Tuesday, December 26, 2006

THE WAGGING TAIL

The phone rang on Christmas day and a friend asked, “We’re leaving to deliver some dinner plates. Is it all right to drop off one for you? We’ll be by in about thirty minutes.”

I decided to close my three dogs in the bedroom where they were sleeping on their blankets, so I could answer the door in peace. Just as I decided this, I received another telephone call. But, by holding the cordless phone in my left hand and moving slowly to protect my painful left arm, I was able to move the damp laundry hanging on the doors elsewhere. It was slow and tedious.

This house was built in the 1920s and the bedroom door into the kitchen doesn’t stay closed. I retrieved a ten-pound weight to block the door from inside the bedroom. Then I quietly backed out the door into the living room and closed it behind me.

Feeling pretty pleased with the success of my plan, I turned around and discovered Merci and her wagging tail were on the wrong side of the door. I forgot Merci likes to nap on a throw in the living room and I neglected to count heads. I just assumed Merci was among the sleeping dogs.

I have had the same experience with sin in my life. I abhor something I know God calls sin – it could be any sin, such as anger. I slowly and painstakingly work at overcoming it and moving it out of my life. I think I have finally made a little progress, turn around, and there it is staring me in the face, tail wagging, tongue hanging out and eager to see what mischief it can get into. Does this sound familiar in your life too?

This is the time of year when folks make a list of New Year’s resolutions. One will decide to lose weight, another to exercise regularly, one to quit procrastinating, another to give more and be less selfish, one to stop lying or stealing or drinking or being unfaithful – . Everyone has something that needs to be addressed whether or not it is on a formal list of resolutions.

Anyone who has ever made a list of New Year’s resolutions knows how hard they are to keep. You are convicted of the need to change yourself or your circumstances, but the reality is that just because you have decided to painstakingly make a list of changes, launching and sustaining the changes takes work, commitment and perseverance. In might also take some sacrifice. .

There is nothing magical about the year changing from 2006 to 2007. As you step from one year into the next one, don’t be surprised when you turn around and find your propensity for sin is on the same side of the year you are, with tail wagging, tongue hanging out, and eager to see what mischief it can get into.

But don’t despair. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Heb 4:15

Sin can appear so cute and enticing at times, an innocent act or word that sneaks up and catches you with your guard down. Always wear your armor and stay close to Christ, in the Word.

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Heb 9:28

Have a blessed 2007.

www.mercyandpercy.com/

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

RIGHTEOUS GOSSIP

Many years ago I attended the same church as an engaging young wife and mother. She was friendly, hospitable and outgoing, but I quickly learned when rumors were moving through the congregation, she was frequently the one supplying the AA batteries to keep them going.

One day she telephoned to see what news she could pick up to pass around, and I told her, “Gossip (not her real name, of course), you are going to hear this sooner or later, so you might as well hear it from me so you have the facts straight.”

Less than ten minutes later, another woman from church called. “Oh, Jan, I’m so sorry. You must be devastated. Are you okay?”

I was baffled. “I’m sorry. What are you talking about?”

“Gossip called. She told me all about what happened and asked me to pray for you. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Aha! I told Gossip something true and too tempting to keep to herself, knowing she would repeat what I told her, but I was stunned at how quickly she was spreading it around – and as a prayer request, no less.

“What did Gossip tell you? I asked innocently.

I was speechless at the story given to her. It was somewhat like the parlor game where one person whispers something to the next person, who then whispers it to the next person, and the last person in the group repeats it out loud to everyone, only it does not sound much like the original statement. Gossip just skipped the person to person jumble and scrambled it herself. I wish I could state she learned something from getting caught red-handed, but unfortunately Gossip continued spreading rumors, even after she eventually wandered away from the church. How many others heard this same “prayer request” and took it to heart?

I have noticed over the years that gossip frequently is presented in the same guise, as if calling it a prayer request makes it all right to break a confidence or to reveal details of another’s life without permission. There is no such virtue as “righteous gossip” in the Bible. Instead, gossip – allowing your tongue to take control of your mind and permitting it to run unbridled with someone else’s confidence – is revealed as sin.

James 1:26 is enlightening. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. (NKJV)

Gossip is not “victimless” and learning to control the tongue is not an overnight victory. It is a lifetime battle. I have lost many a skirmish, as I know you have. (Remember, lying is also a sin.) It is imperative you and I struggle onward against it.

