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?”

 

Deceit

Col 2:8  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Eph 5:6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Col 2:18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,

Col 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

2 Cor 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Peter 2”1-3a But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.

 

Aroma of God

2 Cor 2:15-16a For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  (Personal note: if Christians have an aroma, then couldn’t those in the enemy’s camp also have their own aroma? Thus the smell Amalia noticed when she entered the game area.)

Amusement Park: Roller Coaster

Amusement Park: Roller Coaster

Without warning, her stomach jumped to her throat as the car dropped straight down. Had they run off the track? How far down was it? Did it matter? At the rate they were falling, the end would be disastrous. The car would be crushed, and she might even die. Might? How could she NOT die?

“Jesus! Do something!”0528201352 (2)

If He answered, she didn’t know. She couldn’t hear anything over her screams. She gripped Jesus with both hands, but that didn’t seem to help. She could still feel the stomach lurching effect of the free fall. Things were still rushing past, totally out of her control.

Just as she felt they were surely about to hit the bottom, the track curved into a gentler slope, and then straightened, before climbing back up.

Jesus motioned with His hand. “See, I’m still here. No matter how far you dropped, I never left you. You were not in any danger, regardless of how you felt.”

Her breaths coming fast and shallow, all Amalia could do was nod. Easy for Him to say, but what if there was another drop? Of course there will be another drop. This was a roller coaster. Still, she hadn’t seen this one coming, and probably wouldn’t see the next one. How was she expected to enjoy this ride if she never knew what was coming?

“Breathe, Amalia, Focus on My presence, and breathe in My peace.”

After a few moments, her breathing under control again, Amalia turned her wide eyes to her Friend. “Why didn’t You warn Me?”

“I did. I told you this was the biggest roller coaster you’ll ever ride.”

“And that was enough? Why couldn’t You have told me about this drop. Especially right before we hit it.”

“What would you have done differently?”

“I could have prepared for it.”

“How?”

“I could have… I would have…” What? What would she have done if she had known about the coming drop? Hold on tighter? No, her grip couldn’t have been any tighter than it had been. Position herself for the fall? No, she was already seated firmly, and buckled in tightly. Watch for the coming drop so she wouldn’t be caught by surprise? No, Jesus was right. She already knew drops were part of a roller coaster ride. So what would she have done? Worry. She would have spent those moments leading up to the fall worrying about what was going to happen, instead of enjoying was happening. She would have missed out on the present fun time with Jesus if she had spent it worrying about the future.

“Exactly,” Jesus answered as if she had been thinking out loud. “Worrying just steals your joy.”

“Well, at least that death drop is behind us now.” She froze as a thought entered her mind.  “We’re not going to have to do it again, are we?

Jesus laughed. “No, not that drop, but there are other drops ahead. And twists and turns and bumps. And even some flips. They are all part of life. The drops, though, seem to be the hardest. Those are the times in your life where you feel like the bottom falls out. Like when a catastrophic illness wipes out your bank account and leaves you in deep debt. Or when a trusted friend betrays you, leaving you confused and hurt and angry. In those times, no matter how hard it is, keep a firm grip on Me.  You will not be destroyed, because I am with you through every moment, and you will rise again on the other side. Circumstances may change, but I do not. I love you, and will never leave you. Ever.”

Jesus’s words were comforting, but Amalia wondered why there had to be killer drops in the first place. The kiddie roller coaster didn’t have them. She knew because that was one of her favorite rides when she was younger. Just because a roller coaster was bigger didn’t mean it had to be scarier. And a roller coaster ride with Jesus should fun. Didn’t He start off this whole amusement park adventure telling her that He wanted her to have fun? So, if the drops had to be there, why not at least make them less scary? Why couldn’t they just be gentle slopes instead of deep cliffs?

Again Jesus responded as if He could hear her thoughts, which of course He could. “Amalia, I never promised you a life without problems. Life is full of problems. What I did promise was that I would be with you through every one of them. I could level out the track – and I will do that in some places – but most of the time I allow the drops because I use them for your good. Sometimes to teach you. Sometimes to discipline you. Sometimes to grow your faith. There are other reasons, too, but no matter what the reason, all of it will work for your good. Once you learn this, once you get to where you fully trust Me no matter how deep the drop, you will find that there is joy in dropping with Me. You will be able to experience Me in ways that you can’t on the more level parts of the ride.”

Amalia eyed the track ahead of them. She didn’t know how much longer the ride would last. She didn’t know how many twists, turns, flips, or drops were still ahead. But what she did know was that Jesus was sitting next to her. And if He wasn’t afraid of the drops, then she was going to learn to find that joy He spoke of no matter how many drops it took.

“Okay, Jesus, let’s do this.”

 

–  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

James says to count it all joy to meet various trials. I believe this includes killer falls on roller coasters. Has anyone learned to do that? Do you have any advice for those of us just learning?

 

Scriptures:

Ps 71:20  You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.

James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Heb 13:8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Amusement Park: Ferris Wheel

Amusement Park: Ferris Wheel

“Are You sure we’re safe?” Amalia sat still, eyes staring straight ahead, not daring to move a muscle, fearing even the smallest twitch would cause the pod they were sitting in to rock dangerously.

“Perfectly safe. You’re with Me, remember?”

“Yeah, but I don’t like heights.”

“You did when you were on the mountain. Remember the view from the top?”

“That was different. I was standing on solid ground, not sitting in a rising pod that could flip over at any moment.”

“It won’t, but let’s say it did. You’d still be fine. Even upside down, with that seat belt, you’re not going down.”

Amalia wasn’t convinced. “What if the seat belt isn’t enough?”

“Is that why you’re holding on so tightly to this handle bar?.” He touched her fist, white from its death grip on the bar. “You don’t have to hold on to it at all.”

“Easy for You to say. If we flipped over, You’d probably stay right there on the seat while I plummet to my death. Gravity has no hold on You.”

“Amalia… Amy, my love… I thought You trusted Me. What did I tell you when we sat down in this pod?”

“You said this seat belt would keep me safe.”

“And do you believe Me?”

“Um… yes…”

“Then why are you still holding on to the handle bar?”

