“That’s Not Your Story”

20191108_082431 As my husband and I started to leave the library, I had to turn my eyes away from the “New Books” section situated by the door. On one of the shelves, prominently displayed, was the newest book of an author I know, a novelist who has been regularly putting out bestsellers for a couple of decades. As for me, not only had I never had a bestseller, but I hadn’t even put out a new book in six years.

I was tempted to envy. But as we stepped outside, I told myself—once again—“That’s not your story.” I wasn’t talking about her book. I was talking about my life.

~~~

My mother had a little rhyme she liked to quote, one she had learned from her mother. The words were a familiar part of my childhood: “As a rule, man’s a fool, when it’s hot he wants it cool, when it’s cool he wants it hot, he’s always wanting what is not.”

Or, in my case, she always wants to be what she’s not. Being myself was never good enough; I wanted to be someone else, someone with talent and intelligence, someone successful, someone who was capable of doing all that I would never be able to do.

~~~

It has taken me years to understand that this is a rotten way to live: maddening, counterproductive, and completely opposed to what the Lord desires for us.

It is also undoubtedly commonplace. I’d wager that many of us—if not most of us—wish to be someone we’re not, wish to live somebody’s story other than our own. Just look at the original disciples of Jesus, those earliest of saints who were so explicitly human. When Jesus told Peter about the role he was to play in the church, the first thing Peter did was point a finger at John and say, “What about him?”

To which Jesus essentially replied, “His story isn’t your business. You’ve got your own story. Keep your eyes straight ahead and follow me” (John 21:15-23).

~~~

Among the many roles God holds in our lives (savior, provider, sustainer, comforter) is that of author. He is the original author, painstakingly and lovingly plotting the story of each life, beginning with conception and ending—or, more accurately, not ending—with the physical death that ushers us into eternal life.

Even while he’s knitting us together in our mother’s womb, he’s planning the way in which the story will unfold. Psalm 139:16 offers this remarkable truth: “Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me when none of them as yet existed.”

I have to pause and consider these words with no small measure of amazement: God knew about all the days of my life before I was even born. That’s because he himself is writing my story. And that can mean only one thing: it’s a good story.

I look at others too—especially those bound to be most overlooked by the world—and see God’s hand at work there as well, writing something beautiful. Though the overarching story of this planet seems a mess, the plot one of grief and chaos, God is sovereign over all of it—the largest world events and the smallest individual steps. In the end, and always, his will is done.

~~~

Part of living my life as a love story with God is realizing and believing that I am who he wants me to be and my life is as he planned.

With that in mind, I look back over the years and notice something wonderful happening. The failures, losses and disappointments fall away while the goodness rises. I see the manifold blessings that have marked my path, even though it was a path I so often at the time didn’t want to take. But God guided me into the hard places so I could see his everlasting goodness dwelling there. It is a path both laid out by him and leading ever to him.

How often now the words of Psalm 16:6 come to me: “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.” With this thought, thankfulness fills me. This is my story and it is good, because it is being written by God. He makes my life a love story with him.

Finder of All Lost Things

lost and found The best part about working at a university food court stems from the fact that the students tend to lose things. Car keys, apartment keys, student IDs, wallets, cell phones, books, laptops, even entire backpacks. You’d be surprised at what tired and hungry students leave behind, once they’ve inhaled a Chick-fil-A sandwich and hurried on to their next class.

Their loss of these important items isn’t, of course, what makes me happy. And certainly the very worst part about my job is when I go to our lost-and-found in the back office and discover that what has been lost isn’t there. Then, I dread going back out to the dining area and telling the student that their lost item is, sadly, still lost.

I hate the look of disappointment, even fear, in their eyes. There’s the unspoken question: “Well, if I didn’t leave it here, where is it?” And of course the all important: “Will I ever find it?” What does one do, after all, without one’s credit cards, car keys, driver’s license…or the laptop on which is an entire semester’s worth of work.

When even one thing is lost, everything is wrong.