Paul writes to the Corinthian church, For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there might be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. (2 Corinthians 12:20 NIV)

For those who make New Year’s resolutions, perhaps this will be the year you add gossip to your list of established habits you desire to break.

www.mercyandpercy.com/

Monday, December 11, 2006

OUT OF THE FREEZER

The freezer door was not supposed to be open. Neither were Percy’s rear end and tail supposed to be sticking out of the open door.

Percy has the natural curiosity of a two-year-old cat and the shelves beside the refrigerator are just the right height for him to explore this new territory. I now understand why the freezer door has mysteriously been opening itself recently. It never occurred to me to check the freezer for a snoopy cat before I shut the door. I do not want Percy to lose his life because he can not resist the temptation to see what is on the other side of the door, so I will again have to make some changes in the way the kitchen is arranged.

As far as curiosity goes, people are no different than Percy. Men and women are often unable to resist the temptation to just take a quick peek at something they know is illegal, immoral, dangerous, attractive or different. God forbade Eve and Adam to eat from a specific tree, but Eve could not resist a quick bite when Satan presented the fruit as inviting and safe to eat.

Flirting with someone other than your mate, gambling, pornography, illicit sex, lying, cheating, stealing, drug addiction, alcoholism, pedophilia — The list is endless. And it does not apply only to non-Christians. Many sins begin as just a quick peek out of curiosity or an adventure in covetousness. Surely that can not hurt and who will know? But sin has tentacles. It captures the one who commits it and hurts innocent people – mates, children, employees, but mainly the sinner, because the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

Under the Old Covenant, the blood of the sacrificed animals symbolized the forgiveness of sins that was yet to come in Christ, but it did not forgive them. God promised a Messiah and in due time Jesus was born.

The glory of the Christ child’s birth surpasses anything written about him in story or song. Men can sing about his birth and even preach about it without true comprehension of what transpired. To many, it is a sentimental story, discussed under the mistletoe or while agonizing over what to buy for whom this year. But to one who has been forgiven of sin because of the Messiah, it is a spiritual experience of the heart. Words can not adequately describe the miracle God wrought in Christ.

If Jesus had not been born, we would have no Savior and we would all be on “death row” for our sins. Celebrate Christ’s birth with joy and worship God with a thankful heart.

And avoid temptation - stay out of the freezer.

www.mercyandpercy.com/

Thursday, December 07, 2006

THE PAST SEVEN DAYS

This was written by a friend, an EMT, who deals with emergencies and death daily. Many thanks to Martha Anne for permission to share some of her thoughts on the subject of Death (the personification of death).

THE PAST SEVEN DAYS

By Martha Anne McCarty

The past seven days……. what a whirlwind of life! Tragedy, unexpected yet suspected news, fate, job occurrences, all weave a tapestry of character and inner strength on which we live out each day and hope for a better tomorrow.

I have stared at Death, in some form or fashion, each day.

Monday held a tragic, yet glorious, end to a young mother’s life. Tragic in the way she died, tragic for the hands at which she died yet glorious because this mother sacrificed her own life to save her young son, just as Jesus did for you and me. Death was so close.

Tuesday, Death peeked around the corner, just to remind me that it was there. The news at the cardiologist was not what we were prepared to hear: The potential of suffering from Sudden Cardiac Arrest; a defibrillator implant, and after all the lifestyle changes that have been made over the last 90 days. One problem revealing the greater problem and it is no better. Not the news we had wanted to hear.

Wednesday — a day of doing for another, just because you can. Though time had been completed for the agreed span, duty called, and I did what anyone else in that position would have done. I stayed on to finish the job, because there was a need. And in fulfilling that need, I again faced Death. Oh, so close. The impact was harsh and jolting. The impact riveted the reality of life being able to change in a split second, not only for me but for many other families.

Thursday was a day of rest and recuperation, a time of reflection. A time to see that Death is always so very close, even though we think of it being so far away.

Friday and Saturday — contact with friends who have or are traveling this same stony path, with Death already touching their lives by taking a loved one, or a developing illness that is shadowed by what we naturally fear.

Sunday, the once every 3 week workday, was no exception. It brought the news of tragedy touching a dear close friend and not knowing whether Death will gather another. A sudden collapse of a total stranger, and, lo, there is Death. A terrible fall changes a young man’s life forever …a fatal crash … a newborn babe. Death swung his sickle through our community with such quick motions, it all seemed a blur.

Yet the music during the early morning ride before dawn reminded me of the answer to it all. I can trust God to sustain me, hold me, comfort me, strengthen me—in any situation, at any time. Death has no hold over Him. For God is my Creator, my Protector, my Savior. Whether I meet Death face to face in the next moment, or pass him by in daily living for the next 40 years, I am sheltered in God’s arms. I am because He is.