Amalia didn’t know what to say. Jesus never lied, and if He said the seat belt was enough, then it must be. But shouldn’t she also do her part to keep herself safe, like keeping perfectly still and holding on to the stronger-looking bars she could see right in front of her? She knew the belt was fastened across her lap, she had seen and felt it as Jesus buckled her in when they first sat down, but now, with her gaze frozen straight ahead, she could no longer see it. How could she trust something she couldn’t see? What if it wasn’t fastened securely anymore?0522201752 (2)

“Amalia, where is your trust right now?” Jesus asked as they came to a stop at the top of the Ferris wheel.

“It’s on You,” she answered quickly.

“Is it really?”

“Yes.”

“Then let go.”

“You don’t mean that! What’s wrong with me holding on?”

“It shows where your trust really is.”

“But I trust You. I wouldn’t even be here without You. Holding the bars just make me feel better. Like I have some control.”

“That’s just it. You have no control. There is nothing you can do, or not do, that would save you if this pod tipped over. Only the belt I placed on you can do that.”

“Well, if the bar can’t keep me from falling, then why is it there?”

“It forms a sort of boundary. It’s not meant to keep you from falling, but to keep your ride more enjoyable. As long as you stay behind it, there’s little chance of the pod tipping over. But if you go beyond it, there’s a good chance the pod will begin to move in ways you don’t like, and, if it tips drastically, you may experience loss. Not loss of your life, because the belt is still on, but loss of loose things which may fall, such as a hat, sunglasses, or things in your pocket or purse.”

“Oh.”

“Look around, Amalia. There is nothing as invigorating as riding a Ferris wheel with Me. There’s so much you can see from here. It’s almost like you can see into forever.”

Amalia loosened her grip on the bars, but didn’t let go. She slowly turned her eyes from side to side. Jesus was right. The sight was amazing! The amusement park laid out in front of her, leading to streets and highways filled with people journeying towards their destinations, and even further, the greens and browns of fields and forests. And the  endless sky! It was like she was part of it, and yes, it felt like looking into forever.

But could she let go of the handle bars? Could she put all her trust in the seat belt Jesus had fastened on her? Could she let go of her fear, and trust what He had told her?

As the pod slowly descended, she found herself relaxing. Yes, maybe she could let go. Jesus had always been trustworthy. The belt was there. She was safe. And the closer she got to the ground, the safer she felt. She was just about to let go when the pod began rising again. Fear filled her one more, and her fists tightened on their own accord as the ground receded. She knew in her head that she was still safe regardless of what she saw around her, but her heart was not agreeing. Doubts flooded her. What if she had heard Jesus wrong? What if she had misunderstood His words? What if being safe from falling required both the belt and the handle bars? Wasn’t she responsible for doing what she could, too?

“Jesus, help me,” she whispered. “I want to enjoy this ride. I want to trust what You say. But I’m still afraid.”

“Amalia,” came back the gentle voice. “You have to choose. Where will you put your trust? Will you put it in what you do? Or will you put it in what I have done?”

Put that way, Amalia knew what her decision would be. Yet it didn’t come easy for her. Her grip on the handle bars tightened and loosened in time with the rising and lowering of the pod as they continued revolving in the giant vertical circle. Eventually, though, she got tired of the struggle, and knew the time had come. She had to choose. More than that, she had to act on her choice.

“Okay, Jesus. I choose what You did, not what I do.” She took a deep breath, and then quickly, before she could change her mind, took her hands off the bar. Immediately she grabbed Jesus’ hands with both of hers. “Hold me, Lord. I’m completely depending on You.”

“I’m always holding you, my sweet Amalia.” Jesus’ delighted voice washed over her, filling her heart with peace. “Now we can enjoy this ride together.”

As the Ferris wheel continued to turn, Amalia found herself doing just that. Talking about what they saw, snuggling up against each other, and laughing at each other’s jokes, they became totally engrossed in the ride. From time to time, Amalia forgot about – or chose to go beyond – the boundary, and leaned out over the bar to see something that caught her attention, causing the pod to tip. But each time, she apologized to Jesus for rocking their pod, and it would return to the gentle upright swaying that she had grown to love.

Way too soon, the ride slowed and came to an end. Amalia sighed as she exited the pod. Would any other ride here even come close to the joy of this one?

“Jesus, can we ride the Ferris wheel again?”

“Yes, and, actually, in a way, you’ll always be riding it. But right now I have another ride in mind. Are you ready?”

“With You, I’m ready for anything!”

Little did she know how quickly she would regret those words.

 

 

Application:

Have you ever thought about where your trust for salvation is? Or how much of your trust is in Jesus? I struggled with that as a new Christian years ago, and wonder how many other people did the same. I’d love to hear your story!

 

Biblical Basis

Eph 6:14a  Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth… (or in Amalia’s case: “Sit there…”)

John 14:6  Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 

Eph. 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ps 51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Amusement Park: Food Booths

Amusement Park: Food Booths

Amalia’s mouth watered at the tantalizing smells wafting out of the food booths. Grabbing Jesus’ hand, she pulled Him with her as she headed for the nearest booth.

“Oooo… I love cotton candy! Can we get some, p0517201823 (2)lease?”

“Cotton candy is pretty sweet, but is that what you really need right now?”

“No, but it sure does taste good!”

“That it does.” He laughed. “And there are times when cotton candy is the perfect thing to eat. Right now, though, I think you should have something a bit more substantial.”

Pulling her gaze from the rows of softly colored sparkly treats, she followed Jesus as He walked towards the next booth. Shiny apples, coated with creamy caramel, and covered with a variety of fun toppings, greeted her gaze.

“Yummy! These are perfect! Sweet, yet apples also full of vitamins I want the one with chopped nuts… no, the one with the cookie crumbs…”

“These are more nourishing, that’s true.  They make a wonderful snack, and will satisfy you for the moment, but you’ll soon be hungry again. Aren’t you hungry for a full meal?”

“Yes, but these look really good.”

“If you really want one, I’m not going to stop you. You have the freedom to choose whatever you want. But I know there’s something better for you a little further on.”

Amalia looked from Jesus to the caramel apples, and back to Jesus. “Oh…  okay… You’re probably right.”

They passed several more booths offering tasty snacks – and each time Amalia had to resist the temptation to settle on something less than what Jesus wanted for her.

