Worthless Idols

“Unprecedented” is a word we hear constantly these days as we struggle to describe the events unfolding around us.  Between the Covid-19 pandemic,  the racial unrest, the protests, violence and destruction we see in our cities,  solutions are a dime a dozen.  We all want to return to what we now see as “the good old days” and we have our own perspectives on how to accomplish it.

Let me begin by saying that, today, I am speaking  primarily to believers in Jesus.  If you are an unbeliever, this is not directed to you.  As I survey the news, social media and other publications, I am saddened to see that we are responding to the events of our days just like those in old testament times,  when faithful peoples chose to seek  substitutes for the one true God, forsaking Him for what they considered better, more timely solutions.

We may not be constructing  asherah poles,  molding golden calves or  worshipping at the altar of other graven images, but, we have often gravitated toward other idols just as dangerous.  Many believers are putting  hope in  protests,  political reform, physical health and/or beauty,  specific individuals or groups,  economic sanctions and other worldly solutions to what are spiritual problems.  If you don’t see yourself as guilty,  I challenge you to review your social media accounts and what you’ve posted in the last thirty days.  Are your posts pointing others to the God who can move mountains, redeem sinners and give new hearts or, to your political bent or cause?  Who are you quoting? Who are you following? As you answer each of those questions, ask yourself if you might be placing an inordinate amount of hope there.

This morning, I read in the book of Jonah, his lament after being swallowed by a large fish. God had called him to go to Nineveh, a city every bit as wicked as any of our cities today, to confront their wrong living. Jonah, believing the Ninevites didn’t deserve the opportunity to repent, ran from God instead.  (side note: It’s pointless to run from the One who  knows where you are even before you get there.) The result was that he ended up in the belly of a fish with nothing but time to consider his lot.  Here are his conclusions:

“When my life was ebbing away, 

I remembered You, Lord,,

and my prayer rose to you,

to Your holy temple.

Those who cling to worthless idols

forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

But I, with a song of thanksgiving,

will sacrifice to you. 

What I have vowed I will make good.

Salvation comes from the Lord.”

-Jonah 2: 7-9

Two points I want to hone in on.  First, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”  Note he didn’t say the government, an individual apart from God,  a political ideology or any groups or movements present in our world today.  He is our hope and our salvation. Period.

Secondly,  if we are focused on any of those things as the “be all-end all,”  we are guilty of idolizing them over worshipping our God.   These are the kind of “worthless idols” Jonah referred to.  We are commanded to have no other gods before Him.   Our hope must always be, first and foremost,  in Him.  He may well choose to  use individuals and  movements to further His purposes, but it is He we are to look to for our salvation.  This is true both for  individuals and  nations, and it is HE we should be pointing  others to.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– He who watches over you will not slumber…The Lord watches over you…the Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life, the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” 

-Psalm 121:1-8

God is good.  He wants us to trust wholely in Him, and when we do, He is gracious and kind, attending to our every need.   Let’s not forfeit the grace that could be ours.

Still “Safe at Home”

I write this on  day sixty-four. Sixty-four days of a mandate to “flatten the curve” of the Corona Virus by staying home.

img_4264As mandated, we began this experience of sheltering in place. Businesses, schools and churches were closed. Many companies directed employees to begin working from home.  Others were furloughed or terminated.  Sporting events, concerts, conventions, meetings, and travel all came to a halt. There would be no celebratory ceremonies for 2020 graduates and only online classes  for the fall semester in sight. The economy is in shambles with 39 million Americans out of work.  Yes, many are ill with the virus.  Many more  have recovered, but there have been many deaths as well-over 95,000 nation wide.

fullsizeoutput_d01dThis pandemic has brought our world to its knees. We’ve been directed to enact social distancing, copious hand washing and disinfecting and to only leave  our own homes for absolute essentials such as food and urgent medical needs. fullsizeoutput_d2eb

The experts continually contradict each other. The politicians tell us one thing today and edit it  tomorrow.  We should wear masks and they’re useless. We should stay in and we should pursue herd immunity,  we need sunshine but the parks are closed. The “experts” are clearly figuring it out as they go along.  Nursing homes in one major city were ordered to admit recovering Covid patients despite the fact that their general populations consisted of the frailest and most fragile individuals and   highly susceptible to infection. The results were disatrous.  In my own city, last I heard, 80% of all deaths were nursing home patients.