(At those times, I understand why some throughout history have been tempted to kill the messenger.)

But it’s completely different when I do find their item in lost-and-found. Then, when I return bearing what was lost…ah, the joy! The relief. The thankfulness. Even the laughter. One young man practically did the happy dance the whole time I was carrying his backpack toward him across the dining room. Had I not been an old lady, I think he might even have kissed me for the joy of regaining that lost bag.

How I love to see that joy. And so one day not long ago I thought to myself, “If I could have any job, I’d like to be the finder of all lost things.” Kind of like Holden Caulfield who wanted to spend his life simply being the catcher in the rye—the one who protects the children playing in the rye field by catching them if they get too close to the cliff. I’d like to be the one to find all the lost items and present them to the owners, simply so I can see them rejoice and break into the happy dance.

But then, if I were the finder of all lost things, wouldn’t I simply be taking after my Father? Isn’t that what He does, what He has always done for the sake of love? In fact, that’s the whole story, the whole point of history—God redeeming what was lost and bringing it safely home.

My cousin became a Christian when she was 50-something. When she wrote to tell me about her baptism, I was struck by the simple and yet profound way in which she summed up the change in her life: “Everything feels right now.”

Of course it does! When we are found—claimed by and held steadfast in the love of God—all that was once wrong in our lives comes around right, and we are able for the first time to truly know joy. Thanks be to God, the finder of all lost things, who pursues us so that both His joy and ours may be complete.

Is Al Capone in Heaven?

Al Capone headstone Those gangsters of yesteryear were a vicious lot. I was reminded of this recently when I read a book about the Mob in New York City during the 1960s and 70s.

I kept trying to imagine growing up and living in that kind of milieu, in which the business of everyday life consisted of robbing banks, hijacking trucks, laundering money, promoting prostitution and gambling, taking people hostage, beating people up, breaking people’s legs, cutting off people’s hands, and killing people with machine guns, revolvers, baseball bats, or simply one’s own fists.

Mobsters were ruthless. Violence and death were status quo. And for the most part, they enjoyed it. Torturing and “whacking” people was all just part of a satisfying day’s work. That’s what I find particularly hard to understand.

~~~

In high school, I was part of a gang myself—all college-bound, honor students who nevertheless weren’t above a little mischief. Our idea of wreaking vengeance on the enemy was leaving a banana in the history teacher’s desk drawer right before Christmas break, so that when he came back in January it was overripe and plenty pungent. We also tormented that same teacher by hanging a pair of boys’ underwear on the license plate of his VW Bug while it was parked in the teachers’ lot. Just like the gangsters, we felt pretty smug about doing something wrong and getting away with it.

And then there was the time I ventured solo into the underworld of crime when I wrote a Spanish paper for a kid named Wes who paid me five dollars to do it. It was easy money and a pretty good take in 1974 dollars, but I later felt so guilty about helping him cheat that I donated my illicit earnings to a school fundraiser.

~~~

So who would be more likely to merit heaven—the gangsters like Gambino and Gotti or the goodie-goodies like me? Of course, that’s a trick question because if you know anything at all about grace you know none of us is taking the up elevator by reason of pushing any buttons on our own.

But I know I’m going to heaven and I believe I may see at least one gangster there: Al Capone. I’ll tell you why.

~~~

When I was researching my book Sweet Mercy, I read a number of books about the life of Al Capone. One of the books told of Capone’s conversion to Christianity while in Alcatraz. It seems he was among the group of prisoners who went to hear a visiting pastor preach one Sunday morning. When the pastor asked if anyone was in need of prayer, Al Capone raised his hand. When the pastor asked if anyone felt in need of a savior, Al Capone stood.

This particular event isn’t exactly an enduring part of the gangster’s famous persona. When you think of Al “Scarface” Capone, you don’t think of him as the mobster who came to Jesus behind bars. After he was released and living in Florida, he himself told visitors that he had met Jesus in Alcatraz, but few people believed him.

For one thing, old Scarface was suffering from a physical illness that affected his mind, so that one of his friends described him as “nutty as a fruitcake.” For that reason, it was easy to blow off his talk of conversion. Although, when you think about, most people who claim conversion—especially jailhouse conversion—are considered nutty as fruitcakes. Even I’ve been called nutty myself for believing in God, so it’s a pretty convenient label to pin on folks of faith.

