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.

Work: What They Did for Love

 

Who hasn’t heard the quote,

“Do what you love and

the money will follow”

OR

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Everyone from Confucious to Warren Buffet have weighed in on the idea of working for love, not for money.  A lovely thought, right? As a retiree, I actually have the privilege of doing exactly that.  But, it wasn’t the always the case.  I worked for decades  at jobs I sometimes loved and sometimes didn’t,  in order to attain the right to enjoy the luxury of  working only for love in this new season of life.

In our world today, we have an abundance of humans who grew up hearing and believing that they should live their passion, follow their hearts and do what they love in order to make their careers meaningful.   The result is that many of these individuals are failing to launch at a somewhat alarming rate and the world now has an  abundance of marine biology grad’s and  would be life-style mavens, many  still living with their parents well into their 30’s and beyond.  ‘Anyone want to take a poll on how many college educated Uber drivers we have out there waiting for their dream job to materialize?

Here’s the deal:

Hardly anyone is passionate about plumbing or  janitorial work, being an electrician, an auto mechanic, a roofer, a heat and AC installer, a pest exterminator   a trash collector or a house painter.  But, we as a society need all of those people and each of those are noble professions when done with dignity.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

My own parents moved their  young family to California when it became clear that my Dad’s  job on the railroad was going to be eliminated.  He and my mom sold the brand new home they’d  only recently built in Montana.  With what I’m sure were a trunk full of mixed emotions, they packed up and moved their family to Southern California.  There was no job waiting, just a deeply felt sense of responsibility  to provide for the family they had built.

When they arrived in California my father took a job at a lumber mill until incessant rains shut it down indefinitely.  They struggled to make ends meet. There were dark days.   Next, he found work with a janitorial service who admired his good work but wanted him to cut corners so he would be done faster.  Finally he was hired as a custodian for the school down the street from our home.  I was too young to know that the position of janitor was not a highly esteemed one, but, I was proud to have my dear Dad known and loved by all the children in that school. Through the years he advanced and ultimately was promoted to the position of  Director of Maintenance for the entire  district.  In   the meantime, he also started his own Janitorial Service which he worked at every weeknight from 6-10 after a full day at his day job.  And, every weekend another 12 hours total as well.  Seven. Days. A week.  Until he retired.

My in-laws travelled an remarkably similar path. Selling their home in Pennsylvania to move to California for a better life,  my father-in-law came expecting to join his brother in his small business.  Sadly  after investing nearly all their life savings, the business failed. He was truly struck down but refused to be defeated.  He couldn’t afford to.   Instead he did whatever he could to provide for his family. He delivered dry cleaning, did interior house painting, cleaned the local Knights of Columbus Hall, performed handyman work and became a salesman at Sears. When he retired from that position, he continued to do handyman work on the side in order to supplement his retirement income.

Two wise and determined men–both fathered four children.  Between them, well over a century of marriage.   Though their job histories may not have been coveted by many,  both men left inheritances by their examples of faithfulness, tenacity and  hard work while also providing financial gifts to their heirs.

 

Neither of these two good men had jobs that they were particularly excited about.  But , make no mistake,  both men lived their passion. They both understood that their purpose wasn’t self-fulfillment but instead to provide well for their families.   Although they may not have put it in these exact words, they both lived as if their divine calling was to provide for the needs of their wives and children.   Therein lies the difference.  We  as a culture may well have confused the value of work and responsibility with  that of pursuing our passions.

“…I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him–for this is his lot.  Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God.  He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”   –Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There is nothing  wrong with seeking a career in a field you love.  And if you’re very fortunate, it may happen.  But, every career dream needs a “sell by date.”  If you love acting but can’t make a living doing it,  you’d be wise to find work that pays your bills and  maybe join a community theater group.  If you want to do something that reflects your values, keep working hard, doing your best  at your day job and then,  volunteer for an organization that promotes your passions.

Whatever you do, work hard and the money will come.  As for “never working a day in your life,” while that sounds nice,  they call it “work” for a reason.  Even the greatest job in the world becomes work over time. What will make it worthwhile isn’t the money, the status, the title or the acclaim from others, but the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done it well and  provided for the future of your flock. Whatever you’re called to do, do it well.