Toilet paper has become the new currency with beans, disinfectants, paper towels and now meat in short supply. We are required to wear masks when entering stores after standing in lines for the privilege of shopping. Stores have set up plexiglass barriers between employees and shoppers as well as marks on the floor designed to tell us where to stand while waiting in line so as to maintain appropriate distancing. 

Restaurants, like other businesses have either closed or are allowed only to provide pick up or delivery options. Many of them will never reopen if the so-called “new normal” mandates are required. They cannot survive if only allowed to serve half the customers they have room for when they’re paying rent for a larger space intended to accomodate more.  Walmart, Target, Home Depot and the big grocery chains are still open, but the mom and pops and other small businesses have been forced to close their doors.  

For the first time in history, the healthy are being quarantined.  Those who say its time to open up the world again are accused of wanting people to die.  Those who believe we need to stay hunkered down at home beleive to do so will bring a new surge of infection and death.  

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There is little talk of finding a cure, but a lot about a coming vaccine that may well not be optional.  We we’ve been told that ventilators would be in short supply but that didn’t materialize.  Instead, hospitals are now laying off physicians, nurses and other staff because their censuses are so low.  All elective and non-emergency surgeries have been put on hold.  Many illnesses are not being diagnosed or treated currently.  There are those who believe a vaccine is the answer.  Others point to hydroxychloroquine, a medication costing less than a dollar that has had good results.  Again, experts around the world disagree.  

I don’t have all the answers, but I know Who does.  I am definitely not an expert, but I have tried to listen to both sides and come to my own conclusions.  I must say it isn’t easy to hear both sides because the national media hasn’t reported on those with differing opinions and social media doesn’t allow what differs from their perspective or agenda to remain online for long. What are they afraid of? Are we not capable of drawing our own conclusions?  

Here’s what I do know.  Suicide hotlines are jammed. Businesses are failing.  Families can’t pay their mortgages or put food on their tables.  Domestic abuse is increasing.  Alcohol intake is on the rise.  Depression is rampant. Anxiety is out of control. Social isolation has rendered many seniors profoundly lonely without physical touch or comfort.   Many believe that all of these factors are pointing to a national mental health crisis.  Clearly, the virus isn’t the only thing wreaking havoc on our population.  We need to address all of these issues and soon. 

I sincerely believe that it’s time to return to life largely as we knew it sixty-four days ago.  Young, healthy, able bodied individuals need to get back to work, kids need to return  to school and churches reopen. More importantly,  we need to acknowledge and  turn our eyes to the One who holds the universe in His hands. 

You may well disagree with me and I’m okay with that.  I understand the power of fear and how very convincing the fear mongers have been.  I will willingly wear a mask in your presence if it brings you peace of mind.  I will wear one when I shop as required where I live.  I respect that you may think me foolish or uninformed.  I have listened to both sides and engaged in discussions with those with opposing views, but in the end, there are “experts” on both sides of the divide, and I hold to the fact that good, smart people can disagree.  I’ve landed where I’ve landed and hold no malice toward  any of you who have landed elsewhere.   

No, I don’t want people to die.  And no, it’s not about going to the beach.  It’s not even about my personal comfort or financial needs.  If I’m sick I’ll stay home and I hope you will too.  I understand if you feel safer at home and won’t mock you for choosing to do what you believe is best.  I will be a good neighbor, friend and citizen and will be respectful of the authorities over me.  But I will not live in fear of speaking what I believe.  I am not a hater. 

I am going to continues to practice good hygiene.  I’ll respect those in authority as well as those who may vehemently disagree with me.  I’m going to hold and hug my grandchildren and spend time with those I love.  I’m going to continue to honor and stay in relationship with those who choose to remain socially distant regardless of their reasons. I’m going to continue praying for health and healing.  I will respect the opinions of those who differ from mine.  God gave us all minds so that we could seek His wisdom and discernment. When we do, we will make the best decisions we can with the information we are given.  That’s what I aim for. 

I trust that my God, who created this universe, has His purposes in allowing this plague to exist.  It is obvious that many of us have come to grips with the fact that despite our bank accounts, homes, jobs, education, accomplishments, fame, credentials and belief in our ability to handle anything that comes our way, we’ve seen that in a moment everything can change.  With it, we’ve been forced to acknowledge that we literally have no control.  Hence, we look to the One who has all control. I’ve always said He will go to any lengths necessary to get our attention.  Does He have yours? 