~~~

For another jailhouse conversion, look at King Manasseh, ruler of Judah for 55 years. His evil deeds undoubtedly rivaled those of any mobster. He worshiped idols and was deep into the occult, consulting mediums, practicing sorcery, and involving himself in other “abominable practices” that the chronicler didn’t care to go into. The chronicler did mention, however, what to me is the very worst of his acts: Manasseh “made his son pass through the fire.” That is, he sacrificed his son to a non-existent pagan god. He killed his own child, maybe even more than one of them.

Even the Mafia, according to their own code of conduct, didn’t kill children.

Eventually, Manasseh was carried off by the Assyrians to Babylon and imprisoned. It was then that he humbled himself and cried out to God. His repentance must have been genuine, because God heard him and restored him to the kingdom of Judah. Once home, the former evil king cleaned up the place, tore down the pagan altars, and “commanded Judah to serve the Lord the God of Israel.” From that time forward, Manasseh belonged to the Lord.*

~~~

If God turned Manasseh around, he could do the same for Al Capone. Because the bottom line is this: It’s not how bad the person is, it’s how good God is. God’s goodness, grace and mercy are what transforms sinners into saints and opens the door to heaven, whether the sinner is a machine gun-wielding mobster or a banana-wielding adolescent. Neither deserves mercy, yet to each it is given freely.

Al Capone, being Catholic, received the sacraments of the Catholic Church before he died and, after death, was buried in consecrated ground. Marking his burial place is a stone on which is carved his name, his birth and death dates, and the words: “My Jesus Mercy.”

Is Al Capone in heaven? I don’t know for sure, but if he is, I intend to sit down and share a fruitcake with him. Won’t that be something? Me and old Scarface—just a couple of undeserving nuts enjoying the presence of God for all eternity.

 

* King Manasseh’s story is found in 2 Chronicles 33.

Sandy’s Story: When There are No Words

There are times when overwhelming loss leaves us without words. Sandra Merville Hart has known such a time. But she has also known the love of God that carries us through those days. Here is Sandy’s story …

Sometimes … God just cries with us.

That year, between the two of us, my husband and I lost three parents. Though I prayed fervently for a different outcome—one where they’d all be healed—for the third time in six months a hospice nurse told me, “We’re seeing the kind of things we see in the last twelve, twenty-four, to forty-eight hours of life.”

This time it was for my dad. The strong man who had been a rock, a safe haven for me and my siblings, lay dying. Mom had died five months earlier and my father-in-law a month before that. Could this really be happening again?

~~~

My dad had been the caregiver for my mom for several years. Her Alzheimer’s grew worse, requiring more time from me and my sister to cook, clean, and help care for Mom. Before my dad’s stroke, one of us had visited daily for many long months. His stroke started an avalanche of sorrow and grief.

For it seemed that God had opened a box, letting out all the bad things at once, and didn’t close the lid until the box was empty. Strokes, two cancer diagnoses, Alzheimer’s, a broken hip—it all tumbled down on our precious parents. Each day—sometimes each hour—brought new struggles as I watched the health of people I loved so dearly seep away.

My sister and I shouldered the brunt of these trials so that my parents never knew all that happened with social agencies, social workers, nursing homes, insurance agents, attorneys, nurses, financial institutions, and hospice staff. I felt like I was drowning, with no one to save me.

~~~

Yet it was my parents, my father-in-law, and my mother-in-law who suffered the most. Alzheimer’s didn’t prevent my mother-in-law from grieving her husband.

The worst part was that my parents were in different nursing homes for about a month. My mom was too ill to go see him and the insurance threatened to cancel his benefits if he left the nursing home. It was a nightmare.

Anytime someone asked how to pray for us, I said, “Pray that my dad’s nursing home finds room for my mom.” Four days after she was accepted for hospice care, she and my dad were reunited in the same nursing home. Unfortunately, hospital staff had called my husband’s family to be at his dad’s side to say final goodbyes, so I missed that joyful reunion.

It was that kind of year.