Finally they approached a booth offering a wide variety of meals. “Ah, here you go.” Jesus said. “Just what you need.”

Amalia frowned at the menu board. Despite the names, such as Hamburger Heaven, Happy Hot Dog, Taco Tower, and Perfect Pizza,  none sounded as fun as the treats they had passed. “Which do I have I choose?”

“That’s totally up to you. They each have a meat or protein, and some vegetables, and that’s important to build your body. If you only ate sweets, your body would grow weak.” Jesus paused, and then added, “You know, choosing what to read in the Bible is kind of like choosing what to eat. You need to read more than just the sweet, fun scriptures. You know, the satisfying ones that make you feel good. There’s nothing wrong with those, in fact, they’re quite important. But you also need to read the meatier verses. The ones that you have to chew on – the ones that make you have to think and sometimes make hard choices. You may not like them as much, and they may not go down as easily as a milkshake, but they are also very important for your spiritual health.”

Amalia thought about that for a few minutes. “Hmmm… I like some foods better than others, and some foods I don’t like at all. It’s the same with scriptures. I don’t like the ones that talk about being persecuted for doing right, or having to control my body and mind, or of God’s jealousy and judgment. I much prefer the ones about God loving me and taking care of me. But if I only read the pleasant ones, I wouldn’t have a balanced view of God or of living a spiritual life.”

“Exactly.”

“Oh, oh, oh..” Amalia almost danced. “I know something else! Just like treats are fine in between the meals that I need for a strong and healthy body, short readings, such as Verse of the Day and daily devotionals, are good, but need to be in between longer readings, such as whole chapters at a time. And, just like I need to eat a wide variety of foods for optimum physical health, I can do that spiritually by reading through the whole Bible.”

She looked back at the menu board with a new attitude. “That Blazing Barbeque sandwich plate with the salad and sweet potato fries looks pretty good! And then…” she turned to Jesus with a grin, “we’ll go get some cotton candy.”

 

 

The Bible Says…

The Bible tells us to increase in knowledge of God.

Col 1:10   so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

 

One way we do that is by reading God’s Word, which is sometimes compared to eating.

Ps 119:103  How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Ps 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Proverbs 2 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 2:10 for wisdom comes into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant for your soul.

Jer 3:15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.

Rev. 3:20  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

 

Using that analogy, I thought it would be interesting to compare the way we read the Bible to the way we eat. Thus Amalia’s lesson with the food today.

 

How do you feed upon God’s Word?

 

 

 

 

 

Amusement park: Puppet Show

Amusement park: Puppet Show

The sound of lively music greeted Amalia and Jesus as the merry-go-round slowed to a stop. The fast, happy notes hinted at something fun that was about to happen, and Jesus and Amalia decided to check it out. Along the way they walked through drifting scents of popcorn, barbecue grills, and funnel cakes.

“Mmm… that’s smells delicious! Can we get something to eat next?” Amalia asked, taking a big sniff.

“Sure.” Jesus grinned at her as her stomach gave out a loud rumble. “Sounds like your stomach agrees with your nose.”

A few minutes later, they found a group of chairs lined up in front of a curtained stage. Some of the chairs were occupied by a few people, but most chairs were empty. Jesus led Amalia to a couple of chairs in the first row. Just as they sat down, the music stopped, the curtain opened, and a man walked to the center of the stage.

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen! I am thrilled that you are here! We have a special treat for you today. The Teppup family has invited you to join them as they work in their garden. Mr. Teppup is digging up the ground with the help of his older daughter, while the younger two kids are helping their mother with the flats of small plants. It seems they are having a wonderful family bonding experience…” The man hesitates as the sound of yelling comes from behind the curtain. “Or maybe not. We’d better go see what’s happening.” He motions to the curtain, which opens as he backs his way off stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, the Teppup family!”

Amalia smiled when she saw the family. She loved puppets! This was going to be great!

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“I want to plant the purple flowers!” yelled a small girl. “Purple is my favorite color!”

“No, I chose them first, so they’re mine!” the smaller boy yelled back while grabbing the flowers out of her hands.

“Mo-om! Make him give me the purple ones!”

“That’s enough. From both of you. I’LL decide who plants what. Right now I want you to work together to get all the plants out of the flat regardless of the color of the flowers.”

With some grumbling, and a little pushing, the kids got back to work. The mother sighed, “Those kids must hate me. They’re always making my life hard,” as she turned around and continued removing the small plants from her flat. Sometimes she could slip the plant easily from the flat, loosen its roots, and lay it on a tray. But more often the plants didn’t come out without a lot of tugging, shaking, and prodding. And these plants didn’t always make it out in one piece. Mrs. Teppup got increasingly frustrated and began complaining against people who pack plants in stupid flats that make it impossible to get the plants out without damaging them. Suddenly a squeal erupted from behind her, and she turned just in time for a small plant to crash into her face. The kids, covered in dirt, were pointing to each other.

 “It’s her fault!”

“He did it!”

“No I didn’t ! You did!”

Mrs. Teppup groaned, and then said, “Both of you – get inside and clean up. And don’t come back out until you can get along.” She picked up the tray, took one last look at the mess her kids had made, then walked to the garden plot her husband and older daughter had just finished tilling.

“How’s it going over here?” She asked as she set the tray on the ground.

“From the sound of it, better than it’s going over there with you and the kids.”

“Yeah,” the older daughter agreed. “Those two are always a pain.”

“I didn’t say that,” Mr. Teppup said. “I said…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mrs. Teppup interrupted. “Let’s not get into another debate. Is the ground ready?”

“Yes it is. And we did good, didn’t we dad?” the girl answered.

“It’s perfect,” he said as he touched the dirt. “You can start planting whenever you want.”

“Aren’t you going to help?” Mrs. Teppup, eyebrows raised, looked from father to daughter.

“Um… I thought we just had to dig up the weeds…” the girl said. “I… have some… things I need to do.”

“And the football game is about to start,” Mr. Teppup said. “You knew that.”

“But I thought… forget it. You do whatever you want. I don’t need you.” She bent down, picked up a plant, and shoved it into the dirt. In a low voice, she grumbled, “They’re just like everyone else – always letting me down. They…”

 

Amalia stopped listening and turned to Jesus. “I thought this was supposed to be funny. But it’s not. I don’t want to watch anymore. Can we leave?”