“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.  When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field, you will have plenty of goats milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.  He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.”   Proverbs 27:23-27

(Both oil paintings were created by my amazing and gifted brother-in-law Dan Mandish   Visit his collection at:  https://saltandlighteditions.wordpress.com)

 

 

Build Bridges With These Stones

Nearly 70 days into “Safe at Home”/ the Covid-19 crisis, George Floyd was mercilessly killed by a police officer.  All at once, a nation of individuals, many of whom were already stretched to their limit, snapped.  A nation, and then the world,  saw a handcuffed Mr. Floyd bear the weight of a police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe.  To the shock and dismay of other onlookers, the other officers present stood by and watched passively as the life was literally sucked out of Mr. Floyd, a fellow image bearer of our Creator.

The video of his murder went viral immediately, igniting justifiable anger, unquenchable grief  and unending dismay.  There is no universe in which we can watch this incident and excuse any part of it.   Cries of “No justice, no peace” have been heard around the globe.  Peaceful protests have taken place all over our own country,  along with great destruction of personal property,  businesses, churches and  national and local monuments.  Buildings have been burned,  police vehicles defaced and  destroyed and more lives lost in the chaos that has followed.  Anarchy is taking place in many  of our cities.

Nearly overnight,  the same first responders we hailed as heroes a mere three weeks earlier became the object of that same violence. Many of us  who eschew judging others by the color of their skin now cast blanket judgement on  all who wear a badge and drive a black and white vehicle. Sadly, in this world where sin and the prince of darkness reigns, hate,  bigotry, lust for power, selfishness and ignorance will never be completely eliminated.  Even so,  that doesn’t mean that every officer is wicked anymore than all men play golf.  Painting with that wide a brush is  both foolish and dangerous.

As a disciple of Christ, my heart breaks at the shameful treatment and murder of Mr. Floyd and the foothold it has given our enemy.  While many are convinced that the protests, looting, violence and general destruction are  all about  racial inequality, social justice and/or politics, there is a greater truth we are overlooking.   There are spiritual forces at work all around us, threatening all of humankind with destruction, prejudice, hate, chaos and division.  Read your Bible.

The collateral damage,  makes an aching  heart heavier still.  The resulting devastation to our communities is symptomatic of the deep division the enemy is nurturing in the hearts and minds of men.  When I see the vitriol from believers on social media chastising other believers for their responses or lack thereof, I could weep.  Division is one the enemy’s most effective tools. Jesus calls us again and again to be united in faith, spurring  one another to good works, loving our brothers and sisters, gathering together,  praying always, not showing favoritism, and spurring one another on to good works.

If you haven’t already done so, Christians, it’s time to act.  Not as  the world would have us,  but as the WORD tells us to. We need to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, defend those who are unjustly accused or mistreated, welcome to our tables and into our homes those who don’t look like us or act like us. We are called to give special consideration to those who have greater needs.   We don’t have to be experts or have all the answers, but we need to be actively and regularly seeking them in God’s Word.  We need to know it so well that we are equipped, armed and dangerous as we then act on what it tells us to do when confronting the spiritual forces that threaten to divide us. The evil around us is real–

But there is an antidote

As my pastor  so eloquently stated  just yesterday, with regard to all the unrest in this world– ”

“the body of Christ is the antidote.”

Yes.  The church, God’s people,  we are the antidote.  We need to lay down our earthly weapons and take up our spiritual ones.  We do not have the luxury of lashing out in anger, demeaning those who disagree with us or spewing hate.  We are held to a higher standard than this world calls for.  Jesus calls us to be salt and light.    We need to pray always,  to be peacemakers and  to listen much more than we speak.  He calls us to be merciful and seek justice.  We must work to love those who hate us and to choose to serve vs being served. We need to be the  good Samaritans,  be willing to get our hands dirty,  give sacrificially and also to be respectful and to pray for those in positions of authority.  We are to pray for those who consider us enemies, yes, even to love them as they mock us.   We may be angry but we are not to sin in our anger.

We cannot undo the past but we can  expand our spheres of influence, lean into the future and be committed to living a life that both honors and continually shares the One who came to serve and save.  This is  the good news of Jesus Christ who came to save men and women of every tribe, tongue and nation. The truth is, nothing will change until hearts and minds are changed by surrendering to the One who holds us in His Everlasting Arms.  And we need to tell them as we share and live out the Gospel.

We all have much to learn.  But we must not lose heart in the midst of the battle.  We can  and must continue to learn, to listen, to love, to pray and to then to act on what we know.  We need to do what we know to do.   Be encouraged by the words of the great American poet,  Dr. Maya Angelou, who so beautifully said,

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

We can all do better. And, by the grace of God, we will.  Let’s walk forward  in both faith and hope.  Let it begin with me.