God has appointed a day for each of us to be born and a day for us to die.  We don’t know either before hand.  What we do in between those two dates matters to Him.  Where our hope lies matters to Him.  The experts have not been 100% convincing on either side.  My confidence doesn’t lie with any of them, but in the message of an old hymn written by one Edward Mote nearly a century ago:

“My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

 I dare not trust the sweeetest frame

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

 All other ground is sinking sand. 

All other ground is sinking sand.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EASTER 2020 One Like No Other

I expect that Easter 2020 will be like none I’ve ever experienced nor like any I am likely to experience again.  There is a global pandemic in progress, people.  And, it has changed just about everything.

There will be no overnight guests in our guest room.  We will not tumble out of bed when it’s still dark, bundling up in warm coats to wear to Sunrise services.  We won’t sing together with our family and friends as we look toward the Pacific ocean as the sun rises behind us and our Pastor gives the Easter message.   We will not be hugging our friends and loved ones as the crowd disperses.  Neither will we then drive to Norm’s for breakfast. There will be no need to rush home to hide eggs in the backyard  for there will be no  children arriving to find  them.  There will not be massive quantities of food in the kitchen, nor will the table be set beautifully, because our annual brunch won’t be happening.

CANCELLED

I confess, I’m going to miss all that–the tradition of it all, but, especially all those faces I love.  I must also admit  I have never been more excited about Resurrection Sunday.   I have never felt so at peace, so thankful or so full.  With “Safer at Home” orders now entering week three and another five potentially ahead of us,  we are learning to live a life far quieter than we ever imagined we would or could.

Some of the sweet faces I’ll be missing

The results have been oddly wonderful. We are retired and don’t have places we need to be or assignments we are expected to complete. We have no debt.   Our biggest challenge has been to stay at home with the exception of  essential outings such as the market for food. We are not prisoners but, we are confined for the common good.

In the midst of all these changes, our local church has been incredibly pro-active in rising to the occasion.  We’ve been blessed to wake-up to video messages from members of our pastoral staff nearly every day.  These brief videos have encouraged us with scriptural principles that have beautifully set the tone for us as we begin another day in the great unknown.

My Wednesday morning Bible Study still meets via Zoom as does my Bible Study Fellowship group on Monday evenings.  The husband’s Saturday morning study also meets online.  What a blessing online meeting sites have proven to be in the midst of these often alarming times.

In our “new normal” we  livestream church services on Sunday morning, usually with me still in my jammies,  both of us with coffee in hand as we watch on an ipad. We sing along with the worship team,  read scripture and  listen to a teaching from one of our  teaching pastors. We take communion with saltines and grape juice.  There’s something new and special about it. There is great intention surrounding our  virtual gathering together.  No one is dressing to impress, but showing up to receive His blessing.   It sounds strange, but, it’s been strangely beautiful.

In addition to online opportunities, we’ve been encouraged to spend at least one hour a day in prayer and in reading the scriptures as we approached Easter.  We were given a goal of reading the entire New Testament in 21 days.  I cannot tell you what a powerful experience this has been for us to sit together, reading aloud to each another and discussing not only what we’ve read, but how we can  apply it to our daily lives.

CONFESSION: We have never before consistently done this together.  This is a great big deal.  Something of a miracle,  if you ask me.

As a result of this daily time, we’ve had some incredibly rich conversations and have  been able to unite in prayer, every morning for those we love, for those in authority over us to be wise,  for those enduring great suffering, those who are grieving, those who are tirelessly serving in the midst of this pandemic and for revival to come to our world.   Big prayers indeed.

Through the reading of God’s word, we have read four accounts of the events leading up to the resurrection by four different men God ordained to write the Synoptic Gospels:  Matthew, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus; John Mark, who travelled with the Apostle Paul;   Luke, a Greek , gentile physician; and John, the apostle.  Each wrote from their own unique perspective and each touched our hearts and minds.  Did  we finish our assigned reading?   Not yet.  But, it’s okay.   We have read through the four Gospels as well as the book of  Acts;  essentially half of the New Testament.  We will continue to read  with a greater desire to put our increased knowledge to work in our daily lives.

As we came to the end of John, once again reading of the events leading to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we  were deeply moved by His sacrifice, His willingness to drink the bitter cup before Him, to desire to be spared but ultimately choosing  to do the Father’s will in order to save us from the penalty of sin.  He was without sin, yet He paid the debt we owed but couldn’t afford, so that we could live victoriously and eternally.    This is the  glorious, good news.