“I agree with you. Let’s go.”

They got up quietly, and headed back towards the food area. As they walked, Jesus asked Amalia a question.

“What was Mrs. Teppup’s main problem?”

Amalia wasn’t sure. “Her family?”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because the kids kept fighting and her husband and older daughter left her to plant the flowers by herself.”

“I’m sure Mrs. Teppup would have agreed with you. But think a little deeper. What was really happening?”

“Well, the kids each wanted the purple flowers… Mrs. Teppup was complaining about everything, and Mr. Teppup and the older daughter wanted to go do their own things… so… maybe they were all thinking about themselves, and not each other.”

“Right. What should Mrs. Teppup do about that?”

“Trade them in for new family members. Or treat them like they are treating her, and not do anything for them.”

“Really?”

“I guess not. Maybe have a family meeting. She could tell the others how she feels when they act that way.”

“That’s a good idea. But there’s an even better, more important, one.”

Amaila thought, but couldn’t come up with any other ideas that topped this one. “I give up. What?”

“Mrs. Teppup’s struggle is not really against her husband and children. It’s against the unseen puppeteers who are controlling the strings. So she should pray. ”

Amalia laughed. “Of course! They are just puppets!”

“But it’s kind of like that with people, too. There are spiritual forces influencing how people act. These forces don’t actually control people like the puppeteers control the puppets, but they can influence people to think and act in ways that may bother other people. Or may make someone feel more bothered than they should be.”

“So Mrs. Teppup should look past what she sees to what she can’t see, and pray?”

“Exactly.”

“But pray what? That God makes her family act better?”

“Well, if she prayed that God changed their hearts, including her own, to be turned towards Him, and if she looked for ways to share His love with them, the end result would be a more loving family.”

“But what about the spiritual forces?”

“God will fight those battles for her, if she trusts Him to do so, and doesn’t try to do it on her own.”

“One more question,” Amalia said, sniffing the air. “Can we go eat now?”

 

 

 

Scripture

Eph 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

2 Cor 10:3-5 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Philippians 2:4  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

Amusement Park: Merry-Go-Round

Amusement Park: Merry-Go-Round

Amalia didn’t know how to answer Jesus. Go on another ride? She was just barely recovering from the first one. If all the rides here were like the Haunted House, she didn’t know if she could take another ride.

“Can we just sit somewhere? I think I need some time before attempting another ride with You.”

“My thoughts exactly. And I know just the place.”

He led her across the park towards the sound of organ music. When she saw the ride He was heading for, she relaxed. This was perfect. A bunch of horses going up and down – just up and down – while rotating around a large colorful column. Even better, behind a few of the horses were carts that were not moving at all.

“I want to ride on a cart.” Amalia pointed, determined to have as much peace as she could on this ride. The less movement, the less chance something crazy would happen.

“Good idea.”

The ride was pretty much what Amalia expected, with two exceptions. The cart was not quite as comfortable as it had looked, and it wasn’t as smooth. No lying down and sleeping here. As long as she sat up, she could deal with the hard seat, and she had already learned to accept bumps so those didn’t bother her. Instead, she enjoyed focusing on the different parts of the park as they came into her vision. It almost seemed as if she was stationary and the world was rotating around her.

After a while, Amalia’s focus shifted, and she became fascinated with the horses she could see in front of her. They were always moving. At first it looked like they were all doing the same thing. Up. Down. Up. Down. But as she looked closer, she notices something surprising. No two horses looked alike, or followed the same pattern. The red one went up only part way before heading back down. The blue one stayed higher than the others, never making it all the way down. The green one stayed near the floor for longer time periods before heading back up.  And the brown one went up and down at a faster pace than the others. Intrigued with her discovery, she turned to Jesus.0508201945 (2)

“Have You noticed the horses are all moving in different ways, even though they are all going in the same direction?”

“Yup. That’s what they were created to do. Just like people. There are ups and downs in everyone’s life. Some people, though, seem to stay down longer than up, while some people never seem to get all the way down at all. Some people seem to travel the ups and downs at a leisurely pace, while others race through them. None of them are better or worse than the others, just different. It’s easiest to see that when you sit back and look at the big picture, like we’re doing now.”

“So, if I were on one of the horses…”

“You would see the movement around you, but your own movement might make it harder to see the pattern. It’s good to sit back with Me from time to time to see this, otherwise you might be tempted to compare your horse with the others.”

Amalia could see the point He was making. And then she thought of her own point.

“They’re all going around the same thing – that center column. Doesn’t it contain the motor? And doesn’t the motor supply the power to make these horses move? Wouldn’t that be like God supplying what we need to live this life as long as we stay connected to Him?”

Jesus’ eyes twinkled as He nodded at her. “Excellent! And those who keep God centered will always be close to Him.”

Amalia sat back, delighting in His praise. She knew sooner or later this ride would end, but for now, she was content to be right where she was.

 

 

Scriptures

2 Cor 10:12  Not that we care to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

1 Cor 7:17a  Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Amusement Park: Haunted House Ride, Seventh Room – Bumps

Amusement Park: Haunted House Ride, Seventh Room – Bumps

Amalia was pleasantly surprised to find herself in another beautiful room. The murals that were painted on the walls, ceiling, and floor were so realistic that she felt as if they were on a gently winding country road lined on both sides by trees, lush green fields full of colorful flowers, and, in the distance, glistening blue lakes. She could even hear the sounds of birds calling to each other, feel a breeze on her face, and, every now and then, she could hear the babbling of streams flowing over rocks. Amazing what technology could do. This room was more in line with what she expected a haunted house ride should be. Everything was explainable. She sighed. This is how a ride with Jesus should be.

Grateful for the chance to rest after the strenuous climb of the previous room, Amalia settled back in her seat. She closed her eyes, and let the vibration of the car running smoothly on the track lull her into a dream state. She heard Jesus’ voice a few times, but it seemed to be coming from so far away that she easily dismissed it in favor of her delicious drowsiness.

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The car gave a sudden lurch as if it had clattered across something in its path. Amalia opened one eye, but, not seeing anything to worry about, closed it again. Whatever the bump was, it wasn’t something to be concerned about. But then they went over another bump, and another. Each time the bump seem to be larger until Amalia was disturbed enough to open her eyes and sit up.

