When God is Unkind

(First published 12-17-13)

Even though Joseph was from a dysfunctional family he lived a life of integrity. Several times in scripture it mentions “the Lord was with him”. His life was anything but smooth sailing, but the Lord was with him.

The Lord was with him when he was thrown into a pit by his brothers.

The Lord was with him when his brothers sold him into slavery.

The Lord was with Him when He worked in Potiphar’s house.

The Lord was with him when he was falsely accused, by Potiphar’s wife.

The Lord was with him when he was in jail.

The Lord was with him when he interpreted dreams while in jail.

The Lord was with him when he was forgotten by men.

The Lord was with him when he worked for Pharaoh.

He did nothing to deserve trouble. Yet, God was kind to Joseph by being unkind.

God was kind to Joseph’s family by saving them from the famine, through Joseph.

God was kind to the Egyptians by saving them from starvation, through Joseph.

God was kind to Joseph by allowing him to be part of God’s plan to bring deliverance.

There is no mention of Joseph doubting God’s goodness. There is no hint of bitterness. After the death of his father Joseph reassures his brothers by telling them. “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

Sometimes trouble comes to my life or your life. I don’t know why most things happen, but…

I do know God is kind.

I do know that God is sovereign.

I do know that sometimes God is up to something I don’t understand.

I do know that God is with me.

That simply needs to be enough.

For Further Study:

Genesis 37:4, 18-20

Genesis 39:1-5, 19-23

Genesis 41:39-41

Genesis 50:15-20

Acts 7:9-14

Hebrews 11:22

Softball and Being Chosen

(Originally published 8-29-2013)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Softball was my least favorite sport.

It had a lot to do with how the game started…choosing sides.

I was little and skinny and usually chosen last. As I grew my coordination became worse which made me even more undesirable as a teammate. The only time I wasn’t chosen last was if there was someone smaller and skinnier than I was. (It didn’t happen often.)

On rare occasions one of the captains happened to be my Dad. I can still hear him say,

“I choose Karen!”

Not with reluctance, but with love and confidence. He chose me, not because of my great athletic ability, but because he loved me and wanted me on his team.

That’s how it is with God. I Thessalonians 1:4 says

“knowing brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.”

God has picked me! I’m weak and sinful and mess up often, but He loves me and wants me on His team. How can I help but love and serve such a God?

For further study:

I Corinthians 1:27-28; Colossians 3:12; I Peter 2:9

Lessons from my Granddaughter

(Written November, 2011)

In early November I got out the Thanksgiving decorations box. I carefully unwrapped a ceramic pilgrim man and put him on the buffet. Our three year-old granddaughter, Arianna, gasped with wonder and said,… “Jesus!”

I had to tell her, “No, it’s a pilgrim.”

I unwrapped the matching pilgrim lady and again Arianna whispered, …”Jesus.”

“No,” I responded, “Another pilgrim.”

We hadn’t been talking about Jesus. We don’t have statues of him standing around our house and yet when something new and wonderful was taken out to be displayed she just assumed it had to be Jesus.

When the first snow came in November she squealed and said, “God sent the snow.”

“Yes, Arianna, God sent the snow.”

I smile at her simple happiness and wish I could rewind my life to a simpler time. My grown-up heart is cynical. I have lived in this broken world too long to be optimistic. The reality is, life is hard. It isn’t how God intended. We have each royally messed up.

…And so we have Christmas. Not to distract us from what is bad in our lives. Not to have a month of gift giving and parties. We have Christmas because God promised he would send a redeemer all those years ago when our first parents sinned.

Just as Adam and Eve chose sin over God, we have chosen our own selfish ways. Instead of turning our face to God we turn our faces inward. We turn them anywhere but toward God. And yet…

“God so loved the world… (God so loved me, you) that He gave…” He gave his son, not only to be born, but eventually to die for my lost condition. What a marvelous hope!

So I stay close to Arianna. As she delights in Christmas and wants to learn all about the baby and what God did, I feel my own heart melting. It is becoming a little more childlike. As I tell her about the great God who loves her, I am reminded of just how great He is.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:76-79

My Grandmother’s Chair

I have two chairs that my grandparents received on their wedding day. They are tiny by today’s standards. I used them as thrones when I was a little girl. There was a matching loveseat that I spent hours sprawled out in reading the World Book Encyclopedia. The loveseat met an unfortunate end when it got in the way of a semi-truck, but that is another story.

