How can we be honest with God, if we're not honest with ourselves or even with each other?

Psalm 32:2 (NLT)
Yes, what joy for those whose record
the Lord has cleared of sin, whose lives
are lived in complete honesty!

Complete honesty...can we even fathom what that really is—especially in today's world? I don't know. Has there ever been complete honesty on this earth? It seems to go as far back as the first family with Cain and Abel. Cain lied about why he was taking his brother Abel out into the fields. Watch...

Later Cain suggested to his brother Abel, "Let's go
out into the fields." And while they were there,
Cain attacked and killed his brother.

Genesis 4:8 (NLT)
Then Cain lied to the Lord:
Afterward the Lord asked Cain, "Where is your
brother? Where is Abel?"
"I don't know?" Cain retorted. "Am I supposed
to keep track of him wherever he goes?"
Genesis 4:9 (NLT)

But it goes even further back than that. It started with Adam and Eve, just listen as Eve was talking with the serpent about what they could and couldn't eat in the garden...

"Did God really say you must not eat any of the
fruit in the garden?"
"Of course we may eat it," the woman told him.
"It's only the fruit from the tree at the center of
the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says
we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die."
Genesis 3:1b-3 (NLT)

See the lie already starting there? She told him they couldn't eat it or "even touch it." Did God say that? Look back at Genesis*nbsp;2:17. I don't think God said anything about touching it, just eating it! I would have missed that point if not for someone more knowledgeable than I who pointed that out!

The lies had already begun, right there in the garden with probably the most perfect people ever created, since Adam and Eve were here before the fall. They had perfect health, perfect bodies, perfect living conditions. No past failures to deal with—just a clean slate in a clean world with a perfect God to guide them.

But still, dishonesty quickly entered into the picture, and it seems it might just be the biggest stumbling block in our path still today. I recently heard that 90 percent of Christians lie...90 percent!! What would the percentage be in the non-Christian community? Have we any hope for truth at all? Only one, God Almighty! He is our Truth, and only His Truth can set us free from the bondage we find ourselves in when we get tangled in our own lies!

Just this morning, having my prayer time I began to go over some memories of Phil during his last days. Those days still leave me wondering about things from time to time and those thoughts cause unnecessary pain deep in my heart because they lead me into places that I know it's better to stay out of...but I succumb sometimes as I glance over at Phil's face in our family photo thinking how he would still want to be here with us all...or am I thinking how I still want him to be here?...I think that is more honest, if we're talking about honesty here!

As time goes on, my recollection starts to dim of his final days; his final weeks, and I start to come up with my own "recollection" of what was. I start to make myself crazy with my own sorrow, forgetting what the truth really is, thinking that what I remember is the "truth." It has to be, it is the way I remember it—but is it the honest truth?

Thank God I like to write, and even in Phil's final days, his final hours, I was jotting down the actual happenings of the moment. It may seem strange to some, in fact it even seems strange to me now, but I am thankful that it was done because of times like this when I'm not even sure what the truth is about that time in our lives—how ready Phil was for heaven, how tired he was, how peaceful. I only know what I remember, and my memory does not serve me correctly, especially over forty!

What I think today is, "He still wants to be here."

But what I wrote on November 11, 2001 was:
"An okay day. Went to church in wheelchair. Not clear-headed today. Tries to smile at me. Just sits quiet and enjoys people around him. We watched the Raiders lose today. Steve and Marlene came. Phil isn't eating much. Went to 4 Prednisone today. Tapering off. I can tell he is sad, thinking of not seeing everyone much longer. He is so tired. He wants to be done...but doesn't."

Then again on November 13, 2001, I wrote in part:
"Slept in Phil's bed last night. He was quiet all day. Said he was very peaceful on the couch and didn't want to move. Ate little to nothing. Drinks water and sweats profusely. Read the Bible for a couple hours to him. It brings him great peace and joy. He tearfully said everything I was reading answered questions he was asking. He saw a light last night and a glimpse of heaven. He said many people were there. Couldn't see faces. He said it was so beautiful and he wants to go so BAD!...He feels selfish to want to go but I encourage him to. I told him if he does wake in the morning, God still has work for him to do, but it will be soon. A couple of times he said, 'Tell everyone I said good-bye.'...I was so peaceful last night and wanted him to just slip away too. There was no fear in me. This morning there are tears. Dave came by to pray in Phil's room."

On November 14, 2001, Phil's last day I wrote":
"Phil is still with us. Yesterday we read to him a lot, then in the afternoon he just wanted to lie quiet. I sat by his bed and held his hand, praying for God to take him soon and thanking Him for this peace....The Hospice nurse came. His vitals are okay. Heart rate up a bit, oxygen at 85 percent. He said he feels numb...starting to fail. This morning he is very comfortable except for his cold. Read e-mails and verses to him. Says he feels like he is waiting, or just here...hard to explain. I pray God will take him soon. He is so ready. He passed through the week of tears and anguish, through being scared and feelings of missing everyone. Now he is peaceful and ready. No pain, no anxiety. God's angels hover over his bed, waiting to take him home."