 

For more about what the Bible says on these issues, start here:

Proverbs 18:13

Proverbs 31:9

Isaiah 1:17

Zechariah 7:9-10

Micah 6:8

Luke 10:30-37

Romans 12:9-18

Philippians 2

Galatians 1:10

Hebrews 10:24-25

James 2

1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  

fullsizeoutput_cfeb

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.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Like the “Other” Mothers

I write this on the eve of the anniversary of my mom’s death eight years ago.  Ironically she crossed over on Mother’s Day.

I’ve learned a few things since then.  Through the eyes of others who loved and enjoyed her, I’ve learned to appreciate gifts I didn’t fully acknowledge when she walked through this world. I recently came across a handful of sympathy cards we received back then and my heart was warmed by the remembrances of many dear friends  and loved ones.

She and my Dad both adored babies and taught us all to love them, too.  One friend said that she was someone who especially cared for children who were sometimes forgotten by others.  She had an ability to relate to little ones in ways most adults have forgotten.  She had a childlike quality that allowed her to come down to their level and make them squeal with glee and long to be in her presence.

A friend and neighbor  recalled that she could remember my Mom so clearly-with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth as they cut up a ton of plums, trying to make plum jam.  “She could talk me into doing just about anything.”  I find that story especially amusing because in my lifetime, I don’t remember my mother EVER making anything remotely like plum jam.  Cooking was not something she particularly  enjoyed, but viewed it more as a necessary evil.  Still, she convinced her friend to give plum jam a go.

Others called her “a character,” referred to her big heart, remembered her as loving and generous and a great friend.  One said “she always made me feel welcome and a part of your family.”  The one that made me laugh the most though, was, “she loved giving advice.”  Yes.  Yes she did. Lots and lots of advice to lots and lots of people.

She was different from the “other” moms.    She rarely wore dresses or  any makeup and she cursed with some regularity.  Her hair was always cut short and she wore  jeans long before they were  fashionable.  She drank Coke for breakfast and then throughout the day.   She knew the managers and the clerks at the market and the drug store and was on a first name basis with the bank president.  She used her connections to get countless friends and family members  jobs when they needed one.  She was a master networker before  networking was a thing.

It occurred to me that she planted the seed of hospitality in me.  Looking back I remember how she and my Dad welcomed a long parade of family members and friends into our home to live with us for brief periods.  There were foster babies waiting adoption,  relatives in transition, friends experiencing  hard times and once even one of my mom’s hospital patients who needed a place to recover.  The welcome mat was always out and there was always an extra seat at the dinner table for whoever stopped by.

She would regularly  strike up  conversations with  total strangers at the mall and knew all her neighbors and all of their kids.  She loved to “go visit” and we often had to track her down because it hadn’t occurred to her to tell us where she was going or when she’d return.  She was unpredicatable.   Whatever was on her mind often slipped out of her mouth to the horror of her children and those who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  She wasn’t mean, just oblivious.  And so, sometimes,  we got cranky with her.  Real cranky.

I have never believed it was necessary  to pretend that one who has passed was someone different than who they actually were.  What I’ve learned  though, is that there is so  more to each person than we may see.  And, that with the passage of time, we can let go of what wasn’t perfect and learn to appreciate the good, the quirky  and  the gifts they brought to others we weren’t privy to.  We all touch a lot of people in our lifetimes and no one has visibility of all of it.  Those things are often revealed only with the passage of time.

I’m thankful for the life my mom gave me, for the many things she taught me, for the  sacrifices she made, for the hopes she had for me, for loving me when I wasn’t lovable and for not disowning me when I almost burned down her kitchen.  Who knew you shouldn’t leave baby oil warming on the stove and forget about it?

I’m thankful for the period of time when she constantly sang “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener” and for the trips to the Sundae Bar at Woody’s Smorgasborg.  I’m grateful for her teaching me to love children, to care for babies and for the many memories that still can make me laugh out loud.  She taught me how to clean a house, to be silly with some regularity and to not take myself too seriously.   Other times she was serious.  When I was six years old and told her I hated someone, she looked me straight in the eye and said,  “you don’t hate anyone.”  She said it with conviction and I never forgot it.

In the eight years since she left us,  I’ve let go of  all my unrealistic expectations of what a mom should be.  I’m a mom myself now and I know that I fall short in many ways.  I hope one day my own daughter will  remember the good, let go of my own imperfections and forgive me where I’ve failed.  I pray for grace as I’ve learned to extend it.

