The Log and the Splinter

When I see on the news or hear people within my circle lamenting incidents of Islamaphobia, I have to scratch my head. There is a principle that Jesus taught, and it does well to keep society balanced. The principle is, “First remove the log from your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye.” You can see the humor in the statement. Someone running around with a huge log stuck in their head knit-picking about someone else with a tiny splinter in their face has a problem with denial and reality.

I am aware that many Middle Eastern people are not Muslim. Large populations of Arabic peoples are of varied religions or no religion at all. Some are Christian, of varying sects; some are Hindu, Buddhist, or follow regional and tribal religions; some are secularists, espousing no religion; but most are Muslim of varying degrees. Some Muslims are in name only; others are radical fanatics, and so on. It is the same in Christianity. Some sects are Christian in name only. Some are obviously fanatical, such as the KKK, for example, who espouse some elements of Christianity while in truth practicing a rather warped, garbled, and ungodly doctrine, cloaked, ostensibly, in Christianity.

For the most part, the era of the KKK reigning terror on society is gone. Many good and authentic Christian people helped bring about an end to that era. Simply not participating in the actions of the KKK was not enough. True Christianity demanded that we as a people stand against it and help bring it to an end. The same was true of Hitler’s regime. He claimed to be operating out of some form of Christianity; however, regardless of what he claimed, he obviously did not follow the teachings of Christ. Many true Christian young men died on the battlefields to help bring an end to Hitler’s reign of terror.

Now, the terrorism that we face is the radical elements of Islam. So when episodes of terrorism occur in which certain elements of Islam are on display in all of their murderous, horrendous gory, and certain elements of that culture are lamented as being biased against, I have to swallow pretty hard.

In a culture where deception, lying, and propaganda are used as means of presenting a front to the public in the hopes of gaining converts (the truth of that culture and religion would make people run); in a culture where “honor killings” are permitted and endorsed; in a culture where beheadings, mutilations and terror are condoned, used as weapons of war, and are often considered as ‘bonus packages’ in recruiting warriors; in a culture where  unnamed horrors are inflicted upon captives, enemies, and non-combatants, ummm….let’s see….where terror and mayhem get you into “heaven”, hhmmm…Can someone steeped in this culture have a legitimate gripe? I don’t think so. Their complaining of not being liked and accepted is tantamount to someone who kidnaps and dismembers children and then complains about the neighbor who spanks his/her child.

That’s not so say that we as a country do not have areas that need improvement. We certainly do have a few splinters in our face; but Islamaphobia is not one of them.

This brings me to the word “religion”. What is religion? It is a construct made by human minds that has taken bits and pieces of the Truth (the Great I AM, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the One True God) and built an ideology that appeases the particular culture where that construct has been built. In other words, the Great God Jehovah, who came in the Person of Jesus Christ, is beyond human ability to understand. However, He has revealed Himself to us in various ways, including through His Holy Spirit, the Bible, and through the lives, writings, and words of those who are faithful to Him (the word of their testimony).

Because He is so big, and beyond human comprehension, humans often create what we think we know of Him and construct a framework that says, “Okay, this is the God we serve. He wants us to do this and this, etc. and to act in certain ways.” This framework is what we call religion, and those who agree with that framework follow the same religion. Unfortunately, throughout history, religious zeal and fanaticism has often forced a particular framework of religion (ideology) onto others, using the sword, shame, imprisonment, ostracization, etc. In effect, in trying to please God by following what they think they know of Him, zealots and fanatics go around terrorizing those who don’t follow Him correctly, in their opinion, and end up doing the opposite of what He is…killing, maiming, terrorizing in His name…to force people to follow a benevolent and merciful God…hmmm. I see a problem with this.

Any religion that through “honor killings”, “blood atonement”, or any such practice that purges their society of people who challenge the tenants of that religion cannot be a religion based upon the One True God. An honor killing is the legal or condoned murder of a woman in Islam because the woman shamed or dishonored the family or a member of the family by violating a precept of the family’s religious practices. Honor killings are usually carried out by the woman’s husband, father, brothers, sons, and other male relatives. Honor killings are typically justified because the woman has refused to enter an arranged marriage, she has been accused of being in a relationship that is not condoned or approved of by the family, she is accused of having sex outside of marriage, she has been a victim of rape, she has been accused of dressing inappropriately, or she has renounced her family’s faith (i.e. become a Christian, etc.). Some victims of honor killings are male, but this is a rare occurrence. In most cases, a male who has violated a precept of the religious community is ostracized or perhaps imprisoned, or his wife and children are taken from him and given to someone else who is a faithful follower of the religion.