~~~

For all that we endured, I’m sure we were saved from events that would have made it worse. I’m grateful for the mercies extended to my parents during those dark days.

My dad’s cancer diagnosis came five months after my mother’s death. My siblings and I were left reeling from the blow. He lived two more weeks.

Our broken hearts grieved his passing yet rejoiced that he now walked hand-in-hand with his bride on streets of gold. No Alzheimer’s. No cancer. No stroke.

I looked up at puffy white clouds during his funeral and knew somewhere up there my parents had been reunited. They were happy again.

~~~

I never felt God abandoned me, though I wondered why everything had to be so painfully hard. I leaned heavily on God and my faith. There were many days when there were no words to express my feelings in prayer. I’m grateful that the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans words cannot express. Romans 8:26 (NIV)

No one can emerge from such experiences without being changed.

I’ve learned that caring actions like a hug, a genuine smile, a card, and a meal can give you the strength to make it through the day. I’ve learned how to care for someone who is suffering through difficult days.

And I’ll never forget how God loved my parents and provided for them when everything seemed hopeless. I prayed that He’d take the illnesses away and heal them again. It wasn’t to be. But I felt that God suffered with me and my siblings. Just as Jesus was moved with compassion for hurting folks, God shared our pain.

Knowing God shared our sorrow was one of the greatest blessings I received from that experience.

From all this sorrow, I finally understand. Sometimes God just cries with us.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4 (NIV)

SandraMervilleHart_Headshot2 Please visit Sandy on her blog: https://sandramervillehart.wordpress.com/. And be sure to check out her newest book, Trail’s End, in “Smitten Novella Collection: The Cowboys,” releasing August 15, 2019!

Carol M.’s Story: Where an Angel Cared to Tread

The prophet Elijah was literally running for his life when he finally dropped to the ground in exhaustion and despair. In the middle of the wilderness, he sat down under a broom tree and asked God to let him die. Instead, God allowed Elijah to sleep for a time before sending an angel to feed him. Twice, Elijah slept and twice, an angel woke him and offered him bread and water. Refreshed, the prophet got up and journeyed to the next place of ministry (I Kings 19). Carol McLeod believes ministering angels are still heaven-sent today…and so do I. Here is Carol’s story…

I couldn’t wait to deliver our second baby! I loved everything about being a mom and had relatively easy pregnancies. I had experienced a “perfect” labor and delivery with our first son complete with 6 hours of labor and a wonderful epidural! Certainly my second experience would be easier and quicker, right?

The doctor finally induced labor at 3 weeks and 2 days past my due date.  Yes – you read that correctly! Christopher was nearly a month late according to medical calculations. This was at a time before sonograms were normal procedures and when doctors would rarely induce an over-due mother.

Christopher’s birth weight was 9 pounds and 11 ounces of pure boy! As you can imagine, his delivery was difficult and traumatic for me.  In addition to nearly 24 hours of labor with no medical help, I then pushed for nearly 4 hours before the doctor decided that help would be required to deliver this very large, post-due baby.  The doctor used what was known as “high forceps” and it was an agonizing physical experience after a long and arduous labor.

When Christopher Burton McLeod was finally delivered on January 27, 1983, he was whisked away to the intensive care nursery and I was wheeled down the hallway to the sterile recovery room.

~~~

I remember lying on the cold, hard table in the darkness shaking from head to toe, trying not to whimper from the trauma.  My body had been brutally injured by the difficult birth experience and I had not even been given the opportunity to hold my baby. I wondered if he would be all right and if there was something wrong with him.  No one seemed to be able to give me any information and so the pain was not only physical but also emotional. I laid in the dark and sobbed all alone. I just sobbed.