This is news so good that there is no anxiety in our home or in our hearts, but instead excitement about how God is moving in our lives and in the world around us.   While there are most certainly tragic and often  unsettling events  to deal with in our  extended family, in the lives of our friends and throughout the world that we are deeply concerned about, we praise God in the midst of it.  He is using this time to turn our hearts toward Him, having  stripped away all the appointments , the projects,  the events,  the places to go and the people to see. He has virtually sat us down and called us to attention if we will but have ears to hear and eyes to see. We’ve been given this moment in time to sit at His feet, to take in His word and to prepare for the glorious resurrection day  celebration before us.

We all serve someone or something.  Money. Fame. Accomplishments. Education. Career. Vanity. We all get to choose.  But would you not consider the one who chose you, before you were formed in your mother’s womb?  The one who gave His very life so that you could be accepted by your very creator? The one who knows every bad thing you’ve ever done and still loves you? The one who was without sin, but died for yours, was buried and rose again.  That’s someone worth serving.

“Choose you today, whom you will serve.” Joshua 24:15

“Today is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2

He is Risen.

Risen for You.

Risen Indeed!

REJOICE and be glad!

P.S. Everything’s gonna be okay. I read the end of the book. You should, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Will You Still Need Me…?”

This week marked a momentous occasion–  my 64th birthday.  Were you humming along?  Those of a certain age immediately recognized this classic Beatles tune which continues on to say,  

 “…will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” 

I am delighted to report that I am not yet in need of someone to feed me.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow. (Let’s just keep singing, okay?).  I am, in fact , thriving; content with my lot in life and grateful that I’m still here on earth to live it.  

My actual birthday began with  hot coffee delivered  by my dear husband, followed by a delicious free birthday breakfast at Good Stuff,  a complimentary beverage at  Starbucks, a massage courtesy of my friend, Paula,  a free dessert from Buca De Beppo and several  beautiful bouquets of spring flowers.  I was showered with good wishes all day long.  By way of the blessing/curse of  social media, texts, voice messages, actual phone conversations, birthday cards and  meals shared with friends and family, I received birthday greetings from over 100 dear friends in more than 10 states.  I am a rich girl.  Obvi.  

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Birthdays are for celebrating! 

I rejoice in every birthday and have never been able to grasp why thoughtful, intelligent people avoid them like the plague.  There is such disdain for birthdays, growing older and letting go of youth that we have become a culture that fails to appreciate that every birthday is a blessing.  They mark another year of life we’ve been given-another year to love and live and serve and grow. They also mark a new beginning, another trip around the sun ahead of us.  So, why, pray tell, do we view that as a curse and not the blessing it is? 

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It’s your birthday.  Make a wish and then make it happen!

I say it’s time to rethink this whole birthday thing.  Instead of wincing at the thought of another year we’d rather not admit to, why not celebrate the fact that we’re still here–the fact that we’ve been  given the opportunity to do better than we did before.  We’ve been given another year to right wrongs,  reconcile division, serve our communities, love our family and friends  and share the wisdom we’ve gained.  We’ve been given an opportunity to let go of the things that don’t matter so much and focus on the ones that do.  It is, in effect ,  a  personal New Year’s celebration.  So, let’s stop bemoaning the fact that  we have more lines and fewer smooth surfaces on the gloriously made bodies we travel around in.  Let’s  own who we are and how old we are and claim the blessings that come with aging.  Yes, there are many.  If you are hard pressed to come up with them,  you might need to look a little harder.  ‘Just sayin’.   

For many years I worked in the Assisted Living field.  While there I came up with a theory that something happens to our vision when we reach the 4th quarter of our lives.  We look in the mirror but we no longer see the actual reflection.  Instead, we see the person we are inside.  Hence, 90% of the people who visit  an Assisted Living community leave with the same response to their families:  “All those people are OLD.”  But inside each of those “OLD” souls is a person with hopes and dreams still yearned for.  When we dismiss ourselves or someone else because we or they are aging, we fail to acknowledge that there is still a heart beating, willing and quite able to contribute to the world around them.

I am quite blessed to be a part of a faith community that doesn’t merely tolerate the over 50 crowd, but, embraces it and  endeavors to utilize the gifts and abilities of those who have over half a century of experience here on earth.   Intergenerational gatherings and  activities are the rule,  not the exception.  Young women actively seek out the wisdom and counsel of  more mature women who have lived lives, had careers, raised children, made mistakes, maintained relationships, endured hardship  and learned their way around the block.   I walk with a group of  both young and old women  every week.  Our conversation is always lively, often deep and sprinkled with laughter, counsel and prayer. The older bring life experience and the younger help us olders keep up with current trends, jargon and perspective. It’s a great mix. 

