To Regret Or Not To Regret

No more Mr. Nice Guy! He’d been pushed too far. Who did that tycoon think he was? Not an ounce of appreciation. No show of hospitality or even common courtesy. What a selfish ingrate!

How many times had he ordered his men to protect that ungrateful magnate’s shepherds and flocks from roaming bandits? Too many, apparently. Any time at the snap of his finger, his own motley band of malcontents and discontents would have plundered them. Why, if it hadn’t been for his kindness and skillful leadership, there would be nothing for that imbecile to party about–or with–at Carmel!

Did that arrogant aristocrat think, because he was running for his life, he was hobbled? No way. He’d been on the run for almost a decade, and the king hadn’t killed him yet. He knew how to survive. Besides, God was on his side.

It wasn’t like he was asking permission for them to attend the annual whoop-de-do but merely a fair share of the feast. The gall of that bloated ego to laugh at his young envoys’ request with “Who is David, the son of Jesse?” How dare the rascal insult him like that! The cheat knew he was the David who had eaten regularly at the king’s table! Maybe this scumbag thought the king’s son-in-law wasn’t the same valiant warrior he once was when his name had been cheered and sung at victory parades. He’d show him–the dirty dog!

“Suit up!” David ordered his ragtag army. “You’ll get to wield your swords and spears soon. I free you from all restraint. You are no longer wall-to-wall protection for Nabal’s shepherds. That fool will get what’s coming to him for denying us our due. He’s going to pay, all right. No male–man or boy–in that household will be alive at daybreak.”

David slapped on his sword and led his four hundred men down the mountain pass. Beginning the descent, he was surprised by a train of donkeys laden with bread, wine, ready-to-eat sheep, roasted grain, and hundreds of raisin and fig cakes.

Ha! So the scoundrel changed his mind. Well, he’s a day late and a dollar short. I’ve drawn my battle lines.

David waved his arm for his men to keep pace. Turning in the bend, his eyes locked with those of a breathtakingly beautiful woman.

Who’s that? She’s too well dressed to be another servant, and she possesses a regal bearing. I must have scared her. She can’t wait to dismount from that donkey. Why is she falling down at my feet? She doesn’t even lift her head to look at me and talks like this is all her fault. She’s asking me to let her bear the blame.

Oh, I get it. She’s that nincompoop’s wife. This catered meal is her idea. She’s shrewd–very shrewd. She thought her ploy would soften me and get me to change my mind, but I’m smarter than–hold on. I’d better listen to this. She’s starting to make sense.

When the LORD does for my lord all the good He promised and appoints you ruler over Israel, there will not be remorse or a troubled conscience for my lord because of needless bloodshed or my lord’s revenge. And when the LORD does good things for my lord, may you remember me your servant.
(1 Samuel 25:30-31 HCSB)

She’s got a point. I hadn’t thought about it like that. I’ve been anointed the next king, and one day I will sit on the throne. If I take this revenge, will I live to regret it? Will it become a dark cloud on my future monarchy? Will I look back and think it was beneath me? That I had lost faith in God? This woman has made me stop and think and remember that vengeance belongs to the Almighty.

Then David said to Abigail, “Praise to the LORD God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! Your discernment is blessed, and you are blessed. Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand.
(1 Samuel 25:32-33 HCSB)

Three Things Come Not Back

Remember, three things come not back:
The arrow sent upon its track —
It will not swerve, it will not stay
Its speed; it flies to wound or slay.

The spoken word, so soon forgot
By thee; but it has perished not.
In other hearts ’tis living still
And doing work for good or ill.

And the lost opportunity
That cometh back no more to thee.
In vain thou weepest, in vain dost yearn.
Those three will nevermore return.
(an Arabic saying)

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The Pisgah View

There she was again, her nose flattened against the screen door. If she appeared, it was always at suppertime when I was busy in the kitchen. She wasn’t a waif. Four or five years older than my toddler daughter, she didn’t ask to play. She peered through the wire mesh for a while and then was gone. The girl from next door  just wanted to look. Enigmatically, it was, I suppose, her Pisgah view. And I think it was bittersweet, as it was for Moses.

Moses, the mediator-man God had chosen to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and take to the Promised Land, would not set a foot on its soil. This faithful servant of God who, for forty years, had led and put up with the vacillating and rebellious Israelites begged the Almighty, “Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan” (Deuteronomy 3:25 ESV).

God, as Righteous Judge, refused to listen:  “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again” (Deuteronomy 3:26 ESV). Sadly, the die had been cast earlier that year.

The multitude of millions had whined for water at Meribah-kadesh, and Moses had asked God what to do about it. The answer was specific: 

‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink’ (Numbers 20:8 NASB).

If only Moses had checked his emotions–thought about cause and effect before he spoke and acted–the result would have been different:

And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank (Numbers 20:10-11 NASB).

Yes, the congregation saw a miracle and got the life-giving water, but Moses would not get the long-anticipated prize of entering the Promised Land. He blew his future hope:   “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them’” (Numbers 20:12 NASB).

Moses, prophet and lawgiver, said and did everything wrong that day. It was bad enough he manifested anger and impatience when he called the assembly “rebels” and struck the rock not once but twice.