A small, Norwegian nurse came to my bedside; she had golden braids wrapped around her head with a light blue sweater covering her white nurse’s uniform.  She took my cold hand in her warm one and whispered, “I’ve heard you’ve had a difficult time, dear one.”

The tears were rolling down my cheeks as I weakly whispered in response, “I just want to know that my baby is o.k.”

“Oh, he will be just fine.  They are taking excellent care of him in the nursery and I am going to take care of you here,” she comforted with a thick, Scandinavian accent.  With that, she encouraged me to close my eyes and to rest while she lovingly and tenderly book care of my bruised and bleeding body.  She administered warm clothes to my trembling body and truly ministered in a physical way as I dealt with the aftermath of an indescribable labor.  She then rubbed my arms and legs with soothing and warm oil as she sang gently over me in a language that I had never before heard.

When this Norwegian healer had thoroughly cleaned and restored my body, she then fed me warm broth as she cooed what a beautiful baby I had just delivered and how he would accomplish great things with his life.  After praying a sweet, gentle prayer over me and my sweet boy, she smiled, patted my hand and walked away.

~~~

It was only a minute or two more before my husband Craig was allowed to come in the recovery room and be with me.  I told him all about her and could not control my sobs because of her precious care and concern toward me.

The next day, when I had been sent to the obstetrics floor, I asked the young nurse who was caring for me if I could send a thank you note to the woman who had so ministered to me in the recovery room the day before.  This perky little professional said that she would be glad to take it down on her break.  I wrote a note of deep gratitude that came from my heart and thanked the kind nurse deeply for her love and ministrations.

When my nurse returned to the floor after her break, she said, “Mrs. McLeod, I am sorry but no one works in the recovery room by that description. I even asked the head nurse who was assigned to the afternoon shift yesterday afternoon and she said that no one has ever worked here by that description.” With that, she regretfully handed my priceless note back to me.

~~~

Now, I will never be sure if the nurse in the recovery room was truly an angel or an employee of a very large hospital but what I do know for sure is that the Lord was close to me at a moment in life when I desperately needed His love and comfort.

When the Psalmist declared that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,” His words of promise are spoken with tender care and great compassion.  He is reminding all of Christendom in the epochs yet to come that the Lord is lovingly attentive to those who are enduring unimaginable pain.  Whatever is the source of your pain today, you can be sure that the Lord is standing attentively beside you paying diligent attention to your shattered and bleeding heart.

If you have ever suffered a broken heart, a broken body or a broken life, I can comfort you with the certainty that you were never out of His care.  If, today, you are emotionally torn apart and wonder how you will make it through one more today, I want to comfort you with the surety that He is with you now.  God is close to you and has wrapped His arms of love around your life; He is hovering beside you just as my sweet little Norwegian nurse stayed with me.

Carol McLeod You can learn more about Carol at http://www.carolmcleodministries.com

 

Carol’s Story: A Sacred Conspiracy

Does God still speak to us today as he did in biblical times? Carol Stratton knows that he does. After the death of her infant granddaughter, God spoke a promise to her heart. Here’s Carol’s story…

On a blustery April day in 2015, my daughter Caitlin went to check on her sleeping baby and found little Juniper dead in her crib. She had been fine when Caitlin laid her down for a nap, but only a short time later she succumbed to SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Juniper was five months old.

The loss was devastating to Caitlin, her husband Matt and their four-year-old daughter Magnolia. But the grief of course didn’t stop there. Only if you’ve lost a child or grandchild can you know the emptiness it creates for an entire family. An empty car seat sitting in the garage and boxes of infant clothes ready for the Goodwill were sad reminders of Juniper’s short life. And spotting a five-month-old baby at the grocery brought renewed tears at a moment’s notice for any of us.