“Jesus, what’s going on?”

“Just some bumps.”

Amalia frowned. “Those bumps are messing up our ride.”

“Really?”

“Yes, they’re very uncomfortable. Can You make it stop?”

“What? The ride?”

Amalia stared at Him. “Jesus, You know what I mean. Make the bumps stop.”

“Why would I do that?”

“So they aren’t bothering us.”

“They aren’t bothering Me.”

“Fine. So that they’re aren’t bothering ME. Every time I start to fall asleep, we hit another bump, and I’m wide awake again.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Of course that’s a problem! I’m tired after the last room, and it felt good to close my eyes and let my mind drift. I can’t do that if we keep running into uncomfortable bumps. Will You do something?”

She watched, but nothing changed. The bumps were still there, and Jesus didn’t seem to do anything as they collided with yet another one. She turned back to Him. “If You’re not going to do anything, I will. I’ll go move those bumps myself.”

“You can if you really want to, but then you won’t be riding with Me.”

Amalia looked down at the bumpy track, then back at Jesus. She didn’t want to leave Him, but she also didn’t want to deal with a bumpy ride. “Why can’t You get rid of them?”

“I could if I wanted to, but it’s not necessary.”

“But…”

“Amalia, you have a choice. You could walk on your own, handling the bumps yourself, or stay with Me. The bumps are part of staying with Me.”

“But, riding with You should be easy and smooth. Why do we have to deal with these bothersome bumps?”

“Why do you think riding with Me is supposed to be smooth? I never told you that.”

“But, You’re God. You can easily make the way smooth. And You..  You…” Amalia thought hard. “You promised to always take care of me. Isn’t making my way smooth part of taking care of me? Besides, You love me. Don’t You want me to be happy?”

“Full of joy, yes. But happiness? That’s so conditional on circumstances. So no, some things are more important than your happiness.”

“What in the world are You talking about?”

“Exactly. You are in the world, and bumps – or problems – are part of that world. They are going to happen. I could remove them, but instead, I use them for your good. And sometimes I even put them there to slow you down, or to get your attention. What were you doing before we started hitting the bumps?”

“Um… I think I was falling asleep.”

“Were you thinking of Me? Talking to Me? Listening for My voice?”

“No, not really.”

“And what did you do as soon as you couldn’t ignore the bumps anymore?”

“I sat up, and asked You about them.”

“Right. You started interacting with Me again. So the bumps served to get your attention back on Me. Don’t get frustrated. Know that they are there for a reason.”

Amalia thought about that for a while. Then another thought came to her. “What if someone else put a bump there to hurt me?”

“It doesn’t matter. Whether I put the bumps there or someone else, I use them all for your good. You may not always understand their purposes, but you can trust Me and My love for you. I only want good for you even if it doesn’t always look that way to you. As you learn to accept the bumps, you will grow in patience and endurance. And you will learn to be full of joy no matter the circumstances. And that’s more precious to Me at this time than your comfort. So… you have a choice: you can handle them on your own, or trust Me to know what’s best for you.”

Put that way, Amalia resigned herself to a bumpy road. If Jesus wasn’t concerned the constant irritation of the bumps, she would try to accept it, too. This part of the ride wasn’t going to last forever. She wasn’t so sure of the joy part, but she could grit her teeth and be patient until they got to the next door.

They continue through that room, hitting bump after bump. Some Amalia could see coming, others took her by surprise. Eventually she began to learn to look to her Friend, trusting His wisdom each time they hit one, and, even more so, to enjoy the times between the bumps. She still didn’t like the bumps, but she didn’t let them destroy her enjoyment of the beauty of this room nor steal her joy of riding with Jesus.

And about the time she realized how much she had accepted the ride as it was and not as she wanted, they arrived at the next door.

She was at first blinded by the light that exploded around her as the door opened, and then realized it came from the sun. The real sun. And a fresh breeze caressing her skin. A real breeze, complete with the scents of heavy machinery, popcorn, and grilled burgers. They were outside!

When the car came to a stop, Jesus stood up, pulling Amalia up with Him. “So, what did you think?” He asked her as they climbed out.

“It was nothing like I thought it was going to be, but it was also way better than I thought it could be. You’re just full of surprises, aren’t You?”

“Always.” He smiled. “Ready for another ride?”

 

 

 

Scriptures

James 1:2-4  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.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for hose who are called according to his purpose.

Philippians 4:11-13  Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. I how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and very circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Psalm 16:11 You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Amusement Park, Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 3

Amusement Park, Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 3

Amalia didn’t know how long she stayed huddled on that mountain side waiting to die, but when death didn’t meet her, her thoughts began to resurface. Questions bubbled up one after another. Where was she? What should she do next? Had she taken a wrong step somewhere? Where was Jesus? Why wasn’t He helping her? Should she continue going up, go down, or stay put? Why did bad things always have to happen to her?

Enough! If she was going to get out of this, she needed to stop whining and start remembering. What was the last thing Jesus told her to do?  Something like, “Remember what I told you.” And that it “was enough”. Hmmm… what had He told her that He wanted her to remember? Slowly it came back to her. He would be with her every step of the way. He would provide, protect, and guide her. He wanted to celebrate being at the top of the mountain with her. Since what He had said didn’t match to what she was now seeing and feeling, she knew she had to choose which she would believe. And it was not going to be easy.

She thought about what she knew about Jesus. She remembered all the times He had proven to be faithful. He had never lied to her, not even once. And He always kept His promises to her. She had learned to trust Him in a variety of circumstances. So what made this one any different? She made up her mind. If He said He was going to be with her every step of the way, then He was here with her now even if she couldn’t see Him. If He said He would provide, protect, and guide her, then she wasn’t lost or in danger no matter how she felt. And if He said He was going to celebrate with her at the top, then she wasn’t going to die. Strengthened by faith, she stood up and took a step. She had no idea if it was the correct step, but she trusted that if it wasn’t, Jesus would keep His promise to let her know. She took another step, then another. Still not hearing anything, she continued trudging up the slippery, snow covered slope, bending into the wind while reaching out to grab anything that she could use to pull herself forward. Her sandals were no match for the snow and she slipped often. But her determination kept her going inch by inch, for so long that she forgot all her objections and complaints, and accepted this journey as her plight in life. If she was going to trudge up this mountain in these conditions forever, so be it. Her health, her safety, her very life was in Jesus’ hands. She was His to do with as He pleased. Acknowledging this gave her a sense of peace she wasn’t expecting, and she found herself humming songs she knew He loved.