The evening of November 14, 2001:
"Phil asked me if it was okay to pray for God to take him home. I told him it was and we prayed that together. It is getting rough. The Hospice nurse said his tonsils are swollen. He has a lot of discomfort with that but no other pain. We gave him 2 Morphine pills tonight to take the edge off and help the throat...He coughed and then apologized for not covering his mouth. I told him what a good boy he was to be so sick and care about that...the hours tick by and I watch him breathe...will I sit here a month or a day? Only God knows."

10:19 P.M. on November 14, 2001
"Philip Shore arrived in heaven."
"He is so tired. He said he'd rather go now, this is too hard. He just wants to lie quiet. No TV, too much to think about. After praying for God to take him home, I crawled into bed with him about 8:00 p.m....He slept fitfully and breathed fast and loud. He thought it was bothering me. I told him it wasn't. (About 10 p.m.) I got up and Chris was outside his door. I told him to get Dad, and then when I went back to Phil's bed, he said with labored breath and excitement, "Mom, it feels like God is healing me. My cold is going away. I'll feel good in the morning."....God was calling him home...I told him how well he had done etc...after 5-10 minutes his heart slowed down, his breathing got quieter, he groaned and moved a bit more, then he stretched some, and then grew still and quiet. It was finished...He had fought well and hard, and it seemed he was still torn about going or staying but it was time. God answered our prayers to keep him from pain and to take him quickly....I have to remember Phil is happy! He glimpsed heaven and shared it with me. What a lasting gift.

Phil will have Thanksgiving with Jesus..."

These memories may be hard to read, they may be hard to remember, but it is easier to deal with reality, with what honestly happened, than to deal with memories that my mind makes up about what happened in those final days and hours. Let's not even go there...

God is not a liar, and He wants us to remain honest also. He wants us to view things from His perspective, not our twisted, warped sense of what we think or feel--especially after some time has passed since certain events or from our limited fleshly view of events in our lives.

In Psalm 32, it talks about "lives lived in complete honesty." It goes on to say:

Verses 3-5
When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable,
and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline
was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them.
I said to myself, "I will confess my rebellion to the Lord." And you
forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Did you see that? "I said to myself...." That's where it starts! What are we saying to ourselves? We need to stop "trying to hide them." We are lying to ourselves before we even get to God most times. We are trying to tell God about something that we aren't even clear about. If we cannot be honest in our assessment of our situation, our temptations and struggles or our heartaches, do we even have a clue what we should be talking to God about?

Don't worry, God is not in the dark. He knows. He knows us in our mother's womb before we are even born, we are not hiding a thing from him. The only thing that is hidden is the truth from us when we are not willing to "go there," even with ourselves!! If we hide from our own truth for too long, I believe sometimes God has to come in and do some major surgery on our emotions, on our spiritual lives, to get us back into working order!!

God can do that in many ways, but may I say, most of those ways hurt big time!! In verse 10 of Psalm 32 it says, "Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord."

"...the wicked." I don't like those words. I don't want to be "the wicked," but I know that if I am living out of God's will, if I am not obeying, if I am not trusting God and loving Him as I should, putting Him above all else...I might just be in that "wicked" camp much more than I would like to think--if I am going to be HONEST with myself!

And I mean HONEST! Like, okay God, is what happened with Phil, or at least one of the reasons what happened to him may be because I was in the "wicked" camp and You needed to get my attention? Now I know, this is not a fun thing to take a look at, but I'm done with just "fun things" in life. I'm ready to face what I must face honestly, no matter what it takes. If it already took the life of my son, then what more should I fear?! David of the Bible lost a baby (2 Samuel 12:13-25)--was it because he was dabbling in the camp of the "wicked?" Only God knows, but God has my attention! I'm listening!! If this is for no one else today but me, I want to get honest with myself about this!

Back to verse three where it says, "When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me." Well, God does discipline those He loves, and I know He loves me because I am one of His children. I also know I was a rebellious child, living my own life, a little too busy for my heavenly "duties" if you want to call them that!

Therefore, let all the godly confess their
rebellion to you while there is time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
Psalm 32: 6 (NLT)

We don't like to think of ourselves as being rebellious. I don't! I bet you don't! I mean, we understand that teenagers are rebellious, that's pretty much just the way it is, but they will grow out of it! We understand that they are stubborn, or that a mule may be stubborn, or that people of the opposite sex may even be stubborn when their thinking is different than our thinking...whatever side of that equation you are on--but not us!! We are right! It's that simple. That's the way we see it, so that's the way it is!

