Beliefnet
Safe Place with Ruth Graham

With the warm weather we are having here in Virginia, it makes me get itchy to get in the yard.  Garden catalogues are arriving each day. Seeds are on sale in the store…The daffodils are peeking up – as is my hope. All hopeful signs of Spring!

I did not write this – I don’t know who did. It is so good I wanted to pass it on. It’s a bit long but well worth the time!  Enjoy it!    Ruth
CARL’S GARDEN

Please take the time to read this. I wanted to hurry up and read it, but God slowed me down and I read the whole thing.
Guess what, God does what God always does, he blessed me and now it is your turn to be blessed .

Carl was a quiet man.. He didn’t talk much. He would always greet you with a big smile and a firm handshake.
Even after living in our neighborhood for over 50 years, No one could really say they knew him very well.
Before his retirement, he took the bus to work each morning. The lone sight of him walking down the street often worried us.
He had a slight limp from a bullet wound received in WWII.

Watching him, we worried that although he had survived WWII, He may not make it through our changing uptown neighborhood with its ever-increasing random violence, gangs, and drug activity.

When he saw the flyer at our local church asking for volunteers for caring for the gardens behind the minister’s residence, he responded in his characteristically unassuming manner. Without fanfare, he just signed up. He was well into his 87th year when the very thing we had always feared finally happened..

He was just finishing his watering for the day when three gang members approached him. Ignoring their attempt to intimidate him, he simply asked, “Would you like a drink from the hose?”

The tallest and toughest-looking of the three said, “Yeah, sure,” with a malevolent little smile. As Carl offered the hose to him, the other two grabbed Carl’s arm, throwing him down. As the hose snaked crazily over the ground, dousing everything in its way, Carl’s assailants stole his retirement watch and his wallet, and then fled. Carl tried to get himself up, but he had been thrown down on his bad leg. He lay there trying to gather himself as the minister came running to help him. Although the minister had witnessed the attack from his window, he couldn’t get there fast enough to stop it. “Carl, are you okay? Are you hurt?” the minister kept asking as he helped Carl to his feet.

Carl just passed a hand over his brow and sighed, shaking his head. “Just some punk kids. I hope they’ll wise-up someday.” His wet clothes clung to his slight frame as he bent to pick up the hose. He adjusted the nozzle again and started to water..

Confused and a little concerned, the minister asked, “Carl, what are you doing?” “I’ve got to finish my watering. It’s been very dry lately,” came the calm reply. Satisfying himself that Carl really was all right, the minister could only marvel. Carl was a man from a different time and place.

A few weeks later the three returned.. Just as before their threat was unchallenged. Carl again offered them a drink from his hose.

This time they didn’t rob him. They wrenched the hose from his hand and drenched him head to foot in the icy water. When they had finished their humiliation of him, they sauntered off down the street, throwing catcalls and curses, falling over one another laughing at the hilarity of what they had just done. Carl just watched them. Then he turned toward the warmth giving sun, picked up his hose, and went on with his watering.

The summer was quickly fading into fall Carl was doing some tilling when he was startled by the sudden approach of someone behind him. He stumbled and fell into some evergreen branches. As he struggled to regain his footing, he turned to see the tall leader of his summer tormentors reaching down for him. He braced himself for the expected attack. “Don’t worry old man, I’m not gonna hurt you this time.” The young man spoke softly, still offering the tattooed and scarred hand to Carl. As he helped Carl get up, the man pulled a crumpled bag from his pocket and handed it to Carl. “What’s this?” Carl asked. “It’s your stuff,” the man explained. “It’s your stuff back. Even the money in your wallet” “I don’t understand,” Carl said. “Why would you help me now?” The man shifted his feet, seeming embarrassed and ill at ease. “I learned something from you,” he said. “I ran with that gang and hurt people like you we picked you because you were old and we knew we could do it But every time we came and did something to you, instead of yelling and fighting back, you tried to give us a drink. You didn’t hate us for hating you. You kept showing love against our hate.” He stopped for a moment. “I couldn’t sleep after we stole your stuff, so here it is back.”

He paused for another awkward moment, not knowing what more there was to say. “That bag’s my way of saying thanks for straightening me out, I guess.” And with that, he walked off down the street. Carl looked down at the sack in his hands and gingerly opened it. He took out his retirement watch and put it back on his wrist. Opening his wallet, he checked for his wedding photo. He gazed for a moment at the young bride that still smiled back at him from all those years ago..

He died one cold day after Christmas that winter. Many people attended his funeral in spite of the weather. In particular the minister noticed a tall young man that he didn’t know sitting quietly in a distant corner of the church. The minister spoke of Carl’s garden as a lesson in life. In a voice made thick with unshed tears, he said, “Do your best and make your garden as beautiful as you can. We will never forget Carl and his garden.”