Suddenly a brilliant beam of warm sunlight broke through the swirling mist, the wind died down, and Amalia could see clearly. As she straightened up, she stared around her. She had never seen anything so breathtaking, nor felt anything so sacred! The bold, majestic face of the mountains that surrounded her, topped by glittering ice and snow, filled her with such a sense of divine power and glory that she fell to her knees. It was like being in God’s presence in a way she had never experienced before, and she felt so small and insignificant before His magnificence. And yet, she could sense His love for her  0501201030a (2)radiating out from the heavens into the deepest parts of her heart.  She wrapped herself in that sensation, eyes closed and spirit worshipping, for what felt like eons. She didn’t want to stop, but eventually her body gave out and she fell back onto the snowy ground. Weird how the snow didn’t freeze her as she lay there. It was actually soft, not warm, but not cold either. She eventually sat up and looked out over the valley below her. The patterns of browns, greens, and blues of the trees, fields, and rivers mesmerized her. She also knew there were people down there, lots of people going about their business, but they were too far way to be seen. She felt out of touch with that life. There was no sense of time here, no sense of needing to be busy doing things or planning for the future. Being up here was like being in a different world.

“Amalia!! I knew you would make it!”

Amalia turned to see Jesus dancing His way towards her. The look on His face was one of delight, pride, and approval. Just seeing it made everything Amalia had gone through worth it.

“Jesus! You’re here!”

“Of course! I told You I would always be with you. Even up here!” He laughed as He took her hands and danced around the clearing with her.

After a while, breathless from the exuberant dance, she asked, “Where are we?”

“On the mountaintop. A place few people make it to. A place where you get to see God in a way you don’t when down in the valley.”

“Do I get to stay here, so I never have to make that climb again?”

“Sorry, no. No one gets to stay on a mountaintop. Your spirit delights in it, but your body wouldn’t be able to handle it for long. One day, when you shed your body, you’ll get to stay in an even better place forever. But for now, enjoy being here at this time. Soon we will have to start the climb back down to get to the car.”

The car? She had forgotten all about the car and the haunted house ride. They seemed so mundane, so tame now, compared to what she had just experienced. How could she go back to that life and be happy?

“Cheer up, Amalia. I’ll still be with you down there. My purpose for you is not complete yet. There are things you still need to do and learn. And, besides, there will be other mountains to climb.”

Amalia knew nothing would ever compare to this day, but accepted what Jesus told her. She was needed down there. She had more to learn. And Jesus would be with her. She could wait for the promised better place, because she knew without doubt that Jesus always kept His promises.

“Okay, Jesus. Before we head back down, can we dance together one more time?”

 

All the way down the mountain, Amalia basked in her memories of her mountaintop experience. In spite of the same obstacles and dangers, she found the way down much easier than the climb up. Maybe it had something to do with going with gravity instead of against it. Or maybe it had something to do with the good things she was thinking about instead of the unpleasant things she had focused on when climbing up. In either case, it seemed like in almost no time they were down at the bottom and heading to the car. As they walked, she tried to discuss her experience with Jesus, but was dismayed to find that her memories were already fading. Sighing, she grew quiet in order to hang on to them the best she could.

“We’re here. Ready to go on?” Jesus’ voice interrupted her internal reminiscing.

Reluctantly she looked back at the mountain before climbing into the car. She had thought the room with all the toys had been her favorite, and that this room was a horrible joke. But now she realized this room had become her favorite by far, and couldn’t imagine how any future rooms would even be able to hold her interest.

She would soon find out.

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 2

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 2

The climb was just hard as she has imagined it. The dangers were every bit as real, and the top of the mountain never seemed any closer. It felt like she was going to be climbing forever. Jesus was true to His word. He directed her along paths away from cliffs, showed her good plants to eat, gave her clean water from surprising sources when she was thirsty, chased away all the dangerous animals, and provided safe places to rest when she got too tired to move on. Sometimes He would disappear – preparing the way, He said – but was always within earshot. All she had to do was call, and He was back by her side.

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And yet, in between the hard places, there were times she was delightfully surprised at what she found. Refreshing streams bubbling over colorful pebbles and emptying into golden emerald ponds.  Birds singing to each other from the branches of the trees. A newborn fawn laying in the shadow of bushes loaded with berries. An unexpected clearing covered with a patch of soft grass. The powerful sound of the wind in the tall trees that surrounded her. The majestic view of the valley below her surrounded by even higher mountains. Abandoned cabins, still containing signs of the life it once held.

Her favorites, though, were the places where the water fell from great heights, bouncing over boulders of varying sizes, and splashing down into refreshing pools at the bottom. Her eyes traveled the path of the water droplets, letting the roar and splashing of the water fill her until she thought of nothing else. She tried to imagine what it would be like to be able to play with the waterfall like the birds did as they flew in and out of the mist created by the splashing water. Or what kinds of secret caves the falling water hid. The smaller waterfalls were just as intriguing. Sometimes the water looked like it was rushing to its destination, while the water in other waterfalls seemed to be enjoying a much slower pace. She couldn’t resist reaching out to touch the water, and marveled at the sensation of the icy coldness running over her hand. No matter how big or little the waterfall was, she wanted to spend hours at each. Sometimes Jesus let her, but other times He called her away to continue their walk.

Slowly, Amalia’s attitude began to change. Her trust in Jesus grew as He did what He said He would do, and she no longer feared what she might face. No matter how hard it got, knowing He was there made it all doable. She found her focus shifting from anticipating the unknown to finding joy in the moment. She didn’t have to worry about how to cross this mountain. She didn’t have to worry about how to deal with any problems or obstacles that might arise. That was Jesus’ job. All she had to do was follow His directions. With Him taking care of the big scary details, she was free to enjoy the small fun ones.

But then they entered a fog that grew thicker with each step. The swirling mist swallowed up everything around them until she could barely see the ground in front of her. She even lost sight of Jesus from time to time.

“Jesus? What is this?”