Or is it? The Lord says, "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control." Psalm 32: 8-9 (NLT)

A bit and bridle!! That's what most of us seem to need, if we are honest! If we are given the opportunity to go "Freestyle," as my brother Steve calls it, we veer off the "best pathway for" our lives a lot of the time. God does not want us to live with a bit and bridle, but there are times when God will probably use it until we are back where we belong!

As I started to write this message, I got a phone call. I knew it was an "appointment" from God because God had put Psalm 32 on my heart again this morning. I recently wrote a letter to my oldest brother, Steve, which included this Psalm. It was a letter of encouragement for the challenging time that Steve is going through right now. I sensed that God would have me share some of his challenge in this message, although I was not sure what except that it had to do with his horse, Penny.

Then the phone rang, and I talked with Steve for well over an hour as we shared our lives with each other. I shared with him about living without Phil. He shared with me about living without alcohol. I have asked for his permission to share part of his story here with you. In wanting to be used by God, he gave me permission to share whatever God puts on my heart. Thank you Steve! Here goes...

Steve has a horse named Penny. Besides Steve's wife Marlene, Penny is the love of his life. He is with her most every day of the week, and even attends Cowboy Church on Sunday at the ranch where he can be close to her. He said one Sunday as they were having their service in the barn he had a horse lay her head on his lap, and he looked up out of the barn window to a green hill, where the sun was shining and a beautiful white horse ran up the side of the hill. He said it was the most beautiful "stained-glass window" he had ever seen! I'm sure it was!!

Steve is the only older sibling I have, I am the second oldest of six, with three brothers and a sister younger than I. Steve has always been a cowboy at heart, even wearing cowboy boots to school in the 70's when it was not really the cool thing to do, but Steve was cool. He was always cool!! We were worlds apart as teenagers. He ran with a rougher crowd than I, but when he married Marlene, that pretty much changed. She and I became great friends and I think she tamed the wild cowboy in Steve a bit. As couples, we have enjoyed many good times together.

But as the years moved on, we had three children and became busy with their activities and broke from their activities, and Steve and Marlene acquired some animals and some money and lived a little more "Freestyle" if you'd like to call it that!! Freestyle I have been told today by Steve is riding a horse with no spurs, no bit, and bareback. That is how Steve rides Penny!

Their "Freestyle" life was wonderful, but as the years went on, something else was not so wonderful--Steve also enjoyed his alcohol. Like anything, in the beginning it was not much of a problem, but as the years went on, it became so. The only one who didn't notice the problem was Steve. Until...5 weeks ago when a visit to the doctor told Steve that he had to stop drinking immediately. His liver was not functioning as it should.

Steve stopped drinking, that day, immediately! He has not had one drink in five weeks! I dropped to my knees and thanked God when I heard that he had stopped!

So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all
you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you
whose hearts are pure!
Psalm 32:11

Was Steve shouting for joy also? Was he glad? Definitely not!! Something had been taken from him that he "loved." He didn't know his life without alcohol. He missed it. It calls to him! As he told me today, "God took it from me. God said, 'I know what you want to do, but I'm going to take it from you.' His discipline set me on the right path. My choice would have been to continue on. God said, 'You have the freedom to continue on your way, but will you choose My way?'"

Steve knew this sounded familiar to me because he knows almost better than anyone what has been taken from me. Phil was one not only his nephew; he was one of Steve's best friends. He loved Phil with all his heart. He was with Phil during his illness when Jim could not be there. When Jim and Chris had to remain in Germany while Phil and I were in Fresno during chemo treatments, Steve stepped into the dad-role with Phil and took him fishing, took him to see Penny, took him many places. He was super with him! He knows what losing Phil means, and he knows when relating that loss to losing alcohol in his life, there is no comparison--and yet there is. I believe there is, because loss is loss, grieving is grieving and we each have our own circumstances in life to deal with. God knows what we "need" in order to grow closer to Him and whether we like it or not, our loving Father will discipline us with a stern yet loving hand to guide us "along the best pathway for" our lives.

Phil fishing with Steve in 1996
Phil fishing with Steve in 1996
Uncle Steve, Penny & Phil
Uncle Steve,
Penny & Phil
Uncle Steve enjoying an afternoon with Phil.
Uncle Steve enjoying an afternoon with Phil.

Sometimes we need that "bit or bridle to keep us under control." We need God to take something away from us so that we learn to depend on Him and surrender to Him and as a result rejoice and be glad in our obedience to him.

Now this is a hard lesson, I know, and some of you may quit right here. You may not want to hear this stuff, but I will continue on as God directs me because some of us need to hear this, including me. I write as God teaches me, so I'm learning right along with you here.