Going from bad to worse, Moses deflected the miracle from God to himself and Aaron when he said, “Shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Such a small pronoun–we–with far-reaching implications. All the way up to and including breaking the first of the Ten Commandments God had spoken to Moses at the beginning of their pilgrimage:  “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). Lodged in that significant “we” was the suggestion that the Israelites would come to think of Moses as deity.

The worst infraction, however, was his disobedience bred from unbelief. Propelled by his anger and pride, Moses focused on himself and did not perform the miracle as God had directed. True, when he had struck the rock at Rephidim with that same rod, water poured out. But that was the way God wanted it done in Year 1 of the  journey (Exodus 17:1-6). In Year 40 God said nothing about hitting the rock. His instruction was to “speak to the rock.” The spoken word standing alone would give God all the glory for the miracle. God adamantly refuses to give His glory to someone or something else (Isaiah 42:8).

Everyone except Moses would walk into the Promised Land. In His grace and mercy, however, God permits Moses a panorama before he dies: “‘Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan'” (Deuteronomy 3:27 ESV). No, Moses did not go over “this Jordan”; but he did go over another Jordan, where he received a greater inheritance, as evidenced in the New Testament:

 Six days later Jesus chose Peter, James and his brother John, to accompany him high up on the hill-side where they were quite alone. There his whole appearance changed before their eyes, his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light. Then Moses and Elijah were seen talking to Jesus (Matthew 17:1-3 Phillips).

We, too, for whatever reason, may not obtain the earthly goal of our lifelong labors; but by faith we can know that ultimately God’s vision will be realized.

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Own It!

Deluded, they take shelter behind the wall of repression. It seems a safe place to hide from the cornucopia of feelings and emotions. Denying them, however, is a false security, which can never result in the desired peace.

How can there be anything wrong with having feelings and emotions? They were built into humankind by the Creator, who Himself possesses them. Take jealousy, for instance.

Jealousy is in God’s personality:  “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 ESV). Holy God is to be the One and Only in the marriage covenant entered into with His people; and  He is emotional about preserving it:  “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies” (Nahum 1:2 ESV). God gets worked up over spiritual adultery.

God also grieves:  “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). Yes, God knows how it feels to have heart-stabbing pain. 

Like Father, like Son. Encountering church leaders headstrong on discrediting Him, Jesus “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5 ESV). And that wasn’t the only time the Son of God showed anger:

In the Temple he discovered cattle and sheep dealers and pigeon-sellers, as well as money-changers sitting at their tables. So he made a rough whip out of rope and drove the whole lot of them, sheep and cattle as well, out of the Temple. He sent the coins of the money-changers flying and turned their tables upside down. Then he said to the pigeon-dealers, “Take those things out of here. Don’t you dare turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered the scripture—‘Zeal for your house has eaten me up’ (John 2:14-17 Phillips).

Jesus was also man enough to cry:

 When Jesus saw Mary weep and noticed the tears of the Jews who came with her, he was deeply moved and visibly distressed.

 “Where have you put him?” he asked.

“Lord, come and see,” they replied, and at this Jesus himself wept.

(John 11:33-35 Phillips)

Obviously, Jesus did not hide from His emotions. Why should we?

Feelings and emotions have no moral value in and of themselves. How one uses free will with the feelings and emotions makes those morally good or bad. The key to emotional health is emotional honesty. Accept the emotion or feeling, admit the emotion or feeling, and decide what action, if any, to give it. Free will enforces the judgment call to act or not to act.

Recently, I, who prided myself on having never told a lie (well, almost never), realized I deluded myself when I did not own up to a feeling. Convincing myself it was for the sake of peace in the relationship and out of kindness for the other person’s feelings, I “sucked up” what I felt was a personal offense time and again. Each time I locked it inside me, and the relationship I had thought would become beautiful corroded bit by bit.

Suppose I had been honest with the other person from the get-go and admitted my feelings were hurt. If I had truthfully said after the first occurrence “That makes me sad” instead of repressing the feeling, perhaps the relationship would not have eroded.

Behind the wall of repression is not a safety zone. Rather, it is a place of delusion. We have the free will not to go there or not to stay there, for “by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29 ESV).

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Anger Angle

“Were you angry at your father?” the woman asked during the book discussion of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father.

“No,” I unreservedly replied.

“But he beat your mother,” she whispered as if it were still a secret.

“I hated it and I felt sorry for her. But that wasn’t my father,” I explained. “My real father didn’t do that.”

Later I realized all my life I used a defense mechanism for my father’s alcoholic behavior that my mother had expertly polished: compartmentalization. A scene from my book reveals her dichotomy.

“Our arms entwined, I reflected that for most of my life I had wondered if Daddy ever told Mama he loved her. There were so many years he had abused her physically, mentally, and emotionally. Through it all my mother persevered. She had found her way to cope.

“Mama once told me as she looked through the window at my father staggering to the front door, ‘He is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’

“That’s how she mentally sectioned her life. If Daddy was drunk, he was Mr. Hyde, embodying all that was wrong, evil, sinful. If Daddy was sober, he was Dr. Jekyll, goodness and peace and healing. While hating Mr. Hyde, Mama knew at the end of her endurance, he would metamorphose again into Dr. Jekyll.”
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