The months that followed were a time in which each of us worked through our grief. My grief encompassed not just the loss of my granddaughter, but the pain that my daughter was going through. I ached deeply for Caitlin, and wished I could somehow lift the burden of sorrow from her shoulders.

I turned to God for answers. I needed him to speak to me in the midst of this heartache. Maybe he couldn’t tell me why Juniper was taken from us, but I needed him to tell me something so I could go on trusting him.

~~~

In previous generations people used to talk about how God spoke to them. The Old Testament regularly has the Almighty speaking to Adam, Moses, Abraham and many others. And the New Testament has Jesus speaking to regular folks like you and me. But nowadays stories about our Heavenly Father weighing in on our daily lives are rare.

I’ve often wondered why.

Could it be that we don’t pay attention to that quiet voice? Possibly. I lean towards that theory. We lead noisy, busy lives. With our frantic bustling around to accomplish everything on our chore chart, vision board and bucket list, reflection rarely fits in with our schedule.

But God operates best in silence. In that quiet place of grief, God had my attention.

~~~

A few days before Christmas that same year, I awoke one morning with the strong impression that God had spoken to me in the night. Jumping out of bed and running around to my husband’s side, I announced to my half-awake spouse that we were going to have three grandchildren to add to the four we already had, and all within a year’s span. And as the words leaped out of my mouth I thought, “Where did that come from?”

It was a bold confession. Since the loss of Juniper, I didn’t imagine there would be any more grandchildren for a while. Nor did we bring up the subject with our three married children during family gatherings. It was simply too sensitive a topic. Surely, we’d keep this secret to ourselves.

Christmas Day, our oldest daughter Erica marched her three boys into our family room. They were all wearing orange shirts that read, “Party of six.” Busy cooking the dinner, I glanced over at the group. It took a few minutes to register that they were announcing their family of five would soon become six!

Ah ha, Baby number 1 is on its way!

We all jumped up and down and applauded. Then my husband John decided to let everyone in on what I’d shared with him a few days earlier. “Yep, kids, your mother predicts three grandkids in a year.”

I gulped. Please, no. Now I was really on the spot.

Little did I know that my daughter-in-law, Betsy, standing by me, had her own secret. Christmas Eve she’d shown positive on a pregnancy test. Two weeks later she and our son Seth told us they were having their first child.

Baby number 2. Hey, Lord, we’re on a roll!

But what about baby number three? Even though Caitlin wanted another child, she had to watch from the sidelines as her sister and sister-in-law donned maternity clothes for their new baby bumps. I wished my husband hadn’t made the pronouncement at Christmas. What if I hadn’t heard from the Lord correctly? I felt guilty knowing my youngest wondered if God had forgotten her.

Later that year on Father’s Day I dropped in on Caitlin to help her prepare for a cookout. Walking into the house, I discovered it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a month. Poking around the kitchen I found nothing but dirty dishes, no sumptuous dessert in the fridge, nothing brewing on the stove. Did she not remember they were hosting a barbecue that day?

My daughter Caitlin was stretched out on the living room couch looking unwell. I figured she was fighting allergies. Then I spied a basin sitting on the coffee table waiting for her stomach to erupt once again. With a woozy expression, she blurted out, “I’m pregnant,” and rushed to the nearest toilet.

There ya go, Baby number 3!

Time for rejoicing. Rejoicing three times. Three babies in nine months. Happy chaos now reigns when the three toddlers get together.

Today, I look at these three miracles and marvel at God’s loving-kindness in letting me in on his plans. In the midst of my grief, when I needed him to speak to me, he didn’t tell me the why of our loss, but he gave me a hope for our future.  He invited me into a sacred conspiracy, giving me a peek at what was to come, and he did what he promised to do.

headshopt turtleneck closeup Carol Stratton

When Half-gods Go…

sun behind broken window

 

When half-gods go, the gods arrive.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Give All to Love”

 

A recent news item alerted us to the fact that Kate Middleton might have ventured out in public with her dress on backwards. Thank heavens the media was working overtime to keep us apprised of the situation.