In early Mormonism, “blood atonement” was a similar practice. It teaches that the blood of Jesus is not enough to remove someone’s guilt, and so that person who has violated a precept of the religious law must be killed, and his/her blood shed in a manner similar to a lamb being slaughtered. Most of the time, these killings were done in a “sacrificial” manner, such as the person being held down, and his/her throat slit. Often, the victims were women who refused to practice “plural marriage” (polygamy) or were men who refused to participate in various tenants of the religion. In modern days, blood atonement killings are rarely carried out and typically occur only in certain sects of fundamental (radical) Mormonism. I personally know a family who was a victim of such. But, in this case, the family members were shot and killed, not having their throats cut. They were guilty of leaving the religion and were required to “pay for their sin.” They had actually not committed any kind of a crime that would require that they receive the death penalty. In Christianity, the reason someone would receive a sentence of death is just the opposite. The “death penalty” is practiced only when the guilty party has committed an actual crime against someone. Usually the death penalty is reserved only for murder. In Christianity, the perpetrators of honor killings and blood atonement killings would be the ones to receive the death penalty—not the victims of such plots.

Culture(s) in which ungodly religious constructs are nurtured can become more and more horrific and off-based, resulting in outright barbarism. The precepts of God are constant, but the human application of such precepts can become horribly bent. In such cases, true Christianity steps in and says, “Hold on. You are no longer allowed to force people to do such and such, neither are you allowed to punish people for not doing such and such.” An example for us in this country could be the issue of homosexuality. For those who espouse it, they are not allowed to force others to participate in it; neither are they allowed to persecute those who choose to abstain from such practices. We, as a culture, are not forced to do it, neither are we punished for not doing it. In cultures whose religious constructs have gone so far, those who do not participate in a certain behavior are punished.

As horrific and off-base as some of these religious systems can get, not all of the precepts of those religions are false. This is a fact that often perplexes people. Why are some tenets of various “other religions” similar to tenets of Christianity? The answer is simple: Because there is only One True God who made heaven and earth, you will find elements of His truth in all religions, and among all peoples in all regions of the earth. Elements of His Truth are even found in humanist and communist teachings (belief systems that espouse varying degrees of atheism). Why is that? Remember that religion is a human construct of what humans think they know about the One True God, but the construct is faulty because of two factors: human ambition and doctrines of demons.

Human factors run the gamut from accidental oversight to gross corruption with obvious and knowing violations of the Truth. Additionally, demonic influence can take the Truths of God and pervert them so shamefully as to accomplish the exact opposite of what God actually intended, thus creating major diversions from the Truth and still cloaking these diversions in religion. One of early Christianity’s main influences, the Apostle Paul, warned followers of Christ about doctrines of demons and the garbled mess they can make of truth (I Timothy 4), blinding people and seducing them to follow the untruths of “religious construct”, rather than the Truth of the Living God, the One and Only Creator God Who came in the Person of Jesus Christ. Only one religion is founded on the Rock—all other religions of the world have bits and pieces of gravel in it (pieces of the rock, but not the whole rock). A solid rock is vastly different than a bed of gravel. One is stable, one is shifty, depending on where the weight is applied.

Sadly, as “Christianity” becomes more of a religion, it also slides further and further from the Truth of its Founder, Jesus Christ. Christianity, wrested from the headship of Christ, and placed into the hands of humans, twisted with doctrines from hell, becomes more and more of a religious construct, with fewer elements of the pure Truth. In the beginning of the Church, believers in Christ were called Followers of the Way, because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; however, once followers diverge from the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then “Christianity” just becomes another religion (a construct of bits and pieces of the truth).

Because of the corruption of truth, we have seen throughout history, and still see today, warring religious factions, so called “holy wars”, “jihad”, etc. This is because those who follow one construct of truth want to force everyone else to follow that same construct. In order to do so, they must conquer through war, brainwash through ideology, and bring into submission those who do not subscribe to that particular ideology.