The chairs came to me before my mother died. About 10 years ago one of the chairs was damaged while being used in a drama production. The front leg and part of the frame was shattered. I couldn’t bear to throw it away. How do you discard something that you have lived with all your life? It was the only thing I owned that had belonged to my grandmother…so it sat in my basement. The chair that wasn’t damaged sat with it. It seemed they should be together. I looked at it every once in a while and tried to see if I could fix it. It seemed impossible. There were just too many pieces. Still, I couldn’t throw it away.

A couple years ago I decided to buy some fabric and recover the good one. I bought enough for two chairs just in case. I started on the broken one first. I took out the old tacks, peeled back the old fabric, took out the stuffing and removed the webbing from the bottom. There it was looking worse than ever. The springs had come loose. The leg and frame looked hopeless. I carefully took the leg apart where it met the frame. I cleaned out the old glue. I fit the pieces back together with new glue in the joints. I added wood filler where the wood was damaged and splintered. I bound it up tight while the glue dried. I also put some braces up inside where they wouldn’t show. I sanded and covered up the scratches with stain.

Next I started putting new webbing on the bottom, retying the springs, layering the burlap, stuffing, cotton cloth, more stuffing, more cotton cloth and finally the finish fabric. The braid went on last to cover all the edges. I stepped back and looked it over. I was amazed. It was beautiful. It was also strong…stronger than it had ever been. I recovered the good chair too. I had to redo some of the stuffing, but I didn’t have to touch the springs or webbing. They were a matched set again. They looked the same, but one was much stronger. The one that had been broken, seemingly beyond usefulness, was now the stronger of the two.

My thoughts turned to people. Many are broken and shattered. As broken people we have two choices. We can hide in the basement and expect other people to stay there with us or we can give our broken and shattered pieces to the one who made us. It will hurt. He will have to take things apart, scrape off things that shouldn’t be there and dig out some rotten bits. But as we trust Him to work with our life He will make us beautiful and strong…stronger than we would have been if we had never been broken.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Karen Pickering

(Originally published July 18, 2013)

But God remembered Noah

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Noah was 500 years old when God told him to build an ark. God saw that …

“the wickedness of man was great.” “Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. Genesis 6:5

(So much for thinking that following your heart is a good idea.)

“the LORD regretted that he had made man…and it grieved him to his heart.” vs. 6

God decides to destroy man, animals, every creeping thing, and birds, but in that cesspool of humanity…

“Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” vs. 8

Imagine Noah and his sons building the ark while the rest of mankind looked on and mocked. To preach for 100 years without any converts must have been devastating. Noah simply obeyed. Once they were all safely on board with the animals, God shut the door, and they waited.

They waited 7 days before the rains came.

Then the floodgates of the deep and the windows of heaven were opened. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. There was so much water that even the mountains were covered up. Every living thing died that wasn’t on the ark. The flood waters surged for 150 days or 5 months.

“But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.” Genesis 8:1

They had not been forgotten. God stopped the rain and closed the floodgates. A little over two months later the water receded and the mountain tops could be seen again. Just over a year after the flood had begun it was finally dry enough for Noah and his passengers to leave the ark.

Sometimes when I struggle with a situation that never seems to end I think of Noah. He was given an overwhelming job while the rest of the world was being destroyed. There was no escape from his daily duties. Imagine being the only living island in a world of water. Yet, his faithful obedience saved his life and the life of his family.

Oh, that I would have such faith. To believe that God is doing something I am unable to understand.

Father, help me to trust you with my impossible situations, knowing that you have not forgotten me.

For further study:

Genesis 6:5 – 8:22

Matthew 24: 36-44

Hebrews 11:7

II Peter 2:5

Marbles & Paperweights

My son loved marbles. There is something fascinating about them, the color, the design… The thrill of sending them down the hall in quick succession.

My husband collects glass paperweights, which he keeps in a display case. Most of them were his grandmother’s. He has added a few to the collection over the years. Most of them are round. 

One day, to my horror, I found our son rolling the beloved paperweights down the hall in quick succession. I yelled, “That’s not what those are for! Those are paperweights!”