My funny, quirky, unpredictable mom–  I’m thankful for the beautiful life she gave me the day  she brought me into this world and  to have been with her when she left it–on Mother’s Day.

‘Remembering her with great  love and affection today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Light Gets In

Most of us have heard the story about not hiding the cracks in our armor, for it’s by the cracks that “the light gets in.”

As we live in the age of COVID-19, we are physically distant from one another by government mandate.  We are no longer allowed to gather with fellow believers as is our custom.  We must stand in lines to shop for the necessities of life.  Restaurants are closed except for take out orders.  Theaters are silent, their screens darkened.  Malls are shut down.  All but essential workers are home on lock-down.  Schools at every level are shuttered and children are home for the forseeable future.

This is our new normal.  Truth is, as Americans, most of us are not suffering in comparison to our brothers and sisters world wide.  Most of us live lives of great privilege in comfortable homes with running water, bathroom facilities, freezers and safety.  We are rich by world standards.

Even so, these are trying times.  Many of us are worried about the future, our health and that of our loved ones.  We are concerned about our economy with so many out of work.  Some wonder  how their mortgages will be paid when there is no paycheck coming in.  Others are suffering the loss of those who have loved ones hospitalized and pregnant women wonder if their babies will be born in hospitals overrun with this deadly virus.  These are somber times. But the light is still getting in because of the light in hearts around us who are choosing to spread it.

Here’s to the lightbearers who are making us smile!

Sidewalk Artists at Work

Dinner Guests Honoring 6 Foot Rule

Food Provided to our Community by Hope in Action

Hymns of Comfort Online by The Kisakas

Fresh Citrus Delivered By My Friend Tracy

Comfort Food Aplenty

Facebook Prayer With a Dear One

Bible Study Online!

Curbside Books

Bursts of Color in Our Neighborhood

Church Livestream

Communion at Home With My Beloved

Garden Blooms

There is much to be thankful for, even in these dark times.  Be grateful for the light that gets in and gets through.  Then, BE the light.

 

In the Valley and On the Mountain

Everywhere we turn there is alarming news. Well, almost everywhere. At the market as we wait in line, on social media, on the television and in the newspaper. We don’t have to look hard to find it. We are, in fact, regularly assaulted with it.

It Doesn’t Look Good!
The Manhattan Beach Pier
CLOSED
Empty Streets
Empty Shelves
Nevertheless,
The sun still shines
The clouds still form

Joni Eareckson Tada recalls her friend, Steve Estes, once saying to her,

God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

Joni is something of an expert on finding purpose through suffering, having been paralyzed at 17 in a tragic diving accident. (At 70, she is one of my personal heroes. Google her. She’s worth knowing.)

Maybe, in the light of this global pandemic, we should consider exactly what our creator might be endeavoring to accomplish in the midst of it. Surely He hates the suffering this virus has caused, the grief, the pain and the uncertainty. Yet, He loves us. How might He be using these times to bring about good?

All the Time

What if these these times cause us to cease our constant motion, to sit in silence, to consider the paths we are on and the things we esteem so highly?What if He wants to restore our very souls? In order to do so, we may need to realign our thoughts, our attention and our focus. We may need to lean into the truth in ways we’ve never considered before. We may be need to be transformed by the renewing of our very minds.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” -Jesus

To hear God’s truth over the cacophony of the world requires intentionality. We can either choose to listen to all the noise, fear, sarcasm, grumbling or frustration around us, or we can fix our eyes on the author and finisher of our salvation. There is a hope that never fails. There is comfort in the storm. There is strength in our weakness.

We are aliens here. As the old hymn says, “this world is not my home.” We would be wise to consider this as we mourn the losses of the simple comforts we once took for granted as well as the grief we feel at so much suffering around us. While we pass through these unprecedented times, the troubles, challenges and sorrows of this life are inevitable. Valleys will come, but valleys are temporary. Our God is eternal.

What if we decide to say “no?” No to fear, to complaining, to whining, to melancholy and to self-pity. Let’s grieve what must be grieved, but let’s be changed for the good by the challenges before us. Let’s walk through this valley together, heads held high, exuding hope and reaching out to encourage one another. Let’s be salt and light. Hard times don’t last forever. Let us fix our gaze on things eternal. For those who endure there is light ahead.

By His grace, we will stand on mountain tops again.