When we stop trying to hide our age and instead celebrate it, we are choosing to  live more authentic and joyous lives. That doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally look in the mirror and bemoan the wrinkles around our eyes or  the awful truth that our chins are multiplying while our necks are  disappearing, but, we cannot allow the passage of time to define us.  We still have work to do and have been given the time to complete it.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and like the woman in Proverbs 31, smile at the future.  There’s still a lot of living to do.  

As for me, I’m not being fed myself,  but feeding someone else this afternoon.  I’ll be delivering homemade, hot bruschetta soup to a young family going through a hard time.  Because I can.  It’s a great way to begin my 65th trip around the sun! 

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“One Good Decision…”

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all photos by hollykatephotography.com

“One good wish changes nothing.  One good decision changes everything.”                   -anonymous

Forty years ago today, the husband and I stood together in front of the fireplace of our living room, and said “I do”.    A small group of friends and family joined us that evening  to witness two woefully unprepared  souls coming together in the hopes of building a life that would endure.  Who knew then, that it would mirror the name of my favorite ice-cream?

Yep.  Rocky road.

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Four decades down that road, this merged life has never been sweeter.  Full disclosure:  it’s often been more bitter than sweet.  We’ve taken some pretty significant detours to get where we are today.   Back roads which took us through  infidelity, separation, divorce,  addiction, re-marriage, rage, sorrow, hopelessness, futility and multiple mountain ranges of frustration.  There have been hair-pin turns, comparable to the Amalfi Coast, where each curve left us gasping for breath, knowing one wrong move could plunge us over a cliff we might never come back from.  There have been potholes the size of Montana and some ice that sent us spinning into guard rails.  But, we are still standing on this side of those ledges.

I married an imperfect man and he married and imperfect woman.  He thought he could control me and I thought I could save him.  Obviously, we were both deluded.  So we went over the cliff and called it quits.  It was ugly.  I moved cross-country, seeking a new life as far away as I could get from the old one.  He stayed put, determined to salvage what was left of him.  By the grace of God, we both survived our mostly self-inflicted  injuries.

Then. one  day,   what had been legally pronounced dead, was resurrected.  It was miraculous beyond anything we’d experienced, before or since.  Twenty Six years ago, we stood in the garden of the same house and repeated vows much like those spoken forty years back.    We began the long journey  to rebuild what had ostensibly been destroyed.  It sounds like a fairy tale, but there was no “happily ever after” in the immediate future.

It has, in fact, been the greatest undertaking  of our lives.  We have struggled to know and understand each other.  We have failed to fight fairly.  We have been selfish and angry and struggled with bitterness and hopelessness.    We have forgiven offenses, large and small.  We have yelled and cried (mostly me) and have been silent for inordinate amounts of time(mostly him).    We have teetered on the edge of giving up.  But, mercifully, we did not give in to that temptation.    We have stood firm, believing  the miracle that brought us back together would hold us together. And, it has.

We made a decision and we have stood by it.  Through all the heartache, tears, grief, arguments, misunderstandings, lack of communication and sorrows,  we have slogged through them all.  Because,  we made a decision.    The miracle of reconciliation.  The miracle of forgiveness.  The miracle of life made new.  The miracle of redemption and grace.  We have learned a lot about patience and endurance.  We have pressed in and through, knowing there was something worth all the effort on the other side.  We have worked hard when it would have been easier to give up and walk away.

We are slow learners, for sure.  We took the long and winding road to get here, without question. But we are here and we are  standing.  Through wind and rain and sleet and snow,  (what are we, postal employees?) we have endured.  And we are grateful beyond imagining.

What if we had ignored the miracle?  Common sense told us that to reconcile was folly.  Many loved ones called us crazy.  We were still two dramatically different people who seemed to be  traveling in opposing directions.  But we chose to move forward,  a little older and a little wiser, knowing it would not be easy.  We counted the cost and decided  it was risk worth taking, and so we dove in.  We have weathered many storms to get here.  We are both older, wear a few extra pounds and have a few more wrinkles and rolls, but,  we are still together, stronger and more in love than we ever thought possible.

We made a decision.  The  conviction that it was a wise and worthy decision, has held us all these years.  We are still held by it. We rest in it. We rejoice in it.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”  -Deuteronomy 33:27

The family the “decision” built.