Steve was not happy to give up alcohol, I was not happy to give up Phil. In both of our situations it felt like a bit in the mouth with spurs in the sides directing us where we did not want to go. But God knows better, and if we will only listen to Him, it won't be long and we will enjoy what Penny enjoys in her "horse" life...a life lived Freestyle!

When Steve rides Penny on most days, he does not use a bit, a bridle, spurs, or even a saddle. Oh, he has them, and when giving the nieces and nephews rides, he will use them, or for competition they are put on, but not for his pleasure riding!! For pleasure riding he simply uses a lead rope and a halter.

When Penny sees Steve's pickup pull into the ranch, she runs for joy!! He told me she gallops across the pasture towards him, almost with the attitude of, "What are we going to do today dad?" When others see Steve riding her, they comment that, "That horse would do anything for you."

Just recently, someone encouraged Steve to try and jump her, something she had never done before. He wondered if it could be done, bareback, Freestyle...but he gave it a try. The first time, she balked. The second time, over she went, no problem! "What are we going to do today dad?" Steve said sometimes it is simply to play in the pasture and have some cookies. Sometimes it is to learn new things, but whatever it is, he is gentle with her. He says he allows her to be a horse and treats her with patience, love and kindness. He said his thought was, "This horse is now in my custody. I'll treat her like God treats me." He has and she has responded wonderfully!

And God has treated Steve with kindness too. He has given Steve the strength and the courage to face each day now without a drink. More importantly, to face each evening without one. Just as my evenings were harder in the beginning without Phil--when the day is done and I was tired, it seems so with Steve also. I wonder how many struggle with things in the evening that are easier in the light of day?

As Steve said with Penny, "I don't push too hard. I take it slow." God seems to be loving Steve with the same love he has shown to his faithful horse. This is a language that Steve understands--the world of horses. It is not one that I understand and even to write this message I told Steve at the end of our conversation that I was taking notes. He was fine with that.

God knows the desires of our hearts and when we delight ourselves in Him, we see those things taking shape in our lives. Steve said he feels God is saying to him, "I can fulfill your desires in ways you can never imagine."

In a book that I am reading called, "A Shepherd Looks At The 23rd Psalm," by Phillip Keller, he writes:

"Again and again I remind myself, 'O God, this seems terribly tough, but I know for a fact that in the end it will prove to be the easiest and gentlest way to get me onto higher ground.' Then when I thank Him for the difficult things, the dark days, I discover that he is there with me in my distress. At that point my panic, my fear, my misgivings give way to calm and quiet confidence in His care. Somehow, in a serene quiet way I am assured all will turn out well for my best because He is with me in the valley and things are under His control.

To come to this conviction in the Christian life is to have entered into an attitude of quiet acceptance of every adversity. It is to have moved onto higher ground with God. Knowing Him in this new and intimate manner makes life much more bearable than before."

Does Steve still want a drink? You bet he does! Do I still want Phil here with me? You bet I do! But just as I cannot reach out and grab my son and drink him in, Steve no longer can do that with alcohol if he desires to reach "higher ground" with God.

You would think that alcohol and the loss of a child do not compare--that one lesson learned cannot be used in conjunction with the other lesson being learned. You would think they would be world's apart, having no similarities at all, but they do and my brother and I are finding that to be true as we share with one another, encouraging each other onto "higher ground."

This only comes about when we look at life honestly, when we share openly with each other about our struggles and our failures. We must first get honest with ourselves, then honest with our God, and then honest with others in the body of Christ—then and only then will our lives to be all that God desires for them to be as we delight ourselves in Him.

Steve shared this verse with me today:

Hebrews 10:35-39
"Do not let this happy trust in the Lord die away, no matter what happens. Remember your reward! You need to keep on patiently doing God's will if you want him to do for you all that he has promised. His coming will not be delayed much longer. And those whose faith has made them good in God's sight must live by faith, trusting him in everything. Otherwise, if they shrink back, God will have no pleasure in them. But we have never turned our backs on God and sealed our fate. No, our faith in him assures our souls' salvation." (LB)

Steve never turned his back on God, he was just in the fog of alcohol. I never turned my back on God although there were times when I was in the fog of grief! God understands bondages in our lives, that is why Jesus came, to set us free if we will only accept his gift. Depression and self-pity could keep me in bondage just as alcohol could keep Steve entangled.

I did not want God to take Phil from me, but He did.
Steve did not want God to take alcohol from him, but He did.
Now we must learn to live anew, in the power of our Resurrected Lord,
and we will...
one day at a time...

We will find new strength as we wait upon the Lord. (Isaiah 40:31)

For you are my hiding place;
You protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.
Psalm 32:7

Learning to live "Freestyle,"