But, there is hope. There is such a thing as pure religion. It is found in the Living person of Jesus Christ. It is found in the Great I Am. In this pure religion, there is Truth, there is a Way, and there is a Life where the Holy Spirit reveals, guides, cleanses, and inspires. This is an arena free of “human religious construct”, but few there be that find it. Why is finding this pure religion so difficult, and why do so many people not find it? The answer is again simple—to do so, they must give up the “religious construct” that they so cherish. They must give up man’s religion to follow Christ. Man’s religion promises so much, and it is hard to put down. Man’s religions promise “virgins”, “paradise”, even your own planet where, if you are male, you can become your own god and have as many wives as you desire. Man’s religion promises power, money, and authority, in the here and now. Man’s religion promises knowledge and immortality, etc. Notice how these fantasies often center around sex and power for males. These things are very seductive. But, they are just that…they are not Truth…they are tempting fruit that many swallow, and it is a delusion. But, because these seductions look so real, they are fought over, killed for, etc.

You can see that the promise of “paradise” is close to a Christian promise of a heavenly home. In the various religions that offer paradise outside of Christianity, the person who subjugates others and who works hard enough on this earth will eventually be his own ruler or god in paradise. In the Christian paradise, Jesus is ruler supreme, where, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.” Additionally, men and women will not be in marital relations in heaven. So, there go the fantasies of sex and power in paradise. You see the difference?

Jesus understood that religious men tend to “strain at gnats and swallow camels”. This means that while they would themselves commit atrocious acts against their own family members, community, and other members of humanity, they would fuss and fume over a minor detail that someone else was not adhering to—this minor detail may or may not even be a real issue in God’s eyes, but it may be an issue in the eyes of a certain religion (human construct).

Another tenet of various religions that is close to Christianity is that “good works” get you into heaven. In Christianity, only a person who has allowed Christ to remove the sin and replace it with Himself gains heaven. After that conversion has occurred, then the person lives out his/her life not serving self, but serving Christ (good works). In religious constructs outside of Christianity, a person does not need a religious conversion in which he lays down his self and allows Christ to enter in and replace the sinful self with Him. In man’s religious constructs, only a self-realization that one should be good is necessary, and therefore, one must work hard to do “good works”. You see the difference? One is because of Christ and is done through Him. The other is because of self and done in your own strength.

Because Jesus is a living person, He is not an abstract construct of theologians or prophets who formulated a theory of a deity. Jesus is God who came in the flesh. Because He showed the falseness of the religious constructs made by man versus the Truth of pure religion, He was murdered by the very religious people whom He revealed as false. After He was killed, He was buried. After three days of being dead and buried, He rose out of His grave. His resurrected body ascended into heaven. Skepticism of such incredible statements in warranted and welcomed. I understand how this seems impossible. However, all of this was recorded by witnesses who saw these actual events. After his ascension (last week was Ascension Week and is celebrated in various countries around the world), He sent his Spirit to guide people here on earth in the absence of his physical body. His comforting Spirit is well known to his followers. The Holy Spirit guides, speaks, directs, and enlightens. Once you encounter the Holy Spirit, you will understand what I mean. It’s one of those things where you have to experience it to understand. Trying to tell someone who hasn’t is a bit impossible. But, the good thing is, it’s not an exclusive club. He is available to anyone who calls on His Name. He and all of the angels in Heaven rejoice when even one person lays down his/her religion and turns to Him in truth.

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Sparrows Playing Around My Feet

A friend recently brought me a large bucket of pecans that needed cracking. On these cool spring mornings, and sometimes in the evenings, I’ll sit outside on the porch step and work on the stash of pecans. As you can imagine, around the porch steps are lots of pecan shells and pieces. This morning, while watching the chain of storms move across the pasture in front of our house, I wrapped up in one of John’s shirts and drank my coffee on the porch. The evergreen shrubs near the porch were alive with sparrows taking shelter from the wind and light rain. As the storms cleared away, the tiny birds ventured out to within inches of my feet. The blue heeler by my side watched with interest. The terrier on the porch bed was sound asleep and didn’t notice. First, the tiny, delicate female sparrows hopped out timidly and nibbled on pecan pieces. Then, the huskier, more colorful males approached. Taking turns, they would watch and eat, watch and eat, then fly back into their cover. Seconds later, they would venture out again. This went on for about an hour. It is amazing that not even one of these falls to the ground or is injured without our Jesus knowing about it.