The following spring another flyer went up. It read: “Person needed to care for Carl’s garden.” The flyer went unnoticed by the busy parishioners until one day when a knock was heard at the minister’s office door. Opening the door, the minister saw a pair of scarred and tattooed hands holding the flyer. “I believe this is my job, if you’ll have me,” the young man said. The minister recognized him as the same young man who had returned the stolen watch and wallet to Carl. He knew that Carl’s kindness had turned this man’s life around. As the minister handed him the keys to the garden shed, he said, “Yes, go take care of Carl’s garden and honor him.” The man went to work and, over the next several years, he tended the flowers and vegetables just as Carl had done.

During that time, he went to college, got married, and became a prominent member of the community. But he never forgot his promise to Carl’s memory and kept the garden as beautiful as he thought Carl would have kept it. One day he approached the new minister and told him that he couldn’t care for the garden any longer. He explained with a shy and happy smile, “My wife just had a baby boy last night, and she’s bringing him home on Saturday.”

“Well, congratulations!” said the minister, as he was handed the garden shed keys. “That’s wonderful! What’s the baby’s name?
“Carl,” he replied.

That’s the whole gospel message simply stated. Take 60 seconds give this a shot! Let’s just see if Satan stops this one.
All you do is:
1. Simply say a small prayer for the person who sent you this.
God bless this person in whatever it is that You know he or she may be needing this day!
2. Then send it on to five other people. Within hours five people have prayed for you, and you caused a multitude of people to pray to God for other people.
Then sit back and watch the power of God work in your life for doing the thing that you know He loves.

Several things I heard last week are worth passing along. “Feelings are not facts.” That is so true but we act like feelings are facts. I may feel my friend was offended and nurse a hurt but later I  found out she was not – she was just late to an appointment! But how often I let my feelings rule me. Often I don’t feel like I am making progress and I get discouraged. But just because I don’t feel it, doesn’t make it true. I have to trust others to tell me when I am using the wrong barometer.

Feelings are fickle. They can depend on the weather, my health, my tiredness, my diet, my children, the stock market, the daily news… Feelings are not a dependable measure of anything except how I am feeling at that moment. It could all change within the hour! I have to look to truth. And the only reliable source is God’s Word.

 

I also heard last week: “Prayerlessness is an unconscious sense of self-sufficiency. Pride.

Prayer is a daily expression of humble dependance on God. Humility.”

 

Adam and Eve, the very first people created, were given an ideal world. A perfect life with all things in unity and harmony. Satan came to tempt Eve by making her doubt the truth of God’s Word. She did. She then lead Adam astray and we humans have suffered the consequences ever since.

How did Adam respond to his sin? 1.) He tried to hide from God.  2.) Then he tried to cover his nakedness.  3.) Then Adam tried to shift the blame.

Human nature has not changed. We do the same. It is interesting that the way we deal with sin is exactly the way Adam did.

First, we try to hide it from God. We won’t admit it to God which is silly since He knows all about what we have done. He asked Adam, “Where art thou?” not because He didn’t know, He asked because He wanted Adam to admit where he was.

2.) We try to cover our sin so no one will know. We dress it up. Change the language of it. Rationalize. Gather folks around us that have done the same things so we won’t feel badly about ourselves. We become inauthentic, pretend it isn’t there.

3.)  We shift the blame. Adam told God that it was the woman God gave to him – so it was God’s fault! That seems silly but we do the same thing. We don’t like to take responsibility for our actions. It’s our parent’s fault. It’s our horrible childhood. It’s our spouse…children…economy…

If we take responsibility we have to admit something is wrong with us. Yeah, there is. It’s called sin. We have to admit it, confess. And go to God to ask for forgiveness. He stands ready and eager to forgive. Forgiveness is His habit – all we have to do is ask. There is such freedom in that.

Speaking of freedom – go vote tomorrow!!

 

 

 

So many people, including me, wonder what God looks like. In my imagination I see him looking like Michelangelo’s Moses which is in the Vatican. Very imposing. Impressive. But last week as I was preparing  a message for a ladies’ retreat, I saw Him a bit differently. Maybe I am last one to see it but it was a new idea to me.

In the Bible God is always described in terms of light. Often He is given an anthropomorphic (Revelation 1:13-16) description but, in His essence, He is light.  Even the  description in chapter 1 of Revelation uses language of the human form: “like a son of man dressed in a robe…with a golden sash…head and hair were like wool…and eyes like blazing fire…feet like bronze glowing in a furnace…voice sounding like rushing water…His right hand held seven stars…out of His mouth came  a double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining all its brilliance.”   The writer described God in terms of a human form so that is how we imagine Him to be. But He was most often referred to as light or fire.

Light has four characteristics: intensity, quality, direction and balance. We can give those same characteristics to God. He is intense in His love for and pursuit of us. His judgement is intense towards all ungodliness and evil. His love and mercy toward mankind are unfailing. He is pure and holy in all His ways. Balance means to  have equilibrium. God is fair. He judges with equity.

In Revelation chapter 4 we are allowed to peek over John’s shoulder as he looks into heaven. John says he saw God’s throne and “one ” siting on it. I just assumed it had human form. But not necessarily a “person” as we might think. It is more of a brilliant light and color. In his earlier letter, St. John says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” James tells us He is the father of heavenly lights, with whom there is no variableness of turning.  He is eternally the same. Constant.