And because He is, I go on each day focused on His will, because all is well. And that is something that I should never take for granted.

© 2006 Martha Anne McCarty

Used with permission

www.mercyandpercy.com/

Sunday, December 03, 2006

COLLECTION SHARKS

As I read in the Bible of the death of the patriarchs and others, I can not help but compare the respect once shown to the dead (even the Egyptians mourned Jacob for seventy days) to the gathering of the aggressively hungry collection sharks that circle and threaten the grieving family today.

Only a few days after my mother died, I called a company to ask what to do about a bill received that day but not due for another two weeks. I was transferred to Austin of the “escalation department.” In plain English, and despite the company’s protests, that is just a fancy title for their collection department.

Austin straightaway attacked. A few minutes of wrangling later and I summed up his demand. Let me be sure I understand this. You sent Mother a bill that is not due for two weeks for a service she would not be using for several months, but I must immediately send you my own personal check to cover this bill – or else. And perhaps you might eventually “refund” my money in a check to the dead woman. I don’t think so!

The company’s main office confirmed this is their policy, so I reported this to the proper agency, and the company very quickly changed their tune and their policy.

Someone who has recently lost a loved one is emotionally vulnerable and often not thinking clearly all the time. How could this kind of attack affect a man or woman who just lost a mate, or a parent who just lost a child? Evidently it is an effective method to coerce money out of a family member or it would not have been a policy with this company – and with many others, I imagine.

As Mother aged and lost her mobility and eyesight, her ability to maintain orderly records diminished and disappeared. She was an extremely private person, and did not share any personal details, so she left a mess for me to sort to find what assets she might have. Two and a half months later I do not know much more about her affairs than I did when she died, and her creditors are circling.

She lived simply so it isn’t that she ran up a host of bills, but her last few weeks did generate some medical bills, and then there is the credit card debt. Somehow, as it does with so many, the interest mounted and the bills grew, and even though she paid a chunk of her retirement income each month, the interest continued to grow and the original debt was barely touched. Despite this, even after I notified the bank of her death, she continued to receive checks to spur her to borrow money on her cards and a letter stating her credit is so good her credit limit was raised. Now the bank has turned her debt over to a collection agency and they are coming after me as if it is my debt.

The other day I had a frustrating conversation with a collection agent who pretended to be my best friend. For that one day only she would chop four thousand dollars off the total if I would pay the balance in full. It was the end of the month and they just wanted to settle up and balance their books. Oh, and by the way, she was sorry for my loss.

Ma’am, I have an infected knee and I can’t afford to go to the doctor. But even if I had the money, I would not give it to you. It is not my bill. No, Ma’am, I would not put her debt on my credit card if I had one. I will not assume her debt and take on her interest payments. It is not my debt. I don’t care if you say some people like to do that because the debt is paid and they will get paid back. Paid back by whom? If there are assets, probate can take a year or more. No, Ma’am, I do not know whether there will be probate. I’m still going through her papers.

We went through the same conversation three, four, possibly even five times before she put me on hold for about three seconds. A man joined the conversation. “I am J., a supervisor here. I have been reviewing your case,” he lied. “Now, why,” he demanded in an authoritative, almost commanding voice, “don’t you just put this on your credit card?” I lost it then and bellowed right into his ear, Are you CRAZY? He threatened to search the probate files and rudely hung up on me.

These people are specially trained to harass, confuse and intimidate people into making foolish statements or decisions just to get rid of them. There is nothing wrong with collecting a debt. It is their tactics that are abhorrent. They remind me of Satan’s tactics. He is the father of lies. Hammering at emotionally, physically or spiritually vulnerable people is his specialty. He has no equal in deceit and cunning practices. If he can drive you to responding in anger, it puffs his pride.

We stand up to and overcome his assaults with the armor of God. (Ephesians 6)

Unfortunately, some time ago I downloaded some sermons (with permission) but neglected to note the website or the speaker. I came across them recently, and since my stress level has been heading through the roof, I listened to one yesterday in hopes it would encourage me. I would love to name the person giving the sermon, but I have no idea who he is. I hope he will forgive me for quoting him without giving him credit.

Early in the sermon, he talks about an antidepressant for dogs – for excessive barking, destructive behavior, etc. Then he says the dogs probably need them because their owners are so stressed. (Dogs do pick up on our stress - note my dogs!) He cites Romans 8:28 and says, “Accepting God's sovereignty assures our sanity.”

I needed that reminder to trust God implicitly, even when collection sharks are circling in the water and there is no land in sight. Perhaps you are in a situation where you need that reminder too.

www.mercyandpercy.com/