Set Free

This is another pawn shop story. We have a lot of those, but this is one of our favorites. One day while in central Texas, we stopped in. We wanted to look at their camping equipment, etc. In the display case was a hunting knife that caught my wife’s eye. We waited for an attendant. When he appeared, we just had to laugh. We knew right away why God had sent us to that pawn shop. The guy had white supremacy tattoos all over him. He made a few white supremacy comments while showing us the hunting knives.

Finally, my wife asked him about one of his tattoos. He proudly said he belonged to the devil. My wife shrugged. “Oh well. I guess you’re okay with choosing the losing side.” He countered with, “Oh, Satan isn’t losing.” She said, “It may seem like that now, but in the end, he definitely is the loser.” He said, “Ya’ll sound like my grandma. She says stuff like that.” We replied, “Grandma was telling you the truth. You ought to listen.” We bought the knife and left the store that day.

A couple of weeks later, we were in the same town and decided to stop back in. The same attendant was there, and he actually remembered us. He said, “Back to look at another knife?” To which we replied, “We thought we’d see what you had new since last time.” He said, “There are a couple of things you might be interested in. But, I can’t get ya’ll out of my head. What you said to me last time really stuck. I’ve been wanting to ask you something.” I guess our first meeting had more impact than we thought. He said, “I’m getting disgusted with all of this evil in my heart. I don’t want to belong to the devil anymore, but how do I get him to let me go?” We replied, “You can’t get him to let you go without help. You let him in, but you can’t kick him out. It takes one stronger than you and one stronger than him. Are you stronger than he is?” The attendant replied with a nervous laugh, “No way. He’s scary.” We replied, “The only way to remove his hold from you is to call on the One who can. And I think you know who that is. Remember Who your grandma told you about? Satan has already been defeated, and he knows it. But, he doesn’t want you to know it.” He said that someone had once told him that if he let God into his heart he would be freed. I said, “It’s not just any god. It’s the God. In your condition, only Jesus Christ can set you free. You have to call on His name.” He stumbled backward slightly and sat down on a stool. He said, “I thought so. I may be walking around free now, but, you see, I’m still in prison. My heart is still in prison, and the devil has the keys.” We explained to him that Jesus holds the keys—that He had earned that right by His death, burial, and resurrection, and that Satan did not want people to realize that fact.

He asked us to pray for him. We said we would and asked him if he had a Bible. He said he could get one easily enough but that no, he didn’t have one. We said we had an extra one, and would he like it? He said he would. We gave it to him and left, telling him that we would keep him in our prayers. Several months later, we walked into the same store to a strange scene and a strange greeting. This attendant was talking to an African-American woman. When he saw us walk in, he pointed to us and said loudly, “There they are!” We looked quite surprised. He told the woman, “They are the ones who told me how to be set free.” We looked down at where his hands were on the display case. The Bible we had given him was open. He began to tell us that he had been telling the woman that she could be set free also from the things that bound her heart.

Just a few months ago, this same attendant proudly said he belonged to the devil. He wasn’t witnessing to just anybody, but to someone who represented the target of his prior hatred and anger. God can truly change hearts and set people free. He did for this man. We were in contact with him many more times over the next couple of years. His whole demeanor had changed. On one of these occasions, he shared with us that he had a son who was about nine years old. He said that he had decided that he needed to be part of the boy’s life and was actually taking him camping that weekend. He said, “My life has completely changed, and I have something to offer him now. I’m looking forward to being a good dad. I just wish I didn’t have all these tattoos.” What he once wore proudly, he now tried to keep covered.

We said, “We all have our scars. Some are more visible than others. Some will fade, some we’ll carry forever.” He said, “Someday I’ll have to explain mine to my son.” The shame could be seen in his face. We said, “Let God guide you through that valley when the time comes. He’ll give you the words.” He replied, “I know.” We bid him farewell and went on our way. Shortly after that, we left for an extended period of time out of state. Upon our return, he was no longer working at that pawn shop, and we haven’t seen him since.

A Baby Basket

One of the pawn shops we frequented in central Texas was managed by a woman in her mid to late twenties. She was always “all business” and came across sometimes as distant and cold, viewing all customers with a detachment that is common in that occupation. We tried to break through the ice on several occasions, but without much success. We had been frequenting that shop for over a year when we found out that the manager was expecting.