 

Choose Gratitude Over Fear Then, Give it Away

We have been living in a new normal for nearly three weeks now. What was normal, taken for granted and routine is for the present, absent. COVID-19 has pulled the rug out from us, rendering us homebound, strategizing how to score toilet paper and remain sane. It’s a big job.

Fueled by Fear

Many among us are fearful of what’s to come. The stock market plunges, rises and plunges again. Once bountiful supplies of food and supplies are absent from the stores we shop at. Hoarding abounds. With school and work cancelled (excepting essential workers) students are home and parents are scurrying to both educate their kids and keep up with their own work remotely.

Panic And Hoarding = Fear and Anxiety

Enough of the bad news.

Tensions are running high. The good news is we’re in this together. Ask those not accustomed to being in this quite so together and they may say it’s also the bad news. There are a lot of “what ifs” to think about. And yes, fear abounds. Life is uncertain. Tomorrow is not promised.

ENOUGH WITH THE BAD NEWS

The good news is still good. There is a God in Heaven who loves us and who has not been surprised by the events that have taken our breath away. Seventy-seven years ago, CS Lewis wrote:

Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shutdown business, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”

Jesus: “I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”

The husband reading our morning scripture to me- a wonderful new normal!

How is this good news? It’s good because God is at work. He is causing us to re-examine our lives which are often so busy we have little time for self-reflection. For most of us, right now we have an abundance of time. Time for the best things, the most important things. Things like prayer, sharing a family meal around our tables and staying in touch with those we love have too often taken a back seat to the things that matter most- the things that ground us- the foundational things. We’re busy with lots of stuff, much of it ostensibly good, things like book clubs, church activities, exercise classes, sporting events, meals with friends, volunteering, deadlines, celebrations and even work commitments. Then there are those other things- the binge watching, social media scrolling, on-line shopping, excessive work, etc,.

We as a culture have fallen prey to what what Charles E. Hummel so eloquently called “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” If you haven’t read it, google it now. It may well change your life. In the meantime, let’s change the tide, starting today.

What if we decided to cease worry and anxiety? What if we decided to change our focus? Let’s begin to fix our eyes on the One who came to bring hope. Let’s remember how much we have to be thankful for. Let’s be intentional about releasing fear and resting in His peace. Let’s take the challenge and walk forward as light to a world stumbling in darkness. In a word, if you have light, shine it.

Be the light that guides someone home.

Begin today. Here are some ways to start:

If you are a person of faith, share it with someone who isn’t. If ever the world was in need of saving, it’s now. If you know the Savior, share the hope that is within you. Give it away.

Pick up your phone and call someone you’ve neglected to maintain contact with in your normal day to day life. Time is a gift. Give it away.

Write a note or card to someone you love and appreciate. Tell them what they mean to you. Pop a stamp on it and leave it out for your mail carrier to send it on. Everyone thrives when they’re shown appreciation. Give some away.

Open your Bible and begin to read the book of Matthew. You’ll come to know Jesus in a more intimate way and you may be amazed at how relevant his words are in the midst of this chaos. Then encourage someone else to do the same. Give it away.

Love in a Bag

My friend Tracy who has an orange tree, picked a bunch of them, sanitized and bagged them up and then delivered them to doorsteps of others. My friend Cindy left little cans full of flowers in her drive way for her neighbors to claim and enjoy at home. Find something, even something small that you can do and do it. Caring for our neighbors is love. Give some away.

Loving Your Neighbor Isn’t So Hard!

Greet everyone with a smile while practicing 6 foot distancing. You may have someone to go home to but they may not. Be a vessel of joy to everyone you meet. Give it awayway.

Just smile!

Remember physical distancing doesn’t have to be social distancing. Stay in touch with others everyday. Call someone who lives alone, someone who is disabled, isolated or anxious. Be a lifeline, make the call, bring cheer. Give it away.

Practice intentional gratitude. Make it your practice to write down at least three things you’re thankful for today and everyday. If you’re fortunate enough to share a meal with your family, also share among yourselves what each is grateful for today. Gratitude isn’t gratitude until it’s shared. Give it away.

A page from my gratitude journal circa 2005
(I’m now up to 1734!)

Finally, if you haven’t already, consider that there is One who created this world and who has a plan. Ponder the possibility that we may have gotten off track thinking our independence is a good thing, that we have things under control and that God’s ways are outdated and unnecessary. I believe that because He loves his creation so much, He will allow us to come to the end of our own ropes waiting patiently to be acknowledged. Cry out to Him, call to Him for help. He is standing ready, to give it away.