He knew they were paperweights. He had looked at them several times under our watchful eye with our explanations of what they were for. But he had a passion for marbles so he didn’t care what their intended purpose was. He wanted to use them as marbles. His wants outweighed what was best for the paperweights. His wants outweighed what the certain punishment for damaging them would be.

Sad to say, they didn’t roll well. They weren’t made for rolling. After being hurled down the hallway most of them had nicks and chips.

When something isn’t used for its intended purpose it doesn’t end well.

A hand painted silk scarf used to mop up the floor.

A Monet used as a dartboard.

An ancient tapestry used as a doormat.

A priceless violin used as a cricket bat.

A crystal vase used as a garbage can.

Each thing is demeaned as it is misused. The creator of each would be saddened to see the intended purpose being ignored for a baser one.

Our society is good at renaming or redefining things. I think of the phrase, “love is all you need”. Love is defined by the feelings of the people experiencing it.

Our bodies can be misused in the same way. God created each of us with a design and purpose. To use our bodies as he designed them is to honor Him. He has made it plain from creation. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, so He created a helper for him. This helper was made from his own rib. He was to love and care for her as his own body. God made them to fit perfectly together.

The laws that followed were very specific as to what was not allowed. It was because God knew what would bring the most happiness. What would be best for the people He had created. God created love (or sex) to be between one man and one woman in a committed marital relationship. It was a good gift. 

We have corrupted that gift to include: Sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, sex with multiple partners, sex with prostitutes, sex with same sex partners, sex with children, sex with animals, sex with ourselves. The list is endless.

Now we even rename what gender we are to suit our own feelings. Men claim to be women. Women claim to be men. Some claim they are fluid, unwilling to pick a gender. Our very DNA tells us what gender we are, but in this case we are not willing to follow the science. We would rather turn our back on the creator God and follow our own passions.

None of us are sinless. We all need forgiveness and grace. But that comes at a cost. The cost is repentance of known sin and a turning back to God. Our society tells us to “follow our heart”. “Be your own person.” But our worth is not found in our deceitful heart or in our sinful person, but in belonging to God, to be used by Him.  Our only fulfillment and joy can be found in following Him.

For Further Study:

Genesis 1:27-31; 2:18-25 (Creation)

Genesis 19:1-15 (Soddom)

Leviticus 18:19-23 (Law)

Jeremiah 17:9 (deceitful heart)

Romans 1:21-27 (God gave them over)

I Corinthians 6:9-11 (danger)

I Timothy 1:8-11 (purpose of the law)

Romans 10:9-13; 12:1-2 (good news)

Jude 7 (final warning)

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

This was written by Frederick William Faber in 1862.

The music below is a new tune by High Street Hymns.

(Try as I might I couldn’t find the actual name of the composer.)

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.

There’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty.

There’s a welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good.

There is mercy with the Savior, there is healing in His blood.

There’s no place where earthen sorrow is felt more than in heaven.

There’s no place where earthly failings have forgiveness freely giv’n.

There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed.

There is joy for all the members and the sorrows of a Head.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind.

And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more faithful we should take Him at His word.

And our lives would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord…

For the goodness of the Lord.

We Wait for God

And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;

A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.

And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,

Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.

He will swallow up death for all time,

And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,

And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;

For the LORD has spoken.

And it will be said in that day,

“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.

This is the LORD for whom we have waited;

Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NASB)

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face;

now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.

I Corinthians 13:12 (NASB)

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

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Henry Francis Lyte was born in Ednam, Scotland in 1793. He went on to be a poet, musician, and preacher. “Abide with Me” is probably his most famous hymn. It was published after his death. The following song is also his. The words have been set to a new tune by Bill Moore.

Henry Lyte (1793-1847) / Music Bill Moore (modern)

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee.

Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.

Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought or hoped or known.

Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still my own.

Let the world despise and leave me, They have left my Savior, too.

Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like them, untrue.

O while Thou dost smile upon me, God of wisdom, love and might,

Foes may hate and friends disown me, Show Thy face and all is bright.

Man may trouble and distress me. Twill but drive me to Thy breast.

Life with trials hard may press me; Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.

Oh, tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;

Oh, twere not in joy to charm me, Were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure, Come disaster, scorn and pain.