When she was nearing the end of her pregnancy, we put together a baby basket with a receiving blanket, onesies, booties, etc. We included a New Testament for the mother and a Billy Graham evangelism track about making peace with God (my wife added that as a last minute item on a whim). When we dropped into the store, the manager was already away on maternity leave. We left the basket with one of the other clerks we knew and asked him to tell the manager that we were thinking about her and hoped all was well with her and the baby. We really didn’t know anything about this lady except for her first name and occupation. We went on our way and didn’t return to this store for nearly three months. In the months following, we were very busy and had basically forgotten about the baby basket.

When we walked in after approximately three months, she came running out of the manager’s office and said, “It was ya’ll, wasn’t it?” We said, “What?” She said, “The baby basket! I asked who left it, but I couldn’t place who he was saying. But it was ya’ll, wasn’t it?” We said, “Yes.” She said, “It changed my life. You showed me how to find God.” Her whole demeanor had changed. She showed us pictures of her baby, and she went on to tell us that her husband was in the Army and stationed in Afghanistan. He would be returning in only nineteen days. She showed us pictures of him and told us more about her life. Then, she stated that she wanted to share God with her husband as soon as he came home. She realized how important it was now and the difference it could make.

In reality, we didn’t know if she had even gotten the basket, or if she had gotten it and tossed it, or had even given a second thought to its origin. We didn’t know if anything would come of it at all; we only knew that God had put on our hearts to do it. We left the rest up to Him. For as long as she was at that pawn shop, she would go out of her way if she saw us walk in to show us pictures of her family and update us on her life. A pretty good return for a few items given in a baby basket to a relative stranger.

The Wrath of God

A few days ago, I read some posts that mentioned the wrath of God, and I have been thinking about them ever since.  In one post, a person stated that they didn’t want to speak about God’s wrath or think about people suffering His wrath. In another post, someone stated that as Christians, we do not need to talk about God’s wrath but instead, should talk about His love.

Nearly three hundred years ago, this same debate raged in the American colonies. Jonathan Edwards, American preacher, delivered one of the most powerful messages ever to be preached on this continent. The name of his sermon was, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But, if you read the sermon, it is much about God’s love. Both love and anger are part of God. When we speak of only one of His attributes, we are not speaking of God as a whole. What if we spoke only of the calm in the eye of a hurricane? Even if we did it because we didn’t like talking about the forces at play outside the eye, or the thought of people and property being exposed to those forces? Would we be doing the people in the path of the hurricane a favor? No. We sound the alarm. We tell them a storm is coming. Even if in the eye of the storm there is tranquility, that is only part of the truth. The second point that emphasizes what I am saying concerns bears. If you have ever lived in bear country, you go by certain rules. Those rules are posted frequently by the forest rangers/forest service as constant reminders to anyone traveling in the bear’s habitat. Why are these rules posted? To avoid the wrath of an angry bear. Or, perhaps better said, to avoid being a hiker in the paws of an angry bear.

We speak often of how to avoid the wrath of a hurricane or a bear. We take certain steps and precautions. When one is headed our way, we take protective actions. Interestingly enough, both the bear and the hurricane only affect our temporal, earthly life. God’s wrath deals with the immortal soul—eternity. We are taught to respect and fear the bear and the hurricane. But by failing to mention God’s wrath and anger, He is no longer to be feared—at least in the minds of those who would rather operate in denial. What does the Bible say is the beginning of wisdom? It is the fear of the Lord God Almighty. By speaking of only part of Him, this is lost. We are doing no one a favor by not speaking of God’s anger. Would you send children into the woods and not teach them about the wrath of a bear? Would you not warn a neighbor of a hurricane if you knew it was coming? The reality in this world is, If you die without being redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus, Who is God incarnate, you are facing eternity and damnation. I will agree, that does not sound pleasant. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone—even my worst enemy. The thought of hell in actuality is more than the human mind can comprehend. My refusing to think about it or speak of it does not make it go away.