“Not to worry. This mountain is so tall that it goes up into the clouds. The fog around us, the clouds, shows us that we are nearing the top.”

“But I can’t see anything. How can I stay on the path when I can’t even see it?”

“It’s no different than before. I’m still with you. I’m still guiding, protecting, and providing for you.”

“I bet You can see through this… this… swirling mess. That’s why You can say it’s no different. But it IS different for me. I can’t see!”

“You don’t have to. You have Me.”

“But, how will I be able to follow You if I can’t see You?” Amalia stopped walking. “How do I know that the next step I take won’t lead me off a cliff?”

Jesus sighed. “Amalia, I thought you trusted Me.”

“I do, but this is different.”

“Why? Have I changed?”

“No.”

“Other than the fog, has the mountain changed?”

“No. I don’t think so, but then, how would I know if I can’t see it?”

“What if I told you that it hadn’t?”

“I guess I would believe You.”

“So, if I haven’t changed, and the mountain hasn’t changed, what changed?”

Amalia thought about that for a few minutes. And then she got it.

“My vision. What I can see changed.”

“Exactly. You trusted Me before, trust Me now. Instead of focusing on what you see, focus on what you hear.”

Amalia wasn’t happy about this turn of events. It wasn’t fair to expect her to continue walking a hard path without being able to enjoy the beauty along the way. And, being a visual learner, she had always done better using her sight than her hearing. Suddenly she wanted nothing else than to be on the other side of the mountain and in the car that was supposed to be waiting for them. “Okay, fine. Let’s go. The faster we do this, the faster we can get to the other side.”

If Jesus minded her tone, He didn’t show it. “That’s the spirit!” He said. “We’re not far from the top.”

At first Jesus stayed close by, telling her where to walk, encouraging each step she took, and letting her know if she wandered to the left or to the right of the path. It wasn’t as bad as walking completely blind because Amalia could still see the ground, but only enough of it to take one or two hesitant steps at a time. She missed using her sight, but slowly began to get better at using her ears. Through the fog she could hear the calls of the birds and imagine them flitting from branch to another. She could hear the roar of the waterfalls and imagine the crashing water. She could hear the mighty wind above her and imagine the leaves dancing in the trees . As she focused on the sounds around her, she realized that she could hear Jesus better also.

Slowly, as she grew comfortable following Jesus’ words instead of His body, she actually began to enjoy the walk, taking each step more confidently. She found a strange beauty in the fog that she had never noticed before. The fog’s muting of the birds, waterfalls, and wind was actually peaceful. Almost like being in the dark room with Jesus. She didn’t even mind when the dirt path became covered with snow, making the path even harder to walk. She trusted that Jesus would not let her wander into dangerous ground, and would be quick to correct her each time she drifted from the path He had her on. However, the increasing strength of the wind around her caused her some concern. Jesus had told her He would direct her steps, but what was going to keep her from blowing off the mountain? And where was He, by the way? It dawned on her that she hadn’t heard His voice for a while now. She stopped walking and listened harder. No Voice. Had she become overconfident and taken a wrong turn somewhere? Was she lost now?

“Jesus! Where are You?”

So soft, like a whisper just barely heard over the wind, came the words, “Remember what I told you.”

“That’s it? That’s all I get when I need You the most?”

“It’s enough.”

She wanted to scream in frustration. She had done everything He had asked her. She had trusted everything He said. And this is where it got her? Lost in the blinding fog and blown around by the gusty wind? She shivered as she realized she was also freezing. She stooped down, hugging her knees, in an effort to escape the harsh conditions around her. Feeling abandoned and alone and afraid, she faced her worse fear: she was going to die.

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 1

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 1

Still staring at her image, Amalia didn’t notice the car start up and push through the next door. Could this really be her? If Jesus said it was, then it had to be. But she couldn’t believe it. She knew herself better.  A warrior? She was so full of fears and insecurities that she doubted she could ever battle anything. Right now she was a nobody, not some great warrior. And she was hardly confident or joyful most days. If the mirror was showing what Jesus saw when He looked at her, like He said it did, then it must be how Jesus saw her as she would be one day when she got to heaven. Certainly not as she was right now.

Slowly the sounds of birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind penetrated her thoughts. She lowered the mirror and looked around with confused pleasure as the car came to another stop. They were at the edge of a grassy field, with colorful flowers dotting the ground for as far as she could see. Here and there large spreading trees were providing shade and protection to the birds that flew around their branches. But neither the flowers nor the trees compared to the majestic mountains she could see in the far distance.

How could this be? They were in a haunted house. A house with walls and a ceiling. And yet it appeared that they were now in an open field, maybe a valley, leading to some gorgeous mountains. Amalia frowned in concentration, trying to make sense of what she saw, heard, and felt. The mountains could just be an incredible painted mural, the breeze could be created by hidden fans, and the bird songs could be recordings. But those were real flowers, and they went on for what appeared to be miles. More mirrors? And what about the trees? They were huge, too big to fit in this building. But they were definitely real. The nearest one was so close she could make out the design of its bark.

“Jesus, where are we?”

“We are right where we’re supposed to be. Come on, from here we have to walk. The next door is over those mountains.”

Amalia sat, eyes moving over the landscape. Surely she had heard Him wrong. “We have to walk?”

He was already climbing out of the car. “Come on, let’s get started.”

She slowly climbed out, still looking around with wide eyes. Wherever they were, Jesus was enjoying it. Maybe she should quit trying to figure it out, and just enjoy it like He was. Besides, if they had to get out and walk in one of the rooms of this crazy house, this one was by far the best one.

As they walked, she couldn’t get enough of the beauty all around her. The deep green of the grass blades complemented the brilliant white of the clouds floating in a cobalt blue sky.  And those flowers! The soft, colorful petals, each so different and yet perfectly shaped! Bees buzzed in and around many of them, joining the soft sounds of bird calls and rustling leaves. Inhaling deeply, she sighed. This place was much better than anywhere else she could imagine. Not even those scary looking mountains could contain as much beauty as this place. Why did she have to climb them anyway? They looked way harder than anything she had ever done before. Why couldn’t Jesus just make an easier way to get to the car? Even better, why even get to the car at all? Why not stay here? It was so perfect here, with none of the problems and worries that seemed to fill the world outside this place.