In Thy service, pain is pleasure, With Thy favor, loss is gain.

I have called Thee Abba Father, I have stayed my heart on Thee.

Storms may howl, and clouds may gather; All must work for good to me.

Soul, then know thy full salvation. Rise o’er sin and fear and care.

Joy to find in every station, Something still to do or bear.

Think what Spirit dwells within thee, Think what Fathers smiles are thine.

Think that Jesus died to win thee, Child of heaven, canst thou repine.

Haste thee on from grace to glory, Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.

Heavens eternal days before thee, God’s own hand shall guide us there.

Soon shall close thy earthly mission, Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,

Hope shall change to glad fruition, Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

For further study:

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake , not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. Philippians 1:29

“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16 (NASB)

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy… Jude 1:24 (NASB)

A Short Hike in the Woods

We had hiked a lot the day before so we decided on a short hike that we could do quickly.

(Note to self: Short doesn’t always mean quick.)

We found the trail head and “steps” leading up the side of the rocks.

My daughter was carrying her three-year old on her back, which made it more challenging. We wondered out-loud about the difficulties in going back down. A passing hiker told us there was a simpler way down and gave us quick instructions. We made mental note of it and continued our ascent. The views were amazing. Once we reached the top, we followed the ridge for a while.

We thought it was time to start back down when it started raining. The thought of climbing down slippery rocks with a three-year old on her back was not an option for my daughter, Anna. We sent My husband, Bill, down the shorter way with the three older grandchildren.

I agreed to find the easier route with Anna. In case she had trouble I didn’t want her wandering alone on the mountain.

We retraced our steps and repeated what the hiker had told us earlier. We were to make our way down the opposite way until we got to the railroad tracks and then follow them back to the parking lot. Seemed easy enough. There was a big sign post that said “You Are Here”. It also had several trails marked. We took what we thought was the correct one and tried to move quickly. It was raining harder now. After the first 30 minutes Emerson, the three-year old, fell asleep. It was easier to have him sleeping than have him squirming to get down. It was dangerous for him to walk on his own.

We plodded on.

We could see another sign that said “You Are Here”…only it wasn’t where we expected to be. It had taken us North when we wanted South. We made corrections and took what we thought was the correct choice out of three. The trail seemed to be turning when we didn’t think we should be turning.

We plodded on.

We kept finding “You Are Here” signs and each time they were a disappointment. Either the signs were wrong or our map reading ability had seriously deteriorated with the rain and fatigue. I was glad I hadn’t let Anna go on this trail alone. The two of us were discouraged, but I couldn’t imagine being on this trail alone with a three year old on my back.

We felt like crying, but we spent a lot of time laughing. It is almost always better to laugh when you have a choice.

It was raining harder now and we were wet to the skin. In my desperation I prayed out loud. “Father, you can do what you want, but it would be wonderful if you would just stop the rain.” The rain continued, but it seemed to get less and less.

Suddenly we saw the railroad tracks through a break in the trees. It was far below us. We felt somewhat hopeful. If we could just get to the railroad tracks we knew we could find our way back to our car. Thirty minutes later, (or was it an hour), we were on the same level as the tracks. Then the reality of our situation hit us. We were at the North end of the lake when our car was parked at the South end. Since Anna had the only set of keys to the car we couldn’t call Bill to come get us. Our only option was to hike the 3 miles back to the North end. Again, we chose to laugh instead of cry. I won’t tell you what we talked about. We were imagining different scenarios. The three-year old continued his nap.

An hour earlier I had gotten a text message from my husband Bill.

“We are back”, he texted.

“We are not”, I texted back.

I was too tired to say more than that.

About 20 minutes later Bill asked where we were. All I could respond was. “Railroad”

By now Emerson was stirring, not quite awake, we let him be.

When we finally made it to the trial head there was the rest of the family, somewhat dry and playing games under a shelter. We felt like crying, but we laughed when we saw them.

The rain had all but stopped. The rain which we had found so discouraging as we hiked had kept us from overheating as we steadily made our way down the mountain.

“Thank you, Father, for giving us what we needed, not what we asked for.”

“…for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him” Matthew 6:8b

“…For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” Psalm 127:2

(Location – Devils Lake State Park, Wisconsin – USA)