I once made a similar statement to the one above regarding the redemptive power of Christ. It offended one of my friends who stated something like, “You must not care about me. You say there is a God, and I say there is no god. So, I must be wrong. How can you think you’re right and everybody else is wrong?” I replied to him, “No, I speak of this to you because I do care about you. You are my friend. I truly believe this. What kind of friend would I be if I did not warn you of what is true? If I knew of a danger that was present, of course I would warn you.” He stated, “I’ve never looked at it like that. So, my friends who tell me that God is real are doing it because they care about me. I always just thought that they were picking on me or being pushy with their religion.”

Again, we are doing no one a favor by not mentioning the wrath of God. Not only has the one sided view of God (only His love) become a personal favorite of individuals, but it is also a corporate ideal as well, perpetuated in and by many churches and Christian leaders—God’s love sells better than God’s anger. Christian entities and individuals need to quit trying to sell God and speak of Him in His entirety. We might be surprised at the results in our communities and country.

Crew Cab Revival

One excruciatingly hot summer evening, we were enroute to a week day revival service held at a friend’s church. About a half mile from our house, we saw three people standing beside a car up on a jack. The car was maybe a hundred yards up a county road off of the Farm to Market that we live on. Earlier in the day, we had noticed the car when we had returned from Dublin, but we hadn’t seen anyone with it. It was parked to the side of the road and was not a traffic hazard. However, this time, we were coming from the opposite direction, and now we could see that the driver’s front wheel assembly had fallen off.

Seeing the dilemma of the occupants of the car on the side of the road, we turned in to see if we could help and stated that we had seen the car earlier but had not seen them with it. They stated that no one had stopped all afternoon and that at one point, they had all laid down in the car to take a nap. We thought that perhaps they had been sleeping when we had come by earlier because we hadn’t seen them.

The trio looked rough. It was a male and two females in their late teens/early twenties. We silently acknowledged to ourselves that we could see why no one had wanted to stop. They said they had a cell phone but had no signal. Then they commented on how thirsty they were. We happened to have several bottles of water with us. We couldn’t remember why we had put them in the truck that day. We gave them water and asked them what we could do to help.

They said that they needed to get to Comanche. The male said, “If you can get us to where we can get a signal, maybe we can call someone to come pick us up. I think our car is toast.” We said that if they just needed to go to Comanche, there was no need for them to call someone. We could take them. They stated, “Ya’ll are dressed up. It’s obvious you’re going somewhere.” We said it wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait. As we all piled into the truck, before we pulled onto the road, the male noticed the Bibles on the dash and commented on them. We said, “Well, actually, we were going to church.” He apologized for making us miss church. I laughed and said, “What’s the point of going to church if I leave you on the side of the road?” He said, “Yeah, that doesn’t go together, does it?” Again, he said he was sorry and at the same time was thankful for the ride. He had decided that they were going to have to spend a very thirsty night in the car if no one stopped.

As we drove toward Comanche, he stated that his grandma had taught him about God and the Bible. He said, “I should have listened to God and followed the Bible more. You can tell by looking at me that I haven’t made some of the best decisions in my life. Maybe it’s time to change that.” We acknowledged that maybe it was time for him to go back to some of the things that grandma had taught him. By his own admission his life was a wreck.

We had a good conversation on the way to our destination. For most of the trip, the two females of the trio were silent. But, they were actively listening to this newly discovered side of their male companion. One of them stated thoughtfully, “Maybe it is time to turn our lives around. I know mine could use it. Maybe I ought to get my high school diploma or even a G.E.D. for starters.” Interestingly enough, my wife had contacts with someone whose specialty was to help high school dropouts recover their educational pursuits. She knew their numbers by heart and wrote them down for the two young women. We do not know what the revival service would have been that night at the church we intended to attend with friends. But, it would have had a hard time beating the one we attended in a crew cab F-250 while helping three strangers.

She Bearly Made It

No, the title is not misspelled. This is another story in which we risked saying a few more words to someone other than, “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you.” This one also occurred while we were out of state. We happened upon a garage sale sign just outside of a town, in a lovely subdivision that backed up against the national forest. Our vehicle automatically turns in at garage sales, and this time, we were lucky—there were three garage sales in a row!

We walked around all three, and I think we found only one or two items. There wasn’t much there that sparked our interest. However, one of the women sitting at the table where we paid for the items seemed to be a special assignment from God. She was in her early 60s and skinny as a rail. After we paid for the items and walked toward the car, my wife said, “I want to give her a Bible.” We often carried extras in our vehicle for just this type of occasion. As we searched our vehicle, none were to be found. My wife stated, “I know we are supposed to give her one. We’ll have to go get one and come back.”