She stopped, and turned to Jesus. “Can we just stay here? With You, I won’t need anything else.”

He chuckled. “Well, it’s true that with Me you have everything. But you weren’t made to stay here. We have a ride to finish, and the car is on the other side of those mountains.”

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He pointed to them with such great joy and excitement that Amalia wondered what He was seeing that she didn’t see. Didn’t He know how difficult this looked to her? Hadn’t He noticed how dubious she felt? If He would just tell her what He saw, she might feel better about the whole thing. And yet He didn’t. Sometimes He could be so frustrating. Sighing, she began walking.

At first it was easy, but the incline of the field grew steadily steeper, and soon she lost sight of the beauty of the place as she focused on her feet and on her breathing. The lush green grass had grown sparse in places, with patches of rocks and loose dirt that caused her feet to frequently stumble. She began to regret wearing sandals instead of hiking shoes. But then, how was she to know she would end up where she was?

“I’m here. Take My hand. I won’t let you fall,” she heard Jesus say when she had stumbled the first time. She did, and found that holding on to Him steadied her. But as they walked, she kept finding the need to use both hands to shake out small pebbles that got in her sandals, or to shade her eyes from the bright sun while she pushed the taller weeds out of her way. As the inclined steepened, she stumbled more frequently. Sometimes she remembered to grab His hand. Or His shoulder. Or His clothes. But other times, she was too busy flailing her arms in panic to think of Him, so He would reach out to her with His steadying arm.

Finally He told her, “Let’s sit down and rest for a few minutes.”

She sank down and closed her eyes in relief. Walking with Jesus in this room was a lot harder than it looked. She had thought it would be easy, surrounded by beauty all the way. But she hadn’t expected the increase in slope to make such a difference. It also seemed the harder the walk became, the harder it was to see the beauty. Well, she had to admit, the beauty was still there, but the more she focused on her feet, the less of the beauty she saw. Maybe, when they continued walking, she should try to keep her eyes looking upward instead of downward.

All too soon, Jesus pulled her up, and they continued their walk towards the mountains. As they walked, He told her of what to expect.

“It’s quite high so we will have to go slower. There are paths in some areas, but in others, we will have to make our own way. There are dangers everywhere: animals, poisonous plants, cliffs, and sudden storms. You will get tired. You will get hungry. You will want to quit. But be assured that I am with You. I can keep you safe from every danger, as long as you do as I say.”

“If it’s that hard, why do we have to climb it? You can do anything, so why can’t You just make this mountain disappear?”

“Sometimes a mountain can be moved, but others, like this one, must be climbed. It’s for your good.”

“Well, if I have to go over it, can You at least carry me?”

“Sure, I can carry you from time to time.  But I can’t climb this whole mountain for you. You need the strength and wisdom you will gain from climbing it. “

Amalia looked doubtfully at the mountains that seemed to be approaching quickly. “I don’t think I want to go any further. I’m not ready.”

“Yes, you are, or I wouldn’t have brought you here.”

“But I don’t have any climbing gear. I don’t have any food or water or first aid supplies. I don’t have the knowledge to differentiate between good plants from poisonous ones. And I don’t have a weapon to fight off wild animals. I have nothing. Not even hiking boots.”

“You have everything you need. You have Me.”

“But You don’t have a back pack either. What if my sandal strap breaks and I have to travel barefooted. I’ll get blisters, which will probably get infected, and with no medicine, I’ll probably end up losing my feet. Let’s just go back. There must be another way.”

He laughed. “You won’t lose your feet. I am your healer.”

“But what if an animal attacks me while You’re not looking? I have nothing to defend myself with. I don’t want to get hurt. Even though You can heal me, it will surely delay our journey. Let’s go back to the safety of the field.”

“You won’t be hurt as long as you stay near Me. I am your protector.”

Amalia looked at Jesus’ empty hands. Did He have a knife hidden up His sleeve? Or maybe He was planning on finding some sturdy branches to use? “But You don’t have anything, either.”

She thought of another reason not to keep going. “I don’t have any water. And without water purification tablets, I can’t drink the water in any streams we find. I’m going to get dehydrated. And then I’ll get dizzy and weak and confused. I’ll be too sick to go on and end up dying on this mountain.”

He reached for and squeezed her hand. “You won’t die of thirst. I am your provider.”

But what if I’m walking along a path and suddenly find myself on a cliff? My balance is not all that great now. I know I will fall! Can’t we get to the door by going through the field, and completely avoid these mountains?”

He smiled and shook His head. “You will not fall. I am your guide and will keep you away from cliffs.”

No matter what objections Amalia came up with, Jesus seemed amused and had an answer. Evidently He wanted her up that mountain whether she wanted to or not, but that didn’t stop her from trying to talk Him out of it with new reasons as they came to her. She was increasingly dismayed to see that the closer they got to the mountains, the higher and harder and scarier they looked. In fact, she couldn’t even see the tops of the higher ones.

“Don’t worry,” Jesus told her, seeing the worry on her face. “The way is hard, but the reward is more than you can imagine. When we get to the top, you will be so grateful to have made the climb. I can’t wait to celebrate up there with you! However, there is one thing you need to do before we begin.”

“Run the other way?” she asked, looking behind her as if the car would suddenly appear. “This is just a joke, right?”

“Nope, no joke.” He spoke seriously now. “Before we start, you’ll need to make a commitment to follow Me no matter how rough it gets, or how long it takes. That commitment will help you when you think you can’t go on. Do you trust Me? Will you make that commitment?”

Amalia thought about it. She looked up at the mountain, and then down the way they had come. “What if I decide not to go?”

“It’s your choice. Just know this: if you go back, you will never know what you’ll have missed. And since the car is on the other side of this mountain, you will not be able to progress through this haunted house. You will be stuck in that field. As beautiful as it is, do you really want to be stuck there… or go back to the room with the mirrors… or the floorless room… or…”

“Okay, I get the point. It’s go forwards or go nowhere. You did this to me on purpose, didn’t You? You knew before we even entered this haunted house that I would be faced with this decision.”

Jesus winked at her. “And I even know what you’re going to decide.”

Sighing, she resigned herself to her fate. “Okay, if we’re going to die, let’s get it over with.”