When Ezekiel saw the vision of God he saw “A fire enfolding itself and brightness was around it.” He said it had the “appearance” of fire.

Moses was not allowed to see His face – no one was or, they would die. Moses was allowed to see His glory but only from behind.

Revelation when talking about heaven says, “It has no need of the sun or moon because the glory of God gives it light.”

God is light. And when Moses saw the burning bush it was God who was in the bush as a fire, not a human form. The bush didn’t burn up because it was light not literally fire. It appeared as fire and that is the only way Moses could describe it. My dictionary says light “is electromagnetic radiation to which our eyes react with a wave length from 400 to 700 nanometers with a speed of 186,28 miles per second”! I don’t begin to understand that.

All colors are dependent on light. In Revelation 4, John mentions all manner of gemstones surrounding the throne. Their colors of blue, gold, green, red, white…all dependent on the light from the Throne.

I can only imagine this light, this fire. It would be like staring at the sun. Brilliant. Dazzling.

And fire can be terrifying. I have seen news reports of devastating fires. (I admire firemen and am thankful for them.) Fire destroys – just think of the wildfires in California – so much damage and loss. I visited several years ago the areas in Colorado Springs that burned. One home owner gave me a jagged chunk of lavender colored glass and told me the fire had exploded a vase and this was all that was left. Though the fire was weeks before, the smell was still in the air. Yes, it is destructive. Yet, fire is purifying. It is healing. We use it for cooking. We use it for energy – like a coal-burning furnace. Fire demands respect.

But light isn’t always terrifying. Light can also be used for revealing things we can’t see otherwise. Light is comforting – just think of the child that wants a night-light. When I used to visit my mother and my arrival would be after nightfall, she always had the light on for me – like Motel 6!! I was always welcomed by the glow from the lantern by the front door.

God is light. Like light, He can’t be confined.  God cannot be confined – His realm is all the universes! He cannot be described – He just is. We see these attempts by John and Ezekiel but we understand that He is beyond description. God wants to be known. Jesus came to show us what God’s face looks like. Paul says we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus!

And one day we will stand face to face with Him. Glory.

 

 

I have enjoyed watching politics since I first voted in 1968. I am a registered independent – always have been.  I have sent money to both Republicans and Democrats.

That does not make me an expert on anything but I do have opinions on most things.

But as I watched the last Republican debate I began to despair. Where is civility? Grown men at podiums interrupting each other, calling  each other names, misrepresenting views…there were three exceptions: Mrs. Carly Fiorina (She was not in the last debate. She suspended her campaign.) Governor John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson. Mrs. Fiorina spoke in previous debates with conviction but she never stooped to distortion.  Like Dr. Carson and Governor Kasich, she did not get into the mud pit, though plenty was slung her way. I would be willing wager that Dr. Carson nor Governor Kasich will ever sling mud or resort to name calling. Governor Kasich has a wonderful temperament – doesn’t lose his cool. No wonder Ohio elected him twice! He seems to be a genuinely nice man. Dr. Carson may be soft-spoken; that does not make him weak. His life story is remarkable. He is brilliant, compassionate and a true patriot. He is more of a philosopher and we  Americans don’t think like that anymore. No. I do not think he will win. Never did think it. He is too much of a gentleman. He has integrity and he knows he is answerable to God. They all are really but it must not be something they think about often.

On the scale of civility Dr. Carson and Governor Kasich lead the pack by a mile. And it really is more like a pack of dogs than grown American men seeking the highest office in the land of the greatest country in the world. What would our great founders, George Washington or John Adams think about all this? I am quite sure they would be shocked and deeply saddened to hear the low-level of discourse that our current politicians are engaged in. They no longer speak of lofty ideals and enduring principles. They seem to seek celebrity more than statesmanship.

The Democrat side doesn’t seem to be as fractious. However, one candidate may well have to answer for criminal behavior and years of cover-up; the other one has dangerous ideas even though he seems to be genuinely authentic. He is quite a contrast to his opponent.

Using foul language is  a sign of weakness. One may promise not to use salty language once they win the nomination but how ’bout practicing now? And how does one make such a change overnight?  Politicians are notorious for making promises they don’t intend to, or can’t, keep. To my knowledge three (there may be others) of the candidates profess a personal relationship with God through Jesus.  Christians should elevate the discourse not get down on the level of the others.

What kind of role models are these men? It’s really a shame. But the Millennials are a generation absorbed in video games and washed in violence. It is a generation that has no prayer in school, abortion on demand and self-concern is the measure of morality. Duty and responsibility are dirty words. Where are our leaders? Who are the good guys – are there any good guys?

Have we gone past the point of no return?  Is there hope? Will God grant us mercy?  Abraham asked God to spare Sodom for the sake for 50 righteous men. Then 45 righteous. Then 40 righteous. Then 30 righteous. Then 20 righteous. Finally only 10. “And he said I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” Let us pray to be one of the 10 and may we multiply.