We drove the 15 miles to where we were staying and retrieved a Bible. Upon returning to the garage sales, the woman was nowhere to be found. Another woman overheard us inquiring about her and walked up to the table. She said, “Oh, you’re talking about Carol. She was helping with the garage sale this morning. She’s just a neighbor.” We found out that she lived three houses down and had only been at the garage sale for a short time that morning—the same short time as when we had been there.

The ladies gave us directions to her house. I stayed in the car. Sarah knocked on the door several times before the lady appeared. When she did finally appear, she reeked of alcohol. Sarah reminded the woman that earlier in the day at the garage sale we had bought a few items from her. The woman said she remembered Sarah who then explained that she felt like she was supposed to give Carol a Bible and tell her God loved her. The woman gripped the door and began to shake uncontrollably. She said that she needed to hear about God because she had had a near-death experience the day before and was so afraid.

Sarah asked her if she wanted to share her story. Carol explained that she had been out walking the day before and had been cut off on her return path by a bear. The bear reared up on its hind legs and then charged. In fear for her life, Carol tried to run. She stumbled backward and fell, screaming and clawing, certain that the approaching bear that was only a few feet away was going to kill her. Neighbors heard the screams and quickly arrived on the scene. The bear had given what appeared to be a “false charge”, but in her terror, Carol had soiled herself. She was so terrified that she couldn’t walk and had to be carried back to her house. She said that this was the most terrifying and most humiliating experience she had ever had. She said that night that she drank herself to sleep and all she could think about was what would have happened to her if she had died? She was not only afraid of being killed by the bear but was terrified of the hereafter.

Sarah said that maybe that was why God had put it on her heart to come visit the woman today. Would she like to hear about God? The woman said she would but didn’t have much time. She had custody of her grandson and had to be at an event with him.

While this conversation was taking place, I could see my wife talking to the lady on the porch. And although I didn’t know the dialogue, I could tell by the body language something interesting was taking place. Later, when Sarah told me the details of the conversation, I think the fact that I stayed in the car made it more comfortable for the woman to relay her story.

Sarah gave the woman the Bible and her phone number. Off and on for months afterward, we had conversations with this woman. During these conversations, we explained what salvation through Jesus was and that we were all sinners who needed redemption. During none of these conversations would Carol commit to giving her life to God. She only wanted to hear about Him but did not want to take any action on her part. She would ask questions, and we would answer them as best we could. As time wore on, the fearful episode Carol experienced with the bear began to fade. Her desire to get to know God waned. She told Sarah one day that she refused to believe that she was a sinner. To her, the God who loved her and protected her was acceptable, but it was repugnant to her that this same God would expect her to admit she was a sinner and expected her to give up her life to His control. That was outrageous to her. She reasoned that she was not a sinner because she had never hurt anyone.

Try as we may, she would not accept that all humans must go through a redemptive process to be born again before they can gain entrance to Heaven—it’s not necessarily about being evil and hurting people that makes one a sinner. The mere fact of being without God is a sin. At some point, we must all actively, on purpose, invite Him in and give our lives over to Him.

While we all agreed that God had orchestrated the events that intersected us with Carol—the timing of the garage sale, which had been scheduled days or weeks before, which happened to be the day after the bear incident, and the fact that we happened to arrive as customers the same few minutes that she was giving her neighbor a break and sitting at one of the tables, the fact that she was wondering what would happen to her when she died, and was in fact wondering if there was a God, the fact that two strangers show up, and one of them goes out of her way to get a Bible and bring it back to her, so that she can know about God, in the end, to our knowledge, Carol never accepted God into her life.

After about a year, we lost touch with Carol. Strangely enough, she called us one night. Her grandson who had been playing high school football was severely injured and had to be care lifted by helicopter to a hospital. She was enroute to the hospital and asked us to pray for all involved. We were glad to, but we had to wonder…she acknowledged the idea of a God but refused to accept that she was in need of a Savior—she preferred the “genie in the bottle” type of God. And that just isn’t real.

Not every story ends the way we would like it to. Sometimes all we can do with the people God intersects us with is just plant the seed. In God’s time, He will send the rain.