I have to wonder, though. Once my mother slipped her sandals onto the wrong feet and walked around the house for a time before realizing her error. I don’t remember reading about that in the newspapers.

Even worse, my grandmother showed up at work one morning without her skirt. She had remembered the blouse but left home without the rest of the outfit. There she stood in the middle of the office wearing only slip and panties from the waist down. The skirt wasn’t simply on backwards; it wasn’t there at all! And yet, where were the media reports of this 1940s wardrobe malfunction? Instead of the news wires humming with this sensational story, there was nothing. Bupkis. Crickets.

Ah, but of course. My grandmother was only a middle-aged widow with a teen-aged daughter at home and a son serving his country in the war. What is either noble or newsworthy about a life like that?

~~~

But, you see, I can’t help but notice that those royals across the pond generate a whole lot of hoopla just by doing what the rest of the world does every day: celebrating a birthday, getting married, having a baby, and wearing or not wearing clothes, as the case may be. One of them can barely sneeze without causing an international sensation.

Their every movement, real or otherwise, is carried out under the hungry eye of the world. We demand glimpses into the lives of people we believe so much greater than ourselves.

Actually, no; the truth is: we demand gods. Preferably, we’d each like to be a god (our greatest temptation since the Garden), though barring that—or perhaps in addition to that—we invest a great deal of time and effort into making them. After all, we have to have something to worship, don’t we?

~~~

God (the real and only one) had a reason for not wanting ancient Israel to have a king and it was this: He alone wanted to be their king. He was well aware of humankind’s starry-eyed tendency to worship royalty, and  He wanted the Israelites to keep their eyes on Him.

I find it interesting to note that when God relented and gave Israel a king, He insisted that any human ruler was never to be regarded as better than his fellow Israelites. He was to be considered their equal, no greater than even the lowest and most common (Duet 20: 17).

You can imagine how well the Israelites did with that one. Just look at us.

~~~

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about half-gods—as well he should have because the world is full of them…and they are all man-made. Royal blood is a human concept, not a genetic reality. The blood that flows through Everyman’s veins is the same stuff that pumps through the heart of any royal.

The half-gods aren’t limited to royalty, of course—there are oh-so-many half-gods populating the world! Movie stars, athletes, politicians, academicians, Nobel-prize winners, Pulitzer-prize winners, New York Times best-selling authors, and on and on and on, ad infinitum, as achievements catapult more and more mere mortals to the heights of Mount Olympus.

And of course our own selves if, because of our achievements, we feel inclined to consider ourselves better than everyone else.

~~~

There’s nothing inherently wrong with celebrating human achievement. Sure, those who work hard and develop their talents ought to receive a degree of recognition.

The problem comes when God is left out of the picture.

The problem comes when we say So-and-so is an amazing person without recognizing that So-and-so was created by an even more amazing God, and that without God, So-and-so would never have had any gifts and talents and abilities to begin with because So-and-so wouldn’t exist at all. Without God, we are all nothing.

The irony is that we take our God-given talents that were meant to glorify God and use them to make little gods of ourselves and other people.

And in so doing, we take the God who is everything and reduce Him to nothing.

~~~

I recently asked my 21-year-old daughter if she knew who Princess Diana was. She had to think a moment, which in itself was telling. Ask anyone of my generation and the answer would be: “Of course I know who Diana was! Who doesn’t?” None of us escaped the tsunami of publicity surrounding the woman who became famous for getting married.

Finally, my daughter, one generation removed, said simply, “Isn’t she the one who died?”

~~~

Let me take the words of the transcendentalist philosopher Emerson and put a Christian spin on them: “When half-gods go, God arrives.”

Only when the half-gods go, when they are put in their rightful place, can God reign supreme in our lives.

May God forgive us for allowing a whole world of mortal half-gods to take our eyes off Him. And may we someday be able to say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth” (Psalm 73:25, NASB).

 

Photo courtesy of pxhere.com